§ 11.9 a.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Attlee)
It is not my intention this morning to deal with the general question of civil aviation, but to explain to the House the position of the Minister, and his responsibilities, and the intentions of the Government in the future in regard to that Ministry. The position is that the Minister for Civil Aviation is responsible for the policy of civil aviation. This includes all international and Imperial negotiations, such as those which have been conducted by him in Chicago, Montreal and London. It includes formulating the whole policy of British civil aviation at home and overseas, subject to the approval of the War Cabinet on broad lines of policy, and of seeing that that policy is carried into effect. But planning is not merely something for the remote future. Part of it is long-range, because many plans cannot come to fruition until after the German war is over, and some cannot be fulfilled until the occupied territories are cleared of the Japanese. There is work in this country, involving labour and material, that must take a second place to vital war needs. Other plans can be made effective in the immediate future, but all the plans, long-range or short-range, involve present action in organisation and preparation and, where practical, in actual operation.
Policy issues in action. It follows, therefore, and it is the Government's intention, that the Minister who is responsible for policy shall have the authority to ensure that that policy is carried out. It is true that, at the moment, the statutory control of civil aviation and the B.O.A.C., so far as that depends for its authority on Statute, is vested in the Secretary of State for Air, and that officials engaged on civil aviation work, as for example those in the Department of Civil Aviation, are borne on the Vote of the Secretary of State, and so is other expenditure on civil aviation. It will no doubt be convenient at some stage to vest all these statutory powers, formally and legally, in the Minister for Civil Aviation. This will involve legislation, which will be introduced in due course. It will probably also be found, as the Minister's plans develop, that some of them will require legislation as well.
1150 Provided it is clearly understood that the Minister is responsible for policy, and that effect will be given to that policy in action, which I believe is the desire of the Committee, I suggest it is not a matter of great practical importance that the expenditure should be temporarily borne on the Vote of another Minister. Parliament will be fully seized of the position. I am quite sure that Parliament wants the Minister to have the best facilities to get on with his job and that we should take whatever course seems practicable to that end. Pending the passage of the necessary legislation, the powers necessary for the control of civil aviation and the B.O.A.C. will, by a working arrangement, be delegated by the Secretary of State for Air to the Minister for Civil Aviation, subject to a proviso that in matters affecting the conduct of the war the Secretary of State for Air will continue to have the right to give directions.
There is another way in which the Government think they could give satisfaction to the House. The Government feel sure that the House would wish the Minister to have a Parliamentary Secretary, who, working continuously with him, would be his representative and spokesman in this House. This also will require legislative authority. I make that statement, in an endeavour to make quite clear what the present position is. The Debate will be replied to later by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Aircraft Production.
§ 11.14 a.m.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
The Committee will have listened with interest to the description of the new Minister's duties and responsibilities. As a member of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, charged, to some extent, with the duty of ensuring economy, it would appear to me that, with duplication of functions, there is a possibility of considerable waste. During the period of the war and for some years after the war, the work of the Secretary of State for Air and that of the Minister for civil Aviation are bound to be closely interlinked, and the proposition could never be justified, merely on technical grounds, that these things should be taken apart, and there there should be a wastage of air transport space, merely because one was to be carried under the 1151 Royal Air Force and the other under the Ministry for Civil Aviation.
When the occupation of Germany comes after the war, the Continent will be in a state of considerable dislocation for some years. It would appear to me that the Forces of Occupation are bound to include large numbers of the Air Force, and that the transport position between our country and the Continent cannot be divorced from transport connected with the war. I think it would be really wasteful, merely on watertight-compartment theories, to separate these two Ministries entirely; a commonsense arrangement such as has been described by the Lord President, is much wiser.
My interest in the air dates back some years, to when I had to take what was in those days a rather precarious journey to the Shetland Islands, and land on what is probably the smallest airport in this country, if not in the world. I believe that since then they have managed to shift a mountain, or build up a plateau or something of that sort, and to improve the conditions; but to see a little island in the water, and to find that on that island there was only a small grass field on which it was possible to land, was certainly an experience, on one's first flight. We had an even longer journey over Scotland from Renfrew, than the Paris journey which received so much publicity. But those early adventures of flying in this country were child's play compared with what is envisaged in the idea of aircraft flying all over the world. The second aspect of flying in which I am interested is its relation to the question of world peace. The Conference which has recently taken place at Chicago must be reckoned as one of the peace conferences of the world. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was more like a war."] I think it was one of the peace conferences. I gather that the hon. Member who interrupted does not think it was as successful as it might have been. I am entirely in agreement about that. I think that the degree of success achieved at that conference is very much the degree of success which has been achieved at the other conferences, such as Dumbarton Oaks and Bretton Woods, where the negotiations have been overshadowed by the theory of world competition, of "every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost."
1152 We all appreciate that the United States is a great country, with enormous power, but to an observer on this side of the Atlantic that great country does not seem to be able to make up its mind whether it is going to run by itself, or in harmony with the rest of the world. It seems to be dominated by a conflict of ambitions—wanting to run the world, and yet wanting to be isolationist, and to run by itself. These things are irreconcilable, and I hope that the United States will soon reach the conclusion that there is only one way for this world to run in modern times, and that is by co-operation. That means listening to other points of view, and being ready to come to an agreement. One of the things that aircraft have done is to reduce the size of the world and to eliminate a great many of the fantastic frontiers by which the world is divided. All these petty frontiers which seem to divide Europe up into little patches, as viewed from the air, become ridiculous in face of these enormous trunk-lines of air traffic. The world is an economic unit, and, so far as the air is concerned, it ought to be a political unit. I am fortified in these views by President Roosevelt, who said that air power must be used to keep the peace of the world. The then Vice-President, Mr. Wallace, said that the inescapable fact was that the solution of the air problem was absolutely indispensable to a solution of the problem of world peace. If we are not going to have world co-operation in that sense, we are going back to the chaotic state of every nation trying to build up its own air services.
The principal problem immediately after the war will be that of Germany. Germany has a unique situation in Europe, so far as air travel is concerned. She might be said to be the hub of a great wheel, with the spokes radiating from Berlin. Almost automatically, if Germany is going to build up an air service, she must touch a large number of countries and be able to build up a very strong air service, which could become a strong air transport force in times to come. Therefore, the first element of peace is to see that the air services of the future are not made a preparation for another war. One certain way of preventing Germany from becoming the aggressor in a future war is to prevent the building up of a national air service 1153 in Germany which could be used against us later on. But if you do not have a nationalistic air service in Germany, you must have an internationalistic air service in Germany. There is no escape from that logic. Who is to control that service? No one will agree that Britain alone, or Russia alone, or France alone, should control the air services over Germany. Whether we like it or not, circumstances dictate that we must start with the idea of a European air service at least. But Europe is only a short distance from America now, and only a stopping-place between America and Japan, or America and Russia, on the journey over the Atlantic and then over the Continent.
The problem does not end with the European air services. We must think of Europe's relationship with the rest of the world. When Germany is defeated, much of the traffic between ourselves and Germany, and between America and Germany, will be military traffic. There will be an interval of several years before this country is equipped to produce civil aircraft to meet such services, and during that time it is feared that America might want to monopolise the air traffic, because she has the aircraft. But much of the aircraft must be of a military character, and, therefore, for five years after the war, the air traffic of Europe at least will, of necessity, be a matter for the Government alone. I do not see how it could be practicable for the Government to hand over to private enterprise the control of air traffic between this country and Germany, or between America and Germany, because it will be circumscribed by military necessity. It would be foolish to have two separate sets of aircraft going to Germany. That would be the beginning of that duplication and multiplication which is so wasteful.
A large number of people seem to be springing up who want to run the air services of the world. Private enterprise has formed a number of organisations which are making plans to do so. I have my own theories, and prejudices perhaps, about public control, and I would naturally favour civil aviation being under public control as a matter of political speculation. But I want to deal with the matter from the point of view of practicability, before I come to any question of theory. I would like to refer to a statement by an anonymous author, who 1154 wrote a very wise article, as I thought, in "The Times" some time ago. "The Times" seems to have fallen into disrepute in these days, and does not carry its earlier authority. In spite of that, it probably does carry weight when it speaks with wisdom, and, in this respect, it said:The complications arising out of subsidies, chosen instruments and the like, make it clear that the one ultimately satisfactory solution is some international authority endowed with executive powers. …If we are told that we must have world competition, with everybody coming into a thing of this kind, we had better look back to see what was happening just before the war. My information is that there were 1,800 regular air companies in the world, one-third of them in the United States. In Europe, we had 630 planes, 69 different types, and 53 different types of motor. All these aircraft were subsidised by the nations of Europe and the world. The whole aircraft service depended on subsidies, and the Minister of Aircraft in France stated that, in 1932, for example, the cost of running the services was 420,000,000 francs, and that receipts were only 135,000,000 francs. In three years, 1930–1932, the cost to the European taxpaper was 2,000,000,000 francs. If the aircraft are to be run at the expense of the taxpayer, then, clearly, the taxpayer ought to control and own the aircraft. There is no justification at all for allowing the ownership and running of aircraft to be in the control of people who are not themselves responsible for the expenditure. Everybody, I gather, wants to form air lines, and wants also to see subsidies. They want subsidies from the Government in the form of mail services.
§ Mr. Tree (Harborough)
May I ask my hon. Friend a question? Is he not confusing air subsidies with a surcharge for the carriage of mails—two very different things? Will he make this point quite clear?
§ Mr. Woodburn
To some extent, air mail is regarded as a subsidy. The Government must choose who will take the mail, and, whenever the Government get people to take the mail, the Government are, automatically, giving a benefit to that particular section and handicapping every other section in the running of aircraft.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I quite agree, and some of the same arguments will apply to shipping. But there is the very important point here that, if you are going to choose one service, the cost of that service is very largely influenced by whether it has a monopoly of the route, or whether it has other firms competing with it uneconomically, and this cost of running mails, which might be reduced if the service was economical, will be increased if you have several other companies running at half-capacity and wasting air space. Therefore, we look at this question of the relation of the Government to air mail and to passengers in the light that the Government must take a hand in seeing that the cost is not increased by inefficient running.
I am assured that, if war had not broken out, the tendency was towards having two European and six American companies competing for the Atlantic route. We would have had eight lines running between Europe and America. Everybody knows what happened in regard to the shipping lines competing for traffic and reducing their rates. Some of my older friends will remember the rate wars that took place between liners going from the Clyde to America. I think there were people who could go across to America for a few pounds in order to fill up these liners. To-day, we are moving in very much the same direction and that severe competition will lead to inefficiency and waste.
The question, therefore, is this: Are you going to multiply your services? Are you going to have these services half empty? Are you going to have them competing with each other, to the extent that they only bring extra cost to the Government, and, eventually to the passengers, and, more than that—and this is very important—perhaps extra danger to the passengers? If a firm depends on cutting down its costs to make ends meet, and makes economies, there is always the danger of not replacing things until the last moment, and thus endangering life. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) knows very well that in the pits there has been for many years—it even exists to some extent to-day—a tendency to allow the rope that takes the cages down, to go 1156 to the last moment. When an accident happens, somebody is hauled over the coals. But it is then too late, and lives may have been lost by that false economy. If the Government and the nation are running air lines they must regard safety as the first consideration.
I think a multiplicity of lines is bound to lead to waste and to chaos in regard to transport, and, therefore, first of all, some regulation must be provided. There are 40 British firms who have formed Shipping Air Lines, Ltd., and I am told that they are preparing proposals for the post-war period. There is a General Council of British Shipping, which has formed five groups to operate five zones—North America, South America, South and East Africa, Eastern and Coastal and Continental. In the United States they have formed an organisation called World Air Transport Associations, and there is another organisation, which may be inter-connected, the C.I.A.T.O.—Conference of International Air Traffic Operators, London—and I.A.T.A.—International Air Traffic Association, London—and they are to attempt, through understandings among operators rather than through Governments, to come to certain arrangements reached at the Chicago International Air Conference. I know something about initials in the political field—I.L.P. and many other initials—[HON. MEMBERS: "E.A.M."]—but I do not know what the Conservative initials are. It is really ridiculous, and gives a good idea of what is happening, when one sees everybody so ready to pounce on this duck to pluck. So far as I can see, however, there will be no pickings in this field, for many years to come. If civil aviation is to develop satisfactorily, in the early stages at least it must be subsidised by the Government, and built up through the benefits of our war experience. As a matter of fact, we start with a great advantage through our war experience.
Another thing that strikes me is the idea that aeroplanes are going to get bigger and bigger, until machines like the "Queen Mary" will fly over the Atlantic. So far as I can learn, from the technical people I know, the thing is ridiculous. A stage will be reached at which you will get the maximum efficiency for the petrol and other things you can carry. I am not ruling out jet propulsion, or the proposed development 1157 of new petrols, or, perhaps, some new utilisation of gas, but there does seem a limit to the size of plane suitable for passenger transport.
Let us take the case of America and Britain. It may take about five hours eventually to cross the Atlantic. If you have a large plane accommodating large numbers of people and large packages, and you have to go through customs, get things loaded into the aeroplane in America and then dragged out of the plane at this end, the chances are it would take as long to do this as it would take to carry you across the Atlantic. People will not want to have to spend a lot of time hanging about the airport, but will desire to step into a plane carrying relatively a few passengers, to be whipped across the Atlantic and to get out of the plane without much trouble. Therefore, from the point of view of convenience, my view is that the aeroplane is going to develop in two directions. There will be fairly big aeroplanes for freight, and as far as passenger aeroplanes are concerned, they will be limited as to the number of passengers so that they can be speedily loaded and unloaded. It will be more like a taxi service or a motor-bus service than an Atlantic liner service, and I think that will be much better.
In regard to the crossing of the Atlantic, the question arises immediately where the planes are to land. Let us forget the planes for a moment and come to the question of airports. It seems that airports are all to be under national control, and if you have national diversity, as you are bound to have, there will be danger from the point of view of air travel. One of the great benefits of the Chicago Air Conference—and I think the Minister ought to be congratulated on achieving this degree of international agreement—is that on the technical side all equipment, and landings at airports, are to be harmonised and standardised. That will be one step forward on technical grounds. Technical development very often leads to intelligent development in other respects, and I hope that, in due course, the political agreement will reach the same degere of intelligence, as the technical agreement has reached in the Chicago Conference.
May I interpolate a point that affects Scotland in this connection? There is a great deal of disquiet in Scotland about 1158 the suggestion that some other airport may be developed and Prestwick may be closed. A great deal of Government money has been spent on Prestwick and there are between 6,000 and 12,000 people employed in and around Prestwick and on the services which feed it. Prestwick has, by pure chance and natural luck, proved itself to be one of the places most suitable for landing, in a very high proportion of the days of the year. American airmen, I am told, in spite of the fact that they have often been instructed to go elsewhere, if there is any difficulty about the weather or anything else, make immediately for Prestwick, which has become practically the definite instrument, as far as landing is concerned, of the transatlantic service.
No doubt—and I would like to make this clear—the main airport of this country must be in the vicinity of London but you cannot have only one airport of this kind in the country; while perhaps you cannot have two major airports, there must be at least one subsidiary airport, and I suggest to the Minister that he should give some assurance that there is no question of Prestwick being closed down. I have no doubt that it will be kept open, at least until the London airport is open, but there would be strong resentment in Scotland, and there ought to be in this House, if, after all the money that has been spent on building this quite satisfactory airport, there should be, either by pressure of outside interest or otherwise, another airport developed somewhere in the North which was simply a duplication of what existed already, and which could not be superior but might, to a large extent, be inferior to the existing port. I believe the Americans tried to induce pilots to go somewhere in Wales but, in spite of that, the pilots would not look at Wales and turned North and went back to Prestwick.
§ Mr. Woodburn
When they see some of the names of the railway stations I am sure that they immediately conclude that they had better go where they can be understood. What has surprised me about Prestwick is, that I understand that Americans, coming often from Africa, who experience the slightest difficulty about the weather, in spite of the extra distance, fly North and land at Prestwick. There- 1159 fore, there are many circumstances which indicate that Prestwick is a suitable place for a subsidiary airport in this country, and I think that, with an organised service, there would be no difficulty about it.
My party, of course, take the view—and I hold it myself—that the only ultimate solution of this problem is world organisation, and that there should be a world organisation which owned and controlled the main front-line services of the world. Australia and New Zealand are the only two countries to put forward this idea. They have come to an agreement that this would be their policy. I regret very much that the Minister, at the Chicago Conference, did not at least try to put that view to the nations of the world that they should form a world unity of air services. That was not done, and it has not been done yet. As things are developing since they have agreed on technical unity, they might yet agree to this in the Three-Power Conference that is taking place. In accordance with President Roosevelt's own views and the views of the Vice-President, he and our Government ought to consider whether, even now, it would not be desirable to unity and bring under public control these great air services.
There is an opportunity now that will never occur again, in a like fashion. We are starting at the beginning and if we plan from the beginning, we shall prevent all the evils that will arise from allowing the thing to grow up topsy-turvy and haphazard, with all these 40 shipping companies, Americans and other people, scrambling and snatching to see who is to get most of the cake. These services should be planned economically; if they are not they will not develop as they should develop. I appeal to the Government that, even now, at the Three-Power Conference, some attempt should be made to get an international agreement on this matter, because it is analogous to the whole plea for a League of Nations or a League of States and an international Government to preserve the peace of the world. There can be not greater instrument for peace than the peaceful development of an international air service.
If that is not possible and if America, with all her greatness, refuses to come in and thinks she can live alone, then the next thing we might try is to get an air unity of the Old World. The Americans are arranging to have air unity with the 1160 New World. The Inter-American Defence Board, which includes 21 American Republics, and the whole of the Western world, except Canada,recommended to the American Republics that their joint efforts towards improvement of transportation be duly co-ordinated and that an Inter-American Office of Transportation be created to co-ordinate all the inter-American agencies and Congresses … including transportation experts of the Armed Forces.That, I understand, is being considered and may already have been considered by the respective Governments. If America and the American Republics co-ordinate the New World then I see no reason why, if they are not prepared to work in harmony with the rest of the world, we should not try to co-ordinate the Old World. The Old World in 1938 had 76.6 of all air routes, 57.4 of all air miles flown, and the preponderance so far as air lines were concerned. With regard to Russia, which is part of the Old World land bloc, I suppose, it night be difficult to get more than a reciprocity agreement until Russia feels confident that she can have free intercourse with the rest of the world. I am not insensible to the difficulties of that with regard to Russia and America and, therefore, it is no good calling for the moon; we must proceed as we can. However, I do think we should "hitch our wagon to a star" in this matter, and try, at least, to get international-world organisation.
I would make one other suggestion in regard to the Chicago Air Conference. I was very encouraged to see that such great agreement had been reached on the technical side from the point of view of protecting the planes, of co-ordinating the lines, and trying to avoid duplication in regard to the main air routes. One thing that struck me was that in an international air service there will be difficulties of language. Here again I would suggest that as we are at the beginning of a great new service there should be a conference on the question of standardising the international air language, the pronunciation and the use of words for certain parts and equipment. If that were started now, and an international language of the air set up, it would play a great part in unifying this service and, from the point of view of danger to life, would eliminate many of the worst perils. Airmen would speak the same language, and would be able to ask for parts in the same language 1161 with the same pronunciation. If everybody pronounces words with their own accents, and their own interpretation, then there is a certain amount of chaos. It may seem a small point, but I think it is one of the points of international development that ought to be looked into, and in regard to which something should be done. Much was done in this way in regard to the motor-car industry but nevertheless it is quite silly to be talking about "essence" in France, "petrol" here, and "gas" in America. If you asked for "gas" in the House of Commons, you might be misunderstood.
Great steps have been taken. I admit that if we start from the assumption that you cannot get world agreement and public control of the planes, as the Minister seems to have done, and that America and Russia will not co-operate, it might be said that the Chicago Conference has, to some degree, been successful. But the general impression is that we are still apart from America, and that we are still apart from Russia; that we have not reached agreement on the main function of air routes; that there is still the idea that somebody or other will enter into a struggle for existence after this war, and that whoever is strongest will secure the air lines of the world and the weakest will go to the wall. I think there must be some arrangement by which nations have their rights in regard to air, and it cannot be done except by agreement. We ought to appeal to America to realise that though she has all the strength of a giant, she ought not to use her strength against weaker nations even in this respect. I deplore the prospect of economic competition after the war, because economic war very often leads to armed war, and one of the problems that will face us when this war is finished will be that of achieving some economic organisation of the world to prevent the scramble for trade and materials and markets.
This air service is no small part of that scramble for markets, and when one reads the American Press, and, indeed, of all these preparations of our shipping lines and other people, to take part in this gamble with people's lives, in order to get some mythical profit, which seems to me utterly fantastic in these days, I think we must ask the Government to try again to get world agreement. It is suggested that we are to have something like the 1162 system which the Ministry of War Transport has established in this country of regional commissioners who allocate the lines, and who say, that the corporation bus service must leave at 2.15, the motor traction service at 2.35, and so on. That seems to be the general plan and, failing international agreement, I am ready to say that that is a great step forward, but I think we must try to get something better than that. America itself is said to have the best-organised and co-ordinated air service in the world, she is supposed to have the best control over her air services in the world and, if that is so, surely we can say to America, "If you believe in a good control of your own service, surely you cannot disagree with a good control of the world service, and that can only be achieved by world co-operation of all the nations in the world."
§ 11.52 a.m.
Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sucter (Hertford)
I am sure we have all listened to the speech of the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) with great interest. As the years go by, be becomes more and more air-minded, and as his air stature grows, he will be of great value to his party. We were very interested to hear from the Lord President of the Council that the Government are to appoint an Under-Secretary for Air to deal with civil aviation matters in this House; that will be of great value in our discussions on civil aviation. I think we all congratulate the Minister for Civil Aviation on the way he handled matters at Chicago and Montreal. He had a very difficult task to perform. He was taken from one post for this duty very quickly and had little time in which to prepare his subject. However, he stated the position of the British Empire well, and though it did not meet with approval from everybody in America, I am certain they respected his point of view. The five freedoms of the air were discussed at great length and he obtained agreement on a certain number of them. We first discussed the freedom of the air at a Conference on Air Navigation in Paris in 1910. At that Conference, we had admirals, generals, airmen, international jurists and all sorts of people. We discussed the freedom of the air for six weeks. The literature grew until it almost reached as high as the top of this Chamber; the Conference was eventually adjourned sine die, 1163 and we never came to a single decision. So we can congratulate the Minister for Civil Aviation in, at least, getting some agreement at the Chicago Conference.
The hon. Member for East Stirling dealt with the shipping companies. I think we ought to give them a lead on how they can handle air matters. Many of them took a great interest in the air before the war, and now they are naturally anxious about their passenger service. However, I think there will always be a large number of passengers who prefer to go by ship, to get relaxation on board ship and the amenities of ship life. We have heard a lot of talk about carrying freight by air. Some think that because we can carry large loads of bombs and dump them on Germany, we can carry freightage across the Atlantic by air. A small cargo ship can carry 5,000 tons of freight very easily. It is the most economical form of transport there is, but if you had to carry this weight across the Atlantic by air, you would have to do probably 1,200 trips, and use an enormous quantity of petrol. It would be economically prohibitive and, therefore, I think that heavy cargoes will, in the life-time of any Member of this House, have to continue to go by sea.
The shipping companies, to which reference has been made, want to know where they stand with regard to the British Overseas Airways Corporation. The Corporation have done wonderful work in this war, and the shipping companies want to know how they can participate in air transport. I hope the Minister of Aircraft Production, who is to reply to the Debate, will pass on to the Minister for Civil Aviation the suggestion that he should give guidance to the shipping companies in this matter. Exactly the same thing applies in connection with the railway companies. All the old Members of the House are pleased to think that the railway companies have had a change of heart and that they, as well as the shipping companies, want to participate in air transport. I hope that guidance will also be given to them.
The hon. Member for East Stirling touched on the question of what airports should be developed in this country, and he pressed for Prestwick as Number 1 airport. I submit to the Minister for Civil Aviation that the Number 1 airport should be in the Portsmouth area. As old sailors 1164 and airmen who have used Calshot, Southampton and Portsmouth know, that area is very free from fog, and is in a splendid position for long-distance air traffic. The snag is that the Admiralty may put up objections to the development of Portsmouth as the Number 1 international airport. The First Lord of the Admiralty, the other day, made a speech at a lunch which I attended, and said that all the Sea Lords are air-minded. Well, that used not to be the case. Anyhow, he said they are all air-minded now, so perhaps they will not have much objection to Portsmouth being developed as the Number 1 airport. Another snag is the objection of ratepayers of Portsmouth. Some years ago I wrote to the local Press, suggesting that Portsmouth should be developed as a great airport, and afterwords there were many letters from objecting ratepayers. But this is an international affair; the ratepayers there should be helped out by public funds—
§ Major Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)
I believe that the ratepayers there have now changed their view, and are keen to get on with it.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I am glad to hear that they have changed their view. When I wrote in the local Press about this matter they asked what right I had to interfere in Portsmouth affairs. As I was born very near Portsmouth, and paid rates on a house there for many years, I thought I might interfere. However, if they have had a change of heart that is all right. With regard to other ports, I submit that one in the Midlands should be chosen, in the Manchester-Liverpool area, as Number 2 airport, with Prestwick, in Scotland, as Number 3 airport. Most cities will have aerodromes around the periphery of their boundaries, and we read in the Press suggestions for another airport in London. I have seen it suggested that there should be one at the Isle of Dogs and another at Gravesend. But is it necessary to develop these places? They are all in the fog area. In the lower Thames fog is rather bad, as everyone who has flown over Eastchurch, and other towns there, knows. I believe that you could have a shuttle service from the Thames to any of these outside areas. You could have amphibian planes landing in the Chelsea Reach, close to this House. A Member could take a taxi—[An HON. MEMBER: "If he could find one."]—to Chelsea Embankment, and step into an 1165 amphibian plane and fly to Portsmouth, from whence he could go wherever he liked. Also, in the future helicopters will be developed. Two-seater and four-seater helicopters could leave Chelsea, and go to any of the city airports. A Member would be able to hire a helicopter to fly to his constituency in, say, two hours, instead of having to spend four or five hours, making the journey in another way. Members having to go to Scotland would be able to go there in four hours, whereas now it takes a considerably longer time.
§ Sir M. Sueter
A four-seater helicopter, travelling at 100 miles an hour, would do the journey in four hours. Therefore, I say that it is unnecessary to create aerodromes at the Isle of Dogs or Gravesend. I want to ask the Minister of Aircraft Production whether research work is going on in connection with the development of machines for air transport, and whether information gained during the war is being put at the disposal of aeronautical designers. In the past we had a good deal of information from the National Physical Laboratory and from Farnborough that was not passed on to the designers, but I hope that matters are improved and that this technical information is being passed on now.
We have already read in the Press about jet propulsion, and I would like to ask the Minister whether this has been considered for flying boats. Anybody who has had to take off in a flying boat in a rough sea, knows that a good deal of spray is thrown up which hits the propellers. If they are laminated wooden propellers, it takes great chunks out of them, and it is not too good for steel propellers. Have any experiments been carried out to see if jet propulsion can be applied to flying boats, in order to do away with propellers? It would be a great advantage if that could be done. I know that the jet propulsion system is more efficient at high altitudes, but it might be capable of adaptation for flying boats. The noise is a disadvantage, but that could be overcome. I should like to ask the Minister whether experiments in that connection are being undertaken.
The only other point I should like to mention is the staff of the Minister for Civil Aviation. We are told that he is to have an Under-Secretary, but I hope 1166 he will have a proper staff to go into all these civil aviation matters. It is no good having a man put in a responsible position and given a difficult task if he is not given a proper staff. I hope that before very long, we shall see civil aviation taken away from the Air Ministry altogether. I think you would get the greatest efficiency if that were done and if it were made a separate Ministry instead of being bottled up with the Air Ministry. We have the finest aeronautical designers in the world, we have splendid pilots and good administrators. If they all work together, we can do as well as the Pan-American Airways. We want to have friendly competition with them and with the Russian air people. If we achieve that, we can do a tremendous amount to develop air routes for the benefit of the world.
§ 12.7 p.m.
§ Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South-East)
I hope the Committee will permit me to try to bring the Debate back on to the political level, and to introduce important national and international questions, some of which have been settled while others await settlement. I regret that I was not in my place when the Deputy Prime Minister made his statement, which I welcome with gratitude. One can reflect with some happiness on the way that conditions have changed and improved since our Debate in March last. During 1943 and 1944 it struck me that the only dynamic thing about civil aviation was the Debates in this House: the subject itself seemed static. It was under pressure of the House that some sort of policy was gradually formed during the last few months, and an agreement reached with the Empire. Of course, an electrical effect was produced by the invitation of the United States to the Chicago Conference, which brought about the concession of one of the first points that we made, the appointment of a separate Minister, whose position has now been made clear for the future by the announcement that he is to be entirely independent in every respect. The Minister in question undoubtedly presented our case at Chicago most forcibly.
I should like to consider what I conceive to be the good points of the Conference in the light of the policy which my hon. Friends and I advocated in the 1167 Debate last March. We put forward a programme of five points. The first thing we asked for was freedom of transit and emergency landing—in other words freedoms one and two. This has been agreed at the conference by 28 or more nations. We asked for a technical convention, and that has been agreed to by 50 or more nations. We advocated the setting up of a British Air Empire Licensing Board to regulate British and Dominion air lines. The Conference at Montreal after Chicago decided on an Empire Council to co-ordinate all British Commonwealth flying, so that, in essence, that point has also been achieved. Fourthly, we asked for the control of civil aviation to be removed from the Air Ministry, and vested either in the Ministry of Transport or in a separate Ministry, and that of course has been agreed. The last point that we put forward was that there should be more British civil aircraft. That is the only point on which we have not yet got complete satisfaction. The Minister of Aircraft Production will, perhaps, be able to give us some kind of report of the progress which has been made in production and planning, not only of converted bombers such as the York and the Lancastrian, which are doing a useful job at present, but progress with such aircraft as the Tudor, which we understand is the first real civil aircraft likely to be available to this country, and also the Brabazon, and other types which are promised us in the more distant future. I think I can say, bearing in mind those five points, that we have received considerable satisfaction with regard to them.
I turn my attention to the outstanding failures of the Conference. The first is the idea of internationalisation. Even the Australian and New Zealand proposal for the complete socialisation of civil aviation found no takers. The hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) brought up this proposal once again, and asked why it had not been advocated with any force by the Minister for Civil Aviation at the Conference. I imagine, though I do not know, that the Minister himself is not a great believer in the system, but apart from that, in view of the fact that it was not possible to get a world authority with executive powers, but only one with advisory powers, it is impossible to suppose that any of the nations of the world were of a mind to accept this Australian-New 1168 Zealand proposal. I think therefore we did very well in not wasting the time of the Conference, which lasted long enough in all conscience, in attempting to push this idea. The American attitude throughout the Conference, as expressed by Mr. Berle, in his attempt to get the so-called fifth freedom through, showed that they were hardly likely to surrender the fruits of a successful private enterprise for the sake of the blue eyes of this or any other Socialist Party.
The second failure of the Conference was its inability to accept the commercial freedoms, known as the third and fourth freedoms. At the same time, I think we ought to be grateful that Mr. Berle did not succeed in getting more than a dozen or so nations, of whom the great majority were in South America and none of whom have an important civil aviation of their own, to agree to the fifth freedom, which might lead to a good service in civil aviation but which would be clearly dominated by the United States. It is interesting to reflect that Mr. Berle is now licking his wounds as the American Ambassador to Brazil, one of the few South American countries which failed to follow his lead. Therefore, we feel that the Conference cleared the air, established certain principles on which most of us are agreed, and leaves scope for future agreement in virtue of the setting up of a new world authority, though no doubt with less power than this country advocated. We should have preferred it to have executive and not exclusively advisory powers. We certainly would have welcomed the universal adoption by the nations of the world of the third and fourth freedoms, the freedoms of commercial air operation—of course on condition that there was an agreement as to traffic frequencies, and that is the point which was blocked by the United States—through the fifth freedom, which stated that frequencies were to be determined by the volume of intermediate as well as of starting traffic.
All things considered, the international aspect seems reasonably satisfactory, though certainly susceptible of improvement, and therefore our attention can be turned to domestic issues. I suppose the new Minister will be called upon to resolve the much-debated questions of the chosen instrument, private enterprise, air mail subsidies and also the provision of aircraft, the last-named, no doubt, in co-operation with the Ministry of Aircraft 1169 Production. Though I do not know his mind on this subject, I presume, from his previous record, that we shall get at least, and at last, a decision on this matter, and probably a better decision than if he had never been appointed, especially as we know that he is not to be ham-strung by the Air Ministry, and is to be independent and presumably in control of the Civil Aviation Department, so that there will be no divided authority, and also that he will have a spokesman in this House. Above all, I assume, though I do not know whether the statement was specifically made, that he will control B.O.A.C. I should like to be reassured on that point, because I do not think it was covered by the Deputy Prime Minister.
§ Captain Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
The Lord President of the Council did say that B.O.A.C. still remains under the Air Ministry till legislation is introduced.
§ Sir A. Beit
I presume that legislation will have to be introduced to establish an Under-Secretary and that it will presumably transfer B.O.A.C. as well as civil aviation to the new Minister.
§ The Minister of Aircraft Production (Sir Stafford Cripps)
I should like to clear up this point, although I think it was made quite clear by my right hon. Friend. He said that legislation would be involved but that pending the passage of the necessary legislation, the powers necessary for the control of civil aviation and the B.O.A.C. will, by a working arrangement, be delegated by the Secretary of State for Air to the Minister for Civil Aviation, subject to a provision that in matters affecting the conduct of the war, the Secretary of State for Air will continue to have the right to give directions.
§ Sir A. Beit
That is perfectly satisfactory, because the implication is that when legislation does come before us the control of B.O.A.C. together with the Civil Aviation Department will be transferred to the Minister.
§ Captain Macdonald
I am afraid the hon. Member is too optimistic about this. "Subject to the conduct of the war" may mean that B.O.A.C will still remain under the control of Transport Command. We want that point cleared up, because as long as they remain under 1170 Transport Command for the conduct of the war, they cannot come under the direction of the Minister for Civil Aviation.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I think the point is that if aircraft which are required for war purposes are being used presently by any civil body, then the Air Ministry is the appropriate body, in time of war, to mobilise those aircraft, and in that sense the Secretary of State for Air will be able to give directions as to the use to be made of the aircraft.
§ Sir A. Beit
That makes it clear, and I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain Macdonald) will be satisfied that administratively B.O.A.C. and the Department of Civil Aviation will be transferred to the new Minister by legislation, and that until that legislation can be introduced special arrangements have been reached to achieve the same effect. That is an arrangement which I think is entirely satisfactory, and it is one for which I can only express my humble gratitude.
I said on a previous occasion that I had no desire to wind up the B.O.A.C. Some hon. Members on this side are suspected by hon. Members opposite of having this desire, but I was anxious, and still am—and in this I support the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter)—to see that shipping, railway and other transport interests have a share in this great traffic of the future. As I said previously, I think the best thing would probably be the formation of subsidiary or associate companies in which the different parties concerned would have an interest varying presumably with the contributions which they could make to the operation of particular routes. For instance, on Empire routes which have been pioneered and developed by B.O.A.C., it seems to me that any shipping lines that came in should have only a minority interest. If, on the other hand, a new company is to be created to operate to, say, South America or West Africa, about which routes the shipping lines have considerable knowledge, and where above all they already have the agencies and shore installations, then, normally, they should have the larger share. I think the Committee, and probably also hon. Members opposite, who have in the past put forward a different view, will agree that this represents a typical but at the same 1171 time a suitable compromise. Therefore, I very much hope that when the Minister for Civil Aviation puts forward the plan which will ultimately be presented to the House, the approach will be on these lines.
The science of transportation is the root of this whole business, and not political prejudice. We have to make use of the best brains in the transport industry in the whole country, and it would be absurd to suppose that those best brains are all located in B.O.A.C., because they are not, and have to be looked for in other quarters. I do not know whether these views are shared by the Secretary of State for Air, and it would be of some interest to this Committee to know whether or not they are. There is some reason to believe that he, in complete disregard of his Liberal principles, is more attached to nationalisation, the nationalisation of everything, than any other Ministers in the Government, but his views on the subject may not now have quite the same influence that they would have had if the Lord President of the Council had not made the statement with which he opened this Debate.
The Labour Ministers in the Government, on the other hand, whether out of respect to their Tory colleagues or because they have seen the light, or because of the pressure of Government business, seem rather to have lost sight of this particular Elysium. At any rate I feel that whatever may be the personal views of the right hon. Gentleman who will reply to this Debate, he will loyally accept this decision and will support a policy for civil aviation which will not deprive any interests in the country who have any contribution to make to this very technical matter from so doing. Indeed, it would be an ironical commentary on the machinery of government if, having appointed a special Minister for this purpose, any other Ministers were to find a way of blocking the views which have been expressed on more than one occasion in this House and which I sincerely believe to be shared by the majority. The supply of aircraft might provide just such an issue, and that is why I asked previously for some sort of progress report on civil aeroplanes.
In this connection, I should like to know what are the relations between the 1172 new Minister and the Ministry of Aircraft Production. I should like to know whether the new Minister has or will have a free hand in ordering aeroplanes. After all, the Air Ministry already have one very inconvenient power, desirable as it may be in the national interest, and that is that if a new aircraft is evolved as a civil type, we can never be quite sure that the R.A.F. may not discover that it is operationally suitable, and if they do, that is the last we are likely to hear of it as a civil aircraft until the war ends. Therefore, in the present state of the war, and unless any new emergency arises, I sincerely hope that the Air Ministry will be satisfied with the types they have or those which they are now developing, and that the new Minister will be allowed reasonable latitude to act without undue interference. I would repeat my claim that new types of civil aircraft, about which certain definite statements have been made to this House, should not suddenly be discovered to be operational by the R.A.F. and thus set back the development of this poor, bedevilled civil aviation for another year or two.
Where do we go from the position in which we find ourselves to-day? What is the next step? The Conference at Chicago sets up an interim council, to operate for three years, to report to the full Assembly upon the fifth freedom. It cannot report fairly upon the working of this fifth freedom unless it has something with which to compare it, and I urgently request that steps be taken for this country and the Empire in general to make agreements with as many other countries as possible along the lines of the British plan; that is, for the working of the third and fourth freedoms—the commercial air freedoms—subject to the regulation of traffic; in order that this council, which has three years in which to operate, may have an opportunity of seeing how this system of reciprocity works as compared with the American idea. Therefore, we should not wait too long for the delivery of aircraft or for the establishment of definite schedules, but we should, right away, make reciprocal agreements especially with countries like France, Belgium, Holland and Portugal, which have similar Imperial responsibilities to ourselves. I ask that we should get going. Above all I hope it will not become easier for countries of the Commonwealth of Nations, including 1173 Great Britain, to fly to foreign countries than to one another. This would augur ill for the greater Empire cohesion which we all want.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
Except for a very brief reference by the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) and a no doubt facetious reference by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) to Portsmouth, two factors so far have been largely ignored, although in our opinion, and I am speaking now as a Scottish Member, they are of vast importance. The first is Scotland, without whose widespread progeny the British Empire would be still groping for leadership in civil aviation and everything else, and the second is the question of British air terminals, without which civil aviation, as such, could hardly exist. To take my second point first, as the hon. Member for East Stirling said, we all recognise the essential need for adequate terminals, suitably serviced, for the main traffic lines, and where they do not already exist they will have to be created. Otherwise, the vast network of civil aviation lines envisaged at the Chicago Conference cannot succeed.
How are these terminals to be decided, and where are they to be placed? Obviously, each country—and here I disagree entirely with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford—must have its No. 1 main terminal beside its capital. I do not think there is any need to argue the reasons, but, for the sake of my hon. and gallant Friend, I suppose I had better give him one or two. The main one is that statesmen, politicians, leaders of the Services, of industry and of every walk of life must have some immediate method of air travel adjacent to their work.
There must similarly—and this is where I come to the point of my argument—be secondary airports to meet the transoceanic and trans-continental requirements of the great industrial areas and centres throughout these islands. They are part and parcel of the whole scheme, and unless the Minister for Civil Aviation makes up his mind early where these airports are to be located and gets on with the work of establishing them, a proper system of aviation will be held up. I would like to take the opportunity of paying a warm 1174 tribute to the tenacity, tact and determination which Lord Swinton displayed in fighting for British interests at the Chicago Conference. He had a tough job and he was fighting with tough people, but he obtained a measure of success which justified the high regard we all had for him when he was in this House.
Having established the fact that there must be a number of terminals, I come to my other point, which affects Scotland. We Scottish Members feel that here we have a great issue at stake. It is no use blinking the fact that we have to drive home our point again and again to my right hon. and learned Friend. For generations past one of the most active factors in promoting or creating industrial and social unrest in Scotland has been the drift of industry to the South. I would like that to be borne in mind. That is not a matter for the Minister for Civil Aviation; it is a matter of high policy to be decided by the Cabinet as a whole.
In connection with this point, I would like to dispel a feeling which, I am told, is held by our good friends on the other side of the Atlantic. The English are not fundamentally clever, but they have an ingenuous simplicity by which they invariably get what they want. Over the years England has persuaded, inveigled or seduced across the Border nearly all the best scientific and constructive brains in Scotland. The result is that industrial enterprises have expanded and developed in England while in Scotland we have been more or less denuded of our best imaginative and adventurous minds. But, as my hon. Friend who opened the Debate pointed out, not quite, for about nine years ago in the little seaside town of Prestwick on the West coast of Scotland, a few of the brains and geniuses who remained gathered together. There they established an air training school, and so determined on success were these adventurous spirits, that in four and a half years, by the time war broke out, Prestwick was a recognised airport. It was recognised by the Air Ministry and it did a grand job of work training pilots and air crews for the Battle of Britain. Then came the Americans, first with cash-and-carry and then with Lend-Lease and everything they had got. From the minute when the first Liberator landed on the hospitable field of Prestwick this has been the No. 1 international air port in Great Britain. For 1175 four and a half years it has gallantly sustained that position.
How has this come about? Let me with a few strokes paint the background to the picture against which Prestwick must be considered. During the war 11,000 Atlantc flights have started or ended on Prestwick field. It has received members of every flying service among the Allied nations, as well as practically every distinguished visitor who has reached these shores. Every one of them without exception has testified to the advantage of Prestwick as an airfield and to the efficient administration of those who look after it in respect of their comfort and safety. As regards its geographical and meteorological position, reports are in the hands of the Air Ministry that they are first-class and cannot be beaten by any comparable airport in the world. We know, even if my hon. and gallant Friend does not, that Prestwick is situated in possibly the most fog-free belt in Great Britain. It possesses practically the highest record of flying hours and practically the lowest record of accidents in the country.
I shall naturally be asked why, in these many favourable circumstances, and others which I am prepared to mention, there is any need for me to claim that Prestwick should be retained as an Atlantic terminal. We in Scotland hold to the opinion that Prestwick is an ideal landing ground and Atlantic terminal for that Northern route which leads from Canada and the United States through Scandinavia to Russia. Somehow or other, despite all these advantages, despite the arguments which no doubt have been used to the Air Ministry by many protagonists of the scheme I have been advocating, favourable winds seem to be avoiding us and we have not been able to get any secure guarantee or undertaking from any responsible Minister that Prestwick will be a permanent terminal. That is what we want to-day before this Debate is finished. We hear of English industrial organisations pulling against us and we hear reports of doubtful authenticity. Therefore, it has been necessary to make this speech, so as to clarify the situation and induce the Minister to remove the anxiety which all Scots are feeling to-day—I mean all Scots from every part of the House and of Scotland, 1176 irrespective of party. There is one argument which I have not used yet, which I know will appeal to the logical mind of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Aircraft Production. That is that for four-and-a-half years Prestwick has been tested, tried and found good. There is no other terminal or projected terminal which is anything but hypothetical. On that argument I would stake my claim, if on no other.
There is another point about which we in Scotland feel deeply. Where there is a terminal or port, there will inevitably follow local aircraft construction. We in Scotland will need that type of industry after the war, for we have very few secondary industries. The heavy industries are our life-blood. We have an established going concern, and, if given the chance, the Clyde can develop that skill of hand and of head which our men possess so outstandingly for the construction of aircraft. We realise that the demand will be ridiculously small after the war compared with what it is now, but we say that Scotland must have its share, for at the present moment it has none. Where can we find a more suitable halting place on the highway of the air than Prestwick? On this island bridge of ours, uniting the great democracy of the West with the great autocracy of the East, we can comfort the mind with the warmth of our hospitality, comfort the body with the warmth of our excellent Scotch whisky—if they are lucky—and comfort the eye with the loveliest scenery in the world.
I feel that I have made my case. I would ask the Government to take note that we in Scotland are not in the habit of threatening people who do not agree with us. Scotland realises the value of arguing a good case, but, as I have said on another occasion, I have never known Scotland more unanimous, more united or more determined on any project than on keeping Prestwick as the main Atlantic terminal in this country.
§ 12.41 p.m.
§ Air-Commodore Helmore (Watford)
In the course of his speech my honourable Friend the Member for South-East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit) used a particularly glowing phrase. He referred to the "science of transportation." That is a matter on which I will detain the Committee for only a few minutes because I do 1177 not propose to intervpene on the general subject of the Debate, which is largely concerned, and quite rightly, with the internal organisation of civil aviation and our hoped-for plans for the international organisation of civil aviation. These things are important, but "the science of transportation" is the matter we chiefly have to deal with. It is an essential problem, for in any system of transportation one must have something to be transported in. One of the major difficulties in this country has been how far, in spite of our preoccupations with the war, we can proceed towards getting our aircraft ready so that when peace is declared we can be first in the air with good civil aircraft.
I have very much regretted the partial failure of the Chicago Conference because I desire most earnestly international agreement, but in one respect I welcome this challenge because I believe that it will prove to be a stimulus to our engineers, to our craftsmen and to our people to feel that as in the past, they may have to rely for the future on their own efforts. As a nation possessing the greatest engineers of the world, I believe we can rely on our own achievements with confidence. We have in this country a great store of technical information and no one knows this better than the Minister of Aircraft Production. We have a fine technique in aeronautical engineering, and if the House will bear with me, I would like to give a few of the reasons for my faith. We do not need our industries to be fostered in an artificial world of cotton wool or under a system run on the lines of a football game in which everybdy has agreed to shoot the same number of goals. We can play the game of industry on the level of normal competition. We have a technique for building aircraft capable of facing any threat of competition from the other side of the Atlantic, or from any country. We can, as we have done in the past, deliver the goods.
Here are, briefly, the foundations of my faith in this country as an engineering country, and particularly as an aeronautical country. We have produced the finest aircraft engines in the world during this war. There is very little dispute about that. We have done this under conditions which have not been too favourable. We have been heavily bombed and attacked and we have produced 1178 engines in weight and power at altitude which have made a remarkable contribution to the war. I mention engines first because the process of making aeroplanes in this country has hitherto perforce been to assemble aircraft components round existing or potential power units. A reciprocating engine takes from five to seven years to develop from the drawing board to the production stage, and our designers have thus had to assemble their airframes round specified power units.
Some doubts were expressed about a year ago as to whether the great technique that we have built up in the construction of war engines might not prove ineffectual for civil use with the result that we might have to go right back to the beginning and start to develop special civil engines of the relatively "woolly" type which would allow a long period between overhauls. I do not believe that this will prove the case. I believe that the technique which we have built up in constructing war power units will serve us in good stead and that the British engine, generally speaking of war-time design, will prove suitable for civil use and might even ultimately be used overseas in airframes of American design. This latter is contained in a forecast given in a Canadian newspaper and is not official, but that sort of statement shows that there is no valid reason for assuming that we might have to start all over again designing civil power units with a five year period of gestation.
I now come to another British technical asset and invention—the jet engine. The jet engine started in this country in a very embryo state and we have slowly forged our way forward, with faith and belief in it as a method of propulsion. I do not propose to say anything privileged or anything which I did not already know as far back as 1937, but I believe that we have in jet propulsion something for which we have a natural genius. Quite possibly the jet will produce a great revolution in air transport, because it permits at high altitudes very much greater speeds than have ever been envisaged before. If this proves the case the jet engine will cause a fundamental change in the production of aircraft, whether for war or for peace. I have already said that the process has in the past been to assemble airframe components round power units. 1179 Because the jet engine is fairly simple in construction it may well be that almost for the first time we shall be able accurately to match the power unit to the airframe and thus the designer will not have to contrive, as hitherto, to fit engines of a certain horsepower into an airframe, but will be able to treat the aircraft and power units as a composite creative whole. What I have now said is only a forecast of something which may be possible.
Because of its special features the advent of the jet engine may very vitally affect the whole structure of our aircraft industry. We are not—at least it is alleged that we are not—a great nation of mass producers and have never fully acquired the technique of the production line and conveyer belt. I do not agree with that statement, but if there are to be rapid changes in civil aircraft development it is probably better that we should not be tied to the production line in this work but should be able to change our designs quickly and respond quickly to new developments. It may thus be to our advantage to revert to our own ancient British technique of improvisation and craftsmanship. Instead of having to work on a production line output in tens of thousands I believe that unit production for civil aviation is more likely to be of the order of hundreds. In these circumstances it will always pay us to make frequent changes in our designs and thus keep receptive of new ideas.
I am adopting this encouraging outlook on our civil air developments because it so happens that these developments suit British engineering technique and give us some assurance in competition with the technical progress of other nations in any part of the world. I hope we can get international agreement. Nobody hopes this more sincerely than myself, but should we fail we shall be back where we have always been in our history, looking after ourselves, doing our own job, and producing good machines for our own people and for other countries. I will not detain the Committee any longer on these matters affecting the creation and invention of aircraft for civil use. It has been well said that invention is a process comprising one-tenth inspiration and nine-tenths perspiration. Having had the inspiration, it is time we began to exude a little perspiration on the job of getting 1180 British civil aircraft into the skies of the world as soon as possible.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Suffolk, Eye)
I am sure that we have all listened to the hon. and gallant Gentleman with a great deal of interested attention. We know that he speaks on this subject with great experience and knowledge behind him, and, therefore, with some authority. I agree with him that there is a tremendous future for jet-propelled aircraft and I only hope that the plans of the Minister of Aircraft Production are based upon a similar conception for the use of this type of aircraft in the future. No doubt the hon. and gallant Member will forgive me if I do not follow more closely the interesting arguments which he has just given to us on other questions.
I am sure we are all sorry to hear of the sad news announced to-day by the Leader of the House that two of our colleagues are missing on an air trip from Italy. These losses of senior officers and other official people are becoming serious. Our colleagues have been reported missing while they were discharging public duties. I have no doubt that the Government have an adequate reason to put forward but, since we have now lost a very considerable number of individuals who were very important to the war effort, it may be that we shall have to ask the Government for an inquiry, in order to ascertain what are the reasons for these sad and unfortunate losses.
I notice on the Front Bench the Minister of Aircraft Production, accompanied by his Parliamentary Secretary. In the absence of definite information may I express the hope that he is going to reply to the Debate? I would welcome that, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made a number of interesting speeches in the country to scientific workers and similar organisations and to men in the canteens in the war factories. I hope that he will be able to tell us something of the plans of himself and his Department, in making their contribution to this vital and interesting problem of post-war civil aviation and the part it is going to play in the peace. We have had a number of these Debates, one after another, and contributions have been made to them by Members from all parties, including specialists on the subject. To-day we have had a brief but 1181 interesting and welcome statement by the Lord President of the Council. It was certainly very short and did not give the Committee much of the information which we want. The position, as I see it, is that Lord Swinton has succeeded Lord Beaverbrook, the Chicago Conference has succeeded the talks in London between Dr. Adolf Berle and Lord Beaverbrook, the battle for cabotage is over—or is it? We have an Empire Air Council and we have had the Air Line and various conferences in various parts of the Commonwealth and the American Continent.
I believe that it was a mistake to appoint as Minister for Civil Aviation a Member of the House of Lords. I know that Lord Swinton has a very wide experience, as an ex-Secretary of State for Air. Moreover I consider that he has never received the credit that was his due for the work he did in helping to build up the Royal Air Force in this country. He is a man of great energy. My only complaint is that the Minister for Civil Aviation ought to have been in this House. We had Lord Beaverbrook, representing Cabinet policy in the House of Lords; now we have Lord Swinton who is, I gather from the statement of the Lord President of the Council this morning, also merely to represent policy. In view of the considerable interest which has been taken by Members of the House of Commons in this subject from all sides, the Prime Minister might, at least, have given us an opportunity to have in the House of Commons a Minister who could reply to these numerous Debates on civil aviation. In addition as far as I can see this is likely to be a spending Department and affect the public purse.
I gather from the statement of the Lord President that an Under-Secretary of State for Civil Aviation is to be appointed. We already have two Under-Secretaries of State in the Air Ministry, one in the House of Lords and one in this House. Now there will be a third. I have no doubt that he will have a great deal of work to do, but I am not sure that we need three Under-Secretaries for the Air Ministry. I am certain in my own mind that what we need is a Minister for Civil Aviation on the Front Bench in the House of Commons. I gathered also from the Deputy Prime Minister's reply that the Air Ministry is still to keep its hand very much upon civil aviation, and that although the 1182 Minister for Civil Aviation will be responsible for policy the Air Marshals will keep their hands on the routine matters connected with the day-to-day work and much of the development of civil aviation. The Minister shakes his head. Then I hope that the Government will make that absolutely clear, because it is not so at the moment.
One thing we have on the credit side is that at long last, we have set up a Commonwealth Air Council. I want to be one of the first to congratulate the Government on having secured it. I know there have been a number of difficulties in the way, but better late than never. It is some reward to hon. Members who have been pleading and pressing this matter upon the Government for some considerable time. The United States of America have a tremendous start upon this country particularly with regard to facilities for the development of civil aviation in the Dominions. I noticed, I think it was on Wednesday of this week, that the Australian Prime Minister said he was going to negotiate with the United States on a basis of reciprocity. Reciprocity in the hands of the United State is a very powerful weapon. America can supply planes for civil aviation, with a tremendous servicing organisation behind them. Unfortunately, we are not able to give similar encouragement to the Dominion Governments at the present time, and I would again direct the attention of the Government to this matter.
At the present time Australia is manufacturing British planes, Mosquitoes and other machines, and I would like to ask the Minister whether those who make these machines there have a workable and efficient arrangement with their opposite numbers in this country and whether he is satisfied with the arrangements for the supply of spare parts, and of technical drawings and for sending out a sufficient number of trained mechanics and engineers who can give to them without undue delay in Australia this necessary information on repairs and structural difficulties. I heard a story the other day from somebody who is engaged in these matters in Australia. He wanted advice about an important part of British aircraft engineering practice here and yet he sent to the United States for the details. He said it took too long to get the answers and blueprints 1183 from this country. I say to the hon. Gentleman that you cannot suddenly press Button A, and say, "Now that we are to have an Air Council everything in the garden is going to be lovely."
For a number of years the American motor corporations have gone out of their way to plan and cater for servicing and equipment overseas. They have been doing the same more recently in relation to aircraft. Talk to some of the young men who have been here from the Dominions and have visited some of the factories in this country, and you will see what is happening. Over and over again, you will hear from them the sad story that it is very much easier for the Australian mechanic, designer or engineer working on aircraft production to get the answers to many problems and practical co-operation from the United States than from this country. I hope the hon. Gentleman will make some inquiries into this, because if we want to build up the closest contacts with the Dominions, without any Ottawa tariffs and the like, the best way is by this kind of working co-operation. When the Australian Prime Minister talks of reciprocity, and says that he will negotiate with the United States on the basis of reciprocity, I hope the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that this is part of the advantage which America is carefully planning with the Dominions. This is the way that real trade co-operation is built up.
I am sorry that the Dominions Office has never seemed able to tackle this question and give us leadership on the question of the future of civil aviation. I have waited, time and time again, to hear the Secretary of State for the Dominions make some kind of statement of what is the intention of the democratic British Commonwealth with regard to the solution of this problem. I imagine he is much too busy in another place, defending the Government on Greece, and attacking, as he did yesterday, "The Times"—which incidentally has done far more than he has to bring to the notice of the people of this country the vital importance of developing, on a democratic basis, the future of British Commonwealth aviation. I should like to see the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions here to-day and to try to gather what is his general feeling.
1184 There was a conference of Empire Prime Ministers in London many months ago. Many times, the Prime Minister was begged to put this question of the Commonwealth development of civil aviation high up on the agenda. We have never been told what took place at that conference. We have been told that this matter was discussed. We were put off in the House of Commons, not once but a dozen times, from getting adequate answers from the Government. They said "Let us leave this to the Conference." We have never had an authoritative statement of what took place, and I would like to ask whether the Prime Minister discussed the development of a great All-Commonwealth air route, what was called, I believe, by Lord Beaverbrook, the "All-Red Route." Was that discussed, and if it was, was there anything like an agreement on this subject, because it is one of the vital questions?
I would like to ask the Minister of Aircraft Production, who has been busy recently setting up all sorts of organisations for the technical development of aircraft in this country, whether the setting-up in London of a great Aviation Academy has ever been discussed, so that young men of the Dominions who are now serving with the R.A.F. could be invited to come here and get everything they want in the way of tuition and knowledge of the latest aircraft developments. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production is a member of the Conservative Party, which used to advocate an Empire policy. Is no lead to be given to the young men of the Empire in this brave new world for their future with the peaceful uses of aircraft after the war? Is there any scheme for vocational training for the pilots and navigators who are to-day being trained in the R.A.F.? In the Army, vocational training of many kinds is given, when the opportunity occurs, to fit young men for civil life. I have been saying this in the House of Commons for nearly three years—and I had something to do with trying to deal with this shortage of navigators and pilots for civil air lines before the war. Are we to give the young men proper facilities for vocational training of a technical character to enable them to take up aviation as a career? I hope the Government will give us some statement on that.
1185 It is no use saying that we cannot do these things because we are busy with the war. We are always told, when these questions arise, that the war effort must come first. Of course it must. We are told that the Government are too busy, and that factories are too busy producing military aircraft, and that facilities are not available for designing civil aircraft. That is not the case. I could take the hon. Gentleman to plant after plant in this country where there are really good brains available, waiting to plan for the future, whose work on these projects could be dovetailed into the war effort. They could combine their ordinary routine scientific research with assistance in some sort of programme for post-war civil aviation. It is not really a question of man-power. This is being done in America and elsewhere; here we are given the same answer, that it is the problem of man-power shortage. It cannot be that. We keep open night clubs, luxury restaurants, luxury trades in the West End, race-courses and other things at a time we are talking about scraping the barrel for more men. At the same time, the Government see to it that men are drafted out of the R.A.F. into other Services, and we are getting rid of draughtsmen and designers, the very men we shall want, if we are to have the aircraft we require after the war to fly the ordinary world and Commonwealth routes. I say that they are not doing that in America.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aircraft Production (Mr. Lennox-Boyd)
In regard to draughtsmen, every possible step is being taken to get as many as we can on aeronautical design, and it is not fair for the hon. Member to make wild statements of that kind. If he knows of a single draughtsman who is not being employed, I shall be glad to hear about him.
§ Mr. Granville
If the hon. Gentleman can tell me he has not received applications over and over again from factories and design units in this country for draughtsmen and designers—schemes have been put before the Minister and before the Minister of Labour for the purpose of developing the civil aeroplane and the auxiliary equipment after the war—which have been turned down, I shall be satisfied, but I know that is not the case. I say that the Government have 1186 never tackled this man-power problem scientifically, and as was said in the Debate on the overseas posting of members of the A.T.S. the other day, there must be thousands of people who are not yet doing real jobs for the war effort. These men of great importance take a long time to train, and have been taken away from the projects which need them badly. If the hon. Gentleman needs more information, I shall be glad to send it to him.
I should like to inquire about the functions of this new Commonwealth Air Council which is to be set up. We have not been told very much about it yet. We have seen reports in the Press, and the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) has asked for a fuller statement to be put in the Library with regard to the speeches at Chicago. But we have had very little information from the Government on the functions of the new Commonwealth Air Council. Is it the intention of this new Council to plan a great fleet of aircraft, not after the war but during the war, either under the control of the R.A.F. Command, or under the control of B.O.A.C., or some particular Government Department or directly under the control of the Minister for Civil Aviation? The shipping problem involved in the question of leave from Burma, India and other more distant theatres will never be solved, unless we get sufficient aircraft to fly the men back to this country. Why cannot we build up our Air Transport Command to a size that will enable men to be flown back home from Italy, the Middle East, India, and Burma? Over and over again this point crops up in letters one receives from men overseas.
Would it offend the United States if we built up our Transport Command to an extensive fleet which could bring our prisoners back from Germany as speedily as possible after the cessation of hostilities? Would it offend the United States if our Transport Command or B.O.A.C. were built up to a size which would enable men to return on leave from various theatres of war in quick time? At the end of the war we should then have all the machines necessary for the Empire "All-Red Route," and for the other arrangements which the Government are making, for other routes, including the North and South Atlantic traffic. Has this been thought out? Has it been discussed? I think the article in the "Economist" the 1187 other day did a great deal of good. It has cleared the air. Why are the Government afraid of making these minimum demands to the United States? Is there a directive from high quarters that nothing has to be said? There are bound to be differences. I have discussed this with ordinary American airmen and troops in my constituency, and I am convinced that if we tell America our minimum demands, and put our cards on the table, they will respect us all the more for it. I think the time has come to do away with any inferiority complex. It is no use Lord Woolton talking about merchant adventurers after the war, if the Government and Ministers are not prepared to take the initiative, and give the country and Commonwealth and the planners of post-war industry a great new lead in the air.
We ought to have more information about this Council, and I hope the Minister of Aircraft Production will give us some at the end of this Debate. Are they to have any supervision or over-all control or direction, with regard to radio-location, the meteorological organisation in various parts of the British Commonwealth, and responsibility for servicing, or for purchasing aircraft from America? Are they to be responsible for what was called—I do not know what it is called now—the Commonwealth Trunk routes? Is it to be their responsibility to see that we get aircraft to fly this route? Is it to be the responsibility of this Council to see that we have an aeroplane which can fly the North Atlantic and South Atlantic routes? We have had all kinds of statements in the Press from time to time about the Brabazon I, and the Tudor, and now the Lancastrian. Is it not up to the Government to let us have an authoritative statement as to whether, within two or three years after the war, we shall have a British aircraft produced in sufficient numbers to be able to service these routes and carry out the routine flying?
It is not a question of getting a prototype and trying it out and then making modifications. The hon. Gentleman knows that it is not a question of producing, first one machine and then a dozen. It is going to take hundreds of civil planes with effective pay load to fly over this route. Here is a great aircraft industry in this country, trained in the practice of aircraft production through 1188 the war. Are we simply posting that experience to other parts of the war effort, or are we going to allow these men to play their part and build aircraft for post-war purposes? There have been deputations to the House reflecting anxiety on this and I would say "Do not just tell the newspapers, do not merely give backdoor hand-outs to the air correspondents, but tell us in the House, so that we shall have it on record, what the Government policy is on this matter."
I would also like to ask whether the ordinary private companies, the shipping companies, the railway companies, and so on, are to have representation upon this new Commonwealth Council, or are we to have only our old friend the chosen instrument—and is the B.O.A.C. or a Government representative to state their views for them? I hope that, at long last, we are to have a statement of the Government's policy on that matter. The shipping companies and all the rest are forming groups, but we have not yet had any indication of what the policy is to be. We are told nothing, partly because we have not got a Minister for Civil Aviation in this House. Will this new Council be empowered to negotiate with the United States? Are they going to discuss problems of air routes, the development of meteorological stations, and so on, with the successor of Dr. Adolf Berle, in America? The whole policy of the Government on civil aviation has been a question mark, possibly because there has been a directive that in no circumstances must we offend the United States.
The Dominions and the Colonies look to this House, and to London, to give a lead. The sad fact is that the Government have left them with no other course but to go to America, and to get the best terms they can. We need a bold policy on this problem. I was discussing the matter with a Member of the House quite recently, and he said, "What is it you really want for civil aviation?" I want the Government to have real bold vision on this matter, because otherwise they will not be able to give this country the opportunities for the development of this splendid new phase of international co-operation and they will be unable to match the modern needs of our time.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (Swindon)
The hon. and gallant Member for Watford (Air-Commodore Helmore), who is not 1189 now in his place, gave us an encouraging outlook for the prospects for civil aviation on the technical and scientific side. He knows much about these things, and he is a man of vision. That encouraging outlook has been fortified by the statement we heard from the Deputy Prime Minister. I am sure that the House has heard with great satisfaction that the new Minister for Civil Aviation is not only going to be able to control policy, but will have the power to execute the policy which he may decide upon. That is a great step forward, and it removes much of the anxiety that many of us have felt about the future of British civil aviation. The other bright light in connection with our immediate future is the appointment of Lord Swinton as Minister for Civil Aviation. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) that the fact that the Minister sits in another place is a real detriment. What is wanted is a man of outstanding knowledge on these matters, and of character and ability, and I think that the way that Lord Swinton conducted the negotiations in America shows him to be very much the right man in the right place. It is a long time since this country had a Minister who went abroad and spoke on certain principles, and stuck to those principles. By sticking to those principles he has earned, not only for himself but for this country and the Empire, the support of many foreign countries.
I do not agree with people who suggest that the Chicago Conference has been a failure. Let us look, as my hon. Friend the Member for South-East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit) did, not just at the failures, but at the achievements. For a hurriedly-called meeting of that kind to achieve what it did was remarkable. When one realises the immense amount of preparation that is needed for an international conference of this kind, I do not think that there need be dissatisfaction with what was accomplished. So far as Great Britain and the Empire are concerned, we can look at what was done there with great satisfaction. Following upon the Chicago Conference there were further discussions, which showed that the Empire is in complete agreement on all outstanding matters. The establishment of the Commonwealth Air Council, the setting up of technical committees, and the fact that we are generally getting on with the job — all this gives great cause 1190 for satisfaction. I agree with the hon. Member for Eye that we ought to know much more than we do about the terms of reference of this Commonwealth Air Council. Is it only consultative, or has it any powers; and what is it going to do? I agree that the sooner we can get as full a statement as possible upon that, the better.
What the country wants to know, as soon as possible, because the matter is urgent, is, what is the policy of the Minister for Civil Aviation to be in regard to the method of operation of civil aviation. Is it to be the method of the chosen instrument? Is there to be nationalisation of our civil aviation? Is there to be an opportunity for a certain amount of competition? Is the Minister going to call upon all the great experience that exists, not only in Great Britain but in the Dominions and Colonies as well, of people who have knowledge of transportation problems?
The rapid growth of aviation has perhaps put the transportation side of it rather out of balance. Two great wars have given an immense impetus to aviation. There are many new technical and scientific developments in connection with flying, in meteorology, radio, and other branches, which the commonplace fact that civil aviation is just another method of transportation has tended to make people overlook. Transportation, whether on the land, on the sea, or in the air, has, fundamentally, many of the same problems. If civil aviation is to go ahead in the post-war world, it is very necessary that transportation experience should be called upon to assist in the development of this new and vitally important industry. I hope that the Minister for Civil Aviation will call upon all experience that is available in the shipping world, the railway world, and the road transport world, so that we can make use of that great wealth of experience which exists in this country on matters of transportation. The United States Transport Command have done this. I think I am correct in saying that the Transport Command of the United States have, as their generals and colonels and chief executives, men experienced in various forms of transportation. Does not that show that this country is behind? We lead the world in scientific progress and in scientific development in air matters, but let us face the fact that in the problem of air transportation we are behind the United States, because, I believe, we have 1191 not utilised to the best advantage that experience of shipping, railway, and road transport that is available.
I also hope that the B.O.A.C., as a chosen instrument, will not just remain in that monopoly position. I strongly support what the hon. Member for South-East St. Pancras said. By all means use the chosen instrument as a method of co-operation, in the best possible way, with shipping, railway, or road transport interests, in whatever part of the Empire they may be. Use the present facilities, and, wherever possible, develop and extend them. It may be of interest if I tell the House that at a very important meeting of the Royal Aeronautical Society this week, on this very subject, the following resolution was passed:That, in the opinion of this meeting, it is desirable that persons experienced in transport services, e.g., shipping and railways, should take part in the development of civil aviation.That is an important resolution, coming from the Royal Aeronautical Society. I think we ought not to forget that civil aviation in its infancy was sponsored by shipping interests. It was the firm of Instone's which pioneered civil aviation, and it seems to me that it would be to the national advantage to use this shipping, railway, and road experience to the full.
The hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) made certain observations which cannot be allowed to pass unanswered. He made what I consider a very grave and serious statement, when he suggested that, if civil aviation were in the hands of private companies, then cuts would be made to endanger life. He seemed to imply that, if these lines were run by the State, all would be well and safety would be paramount, but if they were given to competitive private enterprise that would not be the case. I do not think it would be out of place if I reminded the Committee of the position in this respect, as between the privately-controlled British railways, and the French State national railways in pre-war days. I know which system I would prefer, from the safety point of view, and statistics show that these State-controlled railways were not as safe as the privately-controlled British railways. When the hon. Member suggested that private enterprise does not consider the safety of its passengers, he made a very grave and 1192 unfounded allegation. How does private enterprise make its profit? Surely, by giving service to the public, and the most important consideration in this service to the public is that passengers should be carried with the utmost possible safety. I think the records in pre-war days tended to show that this was the main consideration.
§ Mr. Granville
Would it be fairer, in view of the hon. Gentleman's argument, to compare, on the question of efficiency, the air companies who were receiving mail contracts and subsidies before the war, with those companies which received no contract or subsidy at all?
§ Sir W. Wakefield
Quite clearly, in the early days of any industry, before the volume of production, or, in this case, the volume of traffic is built up, there are many difficulties to be overcome, financial as well as technical, and the aircraft industry is no different from any other industry in this respect. But now that earlier troubles have been got over, and it is quite clear that the volume of goods and traffic will be available, I think the suggestion made by the hon. Member for East Stirling, that civil aviation must be subsidised, is quite incorrect. The hon. Member made the further point that, if private enterprise were allowed to run these services, subsidies would be absolutely necessary, but that they would not be necessary under the State. So far as I am aware, all the offers by those anxious to provide these services for the public, whether by a combination of shipping and rail interests, or others unconnected with systems of transportation, have been made without reference to subsidies, provided the competition they have to meet is also unsubsidised—which is quite a fair reservation. It is quite untrue for the hon. Member to suggest that private operators are unwilling to operate except under a subsidy.
There is one other point, among the many which I have no time to answer, made by the hon. Member for East Stirling. He said it was fantastic that aerodromes should be under national control. Really, I do not see that at all. For centuries, harbours have been under national control in some form or other, and there have been no difficulties. So far as I am aware, the main harbours of the world have been only 1193 too anxious for as many ships as possible to enter their harbours, pay the dues, and bring the prosperity which shipping trade brings to any harbour which it uses. Surely, the same argument must apply to aerodromes in the various countries of the world. It seemed to me that on these points the hon. Member ought not to be allowed to go unchallenged.
One final point. I hope that the Minister of Aircraft Production will consider the needs of the user. I hope that it will not be the case, that military and not civil requirements will be paramount. I hope that, in the consideration of the plans which are now being made for future aircraft, civil user needs will dominate. In the future long-term planning that is being done now, nothing that is being done can alter or affect the course of the war in its present stage. What we do not want to see happen is that the power that exists in the Air Ministry for Air Ministry user requirements for the immediate post-war years shall be weighted in favour of post-war military requirements, so that British civil user requirements take the background. I think that the House of Commons should give all possible support to the new Minister for Civil Aviation in whatever demands he makes in this respect. Now that we have a separate Ministry, it will be possible to see that civil aviation is not hamstrung and placed behind military aviation, and, in that regard, we can look forward, with the greatest confidence, to the future place of British civil aviation in the world.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes (Carmarthen)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Swindon (Sir W. Wakefield) in his interesting argument on the merits or demerits of public against private enterprise. After all, he almost convinced me that we would be better, in running aviation in this war, if we let out part of the Royal Air Force on contract. The Debate has, so far, tended to concentrate rather upon the development of civil aviation than upon its control and purposes. All of us on these Benches fully appreciate the vast reservoir of technical skill that we have in this country, and we have the same faith as the hon. and gallant Member for Watford (Air Commodore Helmore) in the possibilities of its development in British hands in the future. We 1194 share with other hon. Members in other parts of the House the desire to see these transport services developed in the most efficient possible form. We want to see good and comfortable aeroplanes, and efficient services spread all over the world. There is no difference between us in the desire to see peaceful aeroplanes in the skies of the world. But, for the ordinary people of this country, that, I am afraid, is rather academic. Millions of people in this country, nay, tens of millions, are not interested. They know that, in regard to actual flying, they will never use these trans-Continental aeroplanes.
§ Mr. Hughes
If I were to suggest raising the wages of the workers in this country to a level which would enable them to buy tickets to fly across the Atlantic, some hon. Members opposite would be the first to object. What does concern the people of this country is not the possibility whether they may be able to travel or not, but the danger that comes from the air. Every possibility of advance, further development, greater speed, greater efficiency, every one of these developments in national hands is only increasing the danger. After all, we know, in the history of this country, what sea power has meant. We built up our sea power on a small Navy and a large Mercantile Marine—the big reservoir from which we were able to increase our navies when the need came, and so we built up our power. It is equally true to-day that the big reservoir of civil aircraft and civil aviation in national hands, will be an essential element of power, and of the use of power politics, by a nation. I agree that there will be differences of types and other matters that will tend to differentiate the military from the civil plane. Nevertheless, you will be training thousands of people in the management, control, driving and flying of aeroplanes, and there is your powerful reserve.
Therefore, I am afraid also that I cannot accede to the request of the hon. Member for Swindon to sing songs of praise about Chicago. The hon. Member mentioned that, at Chicago, great things 1195 had been achieved. I do not know whether he was basing his adjective upon the mass of documents with which we have been provided in the Library. It is true that there are a great number of Conventions, and that there were a great many speeches, but this is not the achievement of a conference. The achievement of a conference is when these things are signed, ratified and put into operation. In fact, the only substantive achievement of the Chicago Conference was in arriving at agreement with regard to the technical matters connected with air travel, standards of airworthiness, radio frequencies, signals, aerodromes and technical matters of that kind—most important and most necessary for the development of civil aviation, but, I respecfully suggest, not matters which justify the calling together of this enormous conference at Chicago. At the political level, these are matters that would be best dealt with at a conference of experts, and, in fact, I believe these agreements were arrived at on these technical matters between the technical experts, and not between the political heads.
What was the great achievement of Chicago? The hon. Member for South East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit) claimed that one of its great achievements was in having defeated the attempt to set up an international airways, and the hon. Member was loudly cheered by all the hon. Members on those benches. Let us examine it a bit further. Those hon. Members were, in fact, cheering the fact that Australia and New Zealand, two full members of our British Commonwealth of Nations, had been turned down. They were cheering the fact that, when Australia and New Zealand were putting forward a claim for international aviation, our representatives did not say a single syllable in support of them. Is that the achievement at Chicago, on which those hon. Members would expect us to shower praise upon the British Government or the Minister concerned?
§ Sir W. Wakefield
With every international agreement, it is clear, all the great nations of the world ought to be in such an agreement, but since Russia was not there, obviously such international agreement could not possibly be achieved. Therefore, what was the point of raising it?
§ Mr. Hughes
At least we could have said something in support of Australia and New Zealand, but we did not. I do not accept for one moment that we have to wait until every country in the world agrees before we support the internationalisation of civil aircraft. "International" does not mean everybody. This Conference did not cease to be an international conference because Russia was not there. I know that we cannot expect to-day—perhaps not for some time to come—that Russia would agree to internationalising civil aircraft, and there is no prospect within measurable time of the United States accepting that position. They have made up their minds that they will dominate the world of civil aviation and at the present time they may well have every reason to be entitled to think so. They have the best machines in the world, they have developed the best technique for civil aviation, have a long start of everybody else and the enormous advantage of having developed this system on an international ground. Suppose that in the United States of America the different States had had the same political power as the different countries of Europe have, can it be thought that aviation would have developed in America as it has done? It has developed because it has a free continent in which to operate. One glance at the map of Europe before the war, with its criss-crossings of prohibited areas and lines of travel, will show how difficult this would be. No wonder, therefore, that America went ahead. It had the international background to enable it to do so.
To come back to Chicago, I am not prepared to cheer the turning down of Australia and New Zealand. I look at the political achievements, and as far as I can discover, they amount to nothing but the acceptance by about half the countries there of the first of the two freedoms. The first one is called "the right of innocent passage," but how far that goes even the Conference does not make clear, because the Conference agreed—and the British Government was pledged before it went there—that the sovereignty of the air was to be retained by the different States. If the State retains sovereignty of the air and grants free passage the State which has the sovereignty can lay down the conditions under which that passage is to be made. That was agreed, though how far it carries 1197 us I do not know. The second freedom—the right to land for non-traffic purposes—means that it would be possible for a State which signed this convention to direct, except in cases of emergency, where that could be done. The other two freedoms have not been accepted by any country that counts. That is the whole story of Chicago.
We have again lost the finest opportunity of starting to build peace in the air. This was the greatest chance. What is the good of having all these broad declarations and beautiful language? I recommend the Committee to read the third and fourth headings of the Atlantic Charter; and the resolution of the House of Representatives on the creation of international machinery with powers adequate to establish and maintain a just and lasting peace among the nations of the world, and favouring the participation of the United States therein. A Senator commenting on that says that "participation" is a positive and democratic word and that it means "to share in common with others." They are grand words, but as soon as we come down to the brass tacks of beginning to share something and we say, "Let us share the air and let us co-operate in civil aviation up and down the world," we abandon the opportunity which has been so well presented to us. I said a moment ago that it was necessary for us to get complete co-operation in the air, agreement between all the States in the world. We have to support, if we want to join hands with them, Australia and New Zealand.
When I spoke on this matter over a year ago I ventured to say that if we were to have an international agreement with our folk on the other side of the world and made it of a kind in which others could and should join as well, there was every prospect that countries like Holland, France and Sweden would be glad to come in. Some doubt was cast upon that, but I have been making inquiries since those days, not at the official Government level, but trying to test opinion. I am more convinced now than I was a year ago that, if we were to accept the offer of Australia and New Zealand and establish an international air force, with liberty for other nations to join and share all the privileges—internationally owned, organised, run, managed and controlled—there would be several of the countries of Europe who would be glad to join. I believe if we did 1198 that, meaning business, Canada would come in, though she does not show willingness in that direction now. That was an opportunity, and I deplore that this follows the result of the Chicago Conference.
§ 1.53 p.m.
§ Captain Plugge (Chatham)
A great man once said "Transportation is civilisation," and I want the Committee to realise how through aviation we are about to enter, after this war, into a great new era of advanced civilisation. What is the great step forward which civil aviation provides for mankind? Generally, people take the view that it is a means of travelling faster. I submit to the Committee that the great revolutionising aspect of civil aviation is that for the first time we have been provided with a means of transport which carries us as fast over the sea as over the land. Methods of transport by sea have always been considerably slower than travel by land, but for the first time in the history of the world we have a means of transport which is as quick on the seas as it is on land. In this respect it becomes of great importance to our Empire. We often compare the United States with Great Britain, and it has been pointed out that the United States had all their States joined by land and, therefore, one could travel very quickly from one to the other. They were directly attached to one another without any boundaries, with the result that unhampered trade and fast travel were constantly provided. Aviation has come along for the first time in history, and it has linked the Empire in a closer manner than had anything before. Our Colonies and Empire are very much closer to the Mother Country. We are as well situated as the United States, because, for the first time, we have a means of travel which is as fast on sea as on land.
We are much concerned to-day about international agreements on the one hand, and monopolies or the chosen instrument on the other. These two subjects are very much correlated. If you have a chosen instrument in the country and make an international agreement with a country that fosters private enterprise the international agreement will always be one-sided. Aviation is different altogether from other fields of human endeavour when a monopoly is considered. I want to give an example. If we were to grant a monopoly for the building of chain stores in Great Britain or a monopoly for 1199 road transport or the building of railways it would mean that nobody, neither a British enterprise nor a foreign one, could build a chain store but only the chosen instrument. If you grant a monopoly in a field of transport which includes permission for one nationality to operate in another country you are following a policy which is a complete anti-national policy. It boils down to saying that you are forbidding an Englishman or a private British enterprise to do in Great Britain that which you are allowing the foreigner or a foreign private company to do in Great Britain.
That only applies to monopoly in radio and civil aviation, two fields which include operation within the boundaries of other countries. With the chosen instrument in Great Britain it means that an Englishman or a private English company can buy a commercial aeroplane but is not allowed to land it on a British aerodrome, and take up British passengers from a British aerodrome and fly them away, but any foreigner or foreign private company can come from a country where free enterprise is allowed, and land on a British aerodrome, and land its passengers and pick up passengers, which we are not allowing British subjects to do. That is a very important point to bear in mind in regard to aviation. In international agreements reached with countries which foster and allow private enterprise in civil aviation you put yourself immediately at a disadvantage if you adopt the chosen instrument policy. Recently, in a Debate in another place, Lord Rothermere said that we ought to replace the words "private enterprise" by "free enterprise." Using that expression, if we clamp down on British free enterprise, we are in the field of civil aviation sky rocketing foreign private enterprise. We are practising what I call fair play in reverse. We are whipping our own children and caressing anybody else's children. We are hampering the progress of our nationals in order to give greater field to the progress of other nationals.
With regard to international agreements as such, I would like to endorse the remarks made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Swindon (Sir W. Wakefield) with respect to the Chicago Conference. We could not have chosen a better Minister than the one we sent 1200 over there. In going over to the Conference, we wanted to regiment air transport and reach international agreement not for air regimentation in itself but more because of the extraordinary position in which the United States finds itself by reason of the fact that it has been building for such a long time transport machines for its war transport needs. For reasons better known to ourselves we felt that we could not expand our reduced aeronautical industry for that purpose and had to devote our whole efforts to the manufacture of purely fighting machines. I do not know why we decided on this policy but I can see the dilemma with which we were faced. I have always said that the Air Force should at all times have been able to transport its whole staff, spare parts and all its needs all by air; that it should never transport its material, men or otherwise, other than by air. A large British built air transport command has been at all time a justifiable military necessity. The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) pointed out the value of an efficient and immense transport command for bringing home soldiers on leave, wounded and prisoners, but it is for the Government in their great knowledge to decide which constructions are to receive priority. The fact is, however, that to-day the U.S. is miles ahead of us on the question of the construction of civil planes and operation and planning of civil routes, and the purpose of the Chicago Conference was, to make some plans which would be fair to all the United Nations so that one country should not get ahead in this field, and reap unfairly all the benefits that the open spaces of the air will provide. To that extent, I think the Chicago Conference has been a great success. We hold the key landing ports of the world and can afford to retrench.
I have submitted to the Committee why we should regiment civil aviation at this early stage but I further submit that I am against regimentation as such. We have not regimented shipping, and yet the space available in the air is very much greater than that provided by the sea. If aeroplanes were only allowed to fly over the sea and only at 1,000 feet altitude, then the space in that air would be the same as that on the seas. But there is one quarter of land around the world, and if planes fly over land and one thousand feet altitude apart then the 1201 space in the air is 45 times greater than the space on the seas. If planes fly to a ceiling of 30,000 feet at altitudes varying by 500 feet the transport space available is more than 90 times that provided by the seas. So why should there be this necessity for the regimenting of all flying in space a world 100 times as spacious as our own? Why we want to reach international agreement to-day is because of the extraordinary position of the United States owing to their enormous construction of military transport planes, owing to their great internal airlines having been able to continue and expand during the war and above all owing to their policy of fostering free enterprise and not allow monopoly.
I must apologise to the Committee because, before my opening remarks. I should have disclosed the fact that I am on the board of a civil aviation company called Airopia. This company is planning to fly 800 British civil aeroplanes over Europe as an international company with subsidiary companies in each country, rather on the same lines as the International Wagon Lit Company used to function on the railways before the war, and they plan to use British aircraft. Will they be able to do so or will they be compelled to use American machines?
The White Paper on civil aviation follows and fully endorses the Airopia Plan which has been in the Government's hands since 1943. Other Governments have expressed their interest. The company seeks no monopoly or subsidy. Has it to become an American or a French company to operate? I myself am exceedingly interested that British aircraft should be used exclusively by Airopia and, in fact, British aircraft used wherever possible, because in my constituency is Short Brothers, which is the greatest pioneering aircraft factory in this country. Those great pioneers the Short Brothers—Horace, Eustace and Oswald—used to build balloons in 1890. As far back as 1904 the firm built the first Wright machines. They are the actual pioneers in aircraft production in England. I have at heart the welfare of my constituents, and I want to maintain and expand the work of this factory where the first and the best aeroplanes at all times have been built in this country and where there are thousands and thousands of workers who are my constituents and whose well-being depends on the expansion of British civil aviation. 1202 I am anxious, therefore, that that factory, the home of the famous Empire flying-boat, should go on increasing and expanding, in size, in efficiency and in quality. The use of British machines by private enterprise will do this.
Coming back to the point of the internationalisation of civil aviation, I do not see why, if there were not this great difference between the position of the U.S. and ourselves to-day, there would be this great necessity for planning the regimentation of the air. We want to leave room for private enterprise to carry on its work, and the best way to compete with America, in my opinion, is not to try and reduce or hamper what they should do or wish to do, but for the Government to declare a policy. We have not heard that policy yet and that is what we need. We should have His Majesty's Government's policy declared at once so that the planes we make can be seen flying on the Continent, in the Empire and elsewhere. At present, there are rumours in Europe and in the States which we have to dissipate that England will not be in a position to provide civil aviation machines after the war in any appreciable quantities or at early deliveries, and all these foreign countries are looking towards America, whose present lead they believe will be retained, to buy their aircraft. We want to maintain for civil aviation all our workmen and also all our pilots and skilled personnel trained in the Air Force. We want to provide jobs for them after the war. In conclusion I want to impress on the Minister that we should, as soon as possible, have a policy declared which will enable all the private interests, all the free enterprise, in this country to go forward and get out their plans and sail forward, or perhaps more correctly fly forward, into the great air spaces with the operations for the welfare of humanity. British civilisation marches on.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Captain Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
This Debate has ranged over a considerable field, and I do not intend to follow all the speakers who have participated in claims for air bases in their constituencies, and other things, or expressed their pet political philosophy for the future of civil aviation. However, I am very delighted to have an opportunity of supporting this Estimate which is before the Committee to-day, because on the last 1203 occasion on which we had a Debate, a few months ago, I pressed very strongly for three things. I said that what was required was a Minister for Civil Aviation to be appointed immediately. That has been done, and no one has denied so far that we have not only a Minister, but the right one for the job. Another point I urged was that we should divorce civil aviation from the Air Ministry at the earliest possible moment. The third was that we should have a policy for international aviation and for Empire aviation. Last, but by no means least, I said we should have a policy of internal and external aviation for this country.
As far as international civil aviation is concerned we have had a good deal of talk about Chicago. Some have expressed complete satisfaction with what we have achieved there; others, disappointment. As far as I am concerned, I think a great deal was achieved at Chicago. Whether it could have been achieved on the expert or technical level, I do not know, but what I would point out is that it was not this country which convened that Conference. It was convened by the United States of America on the Ministerial or the highest level, and therefore it was essential that we should send a delegation to America on that level. The fact that everything was not accomplished there should not disappoint us. What amazes me is not that everything was not agreed, but that so much agreement was reached by so many, having regard to other conferences in the past. I do not think we need be discouraged by the fact that agreement was not reached on all five freedoms. A Convention, I believe, has been signed by the majority of the Conference on the first two; general agreement was found on the first four, and that, I think, augurs well for the future. The fact that general agreement was not found on the fifth freedom, as I think nearly everybody knows now, is due to the very uncompromising attitude adopted by the U.S.A. who convened the Conference. Far from criticising or blaming our delegation for not accepting in toto the proposals put forward by the U.S., I feel sure that if they had accepted them, they would have been accused by this Committee to-day of having "sold us down the river"—to use an American phrase—and the agreement would never have been ratified. Therefore, I think 1204 we can congratulate the delegation and the Minister in charge of it, for the stand they took on behalf of Great Britain, and, indeed, they were only carrying out the White Paper policy which had been laid down by the Government beforehand as a blue-print, and, in those circumstances, I do not see what other action they could have taken.
So much for Chicago. On the question of an Empire policy, it is very unfortunate again that a Minister was not appointed at least six months ago, as we requested, and a White Paper issued by the Government, because I feel quite confident that if the policy of this Government had been laid down, and a Minister responsible for civil aviation had been appointed, he might have found full agreement among our Dominion and Colonial friends, and they might have shown a more united front at Chicago. I do not think you would have found Australia and New Zealand putting forward proposals which, from the start, were obviously unacceptable to anybody outside their countries.
§ Captain P. Macdonald
I am talking about responsible Governments. It was clear, before the Conference took place, that there was no support whatever for the proposals of Australia and New Zealand, and therefore it is not surprising that they did not get very much hearing. Yet I feel quite sure that great progress might have been made if we had had an opportunity of getting our Dominions—and do not forget our Colonial Empire, because they will play a considerable part in the future of civil aviation—together. Yet, since Chicago, thanks to the Dominions Conference which was held afterwards in Montreal, and later in London, great progress has been made in that sphere.
Now we come to the question, last but by no means least in importance, of a policy for the internal and external air lines of this country. We have to make up our minds what we are aiming at, what is to be the set-up for civil aviation 1205 in this country after the war. We have the claims of various interests, the claims of the shipping companies for a part in these traffics, the claims of the railway companies, and we have in existence to-day, what we all know as the B.O.A.C. Nobody can deny that the shipping companies have a right to a place in any future scheme for transportation. They know more about the transportation of men and materials and mails than probably any other people in this country. They have been at it for over 100 years; they have their organisations all over the world; they have their representatives and offices, and they have built up in most countries of the world a very great measure of goodwill which is as essential to civil aviation as well as to any other form of transport. Then we have the railway companies, who also, to a small extent, were engaged in civil aviation before the war. They claim that they have a right to a share in the future of that transport.
There again they have a contribution to make. They can provide for such things as booking offices. They have these facilities at their disposal, particularly on the Continent of Europe. They have representatives there and they can provide what I consider of very great importance to the future of civil aviation and that is the interchangeable ticket or the alternative means of travel. A great many people who travel to-day by air, on the Continental routes particularly, are not anxious to go, perhaps, the whole way by air; they may want to go to Paris by air, they may want to break their journey and go the rest of the way by rail or by some other means of travel. Therefore they may prefer to have an interchangeable ticket. That is of vital importance to the future and it might also be applied to shipping.
British Overseas Airways Corporation have a claim which nobody can deny because they have been flying since before the war and, during the war, have gained tremendous experience through their increased mileage. When the whole story of R.O.A.C. is told publicly, and the part they have played in this war, I am quite sure that people will be amazed at what they have done. Unfortunately, B.O.A.C. have been coming in for some undesirable publicity which I myself do not think they deserve. They have some of the best pilots in the world, who look upon the 1206 charges made against the Corporation as charges made against themselves. This ought to be brought to an end, because the Corporation have done a grand job and, if it is not appreciated in this country, it is throughout the Empire and the world.
What is the set-up to be? Each of the interests I have mentioned, and others, want to enter the field. Are they to be allowed to carry on cut-throat competition on the same routes, or are they to be brought into a scheme in which each can provide its contribution, and in which routes will be shared? That is the problem that must be solved, and solved soon, because at the present time, it is holding up shipbuilding, and will hold up aircraft production and anything to do with civil aviation. After all, we must realise that civil aviation is only one aspect of the whole transportation problem. I envisage in the near future one Ministry dealing with this whole transport problem a Ministry of Transportation, covering shipping, rail, road and air. I would also like to see the Ministry take over communications and by "communications" I mean radio, tele-communication, cables, and wireless. [An HON. MEMBER: "And post?"] No, I do not include post. The reason why I think radio should come in, is because it is playing a vital part in this war, and will play a bigger part in civil aviation in the future. At the present time people engaged in radio administration and manufacture do not know where they stand; they have to serve too many masters. They have to serve five or six Ministries—the Post Office, the Ministry of Aircraft Production, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Production—the Mercantile Marine or Navy.
§ Sir S. Cripps
The hon. and gallant Member is not quite accurate. The whole of the radio industry has been brought under one head—the Radio Production Executive—which is an executive body of the Radio Board.
§ Sir S. Cripps
The Radio Production Executive at present contains four executive 1207 members. One happens to come from my Department, one from the Ministry of Supply, one from the Admiralty, and one from the Board of Trade. They act as an executive body under the direction of the Radio Board.
§ Captain Macdonald
I congratulate the Minister on his being the Chairman, but the fact is that one Department, or Ministry, must be responsible for radio in the future; otherwise, it will be split up among several Departments.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
Unless the hon. and gallant Member is going to suggest that it should come under the Ministry for Civil Aviation, he is getting rather wide of the Vote.
§ Captain Macdonald
I was about to suggest that radio should come under the Ministry for Civil Aviation, as well as communications. I think the time will come when civil aviation will come under a Ministry of Transportation. Such a Ministry has been set up in Canada. I think the steps already taken by the Government is setting up a Ministry for Civil Aviation and promising the House that an Under-Secretary for Civil Aviation would be appointed at an early date, to sit in this House, is very welcome. It is unfortunate that the Minister for Civil Aviation should be in another place, but I do not think that matters so much, provided he is somebody who knows his job, and does not happen to be at the top of a party list in the Government, and one who has to be selected for the job. This is a very specialised service. It requires somebody at its head with specialised knowledge. Therefore, I hope that when we have a representative of the Ministry for Civil Aviation in this House, he will be somebody who takes an interest in civil aviation, and one in whom we can have confidence.
I am not satisfied with the ambiguous statement which has been made to-day with regard to the Ministry for Civil Aviation, the B.O.A.C. and the Air Ministry. I want to know whether the Corporation 1208 is definitely coming under the Ministry for Civil Aviation now, or if they are still to remain under the Air Ministry. It is very important that we should know who is to be responsible for the Corporation. In spite of the explanation which has been given I am not satisfied that the Minister for Civil Aviation will be responsible for the Corporation, because they are still to be under Transport Command, which is under the Air Ministry, which means that you will have differences of opinion between these two Ministers, which we shall deplore unless the position is clearly defined. It is important, also, that the internal, external and international policy for air services should be settled now, because shipping companies are being held up in their plans for the future. I know some companies have lost many ships in this war and say that they would build a different type of ship in future if they knew what part civil aviation was to play in that sphere. The same applies to radio manufacturers; they do not know where they stand; they do not know what part of their production will be required for home consumption, for export, and for civil aviation. So, I plead that the question of policy should be treated as a matter of urgency, and that a statement should be made to the House at an early date.
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Perkins (Stroud)
I have on the Order Paper, Mr. Williams, an Amendment to reduce the Minister's salary by £10, but in view of the fact that the Air Ministry, for the first time in our history, are not replying in a Debate on civil aviation, and that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), whom we all know to be a friend of air transport, is replying, I do not propose to move the reduction. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hughes) made a rather surprising statement. If I understood him aright he claimed that the vast bulk of the people of this country could never hope to benefit from air lines. He said that they would not have the money to travel. If that statement had come from a Welsh backwoodsman I would have paid little attention to it, but coming from him, a pilot in the last war and a "live wire" in this House, I am rather staggered. Has he ever heard of air mail and the airgraph system? He 1209 talks of 10,000,000 people not benefiting. Can he find 10,000,000 who have not sent airgraphs in this war? Let him go back to his constituents and say at the next General Election that he is in favour of cutting down the air mail and airgraph services, and I am afraid that we shall not see him in this House again. Both he and the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), if I understood them correctly, urged that the Government should go on advocating at Chicago or elsewhere a world set-up, a World Airways Limited, and not turn away from that by one iota—
§ Mr. Perkins
I am glad to hear the hon. Member say that. Both he and the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen used as an argument the agreement come to between Australia and New Zealand. I think there is some misapprehension about that agreement. What was agreed between those two Dominions was that the main trunk routes of the world should be internationally owned and operated, and that they would do their best to push this at any future international conference. But—and this is where my hon. Friends went wrong—if that was not possible, and other countries of the world would not agree, then those two Dominions favoured an Empire set-up, run by the Governments of the Empire. That is exactly similar to the official policy of the Labour Party in this country which, as I understand it, is considerably different from the policy advocated to-day from the Opposition front bench. An interesting pamphlet has been published by Transport House, called "Wings for Peace," which is the Labour Party's post-war policy for flying. I thoroughly recommend every Member in the House to read it, because it is extremely interesting and I agree with a great deal of it. What does it say on this subject?If, unhappily, it proves impossible at this stage to obtain satisfactory international agreement to establish world airways then it will be necessary to fall back on a system of British Commonwealth airways.I understood that the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen and the hon. Member for East Stirling did not altogether subscribe to that view, and I would like to ask the Minister whether he could 1210 really explain which of the two policies is the agreed policy of the Labour Party.
Now may I bring up a very small matter? Nearly two years ago the Secretary of State for Air hinted that the places of directors on the present board of British Overseas Airways should in due course be filled up by live young men who had flying experience, but there has been no change. Has the new Minister power to appoint new directors? Is he satisfied with the present board? They are very charming, honest, delightful men who have done their job in a magnificent way. They have voted exactly as the Air Ministry wanted them to vote. They have been very ornamental, like peacocks, but not of very much use. The right thing to do with some of them is to give them the O.B.E., pension them off, and, if necessary, make them Governors of the B.B.C. or some other organisation. We want live young men on the Board who live for flying, whose heart is in it, who breathe it and dream it and really want to make the show go. One of them should be a man who has actual air line experience as a pilot.
I come to British Overseas Airways itself. This is a very controversial subject. I should like to see this virtual monopoly ended. On the other hand, I want to see British Overseas Airways continued. There are three reasons. The first is on the technical side. The main worries of an air line operator flying in the tropics are sun, heat, dust and insects. The worries of a North Atlantic operator are fog, snow, ice and gales. They are two entirely different problems. We ought to have at least two organisations, one to deal with the North Atlantic and the other with the tropics. I would rather have more than two. Pan-American Airways or, as it is now called, Pan-American World Airways, in effect had no air lines outside America before the war except for an experimental service across the Pacific. Now their tentacles are all over the world and they go right round the globe except for one little length between Chungking and Vladivostock. Their crews were put into uniform overnight, so that they can be taken out of uniform in another night. We may wake up one day to find Pan-American World Airways covering the world with their air lines. Can a Government-owned corporation like British Overseas Airways stand against this kind of competition? Hon. Members on this 1211 side and I have sincere disagreement. I believe that private enterprise has a part to play. They dislike private enterprise and want it all run by the State. Unfortunately, this can only be settled by a General Election. Can we wait for a General Election? No one knows when it will be.
The matter is urgent and I will suggest a compromise which satisfies me, and that is that we should set up five chosen instruments. Three should be owned, controlled and run by the Government, and two by private enterprise without any subsidy at all. We have a Commonwealth Air Council. We have a vast mail service starting up now round the world. That, I hope, will become the responsibility of the Commonwealth Air Council. It is run, and I hope it will be run, entirely by the Governments of the Empire. I should like to see British Overseas Airways continue carrying the line to India, Australia, the Far East and over the Pacific. That is a Government-owned and Government-run organisation. Thirdly, I should like to see a new British Overseas Airways, owned and controlled by the Government, to run a North Atlantic service. Fourthly, I should like to see a shipping company allowed to run from here to South America. They are prepared to do it without subsidy. Why should they not? Fifthly, there are the railway companies. I have fought railway companies in the past again and again. I used to block railway Bills in the old days. I am no friend of the railway companies. On the other hand, they now own all the internal air lines except one or perhaps two. They have put up a scheme to link up with Europe and to run these lines without subsidy. With this scheme we have got round the difficulty of subsidising private enterprise. If we could get something like that, we should have an opportunity of testing out the virtues of State and private enterprise one against the other, and we should have a yardstick with which we could measure the efficiency of the various companies.
There is a third reason. That is the position of the pilots under the present organisation, if the present organisation is continued. A man aged 45 who has given 25 years of his life in flying for the Corporation is skilled only in the art of flying. He has no other profession at all. 1212 Owing to some personal matter he quarrels with the Director-General or the staff manager and is dismissed. A vast accumulation of skill has been lost to the country and there is no other employer to whom he can turn. He is chucked out into the gutter, a highly skilled man with no other employment possible for him. There have been cases where a pilot has been directed back to the Corporation, but what will happen in the future when there is no National Service officer to direct him? Either we must have alternative employment for that pilot or he must be safeguarded in some form against being dismissed.
Now may I turn to Chicago? We have dominated the seas ever since the time of the Armada. Our American friends now are anxious to dominate the air. I think I ought to read a statement made some time ago by the President of Pan-American Airways:With the aeroplane of to-day America has the first chance of dominating the future highways of world trade since the days of the clipper ships 100 years ago.That is the attitude of the American flying people at the moment and, as long as they hold those views, it seems to me that there is little or no chance of our being able to do a deal with the United States. [Interruption.] No. I am merely suggesting that that is the view of a large number of flying people in the United States with whom we have to negotiate.
At the last Chicago Conference, 51 years ago, an almost similar agenda was before it. We sent to that Conference the best we had in this country, two great experts on the subject at that time, Lieutenant Baker-Powell and Major Fullerton. Fifty-one years later there is another Conference at Chicago. We do not send our very best. I will not say that we sent our second eleven, but we have not sent the first. We sent an amateur captain who went there with a millstone round his neck. His past record in air transport is very unsatisfactory. He was brought home from Africa in an almost indecent hurry, with just time for a bath and a clean collar and no time for consultation, and was bundled off to Chicago to enter the arena as our gladiator. In spite of the millstone round his neck and in spite of all his disabilities he certainly has made amends. There is more joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over 1213 99 who need no repentance. He has turned over a new leaf and the country owes him a great debt. He played a fine stonewalling innings. We sent that old patriarch, the head of Transport Command, and a Permanent Secretary at the Air Ministry, but we forgot to send our best bowler, the one man who knows the subject, the one great expert in the country, the one man who had negotiated with the Americans, the Director-General of Civil Aviation. He was left behind to make room for the military gentlemen from the Air Ministry, because the Air Ministry are still anxious, as a last dying kick, to hang on to this organisation all they can to find future employment for unemployed group captains.
We have an assurance from the Deputy Prime Minister on Air Ministry control. I welcome it but I have doubts if we shall ever succeed in breaking it. We have been shouting for this for many years but we have never made any great progress. The Air Ministry régime has been conspicuous for its lack of interest, or its inability to understand the problem. They have treated it all along as an unwanted child. Every speaker in the last Debate but one was in favour of taking it away. Except for the Society of British Aircraft Constructors, which waits like a spaniel at its master's feet for orders or crumbs, every organisation is in favour of it. The Labour Party are wholeheartedly in favour of it. No man can serve two masters. That is a fact which I hope the Government are at last beginning to realise. Now a start has been made. A Minister has been appointed. There is nothing new in that. We have had Ministers before and they have all failed. The noble Lord must get this thing right away for all time from the control of the Air Ministry. He must have power to order firms to design civil machines. He must have power to order the building of those civil machines. He must have power to negotiate with foreign countries. Has he those powers now? If he has not, will he have them and, if so, when? I believe that a Bill will have to be introduced. As soon as I have seen that Bill on the Statute Book I will believe that the Government mean business.
There are one or two other matters concerning the building and designing of aircraft. We have always been told that it is impossible to go on designing our air- 1214 craft now because there are no designing staffs available. I have asked that question of many manufacturing companies, and one and all they deny it. They all tell me that designing staff is available, but some of them say, "Is it not a complete waste to go on designing aircraft that cannot fly until 1950?" We are still designing fighters and bombers that cannot fly until 1948, 1949 and probably 1950. Does any hon. Member believe that we shall be at war in 1950? What, then, is the sense of spending all this money and keeping designers designing fighters and bombers for this fictitious war in five years' time? Is it an unreasonable request to make that 40 or 50 per cent. of the designing staffs should be switched over to concentrate exclusively on the designing of civil aircraft?
After reading the papers about the Chicago Conference on airworthiness, I hope that the new Minister will be very careful when he goes to Montreal. When we went to Chicago we had no scheme. The only scheme before the Conference was the American scheme, so we adopted it for study and discussion. I hope that, like Agag, he will walk delicately, because I do not want to see British initiative and inventive genius stifled. Unless we are careful they will be, and our designers in future will always have more or less to copy American standards. Our designers have not done badly. They designed the Rolls-Royce engine, they designed the machines that first flew the Atlantic both ways, they designed the machines that three times won the Schneider cup, and they have built the finest fighters and bombers. Let us give these men a fair run and if we do I am hopeful we shall have the machines in future which will be able to compete with the Americans. At Montreal, I understand, discussions will take place on matters affecting safety standards which will be necessary for the pilots. The British Airline Pilots Association have put forward suggestions. They have behind them a vast knowledge and great experience. They have asked if they can be heard and if the matter can be discussed with them before the discussions at Montreal. Up to yesterday they have had no answer. I hope that the Minister will not be so foolish as to turn a deaf ear to that offer for they have a vast knowledge and it should be used.
1215 As far as I can see, for the next five years—I hate to have to say it—we are in for a kind of "free-for-all," and during those years we shall find ourselves in a very difficult position. We have not got the machines with which to compete. We shall have to make do with makeshift machines like the Tudor. They will be fast and probably faster than the American machines, and they will be safe, but the cost of running them will be prohibitive and enormous subsidies will be needed to get them into the air. So far as I can see, the outlook for the British taxpayer in the next five years is grim. After that, provided we can hold our own and bridge the gap and provided that our designers are told to get on with the job now, I do not think we need be unduly pessimistic. Recently, I have been right round the world. Every air-line that I saw, except one, was using American machines. It is probably true to say that 90 per cent., perhaps 95 per cent., of the recognised air-lines in the world, whether they are private enterprise or Government-controlled, are using American aircraft. Will they switch over to British machines? Why should they? If we go to them and say, "Will you please scrap those excellent machines"—because they are excellent—"and also the spares as well?" they will turn round and tell us to go packing. The only chance we have of regaining that export market in the future is to produce a better and cheaper article. We have to design something far better than anything the Americans will produce in five years' time if we are to regain that export trade.
I welcome the Commonwealth Air Council, but I would ask for more information. What powers will it have to run a fast air mail service round the Empire? When I was in Australia and New Zealand I was asked everywhere, "When are you in the old country going to give us a lead?" A lead has been given by the Commonwealth Air Council, and I welcome it because I hope it will prevent individual Dominions and this country doing individual deals with other countries. Some time ago Canada came to terms with America, and what is the result? There are seven American air-lines going into Canada and only one Canadian air-line going into America. Before the war New Zealand came to an agreement with Pan-American Airways. 1216 The result is that the Pan-American World Airways has the right to fly over the Pacific and land in New Zealand, but the New Zealand Government have not reciprocal rights to land in America. This could not happen if individual countries did not negotiate with each other. If we stick together and all agree that no one will do a deal without telling the others, I am very hopeful that we shall be able to strike a fair bargain with our American friends.
A start has been made with Empire set-up. I think that on the new Lancaster service which goes to Australia the machines will carry nothing but mails. I hope that it will not stop at Perth, but will go on to Sydney, then on to New Zealand and back the other way via Honolulu and Canada, to home. I hope that it will become a fast mail service which will be run round the Empire. Two or three months ago I was flying over the Indian Ocean and spent 27 hours non-stop in the air without sighting land. When I landed I was given the Order of the Double Sunrise, which I am grateful to have. That was because I was in the air for 27 hours and saw the sun rise twice. It is a pleasant thought that when this fast air mail service starts no one else will be able to get that order, because the service will probably do it in one-third of the time. As I see it, we are going to have rivalry between the British and the Americans. It will be acute but friendly rivalry, and my reading of it is that it will not last very long. Our American friends will take a different view of the "free-for-all" in seven or eight years' time. We shall see a change of heart in American flying people. They wlll get tired of acute competition and they will find that it will cost them a lot of money. There will perhaps be another Chicago Conference in seven or eight years' time, when we shall join hands and have order in the air, and we shall part even firmer friends than we are now.
Ten years ago there were few hon. Members in this House—very few—who were asking for seven squadrons for the R.A.F. Only seven squadrons. That was in 1934, two years after Hitler had taken over. We were few in number but we were vocal. We did what we could to urge the Government to give us those seven squadrons because we saw the writing on the wall.
1217 Again, it is the same voices, still few in number, the same hon. Members, who are now shouting, this time because they again see the writing on the wall: "Get on with it, and bring in these long overdue reforms." We believe that unless we do this now, the British Empire will disintegrate and in 50 years' time will be non-existent.
§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member very far, but I would observe that his knowledge and experience on this subject might have been better appreciated by the Committee if he had not shown an unfortunate tendency to exaggeration. He described our representative as going to the Chicago Conference with nothing but a clean collar and a millstone on top of it. Even allowing for the metaphor, that was an exaggeration, as was his interpretation of the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. M. Hughes). I do not think my hon. and learned Friend ever said, or that any hon. Member on this side of the Committee would say, that the masses of the people in this country should be deprived of the air mail and any other air services. More important still was his statement, which was also a definite exaggeration, that the attitude of the Labour Party in this House has always been that they wanted a world authority for civil aviation or nothing. The Labour Party has never been so impractical as that, as the hon. Member himself showed from his reading of our policy statement. That is not our attitude. The Labour Party would never say that if we cannot get a 100 per cent. complete world authority we shall accept nothing at all and we shall break up the whole show. It would be just as reasonable to say that if we considered it impossible in the long run to build an effective world peace structure, we might as well start declaring war on everybody now. We have to go on trying for these things. Having failed to get all we want, there is no reason why we should not try to get as near to our goal as possible.
Nor do I think the Committee should accept the suggestion that this matter is essentially a political one, which must await a General Election before it is settled. When a tremendous issue of this kind, upon which the future peace and, to a great extent, the prosperity of the 1218 world depend, arises, surely it is not necessary to have a General Election on every occasion. Surely we can exchange our reasons sufficiently to come to a common understanding. There was no General Election in 1939, when we came to an even more important decision than this, involving many more important political implications and many more lives. We were able to reach agreement that the situation justified very drastic steps.
On this occasion there is a fairly large measure of agreement in the House on certain aspects of the background of this problem. At least there is common acceptance, I think, of the fact that the development of aviation in the past 10 years has brought very great potential dangers to the future safety of humanity. There is at the same time the fact that it has provided us with the prospect that it can be a great unifier of humanity, in addition to providing an invaluable prospective asset in the international economic field, as in the general field of public amenity. I think it is also generally agreed that we are in an age when the use and the development of aircraft have reduced the world's distances, and the element of time, and when the too-long-separated and embittered races that bespatter the world have been brought much closer together. An entirely new situation faces the countries of the world as a result of this development.
We have one advantage from the war and of the experiences which the peoples throughout the world have shared, in that they have been brought to a common appreciation both of the dangers of this new development and of its possible advantages. In spite of that, whether because of some patriotic inhibition, or whether from blind worship of mammon and private property, we are apparently unable to face up to the new situation. We are still groping in the old maze in which most of our present-day industries have struggled to their present position, a position which incidentally is not always an admirable one, in spite of what has been said by the hon. Member who has just spoken. Behind all this, we find that the great obstacle to any real attempt to organise in relation to the situation that faces us is this terrible conception of national sovereignty which still overclouds everything when we come to international 1219 discussions. It is the rock on which every attempt to establish any kind of international order or institution has been wrecked in the past. I have no doubt that the projects which have already been discussed at Dumbarton Oaks will be wrecked in the same way, unless we are able to face the implications of these proposals.
Surely if a world security organisation is intended by the Governments of this country, America, Russia and any other country, if the high-falutin' statements that have been made by leading statesmen in all those countries are really serious, as to the building of an international security organisation after the war, the immediate and direct implication is control of this terrific potential weapon, this tremendous contribution to world economic order, the aeroplane. Surely if we intend anything at all in the direction of an international world security organisation, that control is one of the direct implications.
It is rather puzzling to me why there should be such discussion as to how this result is to be achieved, and why we should spend so much time discussing civil aviation, not on a basis of how we are to apply this international organisation which seems so obviously necessary, but whether or not this Minister or that Minister is to have responsibility for supervising—not for administering or controlling—the activities of the air services after the war. It is rather difficult for me to realise why hon. Members should get so excited about it, or should bother about it at all. I imagine that their line of approach, judging from the logic of their speeches, ought to be to abolish Government interference altogether. If they are so insistent on private enterprise being able effectively to handle all these things without any Government interference, that should be the logic of their arguments.
Who is so insistent in opposing this proposition for a world airway service? What is it that prevents it? We have heard very often to-day that one of the obstacles is the United States of America, and of course whatever the proposition was, whether civil aviation or otherwise, if it sought to impinge in the slightest upon the rights of private profit-making certain hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the Committee would in any case 1220 oppose it, irrespective of what benefits it might offer to humanity at large, or even to the community of this country at large. That is the whole basis of their political philosophy and must colour their approach to any of these problems.
Apart from these exceptions, as we have heard repeated again, the principal British Dominions—and they are responsible Governments—have accepted this conception of a world airways organisation. Australia and New Zealand have done so, and I have no doubt that Canada would need very little persuasion. Even if she did need a lot it would not take very long. I think Canada will be one of its most enthusiastic supporters after the next election. Even our own Government accepts this proposition in broad principle. But we are up against this simple fact that has made impossible the rational organisation of any kind of transport, not only civil aviation, but the organisation of rail transport, the organisation of road transport: these questions of national organisation and control cannot be brought up without someone immediately getting up and saying, "That might be the answer, but we cannot discuss that because that brings in political controversy." But the political controversy is here already. It is not the solution that raises the political controversy. The truth is that immediately these things are applied, the political philosophy of a particular section of the country is upset. The whole of our Debate is concerned with political controversy.
Are there any practical obstacles or reasons that can be put forward to prevent the organisation of an international flying code? To start with is there any practical obstacle to the organisation of international airfields, with all the necessary installations built and maintained to international standards, and by international agreement? Of course there is not. These are purely technical propositions. If it is possible for this country to build an aerodrome and the various appliances that are necessary to equip an aerodrome, for America to do it, for France to do it, and for every country where landing grounds exist to do it, surely the standardisation of these things is technical, and is a point that creates no real difficulty at all? If there is no practical difficulty in these things on the technical side, again we come back to 1221 the point that the whole difficulty is a purely political one.
What are the alternatives if we do not accept this world airways service? There will be an inevitable scramble for traffic by a host of private interests; one hon. Member on the other side of the Committee intimated that he was interested in a concern which proposed to launch 800 planes on overseas routes when opportunities arose after the war, and there are no doubt other interests in the country prepared to launch 800 or 1,000 planes in competition for the same traffic, exactly a repetition of the chaos and muddle that have marked the history of every transport facility in this country.
§ Mr. Petherick (Penryn and Falmouth)
I am getting rather fogged. Is the hon. Member advocating complete international ownership of aircraft, landing fields and everything else? If so, he might begin by persuading the Russians or the Americans that that would be a good thing.
§ Mr. Hynd
Obviously I cannot persuade the Russians; they are not here. My job is to persuade those on the Benches opposite who are against this proposal. I am addressing myself to them. I have a suspicion that they are the most difficult obstacle we have to overcome, so probably it is best that I should address them. What we are visualising here, once we reject this proposition for a world air authority, is returning to the same chaos and muddle that have marked every development of transport facilities in this country, without exception, and which had begun to show itself in civil aviation before the war, as instance by the costly and stupid squabble between Imperial Airways and Italian interests. That kind of thing would have developed as aviation developed. I think it is common ground, it has been said from both sides, that in spite of all the developments there may have been since 1939, the probability at least is that this will be, for some time, quite a costly service. It will possibly require very considerable subsidies if it is to be run on an economic basis at all. I do not think anyone objects very strongly to subsidies in broad principle and general outline, because if this service is so essential to the rest of the community, and is directly or indirectly serving other industries, or the public in 1222 general, there is no reason why the public in general and other sections of the community should not contribute their share. In transport, feeder services cannot be judged as separate entities, but must be judged in relation to the services they feed.
But if it is to cost subsidies, and if it is to be uneconomic to begin with, why should we add to that burden by not only permitting, but encouraging, the development of multiplicated services, multiplicated aerodromes and equipment, competition for small loads of traffic, and half empty aeroplanes flying to and from the same destination? That is precisely what has happened in the past. I can foresee that, just as in the case of the railways. In the case of the railways the situation had by 1921 got so overburdened, so chaotic, there was so much duplication and multiplication of services, overloading of capital, redundancy, multiplication of stations, etc., that there had to be Royal Commissions, the amalgamation, to sort things out a little, and subsequently a measure of pooling. In the case of London transport there was such anarchy, such confusion, that it was necessary to have Commissions, inquiries, and sort the whole thing out, and apply some form of public control over the whole concern. We know what happened in the case of the roads up to 1931—again, more Royal Commissions to inquire into the muddle and chaos and uneconomic expenditure, redundancy of services, and so on, and sort it all out by Government interference and action, in order to try to get some order into the industry.
That kind of thing has happened over and over again. It is bound to happen immediately a service of this kind is left at the mercy of competitive private enter prise. This service is far too important, far too vital to the safety and welfare of the nation and the world at large, to allow that to be done. Even if it were not, there is the experience the Government have had with transport. They have seen that whether it be water, road or rail, there has been the same sort of development, the same point has been reached of confusion, muddle and overlapping, the same difficulty in sorting things out. Incidentally, having allowed all these separate interests to be created, when it comes to the State intervening and taking 1223 over the service, we are faced with over inflated demands for compensation for displaced interests. In addition, they have had to scrap millions of pounds worth of capital and to displace thousands, if not millions, of workers.
It might be said that up to this point there is general agreement that a world air authority would be a good idea, but that it would be too Utopian, and that in any case the United States will not play. Why will they not play? Reasons have been given, but I do not think sufficient emphasis has been laid on the fact that they will not come in for the same reason that we would not go in for any general world scheme for the freedom of the seas—because they happen to be the big boys at present, and to have advantages in the development of civil aviation which are due to the very fact that they have such a wide space in which to develop their aviation, without the interposition of various national barriers, restricted areas and so on. That is exactly what we are advocating should be extended throughout the world—certainly throughout Europe and the Dominions at this moment—so that we can have the same opportunities of development as the United States. I do not think it is quite hopeless to expect the United States to come in, for, after all, these conferences are going on, and the United States are parties to the Atlantic Charter, the Philadelphia Convention, and so on, all of which bring in the question of control of civil aviation, and of prospective military aviation, after the war.
But, assuming that the position were entirely hopeless with regard to America, we should still have the Dominions. I do not think anybody would challenge the proposition that we should have a British Imperial Air Service at the very least—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—and—I do not know whether Members will agree so wholeheartedly with this—that it should be under the control of the Governments concerned. If the advantage of extending this service over these prolonged routes exists, that must apply if we bring in also Europe, Asia, and at least North Africa. If the development of our sphere would be an advantage, that would apply to the Labour Party's proposition that, failing a world organisation, we should endeavour to bring in as many parties as possible.
1224 Let me say one word about internal airways. A number of interests are endeavouring to get their hands on British flying after the war. The shipping companies are very prominent in this. Those companies would require considerable subsidies from the Government—that is, from the public—if they were to run these services economically. Whether these subsidies were in direct cash or in the form of mail contracts or of Government-provided aerodromes and services, they would remain subsidies from the pockets of the public. These subsidies would go directly to pay profits to the shipping companies' shareholders. I do not think that that point need be developed very far. It can be summed up in the crude phrase, which will be on many lips after the war, "Is this what we were fighting for—to pay subsidies to private enterprise for what is a public necessity?" The railway companies also want to control air routes, but they claim that they can run these services without subsidies. We must be very careful before we start handing over air services to the shipping companies or the railway companies, or any private interest that is an established form of transport. In the last Debate on this issue the hon. Member for South East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit) asked that no one should again repeat the story about the railways and the canals. Presumably that upsets his susceptibilities. I do not propose to go over the story again, because I expect that most Members are pretty familiar with it, but I would like to quote one passage from the Report of the Royal Commission on Transport, in 1931, in connection with that matter—assuming that the House is familiar with the background of the story. The Commission said, on page 112:The representatives of the railway companies … denied that there was any intention of deliberately throwing obstacles in the way of traffic on their canals … but there can be, we think, no doubt that they favour what must appear to them their central and overwhelmingly superior business and interest, that of placing all possible traffic on their lines of railways.They went on:It is true to say that railway companies, having, from various causes, acquired canals, feel, with few exceptions, little desire to do more than their barest legal duty in maintaining them.That was the canals. I do not say that the same thing will inevitably apply in the case of airways; but we can assume that 1225 the same overriding interest will be there, and that the railway or shipping companies will tend to balance their particular interest in directing traffic towards the railways or towards the air. That danger is borne out by the observations made by the Secretary of State for Air in the Debate on 14th March last year, when he reminded the House that:Several hon. Members have urged that civil aviation should pass to the Ministry of Transport. The risk that the development of civil aviation would in that event be controlled and directed into those channels least hurtful to the older forms of transport is not one to be ignored."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1944; Vol. 398, c. 149.]So the Secretary of State for Air, speaking on behalf of the Government, recognised that the danger of a clash of interests existed if a new form of transport were handed over to those in control of older forms of transport, and that the retention of control by the Government would at least obviate that danger. We are approaching this question from entirely the wrong angle and in the wrong perspective when we discuss it from 18th century conceptions of the organisation of industry. We have opened up the world; space and time and everything else have been altered in their entire perspective; and, unless the House is prepared on this occasion to show to the world at large that we are worthy of our day and generation, by stating in categorical terms that we are not going to hand over this particular service to the private profit-mongers, but are determined that the public interests and the general interests of humanity shall come first, we shall have signally failed in our purpose.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Tree (Harborough)
There seems to be on the opposite benches a complete misunderstanding of the word "subsidy." I asked the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) if he understood the difference between a subsidy and money received for a service rendered. He did not make himself very clear in his answer, and now he has been followed by the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Hynd), who is falling into the same error—or, as I would prefer to call it, lack of understanding of the point. I think that this is a very important matter, and that it is one which should be properly understood before it is debated in this House. 1226 I do not know if my right hon. Friend the Minister for Aircraft Production has had a chance, with the manifold duties which he has, to attend the very excellent performance of "King Richard III" that is now being given in London, but, doubtless, he will remember the opening lines of that play:Now is the winter of our discontent,Made glorious summer by this sun of York.I do not think that the analogy between those sentences and the Vote that we are discussing to-day is very difficult to perceive. "Glorious summer" is, at long last, the fact that a Minister for Civil Aviation has been appointed, and, if you wish to carry the analogy further, that the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, should have appointed "a son of York" to that position. Again, if you carry it still further, "the winter of our discontent" has been the grip held on civil aviation by the Air Ministry. I am very glad indeed at the announcement made earlier to-day, even if it has made this Debate more difficult to carry on.
I disagree with almost everything that was said by the hon. Member for Attercliffe, but I did agree with one thing that he said. That was his query what all the shooting was about, or words to that effect, and why this long delay about who is to be responsible for civil aviation. Well, at any rate, we have got a very clear decision to-day, and one for which, I think, hon. Members on all sides of the Committee can be very grateful. Many things have happened in civil aviation since the last Debate took place in this House. A Minister has been appointed and there have been the International Conference at Chicago and the Imperial one at Montreal. Judging by the results that have been achieved, the Minister has earned well in advance the salary that we are being asked to vote to-day. It must have been very difficult to switch from the fairly simple problems of agricultural production in West Africa, to face the subtleties of Mr. Berle's brilliant, if somewhat erratic, mind, with only the space of a very few weeks in which to get acquainted with the subject and I think it speaks very highly for Lord Swinton, and his powers of reasoning, that he was able to put up such a very good show in Chicago.
There have been a good many criticisms to-day from the benches opposite about the results of the Chicago Conference. 1227 Certain hon. Members have said that very little was achieved. I do not agree with that view at all. It is all very well to dismiss the technical achievements as if they were of no importance, but, over the years between 1920 and 1945, there have been a good many conferences on these and other subjects, at which it was impossible to get universal agreement, and, at last, we have got all the nations of the world agreeing to the simple "rules of the road" in what is to be the future of civil aviation. It is difficult enough to get two nations together to discuss and reach agreement, but, in this instance, we have been able to get a very large number.
As to the fundamental differences between our point of view and the American plan, I am very glad that Lord Swinton not only stated the British case quite clearly, but also stood by his guns. Too often, in the past, we have had these international conferences, at which it was difficult to reach agreement, and at which, at the very last moment, a compromise was effected and put before the world as a sort of facade, whereas anybody who was in the know knew that, in point of fact, no arrangement had been reached at all. We know, in this instance, exactly how both sides of the argument stand, and I believe that, once the Americans realise that we are in earnest in this matter, it will, in the future, be much easier to reach agreement than it would be if they merely thought that we were but putting up a facade. There is no doubt about it that, in the years before the war, we did not play our proper part in civil aviation, but I think once they realise that we are determined and mean business, it will be much easier to reach agreement than it has been in the past. It is up to us now to show that we, too, have inventive genius, organising ability and a flair to make British aviation as efficient and well-run as American aviation.
This brings me to the main point that I want to raise. Are we, to-day, as efficient as we should be? Have we got the organisation capable of competing with other nations and with the United States on level terms? I say quite definitely that we have not. What are we going to do about it? The first step has been taken to-day in the announcement that we are going to have a Minister, with a staff and a Ministry, for which he will be responsible. 1228 It is quite obvious that a Minister without a Ministry, without a staff and without proper responsibility, could never made a "go" of the job he was trying to do. The only analogy to it that I can remember was the appointment of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, who, when he was asked, shortly before the war, a question about his staff, said something like this—that he had an office boy and a typist, but that he was able to do, thereby, all the work that was necessary. We can also remember what happened to that Minister and to the world a very few months after he had made that remark. I am not comparing Lord Swinton to the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. I have a very great respect for Lord Swinton, and at that time I had none for the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. Nor am I suggesting that the consequences, in this case, would be as tragic. But obviously this is a thoroughly unworkable proposition and, therefore, I hope that it will be possible to bring before the House of Commons at the very earliest moment, a two-Clause Bill—to make the necessary arrangements—and that it will be passed through all its stages very soon. The other day we had a similar Bill setting up the Ministry of Social Security and it occupied the attention of the House only for a very few hours. Therefore, let us repeat that again and get the Ministry going and working as soon as possible.
The other point about which I am not at all satisfied is the monopolistic control of the one chosen instrument, of the British Overseas Airways Corporation. We, here, have frequently debated this matter. I am aware there is a considerable divergence of views between hon. Members on this side of the Committee and hon. Members opposite. Whereas we all agree on all sides of the Committee as to the necessity of having a Minister for Civil Aviation, we disagree over the question of the chosen instrument. Since the last Debate I have taken the opportunity of studying what is known as the British Overseas Airways Act, which the House passed in 1939. It is an extraordinarily interesting document both in its scope and the ground that it covers. I do not know whether this Committee is aware that under that Act the British Overseas Airways can act as a holding company, and actually operate no air lines at all, or it can run an air line, 1229 as the British Overseas Airways Corporation is run, completely and wholly, or it can issue stock for the purchase of an existing company or it can buy up the controlling interest in a company. It can do practically everything, with the one exception, that it is not allowed to operate within the United Kingdom.
My suggestion and that of several hon. Members—the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) and the hon. Member for St. Pancras South-East (Sir A. Beit) have already made this suggestion—is that there should be three or four operating companies or chosen instruments on the main world routes and that the British Overseas Airways Corporation should have a part share or a full share—should have a share to a greater or lesser degree in all those companies. I feel that this is a compromise on which both sides of this Committee can agree. This is a time when there should be a compromise to enable us to get on with the job. For two years now, we have been debating these matters, and while we have been debating them, other countries have been getting on with the job. It is high time that we got on with the job.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
This is an interesting point and some of us are not quite clear about it. The hon. Member said "a part share or full share." The two terms are in contradiction. Does he mean a part or a full share?
§ Mr. Tree
What I mean is that they can completely control, as they do now, the British Overseas Airways, but that if the shipping companies are operating a line to South America, for instance, they can own an interest in the company and have members on the board of the company. Therefore, I would suggest that we should come to an agreement on this matter and entrust Lord Swinton with the job of carrying it out and that the Members of this House, having got the major part of what they wanted—a Minister for Civil Aviation and agreement on the main lines of policy—could then sit down and feel that they were fairly happy and that civil aviation would take the part in the future that we hope it is going to take.
There is one further point that I would like to put to my right hon. and learned 1230 Friend the Minister of Aircraft Production. I would very much like to hear anything he can tell us about the production of aircraft for civil aviation. There have been so many conflicting statements in the newspapers recently—at one moment you read we are going to have a mass of aeroplanes almost to-morrow, and then the next day, in another paper, you read that there will be no aircraft available for private use for the next five years—that I hope he will be able to tell us all he can to-day, and I also hope that what he tells us is going to be a satisfactory statement. I believe—and I have said it in the House on many occasions—that the future of this island and of the Empire is very deeply concerned in the matter of civil aviation. It is, in a sense, the measure of our post-war virility. It is also a matter of great urgency and, therefore, I hope that we will get on with the matter and come to a general agreement, and that then we will allow the Minister to carry it out, as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
It is a strange arrangement of events that I should seek to say a few words on civil aviation to-day at a moment when a mysterious Providence in its supreme wisdom has seen fit to leave with uncertainty the fate of my esteemed colleague the hon. and gallant Member for North Bristol (Captain Bernays) and his companion—perhaps, in the fastnesses of the Apennines. I do so with a heavy heart.
One characteristic of the Debate to-day has been the extreme length of the speeches and I will try to say what I have in mind as shortly as possible. We have heard a great deal about the separation of civil aviation from the Air Ministry. It is taken for granted that it is an unanimous desire. In Debate after Debate we have had the same speakers advocating the same cause one after the other until, at last, anyone who says that that should not be so must be regarded as a renegade. I believe that this sort of thing began about two years ago among a number of ex-Secretaries of State for Air who infest the other place. It has been taken up by those members of the Royal Air Force who are also Members of this House time and time again. Whatever their qualities may be as Members of Parliament, as far as I can see, they have a 1231 weary climb up a long ladder before they reach the highest ranks in that Service. This view has been put forward contrary to the ideas of the highest serving officers in the country. They have held views entirely different but we have not heard them, they have been publicly unexpressed. Because there has been constant reiteration from a certain section of this House time and again, that is no reason why the Government should have given way.
The Prime Minister was quite definite about this matter on 16th May last when he said that on no account would he appoint a separate Ministry. On 8th April the Lord President of the Council said the same thing. Why indeed has there been this great change in the last few months? My hon. Friends of the Labour Party suggested that this should come under some Ministry of Communications so that the whole of the transport of the country should be united; that railways, battleships, 'buses, aeroplanes, etc., should come under the aegis of one Ministry. Indeed that would reduce to chaos the little order there is amongst us now. Out of the maze of rambling arguments that have been put forward for the separation of this Ministry, I have tried to seek out on what they base their case. There have been constant assertions on this matter but only flimsy arguments. It has been said constantly what a good thing it is that this Ministry should be separated from the Air Ministry, but no one has supported that by any point of substance.
§ Sir A. Beit
Surely that is very ancient history. We argued all that years ago and now the step has been taken.
§ Dr. Thomas
My time is limited and if I could be allowed to go on with my speech, I should be very pleased. Of course vague arguments have been put forward, but I have searched the past records and have tried to find what there was of substance put forward. I suggest that for the short time at my disposal I might try to examine such arguments as I could find in the Debates in this House on 24th March last and in another place in October. First of all we had the Air Ministry condemned for inaction, because of the inaction of Governments in the past. Has the Air Ministry in this war for one moment shown inaction? It 1232 has shown itself extremely efficient. It has gathered immense experience. How can you go back to the years before this war? Whatever the criticism may be in regard to the past, it cannot be levelled against the Air Ministry at the present time. The Air Ministry, these pundits say, are only war-minded, and it would be a good thing to have civilian aviation freed from service interests; they have no experience of civil aviation. Yet many of the Air Ministry were recruited from the ranks of experienced men of affairs at the beginning of the war, who, in spite of war difficulties, have obtained a considerable knowledge of administration in the Air Ministry. Are we to suggest—
§ Dr. Thomas
No, I will not give way because time is so limited. If hon. Members had been a little shorter in their expositions I need not proceed so rapidly myself. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain Macdonald) has advocated his case and does not like what I say. Under war conditions these men have gained an enormous amount of experience. At the same time the Air Ministry is continually planning civil aviation at the present time. If a civil aviation Ministry were set up, it would have to draw its personnel from the Air Ministry because there is hardly anyone outside the Air Ministry who has any experience of it. It is said that the Secretary of State for Air is too busy with the war effort to look after civil aviation as well as war-time aviation. Production in quantity cannot possibly be begun until the war is over, at least not in any great degree, but plans and designs are already being prepared. After the war the Secretary of State will have considerable time in which to spend his energies on the cause of civil aviation. His mind will not be occupied by the great affairs of the moment. In the United States, where there is extensive civil aviation, the assistant secretaries of the War Department and of the Navy Department carry on that matter.
It has been said, again, that it is far too important an industry to leave in the hands of the Air Ministry and that it should have a separate Minister. That has been repeated over and over again. I admit it is a curious and very important industry but I do not think it is the 1233 greatest industry. The number of personnel which will be employed, the number of machines which will be used, are not so enormous as to warrant a special Ministry. That can easily be administered by a department of the Air Ministry. We shall have a separate Ministry for every great industry shortly. It is said that control by the Air Ministry would lead to inefficiency of working. Let us ask ourselves the question, Has the Air Ministry showed any particular inefficiency at the present time? The Air Ministry has a wealth of practical experience. It has engaged in the most devastating war, it has built up our Air Force from the small thing it was at the time of the Battle of Britain to the colossal Force it is to-day. Does that speak of inefficiency? Let those people answer that.
It is said that civil aviation needs research on the statistical side. Again, has not the Air Ministry gathered a profound number of statistics? Are they not by this time adepts in that regard? It is said that they require special radio-location and meteorological arrangements. Have not the Air Ministry all that under their command? Have they not researched in that direction? Will not all this be ready for civil aviation within the Department? It has been pleaded again that Service aerodromes will be unsuitable. I do not agree with that. Service aerodromes would need to be altered and changed and adapted, nevertheless many of them are already suitable for civil purposes with the least possible change. Surely this is the most economical and satisfactory way of arranging these matters.
It has been suggested that the personnel required will be very large, and that the Air Ministry could not administer the personnel. As I have already said, however, the personnel required will not be large, and it would be well within the competence of the Air Ministry to administer such personnel as would be necessary. They now administer a vast personnel. Probably the Air Ministry will not make or fly the machines. It will not try to; they will be under the supervision of such companies, public or otherwise, who will be engaged in this work. Another favourite argument is that it would be difficult for the Air Ministry to obtain funds for civil aviation. I do not think so. I think it would be infinitely easier for a great 1234 Ministry like the Air Ministry to obtain funds than for some small Ministry—perhaps to be almost forgotten by some future Government which will not have the acumen of this one. I say that it would be easier for the Air Ministry to obtain funds. Admittedly they would have to state the amount they would require, nevertheless the pressure of the great Air Ministry and their influence with the Treasury and the rest of the Government would be infinitely greater than some small civil aviation Department.
It is also suggested that we should go ahead with the establishment of a Department of civil aviation right away. Is it suggested that now we are at the climax of the war, the personnel should be taken away from the Air Ministry in order to build up this competing civil aviation Department? Are we to take these people now? What would happen to our war effort? Is that the way to go on? I do not think so. We shall not be able to get the experienced men from anywhere else.
The last but the cheapest sneer of all of these people who wish to set up a separate civil aviation Department is this: that civil aviation control should not rest in the hands of aged Air Marshals. It has been said more than once and I do not think that is worthy of anyone, whether a Member of this House or not. These men, and those with them, have built from a small Air Force a mighty Air Force which has thrust at the enemy, continually explored new paths, and has helped to bring us to the position in which we are to-day. I do not think that we can consider for one moment that these men are incapable of handling a comparatively small, but important, Department of civil aviation which we shall need after the war. They have done their work well, and I think it is unworthy of anyone to criticise them. Such are the flimsy and futile arguments which one finds, dispersed throughout the reiterated assertions made by these advocates of separation.
We have aerodromes, a pooling of knowledge and experience, meteorological services, research and all the rest of it, now in the hands of the Air Ministry. Colossal knowledge has been amassed. Surely a civil aviation Department should work under such a Ministry, so that the whole of this knowledge can he pooled and owe common allegiance to a single 1235 Minister. Design and research are constantly interlocking and can benefit both services by being under one control. One school of separationists say that civil aircraft cannot be converted into operational types, but in the United States they have already done this. Have we not the example of the Lufthansa, which was the nucleus from which the Luftwaffe was formed? I ask the Secretary of State at this late hour—and I trust the Minister of Aircraft Production will tell him this—to persuade His Majesty's Government not to take the necessary legislative steps to establish this Ministry, for the reasons I have stated. I ask him to use the same zeal, vigour, spirit and determination which he has always shown in this House in defence of the R.A.F. in putting to the Cabinet his case and how we should proceed, and thereby prevent this country from following what may well be a disastrous policy with regard to the future of British flying.
§ Sir Oliver Simmonds (Birmingham, Duddeston)
I am sure we all sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Dr. Russell Thomas) in his sad but lyrical recollections of his friend the Air Ministry. I support him wholeheartedly, in so far as the military effort of the Air Ministry is concerned, but for the rest, I fear I have no tears to shed. Very often, when we have a Vote for a new Minister's salary before us, we have to proceed very much on the basis of faith and hope, and sometimes we have had to be very charitable. But to-day we do not need to be either, because both in spirit and in monetary effect, we are in debt to the Noble Lord who has just taken on this responsible work. At the time of the Debate last month on export trade, I asked whether there might not be some taint of servility in our economic relations with the United States, and the support I received in connection with that inquiry showed that the country was feeling that we were suffering from that disability. To-day, I am happy to proclaim that Lord Swinton, at Chicago, in regard to civil aviation, certainly showed no taint of servility whatsoever, and that because he showed no such taint, he was appreciated by our American friends who, above all, respect those who stand up manfully and forcefully for the things in which they believe. The advice I have had from America is 1236 that Lord Swinton showed many people there, who were opposed to the somewhat aggressive policy enunciated by Mr. Berle at Chicago, that there is another progressive economic policy, of the kind which America could well follow both, to her own benefit and to the benefit of the world.
Therefore, we start with the best of prospects. When we came to this Debate to-day I wondered what would be the attitude of Labour Members, because the Chicago Conference has wrought, in our internal politics on civil aviation, a revolution. It has blown sky high the "pretty pretty" policy, so hopelessly impracticable, which has been voiced from the benches opposite for so many months. I wondered whether we should see once again the old gang of the Labour Party headed, most respectably, by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), or whether there would be some new boys to get the Labour Party out of the difficulty in which the Chicago Conference had plunged them. My hon. Friend the Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) batted first on what is a very difficult and technical wicket, and none of us would wish to decry the personal approach which he made to this problem. But when a Member of this House speaks from the Front Bench he speaks not only for himself but for his party. He has behind him all the information which is available to his party organisation, and I am, therefore, bound to examine one or two of the observations which my hon. Friend made. I made a note of them, and there are three in particular to which I would like to refer. They were, he said, among the congenital sins of private enterprise which my hon. Friend enunciated, and which, he said, rendered it highly undesirable that the State should permit private enterprise to meddle with civil aviation.
He first spoke of out-of-date aeroplanes in a dangerous condition, flying and causing the deaths of people because so-called wicked air line directors preferred profits rather than the safety of passengers, and wanted to go on running planes which ought to have been placed on the scrap heap long ago. As the Minister of Aircraft Production would tell my hon. Friend there is, throughout the world, an organisation similar to the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate, under the Ministry of Aircraft Production, which prevents 1237 any plane taking the air with passengers, unless it is signed out by a certificated engineer, the certificate being issued and controlled by the Government.
If my hon. Friend takes the trouble to inquire, he will find that of all aircraft accident reports—certainly, all those I have seen during my 27 years' connection with aeronautics in this country—none will show that air liners which have crashed have been lost because of their being over age or in a decrepit condition. Indeed, the probability is that the oldest machines are the most reliable, because they are those with which there has been the most operational experience. Let the hon. Member then divorce his mind from that idea entirely. You cannot fly unless you are certified by an inspector so to do. Secondly, he said:There is a General Council of British Shipping, which is forming groups to operate five zones.There is a General Council of British Shipping, but it does not form groups and it does not operate. It is merely an opportunity for shipowners to discuss the common problems of their industry. It is absurd to think that shipowners are trying to form bodies to operate zones.
§ Mr. Woodburn
All that the hon. Gentleman is saying is that he has not heard about it. The report is in the technical papers and I was quoting from it.
§ Sir O. Simmonds
On the contrary. I have no interests as an air line operator but I have contacts, and I know what the British Chamber of Shipping is doing with regard to air lines and what it is not. It is not doing what the hon. Member said, nor would it dream of doing so. Thirdly, he referred to the Association of Air Line Operators and said:They are attempting to alter certain arrangements reached at the Chicago International Air Conference.Again he is completely misinformed. These organisations could not, if they would, alter one jot or tittle of what has been decided at Chicago. Why should they want to? There are heaps of things which operators can do for passengers in concert. The Atlantic Shipping Conference is a very good example of the advantages of operators of international transport getting together. When the hon. Member addresses the House again, he should apply to another briefing section 1238 of the Labour Party, because they have let him down badly with his information to-day.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
Is it not a fact that these organisations of operators are not formed to discuss policy, but merely to deal with technical operational matters in connection with organisation?
§ Sir O. Simmonds
I believe that is so. We are entitled to ask, if so many of the premises of these arguments are hopelessly inaccurate, how much better the conclusions are likely to be. I believe that is one of the problems of hon. Members opposite. They know al the answers before they even consider the evidence. They have approached this subject without having looked at the necessary steps by which conclusions could be reached. They want internationalisation and nationalisation. They have been brought up on it. They have not heard anything else in any other form of trade, industry and transport, and they approach air transport in a similar way. I made an appeal to them in "The Times" last month, and pointed out that their refusal to be reasonable about the entry of private enterprise into air transport was forcing this issue to remain until the General Election. At the General Election I have not the slightest doubt that the Conservative Party will have a sufficient majority to infuse private enterprise into international air transport. But why should we wait if there can be reason on both sides?
I should like to make a further plea to hon. Members opposite. I suggest that they are putting pressure on their Members in the Cabinet not to agree to private enterprise air lines otherwise they would have commenced by now. There has certainly been mulishness somewhere or there would have been some compromise, but do let us have a real compromise and not the half and half kind. Let us have, on the one hand, a State-operated organisation and, on the other, true private enterprise, not messed about, with representatives of the Government on it. Do let us give the private enterprise organisation a chance of showing what it can do. Let the two fairly show their paces one against the other. I believe that, with good will towards the future of British air transport, we ought to be able to agree that progress along these lines could be made, and I hope 1239 we will let Lord Swinton know that in that sense he can go forward with the full support of both the main parties.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ Major Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)
If we had the American rule that Members who could not make their speeches should have them printed, we should be saved a lot of trouble. I should like to reinforce the arguments of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) in proposing that Portsmouth should be No. 1 airport in Great Britain. It is true that there was a certain amount of local opposition at first, but all that has gone and the City Council has a complete plan for a model airport, and the local Press is inundated with letters asking what can be done to expedite matters. The Members for Portsmouth have also received deputations on the subject. The town is served by a first-rate electric railway and I know of no more suitable spot. We have heard objections in the past on security grounds from the Admiralty, but I think changed conditions will alter all this. Fast aeroplanes flying at high speeds can take photographs from great heights, while V weapons, and flying bombs, which are bound to be improved, will make all security ideas of the old order out of date.
I hope shipping and railway companies will not be barred from participation in airways. One might as well have told the shipping companies in the old days that, because they went in for sailing ships, they could not be allowed to go in for steam. Pan-American Airways are very efficient and very ambitious. Judging by the articles in the United States Press, and discussions I have had with American friends, they aim at world air domination. The British Empire has to live, and we intend to do so. No British or foreign ship can pick up passengers or freight between any American ports and, if that applies to British shipping, I do not see why it should not apply equally to American air transport along any Empire route. If they wish to have the facilities of British air ports they should give us reciprocity. I hope everything possible will be done not only for the British air lines but for the aircraft manufacturers and their workers, who have done so much to make British air- 1240 craft the safest and most reliable in the world.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
I know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Aircraft Production wants a good time to reply, but he has had a lot of supporters and I imagine that he is satisfied as a member of the Government with what happened at Chicago. Thirteen hon. Members have supported the decisions at Chicago and are very anxious to see whether we on this side are dismayed by the results. We are not changing our position in this matter at all. We in the Labour Party believe that this is the real touchstone of future world security, and we might as well let it be known that we realise that hon. Members are, in their speeches here, supporting one of the most dangerous things so far as private enterprise is concerned. We have heard a good deal of praise of the Noble Lord, Lord Swinton, as the leader of the delegation to Chicago. He is supposed to have done magnificently. I do not know what he did except that he stonewalled pretty well. I should like to know what agreements were come to behind the scenes and why the proposals of New Zealand and Australia were not discussed.
§ Mr. Bowles
The hon. Member does not know, because the Minister has refused to publish the debates, which I have asked for.
§ Captain Macdonald
The documents have been published in America and they will be available here in a short time.
§ Mr. Bowles
It would have been useful to have had them here to-day, and if there had been any will to publish them here they would have been published by now. Lord Swinton had a shot at being Minister for Civil Aviation before. He was a Minister in 1936, and a little later, as a result of the Cadman Report, he was transferred from that job. I have no doubt that he did good work in laying the foundations of shadow factories, but at the time of Munich, in September, 1938, we were told on very good authority, in various quarters in London and elsewhere, that our aircraft position was so serious that it was 1241 as well that the Munich Agreement was signed. The Noble Lord had been Minister of Air for two and a half years before that. I am not saying anything against him personally, but I disagree with the statements about his ability. Nobody denies that he is an energetic person, for he has had as many jobs as anybody I can think of on the spur of the moment. He is also a person with whose political views I fundamentally disagree.
In these circumstances and on that basis I am not really impressed by what has taken place at Chicago. The whole of the Conference and such agreements as were reached were mainly on the technical basis and were, I think, first-class. When, however, it comes to the question of other forms of agreement, the real angle from which the position was viewed was from that of the operator and not of the person who wants to use the air-lines. I have always insisted in my speeches that it is essential to put the necessities of the consumer or the user first. If we can satisfy adequately the reasonable needs of the users, well and good, but we can never do so under private enterprise, because the satisfaction of the users' needs is purely incidental to the making of private profit. The discussions at Chicago should have had as their first object to try to supply the needs of the users.
Let us get this thing in the proper perspective. We have had too many constituency speeches to-day—whether we should have an airport at Portsmouth or Prestwick or somewhere else. These things are incidental to what are much more important political issues. My hon. Friends and I differ fundamentally. That is not unknown. It is important to emphasise where we are standing. About 100 years ago it took three days to go from London to York. Now we can go from anywhere to anywhere in the world in three days by air. In 100 years there has been that tremendous speeding up in transportation which seems to be the new word for transport. We may expect with the development of jet propulsion that these times may be shortened very considerably. It might, therefore, be reasonable to argue that we shall be able to reach any one place in the world from any other place in about two days. This makes a world problem of it. It is no use talking in terms of one or other little country. This is a matter which has to be organised on a world basis and not on 1242 the basis of little interests. To anybody who reads the speeches in the House of Lords on 12th October last, it is a nauseating spectacle to find Noble Lord after Noble Lord getting up and pleading the interests of the railway companies and the shipping companies. As one hon. Member said, the railway companies are prepared to come in without a subsidy. Lord Balfour of Burleigh said that the railway companies expected to have a loss for a short period, but that ultimately they expected to make a profit. I object to any service being run for private profit.
§ Mr. Bowles
Certainly. I believe in the complete reorganisation of the whole of the legal profession. There is nothing in what I say that affects my personal position and my views never affect it at all. We have in this particular problem the most important issue under discussion, because this is a world problem which should be solved on world lines and not solved on the basis that miserable little private interests in this little country should have a fair share. To approach it in that way is to talk arrant nonsense. It means nothing. Hon. Members talk that way either because they believe in the private profit system or because they are pursuing a dangerous policy. I am not sure which is the worse. Fancy talking about the L.M.S. running anything to compete with Pan-American Airways and making a profit. The whole thing is fantastic. It is true that we were not able to get agreement with the United States. One paper, the "Chicago Sun," said on 14th November:Few Americans apparently have realised in their preoccupations with the election the extent to which our delegation at the International Civil Aviation Conference is following a thoroughly nationalist line. The effect is that the United States is playing a game perhaps too hard-boiled for our own good.The Conference had then been sitting 14 days, and at that time the proposals of the New Zealand and Australian Governments had been set aside as hardly worthy of discussion.
We on this side of the Committee realise the tremendous importance of this matter. We realise, as has been said over and over again before, that this subject is international dynamite so far as the peace of the world is concerned. Even the tone 1243 of voice in which the hon. Member for Duddeston (Sir O. Simmonds) spoke was significant when he referred to the successful outcome, so far as private enterprise was concerned, of the Chicago Conference. All these private-profit racketeers are cock-a-hoop at the present time, and it is a very serious symptom. Our best speakers have, over and over again, begged the Government to do something about it. The Deputy Prime Minister is the leader of our party. When I made the suggestion to him, before Lord Swinton returned to this country, that he might hand to the Noble Lord a copy of the Labour Party's policy on civil aviation, his frivolous answer came back: "Perhaps the hon. Member will do that himself." I see no sign of the Labour Ministers pressing for their point of view to be adopted. To me that is a most shattering fact. We are compromised to a great extent by the fact that, under the Coalition Government, we get a White Paper such as that which we discussed on the last occasion.
The sovereignty of the air was decided in 1919, and led to most extraordinary troubles before the outbreak of the present war. What arrangements have been made in the Chicago Agreement to deal with a situation such as arose before the war, when Imperial Airways were refused permission by Mussolini to fly over Italy? We had to go by train from Paris to Brindisi, a journey of something like 36 hours. In this Agreement we are still perpetuating the principle of national sovereignty of the air. To my mind that is completely anarchic and archaic. I cannot understand the repetition, in 1945, of that principle. What powers did the Chicago Conference visualise should be applied to a country that behaved in that way?
§ Mr. Bowles
What I am leading up to is this: If we depart from first principles, we get into all this nonsense, which is purely and simply an attempt to patch up, to agree about, this, that and the other. If we accept the first principle—which hon. Members opposite cannot, of course—that here is a world problem of 1244 transport in a very tiny world which one can get round in something like three to four days, we see that it must be dealt with on an international world basis. We realise that the aircraft and the aerodromes have to be owned by a world authority, that the personnel must be employed by the world authority and that it must have the best aircraft and the best personnel, chosen on grounds of their merits and not on grounds of wire-pulling and the kind of thing that goes on obviously behind the backs of the Members of the House of Lords and possibly of this House too. I say frankly that any other course leads to disaster.
Why is it that there was one country that did not follow Lord Swinton's lead in the matter of the fifth privilege? The country I suggest is Sweden. Within a day or two, and no doubt as a quid pro quo, the Americans went through the procedure of buying aircraft, Fortresses, that had been interned in Sweden, with the result that the Americans will now fly right across and land in Sweden and pick up Swedes. They made a most magnificent bargain. The American Government were able to persuade the Swedish Government that if they signed this fifth privilege the result would be that they could go through the motions of paying for Fortresses that force-landed in Sweden and the result is that now the A.B.A.—which is the name of the Swedish air line—are in a position to operate transport planes right away. I think that shows the danger of getting away from first principles.
If I and some of my hon. Friends could have our way we should not be pulled aside by any vested interest at all but would have one or two great concerns for the welfare of the people and the welfare of the users. This would be a beacon and an example on which all international organisation should be built. If we do not follow this line and solve this problem almost in its elementary stage now, we shall go on in the wrong way. An hon. Member spoke of the possibility of the present war going on for another five years: I say there might be another war in five years' time, because this subject of civil aviation is international dynamite. I beg Ministers to use all the influence they have to back us up in this plea for real world ownership and control of this organisation.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of Aircraft Production (Sir Stafford Cripps)
I am sure that my Noble Friend the Minister for Civil Aviation will feel very gratified at the course which this Debate has taken. It seems to be just that sort of mixture which should be pleasing to the Minister of any Department—a due meed of praise for what he has done well, some constructive criticism to help him to do better, and some nice advocacy of forward policies, which perhaps will help his more laggard colleagues to appreciate the full importance of the work on which he is now engaged. I am sure he will study with care the content of the speeches which have been made and will draw from them both encouragement in his job and, no doubt, ideas to help him forward. I am sure that he welcomes, just as I do, the very maximum of interest that can be taken by hon. Members in this vitally important matter. Despite all the difficulties that there may be, international and national, in arriving at what is right, so far as organisation and policies are concerned, I can assure the Committee that the Government have given a great deal of time to this subject and will continue to do so until we get the final solution of all these problems.
The Debate has divided itself into a number of heads. I will try to deal shortly with each of them. There are one or two detailed points which I will try to cover at the end, if I can, but it may be that time will not permit. Clearly the most important point that has been raised is that of the international organisation of the air services of the world, dealing particularly with the attitude of this country and other countries at the Chicago Conference, I would, therefore, like in the first instance to say a word or two about that. Many Members have remarked that the Chicago Conference was not a failure, and that is perfectly true. If the Chicago Conference had set out to do nothing but arrive at the technical results at which it did arrive it would have been hailed throughout the world as a remarkable success. It is something that all those connected with aviation have been striving to do ever since the last war, and have hitherto failed to do. At Chicago, a very wide measure of agreement has been arrived at which will lay down the lines for the technical development of air services throughout the world 1246 on a uniform basis, something which will be of the very greatest importance for the smooth and easy development, on the widest scale, of air transport.
Where failure came was when an attempt was made to tackle an extremely difficult problem, the correlation of the commercial side of all the air services of the world. Perhaps it is only necessary to look at the political beliefs in different countries of the world to see that different countries would clearly take widely different views on that subject. Not only so, but actually the problem of organisation of air services is very different in different parts of the world. We cannot, for instance, compare the problems of the organisation of the South American air service with the problems of the organisation of the European air service, and it is very difficult indeed to devise any method which will successfully deal with both those kinds of air service. But, as the Committee knows, there was a very full exchange of views at Chicago, and I think that amongst a number of countries there has been a better understanding of each other's difficulties, which is, after all, the first step to international agreement, because without that understanding agreement is clearly impossible.
I would like to recall how this matter came to the Chicago Conference. The Committee will remember that in October, 1943, there was a Dominions Conference in this country in order to consider these problems, and whether we could not get together with the Dominions to have a common world basis upon which to proceed. At that Conference there was a very wide measure of agreement, and the agreement there arrived at formed the basis of the plan which was subsequently put out by His Majesty's Government and discussed in this House, the White Paper plan. That became from that time the basis for our international negotiations. It was for that reason it was put forward, and it was with that objective that the House discussed it. I would recall some of the words of that White Paper, because I think a great deal of the Debate has rather tended to make the case for the Government suggestions perhaps less effective than the case might be made. On the top of page 3 one finds:Accordingly, the view of His Majesty's Government, as stated to Parliament on the 11th March, 1943, is that 'some form of international collaboration will be essential if the air is to be developed in the interests of man- 1247 kind as a whole, trade served, international understandings fostered and some measure of international security gained.'With that objective, I think every Member will be in agreement. Then the Paper goes on to set out what the main objectives of the collaboration between the different countries should be. I will not go through them. There are six in all, the last being:in general, to contribute to world security.There is no doubt at all that the scheme which then follows in the White Paper was designed to bring order into the air so that the air might not prove itself in the future a danger to world security, and that at the same time there could be made available to the people of the world the maximum amount of air transport that was possible.
§ Mr. Hughes
In what way does the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that the Chicago Conference has furthered the objectives of the White Paper?
§ Sir S. Cripps
If the hon. and learned Gentleman would be a little more patient, I am telling him what the scheme was which was put forward by the Government, and which therefore formed the basis of the scheme which was put forward to the Chicago Conference. It is quite clear, as I have said, that on this commercial side the Chicago Conference failed to arrive at an agreement. That was certainly not the fault of my Noble Friend the Minister for Civil Aviation. If anybody ever fought for an agreement at an international conference in order to get it through, he was the man, and he was most loyally backed by the members of the British Commonwealth, by the Indian representative and others and by many other nationalities as well. But hon. Members must remember that we cannot command the decisions of international conferences. Perhaps if, in our great wisdom, we could do that, the world, we might think, would be a better place. We did our best, we tried our hardest, we tried to compromise, provided that we did not give away the essentials. If we could not succeed, in those circumstances, we have to say, "This is but the first chapter of the story. We cannot expect to arrive at the climax of the plot in the first chapter, go let us therefore go on writing further chapters so that we may come to the happy ending in the long run." 1248 Chicago is not an end, it is a beginning. It is as far as we have yet been able to get by international agreement, but we shall certainly try, by one device or another, to get further along the path we have laid down for ourselves.
There has been some criticism of the attitude of the Government and my Noble Friend towards the Australian and New Zealand Governments' suggestions as to the internationalisation of all the main trunk routes of the world. Those suggestions were tabled at Chicago. They were discussed fully in the first Committee on 8th November, but that Committee did not accept them. My hon. Friends opposite say, "But why did not the British Government push them hard?" It is a very difficult question, when you are at an international conference, when you have a scheme of your own which you believe to be a compromise which might be acceptable to the conference, whether to put all your weight behind something which you feel convinced will never be accepted by the conference, which you know from former information will never be accepted by the conference—
§ Sir S. Cripps
Yes, and people who persist with an idea which they have worked out and believe to be a good idea will often get it through. On this occasion we did not, but we very often do. I believe it was absolutely the right course to encourage our New Zealand and Australian friends to submit their suggestions to the conference, and, when they failed, to ask them to come in, as they did, and back us in ours. They did it with all their strength.
§ Sir S. Cripps
We did not, but as I have already said, if we were always successful the world would perhaps be an easier place. The result, therefore, of the Chicago Conference was that we were unable to get this measure of international agreement, but it does not mean we need the less to stick by our desire to get what is in the White Paper. The means by which we might reach that point are perhaps not so clear now as they may have looked when we put the point forward, but our persistence will be just as great.
1249 But there was one other valuable thing which came out of Chicago, which was the close collaboration of the Commonwealth countries. I hope that this Committee will not underestimate the value of that, because if we cannot get other countries to agree with us internationally we ought at least to try to get collaboration and agreement within our own Commonwealth and Empire. That is anyway a good step. My Noble Friend was able to carry with him to Montreal the representatives from the Commonwealth and from India, and then bring them on to London. As a result he has been able to get a very large and very remarkable measure of agreement. It is not perhaps quite fully realised that after the meeting in London, when a full survey was made of all the Empire routes, an agreement was come to as to how those routes should be put into operation as between the different countries, and particularly about the possibilities opened up by the cessation of the war. This covered the routes from the United Kingdom to South Africa by Egypt, East Africa and Rhodesia; the United Kingdom to India; the United Kingdom, through India, to Australia and New Zealand; the United Kingdom to Canada across the Atlantic; and the Pacific route from Australia and New Zealand via Fiji and Canada. That is a very large measure of agreement, and something upon which we can base with great hope the future development of a Commonwealth Air Council which will be not only advisory or consultative, as at the present time, but perhaps later on may have more power of control and be more executive in its capacity. I stress that because I believe that that is one of the major advantages that have come out of my Noble Friend's visit to Chicago.
I turn from the question of the organisation of civil aviation in this country, which, not unnaturally, vexes hon. Members and makes them anxious to hear some announcement as to the Government policy. It is true, as appears from this Debate, that there are a number of different views as to how this organisation should be brought about. There are the extreme views of those who believe that it should be wholly nationalised and of those who believe that it should be wholly private enterprise, and there is a whole mass of views in between as to the different methods by which the two can be obtained. My 1250 Noble Friend has been extremely busy since he put on the white collar and the millstone, after he returned from West Africa, and he has been devoting his whole time to the international and Commonwealth side; but he is now working on the problems posed by the national side of our civil aviation.
Although I cannot tell the Committee at this stage how that is likely to develop, I can say that I think it will not be so very long before my Noble Friend is able to report progress on this matter. One thing he is convinced of, and I am convinced of, and I think the Government are convinced of—that is, that we must get on with this job. Because we do not all see eye to eye, we cannot let it wait over. The pressure of competition from the other side of the Atlantic is far too strong to allow us to stand still. That means that we have to come to a compromise of some sort. We cannot all have our way, much as we should like to. Reference has been made to the contribution which shipping and railway interests might make to the progress of civil aviation, and I believe my Noble Friend is in touch with railway and shipping companies to see how they suggest that any such contribution could best be made. I know the views of my Noble Friend, as he has frequently expressed them, and he does not regard any company or industry as having any vested interest in civil aviation. It is with him entirely a question of whether a real contribution can be made towards the efficiency of our civil aviation transport services or not. I believe that it will be upon that basis that he will consider what contribution can be made by every sort and kind of element in our society.
I will turn for a moment to the question of the position of the Minister. I believe it was made quite clear by my right hon. Friend this morning; the statement he made met with an almost embarrassingly enthusiastic reception by the Committee. One vociferous defence of a lost cause was the exception. There is no doubt that by this arrangement the Minister for Civil Aviation is completely in control of civil aviation matters from this moment henceforth. He is to be provided with an adequate staff. He is to be provided, as the Committee has heard, with a Parliamentary Under-Secretary, and there will be no constraint or control, except as 1251 regards the actual operational user of aircraft for the purposes of the war, which obviously must remain under Transport Command. So far as the question of aircraft is concerned, the Minister for Civil Aviation will be in exactly the same position vis-à-vis my Department as is the Secretary of State for Air or the First Lord of the Admiralty. His will be a Service Department, to which I shall give supplies or for which I shall do research, just as if it were a third Service. So there will be no question of the suppression of the individuality of the Civil Aviation Department in that matter by the air marshals.
I am most anxious that people should not, as has been done quite a lot in the past, take up an inferiority position as regards British aircraft. We can make as good aircraft—and better—as any other country in the world. I have now had two and a half years' experience, and I am absolutely convinced of that fact. There is no question that we can in the near future turn out as good aircraft as are flying anywhere in the world. People, for instance, talk about the York as a converted bomber. It is nothing of the sort. It happens to have the same wings as the Lancaster, but it is a transport aircraft. The other day a York, flying fully loaded from Australia to New Delhi, beat a DC4 by over an hour on the journey—which is not bad progress. The York is not the only one. There are other aircraft coming forward which will do even better than the York. Those aircraft will be out before the end of the war—some of them—and we shall be able, as war circumstances change more in our favour, to increase the volume of output so as to supply not only ourselves, but foreign customers as well. I am glad to say that there are foreign countries now expressing their desire to have British aircraft, because they know what British aircraft have done during the course of the war.
The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) asked whether the Minister for Civil Aviation could deal with the present board of the B.O.A.C. He is perfectly at liberty to do away with the lot if he wants to, but I imagine that he will wait to have some experience of their work under him before he arrives at a decision to do away with them. When he has had an opportunity of investigating the work of the B.O.A.C., he may reach decisions 1252 as to the necessity for reorganising them into a body which will meet the keen competition of the Pan-American and other services. A question raised by the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville) was what help we had given to the Dominions, and whether we could not send them draftsmen and so on. We have done our utmost, and I think that both the Canadian and the Australian Governments would say—as they have said to me—that they are most grateful for the assistance we have given them in the development of their aircraft building industries. We have taken the view that it is desirable that in these countries British types of aircraft should be built if possible, and we have done all we can to encourage it. I do not think either of those countries would ask us to do anything further in that direction.
Perhaps I may deal with one special point. That is the question of Prestwick, which was raised by the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) and also by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore). I understand that my Noble Friend met the Scottish Members of Parliament, and so this is a second dose, I take it. I do not propose to say anything further than my Noble Friend said when he met them, and that was that the great international airport must be close to London, and Prestwick is not close enough.
§ Sir S. Cripps
It will be some time before any international airport will be ready, and until that time no doubt Prestwick will carry on. It certainly will not close down.
§ Sir S. Cripps
During that period. There will be a need for one or two large airports capable of receiving transatlantic planes and which can be used on a number of days when the London airport, for one reason or another, is not usable, and, for that purpose, Prestwick will be one of the aerodromes which will be considered as a possibility for alternative landings.
§ Mr. Bowles
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the London airport is now in course of construction?
§ Sir S. Cripps
It has not yet been decided. There are a number of aerodromes 1253 near London that are being constructed for war purposes, and it may be that some of them will be suitable, eventually, for this purpose. I am sure that, as a result of this Debate, my Noble Friend will be able to go forward, refreshed and encouraged, in a difficult but, as we all agree, an all-important task for the future, and he will, I am sure, feel himself safe in the knowledge that this House has voted him a salary.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say why the Government changed their mind, completely and absolutely, in the last nine months in regard to the separation of civil aviation from the Air Ministry—in no unvociferous manner?
§ Captain Plugge
The right hon. Gentleman has said that the Minister for Civil Aviation would consider what the railways and shipping could contribute to civil aviation. Does that include any other private enterprise?
§ Sir S. Cripps
It means that my Noble Friend will consider what can best be done to make the most efficient air services for the country.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £4,215, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1945, for the salaries and other expenses in the Department of His Majesty's Treasury and Subordinate Departments, and the salaries and expenses of certain Ministers appointed for special duties.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Tuesday next; Committee to sit again upon Tuesday next.