§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Michael Stewart.]
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Captain Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
No excuses should be needed at this stage, after the Government have been in office for some months, for my bringing forward the question of civil aviation. There are those of us who believe that the future prosperity and unity of the British Empire, as well as our British trade in general, depend to a very large extent on Britain being as enterprising in the field of civil aviation as she was in the past in developing her maritime marine, and I am determined that this matter shall not be allowed to rest. There was quite enough delay under the National Government in setting up the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Some of us pressed for it for a very long time, and eventually our demands were acceded to. The Ministry of Civil Aviation was set up and a Cabinet Minister was appointed, with direct access to the War Cabinet, to deal urgently with matters of civil aviation.
Those of us who have been pressing for that policy for a long time thought we were getting somewhere when the Ministry was set up and the Government introduced an agreed White Paper on the National Government's policy. We thought that after the White Paper, which was a compromise, had been presented to the House the Government would introduce a Bill and press forward with the development of civil aviation. Then, of course, came the General Election and a new Government was elected, and instead of advancing as we had hoped, we find ourselves to-day having lost all the ground we won in the past because the Government have not produced a policy. The policy outlined in the White Paper has gone by the board, and instead of the companies which were brought into the White Paper scheme being given the word "go" and allowed to get on with it, they find themselves to-day still without a policy and not knowing where they stand. This is very serious for more than one reason. For instance, there is the disbandment of the Royal Air Force and particularly of Transport Command, where a very great potential field of recruitment for future civil aviation 599 existed. I find that quite a number of my Royal Air Force friends who intended to make civil aviation their career after the war found themselves so disappointed with the lack of any decision as to what their future prospects might be that they have abandoned all thought of such a career and have, in many cases, been demobilised from the Royal Air Force and taken up other occupations. Some of them—I know quite a number—have taken permanent commissions in the Royal Air Force. They are, therefore, lost to civil aviation.
In addition to that, we have the high pressure competition from countries like America in the field of civil aviation. I have lately been on the Continent, and everywhere I went I found, whether among countries who were our Allies in the war or countries like Sweden, every desire to co-operate with us in the field of civil aviation. All of them were having pressure brought to bear upon them, in particular by the Americans, who are very much alive to the importance of this subject, to enter into bilateral agreements. They have held out against such agreements in the past because they were anxious to co-operate with us in the development of civil aviation in Europe, but they have been driven by despair and by the fact that we have no policy to enter into bi-lateral agreements with the Americans, and in that way the prospect of our forming any definite European policy, or at any rate of initiating any definite European scheme, is going by the board. That is a very serious thing. I believe there has been an admitted difficulty in providing the planes, and planes are wanted more than anything else, but planes are not everything. Foundations have to be laid for an airport, civil or military, before it is possible to operate planes and those foundations have not been laid. If the planes were available to-day they could not be operated because the opportunity of laying the foundations for an air service, by entering into agreements with different countries and doing all the groundwork and preparation that is necessary, has been lost.
Many of us were not very enamoured of the Government's White Paper, but taking it by and large it was a fair compromise between those who believed in 600 the nationalisation of industry, and those of us who believed that private enterprise was the system which would give this country the best hope for the future. On that basis, the White Paper was accepted by the House, to which it was commended by no less a person than the present President of the Board of Trade, who was then Minister of Aircraft Production. Most of my hon. Friends on this side of the House who take an active interest in this subject would have preferred a different policy, but realising the urgency of having a policy at all and the difficulty of obtaining full agreement in the National Government on any policy that was not a compromise, we accepted the White Paper as a basis for going forward. Lord Swinton, in introducing his policy in another place, did get support from all sides and said that in his White Paper scheme party politics had been left outside the door, where he hoped they would remain, because it was absolutely essential, if we were to go forward, to make rapid progress. We could not afford to quarrel over ideologies.
What has happened since? The new Government have been returned and the White Paper scheme has been scrapped. The B.O.A.C., the railway companies, the shipping companies and the booking companies and travel agencies who were brought into the White Paper scheme have since been left absolutely without any direction or Government policy, and they do not know where they stand. The reason why I am pressing this to-day is because it is urgent that we should make a decision and get moving on this question. What was the White Paper policy? The B.O.A.C, which is a Government institution, is as badly off as any of the other parties concerned in the White Paper scheme, because they do not know where they stand. All this potential material, human and otherwise, is going adrift because they cannot recruit for the future, being unable to offer any terms.
The railway companies have gone a long way in forming a company to operate European routes, and they are left in the same position. The shipping companies also had begun to prepare the ground, and are now waiting for direction and for the word "go." All they get is rumours and inspired statements in the Press to the effect that the policy stated in the White Paper is not to be 601 carried out, and that private enterprise is not to play any part in the future of civil aviation. They do not know where they stand. I should have thought that the Government had quite enough on hand in the way of nationalisation without interfering with the policy laid down by the National Government, a policy which, after all, was agreed to by Members of the War Cabinet, including the right hon. Gentlemen who are now Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, President of the Board of Trade and Lord President of the Council. All of them approved of the scheme in the White Paper; surely, that ought to be enough to commend that scheme to the present Government. But we are told the White Paper does not go farenough, and the nationalisation addicts in the party are blocking the scheme. If that be the case, then let us find out what is the alternative policy. What we object to so strongly, and what we think is so serious, is that no alternative policy has been put forward in place of the National Government's scheme. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell the House what the Government's policy is. Time is on the march, we are losing ground everywhere.
I have had a good deal of correspondence on these matters with countries within the British Empire and with Colonial Governments responsible for airlines. Only the other day I met the chairman of the British West Indian Airways. That company belongs to the British Government, and the Colonial Office have spent a lot of money in building up that line. The chairman has been in this country for several weeks trying to get a decision from the British Government on policy, because the company wants to expand or at any rate, to maintain the services it is now operating in linking up the West Indian islands. The chairman of the company informed me that he has been hanging about over here for weeks because he could not get a decision on matters connected with the airline, which is part of the scheme of Empire routes. That sort of thing is happening all over the Empire. It is happening in this country in the case of people who are struggling to operate internal airlines. There is no direction, no encouragement, and no policy.
I turn to another question. During the war we have spent over £200,000,000 on the development of aerodromes and air- 602 ports. It is true that they were developed chiefly for military purposes, but the fact is that we are left to-day without an airport large enough and well-equipped enough to serve as a world airport. I know that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) intends to uphold Prestwick. I know the large amount of traffic which Prestwick has carried during the war; it has done wonderful national service during the war; but for all its merits, it is obvious that we must have an airport nearer to the seat of Government and the capital, although no doubt use can be found in the future for Prestwick. The position is that we have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on building airports and not one of them is adaptable to civil aviation purposes. Surely, the Government ought to have been far-seeing enough, as we pressed them to be, to prepare at any rate one airport that could have been switched over to civil aviation within a reasonable period after the war. Heath Row may or may not be suitable, but I do not think it is situated in the best place for an airport; the civil air operators would be very glad if it were available. As for Croydon, which I have used a good deal, it becomes more and more congested and less suited for the job it is trying to carry out. The only other near airport that could be used for the purpose of relieving Croydon is Northolt, which we are told the R.A.F. will not surrender. Is that true? What alternative is there to Croydon in the event of fog or of Croydon being unserviceable? It is essential we should have another airport.
Fortunately, owing to the Business of the House having been finished earlier than we had anticipated, there will bean opportunity for hon. Members to state their views on this matter. I very strongly urge upon the Parliamentary Secretary and the Government the importance of making a statement upon civil aviation and the Government's policy with regard to it at the earliest possible moment. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to do so to-day, but if not, I hope he will give us a date upon which a statement of policy will be made. A great many people are very much concerned by the vacillations, inaction and delays on the part of the Government in coming to a decision. I urge him to tell us what is in the Government's mind and to answer some of the questions I have put to him.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
I am sure the House is grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) for taking this opportunity to call attention to the very important matter of the future policy of this country on civil aviation. I gather that the Government are not yet in a position to declare their policy, and therefore, if we on these benches have an opportunity of stating our points of view to the Minister and to the Parliamentary Secretary, on whose appointment I should like to congratulate him, I hope we may thereby prevent a mistake from being made. I have no knowledge of what the Government's policy is going to be, but to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight, who referred to the White Paper on Civil Aviation as a compromise, I will say, Thank God the days of compromise with the Conservative Party are over. We are now able to stand on our own feet, and however much some of our Ministers may have felt obliged, in order to maintain national unity, to enter into what may be regarded as commitments in one White Paper after another, we have a clear policy. There is a completely new Government.
§ Mr. Bowles
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman had taken the trouble to read the case of his opponent at the General Election, he would have seen the policy clearly published in a well-written pamphlet entitled "Wings for Peace." I hope that no Minister now feels in any way that he or the Government are bound by what was in the White Paper. I know that many of my hon. Friends who have studied the White Paper feel that it was quite deplorable. The hon. and gallant Member was completely wrong when he said that the House accepted the White Paper. If he will look at the Official Report, he will find that the House never accepted the White Paper. What happened was that it was introduced on a Supplementary Vote of Credit or on a Consolidated Fund Bill, and it was quite impossible for hon. Members who disagreed with the contents of the White Paper to vote against the request for money which the Government were making. A vote against the Government 604 would have been misunderstood and it would have looked as if we were trying to prevent the Government from having funds for the conduct of the war. I emphasise that the House, and certainly the Members of my own party, did not accept the contents of the White Paper.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
How about the Ministers in the National Government? How about the present President of the Board of Trade, who introduced the White Paper to the House?
§ Mr. Bowles
However much Ministers may have felt obliged to compromise in the production of the White Paper for the sake of national unity, there is national unity no longer. The party fight is now on; we are the Government. On many occasions in the past I have warned the Conservative Party, and their friends who are shareholders in railway companies and shipping companies and who wanted to take the risk of advancing money for the purpose of developing airlines to be run by railway companies and shipping companies, that they would do so at their peril. I am sure the records will prove that they had a very clear warning of what would be the fate of their investments if they were so foolish as to take any notice of the contents of the White Paper.
This matter is a tremendously important one. If a mistake is made at the beginning, it may be irremediable. From the other side of the House I have advocated over and over again that this matter must be approached from the point of view of an international service to the user, and not from the point of view of what a certain interest can get out of it. I have heard and read speeches in this House and in another place, particularly in another place by various noble Lords, such as Lord Londonderry and Lord Essendon, stating what they thought were the fair claims of the railway companies and shipping companies to a share in the rake-off which it was hoped to get from running civil aviation as a private enterprise venture. Therefore, we start from this point, which is one on which I and my colleagues on these Benches feel very strongly: we must not allow the Government to make a mistake at this stage in their policy. We must approach this matter from the point of view of a service to the user of 605 aircraft, whether for business, pleasure or cargo carrying, and not from the point of view either of the national prestige involved in running an airline or the profits that can be made out of it.
I remember years ago standing at Le Bourget aerodrome, watching the aircraft of various airlines arrive. I have seen the Imperial Airways 'planes arrive and put out the light blue ensign. Then the Sabena would come in and put out the Belgian flag and the K.L.M. put out the Dutch flag and so on. There was a ridiculous demonstration of Nationalism at every single airport when airliners landed showing the flag of their nations. I put this to the House seriously. It is possible to fly from one place in the world to any other in three days. It is expected that, with the development of jet propulsion, we shall be able to go from any one place to any other in two and a half days. That is really not very far off. How absurd it is to talk of each country even having its own nationalised airlines. At these big international conferences, such as San Francisco and others, something like 50 or 55 different nations turn up and are represented. They are big enough to attend these conferences and we are really coming to the situation that there will be in London, Stockholm, Copenhagen and New York, 55 different airlines' offices all hoping to get orders for travel and so on.
Surely, this is a matter which should be dealt with on a world basis right from the start. I am told that there will be difficulties and that America might find it difficult or might be awkward in accepting a recommendation of this kind. May I put this to the House? We are not alone on this side of the House in holding this policy. It is the policy of the Australian Government and of the New Zealand Government and it was agreed to at the Canberra Conference, as the House will remember.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
I must correct the hon. Member. That policy was adumbrated by the Australian Government and the New Zealand Government and rejected at the Chicago Conference.
§ Mr. Bowles
I know that it was not dropped by these Governments and that it was rejected by Lord Swinton.
§ Mr. Bowles
The position is that it is the established policy of the Australian Government and of the New Zealand Government and the policy of this Government. The fact that it was adumbrated by the representatives of the two Governments at the Chicago Conference and challenged by vested interests in this country demonstrates the importance of the suggestion that this service must be taken out of the international scramble for power and private profit. I asked the Secretary of State over and over again after the Chicago Conference to publish a verbatim account of the arguments used against Mr. Sullivan's argument at the Chicago Conference. That has never been done. I understand the question will now be asked whether the American Government is now prepared and ready to publish it, and are the Government prepared to put into the Library the whole verbatim report of what took place in Chicago? have never seen.—and I have been all through the files, every one of them why Lord Swinton and Doctor Adolf Berle and others turned down the policy I am advocating and which was advocated by Mr. Drakeford and by Mr. Sullivan, representing Australia and New Zealand at Chicago. [Interruption.] I wish the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight would allow me to go on with my speech. I have been through the whole of the files in the Library. They are very large and I challenge him to produce evidence here within the next two hours, because this would give me a chance to get on with my speech. The arguments against Mr. Sullivan were not published, and we have pressed for full publication.
I have always regarded civil aviation—particularly recently—as international dynamite. It might easily become the cause of the next world war. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary knows—we met abroad during the Recess—I have seen the kind of efforts that are being made, particularly by the Americans, to establish—and I gather with success—the kind of spheres of influence and the right to fly in and out and to take up cargo and passengers as much as they possibly can. You have a real nationalist approach behind American Airlines at the present time. That is the danger. We in this country admit that our position is weak. We have very few airlines, we see the kind of difficulty and 607 danger this country is in and the danger which arises from the nationalist policy conducted by different countries.
I think that before Mr. Truman stopped Lend-Lease, we were flying between London and Stockholm something like six services a week. After Lend-Lease came to an end—we were using American aircraft and petrol—I understand that the Americans said that we must cut down our services to three. I think that is right; it may be four services. What did we do? And this is the kind of danger to which I want to draw the attention of hon. Members. We then said to Swedish Airlines, "As we can only go to Stockholm three times, you can only come to London three times." This is quite fantastic. We live in a world which is the smallest in history and is getting smaller year after year. Here is something to span the world in a few days. This must be done on a world basis. The policy I have advocated over and over again—and I am glad to have this opportunity of doing it to a new House of Commons—is that I believe we should set up an international or world airways limited or incorporated and have a board of directors really anxious from the beginning to provide the very best international air service for mankind; also they must be men and women who have an international outlook. Those of us who have spent any time at Geneva between the wars know that it is possible for Englishmen, Frenchmen, Belgians, Germans and Prussians to work together in an international body with an international outlook, only concerned to give the very best services, whether medical services or whatever kind of services or jobs they have irrespective of the activities or the complexion of the Government of the countries of their origin. We know, therefore, that it is possible to find people who can have an international outlook. I am sure that it is not impossible to find men and women, say, to the number of 20, who are sufficiently intelligent, keen and able to provide the directorate of a world airways, or an international air service. I regret to say that it is obvious that it may be difficult to find them in the sense that the method of selection might be a matter of difficulty, but I cannot believe that 20 such men do not exist.
608 The question is one of appointment, and I have argued over and over again that it ought to be made by some small Government, such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark or Switzerland—countries whose smallness is their strength, countries who will be able to appeal to world opinion if pressure is being brought either by the British or American Governments to appoint a certain person because he was likely to give orders for certain aircraft to factories in America. They should be the nominating Governments—and I want to emphasise that I am not suggesting that they should nominate their own people but the best people they could find for the purpose of filling the board. As I say, the very smallness of these Governments would be their strength. One of the most awful things about this is, supposing that we had just Government nominees, British Government, American and French Government nominees, it is obvious that we would have a tremendous tussle all the time with, a British director looking after British airways, an American director looking after Amercan aircraft industry and so on. We should get away from that conception altogether. The war is now over, and we should try to enter an era of peace. If mankind cannot collaborate and co-operate on a matter of this kind so obviously in its infancy, then it would be a very grave outlook for the future.
Having got your board—and I do not put this beyond the realm of possibility—you would probably have to delegate authority to boards at regional offices and you would have to have delegated bodies to run services in various areas which might be described as branch offices. The board ought to select the aircraft irrespective of where they are made, but it should be the best aircraft for the purpose of giving the best service. We always say in this country—and I am sure that no hon. Member in the House would deny it—that we build the best aircraft. We should not be afraid of that. We should select the best aircraft for the job in hand; I would go further and say we should select the best personnel irrespective of nationality. The whole conception must be international. The airfields should not—as the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) is hoping to advocate very soon—be subject to political pressure from people who run airlines, or 609 who are concerned about people in their constituencies.
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
May I say that Scotland is a little tired of the kind of remark which has just been made by the hon. Member? We are getting very impatient about the delays in coming to any reasonable decision with regard to Prestwick.
§ Mr. Bowles
However that may be, we are getting much more tired of Prestwick being advocated by hon. Members in this House. It is so ridiculous in a matter of international magnitude of this kind to have anyone pressing the narrow claims, however good, of one airport against another. The emphasis I am trying to place all the time is on the world-wide importance of the issue under discussion. I therefore, ask that full powers be given to this international board to select its aircraft, its personnel and its aerodromes. No doubt Prestwick, from what hear about it, would qualify but it cannot be left to the wire-pulling of aircraft manufacturers or of the political wire-pulling of various people or of Governments. I came across a case during the last four or five weeks—I will not mention the country or the airline; it was a private conversation—in which the intention was obvious. Here was a certain air director, who said, "I am going to enter into agreements in this or other countries and it will be all right if I can do all I want with the Government." We cannot have Governments in the pockets of airlines. Here we have an opportunity, and beg of my hon. Friend and of his Noble Friend the Minister to give us an indication of policy.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
On a point of Order, I raised this question and I notice that the hon. Member points at me when he talks about vested interest. I have no interest in civil aviation apart from national interest.
§ Mr. Bowles
The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked for a hurrying up of the production of a policy, and said that railway companies, travel agencies, and shipping companies did not know where they were. His calling for a hurrying up of the publication of policy is based on the argument that these four vested interests do not quite know where they stand.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Herbert Beaumont)
The hon. and gallant Member was allowed to make his speech without interruption, and he should allow other hon. Members to do the same.
§ Mr. Bowles
I hope that the Minister here and my Noble Friend will have regard to what have tried to say. I hope that the world conception of this service, as something that can be such a boon to mankind, may be accepted. It should not be upset by either private or national interests. I am just as frightened of the chosen instrument in this country as of the chosen instrument in America, each backed up with the power and finance of their own Government, because this will certainly lead to serious international trouble. There was no difficulty at all in getting agreement at Chicago on technical matters; the difficulty came on the political level.
Therefore, I do ask, as seriously as I can—although I do not want to threaten of course—that the Government should produce a policy along the lines of the party policy which I am advocating to-day. I say that, unless they do so, they will incur the displeasure, and possibly worse, of a great number of us who are anxious about this matter, and who are not necessarily always great experts on aviation. It is a political question and in considering this aspect one need not know anything about navigation at all. It is a matter which must be dealt with on the political level. I appeal to hon. Members to recognise that this question must be settled on an international basis, and, roughly, along the lines I have indicated. I hope that, in view of what I have said, the Minister will consider his draft proposals and will see to it that this question is really dealt with as a very big issue. I do not blame the Minister for not having introduced his policy within six weeks; I only hope that, when he does introduce it, it will be a policy which will commend itself to hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
I think hon. Members of this House and indeed the country too owe a debt of gratitude to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. 611 Macdonald) for his courageous effort to try to get the Government to say what is in their minds in regard to this most vital question, affecting, as it does, the prosperity and security of this country as well as that of the world in general. I would also like to congratulate the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) on his speech. Candidly, I enjoy it more every time I hear it, and I become increasingly interested on every occasion by his arguments, which I hope he will continue to use again and again. I do not suppose for one moment that they will ever have the slightest effect on the Government, but it gives the hon. Member pleasure and why should he not have it?
The one thing which the hon. Member for Nuneaton forgets is that it takes two to make a contract. Possibly, if he consulted the Foreign Secretary after the recent conversations of the Foreign Ministers, he would find that it is not just enough for this country to have a point of view, or even to express it. You must make sure that other great nations take a similar view, and I advise those who take an idealistic conception of civil aviation to keep their ears to the ground, and be realists as well. We know that Lord Swinton introduced a White Paper in the spring of this year, and set out very clearly and lucidly the Government proposals. We know that they involved a threefoldmonopoly—the B.O.A.C., the railways and the shipping lines. Here, I must diverge from the line taken by my hon. and gallant Friend who introduced this subject, and, to some extent, must agree with the hon. Member for Nuneaton. I am now speaking for Scotland, and I say that Scotland did not accept the White Paper, but rejected it, for the simple reason that Scotland was ignored in the White Paper. Owing to the very strong pressure, of which the hon. Gentleman complains, from the Scottish Members in this House, the then Parliamentary Secretary announced two concessions a few days before the last Parliament dissolved. The first was the granting of a monopoly to Scottish Airlines of the air traffic between North America and Scandinavia; the second was to nominate Prestwick as a main terminal. With those two concessions, Scotland was content. Unfortunately, the Election took place, and, still more unfortunately, 612 the present Government were elected. We are not going into the reasons for that amazing convulsion which stirred the British people out of their normal, sane attitude of mind, but, if I were to read the fantastic Election Address of my opponent, the reason would be obvious.
The Minister has decided, and I think rightly, that the White Paper should be scrapped. Good riddance to it. We do not object to that, but we do complain that nothing has been put in its place. I think I hit the nail on the head rather aptly the other day when I suggested that an atomic bomb seems to have struck the Government and destroyed all their power of decision, vision and achievement. I hope my hon. Friend, now sitting so lonesome on the Front Bench, will be able to infuse a little encouragement into this somewhat gloomy picture. Meantime, while the Government are looking back on the convulsion launched by the atomic bomb our good and active friends in the United States have got busy and have entered into agreements with the Government of Eire by which, ultimately, Great Britain is going to be by-passed in civil aviation. That is the gloomy position, from which no Government and no Member of this House can get any comfort.
I said that I was speaking for Scotland. Where does Scotland stand now? Scotland has got two air lines ready to operate, both externally and internally. Scotland has got the best airport in Great Britain and probably in the world, as it is fog-free all the year round, while, at others, planes wait for days for the fog to lift so that they can get out. In the 4½ years that Prestwick has been in use, 12,000 flights have been made with the lowest casualty record of any airport in the world. These are facts which I trust are going to sway the Government in forming their air line policy. Prestwick has an organisation which has been tested, tried and found good in the bitter strains and stresses of war. It is known by all nations and by every type of service plane in use in the various air forces of the United Nations. I cannot believe that the policy of the Government will again ignore the valued contribution which Scotland can make in the matter of operating air lines both inside and outside the country, as well as the question of retaining this great airport which has served this country so well as an Atlantic terminal.
613 I would like an assurance from the Government that all this organisation which has been created, built up and devised, shall not be scrapped simply to satisfy this ideological policy of nationalisation. You can nationalise a whole heap of things—domestic things, trade and so on—but you cannot nationalise an industry which is integrated with the industries of other countries in the world, and especially such an industry as this
§ Sir T. Moore
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend back. We missed him sadly—his genial warmth and biting criticism. But would suggest that there are 2½ hours to go, if this Debate goes the full time, and we may have the extreme pleasure of hearing him in one of his outstanding contributions on this most important matter.
§ Mr. Maxton
Forgive me interrupting, but, as there are still 2½ hours to go, I thought the hon. and gallant Member might have given some proof of the statement he made. I gather that he is not blind to possible support.
§ Sir T. Moore
I would willingly satisfy the legitimate curiosity of my hon. Friend, but, as my hon. and gallant Friend who introduced this Debate pointed out, there are a great many hon. Members in the House who are most anxious to take part in this Debate, which means a great deal to the future of our country, and far be it from me to keep from the House the many informed minds that are willing and ready to enlighten it. Surely, the Government will not be so short-sighted and so lacking in confidence as to throw all this organisation which I have described away? Incidentally, I would like to remind the House that Scottish opinion is very strong on this matter, and I do not want the Government to weaken their very tenuous claim on the affections of Scotland by alienating the good will which may not have yet disappeared, although the seven or eight weeks which have passed have begun to wear down the confidence with which Scotland faced the brave new world which was to be ushered in.
My hon. Friends opposite may well say: "What do you want? What do you 614 suggest? "The hon. Member for Nuneaton gave his ideas on what should be done. I think I am speaking for a large section of Scotland and Scottish air-minded people. We want freedom, We want freedom for Scottish air lines to operate inside and outside Scotland. We want a Civil Aeronautics Board to decide and allocate licences and routes fairly and openly without any subterranean pressure. We want to ensure that Great Britain plays her full part in the whole world scheme of civil aviation, and to ensure that Scotland, as the predominant component part of Great Britain, gets her full share in that part. We go further and insist that Scotland shall be permitted to play its appropriate part. I said once before in a Debate on this subject that Scotland was never more united, never more unanimous and never more determined than on this one issue of having its fair share of air line transport traffic, and also of having Prestwick as a main Atlantic terminal. I warn the Government that it will be highly dangerous for their future safety and security in occupying the Government benches if they thwart the feelings, decisions, and wishes that Scotland has expressed on this occasion through me, and on many other occasions through even more skilled and knowledgeable voices. They ignore Scottish opinion at their peril. That is the last word I say to the Government on this subject.
§ 2.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Alpass (Thornbury)
I rise to ask that when the Government are considering the important question of the sites for these airports, the claims of the city of Bristol shall not be overlooked. A very large and influential meeting was held in that city two months ago, representative of all the commercial and industrial interests of the West of England. It was attended by the mayors of the various municipalities throughout that part of the country. We had the advantage of the presence of Lord Brabazon and other experts in aviation, and, after considering the question in all its bearings, that meeting unanimously recommended that Bristol afforded all the facilities required for establishing a national airport. I sincerely hope that when this very important question is being considered those recommendations will be taken fully into account. If any doubt should exist in the 615 minds of those who have to give the decision, I hope that full opportunity will be afforded to the representatives of my city and district to put their claims before them.
§ 2.3 p.m.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) in arguing with him the theme which he has so often argued before in this House. It is so impracticable that it would be a waste of time for Members to argue about it. Obviously two great nations like Russia and the United States of America, to name only two, would not be willing to come into such a scheme, and it could not be carried out merely by the unilateral action of this country. However, I agree with him on one other point he raised. He said that aerodromes ought not to be selected by wire-pulling or political considerations. Aerodromes ought to be selected for technical reasons, for commercial reasons, and so on, and it is because of that that we on this side oppose schemes of nationalisation, for it is then that you get all this wire-pulling—political considerations and so forth entering into it. Take the building of the railways in Australia. Railways were built there, because of political considerations, which ought not to have been built or developed. We have just heard hon. Members advocating the claims of their own constituencies. They are entitled to do it, but those things happen when you get the schemes of nationalisation advocated by hon. Members opposite.
I think that the House is indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) for introducing this Debate to-day. There is very real anxiety in the country about the future of our civil aviation. We know of the great progress being made with civil aviation in the United States of America. There are our own men about to be demobilised wanting to take up civil aviation as a career, but they do not know where they are. The railway companies, the shipping companies, all those who can provide such valuable help with their great experience in conveying passengers and goods from place to place, unrivalled in the world, do not know where they are. Nobody knows where they are. Surely the Government ought to make some state- 616 ment quickly about the position. Why is it that this White Paper is to be scrapped? What is the reason for scrapping it?
§ Sir W. Wakefield
We ought to know. The country ought to know. Things ought not to be left in this state of uncertainty, because, when there is uncertainty, nothing can be done. If this country is to go ahead in the field, of civil aviation, as it is rightly entitled to do, then information must be given at once about the plans for the future.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said in reference to this White Paper:The White Paper sets out the scheme which the Government put forward as being the best and the most appropriate in the existing circumstances of to-day.That observation was made in this House some six months ago. The House is entitled to know what are the changing circumstances which have decided the Government to scrap this White Paper.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
What are the changes? We ought to know, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say:This White Paper is not primarily based upon a political compromise between conflicting theoretical conceptions, but it is rather put forward on the consideration of how to get the immediate best out of all those factors which can be brought together to contribute to the building up of a strong and, we hope, effective, British air transport system in the future."—[Official Report, 20th March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 669–70.]That was the reason for accepting this White Paper six months ago. What has happened in the last six months to change the view of the Government on that point? [Hon. Members: "The Election."] Hon. Members opposite say "the Election," but how can the General Election affect "the building up of a strong and, we hope, effective British air transport system in the future"? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the White Paper was not based on theoretical considerations but on practical considerations. It was put forward in order to get the immediate best out of civil aviation. Those were the factors. What has happened in the meantime? I hope the Parlia- 617 mentary Secretary will be able to give us a satisfactory answer to-day, because the country is waiting to know and is entitled to know. What has happened in the meantime to alter the views so cogently expressed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade when he made his observations on the White Paper six months ago?
I do not want to detain the House any longer, because surely that is the pith of the whole tiling—what has happened to alter the views of the Government? Shall we be told? How long will it be before the present state of uncertainty is removed?—so that the expansion of civil aviation, the benefits which the air can bring to employment, the increase of trade, the bringing together of the peoples of the world, may be used to the best possible advantage by the people of this country at the earliest possible moment.
§ 2.10 p.m.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock (Derby)
I am taken rather unaware, Sir, as did not Know that might be called upon to speak on this matter to-day, and, added to that, I am terribly nervous, but I know I shall have the consideration of the House. I agree with a lot of what I have heard to-day, but much has been said about what should be done immediately and of the harm caused by delay. Frankly I do not know what harm there is, because there are no aeroplanes at the moment for civil aviation except those in B.O.A.C. or in Transport Command of the Royal Air Force. I believe Members will agree that we had better build on a certain and sound foundation before we can blossom forth into the future. Prestwick is a marvellous airport, but it is not the only airport in Great Britain, and it is of no use except as a diversionary airport for the capital of these Islands. I have never heard anyone suggest that Prestwick should not be retained, or will not be important, but I cannot understand the agitation on the matter. As I have said, it is a very fine airport but it is not so good as Heath Row, because it has not the same room or landing facilities. As a port for Scotland it is unrivalled, because it is clear of fog, and, as such, always will be important, but I do not think the House should disturb itself too much about its future. 618 With regard to civil aviation generally, as see it we intend to have the finest system in the world. We have in the Royal Air Force which, after all, is the nursery for civil aviation, and always has been, the finest pilots and navigators. We have as good an aircraft industry as any in the world, possibly better, and I see no reason why we should be despondent about this matter. We have just fought a war in which we have been creating aircraft and pilots fit to bomb and light, although I am certain that our pilots will much prefer to be in a more constructive field. We intend to have the best civil aviation, better than America who, I know, will understand that sort of talk. I do not think there is any harm in competition beween America and ourselves in civil aviation. They have the advantage now, as we all know, but the time is not far off when that advantage will cease to exist. Geographically, we are better situated than America. We have advantages within the Empire which they have not. With our personnel and aircraft industry I see no reason at all for despondency.
I think it is a little premature to talk about this matter before the Government have had an opportunity of putting their White Paper before the House. I cannot agree with those who have said that the railway and shipping companies can contribute very much to civil aviation. I do not want to see civil aviation run to coincide with railway schedules. That is a wrong interpretation. We need to fly from this country without having to worry whether the train will meet the plane at Dover or anywhere else. But perhaps the shipping companies have more right to be interested. If the railway and shipping companies are given an interesting this matter where do they go for their personnel? To the Royal Air Force. Why should the Corporation be fettered by the railway and shipping interests? I should have thought that the railways had plenty to do in the next few years in bringing up to date their own system, in getting rid of level crossings and improving station waiting rooms.
Civil aviation in this country must be the reserve of the Royal Air Force. We do not want to look ahead to the days when we might have to fight again, because we all hope that they are past, but just as the Mercantile Marine is the reserve of the Royal Navy so civil 619 aviation must be the reserve of the Royal Air Force. For that reason, as well as others, we must ensure that it is the most up to date and best service we can provide. There is a lot of talk about the atomic bomb, but I think that bomb may possibly be a blessing, because it must, as we see things at the moment, be conveyed by air. In the past, a firm hope of peace has not seemed practicable because we have not had an international instrument capable of dealing with it. There is talk of an international Air Force, What is the use of such an Air Force when it could never be so strong as the Air Force of a first-class Power? But if an international Air Force had an atomic bomb that would be something worth while. Therefore, through the air, I think we may have a contribution to make towards the problems of foreign policy.
Lastly, we have the greatest confidence in the Minister of Civil Aviation and in my hon. Friend his Parliamentary Secretary. We are premature, I fear, to criticise what may turn out to be a most successful Bill on civil aviation. I do not know whether Members realise that one person in every eight, during the war, was engaged in the aircraft industry or aviation. For that reason alone I want to see civil aviation a thriving industry. For it to be that it must be nationally controlled, because there is no concern in the country which could possibly keep up the ground installations, aerodromes, signal and maintenance organisations on the scale at which they must be maintained in the future. No railway or shipping company could handle that problem. I hope the Minister will find it possible, while controlling these various efforts, to leave young pilots in the Royal Air Force an opportunity to make their contribution in an independent manner.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Dr. Little (Down)
May I, first, congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Derby (Group Captain Wilcock) on his excellent maiden speech, and on his sincere and frank statement? I trust we shall have the opportunity of hearing him again and again. We welcome him and congratulate him on his excellent speech.
Civil aviation is one of the great subjects we have to face to-day, and we are 620 bound to face it four-square—face it bravely and courageously. Civil aviation is destined to bring the world closer together; not only to hasten voyaging from one country to another, but to bring the world into a closer brotherhood. I am glad that the Government are facing the issue. I hope that they will face it boldly, because have had the feeling for a long time that the United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland should lead the world in civil aviation. We can do it, for, in spite of all the ravages of war, we still have something of the courage, heroism and pluck of our ancestors. It will be something more than putting up money. There will be required strong determination to press this thing on, and it is a matter we must face without counting the cost. I feel we must place civil aviation on a solid foundation. Let us begin aright. If we lay a solid foundation for civil aviation, we shall be in the very forefront; if we do not, we shall lag behind. So I am glad this subject has been brought before the House to-day, because it is the mode of locomotion for the future, and the more we put into it of energy, determination and pluck, so much the better for ourselves and the world. I do not want to detain the House, but I want to put in a strong plea for a transatlantic airport in Northern Ireland. I have been talking about this outside the House again and again, and I have talked to Ministers about it. Nothing definite has been settled.
We, in Ulster, did our very best in the war. We are proud of that, and we would do it again. It must be recognised that in Ulster we surrendered some of our very best land, some of which produced two crops in a year within my own constituency, for aerodromes. We held nothing back that could help Britain in winning the war, and I think we have a very strong claim, which I would enforce to-day. This week I was told, and I was very glad to receive the information, that certain aerodromes had served their purpose, and served their purpose well. Without those aerodromes, our shipping could not have come through to the North of Ireland as it did. Many of these aerodromes are no longer required, and I want them back to cultivation. I have had a favourable promise concerning that, for which I am very grateful to the Minister. I make a strong plea to those in charge 621 of civil aviation to give this matter very serious consideration, and I make an equally strong appeal to the Government, as Northern Ireland has a strong claim for such an airport. We are definitely part of the United Kingdom, and a transatlantic airport in Belfast or vicinity would serve a very important purpose, and I hope we shall not be overlooked. As I say, we deserve it, but I am not putting this forward on that ground alone but also on the ground of convenience and helpfulness.
I trust the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary and the Government will consider all this. We have had it up again and again, and the furthest we have got this week was about getting some of the airports back to cultivation to produce food for the people. That is good. We want, very definitely,. Northern Ireland to be a centre for a civil aviation transatlantic airport, that will meet the convenience of coastal passengers and be a source of strength to civil aviation. We are not exactly an outpost, but we are nearer the Western world than you are here. I commend this to the Government and to Members of the House. Do not forget what we have striven to do, and I hope the Government will not forget that Ulster is a very important centre for a transatlantic airport—a sort of half-way house in taking passengers across and bringing them back. I am glad the Government is facing up to this problem of civil aviation, and I wish every blessing on its efforts, because it is the locomotion of the future.
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Cooper (Middlesbrough, West)
Speaking for myself, I am delighted that the Government has not hastened to produce its civil aviation policy in the short time in which it has had to consider the tremendous problems involved. If it had come hastily forward with some new White Paper in preference to the one which was prepared by the Coalition Government, it would have run, as I see it, a very grave risk of incorporating in its scheme something which would not have met the general views of hon. Members on this side of the House. I am also glad that there has been this opportunity for hon. Members on this side of the House to express their ideas in the hope that the Government will take them 622 into consideration before it makes a pronouncement.
I wish, therefore, to deal with one or two points, which, I trust, my hon. Friend and the Minister will take very carefully into consideration when dealing with the details as well as the general policy, which we hope they will put before this House very shortly. The first point concerns the London Air Port. We have heard from hon. Members opposite that they wish consideration to be paid to what one might term regional interests. One hon. Member spoke of sectional interests. We, on this side of the House, sincerely trust that the Government will take into consideration the national interest, as well as the international interest. In putting these first—thinking also of the practical method of carrying out the policy—I want them to pay very careful regard to the detailed planning of the London Air Port. The air port plan when it was first prepared, I believe, from information I have had, would not have satisfied the standards of safety which we ourselves lay down, and certainty would not have complied with the standards of safety which the Americans adhere to, and, as such, it would not have been used by them. I have the disquieting information to reveal that it was only by sheer chance that this plan did not go forward. It was by accident that it was seen by persons with intimate operational experience, and they ridiculed the first plan that was prepared. I do appeal strongly to the Government, and to the Minister in particular, to take advantage of the most expert advice for this plan, because unless we do so we shall be prejudicing our chances of having in the London Air Port a very important centre of civil aviation.
The next point with which I wish to deal concerns policy. There have been outcries, clamourings in the Press, for railways, shipping companies and other big business interests to come into this field of civil aviation. If we allow that to happen we shall be going back 20 years to the time when we found that these vested interests failed in their job. Indeed, it was necessary for the Government to step in in the early 1920's to take over responsibility for our civil aviation by the organisation of Imperial Airways. The Hambledon Committee indicated that the vested interests had failed, and one cannot see that this Government can 623 possibly go back to that time when those vested interests failed. Another point in support of this argument is that even the Americans, who take private interests into account, have also seen that it is unwise to link up civil aviation with other means of transport, and they have specifically excluded railway and shipping interests in the development of their airlines. They realise those interests have little or nothing to contribute to the air, which is a different medium. To think of the problem in terms of ticket booking offices is to me useless. We have to think of something vastly bigger, of a new virile form of world transport, which is expanding. Unless we think of it in those terms, instead of in terms of regional or sectional interests we shall fail in our task.
I am perfectly sure that the Government will now go forward with a scheme of socialisation, because the Labour Party has pronounced on that in the past. I cannot see that His Majesty's Government will for a moment go counter to that very definite opinion which has been expressed by the Party in the past. I am sure they will not deviate from that policy, because they realise that this is a public service and that it is a public responsibility to see that it is well and truly operated. A large sum, £4,000,000, is given as a grant to the development of civil aviation. I cannot think that the Government will allow any possible contact between the public purse and private interests. In any case there is a very much better chance of our civil aviation being kept out of international controversy if it is run as a public responsibility.
My next point is with regard to the present chosen instrument. When instances are raised in this House from time to time of the adequacy of the chosen instrument to tackle the job of operating our civil airlines, the Minister very often hides behind that Section in the British Overseas Airways Act which says that the Corporation is responsible for its day-today operations and that the Minister will not interfere in them. But the Minister does appoint the Board, and I cannot see how he can possibly evade responsibility for the efficiency of the airlines. I intend to put a Question on the Order Paper next week which will bring that into 624 strong relief. I wish to emphasise that point because if it is brought before the Government, and the Minister realises that the matter is being carefully watched by Members on this side of the House, I am sure he will take steps to eliminate anything which woul dperpetuate the widespread inefficiency which is in the Corporation at the present time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) has raised something which should have the attention of the House—the international aspect of the civil aviation problem. Although I think it is a very fine idea, and I am with him entirely in the principle that he lays down, I feel that it will not happen yet, and that we have to take some immediate practical steps first. Unless we in this country can first of all establish the fact that we can run a first-class airline—I will go further and say that unless the Commonwealth can show that it can run a Commonwealth airline really efficiently which will impress other countries—we shall not be able to lead other countries on to this ideal of running aviation internationally. I appeal to my hon. Friend to give support to what I feel is a more immediate step, that is, that we urge the Government to expound an aviation policy coupled with the Commonwealth interests. If we do that really well, so that in any case it tends to unite the Commonwealth, which will be an added advantage, and it further tends to promote prosperity within the Empire in that it promotes rapid intercommunication, we shall have taken the first practical step towards international airways, which may come in due course. I cannot see that it is logical to have international airways where there are excluded such other things as international shipping lines, international banks, international finance, and so forth.
In carrying out the Government's policy, which I hope they are about to pronounce upon, I would ask the consideration of the Minister for the formation of an Air Transport Board. He has the power to delegate some of his responsibilities, and he has already done that with regard to technical matters, with regard to the safety and the maintenance of a high standard of repair of aircraft, through the Air Registration Board. I now ask, and I think there is considerable support for this suggestion on this side of the House, that there 625 should be formed an Air Transport Board which will efficiently carry out the task of insuring that we have efficient civil air lines. If the Minister thinks he can do that within his own Department, and tries to get round him a few experts, as really first-class experts will justifiably demand high salaries, and his Department will not be able to pay for absolutely first-class men, he will only get second-class men and it will probably result in a third-class air line. I ask him to consider forming an Air Transport Board consisting essentially of experts—people who know what they are about, not people who have some interest, possibly very successful, in industry, finance arid so on. What are such qualifications alone in running air lines? In conclusion I would ask my hon. Friend to take into consideration very carefully, and perhaps convey to the Minister, the idea which is current on this side of the House, that the socialisation of air transport is essential and that if it is done it must be done wholeheartedly and must be really efficient. Then we shall form a proud air line which our men in the R.A.F. and others will feel that they have fought for and have trained for and which will form a channel for expression of the gallantry and keenness and efficiency they nave shown in this war.
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Gandar Dower (Caithness and Sutherland)
The subject before this House is one which I have very much at heart. I think it is usual to make known one's interest in any particular industry and therefore I must confess that I have been operating an air line for eleven years. But I approach the subject as a Member of this House and as a lover of the whole wonderful idea of shortening communications throughout the world and persuading people to travel in comfort and safety across the globe. This indeed is not a party matter. If only I could persuade the House that the development of civil aviation is beyond all party politics. It is a heritage which this country cannot afford to throw away because of any bickering between sides in this House. I sat in the Public Gallery and listened to Debate after Debate on civil aviation before I had the honour to become a Member of this House and I always went away with the grievous disappointment that politics had interfered with it. 626 Look for one moment at the success of the British Mercantile Marine. Do hon. Members believe we could have built up our premier position in the world if we had treated the development of the Merchant Service as a matter of politics? I often wonder whether Drake would have sailed from Plymouth Hoe if he had had to get permission from a Government official.
In the spring of this year I had the privilege of attending an International Conference of all the world's air line operators at Cuba. It was amazing to find the measure of agreement to which we were able to come without Government interference. Following that conference I had the privilege of flying 16,000 miles on American Air Lines. As this House may know they number 19. They have been developed by free enterprise; they have an excellent controlling system—the Civil Aeronautics Board—and they lead the world, I am afraid. We cannot do better than study how they have so successfully and keenly developed. I know that we have the plea that during the war we have been concentrating upon the development of fighters and the Government may advance that as an excuse. My memory, however, goes back to the years between 1934 and 1939when aviation was treated as unimportant and was neglected. It is too young a child to put into the strait-jacket of Government control. A monopoly would be injurious to the manufacturer who requires the stimulus of the demands of various air line company boards. After the International Conference at Cuba I visited the Lockheed, Douglas and Consolidated American Aircraft factories. I had the privilege of flying the Lockheed Constellation at 20,000 feet with a cabin showing 8,000 ft. pressure. It has a cruising speed of over 300 miles an hour. I was also enabled to fly the D-C.7 which carries 86 passengers. These aircraft for which large orders have been given by American air line companies are greatly in advance of anything we have at the moment. I pray earnestly that the Brabazon types will prove as good but they will have to be very good to do so.
I plead that the Government will interfere as little as possible with the development of civil aviation. It should be given its own head. The Government should interfere only if there are signs of 627 unreliability, profiteering or unfair employment of staff. I hope that the delay which the Government have shown in the production of their policy is due to the fact that they are studying the various excellent reports submitted to the late Minister of Civil Aviation by knowledgeable bodies. These reports are beyond suspicion. One came from the Joint Air Transport Committee of the London Chamber of Commerce, another from the Society of British Aircraft Constructors, another from a valuable independent Committee composed of people with no interest in aviation. It was commonly known as the Lamplough Committee. Besides these there is the report of the Aerodrome Owners Association, which comprises all the civic and commercially-owned aerodromes in Great Britain. The reports mentioned are, I venture to suggest, above suspicion. They are prepared by bodies with one common object—to make British aviation the best in the world. There is another report, the case of the Licensed Independent Air Line Operator, which you may choose to regard as suspect. I wrote it myself. We Members of this honourable House who serve constituencies a long distance away have their own case to consider. With the exception of that of the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence), my constituency, Caithness and Sutherland, is, I believe, the most inaccessible. If we could develop internal air lines, it would be possible to travel quickly and attend to matters better in far off constituencies. I wish to plead that there should be an air line service from Wick to London. There is already one from Wick to Aberdeen, but from Aberdeen there is no air line to London. This House may remember Admiral Sir Murray Sueter, who is no longer with us, having resigned after many years of valuable service. He stated in Debate that he looked forward to a helicopter service from the Thames to take us from this House to the nearest aerodrome, and thence by air line to our constituency. I do not think that is a flight of fancy.
I would ask the Minister who has undertaken the responsible task of organising the future of air transport to limit his responsibilities as far as possible to safety, to the conditions under which staff are employed and to the restoration of the 628 Air Transport Licensing Authority. Aviation possesses one unique quality. No one who has anything to do with it ever wishes to give it up. I can assure hon. Members that within a few minutes of this House there can be found many of the pioneers of air transport keen and willing to give of their best to catch up arrears. Great Britain has many years of neglect. Air line companies, air taxi and charter firms, ask permission to start. I beg the Government to assist them. Some lines from Henry V appear appropriate:
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start.The reference to greyhounds may be unfortunate but these are at least knowledgeable.
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Beswick (Uxbridge)
This is the first time I have had the privilege of addressing this House, and in so far as you, Mr. Speaker, can afford your toleration to me I shall be pleased to avail myself of it. Many people hope civil aviation will get a new deal under this present dispensation. There are in the country a good many people who have felt that with too much bureaucracy or too much private enterprise civil aviation has not had a fair chance. I am not pessimistic about the future. I think we have the men, and, given the right leadership on the ground and in the air, we shall have the personnel to ensure that we make a really first-rate contribution to progress in aviation in the future. We are rather behind in regard to machines, but that is not altogether our fault. I feel that the fundamental reason why we are behind in civil aircraft types is one which reflects very well upon the honour of this country.
So far as airports are concerned the position is not quite so bright. For three or four years during the war, a good many of the civil air lines from this country have gone out from a caricature of an airport. Within the aerodrome circuit you had over 500 feet of hill, and there was one runway only and it was insufficiently large. It was altogether dangerous but the men coped with it. They still have, to use it coming back from a long flight. You still have to take your machine back to that airport for servicing and maintenance. I would ask whether the Minister has proper plans in mind for 629 facilities for servicing and maintenance of the aircraft that will be coming along. Are they to be serviced at Heath Row? Are facilities to be provided there? If not, it is about time that we had something around which we could start working as an alternative place, and to which we could already be going for servicing facilities.
The London airport situation is really disgraceful. I would like to know, irrespective of whether the plans of hon. Gentlemen opposite will mature, or our ideas on this side have full play, when we are to have proper airport facilities for London. Croydon would make a pretty good park with a few trees, but I am afraid it would never make an airport. We should have an indication where our London airport is to be, cither under the long-term plan or within the next few years. Without wishing to put myself alongside the Scottish stalwarts, I would say that within my own constituency an airport is being developed. I am not pressing its claim, but I say that it appears to be a feasible airport for the next two or three years. Has the Minister in mind the use of Northolt as a civil airport? If so, is it being developed properly? They have extended the runway, but the only effect has been to distress many of my constituents because it denies them the use of one of their principal highways. The local authorities in the district want to know where they stand and whether they can look forward to the return of this highway, or whether it is lost to them permanently because Northolt is to be an important airport in the development of civil aviation. If it is to be so, they will doubtless have to make other plans when developing their areas. This matter of airports can be taken right out of political controversy and I feel that some progress should already have been reported in this respect.
As far as the actual operational organisation of civil air lines is concerned, there, of course, we get on to more controversial matters. I would like to make one point, which is that I feel there is scope for a charter for feeder, or internal air lines, which could probably be run on the small firm basis, but our international air lines should not be run by a private concern. For one thing, I do not see how a private concern can get personnel, as has been stated in this House before, and I can 630 see no private concern which can get personnel who would not be prepared to work equally well for a national concern and later on for an international concern. If we are to allow them to work, I say that we have to allow them to get on with the job in their own way. I hope there is not going to be the same kind of frustration in the future, as there undoubtedly has been in the past, so far as the so-called National Corporation is concerned.
I hope that the Noble Lord will consider very carefully what he will do with the one national body which is set up and whether he is satisfied with what is possible within that Corporation. When he comes to set up other Corporations to run the other units, are we to sink into a simple compromise between that side of the Houseand this side? Are we to have a set-up which is neither one thing nor the other? I do not think it is going to be so. I do not know what the plans are but, from rumours which are percolating, I feel that the Ministry might very well take a little more time, and consult other interests, before coming along with plans and laying them before this House.
§ 2.55 P.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid Bedford)
It falls to me to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Flight-Lieutenant Beswick) on his excellent maiden speech, delivered in an extremely felicitous style and infused with genuine personal knowledge and experience. It is one of the happy results of this tragic war that so many people on both sides of this House will be able in the future to take part in aviation Debates with knowledge acquired in the war, and with a genuine desire to see our country play the useful part that we all believe it can play. At the same time I should like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Gandar Dower), although his was not a maiden speech, that it was a further illustration of the interest which this House will always show in people who have personal experience of the problems of which they are speaking. To both those hon. Members we may look in the future for further useful contributions to our Debates.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland said, this is strictly not a party matter. Speaking from these Benches I can certainly promise the 631 Government every possible support if they will push forward vigorously with a policy which will commend itself to the country as a whole. Many things have changed in this House, but the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) always gives us illustrations of our view that he must constantly impute motives to the people who disagree with him, always in the happiest way but none the less with continually undiminished vigour. We are not a vested interest. Many of us have no aircraft or railway shares, and we are not interested in the management or in the trade union side of the aircraft industry. Many of us are not anxious to bring large aerodromes into our constituencies. If we make speeches on this matter it is because we want to see civil aviation go ahead and to see our country use the medium of civil aviation to bring about Imperial unity, increased export trade and an enlargement of the social life of the mass of our people in the Empire, as well as the furtherance of the cause of world peace.
The imputation of motives, this constant moral superiority to which we were accustomed in the last Parliament from the hon. Member, we put down to the fact that the electorate had continually rejected the blandishments of his party. We imagined that now, with their overwhelming victory at the polls, he would drop that particular line. The House, and I hope the Government, are only concerned to see real and useful action taken. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, whom I congratulate on his appointment, and who has friends on both sides of the House, will be able to say something useful in the Debate. I am not very sure that he will be able to do so, because I believe that his Noble Friend will be making a statement at an early date in another place. It is of the utmost importance that we should get a statement at the earliest possible date. We cannot afford to allow civil aviation to be held up by any political deadlock. These are not my words. They are the words of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the present President of the Board of Trade when I was serving with him as Under-Secretary. He commended Command Paper 6605 to the House in those words in March of this year, and he asked the House to support it as the best possible plan in the existing circum- 632 stances. If that plan has been scrapped, we want to hear why. If it has not been scrapped, we want to hear why it is not being implemented and why the many bodies that it anticipated would be set up, some of which were in fact set up, are still left completely in the dark as to what is expected of them in the field of civil aviation. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade commended these proposals to the House, he was at pains to meet the very criticism that the hon. Member for Nuneaton has raised once more to-day. He said:It was not arrived at by way of political compromise; it was a practical working out of the necessities of the situation."—[Official Report, 20th March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 687.]Those necessities have not changed because Members wedded to one political nostrum have won the General Election. The necessities of the present situation are not settled for us by our own domestic circumstances, but by the fact of the world-wide competition and activities all over the world of our friendly rival, the United States. The hon. Member also said that this problem should be approached from an international point of view. We all agree that the ideal organisation would be an international organisation, and nobody on this side of the House would quarrel with that, if it were possible, but, as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said, it is no good basing a policy upon international external airways if in fact other countries will not join it. We have to take circumstances as they are. We put forward the views at the right time and they were rejected. We have now to deal with the situation as we find it, and unfortunately as some people think it has not developed into the international scheme we would have liked. All that has happened since the Election shows that those interests in the United States which are determined to push ahead for the American control of the airways of the world appear to have scored at least a temporary triumph in their own domestic sphere, and the situation is worse from the point of view of international co-operation than it was when the White Paper was first presented. There may be hon. Members who, like myself, have interests and associations in the Irish Free State and who know what is happening in Rhine- 633 anna and Limerick and that part of the Shannon which the United States, in co-operation with Eire, are busy developing for their own purposes. Anyone who has had a chance of seeing what is being done at first-hand will return more than ever convinced of the need of our agreeing on a policy, making it as near as possible the national policy and then implementing it with full vigour. When the hon. Member for Nuneaton says that we can afford to wait if necessary another four months, and the hon. and gallant Member for Derby (Group-Captain Wilcock) uses the lack of civil types as a reason for not having a policy in this field, I despair of the chance of our playing a proper part in civil aviation.
§ Mr. Bowles
I only said that it would be worth while waiting another four months for a good policy to be promulgated rather than to have a bad policy.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
But it is even possible that a second-rate policy now might be better than a first-rate policy in a few months' time when we shall find that much that we could have achieved has been snatched from us by our competitors. At the time of the White Paper we had everything agreed, we had the structure of the corporation, we had inter-Imperial agreement, which is a priceless asset, and we had many people for whom the paths had been blazed and who were able to set out working on these difficult paths. The hon. Member for Nuneaton also referred to Imperial relations, and spoke again of that hardy annual, the proposals of the Australian and New Zealand Governments for international control. I hope that one result of our having a Socialist Government will be that we shall once and for all clear that particular problem out of the way and let our people know the real facts. The hon. Member had full access to the discussions that took place at Chicago and knew that, if he wished to see any particular record of evidence, either I or the present President of the Board of Trade, who was then Minister of Aircraft Production, would have been only too ready to oblige him. We are perfectly satisfied that nothing but fairness was done at Chicago when the Australian and New Zealand proposals were brought forward. If I may refresh the memory of the House of some words I used in that Debate, it would be useful, and I would 634 welcome it if my hon. Friend who winds up the Debate will deal with the point, because, having got Imperial co-operation, it would be a tragedy if we gave the impression that the United Kingdom Government had taken a different line from the Governments of Australia and New Zealand and had successfully prevented their plan from being adopted by the world. I said on 20th March this year:The hon. Member for Nuneaton made certain statements in regard to the Australian and New Zealand plan and seemed to suggest there had been an intrigue between my Noble Friend and Mr. Berle, whereby there was not full discussion of these proposals. I think that that was a most improper suggestion, if I may venture to be frank. We have worked in the closest co-operation with Australia and New Zealand, and I am sure that the delegates of those two countries at Chicago would indignantly deny that we had in any way interfered to prevent a full and frank discussion of their proposals. At the preliminary meeting at Ottawa it was arranged that they should raise the matter at Chicago and that if it did not command support they would line up behind the British plan because it seemed absurd to spend time in discussing something which, however ideal it was thought to be, was nevertheless outside the scope of practical politics."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 771.]I know something of the difficulties of the constructional side of civil aviation, and we do not want to be unreasonable to Ministers who have inherited difficulties and responsibilities which are not of their own exclusive making. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge, who said that our backwardness in the field of construction in civil aviation is due to the fact that we made an agreement with our Allies by which we deliberately refrained from constructing civil aircraft and concentrated on fighters and bombers. I believe that history will certainly agree that it was the right policy that we should use the economic resources of the Allied nations in the best possible way. The late Government had difficulties, however, which do not apply to the present Administration. We not only had to concentrate on the construction of military and naval types for the war against Japan, but we had also in the field of construction, and still more in the field of export, the handicap of the Lend-Lease proposals. Lend-Lease prevented us exporting civil types which were in any way similar to civil and military types which we were having from America for the prosecution of the war.
635 These difficulties are now out of the way, and we must leave the Government in no doubt of our determination to see that they do everything possible to push forward with the construction of civil types and to let the House know what is happening. No security considerations any longer apply, and I shall be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us precisely what is happening to those types which are conversions from bomber types, and what is happening also to the various Brabazon types, to the Bristol Brabazon type, to the Airspeed Brabazon type, to the De Havilland type, and, in particular, to the Vickers type on which so many hopes were pinned. If he could give us some information about the prototypes that have flown and of those that have not flown, it will be of assistance to the House and the country as a whole. I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) for raising this subject. The more it is raised the better for the country, and, as long as the Government adopt a policy which is British in scope and commands support from the country as a whole, they will have nothing to complain of at the hands of the Opposition.
§ 3.10 p.m.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Mr. Ivor Thomas)
I welcome this Debate in the name of the Government, and I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) for having initiated it. We do not take it in any untoward spirit; we take this Debate rather as a token that all parts of the House are determined to see that we get a move on in civil aviation. We welcome that, and we shall be fortified by the knowledge that the House as a whole desires us to take active steps to put British civil aviation on the world map. It has been a rather longer Debate than was anticipated, and, I think, a very useful Debate. I should like in particular to congratulate the hon. Members who have made maiden speeches; they did not have the usual notice of subject which is the fortunate lot of most Members making their maiden speeches, but they spoke from a great wealth of experience. I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Derby (Group-Captain Wilcock) and my hon. 636 and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Flight-Lieut. Beswick) on the excellent contributions made from their great practical knowledge of this subject.
I have been asked many questions about the Government's policy. Clearly, having given an answer on Wednesday that my noble Friend hopes to make a statement at an early date, I cannot make that statement this afternoon. On that I would like to say to the hon. and gallant Member for Bedford that when that statement is made it will be by arrangement in both Houses, and I shall be jealous to preserve the prerogatives of this House. Obviously I cannot make the statement which has been promised for an early date, and I think that position is accepted by the House.
As to that I cannot say, but it will certainly be made by arrangements in both Houses, supplemented by a White Paper if that seems desirable. However, although I cannot explain policy this afternoon my speech may not be entirely useless; I may be able to say something useful in answer to one or two inquiries. With regard to the White Paper, this Government clearly is not committed to it, and I believe that position is accepted by the House. It is in accordance with the constitutional practice of the country. But I want to make it equally clear that we shall not reject any proposal merely because it happens to be in the White Paper. My noble Friend is approaching this problem in an entirely practical spirit. It happens to be the case that on this side of the House we believe that in a very large number of cases public enterprise is more efficient than private enterprise, and in that belief we have been supported by a very large number of the electorate. That is the new set of circumstances which has come in, about which the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) asked. It is the Election that has made this difference to the position of the White Paper. But our approach is entirely practical and operational, and that will govern our treatment of every question raised in this Debate.
I should like to make it perfectly clear that the fact that the Government has not yet stated its policy on civil aviation does 637 not mean that there has been any delay in making plans. The difficulty, as I stated on Wednesday, and as has been freely admitted to-day by hon. Gentlemen opposite, is solely the physical question of aircraft. As one of my hon. Friends so pertinently pointed out, these difficulties reflect credit on this country. It is not sufficiently realised that in the six years of the war this country put out every ounce of its effort, and in particular, we concentrated on, the production of combat aeroplanes to the virtual exclusion of transport types, leaving the production of transport aircraft to the United States. That was the proper division of effort for the winning of the war, and if we had to do it again we should come to the same decision. But it does mean that we are in a relatively weak position at the present time compared with the United States in transport aircraft.
There has however been no delay over the question of policy, because we have been able to get ahead with all arrangements necessary on a tentative and provisional basis. I can give one example which will show perfectly what I mean. In the White Paper it was proposed that a corporation should be formed, in which the shipping companies would have a predominant interest, to run our services to South America. British Latin-American Airlines proposed to run a survey flight to South America. That survey flight has gone; although we have not announced our new policy my Noble Friend undertook the responsibility himself and the aircraft took off earlier this week. There need not therefore be any delay, and there has been no delay, on the grounds of policy. I should like to say also that since we went to this Ministry we have had matters in hand apart from the question of formulation of policy—in itself no light matter. My Noble Friend has had to take up the threads of many delicate international negotiations, and these are progressing satisfactorily.
We have been handicapped even more than most Government Departments, because we are an expanding Department, by shortages of staff and difficulties of accommodation. Then there is all the day-to-day work of a great Department of State, and I can assure hon. Gentlemen that there has been no slackness. My Noble Friend has not taken a day off since he assumed office, and he has been work- 638 ing on this problem most assiduously. I may also say, without entrenching upon the enunciation of policy, that my Noble Friend is framing his plans with the object of getting into the air as quickly as possible, and he will take into account all factors bearing on that problem. We realise, as many hon. Members have urged, that it is absolutely imperative that we should make progress in civil aviation at the earliest possible date, and we will do our level best in that direction with the support we know we shall get from the House. I think we shall get that support, and as the hon. Member for Bedford has said, this is something on which the parties can co-operate. There have been several references to-day to the atomic bomb, and perhaps I may use it as an illustration. I understand from Press reports that in the atomic bomb two pieces of uranium are brought together. When they are apart they liberate no useful energy; when they are brought together there may be an explosion, but if it is done in the right conditions useful energy is liberated. So, I believe, with the two parts of this House. When we are brought face to face there is a clash, but if the energy that we liberate can be properly controlled, I think we shall be able to get a move on in civil aviation.
Many detailed questions have been put in the course of this Debate and I cannot of course answer them all to-day, but I assure hon. Members who have made suggestions that full note has been taken of them and they will be carefully studied in the Department. It is useful that this Debate has taken place and that the Government has had the views of hon. Members before a policy is stated. The hon. and gallant Member for Bedford asked whether I could give details about the conversion of aircraft and about the Brabazon types. Of course, there have been teething troubles in the production of some of these types. There comes a point in the production of any aircraft when the designers are almost tearing their hair out. In general, however, the production of our civil aircraft is going on very well indeed. Hon. Members will have seen that the Vickers "Viking" flew recently. The reports we are receiving about that machine are very good indeed; they will need to be confirmed, of course, by the experience of the next few months; but at the moment it looks as though the machine is the answer to a 639 Minister's prayer. The prototype of the "Dove" has just flown, and that is another machine from which we are expecting much. The various freighter machines are going well. There is the Miles "Aerovan," for example, and the Bristol freighter, which are making satisfactory progress. I do not wish to go through all the types, and I could not this afternoon give the various dates at which the prototypes are expected to fly, but I hope hon. Members will accept my assurance that the programme is progressing well. I must be particularly careful on this matter, because this is not a matter on which my Noble Friend has primary responsibility; it is the province of the Minister of Aircraft Production, and we are interested only as potential users of the aircraft. From our point of view, the programme, subject to the usual anxieties experienced in all aircraft production, is going satisfactorily.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight raised a large number of questions, of which I have taken careful note. Let me here deal only with a few of them. He said that the British Overseas Airways Corporation, the railways and the shipping companies and travel agencies do not know where they stand. I am bound to say that they have not made any complaint to us on that score. I think they understand the position perfectly well and know that the one overriding factor in this matter is aircraft and not policy.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that there is no ground work to be done before the aircraft fly? There will be six months' work getting agreements with other countries, with the travel agencies, and so on.
The question of agreements with other countries is one for the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The argument used in the White Paper for bringing in the shipping companies and travel agencies was that they have agencies in other countries already. On those two points, therefore, there is no difficulty. I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that we have had many conversations with the persons concerned and the position is well understood by them. The hon. and gallant Gentleman also mentioned the question of aerodromes. I agree with him that Croydon is very much congested 640 and is not suitable as a major airport for London. I answered questions on this matter on Wednesday last, and the House knows that it is our intention to make Heath Row a really first-class aerodrome equal to any aerodrome in the world. Work is progressing well at Heath Row. The R.A.F. will be using one runway in November and three runways should be available to civil aircraft next summer. I think that is good progress. We are not so far ahead with the buildings, but after all, the runways are the most important part of an aerodrome.
§ Sir T. Moore
The hon. Gentleman has omitted to make any reference to the pledge given in the White Paper, which announced that pending Heath Row being developed, Prestwick would be retained as the No. terminus for this country. We ought to be given an assurance that there has been no departure from the White Paper in that respect.
I have not forgotten Prestwick. I did not suppose for one moment that I should be allowed to forget it.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
Can the Parliamentary Secretary say whether land owned by the Port of London Authority at the Eastern end of London is to be used at all? There are excellent facilities there for flying boats as well as for land aircraft if they were properly developed. Has that scheme been abandoned altogether, or is it under consideration with other proposals for future airport facilities for London?
I should need to have notice of that question. There are certainly more immediate considerations before the Ministry, of which one naturally is the use of Northolt. As many hon. Members will realise, Northolt is admirably suited for civil flying. It is close to the centre of London, and when the constructional work is finished it will be very suitable for the purpose. I mentioned on Wednesday last that we had been having discussions with the Air Ministry on this matter and that we had found the Air Ministry most co-operative. That statement was greeted with a certain amount of scepticism, but I am bound to say that it was literally true. We have found the Air Ministry most co-operative and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air has been particularly helpful in this matter.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
Does that mean that this winter there will be an alternative to Croydon as an airport for London in case of Croydon closing down because of fog, or for any other reason?
I cannot say that definitely this afternoon, and I would rather not be pressed. This Debate has taken place unexpectedly. It may be that if a Question is put on the Order Paper a little later, I shall be able to give a definite answer on this matter.
§ Mr. Bowles
I think my hon. Friend said that Northolt was required by the Royal Air Force for the defence of London.
No, Sir. My hon. Friend has not reproduced my words exactly. What I said was that we had found the Air Ministry very co-operative and that we for our part recognised the overriding needs of defence, and that the Air Ministry recognised the place of civil aviation in the post-war world. I was not dealing then with Northolt alone, but with the question of the joint use of aerodromes throughout the country at large. I hope that at an early date I may be able to give a satisfactory answer on the question of air ports for London, and I believe there is a Question on the Order Paper for next Wednesday on that subject.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), for whose kind words I thank him, raised once more the question of an international organisation for air transport. The party to which he and I belong is, of course, internationalist in its outlook. I may differ from him in my approach to this question, because I think the right approach to internationalism is through the nation. I think one becomes a good internationalist by being first a good member of one's family and then of one's trade union or some other society, and eventually of the nation itself. It is a difference of emphasis. The party to which he and belong is internationalist in its outlook, and we desire very much to see an international organisation set up for civil aviation. We shall do all we can to promote that ideal. There are difficulties at the moment. It is clear that any international organization at the present time would have to start without the United States and without the Soviet Union. It would have to start without several of our 642 Dominions. It would have to start without the Netherlands and without Sweden. [Interruption.] There may be general elections in those countries which may alter the outlook there, but that is the present position. There is another difficulty. Even those countries which desire to see an international organisation for civil aviation are clear that flying within that country and to its external territories must be reserved for the national state, which further limits the possibilities for international organisation at the present time; but our outlook is international and we shall see that our plans fit into any subsequent scheme of international organisation that maybe devised, and we shall do all we can to promote that ideal, in particular by endeavouring to see, in our bilateral agreements with other countries, that there are standard clauses which will ensure a more or less uniform pattern throughout the world.
Yes, that is in the White Paper. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) raised the question of Prestwick, as indeed other Members have done. The statement which has been promised will in all probability include a full reference to Prestwick and, therefore, I am not in a position to announce any policy to-day. If Scottish Members would wish to convince my Noble Friend, it is most important that they should use operational arguments. The future location of aerodromes cannot be determined by political considerations. I believe it is the case that Prestwick can serve a very useful purpose and there will be no desire on the part of my Noble Friend to debar its proper use. I do not want to go too far in any statement on this subject, but I should like to make a few comments on the American position to which reference has been made.
§ Mr. McAllister
Whilst accepting the appeal of the Parliamentary Secretary that Scottish Members should press forward operational reasons in pressing the claims of Prestwick, are we to understand that his Department will admit the claims made about Prestwick by all pilots flying to Prestwick during the war? Prestwick was 643 open all the time, except for eight hours due to adverse flying conditions, a record incomparably better than that of any other airport in Great Britain.
I am glad to admit that Prestwick has a very good weather record but there are other factors involved besides weather. The one difficulty is that Prestwick is not on the direct route from London to New York. It is on many other routes but it does not happen to be on that route. We know how the roads of England were constructed; at least according to Chesterton:The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road";and he has told us aboutThat night we went to Birmingham byway of Beachy Head.Is it to be insisted that we should always go to any part of the world by way of Prestwick? That is the point at issue. Some hon. Members from Scotland have sometimes tended to put the argument in that form. There is certainly no prejudice against Prestwick on the part of my Noble Friend but rather the reverse. He has recently flown from Canada to Prestwick himself. Within a few hours he was discussing the whole question with the directors and certainly has no prejudices against it.
§ Sir T. Moore
I am sorry to have to appear to "nag" the hon. Gentleman but will he say if the policy announced in the White Paper that Prestwick would be retained as No. aerodrome, until that at Heath Row was completed, obtains? If he wants operational reasons in addition to the political reasons advanced, then let him arrange for a Debate and I undertake to spend two hours in giving full operational reasons for the retention of Prestwick.
No, Sir. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman understands, we have promised to make a statement of policy at an early date, and I cannot be rushed into making a statement now, but I will give some of the considerations that are involved.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George (Anglesey)
Is it not a fact that the records show that the weather conditions at Valley aerodrome in Anglesey were infinitely better 644 and also that on many occasions aircraft were diverted from Prestwick to that aerodrome?
I am glad that the Noble Lady intervened, because, along with other Members who have spoken this afternoon, she has put the matter into its proper perspective.
If Prestwick is to be supported by political arguments, and Scotland must have a major transatlantic airport because it happens to be Scotland, then Wales would be equally entitled to have Valley or some other aerodrome as a transatlantic airport. There was also the appeal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) on behalf of Bristol. Naturally, every hon. Member of the House, except possibly the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) would like a major trans-Atlantic aerodrome in his constituency.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
There were very much better weather conditions in the Isle of Wight but I did not put that fact forward.
I pay tribute to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for his forbearance. We have been pressed on behalf of Valley and Llantwit-Major and on behalf of many other aerodromes that they should be recognised as trans-Atlantic aerodromes second only to Heath Row; I am glad that there is at least agreement that Heath Row must be the principal airport. [Hon. Members: "No."] I am apparently premature, but perhaps there will be agreement when hon. Members have seen what we are going to make of Heath Row. For some minutes I have been trying to proceed to the question of the United States routes to Europe via Ireland. It is suggested, not I am happy to say in this House but outside, that the United Kingdom has somehow been remiss in not seeing that the American aircraft came to Prestwick or to some other port in the United Kingdom. That is not the case. The decision was taken a long time ago, in fact as long ago as June, 1944, by the Civil Aeronautics Board of the United States to send their principal air lines to Rineanna. The fact must be faced by Scotland that 645 unless Prestwick is reasonably near to the great circle route, the Americans do not wish to go there. It is no doubt the case that in our international agreements we could insist that if American air lines come to this country they should land at Prestwick. If we did that against the wish of the American operators, it would not only conflict with the political principles by which the hon. and gallant Gentleman stands, but would be a source of international friction. I hope he will bear that consideration in mind, and, therefore, perhaps, I can conveniently leave the subject of Prestwick. [Hon. Members: "No."] Among the claims that have been made for a transatlantic airport, I had almost forgotten that which was advanced by the hon. Member for County Down (Dr. Little), which has been put to us officially.
The time is advancing and there is further Business, so I do not propose to take much more time. I apologise to all hon. Members to whose points I have not been able to reply. Let me close by saying that we have had great difficulties in civil aviation in the past few years. I do not blame, in any way, our predecessors in office, because I am fully conscious now of the difficulties they had in the matter. These difficulties were a result of the war, and, in particular, of our wartime agreement not to make transport aircraft. There is also the further difficulty arising from Lend-Lease. The hon. Member for Bedford referred to one aspect of the matter and said that our difficulties were now at an end. They are not altogether at an end, of course. There are many outstanding problems to be settled under that heading, but certainly these two difficulties have put us, at the present time, in an inferior position relative to the United States in the matter of civil aviation. I am nevertheless confident in the ability of this country to hold its own in the future with the United States or any other country. I say that in no "Jingoistic" spirit, because we are not "Jingoes" on this side of the House, but because I believe that civil aviation can make a great contribution to world peace and world happiness. The hon. and gallant Member for Bedford—
§ Lieutenant Skeffington-Lodge (Bedford)
On a point of Order. Three times reference has been made to the "hon. and gallant Member for Bedford." I 646 happen to be the Member for Bedford and I do not wish to be credited with the views of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd).
I apologise to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bedford and hope that notice will be taken of the correction. I was saying that I believe that civil aviation can make a great contribution to world peace and happiness. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) placed that last; we should place it higher, and that is the difference between us. I am confident because we have, as the result of our wartime experience with the Royal Air Force, the finest flying experience in the world. We have the finest designing skill, both for aero-engines and aircraft in the world. That skill has been given recently to the construction of military-aircraft, and, in such aircraft as the Vampire, the fastest thing on earth at present, we have seen what it can do. That skill is now being turned to civil aircraft and its results will be seen there too. We have also the best engineers in the world, and, further, and this is often overlooked, a favourable geographical position for civil aviation.
I have seen many maps which seem to show that all civil aircraft will fly over the North Pole in future. There is no reason to believe this will be the case. Great Britain will, in fact, be one of the most important cross-roads on the earth. Professor Eva Taylor, in an interesting booklet "Geography for an Air Age," says there are 44 cities with populations of over 1,000,000 in the world, and that one-quarter of the world's circumference is 6,250 miles, or about 25 hours' flying time. Of these 44 cities, 41 are within 25 hours' flying time of London. We are, in fact, very near to the centre of gravity of the industrial world and that position ought to play a notable part in the economy of the Air Age, just as our favourable geographical position played a part in the building up of our merchant marine.
I am, therefore, quite happy about our ability in the future to build a civil aviation which will be worthy of all the traditions of this country in the past. I am confident, above all, because transport is something that we in this country understand. We have it in our blood. 647 We are pre-eminent at sea, we have been pre-eminent on the railways and on our roads, and I am deeply confident that in a very short time we shall be pre-eminent also in the air.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell the House when it is expected that personal flying will be allowed to start again? The Flying Clubs all want to start up, the Dominions have already started up and people are asking why this country should be behind the Dominions in allowing private flights to take place.
This question should properly be addressed to the Undersecretary of State for Air, as this matter is administered by the Secretary of State, but I will go so far as to say that I hope, at an early date, to be able to make a statement.