HC Deb 25 February 1955 vol 537 cc1585-625

11.4 a.m.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

I beg to move, That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to bear in mind the importance to the future development and progress of our mercantile air service, of an adequate supply of men of the highest quality and qualifications for aircrew duties. I count myself fortunate to have this opportunity, through the luck of the Ballot, to call attention to the lack of alternative sources of trained aircrew for civil aviation. I have a personal interest to disclose in the subject which we are discussing this morning. Nearly thirty-eight years have passed since I first obtained my wings in the Royal Naval Air Service, and for all these years I have flown as a pilot and, until recently, I possessed a pilot's licence. I am also a director of a group of independent air companies and so, through this association with the civil air transport industry, I have some personal knowledge of the problem which we are about to discuss.

In May, 1954, a memorandum on the supply of pilots for civil aviation was prepared and submitted to the Minister by the Air League of the British Empire, in collaboration with the nationalised air corporations, the independent air operators, the Guild of Air Pilots and the British Air Line Pilots' Association. On 8th July last year the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) raised the subject of this memorandum on the Adjournment, and in his reply the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation said this: The policy of Her Majesty's Government continues for the present to be that ex-Service pilots provide a source of trained pilots for civil aviation. The effect of the change of policy in Royal Air Force pilot training is at present under examination with the Air Ministry with a view to ascertaining the extent to which pilots from the Services will meet the future needs of civil aviation. If the results of the examination with the Air Ministry show the need for an auxiliary scheme, the recent proposals made by the Air League of the British Empire will receive most careful and sympathetic attention from my Department."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1954; Vol. 529, c. 2493.] That was nearly eight months ago. I am sure the House will agree with me that it would not be premature if, during this debate, the Parliamentary Secretary gave birth to a statement of Government intentions. I very much hope that he will have something to say which will relieve the very real anxieties of all those engaged in the civil air transport industry at the inadequacy of the supply, for the future, of aircrew with the necessary high professional qualifications, for without a satisfactory continuity of supply our merchant air service will wilt and eventually fade away altogether.

There is no need for me to enlarge today upon the importance of a flourishing civil aviation industry for the general well-being and economic health of the United Kingdom. The importance to the British aircraft manufacturers of an outlet for their products amongst British air transport operators is now well known because this prepares and leads the way for large exports of civil aircraft to customers overseas who, perhaps, otherwise would not buy without getting a lead from British air operators.

The indirect revenue obtained from the international carrying of passengers and of goods is also a very important contribution to our national economy. The flying of the flag, as with our ships on the high seas, is also, nobody will deny, of great value, and there is the extreme importance in case of national emergency or war of having a highly efficient civil aviation transport system for the carrying of troops and others to various parts of the world.

For Britain to have successful air transport operators, whether they are nationalised corporations or free enterprise individual private operators, the aircraft they use must be efficient, modern and up-to-date. But it is quite useless to have the best aircraft in the world unless those aircraft are manned by the very best human material this country can provide.

The captains of our aircraft must be highly educated to enable them to achieve the necessary technical qualifications for the carrying out of their job which, in spite of important technical aids, becomes ever more responsible as the speed of aircraft is increased and as the new, more modern aircraft carry more people.

As well as having a high intellectual standard before they can start upon their profession they must also be physically fit. Throughout their professional life physical fitness must be maintained so that they can always be mentally alert. That is only right and proper for safety considerations, quite apart from anything else. It is right that only men of the highest quality should be in charge of our aircraft.

In addition to a high standard of technical qualifications, a commercial pilot is also expected to have commercial ability. By using his judgment, by correctly handling his aircraft, by flying at one height, perhaps, rather than at another, he can save his organisation appreciable sums of money over the years. Such men can become expert in their profession only after many years of training and flying experience.

For those reasons it is not possible suddenly to increase or to decrease the effective strength of the merchant air service. For those reasons there is a rigidity about this industry which does not exist in any other industry, whether of transport or anything else. It cannot be helped because pilots are limited, and rightly so, to approximately 1,000 hours of flying every year. Therefore, if there is a sudden extra amount of work to be done in the course of the year they are not allowed to do it and overtire themselves, as would be the case in other professions. That is quite right for safety reasons.

Nor can they be under-employed to any extent; otherwise it would be quite uneconomic for the operators. If the pilots did not fly at all they would get out of practice and lose their licences. There is a further hurdle which a commercial pilot has to face. He must be medically examined every six months to ensure that, in addition to maintaining his professional skill, he is maintaining a necessary physical state of health.

In no other profession are there such stringent requirements as in the profession of commercial air pilots. A lawyer, a doctor, or an accountant is not precluded from practising his profession if he is not physically fit. Such a professional man can leave his profession for a time, turn to some other kind of work, if he wants to, and then return to the work of his calling without having to requalify or undergo any further test or examination of any kind. The same also applies to sailors in the Merchant Navy. That is far from the case with the man who takes up the profession of civil air pilot.

For those very important reasons the capacity of the industry for a rapid expansion is strictly limited in peace and especially should a grave emergency arise, or war break out. It is just not possible to have a sudden addition of strength. Therefore, it is essential that there should be a carefully planned input to the civil aviation industry of men of the highest quality not only to maintain present operations and to cover wastage, but also to provide for the expansion which many of us believe will continue to take place in years to come.

That, however, is not enough. There ought to be a flexibility and some margin of reserve, for emergency of one kind or another or for war purposes, of fully trained, operationally fit, licensed pilots. I will deal with that matter at greater length a little later. I now ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can tell us whether there is a carefully planned input of pilots to the merchant air service to preserve the position for the future. If so, where is this planned input coming from? Will he tell us how many men of the high qualifications I have described as necessary are being trained who will be available for entering the civil air transport industry each year during the next few years to make good the wastage and to provide for expansion?

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

Trained by whom?

Sir W. Wakefield

That is what I want to know and, I think, probably the House wants to know. What planned intake, if any, is there? Where are they coming from to provide for wastage and expansion in years to come?

Mr. Hynd

I am trying to follow the argument of the hon. Member. Do I gather that what he is really asking is that pilots should be trained at the public expense to go into private companies with which he is associated to earn profits for those companies? If so, it seems a rather blatant claim.

Sir W. Wakefield

If the hon. Member will listen, I will develop that argument. I have tried to point out the importance to the national economy of having these men available in one way or another. Men can be trained—whether it is for medicine or anything else—to serve their country, and, indeed, to make profits. Half the profits of any operator, whether a nationalised undertaking or an individual operator, goes to the State. I will deal with that matter again later.

At the outbreak of the Second World War there were about 1,000 licensed pilots. Shortly after the war that number had increased to 1,500 as pilots turned from military to civil aviation. The number has steadily increased until now, I believe, there are about 2,300. The source of recruitment for these civil aviation pilots has been almost entirely the Royal Air Force. Pilots with short service commissions have concluded their military service and, with many hours of flying to their credit, have taken up civil flying. Of course, without difficulty, they have been able to obtain necessary commercial pilots' licences. They have been absorbed from their past military duties into the civil aviation stream. This source will shortly no longer be available now that no more short service commissions are being granted. In any case, this source has not been entirely satisfactory.

When there are no men in the Royal Air Force who have been granted short service commissions, civil aviation will be left without any appreciable source of supply for the future. In the total of 2,300 civil pilots who hold commercial licences of one kind or another are some who do not fly more than the minimum necessary to qualify for certification. That is to say, they do not really serve civil aviation as pilots.

There is a further complication. Immediately after the last war, the civil aviation industry had a rapid expansion by a large number of experienced pilots, all of approximately the same age, who all changed over from military to civil aviation at about the same time. This means that if they retire at the age of 48, when full pensions become payable, more than half the licensed pilots, and half the present strength, will leave civil aviation over a period of five years. Unless, there- fore, fairly early action is taken to make provision for this exceptional circumstance, the industry will find itself in great difficulty in the years ahead.

The increase in the number of pilots has not been in the same proportion as the rapid increase in the mileage flown and the number of passengers and quantity of goods carried. The reason for this is that the new types of aircraft travel faster and carry more passengers. If an aircraft flies twice as fast and carries double the number of passengers or double the quantity of freight, one pilot can do the work that was formerly done by four pilots. That is why, although the industry has expanded greatly, the number of pilots has not increased in the same proportion.

While that trend will undoubtedly continue for a time, it will certainly not be so marked as it has been. In a few years' time, therefore, it is to be expected that there will be a greater yearly demand than hitherto, and this demand for trained pilots will be additional to the extra demand, of which I have spoken, due to the exceptional mass retirement of pilots who are all of the same age and who entered civil aviation together after the war.

As far as I can make out, the present annual wastage is about 75. In other words, the industry wants 75 new pilots each year to replace wastage, quite apart from expansion. But for the reasons which I have given, an increasing number of, perhaps, 100 or 125 pilots will be required each year as replacements.

It can be asked why, with such excellent prospects before them, there is not a long queue of young men, with the necessary physical and intellectual qualifications, waiting to enter the merchant air service as pilots. The answer simply is that it is a matter of cost. Without considerable financial assistance, no young man can today afford the expense of undergoing the necessary training to reach the standards required to enable him to enter the merchant air service.

Even when a man does attain the fairly high standard required to enter civil aviation, considerable sums of money must then be spent upon him by the operator, whether State or private, employing him so that he may acquire the necessary experience and skill to discharge his full responsibilities. Young men of the right type are ready and waiting, but, for the reasons I have given, they are denied the opportunity to enter the merchant air service.

Letters have been written to me in the past few days by two such young men. One of them says: For a long time my ambition has been to become a civil airline pilot. During the past year I have carefully studied the various means of fulfilling my ambition. I am now faced with National Service, or signing on in the Royal Air Force for eight years. I will be 18 in April. In the General Certificate of Education, I obtained a pass in elementary maths, additional maths, English language, physics, chemistry, French with oral, history, geography and art. In the … School C.C.F. (Air Section) I won a flying scholarship and thus hold a private pilot's licence. What would you advise me to do, in the circumstances …? Here are the particulars of another young man. At school, at the age of 15, he obtained his air proficiency certificate. At 16, he obtained his advanced air proficiency certificate and his glider pilot's licence. He obtained a Government flying scholarship, awarded after taking full aptitude tests for the Royal Air Force, when 17, and he obtained a private pilot's licence after completing the scholarship, total flying 40 hours and four hours' gliding, with an 85 per cent. examination marks average; and he passed in various subjects in the General Certificate of Education.

This second young man does not wish to enter the Royal Air Force as a pilot since he cannot do so unless he signs on for seven or eight years. Rather than do that, he prefers to enter the Army, but in that way he would not gain flying experience. Will my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary please tell us what these young men should now do? Is the money already spent upon them to be wasted, and is this valuable potential asset to be lost to civil aviation?

The Air League and its associates, in their memorandum last year to the Minister, suggested a scheme which would enable young men to become pilots without the need for civil aviation to draw upon the Royal Air Force. Briefly, they suggested that recruits with the necessary education and physical standards should be sought in the 16 to 18 age group and that, after appearing before the appropriate selection committee and after flying aptitude tests, they could be given preliminary training.

Here I come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd). The expense of this preliminary training would be covered by flying scholarships, during which time candidates would continue their studies at school or university or by evening classes, or even, perhaps, in some form of employment. If candidates made satisfactory progress, for the next year or two they would train for their commercial pilot's licence and instrument rating at an approved establishment. Having completed that stage, they would then be in a position to gain the commercial pilot's licence and would be eligible for employment by an air operator. From then on, they would be in the civil aviation industry and the further cost of giving them more training and experience would fall upon the organisation employing them.

In the Air League memorandum, it is stressed that the financial assistance required to be made available should be similar to that available for other young men aspiring to university degrees or technical or professional qualifications, such as medicine. A candidate or his parents would be expected to shoulder at least a share of the cost of his maintenance while undergoing training.

In the memorandum, the Air League and those who collaborated with them estimate that out of 400 young men who might begin training every year, for one reason or another only about 75 would complete the training. There must, therefore, be a large number of potential pilots to start the training before we get the required number at the end.

The fact is also stressed in this memorandum that while up to now the Royal Air Force has been the source of supply, that source of supply has not been entirely satisfactory. That is only natural, because the Royal Air Force wishes the best men in the Service to remain with the Service, and it does all it can to encourage them to remain in the Service. That is only natural. Of course, there are some excellent men in the Service who, for one reason or another, wish to leave the Service and enter commercial aviation, and some have done so. Nevertheless, it is a fact, I think, that men recruited from this source have fallen short of the highest personal and technical standards required for civil aviation.

A civil pilot requires some training in and knowledge of aviation engineering and a wide knowledge of radio processes, of navigation, of international rules and regulations, and of control systems. When he is in the Royal Air Force his training is concentrated much more on air fighting, bombing and other similar Service requirements. The main requirement of a Service pilot is to complete his mission in the face of the enemy, disregarding, if need be, his own personal safety and that of his crew. On the other hand, the main requirement of a civil pilot, is, of course, above everything else, safety. Because of this difference the memorandum of the Air League considers that The longer a pilot has spent in the Service, the more difficult becomes the mental conversion to the attitude of mind required in a civil pilot. From what I have said it can be seen that, unless something is done to provide a planned entry scheme or schemes for civil aviation, including financial assistance, there will be nobody taking up the profession of pilot in civil aviation as a career. Now that there are no longer short service commissions in the Royal Air Force, that source of supply will cease, and so, unless something is done, and done quickly, British civil aviation will simply die out, and that is quite unthinkable. Something has got to be done, and it has got to be done quickly.

I am going to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether, in addition to considering the principle of the scheme proposed in the Air League's memorandum, he will also discuss with the Air Ministry the desirability of making provision through the Royal Air Force of a steady and planned supply of men of the highest qualifications for civil aviation. I am very glad to see that the Undersecretary of State for Air is present to hear this suggestion. I believe that there are many young men with the necessary physical and intellectual qualifications who desire to become commercial pilots, as is indicated in the two letters that I have just read to the House, but who are prevented from doing so by the cost.

This is the suggestion I want to make. Could not arrangements be made for young men to enter the Royal Air Force at the age of 18 to do their National Service, to obtain their wings; and then, because their intention is to become pro- fessional civil aviation pilots, during this period and for the next two, three or four years could not the same technical and commercial training be given them as they would get in civil aviation; and, at the same time, could they not be appointed to Transport Command for flying duties? In that way, after a minimum of two and a maximum of four, five or six years' service in the Royal Air Force, they could then pass into civil aviation, well trained, at the right age, and with a good grounding for the further training and experience which they will need in civil aviation before they can become fully qualified captains.

If such a scheme as I have outlined could be introduced it would, I believe, save our commercial air service from disaster. It would also provide a useful supply of aircrew for the Royal Air Force for specialised service, which they could undertake in Transport Command. In time of war or emergency all civil aviation pilots available will be wanted to carry people, but, equally, they will be wanted in Transport Command to fly the aircraft to carry specialised equipment which will accompany the troops. Aircrew, therefore, who pass through the Royal Air Force in this way into the world of civil aviation would be on the Reserve of the Royal Air Force, and since they would always have their commercial licences they would always be operationally fit for Royal Air Force transport requirements, and in time of war could be used either to transport troops in civil aircraft or to fly specialised equipment in the specialised aircraft of Transport Command.

The cost of training a pilot is very great. I think that the Under-Secretary of State for Air said the other day that it was about £25,000. When a pilot has gained further flying experience in the Royal Air Force, obviously his value is even greater than that amount of taxpayers' money. It seems to be most important that this asset should be preserved to the national advantage. That being so, I should like consideration to be given by the Government to a further scheme which will make civil aviation flexible, far more flexible than it is at the present time.

Earlier I explained that the civil aviation industry is so rigid and how that cannot be helped. I suggest that it is in the national interest that it should be made more flexible, and I suggest that it is very desirable indeed in time of emergency or war that there should be available a reserve of aircrew trained not for fighting or bombing but for transportation. Such a reserve with consequential flexibility could be obtained, but, of course, at present does not exist.

Naturally enough, air operators have only the exact number of pilots they require to carry out their work, because, obviously, it is quite uneconomic to keep on the books a number of highly skilled professional men without the full amount of work for them to do, and it is here that the State can help and where flexibility can be ensured. Instead of the various nationalised corporations and individual operators flying their pilots to the full extent of, say, 1,000 hours a year, they could fly them to the extent of 750 hours a year; and the difference would not matter because all the pilots would be operationally fit; but in that way the civil aviation industry would have a reserve of some 25 per cent. available for war, for emergency, or for any sudden expansion that might be needed. This would give flexibility to the industry that it has not now got.

Clearly, the operators cannot be asked to pay for this reserve, and, if so, the taxpayers' money has to be spent. All of us are taxpayers, and, of course, we want to know what value we get for our money. I think the answer is that because of the specialised nature of trained pilots' work, and because of its importance, and because it takes some time to train the pilots, the country can afford to pay for that reserve. A man in the Merchant Navy can be out of a job, or employed in another occupation, for some time, but it is not possible for a commercial air pilot to be unemployed because of the considerable commercial cost; and because the air pilots are such a valuable asset, I hope that this insurance expenditure—for that is what it is—that I have suggested will not be considered as other than money wisely spent.

Pilots, and not aircraft, will be the most serious limiting factor in the future, I think, and unless, as I have already said, immediate, positive action is taken by the Government to secure a properly planned and financially assisted intake of men of the highest calibre as pilots for civil aviation, either by a direct scheme or through the Royal Air Force, and on the lines that I have suggested, then in two or three years' time our civil aviation industry will start to decline, and, eventually, will cease to exist. This is not just a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact, because without a steady intake of pilots to replace wastage and retirement due to old age there can be no flying of aircraft. Unless something is done now there will be no intake, or at the very best quite an inadequate intake, into the civil aviation industry.

I ask what the Parliamentary Secretary and the Government are proposing to do about this most serious position, and I earnestly hope that we may have a satisfactory answer today to a problem which is causing all of us very great anxiety.

11.40 a.m.

Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)

I beg to second the Motion.

I think that I made my last reference to the subject of the Motion, which has been so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir Wavell Wakefield), in a debate on 8th March, 1954. I have observed that the problem has been attracting increasing attention lately, not only among the various interested bodies but also in the aviation Press, not least in Captain Norman Macmillan's article in last month's number of "Aeronautics"—the "Hobson's Choice" number—and in the memorandum of the Air League, which has been referred to this morning.

It is a long time now since the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North(Group Captain Wilcock) presided over a committee which went into the problem and reported very fully on it, but I do not think that the findings of that committee are any less relevant today than they were at the time the committee reported. Ever since the war, the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm have been shedding in large numbers pilots which civil aviation has been snapping up, but the snag about that is that the policy of the R.A.F., understandably, has changed, is changing and is liable to change. Therefore, if we depend upon that, civil aviation itself must depend upon a variable matter. In this respect we have come to the end of the ex-war pilots and ex-short service pilots.

All the war pilots are getting rather too long in the tooth. They are all getting rather old, at the same sort of age, and are liable to finish service or ground themselves, in one way or another, in the next few years more or less simultaneously. Therefore, a rather sharp increase in the number of pilots required in civil aviation can be foreseen and, as the short service scheme is drying up, the flow must decrease. The young National Service pilot is most in demand, but for natural reasons that is not likely to be a very fruitful source in future years.

I have been trying to find out the size of the problem, which is variously estimated. The Wilcock Committee, looking towards the future, reported in 1949 in these terms: Our conclusion, based on discussions with the Air Ministry and on our estimate of civil needs, is that the numbers of civil pilots required annually from non-R.A.F. sources from 1951 onwards, will vary between 100 and 350, and will average about 225. If the five years 1953–57 alone are considered, the average annual requirement from non-R.A.F. sources will be about 190. The Royal Air Force itself has discharged pilots who, at the end of their service, have applied for professional licences in these sorts of numbers—250 in 1952, 263 in 1953, and in 1954, up to October, 141.

I understand that it is expected that the number is likely to run in future years at about 350, although what proportion of that number are likely to apply for employment in civil aviation is impossible to estimate. One of the great airways corporations sees the problem in this light: In order to satisfy the age requirement"— that is, 20 to 24 years— the ex-National Service pilot has proved to be the most desirable type of applicant. Unfortunately, the supply of these young men has been inadequate and older, but more experienced men, have to be recruited to make up the balance. Recent reduction of the National Service pilot scheme to a mere 150 trained pilots per year has reduced the applications received in this category to very small proportions. The R.A.F. expect to retain, on extended engagements, at least 20 per cent. of the total. Assuming that 25 per cent. of the remainder elect for Civil Aviation, the total available becomes only 30 pilots of whom perhaps 20 may be suitable for engagement. It is, therefore, clear that an alternative source of recruitment is necessary, even supposing that the National Service pilot scheme is not further reduced. The Royal Air Force, of course, is not a benevolent institution for the supply and welfare of civil aviation.

Captain Norman Macmillan, in his article in "Aeronautics," states: Ever since the foundation of the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation in 1919…there has been a tendency for the civil side to be disregarded by the military. It was in those early days that the present Prime Minister…when holding the dual offices of Secretary for War and Secretary for Air, made the famous remark that 'civil aviation must fly by itself.' It has had to do so ever since. Taking all these opinions into consideration, it must be said that the National Service pilot, the most desirable for the civil aviation industry, will be produced only at the rate which, broadly, will suffice for the maintenance of the Royal Air Force reserves and auxiliaries. The other great airways corporation has said that in two or three years some further sources must be found. If that is so, we must get going within twelve months with the establishment of whatever training scheme can be devised.

It is true that there is a basic difference between the personal attributes of Service and civil pilots. Broadly, the Service man has to disregard risk and carry out his mission "regardless," whereas the civil pilot, first, last and all the time, must be a cautious man whose caution must never relax.

The Under-Secretory of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)

I hope my hon. Friend makes it clear that he is talking about war and not peace, and will not give any impression that R.A.F. pilots take unnecessary risks with their lives, with the lives of their crews, and with their aircraft in times of peace.

Dr. Bennett

Certainly not. The point I made was that the R.A.F. pilot must be prepared to face any risk and, therefore, he has not the ingrained caution which might make him perhaps pull his punches. He would not be as good a pilot if he did have that caution. There is that basic difference between the Service and the civil pilot, though I should be the last man to denigrate R.A.F. transport pilots, who are not expected always to be quite as dashing as fighter pilots.

What is being done to supplement R.A.F. sources? Most operators are tending to live on their fat, as it were, and the corporations are re-training quite a number of navigators and wireless operators and even some of their ground staff, through the agency of the Airways Aero Club, to become pilot-navigators. B.O.A.C. have a scheme to assist employees to obtain the qualifications required whilst serving the corporation at a reduced salary of £500 a year. That is all that is being done at present outside the R.A.F., as far as I have been able to discover.

What have we to do? I support the broad principles of the Air League's scheme and the propositions of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone, and I suggest a few further points. We should be very careful and move quickly to retain some of the flying schools which are now at a very low ebb. We want the good ones. There are, for instance, Air Service Training, the University of the Air, and the Airways Aero Club, which has been operating with the London School of Air Navigation to produce a comprehensive scheme. I am sure that the Aerodrome Owners' Association, whose hospitality many hon. Members now present enjoyed last night, would be very keen to provide ample facilities in so far as these are not yet defunct, and to revive the club movement which has supplied so many good pilots in the past.

The next thing that needs to be done is that we have to organise recruiting from young men, well qualified, at about the school-leaving age of between 16 to 18. I do not think we need fear a tug of war with the R.A.F., although that must be in the minds of my hon. Friends the Under-Secretary of State for Air and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport who are responsible for these matters. But I do not think the danger is great, because nobody has yet started trying to attract lads direct into civil aviation.

When they do and when they hold out a lifetime's career in a stable industry, I believe that there will be a large number of potential entrants. Parents will change their minds to some extent and encourage their offspring to go into what looks like a stable lifetime's career in an expanding industry. The schools, which, I think, are the worst offenders in turning lads from aviation, will, too, then be able to relax somewhat and encourage some of their pupils to enter flying, instead of deterring them.

I cannot agree with the Air League's contention that entrants should acquire their qualifications more or less universally on flying scholarships. Some effort and sacrifice are needed. We do not want the "fairy godmother" attitude about this business. There should be a struggle to get into it, because we are all agreed that anything we get free is not of very much value to us. A man in his early years should need to struggle and save to bring out what is best in him.

As far as concerns the next two years of commercial pilots' training, I am inclined to favour the attitude of Mr. McNicol, of the London School of Navigation, that instead of pupils relying entirely or largely on State scholarships the operators should pick apprentices at the earliest possible stage and see them through their training, recovering some of the cost at a later period after the candidate has secured his pilot's qualifications and is on a five-year indenture to the company which looks after him. That seems to me much nearer a sound financial scheme, and I am sure it will find favour in aviation generally.

The main question at issue is the part the Government are expected to play. Without a doubt the qualified man becomes a national asset and in return for his reserve liabilities—I see him as a reservist who is completely and immediately available in the way that nowadays is so vitally necessary—he is entitled to a contribution from the Government towards the cost of acquiring these qualifications, which make him such an excellent reservist. No doubt in some cases the cost may already have been covered by his employer, but the employer may reasonably expect to recover some of the expense.

Another thing the Government might be able to grant to these highly-qualified reservists is deferment in their National Service. That deferment might be made indefinite, comparable to that of the men in the Merchant Navy fleet. I believe that such deferment would be a proper reward, for, after all, what better National Service can men do today than train to be first-rate reservists who are immediately available in the nation in time of crisis?

If we accept, as I think we must, that the numbers from the Royal Air Force will prove inadequate for civil aviation if it is to maintain its strength, it behoves us for the country's sake to take advice with all speed to set about finding the pilots we need before a crisis of shortage can become apparent.

11.54 a.m.

Group Captain C. A. B. Wilcock (Derby, North)

We are all grateful to the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) and the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) for opening this debate this morning. They, and no doubt those who will follow me, have had first-hand experience and knowledge of this subject and are speaking about a matter which they sincerely feel requires immediate attention—and by that I mean immediate attention on the part of Her Majesty's Government.

As I see it—and the idea has been well expressed by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone—there are only three methods of entry into aircrew today. One method is through the Royal Air Force, and another is by private enterprise, whereby an individual works his way up and pays the fees necessary to enable him to become a commercial pilot, a very difficult and expensive way of doing it. The number in this second category is small. The third method is through training by the public corporations and by a number of the larger charter companies. Here also I think the numbers are comparatively small.

An important question is why we have attracted so few people from the Royal Air Force. One of the reasons may be that the profession of aircrew and pilot still provides a very precarious livelihood. It is subject to slumps like no other profession of which I know. There have been times within my knowledge—and I declare my interest in aviation—when one company with which I was connected had straightaway to discharge 70 pilots. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone will know quite a lot about this particular charter company.

Then there was that black day when the Under-Secretary of State for Air had to—I am sure he had to; he did not want to—come down to the House and announce the closing of all flying training schools, which meant that within three days I had to give notice to 105 pilots to cease their engagements. I personally interviewed them all, and a large number of them declared that they were going into another sphere of activity. They said that they had had enough of that kind of thing. So civil aviation has had a reputation for providing a precarious livelihood. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone and others present believe that that time is now passing and that in civil aviation is to be found a career which is well worth while, and with this view I agree.

The hon. Member for St. Marylebone stressed the importance of civil aviation, and I should like to add my contribution to that view. I have always felt that it is no exaggeration to state that the prosperity of the country depends upon the progress of civil aviation. We are particularly well served in the air by our young people because the Britisher—and that includes the Scot and the Welshman—is pre-eminent in the air. Certainly in Europe or Asia there is no other nationality capable of turning out the type of pilot and aircrew which we in this country are accustomed to see in the R.A.F. or in British civil aviation.

I am afraid that Her Majesty's Government have done very little about this all-important subject of the provision of the civil pilot. Hon. Members have been kind enough to refer to a committee of which I happened to be chairman. That was a great honour because there were most distinguished members on that committee. It is true that we did sit a long time ago. I have never referred to this subject in the House before, but I should like to say now that we sat for many months and interviewed many people in the aviation industry. We took evidence from all important bodies connected with it, and we produced a report which secured—I am very sorry to say this—very little support or apparent interest from the Government, which was then a Labour Government, and possibly less interest still from the Conservative Government since that date.

Reference has been made to the recommendations of the Report of the Committee on Recruitment, Training and Licensing of Personnel for Civil Aviation, and I beg the Ministers concerned to read the Report again. To give the Minister an idea of the eminence of the members of that Committee, who gave their time over months, may I give their names? They were Air Commodore Helmore, well known in aviation and one of the foremost scientists in the country; the late Air Commodore Brackley, who was one of the most distinguished pilots and operators we have ever had; Sir Edward Crowe, the late Lord Dukeston, Mr. Leslie Gamage, an astute industrialist; Group Captain Hockey, Captain James, the chief pilot of B.E.A.; Mr. James, the Highmaster of St. Paul's School, the Right Honourable the Marquess of Londonderry, the Right Honourable Lord Milverton, Sir Eustace Pulbrook, the Chairman of Lloyds; the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir R. Robinson), and Sir Miles Thomas, the Chairman of B.O.A.C. We had one of the most brilliant civil servants with whom I have ever had the pleasure of working, Mr. G. W. Stallibrass, to help us. We sat a long time and considered the very problem before us this morning.

The recommendations were, briefly, as follows: The fullest use should be made of ex-R.A.F. pilots for employment in civil aviation… R.A.F. aircrew intending to enter civil aviation should be pre-selected, and suitable applicants should be given an assurance of at least trial employment with civil firms…. A Liaison Committee should be appointed to pre-select aircrew for civil aviation…. Preselected aircrew should be granted facilities for obtaining civil aviation licences before leaving the Services…. That is what we asked should be done, and I can say without fear of contradiction that pretty well nothing was actually done. At the end of the war Transport Command accepted pilots who were later to go into B.O.A.C. That scheme was easy to operate and satisfactory, and yet since those days very little has been achieved in pre-discharge training.

We also made this recommendation to the Government: In view of the State's responsibilities for civil aviation, and of the fact that lack of sufficient pilots would cripple the maintenance and development of British air services, we see no practicable alternative to the provision by the State of financial aid for pilot training purposes. Again nothing was done about that recommendation. It costs an individual over £1,000 now to obtain a commercial pilot's licence from scratch, and yet we wonder why schoolmasters and headmasters have not encouraged their boys to go in for civil aviation. This is an important matter for the industry. Unlike most prophets, the Committee has proved to be right in estimating the numbers that will be required during the years 1956 to 1960.

What is the answer? I believe the answer is that there must be closer liaison with the Royal Air Force on this matter. I do not accept the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite that the R.A.F. pilot is not liable to be a suitable commercial pilot after many years in the Service.

Sir W. Wakefield

The views that I quoted were not my own. I said they were in the Air League memorandum and that the collaborators and associates had expressed those views.

Group Captain Wilcock

Well, I do not accept them. I hold to my view that there are a large number of pilots in the R.A.F., particularly in Transport Command and Coastal Command, who are quite suitable, who have the necessary knowledge and experience and who could quite easily take their commercial licences. Their instrument ratings are of a high category, their overseas and route flying is extensive, and so I see no reason why as many, as would like to come into this profession of civil aviation should not be encouraged to do so. The second part of our recommendations concerned State financial assistance, which I emphasise again is still necessary in some form or other. The scheme put forward by the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham would be acceptable.

The third possibility, which was touched upon briefly, was that of club flying. This has been sadly neglected, I think deliberately, by the Government during these last few years. As a result, many clubs have closed down and others are on the verge of doing so. It is a great pity because, undoubtedly, they serve a useful purpose in elementary training and airmanship.

Here again I declare an interest, in that I am the chairman of what is declared to be the finest aero club in England this last year. It has 200 members, all young. This is a flying club, not a drinking club. Not one of these members could be a commercial pilot, because it would cost him too much money. There is no way round that fact. There is the finest material in these clubs and, if they could receive assistance from the Government, selected people, as well as from schools and other sources, could be sure of a career.

It would be a great thing to put civil aviation on the map as a career. We have now passed the stage when piloting was a rather interesting, amusing and adventurous kind of life. Aviation is now a business, and in these early days—and they are still early days—I ask Her Majesty's Government to show a much more sympathetic interest in our problems—the problems of the clubs, the problems of training, and other associated headaches.

Finally, I beg the Ministers concerned to take home with them the Report we made five years ago and use it as light reading tomorrow in order to see whether the relevant Departments could not be encouraged to take a slight interest in the recommendations submitted by the very distinguished members of that Committee, and which, if adopted even today, would go far to creating a healthy civil aviation.

12.9 p.m.

Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)

Hon. Members on all sides of the House are right in drawing attention to this vitally important problem. After all, we in the United Kingdom are absolutely dependent on international trade. Each day trade results because our salesmen, including our engineers, proceed by air to all parts of the world to get orders in the face of intense competition from other nations. It is safe to say, also, that in the years to come many of the orders they book will be delivered by freight aircraft. It is unthinkable, therefore, that this nation, which is so dependent on international trade, should not have sufficient trained pilots to fly the civil aircraft.

The problem, however, is not so great as it may seem. We are asking for about 100 trained pilots a year to meet the needs of the civil operators. This is surely a problem which needs early attention from the Government. As hon. Members have said, in the past the Royal Air Force provided much of the material, but it is clear that as aircraft get bigger, more complicated and expensive they will become less numerous. Therefore, the number of trained pilots in the Royal Air Force will also decrease and we shall not be able to rely upon an uneven flow from that source to feed this very important industry.

The seed of air mindedness must be sown in the schools. The A.T.Cs. and various schools are doing a good job. They are selling the idea to young people and giving them the opportunity of getting in touch with flying. Thereafter, there are the gliding clubs. They receive a little help from the Government, but many of us feel that more help should be given in that direction. This is a cheap way of flying and of allowing the seed which has been sown earlier to germinate and start to blossom.

Then there are the civil light aeroplane clubs, to which the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) has referred. Incidentally, they were also referred to recently by the Duke of Edinburgh. He deplored the fact that this industrial country, of all countries, had fewer light and private aircraft available for flying than most others. On that score alone we are in a less advantageous position than foreign industrial nations.

Assuming that a young man, bent on becoming an airline pilot, has taken an interest in the A.T.C. at school, and, perhaps, has done some gliding in his spare time or been associated with a civil air club, I do not take the view that he should be exempted from National Service. This business of exemption is a very slippery slope. Once we exempt one category we find that there seems to be no limit to the number of others which may legitimately be exempted. Moreover, I believe that such a young man will gain immeasurably from serving two years and from close association with the Royal Air Force even though he is not trained as a pilot. I wholeheartedly support the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North in his argument that such a young man can gain valuable experience in Coastal Command, where flying discipline, instrument ratings and other procedure are now very tight indeed. He can gain equally valuable experience in Transport Command. But once such a man has completed his term of National Service, the State should help, with State scholarships, to undertake his pilot training during the extensive phase which follows, and which is absolutely essential if he is to emerge as a trained civil pilot.

Earlier, hon. Members opposite asked one at a time why the State should finance pilots who will eventually benefit private companies. That is a very illogical argument. The State helps in the education not only of doctors, but of scientists, engineers and lawyers. In fact, the State helps in the training of personnel in almost every profession, and, in the long run, this pays immense dividends in increasing the prosperity of our country. It should also be underlined that operating companies have to do their share when this period of training is over.

I visualise training of scholarship men being done at universities, possibly in association with university air squadrons. Some of the equipment is common, and there is an enthusiastic band of personnel which is keen and anxious to fly in all weather. That might form a good nucleus around which to build a system of State scholarships for civil airline pilots. When hon. Members on this side of the House make these suggestions, they do so only in the hope that the Government will give a considered view in reply. There are many different ways of dealing with this problem, but it is vitally important that something should be done.

If our proposals are not accepted I hope that the Government will come forward with a constructive alternative plan, because if we do not tackle this problem we shall be woefully short of trained men, and if we have not the pilots we shall fall behind in the vitally important sphere of air transportation. This is vital not only to carry personnel round the world but, later, to carry our export goods as well.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)

I am glad to be able to support the Motion of the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield). I also congratulate him for having the courage to bring before this House a matter which, although important, he must have known would not attract mass popular attention. During the course of his speech he showed that he has a very wide experience in these matters. He declared his interest in the industry and showed that he understood its problems. I have to declare a similar interest, which goes back for some time, and in the course of what I have to say I hope I may be able to express the same kind of experience as that of the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, his hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett).

There are three propositions about which there can be no dispute at all. First, we must have an efficient air transport industry for this island nation. It is more important to us than to most other countries, and it is absolutely indispensable if we are to maintain a leading position in world affairs. Secondly, it is evident that an adequate number of competent pilots is essential to the maintenance of our air services. Thirdly, unless something radical, definite and constructive is done, there will soon not be an adequate number of pilots, and our position will consequently suffer. That is the basis from which I look at this problem.

We are not making any party attack upon the Government—because this situation has been developing for some years. As has already been stated, the problem was first considered by the Committee which was presided over by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock), and I, too, want to pay tribute to the work which was put into that Report.

The seriousness of the situation has been masked by two factors, which have already been referred to by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone, and the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham. One is that the increasing size of transport aircraft has meant that each pilot has been able to contend with an increasing number of passengers. Secondly, the two corporations have introduced valuable schemes for training air-experienced radio operators and navigators as pilots. This latter supply must now be drying up, and it is unlikely that any further relief can be expected from this tendency towards bigger aircraft. Indeed, it seems that the tendency has already gone too far, and that the proportion of aircrew to each aircraft is just about as small as is consistent with safety. My view is that in the future the proportion may well tend to increase.

I appreciate the disappointment of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Derby, North at the fact that nothing was done following the presentation of his Report, but it is not quite true to say that nothing was attempted. When I had some responsibility for these matters, under the successive direction of two of my noble Friends, I thought at one time that we had contrived a solution to these problems; that we had found a way through for the young fellow from school to the cockpit of a civil aircraft through his National Service obligations. I remember that I had a good deal of discussion at the time with those responsible in the Royal Air Force, but even before flying training was stopped for National Service men I must say that our scheme never looked like coming to fruition—those responsible for civil aviation had such difficulty in sticking to what I thought was their side of the bargain.

My quite definite conclusion is that we cannot expect to find any complete solution—or even, indeed, a significant part of the solution—to the problem of civil aviation pilots in any scheme which involves pre-Service training. There are several reasons for that and some of them are contained in the memorandum to which reference has been made. It was obvious to me three years ago that the Services were having such difficulty in filling the needs of their own establishments that they just could not afford to adjust their requirements to help their civil colleagues.

I remember that one of the provisions of the scheme which we had in mind was that men entering on their National Service and opting for a civil profession should be given training in the heavier type of Service machine, but at that time the demand was more for fighter aircraft pilots and the Air Force people said that they just could not afford having these good young fellows all going to the heavier aircraft. The Service required them for the fighter machines, but that type of experience over a period of three years in the light, probably single seat aircraft is not the experience needed if they are to go into civil aviation. The difficulty of the Service in getting enough young men for their own requirements seems to be not lessening but increasing as the years go by. It is also the fact that, apart from transport machines, the type of experience obtained in the Service aircraft is steadily diverging from the type of experience required for civil aircraft.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

And Coastal Command.

Mr. Beswick

And Coastal Command, yes. I am not going so far ahead as to talk of the sort of man we shall have operating the ground-to-ground guided missiles, but, again, he will not be the sort of person we want for the civil side of the aviation industry.

As far as the background of experience is concerned, the qualifications necessary for the civil pilot are really different—indeed, they are really more important—from those necessary for the Service pilot. They have to be of such a high standard that, in my view, it is just not tolerable to consider this essential civil profession as a sort of second-string, or second thought, to the Service profession. I say that with no disrespect at all to what is the sister or brother Service.

Mention has been made of the possibility of pilots serving in Service transport aircraft and in Coastal Command aircraft moving on to the civil airlines. No doubt this may be a source of some supply—and I have no doubt that the men concerned will be very useful—but the fact is that, good as these pilots on the Services transport aircraft may be—and I accept what the Under-Secretary of State said in his intervention—if they are as good as all that the possibility is that they just will not leave the Service. The best of them will stay with the Service. The second best might still be good, but it should not be upon the second best that we should rely.

Moreover, in my judgment the R.A.F. cannot afford to have two or three years' flying from these Service men and then allow them to go over to the civil side. The reason for that is partly that the type of jet transport aircraft which the Services are now buying are not aircraft which can be flown by a man who has only had two or three years' experience. The transport pilots for the Service aircraft will have to be more and more experienced, they must stay longer in the Service, and, to that extent, therefore, the supply from that source must necessarily be limited.

Group Captain Wilcock

My hon. Friend has practical flying experience, and we therefore listen with great respect to what he says, but may I point out that the suggestion that the pilots should come from the Royal Air Force is nothing new? I should imagine that now 50 per cent. or more of commercial pilots are ex-Royal Air Force pilots. Furthermore, the suggestion is not that they should come in as captains. They would obviously come in as second officers.

Mr. Beswick

I accept what my hon. and gallant Friend says.

Of course, most of the people now in the civil profession came from the Services. The reason is that a great number of very experienced men came out of the Services about the same time, following the war. I would again emphasise to my hon. and gallant Friend that the sort of aircraft we were flying in 1945 and 1946 was very different from those the young fellows will be flying now and in the next few years. I emphasise that there is now a divergence—an increasing divergence—between the experience required of the Service and of the civil machine.

Group Captain Wilcock

I do not accept the fact that there is any more difficulty in flying the present-day aircraft—particularly the jets—than the old type engine and aircraft.

Mr. Beswick

We are all entitled to our opinion. I could go into it at greater length, but I do not think it is required. My own conclusion is that we must have some form of direct entry for the civil airline pilot. I do not rely to any large extent upon the Royal Air Force as a source of supply in the future. In general, I support the scheme as outlined in the memorandum submitted to the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation last March.

Perhaps I might say just a word about that memorandum because it has been referred to as an Air League memorandum. That is not, strictly speaking, correct, nor, indeed, is it fair to the British Air Line Pilots' Association, which initiated the inquiry in the first place. It invited representatives from the other organisations to get together and discuss the matter. The Secretary of B.A.L.P.A., I believe, was the secretary of this committee, and indeed B.A.L.P.A. was responsible for the original draft. Therefore, although the Air League was physically responsible for handing over the memorandum it was really a joint effort—a very valuable joint effort—and I think that appropriate tribute should be paid to the pilots' trade union as well as to the other organisations.

I do not propose to go into the mechanics suggested in the memorandum, nor into the mechanics suggested by one part of the report of my hon. and gallant Friend. Given the will, I do not think there would be any difficulty at all in putting into operation a scheme of this kind—and by "will" we really mean also the money. I have but one reservation about these proposals. I am not at all sure that it would be proper to expect the financing of the scheme to be wholly the responsibility of the State. To that extent I agree with the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham.

Certainly, it is correctly contended that at the present time the State accepts responsibility for much of the university education of our young people. Nevertheless, there are many technical apprenticeships and training schemes which are not financed by the State, and it might be considered very invidious to single out this particular industry for State help to this extent. However, the amount of money involved does not seem to me to be of such an order as to prove any real obstacle at all if the impetus were given by the Minister. I believe it is about £200,000 or £300,000 a year, a little more than the amount we shall be spending upon blowing up aircraft for the purpose of pressurisation tests on the Farnborough pattern. It is chicken-feed compared with the amount of money that is expended in the aircraft and airline industries.

If I wanted to be controversial, which I will not be this morning, I would say that if the Hawker-Siddeley Company were to devote the money which it now spends in unnecessary advertising to a fund of this kind it would probably be of greater advantage to the airline industry.

Dr. Bennett

This group operates a school, to which the diversion of some activity might well be worth while.

Mr. Beswick

I am aware of that school and I know the basis upon which it is run. It is a very valuable school. I still think that some of the full-page advertisements of this group, trying to persuade its one customer to buy more of its products, might well be devoted to other purposes.

I am sure that some way could be found, possibly partly from the State, partly from the industry and partly, too, from the potential pilots who would benefit. It would be in the general interest if intending trainees and potential pilots could make a contribution on a repayment basis. We might well remember that other countries have come to the United Kingdom and have recruited trained pilots for their airline services.

If we took the lead and trained suitable men, we might again have foreign airlines coming here with attractive short-term offers and taking away from the United Kingdom pilots who have been trained, initially at any rate, at the expense of the British public. That needs to be taken into account, and we might well meet the possibility by a repayment or indenture scheme, along the lines that have been suggested.

I am quite certain that we should have no difficulty in recruiting suitable numbers of young men once it was known just how they could start on the road to the pilot's seat. Reference has been made to letters by young men who wanted to know how to go about it. Though they were of the right scholastic background and had the flying aptitude, which had been proven in various ways, they had to give up the idea of going into civil aviation because they could not afford the expensive initial training. I have seen letters from similar young men who wanted advice about the way through. At present, there just is no way through for young people, although they may be excellent material; and now we are losing them.

I would add a word, which I think is relevant, about making the profession more attractive. I do feel that something more might be done to give an outlet at the top for pilots who have served to the age of 40 or 45 in the air, and who have ability to give further service on the ground to the industry. The situation at the moment is not altogether happy. A man gives the best years of his life from 20 to 45—he certainly receives an appropriate salary—but at the age of 45 he is expected to drop out completely from the industry. At that time his financial responsibilities are as high as they ever will be and his ability for administrative work on the ground is probably at its height.

I hope we can make it possible for more pilots to serve the industry on the ground. The present Master of the Guild of Airline Pilots has shown that it is possible for pilots to take responsible positions of this sort, and we might also think of Captain James, in British European Airways. There are any number of individuals with B.O.A.C., but there are comparatively few of those who go through the industry. Though there are difficulties, I would like to think that something could be done to deal with this aspect of the problem.

We might also give more careful attention to the general status and prestige of the airline pilots' profession. The standard of qualification and the degree of responsibility now required are higher than ever. The standard was always high, but with modern machines operating at high speeds on more congested air routes the qualifications and responsibility needed are higher than ever before. It seems to me that this fact is sometimes not reflected in the pilot's conditions of service, even allowing for the traditional tendency of pilots to complain. However, whatever may be done to improve the conditions of service there must still be some known procedure through which suitable men can be recruited and given essential initial flying training.

On this side of the House we support the Motion, with the reservations that I have expressed on the details of the memorandum. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us something definite and constructive. After all, the Minister has had the memorandum for eleven months and it is not unreasonable to hope that a decision can now be reached.

12.38 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Profumo

): It often happens in this House that the most interesting debates are those in which Members taking part have a thorough understanding of the problems discussed. Everyone would agree that this morning's debate is no exception. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) and to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) for putting forward this Motion and giving me an opportunity to clarify the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards this most important problem.

I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I go back into history. The provision of trained aircrew for civil aviation has been under continuous review since 1946, when it was first considered there was a need to watch this matter so as to obviate a shortage. Because of the wide implications, Lord Nathan, the then Minister, set up a committee on the recruiting, training and licensing of personnel for civil aviation, under the very able chairmanship of the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock), whose deep understanding of these matters the whole House appreciates.

One of the conclusions of that committee was that it was only in respect of pilots that special measures would have to be taken to ensure an adequate supply for civil aviation. That conclusion has been borne out in practice. The hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North said that the conclusions of the report for which he was responsible were not acted upon. The report recommended that, from the point of view of the national economy, the fullest possible use should be made of ex-R.A.F. pilots, and that is the view from which, I venture to suggest, we should be wrong to depart, unless there were very strong reasons.

Lord Pakenham, in the memorandum published with the report, accepted the need for continuous review of this problem of the sufficiency of pilots and set up a standing committee consisting of representatives of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, as it then was, and the Service Ministries, as well as the employers. That committee still operates, but the then Minister felt unable to accept, without further examination, the view that aid for training pilot entrants to civil aviation should be provided from public funds, as was suggested by the committee.

That still remains the view of Her Majesty's Government. Owing to changes in R.A.F. pilot recruiting policy in 1953, it appeared at one stage that the number of pilots available from the Services might no longer be sufficient to meet the requirements of civil aviation, and that, as my hon. Friend in his opening speech said, the basis for a planned intake might disappear altogether.

The hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North regretted that very little had been done about this, but, when this possibility became apparent, my right hon. Friend who is now Secretary of State for the Colonies and my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air in 1954—and perhaps I may just make the point that this was before my right hon. Friend received the memorandum from the Air League and B.A.L.P.A. and others—set up a new inter-Departmental Committee to look into this matter. I think the House may be interested to know something more about this.

For instance, perhaps I may tell the House the composition of that committee. The hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North very rightly referred to the composition of the committee over which he presided. This committee had for its chairman Mr. E. A. Armstrong, an Under-Secretary in my own Department, and, from the Air Ministry there were Air Vice-Marshal the Earl of Bandon, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, Air Vice-Marshal McDonald, Director General of Manning, and Mr. A. E. Slater, Assistant Under-Secretary (Personnel). From my own Department, there were Group Captain J. B. Veal, Director of Air Safety and Licensing, and Group Captain G. F. K. Donaldson, Deputy Director of Training and Licensing.

The terms of reference which my right hon. Friend and my noble Friend gave to that Committee may also interest the House. They were: … to examine the future recruitment and training of pilots for civil aviation in the United Kingdom, taking into account the following factors:—

  1. (i) Future trend of civil aviation requirements in numbers and qualifications of pilots.
  2. (ii) Effect of the new policy for R.A.F. aircrew engagements.
  3. (iii) The need in the national interest to maintain a close link between aircrews serving in civil aviation and the R.A.F.
  4. (iv) The need for economy in the use of resources devoted to pilot training; and
  5. (v) The demand for ex-R.A.F. pilots from civil operators outside the United Kingdom."
This Committee sat for a long time, and it is understandable that it did, because there was a great deal to be done. The hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North said that his own committee sat for many months, though I agree with a slightly different background. There would have been no point in setting up such a committee unless its deliberations were very thorough.

As a result of a long and painstaking examination, that committee came to some conclusions and made some recommendations, and it concluded, firstly, that the R.A.F. will continue to provide for at least the next seven or eight years a field of recruitment of pilots for civil aviation adequate to meet the estimated requirements of civil operators in the United Kingdom and in the Colonies. Secondly, that the age-spread, experience and technical background of pilots released from the R.A.F. should be acceptable to civil aviation, bearing in mind the varying demands of the operators.

Mr. Beswick

Can the Minister give us some idea of the age-spread and experience of people expecting to leave the R.A.F.?

Mr. Profumo

I was not going into it in detail, but, if I may answer the hon. Gentleman's query, there is obviously a considerable spread because we are still getting in the R.A.F. National Service men who come out at the age of 22, and those who come out at 26 who have already had experience as captains of aircraft. We must take that sort of spread and qualifications into account.

If I may continue to refer to the conclusions of the Committee, the next was that, in view of the continuance of the R.A.F. as an adequate source for civil pilots, the setting up of an independent civil aviation flying training scheme supported from public funds"— and I emphasise that— is not justified. Finally, they concluded that, in view of the uncertainty of the position at the end of seven or eight years, and because of the time which would be needed to set up an alternative training scheme, the whole question of future recruitment should be reviewed after four years. The Committee then recommended that the Standing Committee on Recruitment for Civil Aviation from the Services should be invited to continue its work in establishing a procedure for direct liaison between civil operators and potential civil pilots from the R.A.F., while they are still serving, and that is the point which the hon. Gentleman put, and, secondly, that the Standing Committee should invite the operators to consider the institution of a central agency to collate current vacancies in civil aviation.

Group Captain Wilcock

I should very much like to hear the remarks and conclusions; I think they are very interesting. I think it is a pity they have not been given publicity, but that may be the Minister's intention. I should be more impressed but for the fact that there is a shortage of pilots, and, if everything is as good and as satisfactory as that Report suggests, there should be no shortage today.

Mr. Profumo

First of all, with regard to publicity, I am informing the House officially for the first time of the conclusions of this Committee. I am afraid I cannot really accept the contention of the hon. and gallant Gentleman that there is a shortage today. One of the problems we have been up against in regard to the future is that we get very varied reports from the various sources from which we get information, but, by and large, it would be wrong to say that at this stage there was any acute shortage or crisis.

Group Captain Wilcock

If the Minister cares to look at the aviation papers, he will see that there are advertisements for pilots every week.

Mr. Profumo

That is quite true, and, indeed, there are advertisements, but, on the whole, it would be a mistake if we were to suggest that there was a shortage or a crisis in regard to pilots in civil aviation today, taking the industry as a whole.

I wish to go on to say that my right hon. Friend accepted the recommendations of this Committee, with one proviso, about which I should like to say something later on.

Several hon. Members, in quoting outside documents and from their own information and experience, have said in criticism that the R.A.F. will perhaps be unable to provide sufficient numbers of pilots of an acceptable age range for civil aviation. What about those criticisms? The Committee took the view that this opinion has been shown to be ill-founded. They recognised the problems of the unpredictable fluctuations and argued that, under peacetime manning arrangements, the effects of any major change in aircrew recruiting policy on the flow of pilots to civil aviation were likely to be delayed—and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air agrees—and ought to be foreseeable.

It is sometimes said that the intake from the Royal Air Force is not likely to be suitable for civil aviation, and points have been made about that today. I should remind the House that most pilots flying in civil aviation today are ex-R.A.F. pilots, and it would seem to me to be difficult in view of this to justify the argument that Service pilots are unsuitable for civil aviation. Another argument is that a Service training and background do not prepare a pilot for civil employment. Although I admit that much of the training given to a Service pilot is unrelated to the qualifications which he needs as a civil pilot, his basic training is very sound and in many respects goes beyond what is required to qualify for a commercial pilot's licence.

On the question of temperament, as I might call it, the Report finds no grounds to support the criticism that Royal Air Force pilots are temperamentally un-suited for civil flying. I think that I can say that what one might call the "wizard-prang" era in the R.A.F. is over. I was pleased that my hon. Friend interjected, as he did just now, because modern Service aircraft and flying technique demand the most rigorous training, and, quite apart from the fact that human lives are involved, aircraft today are far too expensive to be recklessly endangered. So I think that we can dispose of that point.

The Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone calls attention to the lack of alternative sources of training aircrew for civil aviation; I do not think that he would advocate alternative schemes financed out of public funds in the absence of any likelihood of a shortage of ex-Service pilots of suitable qualifications and age. There is no reason, of course, why operators should not themselves jointly or severally introduce a scheme for ab initio training of commercial pilots without State assistance. This has been commented upon today. Nor is there any reason why the State should not recognise such a scheme or schemes and give them moral support.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham mentioned the Airways Aero Club. The Club is doing very good work indeed, and I think that its work is typical of the sort of thing that certainly can be done on a larger scale with considerable effect.

I want to say a word or two about the training of helicopter pilots, which I thought the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North might in his wisdom himself have mentioned. The responsibility for the training of pilots for civil helicopters is no different from that in respect of other classes of aircraft, and it will be for operators to take the necessary steps to obtain helicopter pilots as they need them.

In considering the general problem of the supply of helicopter pilots for civil aviation, we have taken account of the need for pilots qualified on helicopters. However, detailed assessment of requirement and any decision on the way it is ultimately to be met must, I think, await a clearer picture of the way in which helicopter services will develop. The training of helicopter pilots already qualified on aeroplanes is a problem similar in many respects to that of training a pilot on a new type of aeroplane. This must be regarded as an operator's responsibility.

As I said a few minutes ago, we have accepted this Report to which I have referred, subject to one proviso. May I explain this in a little more detail? The Committee's principal conclusion that the R.A.F. can continue to provide for at least the next seven years a field of recruitment of pilots for civil aviation adequate to meet the estimated requirements of operators in the United Kingdom and the Colonies is, to a large extent, based on a canvass of over 500 pilots on short service commission due to leave the R.A.F. in the next two years, and who have not applied to remain in the Service under the terms of the scheme introduced in March, 1954, whereby they had the opportunity of direct commissions for a period of 12 years, with the option to leave after eight years and the possibility of transfer to permanent terms later. That, to some degree explains why we have taken a rather long time over this. It is no mean problem to canvass over 500 people, and it was necessary—and I emphasise this—to do this as thoroughly as possible if the Report was to be of any value. That was based on the Committee's Report.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

This is obviously a most important Report, and it is most interesting to hear about it. Is it to be published as a White Paper?

Mr. Profumo

My right hon. Friend is prepared to publish the Report, but I think that if my hon. Friend will allow me to come to the end of what I am saying, he will understand why, at this stage, I am not intending to publish it at the moment.

Mr. Beswick

I cannot follow the deduction that, because at the end of two years so many men will come out of the R.A.F., the needs of civil aviation will be catered for for seven years. Was it a general survey, and was it expected that there would be a continuous flow after the second year, and, if so, how is that reconciled with the fact that every short service commission man is not now to be given flying training?

Mr. Profumo

Perhaps I can explain that difficulty. In answer to the hon. Gentleman, I can only state that the recommendations were very largely based on the canvass, which I have quoted to show how thoroughly this matter has been gone into. It is expected that this flow will continue for the next six or seven years, and that it will be adequate to meet the demands of the industry, which we have estimated on the best advice that we could get from the operators and those who really know.

Since the Committee presented this Report, a modification to this scheme has been introduced by the Air Ministry, whereby such pilots are now offered an immediate grant of a commission up to pensionable age as an alternative to a 12-year commission.

Whether this change of emphasis—because that is what it is—in the R.A.F. policy will cause any important change in the attitude of these short-service commission pilots towards leaving the R.A.F. and applying for employment as pilots in civil aviation cannot possibly be forecast with any precision without further detailed examination. Accordingly, my right hon. Friend has decided to refer this specific point back to the Committee for further consideration.

I am quite sure that the House will appreciate why that has happened. We may take it that these inquiries will take a considerable time. But my hon. Friend wishes me to say that if he has any reason to change his view—the view which is now held by myself and by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air, then he will inform the House. Meanwhile the Government's policy continues to be that, in the interests of the national economy, the fullest use should be made of ex-Service pilots, both from the R.A.F. and the Royal Navy, to meet the needs of civil aviation.

In spite of forecasts to the contrary, there should be a supply of ex-Service pilots for at least the next seven or eight years, sufficient to meet the needs of civil aviation. Whilst this continuing source of supply is assured, Her Majesty's Government cannot contemplate heavy public expenditure for any alternative scheme for training pilots for civil aviation.

Group Captain Wilcock

Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to say who are the 500 pilots who state that they would like to go into civil aviation? Is the position which he is now quoting a result of that investigation?

Mr. Profumo

The provision which I am quoting is as a result of the investigation without our having detailed knowledge of any difference that may accrue because of the new announcement on R.A.F. recruiting. Her Majesty's Government's attitude is that the air transport industry is quite free to set up any individual or co-operative scheme which it chooses to augment the numbers of pilots available from the Services, but the Government can do no more than give such schemes moral support. The Government will co-operate with civil aviation interests in keeping the problem of pilot recruitment under review, particularly in relation to the supply of pilots from the Services, so that action may be taken by the industry in ample time should a likely short-fall of pilots be apparent at any time.

In conclusion, may I say how grateful I am to my hon. Friend for bringing this Motion before the House, a Motion which I am very pleased on behalf of Her Majesty's Government to accept. I am also grateful to other hon. Members who have taken part in a debate, which I shall read with great thoroughness as soon as it is printed, and which I hope has been of some value to hon. Members interested in this matter.

1.0 p.m.

Sir W. Wakefield

I am gratified by the support which has been given to the Motion, I think from all sides of the House, and also by the fact that an opportunity has been provided to the Parliamentary Secretary to make, on behalf of the Government, what I consider to be a very important statement. He has given the House and the country some information which was not otherwise available, and I am quite sure that all of us who are so interested in this very important subject will look forward to studying what he said in close detail. If any further amplification of it can be published, I am sure it will be read with great interest in the country.

My hon. Friend said that it looked as though there would be a continuing supply of pilots from the R.A.F., probably adequate for civil aviation, for the next seven or eight years. He said that 500 pilots would be available in the next two years. May I point out to him—I am sure account must have been taken of this—that if 500 pilots suddenly come on to the commercial market in two years——

Mr. Profumo

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I do not want him to get this wrong. I do not think I said—and if I said it I certainly did not mean it—that 500 were coming out from the R.A.F. I said that our conclusions followed a canvass of over 500 pilots.

Sir W. Wakefield

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for clarifying that point. It had appeared as though 500 pilots were coming out in the next two years, in which case the same number would not have been available later.

There is one point which I hope the Government will reconsider, and it concerns the gap in civil aviation in respect of the man who does not want to go into the R.A.F. but wants to enter commercial aviation—the keen young man whose circumstances I described to the House earlier. I feel that something ought to be done in such cases.

Are we to understand that the inter-Departmental Committee continues to sit?

Mr. Profumo indicated assent.

Sir W. Wakefield

I am very glad to have that assent from the Parliamentary Secretary. This is most important, for it means that the problem will be kept under continual review. None of us can see exactly how the flow from the R.A.F. will continue or exactly what will be the expansion or wastage in civil aviation, and it is important that there should be such a committee in order that immediate steps could be taken if it appeared that urgent fresh action was necessary.

I hope that the Committee will continue to study this question, in collaboration with the civil aviation industry, and I also hope that the Government will reconsider its attitude towards giving some help in some scheme or another. It might be that the civil aviation industry could offer to provide so much financial assistance and that the Government might go 50–50 in supplying financial assistance. I feel that some scheme ought to be set up as soon as possible to make use of the money which has already been spent on these flying scholarships and to preserve the potential asset of these young men who cannot get into commercial aviation except through the R.A.F. and yet are keen to get into commercial aviation.

If a satisfactory solution could be found to that problem in the next year or two, I think we need have no undue anxiety about the immediate prospects of an adequate supply of men with the necessary qualifications for aircrew duties—pilots in particular—in civil aviation. I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for accepting the Motion and for giving us the information which he has given today.

Group Captain Wilcock

Would the hon. Member like to give his opinion on the suggestion by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) that the industry itself, out of its funds, might also provide money towards this very worthy object of training young and not-very-well-off men as pilots?

Sir W. Wakefield

I did not quite catch what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, but I understood him to ask whether the industry would provide some funds to help the training of pilots. I think that proposal ought to be fully explored, not merely with the section of civil aviation concerned with air transport but also with that section concerned with production, which is vitally interested. As I said earlier, it is not much good producing the finest aircraft unless we have pilots in civil aviation to fly them and to act as a means of demonstration for sales to overseas customers. The idea of financial assistance from the aircraft industry in some way or another ought certainly to be pursued with, I hope, some Government co-operation as well.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to bear in mind the importance to the future development and progress of our mercantile air service, of an adequate supply of men of the highest quality and qualifications for aircrew duties.

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