§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
I want to raise the question of the Prestwick Airport, which has been exercising the mind of the people of Scotland. I do not want to create the impression that we Scotsmen are trailing our coat, or wagging our kilt, but I want the House to understand that we are overpoweringly serious about it. I do not know of any subject which has so stirred Scottish opinion. You have to go back to Bannockburn to fund a parallel. This airport is situated in my constituency, and is centred in one of the most historic parts of Scotland. As a matter of fact it is the cradle of Scottish history, and it may be of interest to the House to know that it is adjacent to the "Barns o' Ayr," where William Wallace experimented with the first incendiary bombs and successfully razed the barns to the ground after he had securely tied the English inside. The suggestion that there will be no place, or a very limited one, for Prestwick Airport has spread anxiety and alarm amongst all classes of Scottish people. I will not attempt to enumerate the various public bodies and organisations which have keenly interested themselves in the matter. Their name is legion. Nothing that breathes the heather or wears the tartan has been left outside.
A Motion was placed on the Order Paper some time ago signed by almost every available Scottish Member of Parliament. By this action we should be meeting the wishes of the Noble Lord who 1568 spoke for the Government in another place and said that, if there was one thing that he would beg for in relation to civil aviation, it was that it should not fall into party politics. Scottish Members have removed Prestwick Airport from the realm of party politics. We stand united in this matter. Indeed, we vie with each other as to who will be the most successful propagandist. If the Government turns a deaf ear to their demand, its blood will be on its own head. We are seriously perturbed at the tardiness of the Government in making a statement as to the future of Prestwick. This reluctance is creating grave suspicion, and past history proves that we have every reason to be distrustful. The want of a clear and definite statement is causing confusion, it retards development, it is holding up planning and creating a difficult situation for local authorities. It is shoving off people who would be likely to engage in light industry if they were assured that there was to be a place in the sun for Prestwick Airport. Scottish opinion is the more alarmed because we are not presenting you with something that is in the experimental stage. It is long past the test tube period. It has been tried and proved. It has served the nation well in time of war and it will be a boon to us in time of peace. It has been tested on the anvil of experience and throughout all the mighty hazards of war it has never failed. The port is loved and adored by the gallant pilots who have used it and has been pronounced one of the best. This aviation centre has been built up by years of effort. It has carved out its own place. It employs some 5,000 workers and it is really a Godsend in an area which drastically requires industries to provide employment for its people. Scotland has become air-minded much more rapidly than any other part of the United Kingdom. This is largely due to the early development in the Islands and Highlands, where air transport was quickly becoming a matter of course. It is not surprising that a clear-cut expression of regional opinion on British air matters should come from the Northern end of the country.
Personal experience has given the people of Scotland a true appreciation of the true purpose of commercial air transport. The people of the Islands have seen sick members of the community transferred by air at short notice to hospitals on the mainland to be treated and cured, where otherwise those patients 1569 might have died within a few hours. There, people have been given a daily service by air as compared with fortnightly services by ship. There, people have seen more passengers arrive by air on their shores than were ever brought in by sea. There, people have seen over a period of years a greater frequency of service by air between Scotland and America than there are trains between Scotland and London. Therefore a race which has been accustomed to the commerce of the seas, and which takes a world-wide view in transport matters, is in no doubt whatever that the future of Britain as a great Power and the prosperity of succeeding generations of British citizens lie in the air.
It seems to us natural, in fact inevitable, that the Scottish people should insist on full development of the unique advantages of Prestwick as a world airport. It is in commercial flying the equivalent of their River Clyde in commercial shipping. It is only reasonable that they should insist upon having a real opportunity to develop their own air lines, the air equivalent of their merchant shipping, and that they should insist upon having every chance to develop their own commercial aircraft manufacturing industry, the air equivalent of Scottish shipbuilding. They are demanding all these things, and demanding them with extraordinary unanimity. It has been said that we Scots have been only too vocal on this subject, but the reason is that we know a little more about it than our neighbours, and are extremely conscious that Scotland is more dependent upon the orderly and rapid development of world aviation than any other region of Great Britain. The demand for this Debate proves that Scotland is well aware of the relative importance of internal and overseas air lines, and we consider it our duty to press for an official decision on the full development and employment of Prestwick Airport as a permanent air base, for the reason that it is the one and only asset which the British mainland has to offer to trans-Atlantic air travel as compared with either existing or potential air bases on the Western air approaches to Europe. We have our own peculiar reasons for this insistence. They are not based on narrow nationalism, because we are thoroughly convinced that what is here good for Prestwick and Scotland would be to the eternal benefit of the country as a whole.
1570 What are the main reasons we advance on behalf of Scotland? They are numerous and I do not want to weary the House, but I should like to state a few of them. Scotland is more dependent on the orderly and rapid development of commercial aviation than any other region in Britain, on account of her present dependence on shipping, shipbuilding and the heavy industries; on account of the present efforts to produce a better balance of industry by the introduction of new forms of commerce and manufacture; and on account of the present poverty of Scotland in the commercial and industrial sense, which is acknowledged in the Distribution of Industry Bill. Secondly, the indicated air policy of the Government means the abandonment of well developed facilities and advantages peculiar to Scotland. Geographically Scotland has the advantage of being closer to the North American Continent, the Northern capitals of Europe and the air traffic routes of the Northern hemisphere.
Prestwick is the only all-the-year-round clear weather airport in Europe. That fact cannot be too strongly emphasised and the Minister ought to take note of it. The use of Prestwick for inter-hemisphere operations over the past five years has become habitual to the air transport organisations of ail Allied nations. It is the only civil organisation in Great Britain possessing the necessary leadership, commercial aviation mentality, technical staff, up-to-date experience and practical facilities for the immediate operation of a large scale air line service. Finally, the Prestwick staff constitutes the only civil organisation in the United Kingdom with actual experience of the management and handling of a trans-Atlantic air terminal and trans-Atlantic air traffic in every detail on a modern scale and with good will abroad and an international reputation for efficiency. Can we afford to disregard these facts and disperse this valuable organisation?
I come to a very important issue which we as Scotsmen cannot afford to ignore, and if the Government ignore it they will do so at their peril. Scottish economy has been tied to shipping, shipbuilding, coal and steel and the heavy engineering industries, and in the air age Scotland must have an equal opportunity to develop the air equivalents' of her basic industries, especially commercial aircraft manufac- 1571 ture and all the ancillary trades and industries attached to air line operations. Unless we get in here on the ground floor it will be another Culloden for Scotland. If we have no airport round which those industries will gather there is very little prospect of securing them. The shipping of the Clyde made Clyde shipbuilding, and Scottish air lines will make a Scottish aircraft industry. The one is the natural corollary of the other.
It has been made abundantly clear in Debates in this House and outside that Scotland must have a share of the light industries. We must not have a repetition of the 1918 post-war experience. Then as now great changes were effected in our economy. Our old industries declined and new light industries took their place—but not in Scotland. Scotland contains about II per cent. of the population, but in 1935, out of a total of 247,948 people employed in electrical engineering in the United Kingdom, only 3,512, or about r per cent., were in Scotland. The corresponding figures for the manufacture of motor vehicles, cycles and aircraft were 270,576 in the United Kingdom and 9,172, or about 3 per cent., in Scotland. We had in Scotland only one small aircraft factory. We cannot, we dare not, we will not allow a return to such an unbalanced economy.
I would repeat that in this matter we are sincerely in earnest, and I would caution the Government to pay serious regard to the representations that will be made to-day by hon. Members from Scotland on both sides of the House. We are at the cross roads, which might mean for us the parting of the ways. The Government are facing grim and determined men, men with a purpose they intend to see fulfilled. We are not prepared to sell our birthright for a mess of pottage. We are not inclined to be "fobbed off" with an evasive reply. Our reputation, our honour, our national prestige are at stake, and when Scotsmen can face the Government with a solid, united front, as they are doing now, it gladdens our hearts. It reminds us that it is from scenes like these that Scottish grandeur springs, that makes us loved at home and revered abroad; and whatever the result of this Debate we will retain a quiet confidence, and we will fight to the last ditch for the retention of this 1572 airport, which will mean so much to the social and economic life of Scotland.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
On a previous occasion when I spoke I made what I thought was rather an effective peroration. I said that on this issue Scotland has never been more unanimous, never more united and never more determined. The use of that word "united" explains why I am enthusiastically supporting the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan). I do not suppose that has ever happened before or that it will ever happen again, but to-day at any rate we are speaking with one voice. Indeed, I am very happy to be associated with my hon. Friend on this occasion, because we have not only a common but a very inspiring cause. We as representatives of Ayrshire share in Prestwick this unique halting place on the great highway of the air, we share a link, as we hope, anyhow, between the great democracy of the West and the great democracy of the East. We make a bridge over which these two can pass to each other and learn from each other and about each other. We share this spot of Scotland where first was witnessed a tangible indication that America was determined to join with this country in fighting the evil tryanny of Nazi-ism, that memorable day when from a cloudless sky—and for the benefit of my right hon. Friend opposite I would point out that the sky over Prestwick is practically always cloudless—there descended the first Liberator aircraft. It came down on the field of Prestwick.
We had built great hopes upon the White Paper on Civil Aviation which was published recently. We thought that here at last the wrongs done to Scotland would be righted. What did we find? We found that the White Paper spelt tragedy for Prestwick and, indeed, for Scotland, because for some reason which has never been explained both Prestwick and Scotland were excluded from the White Paper. That means that the individual enterprise which built up that great airport, the stout hearts, the high courage, the imaginative foresight, the skilled hands of skilled craftsmen, were all discarded. The whole future of civil aviation in Scotland has been placed in the hands of untried, untrained, and unproved monopolistic Corporations—I exclude, of course, B.O.A.C. I cannot 1573 imagine that foolishness could go further, but no doubt the Government will make an effort to redeem this particular brand of foolishness. We have asked time after time for an explanation about Prestwick, but none has been given.
We are a strange people; otherwise we would not tolerate the strange things this Government of our choice sometimes imposes on us. I do not intend to criticise the Government. It has earned the high regard, respect and trust of the people as a whole, and has carried on its functions in very difficult circumstances. Composed as it is of people of divergent political views and clashing political interests it has by a common effort overcome all difficulties and put us on the high road to success. For this reason, I do pay my tribute to the Government. But on this one subject I join issue with them. Why is this black-out of secrecy maintained? I do ask that the Minister, on this probably the last occasion on which we shall have the opportunity of discussing Prestwick alone, to take Scotland into his confidence and tell us plainly why this great airport of Prestwick that has so faithfully and so fully served the United Nations for five years must now be discontinued and be discarded like a useless and rather boring mistress. We have stated our case repeatedly and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire in his most finished speech has done adequate justice to it to-day. We have made out our arguments time after time, and I do say that on this, the last occasion on which Prestwick alone may be the issue, the Minister should tell us "why." We are not greedy in Scotland. We realise that the capital of the United Kingdom must necessarily have the No. 1 terminal airport for world air traffic. All we do insist on, is that Prestwick should be the alternative and secondary trans-oceanic and trans-Atlantic airport.
There is just this other point about it, which is rather involved in the Prestwick issue, and that is the refusal of the Government to approve an air line service in Scotland, for Scotland, and as I have said before operated by Scotland. I would point out to my hon. Friend that an airport is to an air line, what a seaport is to a shipping line. Both are dependent on each other. Here we have in Scotland the best airport in Great Britain proved during the exacting 1574 five years of war. Why therefore this ban? The Government must give an answer and an answer that will satisfy all Scotland and not just the hon. Members who represent Scotland. Every man, woman and child in Scotland is concerned with this issue for it is a matter where our national honour, our national prestige and our national industrial security are concerned. I do not want to go over the ground again and I am not going to cover it, because it has been well covered by my hon. Friends. If I may say so—and I do want to make this point to the House—we have long been seized of the dramatic, indeed the almost miraculous, potentialities of air transport and in this we are many generations in advance of England. Just as for generations we have built the best and biggest ships in the world, so we are determined to handle this new form of transport in the same way, and build the best and biggest aircraft. Why not? We have the best scientific brains, the most expert designers and the most highly skilled craftsmen, except for those which are at present loaned to England. There is one further point which is sometimes ignored, and that is that the Scots have imagination in their minds and a spirit of progress in their blood, which are often lacking in those of our compatriots South of the Border.
But let me come back to Prestwick itself, We have 364 out of 365 days of good flying weather in the year, which is 99.7 per cent.—unequalled by any airport in Europe. We are so strategically placed as to be immune from attack from either Europe or the East. We are 25o miles nearer America than London or any other first-class airport in Britain. That means that the load of petrol can be reduced and from the economic point of view, the number of passengers increased, a very valuable point if an air line wishes to work and show reasonable profits. We are also adjacent to first-class railway facilities, we are near first-class coal supplies, near a protected sea harbour for seaplanes and we are right close to the most highly industrialised belt in Great Britain. We have proved our worth in Prestwick to the United Nations for five long years. We have established a sincere good will and a high reputation amongst our Allies, such as is not possessed by any other existing and 1575 certainly not any other potential airport in the country. We have experience, knowledge, and:qualifications, unique to Prestwick alone. It is on all this that we base our claim.
There is one further point. It is the possible excuse which the Government may advance, judging from some of the statements in the White Paper. It might be said that Prestwick was not a pre-war operating line, and therefore cannot have the advantages which it is proposed to extend to these monopolistic concerns. Let me answer that in one sentence. The Government know the reason. They have it in their files. When Prestwick, after four years' experience, decided to make its application for an air line licence, which they had long had in mind, they were begged to turn their activities to training air crews for the world war then threatened. So, patriotically, they accepted that responsibility, and I think to a very substantial extent are responsible for winning the Battle of Britain. I will say no more. I think that before the Debate is finished, we will have established a case which no Government should and I think no Government dare refuse.
§ 12.38 p.m.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
I am very grateful, as I am sure, all my Scottish colleagues are, that we have such a good representation of interested people on the Front Bench. My only regret is that the Secretary of State for Scotland is not here, and I am quite sure his absence is not due to any lack of courtesy.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary for Scotland (Mr. Allan Chapman)
I am sure my hon. Friend does not desire to do any injustice to the Secretary of State. As he knows the Secretary of State carries a very heavy load, and he will realise that it is only the most important and urgent circumstances which prevent him being here to-day.
I quite understand that but for my part I think there are few subjects more important than this one, and there is no duty which the Secretary of State for Scotland should put above his Parliamentary obligations, and attending this Debate, which has not been hurriedly arranged, seems to me one of these.
I do not wish to pursue a Scottish nationalistic case nor do I wish to pursue any Minister or Department. My concern is mainly with the 100,000 men and women who are directly employed in the aircraft industry in Scotland, with perhaps a comparable number indirectly employed, but I am not in a position to give an accurate calculation of those indirectly employed. One of my Party colleagues, a non-Scottish Member, said to me that I was rather obsessed by this question, when we were discussing the Distribution of Industry Bill. On reflection, perhaps I am. But if my obsession means that I cannot lose from my mind the picture of those derelict towns in 1932, the misery of these idle men, and the despair of their wives and families, then I make no apology for being obsessed and no apology for pursuing any channels which will afford me the opportunity of bringing to, or retaining in Scotland any light industry. That must be our main preoccupation.
I am not going to deal in detail with the scheme for the airport, because that has been most adequately done by my two friends, the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan). But I do want to put some simple questions to the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is to reply. I am attempting to argue that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been advised by people who are either incompetent or prejudiced. Let me put it this way as briefly as I can. I am told that in 1935 application was made for permission to build and extend the airport at Prestwick. I have made such inquiries as are possible to private Members to satisfy myself that the information is correct, and I am told that it was refused, because in the opinion of the experts, Prestwick was exceptionally unsuitable from the flying weather aspect. That was in 1935. I will not deal with the weather record of the airport, because that has already been referred to. In 1937, the President of the Aerodrome Board visited Prestwick, and gave notice that the Minister intended to acquire Prestwick mainly because of its exceptionally suitable flying weather. But the tale does not end there. If my information is correct, in 1945, the same President of the same Board, reporting to the Civil Aviation Department, gave many reasons to show that Prestwick was most unsuit- 1577 able. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs referred to this. If my information is incorrect, and if the Minister will emerge from this cloud of mystery and show me where it is incorrect, then I must apologise, but if it is correct, if there are these varying reports, it is quite plain and understandable why the people of Scotland are alarmed by the treatment over Prestwick and suspicious that they have not had quite a fair deal.
I am told too—and I hope we shall have a reply on this subject—that there are some differences of opinion as to whether or not building should have been proceeded with at Heath Row. I have already referred to this subject in the House, and to-day I want to put some precise questions. I am told that there is no hope of any substantial use being made for war purposes of Heath Row, Is this true, or is it not, because it is most important in our concern for Prestwick? I am told that application to proceed with building at Heath Row was twice put before the Cabinet on the plea of constructing an aerodrome for peace uses, and that twice it was turned down. I am told that permission to proceed was only given when the application was changed in its form, and a proposal was made to show that it could be used for war purposes. That may be a good tactical approach, but the Scottish people will be pardoned if they dismiss it as a wangle. I think I had better illustrate my contention by quoting from a letter in "The Aeroplane" of 9th March, written by a man with whose political opinions I have frequently quarrelled, but who is technically an expert. I am referring to C. G. Grey. I want to quote two portions of a long letter, which I am certain has already been brought to the notice of the Minister. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr Burghs quoted the first part. Grey wrote:At the present moment, while Air Transport is hardly developed at all, there are more regular scheduled services per day between Prestwick and the American Continent than there are express trains between Glasgow and London, in both directions in each case.The part of the letter which disturbed me, and to which I hope the Minister will give a full reply, is this:As regards to Heath Row being an R.A.F. undertaking, as we have been told several times in the House, somebody may have had the crazy idea of putting a vast Service aerodrome right on the edge of London in that way, but 1578 I strongly suspect that whoever did so bad the B.O.A.C. in mind. At any rate, ever since the first of the contractors' wagons started making a mess of the roads for miles around, everybody has looked on the place as a B.O.A. terminal. In fact, at a Press conference about two years ago General Critchley, without mentioning names, definitely referred to that area as the future London terminal. To pretend that it was ever likely to be a Service aerodrome is sheer camouflage.That is fairly strong language, and I hope the Minister will address himself to the six connected questions on this subject which I have put to him. I want to deal with one aspect of the subject raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs, that is, operations. It seems beyond doubt that in 1935 Prestwick was accepted as a highly efficient port which was used for training. It also seems beyond doubt that in 1938 the Prestwick people applied for a licence to operate a night air mail service from Glasgow to London. This was refused. I suspect—and I cannot put it any higher than that, for I have no information on the subject—that it was refused mainly because the railways were blocking the proposition. It must surely be clear to the House, 30 years after commercial aviation has been established in this country, that to be without a postal air service between Glasgow and London and London and Glasgow is almost inexplicable and is highly inefficient. At any rate, the Prestwick people had by that time placed their order for four-engined planes, and when my hon. Friend referred to this I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary smiled. Prestwick went ahead with training, as they were requested, and I am informed that in May, 1941, more than half of the navigators in the R.A.F. had received some part of their essential training in those aircraft which had been intended for the night airmail service. Therefore, we plead that these Scottish operators should not be shut out because of a highly inefficient decision in 1938, and because they behaved, as they ought to have behaved, in the most patriotic and co-operative fashion possible.
Finally, I want to say half a dozen sentences on the aspect of production. There are at present about 100,000 men directly employed in aircraft engine production in Scotland. As far as I can discover, the Ministry of Aircraft Production has placed post-war work which will not afford employment directly to more than 1579 some 7,000 people. Some orders have already been placed for jet engines, but, as far as I can discover, not one of those orders has been placed in Scotland. I have already questioned the Minister of Aircraft Production on the siting of the Bedford Research Station, which I hope to be able to pursue another time, but this is linked up with the same attitude of mind: Here is a country where we have been in the forefront of aviation and engine development, and yet not one jet engine contract has, as far as I can discover, been placed in Scotland. Another point which needs a little explanation is that the Minister recently encouraged Scottish aircraft interests to group themselves. I am satisfied that the three main interests in the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, and in my own constituency, are ready at any time to combine. The Minister shakes his head. My information is—and I will be delighted if he denies it, and I will metaphorically box the ears of the persons concerned—that there was placed a coherent plan for grouping before the Scottish Council of Industry, which exists under the wing of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is to be deplored that he is not here, for he could have answered that immediately. Firm orders of not great proportions have already been offered to this group, but they cannot have licences to go ahead on production now. My right hon. and learned Friend again shakes his head. I hope we shall have a emphatic denial that no firm orders for conversion have been offered to these people, fat the Scottish Members will have a good case to go back with, and if the Minister is correct they will try and knock some sense into the interests concerned.
We are the Clyde; this is a place where Watt and Kelvin worked; this is the place where we have the skilled engineering labour that can command jobs in any part of the world. Do not neglect us from the national point of view. I make this prediction. The White Paper will not stand up either on that side of the House or on this. If this policy is pursued towards Prestwick, I prophesy that the Scottish companies, and some of the English companies, will take their legalised headquarters across to Southern Ireland, and 1580 they will operate from Prestwick without engaging the brains and sympathy of this country as they should do.
§ 12.57 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
I would like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) in the questions he has put to the Minister. The secrecy black-out referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) cannot be quite so complete as he would have us believe, for I also, although I do not move in the same official or unofficial circles as he does, have heard these suspicious allegations regarding the past of Prestwick. I do not wish to refer to the matter in a nationalistic spirit. I wish to refer to it as something that should be ferretted out, so that denials can be given if possible, in order to satisfy the people not only of Scotland but all over the country, that there is real vision behind those who are responsible for our civil aviation policies, because it seems as if there is very little behind it. When one thinks of how our great Merchant Service, to say nothing of the Royal Navy, has developed, not by any single chosen instrument, but by adventurers adventuring forth from these coasts, it really seems incredible that the future of civil aviation can be limited by the present decisions. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will give an answer to the questions put by my hon. Friend; such questions, for instance, as why in 1935 Prestwick was thought to be unsuitable by authorities in the Air Ministry, and why in 1937 the Ministry wanted to take it over as being suitable? Surely that requires some explanation. Then again, why in 1945 was Prestwick considered to be of no use as an airport and should therefore be scrapped?
§ Major McCallum
My information is that it was not approved by the Ministry. I ask the Minister to give us some information. It really is time we had it.
I want to ask the Minister another question. Surely, we ought to give every facility and initiative to develop a system of transport as to which none of us here have any conception of what it will be in 50 or 60 years' time—or perhaps a good deal sooner. I am told that the authorities at Prestwick who applied to 1581 go to the Havana Conference of Air Line Operators have been refused exit permits. I believe the reason is that they were not air line Operators before the war. I assert that that is an extremely shortsighted policy and a ridiculous decision for any Minister to make—denying to our own people of initiative, and thrust, an opportunity of attending a conference where they might give assistance and advice. I hope that the Minister will give us some answer to these questions.
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
I intervene in this Debate for two minutes only, because so far as my representation of Kilmarnock is concerned I have grown up with this problem, and indeed with the aerodrome itself. My mind goes back to the early days. I remember, for instance, taking groups of potential A.T.C. lads out there to make them a little more air-minded in the years before the war, and I remember the amount of initiative and enterprise displayed by one or two gallant people who foresaw what was coming in Scotland, through the Auxiliary Training Scheme. I mention no names, but we cannot blind ourselves to what those people have done in the past.
I am very much affected also because large numbers of my constituents work there, and not only have I received representations which it is my business to pass on to the Minister, but there are social considerations, on which grounds I make a special appeal to the present Minister. I do not want to make any exaggerated claims on technical grounds—indeed, I am not competent to do so—for Prestwick versus other places in the United Kingdom, but I would like to make the small point that landing at Prestwick in Scotland is a very good introduction to Britain, as this war has shown to thousands of soldiers who have been billeted or have stayed in Scotland. Much more important is the point that there is an existing aerodrome in South-West Scotland, which is at present under the eye of Sir Patrick Abercrombie and being regionally planned. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Aircraft Production has been to my constituency, and has left behind much good will in the factories, because the people there thought that his visit was not only a portent in war time but gave some sort of hope for the future.
1582 There is no reason why we should have in this area the unemployment which I saw between 1933 and 1939, as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) has just said. We have much experience in firm after firm of engineers, who are intimately related to the work which must be part of the work of Prestwick aerodrome. I have been looking at the figures of population, and I am certain that there is a sufficiently large population which could be fed by Prestwick, not only for commercial transport reasons but also from the point of view of balanced production. I would like to ask the Minister a concrete question. It is somebody's business in the Government, whether of the Secretary of State for Scotland or a combination of Ministers, to see that the various transport services and the various industrial and secondary industries, light industries in some cases, in that particular part of the United Kingdom are planned. That is the only meaning I can attach to the expression "regional planning." It is somebody's business to take an over-all view and to say: "Here is an area which can be developed by such and such methods." Then it can be left to various forms of enterprise, in some cases public enterprise, to get on with the job.
Who is doing that at the present moment? My right hon. and learned Friend ha.s been there and has seen the whole nexus, this complex, of first-class industrial talent, of factories which will again become idle, of industries intimately related. One of my hon. Friends has said that the present employment was 100,000 and he saw that the post-war figures were 7,000. If that is true, although I do not know on what it is based, it means that we shall be faced with a problem in South-West Scotland which will mean going back to the old, miserable days that we knew so well, when we had rows and rows of unemployed. Miners are now being taken 20 or 30 miles to work in South Ayrshire in the pits of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan). We need factories in Galston and Irvine and throughout Ayrshire.
There are two grounds on which"as a united Scottish group, we ought to ask questions of the Minister. The first question is, Can he satisfy us on technical grounds that there is not a perfectly good case for Prestwick to be second only to 1583 whatever is going to be the terminus in the metropolitan area, because of the population and the area which it supplies? The second reason is social. From the point of view of regional planning is there not a very good case for making a transport centre at Prestwick? I may add that it is always the fringe areas which are left out, where it does not necessarily pay to put up a factory. It probably pays large combines better to put one nearer to Liverpool, or in the Midlands. Works have been moved from Barassie in my constituency to Derby, and other works will be moved South unless we reverse the policy of pre-war Governments. Therefore, have make my plea because representations have come to me from many organisations in my constituency, based not only on technical and strategical grounds as to the superiority of Prestwick as an aerodrome, but also on the ancillary industries which it would promote and encourage in that very important area. South-West Scotland is very important, not only to Scotland but to the whole of the United Kingdom.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Colonel Viscount Suirdale (Peterborough)
I feel rather nervous in taking part in this Debate at all, especially after having heard so many speeches from Members North of the Border, and particularly as I may say something which is not palatable to Members who support the Prestwick development. I would like to say at once how very sensible I am of the fact that although Scotsmen are a comparatively small percentage of the inhabitants of this Island they appear to have a very high percentage of the eloquence and sincerity which we have between us. Hon. Members have quoted history—William Wallace and the Battle of Culloden—and it is clear that local prestige and tradition are involved in this Debate.
To start with, I would like to recognise the fine flying tradition that Prestwick has already built up. It is partly because I admire those who have developed it that I agree with the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) in condemning the White Paper which the Government recently issued. I wanted to address the House on the idea that Prestwick aerodrome should be No. 2 trans-Atlantic airport for this country. I hope the Minister will resist 1584 that suggestion and will not consider me presumptuous—the trend of this Debate has been to attack him from all sides—in lining myself up on his side in this matter. It appears to me that the object which the Government or any airline should have in mind in selecting their main airports is the giving of service to the customer. I feel that the vast majority of people travelling across the Atlantic will want to go either to London or to some place on the Continent rather than to Scotland. Hon. Members have argued that Prestwick is in a more direct line with the Northern capitals, but in actual flying time it may make extraordinarily little difference.
The priorities to be considered in deciding what should be the first and the second diversion aerodromes for this country should be, I feel, to get the passengers to London in as little travelling time as possible. Therefore, in selecting diversion airfields we should say London first, and secondly, suitable airfields which are within two hours' travelling time of London and towns in the Midlands. I feel that Scotland, which I regard with the greatest respect, comes rather below those priorities.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
Does my hon. and gallant Friend agree that good weather is one of the most essential features?
§ Viscount Suirdale
I do agree on that with my hon. and gallant Friend, and I shall come to that point in a moment.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
Is the hon. and gallant Member aware that there is considerably less distance in coming to Prestwick, and is he also aware that it is claimed that a transport carrying passengers will be able to carry more if it stops at Prestwick than if it comes straight on to London?
§ Viscount Suirdale
I grant my hon. Friend that point. It is a point of substance, but it will become less and less important as aeroplanes take to flying through the stratosphere. I concede right away that the point is important. Prestwick does not really get passengers to London and the Midlands nearly so well as do many other airfields. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) spoke about the cloak of secrecy; I find myself a little limited in the same way. Although everyone knows 1585 that there are hundreds of very good airfields in this country—and there are some absolutely first-class ones in my own division—I cannot talk specifically about airfields because practically the whole lot are used by the Royal Air Force at the present time. The case I want to put to the House is that there are first-class airfields within two hours' motoring or train time of London and that they should be given precedence in developing a secondary trans-Atlantic terminus, over an airfield, however good—and I understand that Prestwick is first-class—which is in Scotland.
§ Mr. Woodburn
If that is the case, why do not the Americans in this country use those airfields now, if there is so much greater advantage in them over Prestwick, and why do they use Prestwick?
§ Viscount Suirdale
The answer is that the airfields are being used by Bomber Command and by others. I hope that in a comparatively short space of time those airfields may become available for civil aviation. It has been claimed that Prestwick is particularly good. I believe it is good. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend in replying will tell us what that claim really amounts to, and whether there are not other places that are as good or nearly as good.
With regard to geography I cannot speak with any authority about Scotland. I spent a certain amount of time in this war on the sea very near to Scotland in tank landing craft, and I was impressed by the mountainous type of country. As I passed by Prestwick on my journey North I could not help wondering if the Isle of Arran is not a serious flying obstruction particularly for modem aircraft, which need a long, flat approach. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will tell us whether aircraft have not in fact crashed against the Isle of Arran in considerable numbers in the last four or five years.
§ Viscount Suirdale
Yes, they have, but the case I am trying to make is that Prestwick is not, on geographical grounds, the most suitable to be the No. 2 airport to Heath Row, when the latter is finished.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Walter Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
I was waiting for my hon. 1586 and gallant Friend to develop his argument, because it seemed to me to boil down to the fact that any point that was not as near London as possible was unsuitable—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or the Midlands"]—The Midlands, I gather, were only advantageous as being near London. That seems to me a very Metropolitan point of view. I am not sure that it is the point of view from which to approach this rather important question. I should have thought that the No. 2 airport might, with considerable advantage, be situated some distance from London, because if weather conditions are likely to be unfavourable in the South, a certain amount of latitude would be an advantage instead of a disadvantage.
There are three questions involved: the question of industry, the question of an airport other than the London airport, and the question of whether Prestwick is suitable to be that other airport. We shall listen with interest to what the Minister has to say about a No. 2 airport some distance from London. I should have thought that there was a very strong case for it. What is more, some of my hon. Friends have stated that the actual distance to Prestwick is shorter, the pay-load is greater, the flying time less, and that it provides a quicker Great Circle route to one's destination. There are also the advantages of continued transit, which I think we should take into consideration when we are deciding upon a site for an alternative airport.
There is the great Russian development. Moscow is, obviously, going to become one of the greatest air centres in the world. Those of us who have been in that country realise what a tremendous advantage they have in flights to such places as Afghanistan, which from this country are tremendously long runs, but from there are merely very short hops. I do not think it has ever been contended that it would be a greater advantage to start from London for Moscow than it would be from the North, because all the routes to Moscow have been, in the past, and are still being developed to go as far North as possible for the two reasons, first, climate, and secondly, the actual advantage of a shorter route.
It seems to me that a Northern airport would be well worth considering, and it should not be judged simply on the question of mileage from London, every addi- 1587 tional mile to count as one black mark against the point suggested. As to Prestwick itself as an airport, much argument has been advanced by my hon. Friends, which I hope we shall hear summed up clearly by the Minister, because it is a little difficult, when one gets conflicting reports from the same authority, for the people of Scotland to take these reports too seriously. There has been a suggestion that the Isle of Arran is a disadvantage. I have heard it put the other way round, that a radio beacon, with a natural platform some 2,000 feet high, would be a great advantage for bringing in aircraft under modern beam conditions. I am not a technician, and so I cannot speak on that, but I have heard technical opinion given quite as strongly in favour of the Isle of Arran as against it. As for mountainous country, those of us who have some knowledge of it would be surprised to hear that description of the Prestwick area. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that if he cares to come to that part of Scotland we will give him some of the finest golf in the world, and he will be able to drive a golf ball for miles and miles.
I attach almost greater importance to the point about industry than to anything else. I would greatly appreciate it if the Minister would elucidate further that shake of the head he gave when my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) was speaking about the willingness of the aircraft industry to combine. Undoubtedly there is to be a contraction of the aircraft industry after the war. We hope that no situation will arise in which thousands of aircraft will be going out, with no other object than destruction. When that enormous replacement is no longer necessary, and these fearful and cruel purposes are abolished, the aircraft industry as such will be very greatly contracted, and it is vital that the firms concerned should combine. If the Minister can tell us that the firms are obstinate, let him say so on the Floor of the House, and I can assure him that the hon. Member for Greenock is not the only one who will go up there with the object of knocking sense into those who are refusing to take a possible advantage of so great a development. It is true we have suffered in Scotland through lack of development of industry. We have suffered from allowing such light industries as have been 1588 started, to languish and die away—the motor car industry is a case in point. I should hope that every firm in Scotland is alive to this development. We have seen Scotland go into the doldrums through lack of alternative industries for her people. If such a catastrophe were to come again, there is no length to which hon. Members and public opinion would not go in compelling some sort of amalgamation and some approach to the problem. The skill of the Clyde workers is still unchallenged. I think the Minister has paid eloquent tribute to the power of precision working which is enjoyed, as an almost hereditary right, by the workers in the industries of the Clyde. The men are there, the tools are there, the opportunity is there. If direction is lacking, it is for the Minister to say so, and for us to do our best to make sure that that direction is supplied.
We had a "dusty answer" from the Government yesterday about the Forth Bridge. I do not deny that that has to take a lower priority than certain other great purposes. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) I would not divert anything from the provision, say, of houses in Scotland at the present time. But if we get a succession of "dusty answers" on the Forth Bridge, on Prestwick, on light industry and everything else, it may turn into a dust-storm, or even a tornado, in which, as we know, the situation becomes very obscure, and people, with the best will in the world, are apt to collide and do each other great injury. I hope we shall have a sympathetic and encouraging answer from the Minister this afternoon, for the fear of unemployment, and the fear of not being able to employ their hereditary skill in such projects, burns in the minds of the Scottish workers on the Clyde. They fear that the beginning of a second glacial period is upon them. If that is so, there is scarcely any social step they would not willingly take to obviate that fear of unemployment, and particularly unemployment in skilled trades,. which is perhaps the most active driving force in Scotland at the present time. They look upon the proposal we are advocating as one of the ways in which they can be freed from that fear.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
This is one of probably many occasions 1589 in the next few months or years when Scottish Members will call attention to matters of post-war development in Scotland, which require the sanction and support of this House; and since to secure that support we must, like the Government itself, persuade our colleagues, it is perhaps as well that at this early stage in our reconstruction we should be clear in our own minds as to the relationship that should exist between Scottish projects as such and the legislative, financial and administrative authority which this House is able to give. I am not a Home Ruler, but I agree with the Secretary of State for Scotland that considerable devolution is probably needed after the war if Imperial and Scottish needs are to be properly served. But we are not discussing that problem to-day. We have to function with the machinery at our disposal. The question I constantly ask myself, and which we in this House must answer, is how, when a project like Prestwick is advanced, we should employ that machinery for the best benefit of Scotland, while winning and keeping the sympathy of hon. Members from other parts of the United Kingdom.
I wish to state my views freely and frankly. Post-war development in Scotland falls, I suggest, into two main categories. There is, first, that group of activities like housing, water supplies, transport, fishing, agriculture, etc., which, though Scottish in nature, are really United Kingdom in their general application, and which must therefore originate and draw their impetus and authority from this House, representing as it does all parts of the United Kingdom. It is not only the right but the duty of Scottish Members of Parliament, as it is the duty of other Members, whatever constituencies they represent, to place our country's needs in those fields before the Government, before Parliament, and seek the aid and inspiration of the State in meeting them.
Mr. Gallather (Fife, West)
Has the hon. Member understood the difficulty that arises here? He says it is our duty to place the needs and demands of our country before the Minister and the Government, but they do not look upon it as our country. They are treating it as a Province of England. That is why there is such a question at all as this we are discussing.
The question my hon. Friend has in mind is precisely that which is troubling me, and I am attempting to answer it. I say that in these problems such as housing, forestry, water supply, which have a general United Kingdom application, it is our duty, as Members of the United Kingdom Parliament, to represent the needs of our part of the world to this House. Thus Scottish Members do and must continue to press with all their strength for the maximum financial and administrative support for projects like the rebuilding of Scottish houses, in town and country alike. No demand, no appeal, no protest, can be too great. It is our highest responsibility to place matters of this kind before the House.
Prestwick Airport, though it is a factor in transport, does not, in my view, fall quite within that category of projects. Like Rosyth Dockyard, in which I am very much interested, Prestwick is an established undertaking, a going concern. Nor is Prestwick, in my view—as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan), in his most admirable speech—entirely, or even mainly, a Scottish interest. I look upon these two great undertakings, Rosyth and Prestwick, as essentially British in character, built and paid for by the combined enterprise of the United Kingdom, and serving our Imperial, rather than our domestic, interests. Therefore, my appeal for the retention of Prestwick is based not upon nationalistic grounds, but upon the broad grounds that it has served, and ought to continue to serve, the interests of the United Kingdom and of the Empire. We in Scotland are very proud that we have this historic airport—because, when the history of these times is written, this will be an historic airport—on our soil. We are proud that Scottish hands have fashioned so vital an element in Anglo-American relations. We wish that this vital link with the new world shall be maintained open, active, an ever-growing cause of better international friendship. That, I think, is the right way to look upon this Prestwick Airport project, as it is also in the case of Rosyth. It is, I believe, the best way in which we can persuade this House to accept our point of view. My only concern in the past has been that we should not fall into the error of "stunting" either Prestwick, Rosyth, or any 1591 other enterprise that may from time to time interest our Scottish people. No hon. Member to-day has "stunted" this proposal. The sober, well-balanced temper of this Debate may well act as a rebuke to that handful of the Scottish people who, as I think, are bringing discredit to our nation by exaggerating our case, and misrepresenting the loyal, but essentially independent, character of the Scottish people.
That brings me to the second category of projects which fall within the realm of Scottish development in the days to come, projects which our country must quickly undertake if we are to cope with the difficulties of the future. It is that extensive group of undertakings which comes under the general term of the diversification of industry. I admit that Prestwick has an important part to play in this field. If there is one thing that is burned into the minds of the working folk of Scotland, it is that reliance upon the heavy industries for their employment and their livelihood is a fatal policy. These great industries of ours—shipbuilding, iron, steel and coal—have in the past brought great prosperity to us at times. No doubt in the future they may do so again. But at other times they have offered nothing but unemployment, poverty, and despair. During these times of depression we have lost, to England and elsewhere, thousands of our best men and women, who have never returned to our country. It is not difficult to see why they left. The merest glance at the figures of unemployment in the middle thirties affords the answer: and I submit this consideration must be borne in mind by us, and by the Government in dealing with this problem of Prestwick. I take the year 1935, by no means the worst of our years, to indicate the character of our Scottish problems. We had in Scotland that year 23 per cent. of unemployment; in Lanark we had 27 per cent., in Coatbridge 4o per cent., in Airdrie 49 per cent.—nearly 50 per cent.—and in Port Glasgow 42 per cent. That was because of excessive dependence upon the heavy trades. At that same time, when our country was overwhelmed with depression, and our countrymen were leaving in their thousands, Birmingham was basking in comparative prosperity, with less than 7 per cent. of unemployment. There is the answer to a 1592 large part of our problem. But even in Scotland the depression was not universal. In districts like Leven, Fife, in my own division, unemployment was only 11 per cent., because in Fife we had a better distribution of trades to which we could turn in times of difficulty.
Never again must we permit so ill-balanced an economy to dominate our national life. We must search for, find and develop, with the utmost speed, new light industries of a multitude of types. I put our needs after the war at no fewer than 5,000 new factories. There is not a town or local authority in my constituency that does not plead now for one, two or more new factories at the earliest moment. There is not a basic trade in Scotland with which I am concerned—fishing, agriculture, forestry—which will not depend, in order to sustain itself against post-war depression, upon new ancillary or alternative employments. If Prestwick and 100 other civil airports in Scotland can contribute to the diversification and enrichment of our industry, we ought to provide them. I feel so deeply on this matter that I place the establishment of these new light industries second only in priority to housing; and I am prepared to give up every other advancement in Scotland to get this essential of good living after the war. Given here in Westminster, where Scottish Members make their contribution, a sound trading and commercial policy; given fair taxation and freedom from unnecessary controls; given a real urge to enterprise—private, municipal, corporation, or public undertaking—given that freedom to Scottish enterprise, I believe we shall stagger the world by our achievements in the days to come.
And this is the great advantage that we have. Given these essential conditions by Parliament, we can establish those light industries by our own efforts. We do not need to come to Westminster for aid. Nothing depresses me so much as that growing spirit which I observe in Scotland, of sitting with folded arms, blaming London for all Scotland's ills, looking to London for the solution of all Scotland's problems. It is an attitude rank with inferiority complex, which I for one, and I think every hon. Member for Scotland, scorns. I have the greatest belief in the skill, enterpsrise, and courage of our people, and I deplore the fact that some of our leaders up there should represent that defeatist point of view. I have the 1593 greatest faith in the future of my country. I ask only for freedom for the development of our enterprise. This is one of the examples where we seek nothing more than the right to develop what we have, and I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give us the reply that we expect.
§ 1.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Let me, for once in a while, come as near to conciliatoriness and kindness as I can. I have succeeded in most of my speeches in arousing antagonism. The first thing I would say now is to compliment the Government Front Bench. On the last occasion when I spoke I was rather hard on the Secretary of State for Scotland I feel sure that when he reads this Debate, as I know he will, he will have a touch of sadness at not having been here today; because I think that any Scottish Secretary who was here to-day would have a feeling of pride in the Scottish Members who have spoken in this Debate. I take it as a compliment that the Minister of Aircraft Production should have given the time to come here to-day; and I thank him and the Leader of the House for having shown some understanding of what we in Scotland think about this problem. We do not want to come up against Wales or Plymouth or any other part of the country; we do not want to grab more for ourselves than we are entitled to. But remember our position. For good or for ill, we are a nation, with all that that brings—national pride, national honour, national courage. You cannot sweep that aside. You have to take note of it, and understand it. The thing I fear most in Scotland is that people will think, with the housing position as it is, that they are going back to what they emerged from before the war. We read of great things being accomplished by Scotsmen. Our people constantly say this—and it is difficult to answer them: "Is our greatness always reserved for the battlefield and the glories of war; have we no great capacities for the glory of peace production?"
About Prestwick, I am not going to recapitulate the arguments that have been put forward. I have never heard better speaking here than I have heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan). They are a credit to us. I make a claim for Prest- 1594 wick, not merely because it is part of Scotland, but on taking everything into account, balancing one issue against another. I say that we are making out our case on Prestwick on strictly business grounds, talking on the economic side and the businesslike side. I want to make this plea to the Minister of Aircraft Production. I was a little disappointed yesterday with what was said in another place about the Forth Bridge. It used to be said of us, and particularly of the Clyde, that we could only build ships and run heavy industries. On the question of aircraft engine production, I know of no finer and better equipped works than that at Hillingdon, near Glasgow. That engine works has been developed by somebody who knows something about casting development, and the Hillingdon foundry is, in my view, one of the best in the world. Developments in aircraft at Prestwick and in engine making at Hillingdon are two necessary things that could go hand in hand.
I do not want to compete with other parts of the country. The other day we were talking about the distribution of industry. Our view on that subject is that we ought not to shift an English firm to Scotland, with all that that entails to human beings, but to maintain the industries that are already there in Scotland. There is no competition about it; we can develop aircraft in other parts of the country, and nobody will be better pleased if that is done. Scotland does not want development at the expense of the increasing misery of any other part of the country. Scotland wants to prosper in conjunction with other parts of the country, and, if she is helped and allowed to prosper, her prosperity will help the other parts as well. I hope the Minister's reply to-day will be satisfactory to us.
§ 1.48 p.m.
§ The Minister of Aircraft Production (Sir Stafford Cripps)
I am very much in agreement with what the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has said.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
On a point of procedure. Do I understand that this concludes this part of the Debate?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
I am given to understand that, after the Minister has spoken, we shall go on to another subject.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have been endeavouring to call a Welsh Member for the last half-hour, but none rose; that is my trouble.
§ Mr. Bevan
I cannot argue with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on this matter. I did not want to intervene in the Debate earlier because I wanted the Scottish part to conclude. I did not want any competition with Scotland about it, but I wanted to make some observations from Wales, which might be in the nature of an addendum.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
As the hon. Member says, we cannot argue on this. It is just a question that he did not happen to catch my eve. I think we had better keep to the Minister now.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am most anxious not to cut anybody out of the Debate, but I was particularly warned to finish by 2 o'clock in order that other hon. Members might raise other matters. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Gorbals that we have had a most impressive Debate. The arguments have been put forward, if I may say so with great respect, extremely concisely and with very great force, and I can assure the House that I do appreciate very fully the pride of accomplishment that Scottish men and women feel in the aircraft industry and in their own contributions to air services and air training. They have played a very distinguished part in the course of the war, and I have taken many opportunities of going to Scotland in order to inform them of the appreciation of the Government and the Department in the work that they have done. I believe that this type of what we may justly call local patriotism is of the very greatest importance in the proper development of our nation as a whole, and I do not regard it—
§ Mr. Gallacher
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman will excuse me, local patriotism is provincial patriotism, but he should please understand that he is talking about a country and a nation with history and traditions—not something local.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I did not say provincial patriotism, if the hon. Member will allow me to correct him. I said, specifically, local patriotism, which can relate to Scotland, Wales, Ireland or to England, where we also are allowed our local patriotism as well. There has been some complaint that this matter has been shrouded in a blackout of secrecy. I do not think that really is so. I think that one of the difficulties is that changing circumstances very often do change opinions with regard to the convenience of a particular place. One person might want to use the place for training, another might want to use it for flying boats, and others may suggest various purposes, and you will get different points of view. There is no doubt at all, from the point of view of Service flying there, that Prestwick has been very satisfactory indeed, and I do not think that anybody is going to controvert that opinion. One has to regard this problem in its true proportions, and there are one or two propositions which I might, perhaps, establish in agreement with those hon. Members who have spoken in order to see how close we can get together.
First of all, there is no issue at all as to the desirability of encouraging civil aviation in every part of these islands and abroad, as far as we possibly can. Nor is there any doubt at all of the need for us to have a first-class aviation industry in this country; nor, indeed, that, as a country, and I think this would be agreed, as well as from the point of view of external traffic, we are a comparatively small centre in area, and, therefore, the problems in this country are different to those in Continental countries like America or Russia, where you have vast territories, and where your internal distances may be as long as, or, indeed, longer than, your external distances.
The problem of Prestwick is confused, I think, owing to the fact of the type of work that is being carried on there during the war, which has no relationship to the carrying on of an airport at all. When hon. Members speak of 5,000 people being employed at Prestwick, I would remind them that, for the purposes of an airport, it is estimated that the maximum number employed would be 200 to 300 persons. The whole of the rest are employed in doing emergency 1597 work for war purposes—modifications, adaptations and repairs and things of that kind—which are really a manufacturing job quite divorced from the airport itself. So that there are really two problems here—Prestwick as an airport and Prestwick as part of the aircraft industry in Scotland.
First, so far as Prestwick as an airport is concerned, I think it will be agreed that, in these islands, small as they are for trans-Atlantic trade, in which we contemplate dealing with these immensely big air liners, very much bigger than anything so far seen in the air, one cannot afford to have more than one really first-class airport. It is estimated that a first-class airport, when fully developed, will cost many millians of pounds, and, if it is contemplated, for instance, to develop Prestwick for that sort of purpose, it would, perhaps, mean an expenditure of £6,000,000 to £10,000,000 in order to make it suitable for such a purpose. As the House knows, it has been decided that the Heath Row aerodrome, which is in course of construction and will cost a very large sum of money, is to be utilised as the main central trans-Atlantic airport of this country.
§ Mr. Edģar Granville (Eye)
May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman a question? When he says only one airport, does he mean one airport for land-based aircraft, and one airport for flying boats, or one terminal airport for both purposes?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I think there is no contemplation, at the moment, of any flying-boat crossings of the Atlantic, by machines of the size of the big land-based planes. The present proposition is that the crossings will be made by land planes. Of course, the problem of the flying-boat will be a different one, and special docking facilities will be required for it.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I understand that the possibility of rocket send-off from the water may alter the whole complexion of the relative values of aeroplanes. Will that be taken into consideration?
§ Sir S. Cripps
All these matters have been taken into consideration. I do not want to enter at the moment into a long argument about flying-boats and land planes, but it is quite clear, from the trends at the moment, that the early 1598 development will be on the basis of land planes, and, therefore, we are looking at this matter, for the time being, on the basis of land planes. It has been decided that Heath Row will be the first main airport. It is necessary to have that airport near the capital and the most densely populated areas, but that does not exclude secondary and other airports, and one of the requirements for a secondary airport is that it should have a different weather to that of the primary one. It is no good putting it down close to the main one, because it would suffer from the same difficulties. It is a fact that there is a very good weather area on the North West of England and the West of Scotland, bounded in the North by Prestwick and in the South by Whitehaven, and this is one of the best weather areas in the country.
It would therefore appear that, as an alternative airport, Prestwick would be a very suitable one indeed, and it is contemplated, as, I think, the Minister for Civil Aviation has already said, that one of these alternative aerodromes—it is not quite certain how many there will be—will be Prestwick. That does not necessarily mean that there will be a very large volume of that type of traffic—trans-Atlantic traffic. It will be a stand-by aerodrome, and, when the weather is bad here, landings will take place up there. It may be that, as we develop fog devices and landing devices, it may be less used in the future than immediately after the war, but, until Heath Row is built, Prestwick will continue to be used for its present purpose.
That, of course, is not the end of the use of Prestwick. That is only one aspect of Prestwick's traffic. There are two aspects of airport traffic—trans-Continental traffic and internal traffic. There is going to be published—it will be published after my Noble Friend comes back from South Africa—a study of the internal services, from which hon. Members will see that Scotland has been very fully covered. Some of them will, no doubt, go to Prestwick. The third category is that of Continental traffic and for that purpose Prestwick will certainly come in. Lines which run from Prestwick to London and on to Paris, Brussels, Berlin or Rome, and other places will be flown out of Prestwick. The exact line and which line will call at Prestwick has not 1599 yet been laid down but it is hoped that, as soon as the new organisation gets going, it will be possible to lay those lines down. That covers, as far as I can give the House the facts—not that there are any others because these are all the facts there are to give to the House—the use of Prestwick as an aerodrome.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
Is it not a fact that aircraft from the Northern part of the United States will go to Northern Ireland and that, at present, in Canada and the United States, they are fixing the places at which they will call, and if Prestwick were chosen it might bring people down by the Northern route?
§ Sir S. Cripps
There will not be anything to stop such an arrangement. If we have an arrangement, for instance, for a stopping service between Sweden and America, there will be nothing to stop Swedes landing if they think it right and convenient even at Prestwick. Nothing will force them to go anywhere else. That will be more a question of their selection and convenience and we would have to consent to their right to land and we might say that certainly they could land. There is nothing to prevent any development such as that but as regards the laying out of our own aerodromes, the ruling that I have given will stand.
I put two fairly substantial points to my right hon. and learned Friend and I should be glad if he would tell us when Heath Row was contemplated, and can my right hon. and learned Friend deal with the weather report of Prestwick?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I have dealt with the weather. I have said that there is a good weather area bounded by Prestwick on the North and Whitehaven on the South and that is one reason why we would want to take advantage of Prestwick in bad weather.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I have not those reports and I was not responsible for them in any way, and I can give no details about them now. I was going to deal with the Heath Row position. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. McNeil) wanted to know whether Heath Row was built as a war enterprise, which is the fact. At the 1600 date when Heath Row was first used and when we arranged to go forward with it, no one could possibly foretell at what date the war was going to end. What we did know was that larger and larger aircraft was going to be included in the war, especially American aircraft, and we were very alarmed that we should have no place at which this heavy aircraft would be able to land if the war continued. Therefore, it was essential to make some arrangements in advance to have suitable aerodromes for larger aircraft. Obviously, it was right to try and make as much use of those aerodromes, after that expenditure for subsequent purposes as well, and so in that sense it had a dual purpose. That covers, I think, the use of Prestwick Aerodrome for airfield purposes.
Now let me come to what I think is really, in most hon. Members' minds, the most important factor of the question of the light industries and the aircraft industry in Scotland. I have been to Scotland many times as a propagandist preaching the gospel of the absolute necessity to try and diversify the industries of Scotland. I believe that that is absolutely essential for the future of Scotland, and the Government Departments have done a very considerable amount of work in that direction during the course of the war. The hon. Member for Greenock mentioned that we had 100,000 people employed in M.A.P. We have not quite that number now, rather fewer. A great many of these people are employed in new factories that have been built but in nearly every case, unfortunately, the new factories' unit management has come from the South and it is not possible, under our existing laws, to compel a management which has come from the South and has increased its output by occupying a factory in Scotland to continue in Scotland.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I will come to Prestwick in a moment. I was dealing with the more general question. It is not quite so easy, I would point out to hon. Members, and the hon. Members from Scotland in particular, as it is during the war, when we have been able to get managements and new labour, to introduce new industries. In a number of these cases the managements do not wish to continue 1601 these industries in areas like Hamilton and others were there are great difficulties. As far as the actual aircraft industry itself is concerned, there has only been one unit in Scotland where aircraft has been built and that has been in Dumbarton, and it is an English firm. Owing to the way in which aircraft construction has developed, it is an unfortunate fact that neither that firm nor any other in Scotland has got any design team attached to it at the present time. When I was in Edinburgh at the beginning of February of this year I ventured to make a suggestion to Scottish industry which I would like to quote to the House. It was as follows:It seems to me, if Scottish industry wishes to enter this new and exciting branch of production"—that is, aircraft production—that those who are at present engaged in different forms of aircraft manufacture will have to get together to create one strong and substantial concern which will have the finance and the ability to start out on this class of manufacture. It might then be possible to present a good case to my Department for placing some orders for such a unit. It is not because we do not wish to give the work to Scotland but because, as events have turned out, there is no suitable firm in Scotland which can do the necessary design and construction work.
§ Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
Did I hear the Minister assert that the Blackburn Aircraft Company do not propose to remain at Dumbarton after the war?
§ Sir S. Cripps
No, I did not say that at all. I said that the only firm building aircraft in Scotland was an English firm.
§ Sir S. Cripps
It is controlled, and this is a little important, because the people who control the firm are not primarily interested in keeping business in Scotland but in getting aircraft constructed. Therefore, if there is a contraction in business Scotland is likely to feel it before anywhere else. That is the present position in Scotland and the suggestion which I made to Scottish industry was that, if they were really anxious to get more aircraft construction, they should utilise the various advantages which they have gained during the war in order to make one good unit, and that whether that would be situated at Prestwick or somewhere else is a matter which they could decide and determine. I am bound to 1602 say, in spite of what the hon. Member for Greenock said, that I have had no response at all from any of the firms to the suggestion which I made. I have, in fact, discussed the matter with one of them but not with a very hopeful result. There does not seem to be any great instigation from the Scottish side to go forward with this plan and, unfortunately, as we organise and run our industry today, it is impossible for the Government to compel people in Scotland to manufacture aircraft in Scotland if they do not want to do so, nor is it possible at this stage of the war to put down a Government factory for the manufacture of aircraft in Scotland. It must be left, in our existing disposition, to private enterprise in Scotland to carry this forward, if it is to be done. I have said on behalf of my Department that, if that is done, we will give them encouragement and see that they get orders from us. We will let them in on the business when it comes.
§ Mrs. Hardie (Glasgow, Springburn)
Is it not the case that, with the existence of big combines and mass production, it is more difficult for Scotland as a unit to start new industries?
§ Sir S. Cripps
Scotland could quite easily, out of the aircraft business it is carrying on at the present time, make an economic unit for aircraft production. I do not think there should be any difficulty about a unit of from 2,000 to 5,000 people being employed provided they had the necessary backing of the design staff, which is essential for any aircraft construction. I am afraid, from the point of view of those who wish to get a definite promise, that we will do nothing at Prestwick. That answer may sound somewhat unsatisfying, but I can assure the House that it is not from any lack of desire on our part to see a virile aircraft industry in Scotland, but I do feel that it must remain for the Scottish people, the industrialists, financiers and others, to organise themselves. We will certainly give a very cordial reception to them. We have spent large sums of money on Prestwick—the Government have spent over £2,000,000 there—and we shall be very glad to see either those buildings or some of the many others we have put up in Scotland put to this use in the future. But beyond that I am afraid that the Government themselves, at this stage of the war, are unable to go.
1603 Finally, I hope that all the people in Scotland will realise that we have to look upon this civil aviation matter as a matter of the United Kingdom. The question of landing bases in this small island and where we can distribute them must lead to disappointment in some quarters. We have had so many applications from Wales, Northern Ireland, South-West England and other places for large-scale facilities for civil aviation that it would be quite impossible to satisfy them all. We must, therefore, regard the island as a whole, and, in so doing, it is normal and natural that we should centre our main transatlantic air fields in the busiest and most populated areas. We should hope that Prestwick will become the secondary airport, the alternative airport, for transatlantic traffic, and that it will have much other traffic, local traffic and traffic connected with the continent, which will help to keep it busy. Perhaps some day the Scottish people will have the enterprise in which, I may say, in answer to what the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) said, they have not been far in front of their English colleagues and comrades, who started very active aircraft industries quite a long time ago. I hope that one day they will have the enterprise and initiative to start a first-rate aircraft industry in Scotland to which the Government will be anxious and willing to give their support.
§ Major McCallum
I asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman a question about the authorities at Prestwick not being allowed to go to the Havana Conference. He said he wished Scotland to develop its own future, and surely that would be one step towards helping the future.
§ Sir S. Cripps
The trouble is there is no one at Prestwick who is an operator, and the Havana Conference is one of operators, and not of aerodrome owners. Prestwick are only aerodrome owners.