§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That", to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House considers that the production of British civil aircraft should be encouraged so as to supply the present and potential needs of British air transport services and of our overseas marketsIt is a custom of this House that when an hon. Member is speaking in a Debate concerning one of our industries, he should declare at the outset any personal or financial interest which he may have in connection with the industry. On this occasion, in view of what I have to say on the aircraft industry of this country, and in mentioning the names of different firms and makers, I want to declare at once, that I have no personal interest, financial or personal, in any firm or organisation engaged in the manufacture of aircraft in this country, and I have received no brief from any firm or organisation. Nor am I in any way connected with any firm or organisation operating in civil or any other form of aviation.
In moving the Amendment, I speak solely from the point of view of what I might call the potential consumer of civil aviation. I have had a certain amount of experience in many parts of the world, and in the aircraft of many nations, of this consumer position. I have also, like many other hon. and right hon. Members of this House, had some experience as an involuntary consumer of what I will call hostile and uncivil aviation, during the blitz of 1940 and afterwards, when we in this House, and other parts of the country, were at the wrong end of the distribution side of the business. Though I speak of the consumer side of the industry, I do not want any hon. Member to think that I would dare to rise in my place and to 1269 move an Amendment, unless I had checked my facts and information with some of those concerned with the manufacture and operation of civil aircraft. I have taken that precaution, and I emphasise that I raise this matter today solely from the point of view of the potential consumer of civil aviation in this country, and in the Colonies. I also want to emphasise that in no circumstances do I want the Minister, or anyone, to think that I am boosting any firm, or organisation, or any particular model of aircraft. I want to elicit information from the Minister and his colleagues on this important industry.
It seems to me that very few people in this country really comprehend the vital importance of this industry to our existence, or at any rate to the development of our trade, and in particular the export trade in the future. Sometimes there seems to be a lack of co-operation between the Ministers responsible for the manufacturing and operating side of the industry, and other Members of the Government. For instance, the Chancellor of the Exchequer continually urges his desire to limit the expenditure of dollars, and to intensify our export trade. Yet, in order to operate British airlines we are constantly purchasing foreign machines, Constellations, Dakotas— although many of these come from Lend-Lease—Lockheed Lodestars and even Junkers which were not to be taken as reparations in that respect. When precious dollars have to be expended, we use foreign aircraft on British airlines, whereas many of our manufacturers feel that if only certain petty annoyances and restrictions could be removed from the handling of the industry, they could, to large extent, step up production
I know the Minister will tell me that to produce new types of modern civil aviation is not a matter of a few days, weeks or months, but that from the time the idea comes on to the drawing board to the finished production years may elapse. Again, I shall be told, and I realise, that for six or seven years the industry had to concentrate on the construction of aircraft for military aviation and had, perforce, to neglect the construction of aircraft for civil aviation. But, if the Departments concerned would do their utmost in the matter of priority for raw material, simplify the ordering of 1270 aircraft by B.O.A.C., and sister organisations, and adhere to specifications already accepted, the industry would be able to go ahead and carry on much more rapidly. I need hardy remind the House that between the two wars it was private enterprise and public-spirited private finance to which we were indebted for the development of the Spitfire, Mosquito, Blenheim, Beaufighter, and so on.
I speak subject to correction, because I was abroad at the time, but I believe it was during the time of the second Labour Government that the then Prime Minister cut down grants for research, and Lady Houston came to our aid and financed the construction of the forerunner of the Spitfire. But today, whatever Government there is, there are no wealthy people who can provide money for the development of a particular type of aircraft. With the crushing weight of taxation, it is quite obvious that no private individuals today could possibly take the place of those people and, therefore, we must look to the Government to encourage the development of the industry in every possible way.
Having referred to the more general aspect of the case, I want to raise with the Minister three specific matters concerning aircraft to be constructed for our internal airways. In particular, I want to speak about aircraft for Scottish Airways. I will leave to my hon. Friends the question of developing the Debate in regard to aircraft for trans-oceanic and international airways. I feel very fortunate in being able to raise this matter at this time because we have just come through a very severe and heavy winter, our experience in which will reinforce some of the points I want to make.
First, I want to deal with fixed wing civil aircraft for use particularly by B.E.A.C. on our internal airways, especially Scottish Airways. Why is it necessary to bring Junker machines into use on this service? I know that they are to be called Jupiters, perhaps to camouflage the distaste which some customers might have for travelling in a Junkers. Opinion on the Junkers is divided. I am told by some who have had experience that they are very good machines, which are reliable and which can get down and can take off in a fairly limited space. On the other hand, I am told by other experienced people that they are not at all to be desired. I wish to ask the Minister whether we 1271 could not have found a British aircraft already in production which we could have used on these internal airlines?
I recall the De Havilland Rapides, which were used for years by Scottish Airways before they were taken over by B.E.A.C., and I believe are still being used to some extent. It is a British machine which may have its limitations —it can only accommodate five or seven passengers—but Scottish Airways have had a most remarkable record of service in that area. Had it not been for that one fatal accident in Glasgow towards the end of last year, there would have not been a fatal accident in the whole course of their operation. They have flown from Shetland and Orkney to Wick and down South to Inverness, from Stornoway to Renfrew on days when the Royal Air Force was clamped down and considered flying impossible. Yet the De Havilland Rapide has come creeping in over the wave tops, landing when no one expected it. That is wonderful testimony to a British machine. If that has to be given up, can we not find another machine to take its place? There is the Dove. I am told that it would not carry an economic freight—that it would only carry eight passengers. I believe that the Junker carries 12.
There is a much bigger machine, the Bristol Wayfarer. Would that not be suitable? I am told that it can land in an even shorter distance than the Junker, and can also take off in a shorter space. This question of space, of landing grounds, particularly in the more remote parts of the country, in the North of Scotland and in the Islands, is of great importance. A machine that can land easily in a short space and also take off from a limited space is the most suitable machine for those services. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply will give us the Government's views on their relative importance.
I turn to the question of the helicopter. What is being done to develop a British helicopter? Several hon. Members from both sides of the House attended a demonstration last winter, at Heston, of a Sikorski helicopter. We were astounded at the performance of that machine and its possibilities. We in the North of the country, who suffer from difficulties, not only in regard to air transport but sea 1272 and land transport, felt that here was a machine which was the solution to all our transport difficulties in the North. I am told that the machine of which we were given a demonstration is already nearly obsolete. I believe that the Bristol Company have a Bristol 171, which I hope, and I am led to believe, may be ready for trial flying next month. Are the Government helping that firm, or giving them some encouragement to get busy with' that development? There is a rumour—which has not come from the firm—that the Government have said that if this machine is a success, they will order two of them. What is the use of going on with that development and research if the Government order only two?
§ Major McCallum
Two machines. I hope that that is not correct, but it is a report which is going about in quite reliable quarters.
There is another machine, the Fairy Gyrodine, a model of which was shown at the Paris Exhibition last autumn, and the prototype of which, I gather, is being manufactured now. Are the Government encouraging this firm to get busy with that machine, because those two types of machines—helicopters—are already in use in the United States. The Westland firm are, I understand, assembling, and are to produce under licence, the Sikorski machine. Is it the case that the Sikorski helicopter which is to be produced by Westland is the one of which they have accepted delivery from the United States, because I understand that by the time it is in production, it will be no use? I hope that the Minister will give us some information on these points. I raised the question with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation whether it was possible to send one of these Sikorski machines for experimental trials on the West Coast of Scotland. I was told that they were being assembled in Yeovil and that until experiments had been carried out there, no scheduled services could be developed anywhere else. I hear that trials are to be carried out between Bristol and Cardiff. Could not a trial also be carried out, say, either across the Minch or between Orkney and Shetland? The trials would be much more severe in that area and would test the machine more effectively.
1273 I am told that in the development of these machines, there is a considerable shortage of raw materials, and that the priority for raw materials for the aircraft industry is not as high as the industry had hoped it would be. Another hindrance to the development of the helicopter is that the required flying instruments are not yet developed to the extent they should be. To take the question of the air-speed indicator, I am told that it registers accurately a speed as low as 40 miles per hour. I understand from the manufacturers of the helicopter that they want something which will register accurately as low as 10 miles per hour for flying in bad weather, cloud, etc. Perhaps the Minister will let us know if something is contemplated along these lines.
I know that the helicopter is looked upon rather as a joke by the public at large. I am as sure as that I stand here that the helicopter will, in another 20 or 40 years, be the taxicab of the air in this country. I have been interested, since we had this demonstration, by the Fairey Company, of the Sikorski helicopter, to notice that the helicopter keeps creeping into the public news. For instance, during the cruise of H.M.S. "Vanguard" to South Africa, we saw pictures of a helicopter landing on the deck. In "The Times" the other day there was a picture of people in a helicopter carrying out a survey of ice formation on Niagara Falls. If helicopters can be utilised in a situation of that sort, I cannot think that it will be even a matter of as long as 20 years before we shall have these machines in commercial use all over the country. We feel that particularly on the West and North coasts of Scotland, the helicopter should be made available for use as a feeder and not to take the place of fixed wing aircraft. The fixed wing aircraft would still maintain the mail and passenger services between the headquarters in Renfrew and the various landing grounds already provided. As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation knows, in many parts of Scotland we have tremendous difficulties about landing grounds. They are not only far too costly but it is physically impossible to build them because of the rocky nature of the countryside. We feel that there are unlimited possibilities attached to the use of the helicopter.
The tragedy that happened last night might have been avoided. If the helicopter 1274 had been used in combination with the lifeboats, many lives might have been saved. Sea rescue work has been carried out already by helicopters in the United States. During this winter in the mountains of Scotland, we have had many bad accidents when careless people have gone out and got lost, necessitating enormous disturbance of personnel and equipment in searching for them. A man flying around in the helicopter probably would have located and rescued a casualty very quickly. There are many other examples of the work for which the helicopter could be used. It could be used for many agricultural purposes, for liming inaccessible land, forest fire-watching and the spotting of shoals of fish. Other work which is done at present by fixed wing aircraft could be done more efficiently with a helicopter. In addition, the machine could be used for Post Office work and for conveying passengers from the big aerodromes, such as Heathrow to the centres of cities. It could be used also for taxi and charter work.
I realise that some time must elapse before the use of the helicopter can become a commercial proposition. I would like to know whether anything is being done in the meantime to use, for internal services, a machine called the Prestwick Pioneer. I am told that that machine can land in 50 yards and take off in 100 yards. I have no means of knowing whether that is true but, if it is, I recommend that type of machine to the Ministry of Civil Aviation for use in remote parts of the country where proper landing grounds are not available.
§ Wing-Commander Millington (Chelmsford)
Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell me how many passengers are in the Prestwick Pioneer when it lands in 50 yards?
§ Major McCallum
I am told there are four. I hope that the Minister will give us some information about that. Many people to whom I have spoken about helicopters rather pooh-pooh the idea. They say that what we want is a slow landing fixed-wing type. The Ministry of Civil Aviation, and hon. Members who have far more technical experience than I, should know. If that is so, is anything being done to test the qualities of the Prestwick Pioneer? I would like to see that aircraft operating on the Scottish air lines of B.E.A.C. in the near future.
1275 Our British aircraft industry has proved, time and again, that when given the opportunity it always rises to the occasion and produces the goods. Unfortunately, it seems that it requires the impetus of war to push on the development of scientific research, as is the case with many other types of scientific reresearch. I suggest to the Minister that the great urges of peace—and they are many in these changing times—should be sufficient impetus to warrant the fullest encouragement by the Government of our aircraft industry.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. George Ward (Worcester)
I beg to second the Amendment.
This Amendment is extremely important for three reasons. First, the whole prestige of British civil aviation depends upon whether we can or cannot produce, fairly quickly, suitable types of aircraft with which we can run our air lines smoothly, efficiently and economically. As my hon. and gallant Friend has said, the aircraft industry of this country came out of the war with a reputation second to none. Air line operators, both at home and overseas, felt that any nation which had produced such aircraft as the Lancaster, the Mosquito, and the Typhoon could produce, with very little difficulty, an air liner which would compare favourably with anything built by the Americans or anybody else.
The Dominions in particular were most anxious to buy British aircraft. If only we had had something to offer them, or if there had been at least some prospects that we could produce something suitable for their needs fairly quickly, they were quite prepared to wait a reasonable period of time, but already in Australia they have been forced to start re-equipping their air lines with American types of aircraft. They could not wait any longer and we could not hold out sufficiently good prospects of providing them with the aircraft they wanted. That is my second reason why the Amendment is important. Unless we can produce good aeroplanes soon, we shall lose our precious Dominion and foreign markets for ever.
Thirdly, I wish to mention the important question of the operating costs of the three Corporations. We have not yet seen the accounts of the three Corporations but 1276 I think it is common knowledge that when they are produced they will show a considerable loss amounting, I believe, to several million pounds. Most of this loss will be found to be due to the fact that the Corporations have been obliged to operate with wholly uneconomical makeshift types of aircraft. And they are still obliged to do so. This tremendous loss will not only add substantially to the already crippling burden of taxation which the people have to bear but it will also mean that we cannot yet bring fares and air mail rates within the reach of any but the longest purse.
There can only be two solutions to this problem. One is to get out of the business altogether for the time being. That is a solution which obviously we reject at once. The other is to make superhuman efforts to re-equip our air lines as a matter of extreme urgency, in order that they may become self-supporting as rapidly as possible. For these reasons I think that this Amendment will be valuable if only because it will extract from the Government some information about the efforts being made to provide suitable types of aircraft, and the prospects of their supply within a reasonable time.
I want to try to show why I think this problem is so urgent and finally to make two suggestions as to the way in which we should tackle them. The reasons for the situation in which we find ourselves at the moment are well known to the House and I will not elaborate them now. The decision to concentrate the whole of our aircraft industry on the production of fighters and bombers was, in view of the total size of that industry and our geographical position, a wholly right and proper one. We knew then just what the decision would cost us and we accepted it. Moreover, these reasons are just as well understood and appreciated in the Dominions as they are at home. But the question we are asking now—indeed the question that anybody who is interested in this matter is asking—is simply, "What are we doing about it? How hard are we trying to recover the advantages we sacrificed?"
Let us see how much the average person knows. Most people know that in 1943 the Brabazon Committee, which had been charged with submitting specifications for our postwar needs in civil aviation, drew up a list of seven aircraft types which they emphasised were the minimum for our 1277 immediate postwar needs. All except one of these types were to be powered with jet or gas-turbine engines and the list ranged from a large aircraft of about 130 tons with eight engines—that is to say, the Brabazon I for the trans-Atlantic route, down to 'a small eight-passenger aircraft—the de Havilland Dove for internal services at home and in the Dominions. The Ministry of Civil Aviation later added a further list of seven aircraft consisting of a large flying boat of 12 engines, two land-planes, an amphibian and three types of helicopter. I do not believe that the average person, even if he is interested in the subject, really knows what has happened to those 14 types of aircraft. Presumably they are all in production and presumably by now they are well advanced, because we were assured that by 1950 they would be in service. We know that it takes quite a considerable time from the moment an aircraft makes its first appearance to when it is put into service. So by now we ought to have a pretty good idea as to whether these aircraft are likely to be successful or not.
But it is not very encouraging to note the fact that we have just ordered six Boeing strato-cruisers in addition to the six Constellations which we already own. One can understand the need for Constellations to tide us over until we get the Brabazon I in 1950, but does this decision to buy Boeings mean that the Brabazon I is likely to be a failure? One hears rumours to this effect, but we are entitled to be told the facts. It would not surprise me very much if the Brabazon I was found to be a failure. As far as I know, Bristols have never yet built anything bigger than about 30,000 lbs. To jump straight from 30,000 lbs. to an aircraft of some 260,000 lbs. is, to say the least of it, a little ambitious. I have no doubt that they are running into technical difficulties of which they never dreamed. One of the greatest American designers, Donald Douglas, has said that he would never build an aircraft more than twice the weight of its predecessor because it is asking for trouble. However, I may be quite wrong about that and it may be a great success.
The next thing we want to know is the position in regard to the Tudors. One hears that the Tudor I has such a small pay-load that it can only be operated over long distances at considerable 1278 financial loss. One hears also that the weight of the Tudor II has been allowed to creep up and up until now it cannot be operated at all on the Empire routes south of Nairobi or east of Calcutta. In order to illustrate the extreme urgency of this matter, may I quote a few figures showing the comparative operation costs of the present makeshift types of aircraft on two of our Empire routes, the Australian and South African routes, as compared with the costs calculated for an ideal type of aircraft; that is to say an aircraft of about 90,000 lbs. flying 2,000 mile stages? In considering these figures it is important to remember that on a through service of that sort, the payload for the whole journey is limited to the pay-load which can be carried on the longest sector, the various sectors being determined, of course, by the distance between suitable airfields or by sea crossings. The total operating costs of the Lancastrian on the limiting sector of the Australian route are 60 per cent. greater than that of the ideal aircraft. The operating costs of the Hythe flyingboat on the same route are no less than 234 per cent. greater than those calculated for the ideal aircraft. On the South African route the operating costs of the York over the limiting sector are 190 per cent. greater than they would be with an ideal aircraft.
No wonder that our air lines are being operated at such an enormous loss. These operating costs are clearly out of all proportion to what they should be. But that is not the whole story. The B.O.A.C's fleet of some 200 makeshift aircraft consists of no less than 10 different types of aircraft, mostly converted military types, and of course many more different types of engines. This naturally means that engineers have to be trained to service all these different types, and that the provision of spares both at home and over the thousands of miles of routes presents a very considerable problem and entails a great deal of unnecessary expense. Therefore the maintenance of all these different types is extremely wasteful both in money and in manpower. The lack of maintenance facilities at the terminal airport—which is another contributing factor in the high maintenance cost—would not be in order to discuss in any detail on this Amendment, but may I just say that the dead 1279 mileage flown between the terminal airport to the various maintenance bases represents a loss of about £250,000 a year? For example, the Constellations have to fly from New York to Montreal and back to be maintained because there are no facilities anywhere nearer.
I will not elaborate that point, but there is another factor which is important in considering these terrific operating costs. That is the utilisation rate of the aircraft. The economical utilisation rate is somewhere in the neighbourhood of from 2,000 to 3,000 hours a year per aircraft and the operating costs increase very rapidly as the utilisation rate decreases. But there is such an acute shortage of spare parts for Dakota aircraft that the only way in which B.O.A.C. can maintain their fleet of some 60 Dakotas is by "cannibalisation"—by robbing one aircraft of spare parts in order to service other aircraft. The utilisation rate is very low, and, therefore, highly uneconomic. The six Halton aircraft belonging to B.O.A.C. have done only one month's flying since they came into service in the autumn. They are not even makeshift; they are just makeweight. I will not weary the House with further examples of this completely inadequate equipment. I hope I have made it clear that we cannot afford much longer to go on operating in this way the collection of junk we are pleased to call aircraft. To do so is a waste of money and manpower. It is bad for our prestige abroad, and bad for our export trade. Our airlines must be equipped as quickly as possible with good aircraft. How are we to do that? In a recent lecture to the Royal Aeronautical Society, Sir Henry Self said:
Research is the key to the development and production of good aircraft. Research conducted specifically for civil aviation is only now being introduced on a large scale. Fortunately, there is little difference between research for military aviation and research for civil aviation. With a few exceptions, the one will cover the needs of the other.He went on to say:It seems to me important that the military and civil aviation authorities should bear constantly in mind their inter-dependence one do the other in the world of research and development. In times of war, military needs have priority, but civil aviation ultimately benefits, as witness such developments of the late war as the jet and turbine-propeller engines. In times of peace, the pendulum should swing more evenly between the two 1280 sides. Henceforth more emphasis should be placed on civil aviation research and development, realising that military aviation will profit from many of the resulting inventions and developments.I heartily commend that passage to the Minister. The situation we are in at the moment is not entirely due to the war. Before the war, the aircraft industry, with, I think, only one exception, relied for its very existence on the placing of large orders by the Air Ministry for military aircraft. The number of civil aircraft likely to be ordered was never nearly enough to keep a manufacturer in business. Therefore, it was perfectly natural that he concentrated his best brains, skill and resources on the design and development of military, rather than civil, types. No one can blame him. But how are we to overcome that difficulty in the future? It is a very difficult problem, and I hope that the Ministry are grappling with it. In my view, we can tackle it partly by developing our airlines to such an extent that very much greater numbers of aircraft will be needed for them than previously, and partly by impressing upon the aircraft industry that the development of civil types must have first priority in peace time. We must also give individual manufacturers an assurance that by concentrating on civil types they will not be liable to suffer by losing contracts for military aircraft when such orders have to be placed. I am convinced that if we do this, the high quality of our military aircraft will not be prejudiced, for the reasons given by Sir Henry Self.
What else can we do? In my view, it takes two people, and two people only, to produce the right aircraft for a particular job; one is the manufacturer, and the other is the user. Those two people must be allowed to co-operate fully, and they must be given a completely free hand to get on with the job. Anybody else butting in will only cause confusion, delay and even eventual failure. I agree entirely with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) that this is too important a problem for anyone to make a party point of it, and anything that I say will be intended in a helpful way and not in any carping spirit. Why did we have the best military aircraft in the world during the war? It was because the Royal Air Force went direct to the manufacturer, told him what they wanted, and worked closely with him to help to produce it. Sometimes the Royal 1281 Air Force had to give up an idea, and sometimes a manufacturer had to give up some of his ideas, but the result was that the best possible aircraft was produced for the job that had to be done.
What happens with civil aircraft? There is no direct contact between the Corporations and the manufacturer. All their designs have to be vetted by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Ministry of Supply, and the Treasury. Any of these Departments can over-rule the Corporations, or alter the specifications or designs to suit the materials position. I understand it is within the province of the Ministry of Supply to say, for instance, that a bulkhead cannot be, put in because they will not allot enough aluminium. We cannot possibly build aeroplanes in that way. I understand there is a body called the Civil Aircraft Requirements Committee on which the Corporations are represented. But how much say have they? After all, the Minister is the boss who hires and fires the Boards of the Corporations—and even the directors of State-owned companies must live. Then there is something called the Self Committee which, according to a recent reply by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, consults the Ministry of Supply, the Treasury and the Corporations in getting out the detailed requirements, and also consults manufacturers and others as to the progress of aircraft production. There seems to be an awful lot of consultation with very little result; we do not want consultations; we want bold decisions. I am not sure what part the Treasury play in all this, but whatever it is, I feel sure it can have only a braking rather than an accelerating effect. It is no good telling me it is the duty of the Treasury to keep an eye on the interests of the taxpayers when we are squandering the taxpayers' money by operating the taxpayers' aeroplanes at a colossal loss.
I wish to put to the Parliamentary Secretary three questions which have a bearing on the points I have been trying to make. First, what is the function of the Directorate of Aircraft Requirements at the Ministry of Civil Aviation? Is there a similar organisation in the Ministry of Supply, and if so, what do they do? Secondly, what does the gentleman who calls himself the Long-Range Planner do? Does he plan future types of aircraft, and if he does, why does not he come under 1282 the Director of Technical Services? Thirdly, why are either of these people necessary at all? Cannot the Corporations plan their own requirements? After all, they are the only people who know them. I know these high-sounding titles and mass of bureaucracy are dear to the hearts of hon. Members opposite. But I warn them that it is that sort of thing which will kill British aviation more quickly than anything else, and more quickly than they realise. The only way to get good aircraft, which will be a pride to ourselves and an example to the rest of the world, is to free the corporations and the industry from bureaucratic interference, to encourage and help them as much as possible, and then let them get on with the job. We know that they can do it, and given a fair chance they will do it.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
We are indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) for raising this subject today. Like him, I want to make it clear, as I suppose I must, that I have no financial interest of any kind in any type of industrial undertaking associated with the manufacture of aircraft of any kind whatsoever. I have, however, a personal interest in the safe development of civil aviation as one who, from the very inception of the services from Glasgow to London, sought to use them and make them as widely known as I possibly could. I thought it was part of my duty to do so. So far as I can recollect at the moment this is the first Debate we have had on aircraft production during this year. It is our business to pay tribute to the development of the industry and the development of the services during the year 1946. I have myself seen, in the service which I use, the immense progress which has been made, not only in the type of aircraft but in the attention and comfort which is given to the passengers who use those craft.
We have got away from the ship mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll, the De Havilland Rapide, which used to carry four or five passengers to London and which, in many ways, was a somewhat crude method of progress; I am sorry it still remains as the method of transportation to the Western Isles. We progressed to the 1283 Avro, and then to the first Dakotas, and later to the present type of Dakota, which gives us a comfort and service which 18 months ago we hardly dared to imagine we should be enjoying today. I think we ought also to recognise the developments which have come about within that comparatively short space of time, because we should realise that during the period immediately following the war our aircraft industry was left with very serious and difficult problems to face and solve at a time of great difficulty. We should recognise that our technicians, our scientists and our engineers have rendered a great service to the industry in the way in which they have tackled and solved the problems presented to them. We should also remember that the work they did in their sphere has been implemented by the magnificent craftsmanship of the workers engaged in this field of production today.
I want to look at the problem not merely from the point of view of the production of aircraft but from the point of view of the type of craft we ought to be producing today. The policy which we pursue will determine the design and structure of the craft we shall build, and if our policy is to be concentrated on the development of the great trunk routes we shall be building a type of machine which, by reason of its cost, by reason of the fares, and by reason of the journeys it must make will be quite out of touch with the ordinary men and women of this country, who will be called upon to subsidise those services. I am not saying that that type of service ought not to be developed, it is necessary, but I am afraid that the type of service I would like to see being developed is today being subordinated to the development of what I would call "hemispherical" services, journeying in one great hop from one hemisphere perhaps across the North Pole to another, carrying a selected few paying very high fares. That will not bring civil aviation into touch with the men and women who will be paying for it in the long run.
I therefore feel that we ought to be concentrating on the type of aircraft which will serve the short routes within our own country, the inter-city routes linking up London, Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Inverness, 1284 the Isles, and so on. I am not for one minute suggesting that that is not the intention of the Minister; my point is that it is not happening at the present moment, and I think it is wrong. It is only by bringing civil aviation into the lives of the people that we shall create an airminded population, that we shall produce the pioneers and the adventurers in aviation. It is in the surpluses from these services, which will meet the needs of a large internal population, that we will find the money to finance our great air trunk routes, with their expansive and highly developed machines. That demands a different type of machine, one that will ht into the period of development that lies between now and the realisation of the object which the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll wants to achieve—the development of the helicopter.
We ought, today, to be giving great thought to the production of a machine which will have a low landing speed, a slow take off, a low wing load, and a quick climb, so that our airports will not be situated 20 or 30 miles from our cities, but within our cities. Today, we can fly from London to Glasgow in four hours, but of that four hours one hour is spent in journeying from Victoria to Northolt, and another' hour in journeying from Prestwick to Glasgow—a total distance of 60 miles. We spend only two hours in travelling 400 miles on the main flight, but another two hours on the 60 mile journeys to and from the plane. We must bring our airports into our cities. We ought to be seeking to run our air services on a parallel with the services of the London Passenger Transport Board, and the trams of my native city.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Gentleman is far away from the Amendment, which deals with production of British civil aircraft.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That is not my interpretation of the hon. Gentleman's remarks; he has travelled very speedily and very far from the Amendment under discussion.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am trying to show that policy affects this matter, and that if we follow certain developments in policy the 1285 design and structure of machines is bound thereby to be affected. I was giving the illustration of the London Passenger Transport Board to show that their transport services grew on small change. Air services must grow on small change. At one time Glasgow used to have a ½d. tram fare, and people came from all over the world just to enjoy the advantage of travelling on the city's trams—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
We are not even discussing trams or fares at the moment; we are discussing the production of aircraft.
§ Mr. Rankin
I was trying to show how cheap fares would attract people to flying, Sir. Now I want, briefly, to suggest three reasons why this internal link does not seem to be forthcoming. First, I suggest that advisers on military aviation are not drawn from the type of people who ought to be interested in the development of internal services. To many of them, money was no object in overcoming difficulties. That is a wrong outlook towards development of present day services. I do not particularly like the set-up, the background, against which these services are being developed. My hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) drew attention to the fact that the Chairman of B.O.A.C.—
§ Mr. Rankin
Then I will leave my second reason until a more suitable occasion. My third reason has, to some extent, already been put forward. Civil aviation is developing from military aviation, and is now, so far as I can see, still subordinated to it. Military aviation must aim at ever greater speed, and must develop machines to attain that speed. This has been shown in the case of the Hastings, which has a speed of 350 miles per hour. That plane is the logical development of the Halifax which, at the end of the war, had a speed of 290 miles per hour. The Hastings is just the military version of the Hermes I, which was designed as a bomber, and is coming into use in civil aviation. We must get rid of that association if we are to develop the type of machines which I, at any rate, wish to see serving the people and cities of this country. The two are in conflict. Instead of seeking for ever greater speed, I would like to see civil aviation 1286 reverse the policy which resulted in the 290 miles per hour of the Halifax being increased to the 355 miles per hour of the Hermes, and transfer it to lower wing loading, to greater passenger capacity, and to lower cost, and thereby wipe out some of the difficulties presented to us by the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion.
Those are two of the reasons why I believe that the intention of the Minister is not materialising today. So long as he is controlled by the military outlook, he will be handicapped. We all want to see civil aviation developed as a service for the public, and as a service that will bring into it the people of the country, in which and on which we shall engender an air-minded population, which will uphold the prestige of this country wherever its planes may fly.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
I hope that the hon. Member for the Tradeston Division of Glasgow (Mr. Rankin) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument very closely because, otherwise, I might find myself in the same difficulty of being ruled out of Order. I think he was very wise to refer to the interest of the public in civil aviation, because, after all, they are the taxpayers, and they are paying for a great deal of the civil aviation in this country at the present time. There are many reasons, perhaps, why the public are not availing themselves of the internal civil lines and the services they offer, but I am confident that, when we can get good aircraft and those lines are developed, the public will respond, and will use them, provided the fares charged are competitive with railway and other transport fares.
The House is indebted to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) and to the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) for introducing this Debate, and for moving and seconding this Amendment with the terms of which, I imagine, the Government will be able to agree. This is a very difficult, technical and complicated subject. I know that, at times, the Government find these difficulties very heavy. The purpose of this Amendment is to call attention to the production of the different types of British aircraft, and to the fact that this House thinks that such production should be encouraged. We should glad to 1287 hear what the Minister has to tell us with regard to the progress made in the production of civil aircraft in this country. At the present moment, it is the old question of whether we want efficient airlines to operate immediately, in competition with the other great airlines of the world, or whether we wish, at all costs, to say that we will use whatever British machines are available for operating those services. That is really the position in which the Government are at the present time.
I was, even before the war, associated with the aviation and aircraft industry for a great number of years, and had something to do with bringing the first 14 Lockheed XA's and XIV's to this country to be operated by British Airways, with which I was associated. It is extraordinary that we should be in the same position today as we were all those years ago when he were in the position of being almost forced to buy 14 American passenger-carrying aircraft in order to enable us to operate efficiently and competently on the European routes. But the Government are not to blame for that, because that took place many years before the war.
I was interested to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman refer to the speech by Sir Henry Self, who has great experience in these matters, in which he related the technical development and research in military and civil aviation. I am afraid that I was one of those who on numerous occasions during the war begged the responsible Ministers of the war Government to develop a small nucleus of our research and design during the period when it was admitted that we were making sacrifices, because we were concentrating on producing fighters when our Allies in America were producing most of the larger machines. That was the time when we should have tackled this problem, and tried to catch up with what we had already lost long before the war, and to put efficient airlines in this country in competition with those in the United States of America and other countries.
I am not sure that I subscribe to all the things that my hon. Friend said about Spitfires, private enterprise, and the production of aircraft. But the fact is that we had all our eggs in one basket. The members of the S.B.A.C., or the larger aircraft concerns of this country, who 1288 were, rightly or wrongly, carrying an enormous burden, and to whom we owe a great debt, had the control or responsibility for most of the design work in this country. Therefore, when they were asked by the responsible Ministers to consider future civil designs, they undoubtedly had to say, "No." I hope that we are not going to make the same mistakes again as those we made before the war.
The Minister for Civil Aviation, who has given great support in the matter, recently made a statement with regard to flying clubs. I hope that flying clubs are going to be encouraged, and that we are also going to encourage the newer firms, who have young men and modern ideas, to be given an opportunity in design, in association with the larger firms. Just as it is important to have a decentralised industrial war potential, so it is important to have a civil aircraft potential. Where do they draw the line?
Are we today going to wait for jet and turbine aircraft to go on to the big routes and persevere with designs being produced; or are we going to buy Constellations from the United States; or are we going to follow the precept of Canada? I saw a story in the newspapers that we are considering purchasing Constellations and putting Bristol engines in them. Canada has put Rolls Royce engines into American Skymasters, and I am told that it has proved a very successful experiment on their very efficient routes. Their Transatlantic airlines are operating very successfully with that experiment. What are our Government to do? Are they to say, "This is an interim period. We have got to make do in the same way as we had to before the war?" Or are they to say, "We are going to push ahead for all we are worth and use British machines under construction on these air lines, irrespective of whether they are competitive in their carrying capacity or out of date?
If we say that the most important thing is to maintain the air lines, we must have the most efficient passenger-carrying and freight-carrying machines, and I think probably that is the kind of decision the Government have, unfortunately to take, It is the-taxpayers' money which is involved, and I have no doubt the Minister will have to work out a sum of financial arithmetic in order to decide which is the 1289 best bet. My feeling is that it will take us soma time to get over this interim period. The Government are certainly not responsible. Both parties have a responsibility for the past. We did not plan far enough ahead. I was very glad to hear it said that these matters should have nothing to do with party interests at all. I think the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply will have a very difficult job, and I hope he will tell us enough this afternoon to give us some hope that, in the long run, in measurable time, the British airliners on jet turbine will be the best in the world. But, in the meantime, I hope he will tell us that we have a great responsibility throughout the Commonwealth of British nations, to see that we progress with our air lines to link up with overseas. That is the kind of problem he has to solve, and I am sure he has the good wishes of all parties in solving it.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Dodds-Parker (Banbury)
I wish to intervene briefly to put two points to the Minister. One point is immediately effective; the second is somewhat far ahead, although I think it is approaching already. My first point is to ask the Minister which types of aircraft now being produced he thinks most suitable for the feeder services, particularly in the Dominions and the Empire. It is becoming increasingly obvious, despite everything that has been said, that quite effective long-range services are being maintained. I think that whoever is responsible is to be congratulated, up to a point, on getting certain long-distance passengers through in quick time. But when they get to their destination in West Africa or Australia, or somewhere like that, do they then find the through connection which will enable them to get to their ultimate destination without waiting two or three days or more en route? As the Minister is well aware, there are a lot of small landing grounds overseas which, particularly in rainy seasons, are difficult to use.
I think the helicopter, which is being developed, may lead to a solution of certain problems but, as far as I can see, the helicopter has at present a range of only some 200 miles and a seating capacity of not more than about four passengers. Therefore, it can fulfil a certain purpose, but at the moment only within a limited degree. We need some type of aircraft to take the place of the Dakota, possibly 1290 the Halton. Is the Halton going to be maintained in service, and is it the sort of aircraft which can get through and pull up quickly on a runway which has not been built up. Many of us who are interested in these overseas services—the feeders on the great trunk routes—are afraid the aircraft at present in sight are not entirely suitable for this purpose. There are certain parts of Central Africa where the landing areas are at great heights of 7,000 or 8,000 feet, and there are certain drawbacks with present aircraft because the landing speeds are too high, and so forth. I would ask the Minister to indicate what progress is being made in the development of these types to feed the main routes.
My second point concerns the congestion at the great central airport of London. I was in the United States last autumn, and had an opportunity of seeing what is happening in the New York area, particularly in the holiday season. The New York area is very congested. With two airports, and possibly a third to come into operation, there is not nearly enough room for all the aircraft to land. At one time last year New York was landing as many as four aircraft a minute, and anyone who knows anything about the job will realise that that is a very high rate. If there is a holdup, with bad weather at either end, there is a congestion of passengers, there is not enough room to get the aircraft in, and there might be a number of aircraft circling around waiting to land. As time goes on, our facilities for blind landing will improve, but they will never improve to the extent that passengers will have great confidence when they know there are a lot of other aircraft near by in the air. It means that we have to develop something like a large aircraft which can, if necessary, carry a large number of passengers for a fairly short distance.
At present, we are developing long-distance aircraft which carry 30 or 40 passengers for 2,000 or 3,000 miles. I know many of the objections to crowding people into an aircraft, but what is often required is that an aircraft should fly four or five hundred miles with about 100 passengers. I know that, technically, it is a difficult job to combine those two functions in one aircraft, but I believe, from the experience that has already been gained in the New York area, that the problem is likely to be solved. We are 1291 determined that Heathrow is to become one of the great airports in the world. We have to consider the bad weather we get in this country. We shall have a large number of aircraft arriving, and we shall have to get them down, because we do not want to have too many aircraft in the air at the same time. M y I ask the Minister to give some indication of what is being done to provide aircraft which, in certain circumstances, after two or three days' bad weather, could be used to lift a pile-up of passengers and bring them into Heathrow without delay?
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough, West)
This Debate has been arranged at a time when probably the development and production of civil aircraft are at their lowest ebb. It is appropriate that a Debate on this subject should take place at this, time, and that the greatest possible interest should be encouraged in the country by a review of the whole position regarding the production of civil aircraft. In reviewing a situation which is not too happy, the tendency is always to look at the past and to see where blame attaches. That is only justified if, analysing the experience of the past, we use that experience to advantage in the future and prevent the repetition of the same mistakes. Therefore, if I refer critically to what I feel have been defects in the past, I am doing so only with a view to ensuring that those same mistakes do not recur.
I have taken an interest in civil aviation over a period of years, and I know, from my previous association with it, how easy it was during the war years—when some of us wondered what was going to happen after the war in the production of civil aircraft—to blame the war. We said, "The war is on. We have to leave aside all considerations affecting the design of future civil aircraft until our immediate difficulties are over." I understand that at one time, that attitude of mind was so strong that it actually prevented the necessary attention being given to considerations of design at a time when I know there were technicians and designers available, who could have diverted a certain amount of attention to the future design of civil aircraft, without detracting from our wartime production. A small nucleus of men could have been diverted to that form of investigation, which would not have done 1292 our war aircraft any harm at all. I understand that some undertaking was given to America, that if they worked on transport aircraft, we would concentrate on bombers and fighters, so perhaps to some extent, we had an obligation to fulfil.
I believe, myself, that there was a certain amount of blame attaching, at that period, to the Ministers responsible in the Air Ministry who were in charge of civil aviation before the Ministry of Civil Aviation was formed, for not giving this matter the full consideration it deserved. If that consideration had been given, it would have been realised that, obviously, the design of civil aircraft was based on what we should then have been producing, and we should have realised that the development of the transport type of aircraft was absolutely essential for war purposes. In other words, we should not have made ourselves completely dependent upon the Americans for that type of aircraft. In those days, of 1942 and 1943, sufficient pressure was brought to bear— I believe through the efforts of certain hon. Members who were then in the House and who were keen and enthusiastic about the development of civil aircraft —to bring into being the Brabazon Committee, which undertook to consider the position likely to arise immediately the war was over. The Brabazon Committee gave their findings under three main headings. The first concerned aircraft that could be used immediately after the war by conversion of war types. The second related to interim aircraft, based on wartime aircraft which had been developed but capable of being made available for civil purposes with certain modifications. The Tudor I and II come in that category, as a development from the Lancaster and the Lincoln with a larger fuselage; and the Hermes was also a development of a wartime Halifax aircraft. Thirdly, they investigated the position regarding longterm planning of designs such as the Brabazon I; and the Ambassador and the Dove were also included in that class. There was one omission—and I think a serious omission—for which the Brabazon Committee were responsible. It is an omission which has since been made good by the Self Committee—which has succeeded the Brabazon Committee—in recommending the development of aircraft in the 100,000 lb. to 130,000 lb. class; that is to say, the Constellation, and slightly larger types of aircraft. It is a 1293 class which, obviously, taking a longterm view, is likely to be in demand in the future. It is also a matter of considerable urgency. I believe the necessary work is being done in the development of prototypes, following the specifications which the Self Committee have just issued.
The question of aircraft production is, manifestly, linked closely with that of operation. If the operators do not state their case, clearly the producers and the designers cannot get to grips with the job as they should. We have seen that in other directions in transport. The bus operating companies have even gone in for manufacturing their own buses; the railways their own rolling stock and locomotives, and so on. I think there will he a parallel case for nationalisation of construction as well as operation. This is something for consideration at a later time; I do not want to develop it now, but the operator and the producer have to be brought very much closer together. It was hinted at by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward), who suggested there should be a direct link between operator and producer. I absolutely agree with that principle. It is merely a question of the ways and means by which that can be carried out which needs careful consideration.
In hoping that in the future we shall get really efficient transport aircraft, we have to demand that the air-line operators conduct themselves in a way that will enable them to classify their requirements clearly, and to state their demands succinctly to the producers. It may have to go through several Ministries, which I deprecate, because that introduces an enormous amount of delay, in passing through all these Committees, to which reference has been made. At this moment I am asking that we shall, if possible, give some urge to these Corporations to consider their technical requirements. I think, for example, the knowledge in the air-line operating companies is not sufficiently clear and developed; it is not based sufficiently on long-term experience. I do not want to go into personalities here, but I would like to make this one point. The present technical director of B.O.A.C. I understand to be a very fine man; I am sure he is doing a first-class job; but his interest in the past has been mainly in signals; and I do not think he has the fullest long-term knowledge and 1294 all the necessary technical considerations. I think there is a weakness there. Again, the technical adviser to the chairman is not a man with the necessary length of experience, and he has not proved himself really competent on this previous work in air line development. I do not want to make this a personal matter at all; it is just that the experience is not there, and I think that to some extent, the development of our civil aircraft is being held up because the Corporations are not stating their case sufficiently clearly, or basing it on long experience.
The B.O.A.C. employs some 24,000 people, and we know that the three Corporations are absorbing a subsidy of some 10 million. We cannot altogether blame them for all their inefficiencies which are manifest at this stage. The difficulties under which they are labouring have been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House, the chief one being that of not having suitable aircraft. We know that during the war, in the most difficult period, during the Battle of Britain, however good the pilots were, whether our pilots or those of the enemy, it was quite impossible for them to carry everything before them, unless they had the instruments with which to perform the job. At one time the German aircraft were superior to our own, and during that period our men had an extremely bad time. Later on, we gained superiority over them by improving the performance of the Spitfire, and so on. At this moment we are in the position that our civil aircraft are not developed to the same extent as the American aircraft. It does seem— although I was against it at the time— that the only decision to which the Corporations could have come was to purchase American aircraft. I spoke against it, and asked Questions which tended to deprecate that decision. However, I think, on balance, they made that decision wisely.
There is one other point I wish to put. I will put it now to the Minister of Supply, although I. wish the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation had been here. No doubt he can pick it up from the OFFICIAL REPORT. I think the development and production of our civil aircraft will be helped enormously by issuing the operating figures. We should then see clearly what the efficiency of our 1295 air line operating companies was in comparison with that of the Americans, and of other countries. It would emphasise the points in which we were weak. If we were falling down in any particular direction, if we were finding for example the costs per passenger mile much greater than we should like, we could look into the reasons. Unless we publish operating statistics we shall not see whether the aircraft are justifying themselves.
§ Mr. Ward
I think it might prove very dangerous and misleading to compare too closely the operating costs of our air Corporations with those of American companies. The reasons are very long, but they are very well brought out in that lecture from which I have already quoted of Sir Henry Self, and I think that if the hon. Gentleman will read that lecture he will agree.
§ Mr. Cooper
I appreciate the remarks the hon. Gentleman has made. I have referred to the report he mentioned, although I have not gone through it in detail. I agree to some extent with what he said, but I think, per contra, there is a point that we should not overlook—that if we have too much secrecy about the operating costs and similar statistics we shall blind ourselves to the chief requirements of the new types of civil aircraft. This will apply just as much to the new designs such as turbine jet aircraft as to existing designs. We must have adequate statistics, for example, to ensure that the operating costs of jet aircraft justify their use.
I should like to make some reference to the Avro Tudor. That is an aircraft on which we did pin a good deal of faith. We did put all our eggs, so to speak, in one basket. On the other hand, we know quite well that one of the greatest strides made in civil aviation development in this country before the war, was when Imperial Airways, as it was then, placed all their confidence in the purchase of the Empire flying boats. They even placed an order for a fleet of flying boats straight off the drawing board, without waiting for prototypes. It was a bold but successful action. So we cannot altogether say that there has been a mistake in putting faith in the Avro Tudors, especially as the military original of the types was known and proved. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply apparently indicates 1296 that we have not got all our eggs in one basket. I know that there are other aircraft developing, but they are not quite in the same category. The Tudor I and Tudor II were intended to serve on the Atlantic route immediately, and on the Empire routes immediately—or shortly after the war anyway. To that extent, I think, we did place too much reliance on those two designs. They, in a large measure, failed.
§ Mr. Cooper
It is an opinion which is held rather widely at the moment. I shall be glad if the Minister, in his reply, will refute that.
§ Mr. Cooper
I should like to make the point here, to the Minister, that if these aircraft were not as successful—if I may not be too emphatic—as it was hoped they would be, due to such things as fuel consumption, tail buffeting, excessive swing at take-off, reduced range, we should know what is to be done to fill this gap. I believe that there were some 50 aircraft of those designs ordered originally. Are we still to purchase this design, in the hope that we shall get it right, or is there some other intention? I should like an answer on that point.
I would next refer to a visit I paid to the Avro works something over a year ago, because I believe it shows up some of the difficulties the constructors themselves are experiencing. There was some criticism from the managing director and the chief designer about the difficulties they were meeting in trying to get decisions, not only from the operators, to which I have made reference already, but, also, from the Ministries. They felt they could not go to one man, or to one clearly defined group of people, and say: "What is it you want? Right, we will go ahead." They found that they were referred by one person to another. There was a strong tendency towards buck passing. That, I think, is absolutely inimical to our development in the future, for the constructors themselves are, obviously, concerned primarily with the rapid and efficient production of these new designs, which we must have. They should see clearly the direction they must take. If any difficulties arise, or if they want some quick 1297 decision from the operators of the Ministries themselves, they must be able to get a prompt and clear reply.
I would make one suggestion to the Minister. I believe there is going to be a gap in our aircraft production which has, somehow or another, to be filled. I ask the Minister if he could not give consideration to the possibility, if he has to purchase aircraft from abroad, of obtaining some of the same aircraft which have been developed, and are now being used, by Trans-Canada Airlines—I think they are Constellations—in which Merlin engines have been installed. This aircraft has just flown across the Atlantic and came into Heathrow a few days ago. I believe it has proved itself. Thai would be better than to go into the question of installing Centaurus engines in American aircraft, because in that case a certain amount of experimental work would then have to be done, whereas if that work has already been done on Merlin engines, and proved successful, we should make use of them.
We know, from our war-time experience, that we in this country have nothing to fear in the development or the construction or the' operation of aircraft as a whole. We know that we have the technicians. We were first in the field with jet engines. An aircraft of Bristol manufacture has just flown, using a turbine jet and propeller engine. It is the first in the world of that type of aircraft, using that type of engine, to fly. We have been the pioneers in good design technically. We can regain our position now in civil aviation provided the opportunity is given to the people who have the knowledge and experience. I should like, finally, to say, with some reiteration of the point I made at the beginning, that I think a certain amount of criticism is due to be made of the way in which we are handling this whole problem. I believe, myself, that there are too many people working through too many Departments, too many committees, too many Ministries, to get decisions quickly, and that all this is holding up the production of our aircraft during a very vital time. I hope that the Minister of Supply will consult with his colleagues on this question, and see whether or not the administration for which he and the other Ministers are responsible should not be overhauled, so as to cut out many of the delays to which I have referred.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles (Down)
Having listened to this Debate, I agree with most of what has been said. So far as I can see, the production of civil aeroplanes in this country today is absolutely in its infancy. The planes that have been flying from here at any rate on the routes to Ireland, are exactly the same as those in which I learned to fly myself in 1915. I appreciate the reason for it. It was the war, in which we sacrificed everything—our lives, our money, our designs of aircraft, and everything else—to win the victory. Consequently, today we find ourselves behind other people in civil aviation.
I visited one aeroplane manufacturing business last week, and I told the directors there that we were going to debate the production of civil aeroplanes in the House of Commons this week. I said, "You tell me what I ought to say, and give me a brief." They would tell me nothing at all. They were too frightened; they felt that if they said anything against the Ministry of Supply, they might lose their hopes of getting any orders. They did not say so in so many words, I admit, but they were extremely reticent. Considering all the old aircraft which we have been flying, I think our record of accidents is a very good one, and I attribute that to the good pilots we have on these routes. A pilot flew me yesterday across the Irish Sea and down from Manchester, when there was an 80-mile-an-hour gale. He could not start for a while, but I must say he handled the aircraft very well. It is men like him who will make civil flying in this country very popular
I questioned the head of the aircraft manufacturing firm to which I refer, about the supplies of raw materials. He certainly made no specific complaint to me, although he hinted that they were in very short supply. This employed 20,000 people and more during the war; at present, they have less than 2,000. All their expert staff have been scattered to the four winds, and they have had to start from the bottom. They are hoping to build a complete new drawing office within the next 18 months. It is no wonder that we are behind at present, and I cannot attribute the blame to the Minister, who inherited all these troubles. The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) metioned the Junkers. I have flown pretty often in these 1299 machines. They are very comfortable but extremely slow. They take an hour extra in the flight between London and Belfast, and, even if we have a charming air hostess on board to bring us a cup of tea and sandwiches, that does not make up for the hour we waste en route. Indeed, I believe that these machines are supposed to use about 100 gallons of petrol an hour, and it would cost thousands to reconstruct them and put them in good condition again.
While I was in India in January, I had the privilege of flying in a Viking from Calcutta to Dehli. These British machines are the most comfortable in which I have ever flown. I can only wish we had a few more of them on our internal airlines. It was pretty well noiseless, fast and extremely comfortable, and I, personally, much prefer it to the York. I am very tall, but, on the Viking, I found that there was room for my legs, and, further, that everybody sat facing the same way. I can well imagine that on a flight to Australia, anybody would get tired of staring into the face of someone else sitting opposite.
§ Sir W. Smiles
Even if Ingrid Bergman and Greta Garbo, the two best-looking women in the world, were compelled to look at each other all the way to Australia, I think each would tire of the other's face. The best way to get more machines is to get more passengers, because if you get more money, it will pay for better planes. We want this air service to be like a service of tramcars. People do not run for a tramcar, because they know there will be another one in a moment. In the same way they ought to be able to rest assured that the service from Belfast to London would operate at least every two hours, and, if they did not get a seat on the 10 o'clock plane, they could be sure of getting one on the 12 o'clock plane. But we are hardly ready for that development, and we must have a few Vikings and other good planes, before it will be worth while.
We have had complaints about daylight saving, and I think we could make better use of the present hours of daylight. A business man with whom I travelled from 1300 Manchester yesterday complained that he could not fly from Manchester to London, do his business in London and get back to Manchester the same evening, although there was plenty of daylight in which the pilot of the aircraft could make the two journeys.
Today, when we land at our airports, we feel rather ashamed. It is rather like the old days, when the "Normandie" held the Blue Riband of the Atlantic, and we had no ships like the "Queen Mary" and "Queen Elizabeth." Nowadays, it seems to be U.S. planes which are taking off every minute, and it makes one ashamed. I think that we, as taxpayers, now that the industry is nationalised—and we have got to accept the fact—should insist on having really good planes to show the rest of the world. The question of flying boats has been mentioned. I flew down Africa on a flying boat a few years ago, and I must say that it was the most comfortable aeroplane which I had ever used up to that time. I understand, however, that these machines are very expensive, because, unless there are 20 or 30 taking off from, or landing on each patch of water each day, the service which has to be maintained for them is not worth while. For places round the Mediterranean, flying boats will be the solution, but they will not be economical. Probably, amphibians are the answer, and some very good prototypes of these machines are ready now.
I can only suggest to the Minister that it is a pity that there should be nobody between the user and the manufacturer. I suggest that he should select only very tall men for appointment to the directorate of B.O.A.C., and that he should insist on them flying in bad weather, preferably in the winter. Although we all appreciate antiques and Queen Anne furniture in their proper place, we do not appreciate them in the air.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Crawley (Buckingham)
I hope the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken will forgive me if I do not follow his line of argument, but I want, for a moment or two, to come back to the point raised by the hon. Member for the Eye Division (Mr. Granville) and to try to extract from the Minister some indication of what is really our policy in regard to the production of aircraft in the next five years and beyond.
1301 When we were debating this subject last summer, many of us emphasised that the hopes of British civil aviation lay in gas-turbine engines, and what we then advocated was that all the Ministries concerned should concentrate all their main energies on producing an aircraft which used gas-turbine engines and which would be more efficient in a few years than anything any other country was likely to have. At that time, it was said that we were already a year ahead with gas-turbine engines, and that there was a good chance that we might beat other people and capture a great deal of the air traffic of the world. At the moment, it does not seem to me that we have made very much progress. Indeed, in certain respects, I am inclined to think that we have actually gone back. However, whatever the exact position of research and experiment in the use of the gas-turbine or the jet, the obvious fact is that, for the next five years, the civil aviation industry in this country and others will have to use standard petrol engines. Therefore, we have got a short term problem, roughly, of five years or thereabouts, and a long-term problem, and I want to ask some questions about both.
In the next five years or so, while the petrol-driven engine is still predominant, how far are we going to compete with America? Are we going to try, with types of standard aircraft, to become a rival air carrier in the world to the United States? Arc we to give the "green light" to the manufacturers here to produce and to go on producing the ordinary petrol engine type of aircraft in order to beat the Constellation and Skymaster? My answer to that is quite emphatically, "No. Without making use of the advantage which we have in the gas turbine, we shall not be able, in five years, to catch up with America. Owing to the war, we have lost six years of ground, and we should never catch them up. Secondly, we have not the manpower to do that, and, at the same time, concentrate the energy which we must concentrate on research and experiment with gas turbines, and on a great many other things into which I will not go in detail. From our point of view now, with our manpower position, civil aviation has no very high priority. It cannot and should not have. Alternatively, are we to buy American aircraft and try to become the air-carriers of the world in the next five years by 1302 beating them at their own game? Once again I say that the answer should be emphatically, "No." In the first place, there is the difficulty of dollars. Then if we are in fact, using someone else's home-produced article we are always one behind them in design. It is like ourselves supplying Spitfires to a foreign army. Our own are always ahead of those we sell abroad. We should be in the same position, and we should never beat them at their own game with their own aircraft.
Thirdly, I am not sure if many people are aware of it, but it is most doubtful if the American lines at the moment are actually paying. There have been various discussions on mergers and so on. It is interesting to read in the "Herald Tribune" this morning that T.W.A., one of the biggest airlines, is having one of its general meetings today; and commenting upon it the correspondent said that it was in a very strong position because in the last few months it had lost less than the other two big American firms. It is difficult to give figures, but they are probably losing money. For us to buy their aircraft and compete with them at something at which they are not even making a success is, at the moment, plainly out of the question. Therefore, it seems to me that we have to accept the very unpleasant fact that for the next five years we shall have to do with makeshift civil aviation. Our employees in the Corporation will resent it, and will try and change our policy if they can do so. We cannot possibly expect people to like flying in second-best aircraft; but our chance in the field of civil aviation is our great skill in designing engines and airframes and is in the future.
Therefore, I come to the long-term problem. What are we in fact doing in our efforts to produce the world's best aircraft? The problem is easily stated. The gas turbine is the most powerful unit in the world. At the moment, the airframes available will not take it higher than about 20,000 feet. At 20,000 feet the engine consumes too much fuel and is not economical. So the problem is that the engine designers have to try to cut down the fuel consumption and make more economical, and the airframe designers have to lift the aircraft higher in the air so that it can go much further on less fuel. That is what the scientific battle is about at the moment. How is it 1303 going? What are our chances? It is important, because the country has such great hopes that we may succeed, that we should not mislead people and that we should know where we stand, and how much of our manpower is being given to it.
Up to a point it is going well, according to my information. In spite of a great loss in the death of Geoffrey De Havilland much was learned from the De Havilland prototype. I am told that the De Havilland 106, which is coming into the experimental stage, is thought very highly of and may be—we can only say may be—not merely the best bread and butter aircraft, not I would say for long distances but for secondary distances in the world, but a revolutionary aircraft, flying much faster and further and with greater economy than any other. It is one of the planks on which our future civil aviation policy may be built. Even here there has been a slight setback. This illustrates the point on which the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) touched. I am informed and it is common knowledge to those in the industry that De Havillands are a firm who like to make the airframe and the engine. They started these aircraft with their own engines. One of the incentives to the production of this engine was the fact that the R.A.F. had given a large order for this type of aircraft. Now I am informed, and it is not surprising in view of the cuts in the Air Force, that the R.A.F. have had to cancel that order. The firm is to consider the introduction of another engine into this airframe. That obviously introduces very great difficulties—and this also illustrates one of the difficulties for private enterprise to overcome in this field. As the hon. Member for Worcester pointed out, any Air Force want as many aeroplanes as they can get, whereas civil aviation companies want as few as they can get. If a firm is working for civil aviation the company has to catch a large part of the markets of the world to make a profit on any large scale, and it a blow when the R.A.F. refuse to take any more deliveries when the firm is banking on such an order. On the other hand, the alternative engine which they may use may prove as good and might not need much modification.
Over the rest of the field I do not think that the picture is quite so hopeful as it 1304 was a year ago. I think that we have to accept the fact that the Tudor I has been a failure. I am again informed that B.O.A.C. are not likely to take it, even if it ever comes into production. Tudor 11 is suffering from some of the same difficulties—difficulties at take off and so on —and is regarded with some suspicion. The Minister may deny that, but that is the fact I am informed by people inside the industry. These aircraft were designed first as part of an interim programme to try to carry us through until research had given us the aircraft we wanted; now I think we must recognise, they have to be regarded as part of the research work. I am in favour of putting in jet engines, experimenting at high altitudes, and getting all the information we can from them, but I doubt whether these two aircraft, or the types likely to come from them, will give us bread and butter aircraft across the Atlantic and over the Empire. I am not suggesting that the matter should not be pressed on.
Another disturbing fact is that our main experiment at the moment is undoubtedly on a type and size of aircraft which have never been flown anywhere. They are bigger than anything that has yet been flown, and the firm which has built them has never built anything of a comparable size. I do not say for one moment that it is not a good thing to be adventurous and daring in an experiment of this kind, but we have to recognise that the Brabazon and the Saunders-Roe aircraft have yet to come off the experimental lines to yet tested. At the moment we are not planning an aircraft with a gas turbine which is going to be a standard aircraft to cover the Empire and to cover the Atlantic. If this experiment fails we shall be left to begin again and it is all a little disturbing. The performance and the estimate of even these mammoth aircraft are constantly being revised. I am told that originally it was hoped that the Brabazon would be able to carry 80 passengers on a non-stop flight to New York, but that now it has been reduced to as low as 20. The actual estimate of performance and estimate are being cut down.
§ Mr. Crawley
That is my information and if it is wrong the Minister no doubt will deny it. I was told the same thing on reliable information in regard to the Saunders-Roe flying boat, and that there 1305 was a difficulty about the engine because the engine which was originally to be used was cancelled by the Admiralty. These two aircraft constitute our main hope and experiment, and it does not look at the moment as if the performances are quite as reassuring as we were originally told. I do urge that besides these two mammoth aircraft, which are highly experimental, the corporations and the Ministry should concentrate on getting what I would call our bread and butter machine with a gas turbine which has not such a highly experimental character. If they did that they would have a reserve in hand should these mammoth aircraft produce difficulties which they very easily might.
To sum up, I would emphasise once again that it does seem to me we are still in the experimental stage. It is not a good thing to over paint the picture or to encourage people to think that within four or five years this country is likely to be able to capture the civil aviation carrying trade of the world. I believe that we may do it within ten years and that our efforts should be concentrated upon doing it. Finally I would urge that we should try to get one type of bread and butter aircraft for the Atlantic service besides the two giants with which we are now experimenting.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
Other Members have declared their non-interest in the civil aviation industry and I think that I should again indicate that I have an interest in the operational side of aircraft but not in their manufacture. I have made that point clear on a previous occasion. I agree with the first half of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley). I thought it very good, but with the latter half, when he criticised the aircraft, I could not agree because I do not think any of us know enough about these aircraft. I reserve my judgment to some extent until the Minister gives us more information, but I shall say one or two things that I have been told although I do not know how accurate the information is.
The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper), who is not at the moment in his place, referred to the technical director of B.O.A.C. I disagree entirely with what he said. I myself have 1306 been very critical about ex-R.A.F. officers taking high appointments in the industry, but I think in this case that Sir Victor Tait has a wide experience. He was adviser on aviation to the Egyptian Government 16 years ago and he has a great knowledge of radar and of aviation generally. I think it is an admirable appointment and it should have the support of the House as a whole.
As I said in my maiden speech delivered earlier in this Parliament, I think we had a very raw deal from the Americans towards the end of the war. Personally, I think it set British aviation back by years. We gave them radar; we gave them help with the Merlin engines, and what did we get in exchange? Nothing except that in the Lend-Lease agreement we were prevented from doing any work on aircraft similar to their own types, such as the Dakota. I think that that was a most unfair arrangement. Many of us in this country under-estimated the time it takes to build a modern aeroplane. We expect the draughtsmen to get busy and in a matter of two or three years to have the aeroplane flying on the world's routes. It is not so easy as that; it takes years. The Constellation aircraft which we are using at the moment on the Atlantic route was on the drawing boards in 1938 and we are still having troubles with it. We should bear that in mind when considering our own types.
I believe that America should have given us licences to build the Skymaster and the Constellation in this country at the end of the war, with British engines, if necessary. Had we done that we should have saved two or three years in time and we should have got valuable experience in the building of modern aircraft. We would very soon have had them on our routes and it would have been a financial saving to this country. We should have been on a level with the Americans, but as things are that is not so. We have to take stock of the situation as we see it today. My view is that we are trying to build too many types of aircraft. Some have referred to all our eggs being in one basket. I think that there are far too many eggs. We should review the whole situation and see where we stand in this civil aviation business. I do not say we have been muddling along and the hon. Gentleman opposite has taken over a legacy from the war, but I think we 1307 should really decide what we are going to do today. I for one would give the British manufacturer a really square deal and the chance to get going.
If we do not do that, in the future we may never catch up, not even in 20 or 30 years' time. In the case of big ships America has never been able to build a Queen Elizabeth or a Queen Mary because we are ahead of them in the design of big ships, and unless we get busy we are going to have similar trouble in the building of large aircraft. We have to get the data from operating big ships in the air. I admit that last year it was necessary to buy the Constellations in order to help us operate in the next two or three years. It was better to do that than that British airways should wait until we had built suitable aircraft. I hope the position with regard to the Tudor I and II will be cleared up tonight as far as that is possible. I have heard many stories of these aircraft. I have been told that in the trip to South Africa certain calibrations were not carried out. The aircraft was not flown at the height at which it was intended to fly. Then A. V. Rae and Rolls Royce had representatives on board, but they were not allowed to send reports back to England. We want to get the co-operation of the manufacturers so that we can get the information back into the factories and know exactly how we stand. For such officials to be told that they cannot send reports is obstruction by somebody and should not be allowed.
The Tudor I has a certificate of airworthiness and has been through all its tests. It has been to Boscombe Down and passed the Air Registration Board and, presumably, it should be a suitable aeroplane, but after eight months it is still not on the routes. If it has a certificate of airworthiness either it is suitable or someone should not have given that certificate, and the whole set-up requires thinking over again. In my view, to obtain a certificate of airworthiness, an aeroplane should not just go down to Boscombe Down, do a certain amount of flying and then be certified after doing a few takeoffs and a little local flying. It should be proved on the routes it is intended to fly and should undergo very exhaustive tests, so that there may be no doubt that when it comes into service everybody will 1308 be happy about it. I say put the Tudor I on to any route—even the Icelandic route —to get experience. I understand that the British South American airways are going to take this machine. I think that is a very good answer if that is the case, and the sooner the better.
I should like here to pay a tribute to the Vikings, to which my hon. Friend referred this afternoon, because it was a great engineering feat to build that machine such a short time after the war, but I say that with one or two reservations. Yesterday I flew back from Copenhagen in a Viking operated by Danish Airlines. In the course of a very good Danish meal at 12,000 feet in a gale, I sat next to one of the officials of the Danish Airlines who told me that as the result of modifications in the de-icing system the liquid which flows over the wing to disperse the ice is now corroding the metal because the aluminium is not of sufficiently good quality. That is I very serious matter and I do not know whether the Minister was aware of the fact, but it means that the wing has now to be sprayed with a lacquer or aluminium paint since otherwise it will be a very poor advertisement for British aircraft. The official was very disturbed about this, and when we crossed the Suffolk coast at Southwold the emergency door blew off its hinges and hit the tail plane. The air hostess was laid out by the wind that came in there was a considerable to do and I had to go along and tell the pilot what had happened. I am only pointing out all this because I feel that we must not put aircraft into service before they have been proved. It will absolutely ruin our trade. The Viking is a perfectly good aeroplane but I am convinced that it went into service far too soon—perhaps six months too soon. It was laid up for four months with de-icing difficulties and now there are the incidents of yesterday. I implore the Minister to explore the position with the makers and to see what can be done. Otherwise, as I say, it will ruin the trade which would bring us in good Scandinavian currency with which to buy food for our people.
I should like to say a word or two on the Marathon—another good Brabazontype aircraft which has been developed by the Miles Company. Last year the Corporations turned it down as being un-suitable; now they have changed their 1309 minds and ordered some, and I am told that it is even better than the original specification. Why was it ever turned down at all? It should have been ordered last year and not put off. On the subject of the Brabazon type I should like to ask whether landing facilities are satisfactory for this enormous machine. I understand that we built the large runway at Filton without any night flying equipment, which means that modifications will have to be made at a later date. The only airports at which the Brabazon can land, so am told, are Filton and New York. I understand that Prestwick is not big enough and that modifications will have to be carried out. I hope that arrangements will be made soon in time for tests to be carried out so that there is no difficulty of having a diversionary air load.
I should like to say to the right hon. Gentleman that the industry would be better off if his Ministry had a little less to do with directing the types of aeroplanes to be built. I think we want direct consultation between the constructors and the operators. On specifications of equipment the Ministry can perhaps help—on test apparatus like wind tunnels and so on—but generally speaking we want the Corporations going to the manufacturers, sitting round a table and working out their own aeroplane. We do not want these middlemen coming in, delaying matters and causing difficulty all along the line. There is a divided responsibility between the Minister of Civil Aviation and the Minister of Supply whereas somebody should accept the whole responsibility.
We have heard quite a lot today about military aircraft and I do hope that our Royal Air Force will accept some measure of responsibility for sharing in specifications for civil aircraft. This has been done in America—for example, in connection with the Skymaster which as a military aircraft, was known as the C54 and was really proved by the American Air Force before it came into service as a civil machine. As we know, it is probably one of the best airliners in the world today, and I hope the Royal Air Force will collaborate with the Ministry of Civil Aviation in this respect and that where transport aircraft are required specifications will be drawn up in such a way that the machine produced will be suitable for our civil air routes. What is the position about the civil aviation industry as a 1310 whole? I am a bit worried about the capacity of one or two of our factories. I know of one which was told towards the end of the war that its peacetime capacity would not fall below 20 per cent. of its wartime output, whereas in fact it is down to 3 per cent. We have to attach the gravest importance to civil aviation because otherwise we shall lose world markets in many respects where we can go out and trade with our own aircraft.
Before concluding, I would ask the Minister to give very serious consideration to the flying boat. That is something at which we are better and more experienced than the Americans, but I think that at Saunders-Roe we are trying to build a machine which is too big. I do not think that Saunders-Roe have the capacity to build an aircraft in the time in which we shall require it and I would rather see a flying boat two-thirds of the size being built at Cowes which we could bring into operation in great numbers so as to bring relief for the difficulties of certain aerodromes, in spite of what my hon. Friend said about the cost of maintaining the flying boat. Let us get the Government factory at Shorts—who have a great experience behind them—on to this job Are Shorts really producing a flying boat which can be used? I hope incidentally, that Langston Harbour will have a fair deal in being made the base for the operation of the flying boat instead of the one down in the Thames.
I trust that in future we shall be given rather more information about the operation of our aircraft and airlines. I hope that we shall be told the cost of operating a route, that traffic receipts will be divided up as between mail, freight and passengers. and that the distances flown will be disclosed. I believe that if this kind of information is made public it will help the factories and the young men who are studying aircraft design. It will even help the Charter companies who are trying in a modest way to make a living. I believe that if we all pull together we have the ability. We have the finest pilots in the world and the best engineers, but we have to get out of the muddle in which we are today. I beg of the Minister to get together all the people he can—we will all help if we are of any use—and to sort out the problems which confront us. But this must be done in the immediate future 1311 if we are to catch up with the Americans. If it is done, I am certain that we can lead the world within five years from now.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
After the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey), the House will appreciate with what diffidence I enter this Debate. The experts, if I may say so, seem to wander to the ends of the earth on these occasions, talking about Tudor I's and Tudor II's, but there is one important reason why some of us wish to enter these Debates, and that is the reason which was contained in the speech made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum). He raised the most important question of our internal services, and emphasised what I am most interested in as one representing the Highlands and Islands. In a public service of this kind, emphasis should be laid upon the needs of the community, especially in those places where there are inadequate alternative services. I cannot hope to deal with all the technicalities of this subject, and I am not going to attempt to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) dealt with the important subject of crash survivability, but my crash survivability would not be adequate to the occasion if I attempted to go into these technical matters.
I have the responsibility of serving, on behalf of the Highlands and Islands, on the Scottish Advisory Council of Civil Aviation purely from the consumers' angle, and I try to see things from that point of view. We recognise the difficulty the Ministry has, both in regard to the shortage of aircraft, and in regard to the inadequacy of suitable landing places and servicing facilities in the Highlands and Islands. The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll raised the question of the use of helicopters. I know there are many technical difficulties in this matter, and the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield had a few practical things to say about these machines. He said that we should not over-estimate the speed with which we can develop new types and get them into production. We would stress on the Minister the desirability, in consultation with the Post Office, of making these helicopters available as soon as possible, because they are a definite 1312 practical proposition in the Highland and Island areas. If I stress the Maims of the Highlands and Islands, it is because they have as much right to a public service of this type as any other part of the country. We cannot be supplied by the ordinary aeroplane, because there are places where air strips and tarmac landings cannot be provided. It is no use telling us that we must wait until we can get these services going because of the element of cost which is involved. We recognise that many of the services must be run on paying routes where there are paying loads, but there will always be this heavy cost limitation. Secondly, it is no use saying that there are natural features and difficulties to be overcome, because many of these never will be overcome. There are natural suitable places which could be made available on the West Coast without heavy expenditure, but these places are very few indeed when one comes down to study them in a practical way.
The answer, therefore, must be found in something which does not require an airfield in the ordinary sense of the word. We may find it in the shape of some interim machine, which has the virtue of a slow take-off and a slow landing speed. I do not know how far such a machine has been developed, but I can visualise places where even that type of machine will not be able to operate. We consider that these places have the right to the same facilities as other parts of the country, and I hope that they will be borne in mind in any discussions which take place, because we tend to talk in a global way at a very high and luxurious level. We ought not to neglect the needs of the people in the smaller communities who are now so badly served with a transport system. The Post Office can usefully co-operate in these matters, and this has been in the minds of other hon. Members, apart from the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll—the hon. Member for the Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. MacLeod), as well as others. If we cannot get together in a Coalition Government, we can at least get together in a coalition in the air for the good of the Highlands and Islands.
The hon. and gallant Member has already tabulated the uses which can be made of the helicopter. It has the great 1313 advantage that it can make a table-top landing and it has a high degree of safety. Its value in the Post Office services can hardly be over-emphasised, especially in the smaller places we have in mind. It has a value in rescue work, in supplying small places cut off by snowdrifts, in spotting the depredations by trawlers among the islands and bays, and in spotting shoals for the fishing industry. Helicopters have all these virtues, and it seems to be only a question of further development in certain technical matters to put them into service generally. Highland Members were very impressed by a demonstration of one of these machines. We were all duly impressed, and were enthusiastic in regard to the way that this machine could be used in these areas. I do not apologise in any way for stressing the claims of these people for helicopters when they become available, or when a more advanced type of machine than the one we admired in the demonstration near London a few weeks ago comes into production. Sometimes we are told that it will be 10 years, and sometimes we are told that it will be five years before we shall see a machine with a slow landing and takeoff speed, which will not be a helicopter but a more orthodox type. Meanwhile, we are thrown back to this type, or something very like it, for serving these areas in which we are interested. I compliment my hon. and gallant Friend on having had the luck of the draw on this occasion, and for having chosen this subject. To put it at its very highest, the people in these areas have not the attention of the Ministries all of the time.
I want to raise with the Minister the question of the naval base, unpronounceable but easily remembered, though—one would hardly think it sometimes—at Sollas in the Island of North Uist. For 12 years the Island had an air service but something went wrong there which perhaps the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) knows about—
§ Mr. MacMillan
Many things went wrong but we did not pinch the aerodrome; somebody bought the island and all sorts of complications arose. We are told that because an ordinary type of aircraft cannot land there safely with a full load, except for ambulance purposes, we cannot 1314 have a service after 12 years. When you have accustomed people to be air-minded —and they quickly become air-minded there—and then cut off their service, it is rather hard. If they had not sampled the advantages of quick air travel they would perhaps have been happier today. They strongly resent the fact that no decision has been reached, either on putting the airstrip into condition, or of finding some type of aircraft that can be used to resume the service. I want the Minister to give some indication to us, after all the years we have had the service, and after all the months I have been pressing to get it resumed, about resuming the service. It is the only one of the larger islands which is cut off, and I would ask him to take some definite action on that point.
That ends all the matters with which I have to deal except to emphasise once again that we feel that in this area the helicopter, or a new development of it, is the answer. We certainly could not have a seaplane service in most of those places requiring air strips and maintenance, for it would not be a paying proposition, and it would not be a practical proposition for natural reasons.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Sir Basil Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)
I Share with the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) a certain diffidence in intervening in this Debate when so many hon. Members have spoken with far greater knowledge and experience than either he or I can claim,. but we share this in common, that we have watched the development of air services in our respective Divisions very keenly from the start, and have been constant users of them. It may be, therefore, that out of the contacts I have had, I may be able to make one or two helpful remarks in this Debate.
I shall not deal with the air services in general because that is not the subject of this Debate, but there is this to be said, that the pioneers of these lines, besides their own skill and enterprise, had behind them the extremely sound design and construction that have gone into machines like the De Havilland Rapide—a most remarkable machine with a wonderful record of service in this part of the world. The secret has been the good design and the proper maintenance of the machines anti, of course, the skilful operation, to 1315 which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) referred. However, these machines are now becoming obsolete, partly because of speed—though I do not attach much importance to that—but chiefly because of size, the carrying capacity of passengers and mails and so on. I want to know from the Parliamentary Secretary exactly what will be put in place of these machines by British European Airways who are now responsible. At the moment we have the Jupiter, ex-Junker, of which I have forgotten the German name—
§ Sir B. Neven-Spence
I think the German nickname was the "Flying Tool Box" but I have forgotten the exact word. It is only a temporary expedient, and we hope that European Airways will produce fairly soon a more up-to-date machine than that. One point has been put to me strongly from the people who have been responsible for the maintenance of the D.H. Rapide in the North of Scotland, and my hon. and gallant Friend referred to it in another connection when he spoke of fluid causing corrosion on a new type of plane. The point is that, especially in the North of Scotland, the Western Isles, the Orkneys, the Shetlands, Wick and so on, where there are a rocky coast and heavy seas, the air is laden with salt water to an incredible extent. That causes a tremendous amount of corrosion, and nothing but extremely capable maintenance has prevented accidents occurring on these lines in the areas where they have been in existence. Great attention should be paid to the possibility of having the surface of those aeroplanes constructed of wood. There is nothing against it. The Mosquito is a wood-constructed plane and I believe it would be for the safety of the public if the planes used in that part of the world were of wooden construction.
Now that the sound design of the old D.H. Rapide is going out of use, inland communications in the North of Scotland will have to be revolutionised. The problem of the main line service has been solved. I do not attach much importance to extra speed in any new planes because it does not much matter to me on a 180-mile journey whether I do it at 150 or at 100 miles an hour. What is of supreme 1316 importance is maximum reliability when crossing water. The problem is how to extend the benefits which have been brought by these main line services. We come up against the problem to which the hon. Member for the Western Isles referred, namely, the great difficulty, owing to the nature of the land. I remember during the last Election being landed on an island where we had to come in on the edge of a cliff 200 feet high, touch down at once with a 400 yards strip ahead, and a drop down 200 feet at the other end. That does not give very much to come and go upon, and we cannot build up a public service with that kind of thing. Really we need other types of aircraft for spreading the benefit of the main line services. What these types are to be is a matter for experiment now.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) referred to the possibility of aircraft with slow landing speed. They, undoubtedly, would be useful in places like the Orkneys, where there is a good deal of flat land. Then we come to the other problem—one hon. Member referred to the possibility of amphibians, but I am not sure about the opportunities there. I think the solution of the problem will come from something of the helicopter type. I have no intention of reiterating the points made by the hon. Member for the Western Isles and the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll, except to dot the is and cross the t's of what they said. Undoubtedly, something of that kind is what we want. The Director of B.E.A. announced the other day that he had secured three Sikorski's from the United States. I think that is probably a good thing to do as we are much behind in the development of that kind of aircraft through no fault of our own. That type, I think it is the S.51, was fairly fully developed before the war and was used in the Services. I saw one flying about the Orkneys throughout the war, and was given an opportunity of flying in one the other day. I am sure something of that kind will be the answer. I am told there are something like 60 of these S.51's in daily use round New York, and I wonder very much why we do not use them in this country. I would like to see them in use. What are B.E.A.C. doing to help in the development of this type of aircraft? Without the slightest doubt something of this kind would be the 1317 solution to our problems in that part of the world. I think there are four companies working on prototypes at present. I would like to know whether any help is being given, whether we are really looking ahead in this matter, and whether, as soon as these are available, we will have in usable form such types put into use in those parts, so that we may have the full benefit from the development of our main lines. If the Minister agrees to send up one of these Sikorski's as an experiment in the islands, I will be willing to lend him my body for use in the machine, with the proviso that the hon. Member for the Western Isles will do the same.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock (Derby)
So many points which I would have touched upon nave been so excellently dealt with on both sides of the House, that I can be quite brief, and merely put a few questions to the Minister. First, I must declare that I am interested in the operating side of aircraft—very interested indeed, having been connected with it for many years.
My first question is a policy question. I do not know, and I should be most grateful for the information, how the aircraft industry receives its orders. What proportion of the industry's output go to the Royal Air Force, what proportion to the Fleet Air Arm, and what proportion to the Corporations, and then, what is left for private charter companies, or export? In other words, is there some authority which says to the aircraft industry that a certain factory will concern itself solely with military aircraft for the Royal Air Force, while another is concerned with aircraft for civil aviation, and so on? This is a fundamental question, and I hope I shall have a reply to it. The Minister may say that it is a matter for the Cabinet as it is a matter of such importance. If that is so, I can hardly believe that Cabinet Ministers in these days are able to give this matter very close attention. We might be getting into the position in which we have unbalanced distribution, and an undue proportion of our resources going to the military side when in fact they should go to the civil side. On the other hand, it might be quite the reverse, and the military people may be liable to suffer. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) touched upon the similarity between certain types of military and civil aircraft. If 1318 there is a controlling authority in this matter, is it made quite clear to the manufacturer that civil aircraft should be produced which is equally good for military purposes? A good passenger aircraft, which we should produce in this country for civil needs, is precisely the same type of aircraft that we need in the Royal Air Force for carrying troops. I regard that as a highly important matter, and I will be most grateful if the Minister can say how the allocation is made.
Another question I would put is that of the control between various factors of aviation, between design of aircraft, aerodrome construction, and control and safety aids. Are we getting ahead in one direction, but lagging behind in another? Are we producing aircraft which will never get on to the airways we are creating? Are we endeavouring to reduce the landing speed of aircraft where necessary or merely building longer runways? There is great opportunity for waste of money in this matter. We are producing the Brabazon I, but I have never heard a Minister say that the Brabazon I will ever fly from London to New York non-stop with a pay load. Perhaps the Minister will answer that now? if that cannot be done, production on that aircraft should stop, but if it can be done, we should get on with the production in quite considerable numbers as eventually it will save dollars. I also wish to plead for the flying boat. Everyone is sympathetic towards the flying boat, but no one is helping very much about it. We have not even decided on the best flying boat base. Some say that it should be the Thames, and some that it should be the South Coast. This matter should be decided early, and progress should be made, because we cannot operate the boats until we have a suitable base.
Some of these vital matters must be cleared up immediately so that we can get ahead, and our aircraft industry be economically planned. It is rather fashionable for the aircraft industry to blame Ministers if anything goes wrong, but is the aircraft industry as efficient as it should be? I am rather doubtful. I think there are some concerns which have never produced anything original, unless it is cigarette lighters. They must not be too smug in these matters. A certain number of aircraft firms are anything but efficient. It is not always the fault of the Ministry. I hope the Minister will find it convenient 1319 to reply to the questions I have asked. It would be quite refreshing if he did so, because he seldom gives a reply.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Perhaps the hon. Member will agree that delays some of the firms are faced with are quite outside their own control because materials are held up? I think he will agree that firms are faced with very great handicaps.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock
I agree with that, but I do not think that the aircraft industry should, on its own side, be too smug. There is room for improvement in the aircraft industry and in many concerns, and I am sure that it is within the knowledge of the hon. and gallant Member that the Government had to step in, in some instances, during the war and take control.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
Like one or two other hon. Members who have spoken, I cannot claim to be an expert in this matter of aviation; but I wish briefly to emphasise one or two points. First, in the construction of aircraft for civil aviation purposes in Great Britain, the problem is not one of huge air liners, such as we have been discussing. Construction should be based on user need, and if we do not follow that, I am sure that some of these great and brilliant experts will be carried away by their own enthusiasm for certain types of aircraft to be constructed to meet different problems, and the British ones will be neglected. I cannot help feeling that the Advisory Council which has been set up should be a useful means of getting to know what is actually required, for instance in Scotland. It is high time that the Minister administered a tremendous dose of ginger to the Scottish Advisory Council. I am indeed glad to hear that the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) has now joined that rather undistinguished band. I hope that he will put some life into it, because it is practically moribund at the moment, as is civil aviation altogether in Scotland. We do not want that to continue.
I am quite sure that, as the hon. Member for the Western Isles and one or two other Members have pointed out, the question of having the right kind of aeroplane to land easily in a small space is one of the most important matters we have to 1320 face. An example is provided, if the Minister will forgive me for returning to the subject, by the aerodrome at Errol, which has been selected to serve the two cities of Perth and Dundee. Both these cities are important. It does not require me to say which is the more important. Both are being served by one aerodrome, which is quite unsuitable from the point of view of distance and everything else. It has been chosen to do the job for both cities because, as was pointed out, the aerodrome close to Dundee, almost in it, is unsuitable for landing aircraft.
§ Mr. Speaker
Is not the hon. and gallant Member dealing with the construction of aerodromes, and not the production of aeroplanes?
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
I was trying to emphasise that unless we construct the aeroplanes which can use the aerodromes close to cities, we shall never solve the problem. I may have gone a little way round in stating that, but that is the point I am trying to emphasise. I know that the question of this aerodrome has been settled, and I am not trying to raise it again. It is a case in which user need has not received full recognition, and I hope that the Minister will say that that is to be done much more in the future, than it has been done in the past.
On the question of Tudors, we have all been led to hope that here we had something which would really do a big job. There was a launching in great style and everything was going well, but no decision has been taken about Tudors, because people are not sure about them. The only decision taken about the Tudor is to call one of them "Mary Stuart". Of all organising achievements, I think that of calling a Tudor machine "Mary Stuart" is terrific. I would like to hear something about what is to be done in the matter of Tudors.
§ 7.14 p.m
§ Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)
After listening to all the really expert knowledge that has been brought to bear in this discussion about the construction of civil aircraft, one thing that has struck me as remarkable is that I have never had any difficulty about the safety of civil aircraft. Ever since the opportunity has been afforded to Members of this House, I have been flying regularly up and down 1321 from Renfrew to London. All these difficulties we hear about with regard to getting a plane that is absolutely safe never occur to me. One can get a plane which is fast, and safe. The difficulty is to fix a price that will make it an economic proposition. After watching the developments of B.E.A.C. and B.O.A.C., I have come to the conclusion, rather reluctantly, that what is happening today is that because Government money is behind the development of the whole scheme, someone is just experimenting ad lib. until the product is absolutely perfect and the last word, before we get it into operation. That is the feeling I have. I do not know how long this is to go on. I went to Farnborough, at the invitation of the Minister, to see the experiments which are going on there, and most wonderful planes. I saw this great Tudor, a 60-seater, rising. There was no tail wobble, or anything like that. It rose 'beautifully into the air, and turned round, and the Members of Parliament stood in wonder and watched it descend. I have never heard anything about it since, and that was over a year ago. I do not know what has happened, or when it is to begin carrying something.
I have been travelling up and down on that four-hundred mile route which was started with the old D.H. Rapides, carrying six passengers—leaving Renfrew, with a short run, in perfect safety, landing at Speke and having a cup of tea at that aerodrome, and then coming on to London, with no trouble at all. The plane, carrying six passengers, could have landed in Hyde Park. Instead of that it was diverted to Croydon. I have travelled in a Dakota on a long journey from London to Vienna, and in converted Dakotas from Renfrew to Northolt, and there has been not the slightest difficulty about it. But there was a series of crashes with that unfortunate machine, which, on investigation, will be discovered to have been due to the fact that it was being run as a economic proposition. It was being overloaded—even 'in this country—to try to make it an economic proposition. The makers say that it will carry 25,000 lb. We say that it will not pay us, so we make it carry 28,000 lb.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Mr. Lindgren) indicated dissent.1322
§ Mr. Scollan
What is the use of blaming modern aeroplanes for not being able to do what is required, if we overload them because we are not prepared to make people pay extra? At the present stage of aeroplane construction, the price must be fixed on the basis of safety.
§ Mr. Lindgren
In view of my hon. Friend's insistence on the safety aspect, I am sure that he will not mind my intervening to say that at the special instigation of my noble Friend, the Air Safety Board specially considered the safe load for a Dakota, and decided that, given the other circumstances necessary regarding the type of aerodrome, etc., 28,000 lb. is a safe all-up weight for the Dakota.
§ Mr. Scollan
I accept that. It is probably true. I am not in a position to deny it or confirm it, but it is rather remarkable that the makers say 25,000 lb., and I would trust the maker of the plane rather than someone who sits down and says, "What can we carry at a certain price?" I have travelled in a Dakota, with its 28,000 lb. weight, and it was perfectly safe. The weather was good, however, and I do not know how it would have behaved if the weather had not been so favourable. One cannot tell with any degree of certainty. The House is now getting the expert opinion of a passenger, and he is the fellow who has to pay the bill, and who knows what he wants. If the passenger is not consulted, I do not know that there is very much use in having experts. A Passenger does not worry about the beauty of the construction of a Viking, a Tudor or a Brabazon, or anything else, if he is going to be spilled out of it. I have been an observant passenger. I think that the Government should take into consideration, in regard to internal services, the fact that this is not a big island. An excellent service could be run in this country with an aircraft which was something between the de Havilland six-seater and the Dakota 20-seater.
I sometimes think that our experts on aeroplane construction have not got rid of the "Queen Mary" and the "Flying Scot" mentality. They are carrying the psychology of modern train and boat services, into sphere in which it is not suitable at all. That is my honest opinion. My experience is that anybody can fly a de Havilland. I think that the ordinary Rapide is one of the safest planes that 1323 goes in the air. Some of the others are the safest on earth. I hope that it is not outwith the limits of possibility for the Ministry to consider the construction of a plane which is a cross between the Rapide and the Dakota. That would be the best type of plane for our domestic services. It could be used on our existing aerodromes without any necessity for extending runways.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)
This has become almost a Scottish day and so I suppose that it is not altogether inappropriate that a Scotsman, even though one who lives away from his own country, should bring this Debate to a close as far as the Opposition is concerned. Two months ago we had a long and interesting Debate, much interrupted by points of Order, on the Civil Air Estimates. Attention was then drawn to the fact that though the Government were asking for a good deal more money for civil aviation than they had asked for originally—and that seemed a good deal to some of us— they had failed to spend on British aircraft 2,000,000 which had been voted in the original Civil Estimate. We were not then able to discuss the question of production. Now we are, and I think everybody is grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) who drew a place in the ballot and chose this subject for discussion.
There is widespread public interest in this matter, far greater than the attendance in this House this evening would suggest. There is also considerable concern at what is generally regarded as our failure to fly British on all possible lines. The general public cannot understand how it is that a country that undoubtedly led the world during the war years, at a time when one man and woman in every ten in this country was working on the manufacture of aircraft or aircraft components, should now undoubtedly be taking a second place in the field of civil aviation. We know perfectly well that it takes a long time for an aeroplane to be produced. It is often said that there are at least five years between the twinkle in the inventor's eye and the aeroplane taking the air with its load of passengers. As, no doubt, this will be said again tonight by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister, I hope that the Socialist Party will remember that a 1324 little more than they do when they continue to criticise the Government of Mr. Chamberlain for what they regarded as their failure to prepare an Air Force to meet the emergencies of war, for the aeroplanes which fought and conquered the Germans in the war years took just as long to make at a time when public money was not freely voted for aviation as it is today.
It is important that we should get this thing in perspective and not let it go out to the country and the world that Britain is behind in all fields of aircraft production. We are not. We are leading in many fields. I will come shortly, if I may, to the field of the export trade and show what our buyers overseas think about our aircraft. It is important to get it in perspective. Our one big failure is the failure at this minute to have any long-range British land planes in use on our Empire or the Atlantic routes. It is to that that we should primarily address ourselves. From this failure, certain things flow. There is, of course, a great loss of prestige in that there is no big British land plane at the moment on the Empire routes or flying the North Atlantic. That means that we are forced at this moment to buy American. This puts more money into the pockets of the American manufacturers who, at the moment, are doing remarkably well.
Boeing's order book has unfulfilled contracts of £50 million, to which we ourselves have lately added quite a handsome sum. This involves a heavy dollar expenditure by this country when every dollar we can save is invaluable. Finally, as many other buyers follow the British example and B.O.A.C.'s practices, it is bound to lead to a loss of trade for British land planes among friendly Powers in India, South Africa or Australia, and elsewhere. Their desire to buy British in this field was stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward). This has led to the fact that in the last published statement by B.O.A.C., which was laid on the Table of this House a few weeks ago, it was stated that out of a fleet 166 land planes, no fewer than 90 on 31st March, 1946, were American planes. That 166 included Oxfords and Ansons and all sorts of comparatively small aircraft which were required for various purposes by B.O.A.C. This was before the purchase of Constellations or Boeings.
1325 That is a pretty sad story. The reasons for it we know, and I cannot agree too much with those of my hon. Friends who have said that this is no party matter and that we will do all we can to treat this in a national way as part of a Council of State. But there are some things on the other side which are slightly more cheerful reading. In the same B.O.A.C. Report we see that three only of their 41 flying boats are United States flying boats, and that our order book shows 24 Short flying boats, 12 Plymouth, 12 Solents and three Saunders-Roe flying boats to he built. I agree with those hon. Members who have said that we ought to attach a great deal of importance to the development of flying boats. I am delighted that the Government have pinned their faith to flying boats. I am sure that they will be justified by history. I wish they could make up their minds whether they are going, to support the Ministry of Civil Aviation or the Admiralty, and settle quickly on flying boat bases, because this holds up all long-term planning.
I do not believe that the other Corporations have laid reports before this House or, if they have, I am afraid that I have not seen them. My information is that in B.E.A.C. there is a growing fleet of Vikings. We welcome the Viking back to air travel. I am glad that some of its main difficulties have been overcome. My information is that the Corporation have also ordered 50 Marathons and the remainder of the original order of 50 Vikings. In regard to British South American Airways, they are flying wholly British. The Lancastrians and the Yorks, with which they are carrying on a successful service, will later be followed by Tudors. I am glad to feel that that company have shown by a practical and sensible gesture their confidence in the Tudor aircraft. None the less, there is at present no long-range land plane of British construction flying on the North Atlantic route or on any of our Empire routes.
This has led to the purchase of American aircraft. I think any Government would have been forced to do this, regrettable though it is. In January, 1946, the Government announced the purchase of five Constellations. We on this side of the House gave a reluctant understanding to that purchase. In June we were given to understand that it would probably not be necessary to do it again. None the less in November the purchase of six Boeing 1326 strato-cruisers costing 12 million dollars was announced. Two months later—in January—came the ceremony of the christening of the Tudor, followed within a fortnight by a very depressing statement and now followed by rumours of the-possible purchase of further Constellations to be engined with Bristol engines, on which point I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give some definite and final statement tonight.
This leaves us to the belief that the Government have really not got a conscious plan in regard to the production and the use of long-range planes of this kind, and that they are in fact dealing by a series of ad hoc decisions with the problems that arise, and have no longterm plan to give us confidence in them for the future. Only the Government can prepare the plan. These are Government Corporations. We wish they were not but they are. Only the Government can plan for these Corporations. Are these purchases really only temporary purchases? Can we have a further assurance about that? Or are there people in a position to settle these things who really prefer American aircraft and are determined to advise that American aircraft shall be purchased? Have the Government made up their minds whether it is better to buy American aircraft, or better, even if they run uneconomically, to show the British flag at an early date on the North Atlantic route?
Some people have been arguing lately that we should cut our losses and concentrate on a programme of production some four or five years ahead. I am wholeheartedly against any such policy. I think it would be quite disastrous. I believe we ought to get the Tudor I into the air at the earliest possible date. We ought to try it out on suitable routes. We should seek to stop and remove the criticism of it and by practical tests on proper routes get, rid of its teething difficulties. Let us try the aircraft on the road. If the Government do that, the Opposition will give them their full support.
I do not agree with the people who say that we ought to leap to five years ahead. We cannot leap like that in any industry, least of all in the aircraft industry. It may be perfectly true that we cannot catch up the Americans in the next five years, but none the less if we decide to try to jump all the intervening stages, what sort of difficulties 1327 shall we come up against? Aeronautical design is evolutionary. We have to do each stage as a preparatory move to the next stage. We must go through all these stages and not leave some undeveloped and leap a generation ahead. We must also have continuing operational experience at every stage. To postpone production for five years would deprive us of five years of operational experience.
In the meantime the industry must live and keep its potential against possible danger; how much, I know from my own experience in M.A.P. in the last part of the war. How determined we were that certain firms should not be allowed to fall back during the inevitable contraction there would be after the war. Consideration was given to the labour force for the great aeronautical firms. I know how keen the present President of the Board of Trade was on this subject. If the Minister can say something on that it will give great confidence to the aircraft industry.
The industry must meanwhile live and export, and what chance has it of exporting successfully if British buyers cease to buy for five years? Apart from that, once operators get used to flying American planes—suppose they fly them for ten years—the British industry will come up against a great inertia when it tries to sell its products at a later stage. I am driven to the conclusion that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley) was right when he posed the various problems and came to the conclusion that we have now to be content with, what may appear to be a makeshift fleet; but in some part of that fleet let there be room at an early date for the Tudor I and, as soon as it is ready, the Tudor II. While doing that, let us, of course, concentrate as fast as we can and as closely as we can on jet development, and see that in 1951 in the next stage of this programme we are not once more confronted with the problems we are finding today. Let us overhaul our long-term plans and decide whether we are really satisfied with the two mammoth planes, the Brabazon I and the Saunders-Roe flying boat and with the de Havilland new venture, and whether we regard these three as being adequate to meet British needs in five years time.
1328 It is not really very profitable to concern ourselves a lot about how we got into this position. As one hon. Member said, the reason for recrimination about the past is to prevent it happening again. It is worth while sparing in the concluding speech a thought or two as to how these difficulties have arisen. In regard to the Tudors, for example, have the manufacturers had all the operational data they need? We are constantly being told privately by manufacturers that they have to rely on operational data obtained from foreigners and that they have the utmost difficulty in getting data out of our corporations and Government Departments. Are they getting all the priorities they need? Are they getting priorities in the realm of labour and materials, and are the users—the Corporations—being kept in close touch with the manufacturers? I was astonished to hear only yesterday from a great aircraft firm that only in the last few weeks have representatives of the Corporations come to live on the job while the construction of a great airliner is taking place. This has been going on for years and only about three or four weeks ago did a team arrive from the Corporation to live on the job and to be responsible with the manufacturer for the gradual evolution of a great leviathan. That is all I wish to say about the Tudors. I was anxious to stress it a little more because of the remarks of the hon. Member for Buckingham. It would be most unfortunate if his remarks got out as the view of either side of the House.
I do not think we have anything to worry about in regard to the quality of our manufacturers. The export figures to which I briefly referred earlier give sufficient denial of that. About a month ago the United States published statistics of the exports of our two great aircraft manufacturing powers for ten months of last year. Great Britain exported £7,500,000 worth of aircraft and aircraft components while the United States exported £14 million worth without accessories. It is true that many of our exports were war planes and so were theirs. A very high proportion of their exports were their surplus types that are running out; a rising proportion of our exports are the new types that are coming in. We should realise that firms like Bristols are doing remarkably well with their exports to the Argentine. We wish them good luck in their present sales voyage to Australia and 1329 New Zealand. Shorts have got orders in Norway; Miles in Portugal and South America; Vickers in India, Denmark and the Argentine; and de Havilland with their Doves selling everywhere. These are illustrations which show that British manufacturers can do the job and that critical Powers think well of their products. The United States are now putting down some of their "sales resistance," as they call it, in some parts of the world to the growing threat by the British export drive. It is due to no fault of the manufacturers, and certainly it is not due to a lack of good intentions on the part of the Government, but there must be some reason why, in the realm of big land planes, we have not solved our main difficulties.
During the war—and towards the end of the war, when I had the fortunate experience to serve for a time at the Ministry of Aircraft Production—we knew exactly what the users and operators needed. The Air Staff or the Naval Staff said what they wanted, and they got it, and nobody was in a position to prevent them from getting what they wanted. If they were being thwarted, they could threaten to resign, and the resignation of a high Service chief at a critical moment of the war was something no one would take lightly. There is a general feeling in the industry and throughout the country that too many people are still involved in the choice of British types and in the various processes before they take to the air, and that we do not have the supreme advantage which they have in the United States of direct contact between the user and the manufacturer. There is also a feeling that. the constant modifications which add enormously to the delay —and, in the case of the Tudor II, add to its overall weight—are not the result always of operational needs expressed by the users, but are the results of certain Ministerial insistence. In May of last year, Lord Winster said that the Ministry of Supply were only ordering for the Corporations as the Corporations had not yet come into being, leaving it to be assumed that when the Corporations did come into being, they would be allowed to order for themselves. I hope the Government will carry out what was undoubtedly their intention last May. It is true that a month later—and this is in accordance with good Socialist practice— another Minister said something quite 1330 different. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation said that, as long as the present stress continued, it was desirable that the production of aircraft should be focussed in the Ministry of Supply. I think that when a Cabinet Minister says one thing and a Parliamentary Secretary, however competent he may be, says another thing, the House is entitled to pay more regard to what the Cabinet Minister says. I hope we shall have operators in direct touch with the manufacturers instead of the present absurd system by which the Ministry of Civil Aviation places the order, on behalf of the Corporation, with the Ministry of Supply, who then go to the Treasury, and, if they get the Treasury's sanction, then go to the manufacturer. We want a single overall authority which can deal vigorously and effectively with the many problems involved, and can make up its mind quickly, and see that action immediately follows. Let the Government clear out of this business to the widest possible extent consistent with the undoubted difficulties that exist in the realms of labour, materials, and location of industry.
There is one field in which I hope the Government will not clear out of the business, and that is the field of research. Research has now become something that calls for so colossal a scale of expenditure as to put it far beyond the reach of any private firm, even if private firms were still living in calm and peace, feeling that if they did their job well they would not be disturbed by Government intervention. It has become something which only the Government and the Treasury can tackle. There are ominous rumours that the Government have decided on large cuts in expenditure on aeronautical development. I would like to hear something of what is happening at Cranfield. I would like to hear a great deal about whether the determination of the present President of the Board of Trade that, en whatever else we economise, we will not do so on research, has in fact prevailed against those in the Cabinet who may hold other views. This is not a field in which there ought to be any economy, even at a time like this when we have to go very sparingly in many other activities. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply, when he replies, will be able to give us an assurance that we have sufficient confidence in 1331 our future production to spend freely and fully now on the inevitable preparatory research.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ The Minister of Supply (Mr. John Wilmot)
I am sure the House will agree that the Debate has been on the highest level, and that this national problem has been faced without regard to party. Every hon. Member who has spoken has made a co-operative contribution to help us over this difficult period. I am grateful, not only for the spirit of the Debate, but for' the very many helpful suggestions that have been made, and the benefit we have received of the wide and varied experience of hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate. I want first, to reply to something that was said in the most informed and helpful speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd). I can give the hon. Member an absolute assurance that the Government have no intention of cutting down what is, I agree, most vital, research into aeronautical development. We believe, as I am sure the hon. Member believes, that it would be the height of folly to stint research in this most promising field of development in which I hope and believe we are in sight of regaining the lead.
This Debate has been a most valuable opportunity of raising certain matters on which there is a good deal of misunderstanding and some confusion, and certainly a need for wider knowledge of the facts. If hon. Members will bear with me for a short time, I will try to answer the many points and questions that have been put to me. I wonder whether there is anything quite so difficult in human endeavour as the design and manufacture of a modern aircraft. Certainly, there is nothing in engineering so complex within comparable size and weight. The tasks which have to be faced in producing a new aircraft are formidable indeed, when we remember that, compared with the history of transportation on land and on sea, the history of man's efforts to fly in the air covers a very brief space indeed. It embarked upon an entirely new element; the past had nothing to contribute. Yet, in spite of that short time, within the lifetime of all of us here, enormous technical advances have been made, to which I believe men of our own nation have made a major contribution.
1332 We have learned a lot, but our knowledge is far from complete. Aeronautics is not yet an exact science. It is a blend of scientific knowledge and artistic flair which still brings with it much uncertainty as to the results which will be achieved from a given design. Such is the speed of today's technical progrss and we are suffering from such an acute shortage of technicians that it is almost inevitable that a new type will go through many vicissitudes before it can be regarded as proved and satisfactory. Designers can predict the performance of a new aircraft with reasonable accuracy, but forecasts on such points as stability and handling are much more uncertain, and these are the points which are liable to cause great delays before all difficulties are overcome. After the prototype flies there are bound to be many modifications, and the development from the prototype to an aeroplane satisfactory in all respects sometimes becomes almost indistinguishable from a process of trial and error. The demands for safety, as my noble Friend the Minister of Civil Aviation has rightly insisted from time to time, make it absolutely paramount that this period of trial, error and correction is not curtailed, since, if it is, safety is bound to suffer.
Bearing this in mind we must realise, what is well understood in this House but, unfortunately, is not so widely known elsewhere, that we are necessarily still very much short of the period which must elapse between the end of the war and the time when satisfactory, proved new civil aircraft of all types will be available.
I think I can illustrate this by speaking first of the Tudor I aircraft. It illustrates the complexity of the problem of design —and this, after all is only an interim type, drawing a lot from the experience of the war. Fifteen thousand different drawings had to be made for it. Each airframe consists of over 60,000 different items, in addition to half-a-million rivets, nuts and bolts. Fifteen thousand special tools had to be designed and made for this type alone. A quarter of a million separate operations have to be carried out in its manufacture, and each aircraft, to give an idea of the material required, contains 4½ miles of electrical cable.
Aircraft must withstand widely differing climatic conditions. They must fly at great heights in extreme cold, and have efficient de-icing equipment, which presents, as the hon. Member said, a most 1333 difficult problem, They must also stand up to the extreme heat of the tropics. It all takes a long time. We have design teams as well qualified and as brilliant as any in the world, and I am certain, as I think all hon. Members of this House are certain, that given time they will show that they are able to solve the problem of building large modern air liners. But it takes at a minimum five, and probably seven years, between conception and operation, and the time is apt to lengthen with the development of new complications and new problems—high speeds, pressurisation, de-icing and the rest.
This is true not only of British aircraft, it is just as true of American aircraft. The Constellation, which we have heard mentioned so often and which is indeed an excellent aircraft, was conceived in 1938. It is nine years since its conception, but it is not perfect yet. I flew in one a little while ago which could not continue its flight. It was an awkward experience. The House might have had the misfortune to see a new Minister of Supply on the Treasury bench, but, difficult, as the House would have found that to bear, I think the nation would have rightly regarded as a national disaster the loss of the Old Vic Company, which last night gave such a brilliant performance of Richard II. The previous day they were in the Constellation aircraft which caught fire and was forced down in the forests of New England. This was an aircraft which has been flying now nine years since its inception. It is an excellent aircraft; I mention these mishaps not in any derogatory sense, but to show that time alone can produce a really reliable machine.
Therefore, when we hear gloomy stories about the failure of the Tudor I, we must immediately reject that word "failure." There has been no failure of the Tudor aircraft; they are still on trial, and I very much welcome the suggestions which have been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite for what they have called "trials on the road." I am sure that is right and I am sure my noble Friend will help in finding a way to carry out actual trials of aircraft over routes upon which they are going to fly.
I was rightly asked what is the policy of the Government, looking at the 'problem as a whole, with regard to the production of civil aircraft. This policy is the inherited policy which we took over 1334 from the previous Government, and which we have followed because we believe it was right. It was a two-fold policy. It accepted the handicap which complete preoccupation with combat aircraft had placed upon us during the war, and it realised that if we were to try to behave as if that handicap did not exist we should be for ever limping behind in a race in which we could never catch up. It was a policy, as it were, to miss a beat—the beat which was taken from us by the pressure of the war, and to fill in the gaps as best we could with adaptations from Service aircraft and with interim types like, the Tudor, which, although new types, draw heavily on the experience of the past and are worthy sons of proved sires. Then we are to go right ahead into the most modern aircraft in the world, and I believe that when those aircraft come into service, as they will, beginning I hope late in 1949, some in 1950 and some in 1951 and later, we shall find that British aircraft are right in the lead, just as are British aircraft engines.
We decided to design from the beginning new civil air liners, taking full advantage of all the technical advances made during the war. These brand new planes, embodying all the most revolutionary changes and the benefits of gas turbine engines, cannot possibly be put into operation until 1950 or 1951, and to attempt to force them into operation earlier would be to destroy their chances of success.
§ Mr. Cooper
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean by that that the long-term policy of the Government is to concentrate all its faith on aircraft using jet or gas turbine engines instead of reciprocating engines?
§ Mr. Wilmot
We believe that for the large aircraft, in the long run, and for high flying aircraft, the gas turbine has and that the future will prove that to be so.
§ Mr. Cooper
In the interests of economic operation, is it not likely that' the reciprocating engine will still have a place, particularly on feeder lines and on the shorter hauls?
§ Mr. Wilmot
Yes, I think the reciprocating engine will have an important place, but let us not be too tied to the past—let us look ahead, and do all we can to exploit to the full the turbine— 1335 this brilliant achievement of British engineering science. In addition to this long-range policy, there is the shorter-term policy of trying by drawing on past experience to reduce as far as is compatible with safety, the development period of interim types of smaller sizes. This second policy has in fact proved its worth. The Viking, which was rightly praised in the Debate, is a case in point. It represents a very quick step in getting a civil machine, based on a proved military type, into operation. They are now flying on many routes and are doing well. I was very sorry to hear of the mishap which the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) reported, and no doubt our experts are busily engaged in examining its causes. But, of course, an isolated accident cannot always be avoided, I am afraid, in any form of movement in any element. The air accident must be investigated at once. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is serious."] Yes, everything in the air is serious. I remember a similar mishap to a foreign machine of proved worth not so long ago, when an unfortunate member of the crew disappeared through the trap door at the top. I hope nothing like that happened to the hon. and gallant Member during his flight. I think we should pay a tribute to the remarkable performance which Vickers have achieved in getting that aircraft satisfactorily into operation in what is really record time.
Now I would like to reply to some of the more important detailed points which were made by various Members during the Debate. My hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper) said a lot about the Tudor, and referred to the faults which had been detected in tests which were made at that exceptional airfield in Nairobi which, I understand, is many thousand feet above sea level. That involved, of course, a very severe problem in connection with the take off. It is said that this aircraft developed, on trial at that aerodrome, some tail buffeting, that it failed to achieve its projected range, that it suffered from bounce on landing. It has to undergo certain modifications to remove faults which were relatively small at aerodromes situated at normal levels, but which became more serious in the peculiar conditions at Nairobi. Measures to cure these troubles have been put in hand, 1336 and I understand that the buffeting and the swing have already largely been cured.
The question of the Tudor II, with Rolls Royce piston engines, for the Empire routes, was raised. We do not yet know to what extent the corrective measures which have been tried in respect of the Tudor I will need to be applied to the Tudor II, but I am sure that a firm with the experience of Messrs. A. V. Roe, which built these machines, will be capable of removing the faults well within the time within which a satisfactory machine can reasonably be expected. I want to say, quite definitely, that we have no intention of cancelling the order for the Tudors we propose to get them right.
The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum). in a most interesting and valuable speech, asked why Jupiters were being used on Scottish routes As he knows, these Jupiters are captured German machines, which came to us under the reparations scheme. It was decided to use 10 of these aircraft which, as he said, are good machines, as stop-gap types on such routes as the London-Liverpool-Belfast run. One reason for using them, instead of Doves, is that they carry a rather larger load of passengers, but the chief reason is that the firm which makes the Dove had a very full order book for exports, and it was felt that it was a good thing, for currency reasons and the future of the British exports in aircraft, to execute those orders, and use Jupiters here meanwhile. The Rapide is really too small for economic use on these routes. I understand that the future plan is to operate Vikings and Marathons on them.
The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll also asked what encouragement is being given to British helicopters, the Bristol 171, and the Fairey gyrodyne. Let me assure him that we share his interest in, and his enthusiasm for, the British helicopter. We believe that it has a great part to play in civil aviation, and that the developments made so far are extremely promising. The firms are getting every encouragement. Both types are in my Department's development programme, and are being given the benefit of all the technical resources which are available to the Government and the Royal Aircraft Establishment, where the aero-dynamic problems of rotary wing aircraft are the subject of continuous special study. I understand that the first 1337 will be flying within a few days; test flying, of course. We have high hopes of producing a really good British helicopter, and I share the hon. and gallant Member's views about the possible future which lies before these aircraft. Both of them are still in the development stage, and although it is too soon to give continuous production orders the prototypes have been ordered. We have high hopes of them, because they have special advantages, as the hon. and gallant Member pointed out, in regard to take-off and landing in a small space, because they are suitable as taxis from airfields to large towns, for agriculture and fishery purposes, and for a wide range of utility uses. if we can make a successful British helicopter, which is safe and economical, it will be a great move forward, and will give benefits to aviation over a wide field of industrial activity.
Several questions were asked about the reason for the purchases of Constellations and Strato-cruisers for the North Atlantic route. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford came to the right conclusions about this matter. For reasons which I have explained, and which are so well understood, we had not got a plane which was capable of doing the job. While we could make do with our war types, and our interim types, and our flying boats, which have been such a splendid standby during this period, over the Empire routes, we had to buy some American aircraft for the North Atlantic route. Regrettable though it was, I think it was understood, and, painful as the dollar expenditure was, some of it will certainly be recouped in dollar earnings—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether it is intended to buy more Constellations?
§ Mr. Wilmot
I will come to that in a moment. The hon. Member also spoke about the export achievements of the industry, and what he said was fully justified. It is estimated that about 700 new civil aircraft, of a dozen different types, all of British construction, will be exported during this year to the value of some 7 million, a figure which is more than the prewar value of aircraft exports, civil and military combined. [An HON. MEMBER: "Under free enterprise."] Yes, very good enterprise. About 30 per cent. of these exports are expected to go to hard currency countries. Let us rejoice 1338 together about it. The industry recognises, I know, the importance of the contribution it has to make to the export drive and it is making firm and strenuous efforts to consolidate its position in the old markets and to win new ones. The Government are determined to do everything they can that will help and to refrain from anything that will injure the possibility of this splendid export trade.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
Will the Minister say what reduction in this export will be caused by the fuel crisis?
§ Mr. Wilmot
I am afraid I cannot at the moment. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) quoted comparisons between operating costs of an ideal and imaginary aeroplane on the Empire routes and that of the Lancastrians, Hythes and Yorks. I do not deny for one moment that these types, which are developments of Service aircraft and which have stood us in splendid stead during this time, are just not economic to operate. But if you ask me my own opinion—and someone did ask me—whether it is wiser to spend your money on keeping these types flying until we get our new British types, or to spend it in further purchases of American aircraft, I say that I prefer the former course.
A lot has been said, very naturally, about what appears on paper to be a somewhat complicated procedure and I will say a few words about it. As the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford knows, he having played a distinguished part in it, the Ministry of Aircraft Production was formed at a critical period of the war to concentrate on the production of military aircraft. It was felt at that time—and I am sure it was right and proper—that as the Air Ministry was pre-occupied with combat problems the vast problems involved in expanding the output of British aircraft for the war must be handled separately. When the war came to an end it was clear that a similar concentrated effort ought to be made to put into the development and production of civil aircraft the same kind of resources and drive that had been put into military aircraft during the war. It was decided, therefore, since the departmental machine which had done the job existed and the necessary technical and contract staffs had already come over, 1339 from the Air Ministry to the Ministry of Aircraft Production, with such successful results, that the wisest course would be to use that machine also for the procurement of civil aircraft and to save the duplication which would inevitably occur if a separate staff for these purposes had been built up in the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the operating Corporations.
I would ask hon. Members to appreciate that the civil air operators are in precisely the same position as the R.A.F. and that both of them procure their aircraft by exactly the same means. The Ministry of Supply does not determine the types which the operators, civil or military, shall order. It exists, as somebody said in the Debate, to give the benefits of all the extensive research and development which only the Government can give, and to give it both to the military and civil aspects of British aviation and to help the operators, military and civil, to get what they need. Surely, it would be a retrograde step to break that all up, to spread it over the Corporations, the Ministries and the Air Force when in fact it was built up and exists as a result of the experience we gained during the war. I hope that those who are led into advocating that ordering should be in the hands of the Corporations will realise that such a course would really be putting the clock back to the days before the Cadman Committee Report before the war; and hon. Members will remember that that Report contained many strictures upon the system that existed before the Ministry of Aircraft Production was created.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be better if the three Corporations had a fair hand in laying down their specifications and seeing the matter through instead of having to go to the Air Ministry for authority for whatever may have to be done?
§ Mr. Wilmot
I am just coming to that, and I think it is a most important matter. I do not claim for a moment that final perfection of the machine has been reached. The Ministry of Supply is generally responsible for the research and development work on both civil and military types. It controls national resources, including the research establishments which must, of course, as is agreed, be fully used if the best results are to be 1340 obtained. It also allocates resources, and one of the worst shortages in the aircraft field is that of design staffs and technicians. It is part of the function of the Ministry of Supply to see that the allocation of these design staffs and technicians is in the interest of the best development of British aviation for both sides. It has to see that the manpower is most efficiently used and gain all the advantages that are to be gained in this field, which I think must be beyond dispute, by bulk purchase rather than piece. meal purchase.
But the Corporations naturally wish to have a rather larger share in the business in the way described. I would like to say that my Department and the Ministry of Civil Aviation are considering whether arrangements can be made which will make it possible for the Corporations to come a little closer into this picture and to feel that they are having a share in buying the things they are going to use, without straying from the path which the Ministry of Supply ought properly to follow in getting the best out of a common scale of aeronautical development, and to see to it that these developments in civil aviation are pressed forward without endangering the position of other users of aircraft. I cannot say at this stage whether a satisfactory method will be found, but I can say that we are trying and we recognise that it will be a very good thing if we succeed. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough asked me whether consideration had been given to using the Canadian North Star aircraft which, as he said, is engined by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. It is a Douglas D.C.4 fitted with Rolls Royce Merlin engines. Well, we have watched the performance of this aircraft, which recently visited this country, with very great interest, but it does suffer from a very serious disadvantage for an aircraft of this kind in that it is not at present pressurised, and, not being pressurised, it cannot fly above the weather. It would not be a suitable alternative to the Stratocruiser, which, like the Tudor, has a pressurised cabin; no doubt hon. Members do appreciate that the introduction of pressurised cabins do confer an immense advantage in enabling a plane to fly above the weather. But it brings with it a whole host of new problems which have not yet been mastered either here or in America.
§ Mr. Granville
Is there any reason why some sort of a compromise cannot be achieved and that a pressurised cabin cannot be added to this machine?
§ Mr. Wilmot
I am not a technician but I think it would be right to say that a pressurised cabin cannot just be added to an aircraft designed without one. It means entirely new development and one of the things that astonished me as a layman taking a deep interest in the science of aeronautics is how small a change can completely alter the performance 'and safety of an aircraft. The senior Member for Down (Sir W. Smiles) suggested that the supply of aircraft was limiting the expansion of the air services both here and overseas. I do not think that is so. Many new types of civil aircraft are already flying. I myself flew in a Tudor in a pressurised cabin in the greatest comfort from London to Manchester in about 50 minutes, but it is a fact that some improvements still have to be made. The Tudor I, Viking, Wayfarer, Freighter, Solent, Dove, Marathon. Aerovan, Autocrat, Gemini and Ace are all different sizes and types of new aircraft which are now flying and have been ordered by people who want to use them.
§ Mr. Cooper
Could my right hon Friend make some reference to the Ambassador? Has he any information about that?
§ Mr. Wilmot
No, not yet, but it is developing.
As to the production range of the types already flying, during the year ended 31st March, 1947, the industry produced 49 four engined airliners, Lancasters, Yorks, Haltons and Tudors. It produced in addition 8 four-engined civil flying boats, 68 twin-engined medium sized civil liners and 46 twin-engined feeder line types. All these aircraft are suitable for regular air services. 567 machines of other types, mainly light aircraft for club and private flying, have been produced for home and overseas. The grand total, if we add them all together, amounts to 738 aircraft produced during the year— not bad going for an industry that is pulling out of the war. There is evidence that 1342 the supply of aircraft is by no means the only difficulty which is limiting the development of British flying. There are the difficulties of the construction of airfields. The difficulties which are attending the construction of the Tudor are also something which we get concurrently with the development of new types. The hon Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley) asked me some questions about that remarkable new type the D.H. 106. It is true that this aircraft is now the only one likely to be powered with the De Havilland engine to which the hon. Member referred, but it does not necessarily mean that we are abandoning the development of this engine. We are examining the question whether this or another jet engine will give the best results.
I want to say a word about the question of the proposed purchase of further American aircraft. The Minister of Civil Aviation referred to this matter in a statement which he made in another place on 26th March. The Bristol Aeroplane Company and the American Lockheed Corporation have been examining a proposal to instal Centaurus engines in Constellation airframes, a combination which it is claimed would give advantages in speed, range, take-off and economy over Constellations powered with American Wright engines, but they would not go into service for some years. This proposal was coupled with the suggestion that there should be ordered a further batch of Constellations for the B.O.A.C. Empire and Northern Atlantic routes which could gradually be re-engined with Bristol Centaurus. The Government very carefully examined this proposal, but they have decided not to proceed with the purchase and to operate the main Empire routes for the next few years with British interim types, Tudors, Hermes, Solent flying boats and so on and to bear the initial disadvantage which would come from being in competition with the American types, rather than have inflicted upon British aviation a blow to its prestige and development which we feel that further purchase of American aircraft would involve. Of course, into these things also comes the difficulty of our dollar position.
We hope that the Bristol Company and Lockheeds may as a commercial venture use Centaurus engines, which we believe are very good, in Constellations. I do not share the view nor apparently does 1343 anyone in the House, as today's Debate has shown, that British aircraft designers are unable to 'produce civil aircraft comparable with and as good as those of any other country. Our designers have created the finest aircraft in the world, and it is quite absurd for anyone to think, as some of the gentlemen who write for the Press do seem to believe, that all of a sudden they have lost the qualities which carried them to such heights during the war. It was decided during the war that transport aircraft should be made in America and that fighters and bombers should be made here. That was certainly right at the time, but the consequences which were to flow from it were not then foreseen. It does mean that the American aircraft industry has obtained several years start of us in this field, but it is really quite unfair, as well as being most unpatriotic, to talk of the British aircraft industry as having failed at its job, because it has not created in two years what nobody else has done in less than five or seven. In fact it is well ahead on this task and it is well to remember that the same circumstances which have given it these handicaps in new aeroplanes have given it a lead which has led to the development of British jet engines which are admitted to be the finest in the world.
Perhaps I may say a word on this question of turbine engines. The Avro-Lincoln, fitted with two Bristol Theseus gas turbine propeller engines and two Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engines, was demonstrated at Bristol two days ago in the presence of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. The Theseus is the first propeller turbine engine to pass its type test and the first with practical application that has been flown. The effect of flying in a Lincoln with only the two Theseus gas turbine engines working is the same as in the Lancastrian with two Nene engines working and it produced remarkably encouraging results. Noise and vibration were virtually eliminated. The absence of noise was partly due, so I am informed, to the fact that the inboard Merlin engines were stopped, and it is likely that in aircraft fitted with propellor turbines the noise will be reduced and the vibration practically eliminated.
Aircraft with piston engines are slower and noisier than those with turbines. 1344 Jet-engined aircraft are very fast, they are comfortable and they are quiet, but at the moment their fuel consumption is high and they can be operated only with maximum economy on fast, frequent services at high altitudes, and those altitudes are, of course, practical only on long stage flights. Propellor turbine engines—midway between these extremes —are faster and more comfortable than piston engines and are more economical, especially on short stages, than are engines of the jet type.
Given the necessary time and wholehearted co-operation between the operators, the industry and the Government, we believe that civil aircraft will be produced which will be as well suited to their tasks as those which the partnership produced for the Royal Air Force during the war. I have tried—I am afraid at somewhat undue length—to answer all the questions which have been put to me. I hope I have not omitted any. May I conclude by saying just this. I believe that the position achieved during the war in the production of combat aircraft is within sight of being achieved in the civil field.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."