HL Deb 03 June 1930 vol 77 cc1341-68

VISCOUNT GAGE rose to ask His Majesty s Government whether the route of the Indian air mail has now been definitely settled; whether any improvements or extensions in respect to this service are contemplated, and if they can give any information regarding other new or projected British services overseas; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I feel I must ask for indulgence in asking this Question because I have no qualifications what ever to speak about the air except as a member of the ordinary public. I may perhaps be excused, however, because in the first place nobody else, at any rate for a considerable time, has asked any Question as far as I am aware on the important matter of civil aviation, and because, secondly, I know that the Air Ministry are anxious to enlighten, as far as they can, ordinary public opinion.

I think no one who has actually had experience of the Indian air mail can fail to be impressed by what our Imperial Airways Company has achieved in maintaining a regular service between Cairo and Karachi. Although they fly for the most part over great expanses of barren desert, where other means of communication are practically non-existent, and although they have to contend with dust storms and sandstorms and all kinds of temperatures and weather, nevertheless they have kept up this weekly service for over a year, which is not only very useful to people wishing to travel to or communicate with India, but is also valuable to our great commercial interests in Persia and Iraq. Indeed, I believe that a demand exists for a double service between Cairo and Baghdad. But the point I want to make is that if you compare what has been done in this middle part of the route between Egypt and India with what has been achieved at either end, I think one cannot help noticing a most disappointing contrast. Although a service was started across Europe, and I believe exists again to-day, it completely collapsed for five months last winter. In India, where we have such great interests and where for several months during the year travel by ordinary methods is very unpleasant and sometimes even dangerous, owing to the great heat, and where one may almost say a developed civil aviation might revolutionise the conditions under which our people live, no company, as far as I am aware, either British or Indian or foreign, has been able to do anything except over a short stretch of line between Karachi and Delhi.

I know the question of air finance and air subsidies is a very complicated and very thorny one, but, speaking quite broadly, the condition seems to be this. It seems to be worth our while to keep up a service between Egypt and India, and I understand that we are now proposing to start a new service from Cairo right down Africa to the Cape. If it is worth while keeping up a service for Persia and Iraq and Baluchistan and through Central Africa, it does not seem that either the technical shortcomings of aeroplanes or lack of money really stands in the way of our flying anywhere we want, provided the countries over which we fly are prepared to co-operate with us. I have been myself a passenger not only on the Indian air mail but also on the Nile section of the proposed African route, and I know that in Africa you have some of the wildest country in the world, with great swamps thousands of miles in extent to contend with, and a very scattered European population. I am sure that if we manage to maintain a service there, it will be something of a triumph for the Air Ministry, and I am sure many thousands of British subjects, scattered though they may be, will be grateful to the Ministry for their initiative and enterprise. But it will be a triumph that will not show us how to solve what seems to me to be the much more considerable difficulties that we appear to be experiencing in flying over countries which are not prepared to give us all the facilities we want.

Last December—I think it was in consequence of an accident—it was decided, I understand, to change the route that had been originally followed by Imperial Airways across Europe, and some new arrangement had to be made with Italy. I remember reading in the newspapers that the company had not been able to come to a satisfactory arrangement with the Italian Government. I do not know what the difficulty was, and I do not ask the Minister to tell me—I am sure that the Italian Government were absolutely within their rights—but I want to draw attention to the fact that for five months in consequence our service across Europe ceased. It entirely collapsed. On the Asiatic side, we have never had this sort of interruption as far as I know. There has been no interruption of this sort, though an interruption has been threatened. I understand the Persian Government will not allow us to send more than one aeroplane a week in either direction across Persia, and will not give us sufficient security of tenure to enable our company to put up permanent buildings. That is probably the reason why, good though the aeroplanes are, the ground accommodation for passengers—I mean at the places where they have to spend the night—is really rather rudimentary.

I do not desire to exaggerate these matters. It is not a very serious matter if our passengers are not as comfortable as they might be just at present, and it is not even a very serious matter if for a few months they have to go as far as Athens by train. But I think anybody might wonder what is going to happen in the future, whether these are merely temporary set-backs or an indication of a growing tendency to restrict international flying. At any rate, now that we have a new service through Europe, I wonder if the Minister can tell us whether the contracts or agreements under which our company operates have been established on a basis of sufficient permanence to enable it to provide regular services the whole way to India and to justify the expenditure of money on putting up proper accommodation for passengers and, perhaps, even starting new features, such as night flying.

I do not believe that our business people will ever use the air as it is used in foreign countries unless they can really rely upon the companies keeping to certain routes and maintaining regular schedules. I notice that Germany has nearly 18,000 miles of regularly operated air routes, that France has 20,000 miles and America as much as 46,000 miles. I particularly noticed, in regard to America, that in 1929 they carried 3,427 tons of mails. I know that the words "regularly operated air route" are capable of very wide interpretation, but I think the figures are sufficient to show that aeroplanes are obviously becoming, if they are not already, an essential factor in competitive industry. Our Dominions and Colonies have just under 15,000 miles, but the only air link that we have with any part of our Empire is this Indian route, which covers, I believe, about 5,000 miles. I am only expressing that which I have been able to observe, but it seems to me that, whereas the services of other countries are largely internal services and can develop under stable conditions, our air service goes almost entirely over foreign countries and is entirely dependent upon their good will.

Some days ago your Lordships passed by a large majority a Resolution in favour of Imperial economic unity, and I suppose that, if this is ever to come to anything, the question of air communications will become more important than ever. That is really why I am anxious to know how far this vital and apparently very vulnerable link in our air communication is going to be safeguarded, whether by a general diplomatic convention common to a number of countries or by private contracts or agreements with the countries over which we fly, or whether it is the intention of those responsible to make modifications in the route to suit political conditions. Of course no one can expect the Minister to say anything that is likely to endanger the success of any negotiations that he may have in hand at the moment, but I think these questions rather force themselves on the attention of anybody who has been out to those places, and I for one should be very interested in anything which he has to say on the matter.

The second part of my Question deals with the future of British commercial aviation, and I feel that this is such an immense subject that I can do no better than to invite the Minister to tell us anything that is likely to be of interest. He might like to say something about this new African route or about the airship position, but the only specific question that I should really like to ask him concerns the immediate development in India. I must explain that I have no special knowledge of these matters, but I understand that the intention of the Government of India is that commercial aviation in India shall be developed by a kind of equivalent of our Imperial Airways. If that is so, can the Minister tell us anything about the intentions of this company in regard to linking up Bombay and Calcutta with Karachi? I know that India has been much in the limelight recently, but I understood from the debate a little time ago that the ordinary functions of government were not being seriously interfered with, and the advantages of these two extensions seem to me so obvious that one rather wonders that they have not already taken place. Apart from the advantages to India, it is obviously a link in our chain with Australia and also in the communications between the Dutch East Indian possessions and the French possessions in Indo-China.

I said at the beginning that I was not going to presume to offer any criticism, because I think that no one who is not an expert has any right to do so, but perhaps I might offer one suggestion which is so small that I do not think there is any harm in my making it. It has to do with publicity. While all these alterations are being made and new services are being started and others stopped, I think it would be of great advantage if the most up-to-date information could be made readily available to anybody who is interested, regarding not only our own services but also the services of foreign nations. I know that in Paris, London, Berlin and the great capitals it is easy enough to get such information, but I do not think it is easy to get information in the East. So far as I know, there are two timetables, one a French publication and the other issued by the Deutsche Luft Hausa, and although I know that it is not the business of the Ministry to distribute time-tables, I think it would be a great advantage if these publications, or something like them, could be made available at any of the centres served by our company. I think it would also be a great improvement if notices of alterations and the opening of new services could be given as soon as they occur and in whatever country they originate. It may be that the improvement of international flying information is very difficult to arrange but I do think it could be improved in those parts of the world and, as this seems a comparatively small matter, perhaps the Minister would consider it.

On the general question of publicity, it seems to me that the exploits of ladies such as the Duchess of Bedford and Miss Johnson, which everybody acknowledges to be very magnificent, tend to concentrate public opinion more and more on what can be done by aeroplanes and perhaps to obscure a little what actually is being done by the regular services that run every week. Of course we can look on these air companies as purely financial propositions in themselves and say that—for all I know this may be the case—our Imperial Airways service to India is running to full capacity already, and therefore it would be waste of money to spend anything extra on advertisement. If, in the opinion of those more qualified to judge than myself—and I think there are a good number of them—there are perhaps more intangible advantages both to commerce and administration to be derived from linking up British interests by air, I think perhaps one of the best ways of making sure about the future success of these companies would be to spread as far as possible the knowledge of what is being done at present. I know that Imperial Airways is a private company, and I know that the Minister has pointed out in another place that agreements which they make with foreign countries are really their own concern, but they are a monopoly company, which we subsidise, and everything which they do, it seems to me, is of the greatest importance to the public. I beg to move.


My Lords, although I was not directly responsible in any way for civil aviation during my time at the Air Ministry, I have always been enormously interested in the subject of civil aviation, owing to its vital importance to this Empire, and not only to the question of the defence of this Empire. Before the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Thomson, replies, I would just like to say one or two words as to the principles upon which I think civil aviation ought to be run. I cannot help feeling that a great number of people are continually asking: Does civil aviation pay? Does it pay 5 per cent, on the money invested? Is this altogether fair to civil aviation? Would it not be more far-seeing to look at civil aviation from the point of view of how much it is going to benefit the Empire as a whole, owing to its help in the direction of quicker communications? I think nobody will fail to admit that quicker communication between different parts of the Empire is becoming more and more a vital matter every year, and I would like to ask: What is civil aviation worth to the Empire? What is it worth to the political life of the Empire? What is it worth to the industrial life of the Empire? What is it worth on the administrative side? What is it worth to the defence of the Empire?

Can its value be put into figures? Perhaps not, but surely it touches a much wider field than is apparent at first sight. One can only say that in the years to come its value to the Empire will be very great. A system of rapid inter-communication between all parts of our Empire would mean an enormous speeding up of civilisation and industrial progress. It would mean that countries and districts which at present are only just beginning to be opened up would be quickened into life in a fraction of the time, if people could get to them quickly. Experts, men of great ideas and enterprise, hesitate to go from one part of the Empire to another if it means the wasting of weeks and months in travelling. They cannot afford the waste of time, but surely they would go if the means of communication were quickened, and that would help in the development of the Empire. Not only would empty spaces be filled, but places which are now being developed would quickly be improved enormously. Industry would be quickened, and by quickening industry greater markets would be available. As it was put in another place, communication with civilised centres means civilisation. This question has been raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, from a little different angle but it comes to the same thing, that civil aviation by quickening up communications is vital, and will become more vital.

The money necessary for civil aviation is not in my opinion in the nature of a subsidy to civil aviation until civil aviaton pays. Surely we should look upon it more in the nature of a payment for what I may call, for lack of a better name, "unforeseen benefits"—benefits that will certainly accrue from a thorough development of our communications. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, is very keen to see civil aviation developed—nobody is keener—and therefore I am confident that he will not take my remarks as being in criticism of the present or any other methods. On the contrary, my only object is to ventilate the subject, so that it may perhaps be realised that there are benefits to accrue from the development of civil aviation which cannot be set forth in terms of a percentage on the money laid out.

With regard to the other point which Lord Gage raised, freedom of the Air, that is to say, liberty to all to fly anywhere, no matter what lies below them, I would like to point out that this question has been debated constantly ever since 1919, when the Air Convention was first signed. It is well known that a certain number of Powers chose to regard the provisions of the Air Convention as signifying the right of any one Power to fly over the land of any other Power on certain specified routes. A large number of Powers, however, took the opposite view, and maintained that freedom of the air was only conditional; that is, conditional on an agreement with the Power whose land was flown over. As far as I remember this point was again debated last year, or the year before, at a full meeting of the Air Convention, and I believe that twenty-seven nations voted against freedom of the air being absolute. In other words, if aeroplanes of one Power wished to fly over the land of another Power an agreement must first be made. That decision, made At a full meeting of the Air Convention, secures to each and every Power what I may call the "flying rights" over its own territories. Any Power can, of course, assign these "flying rights" to another Power, or to any flying concern, on Any terms they choose, but the fact remains that these "flying rights" exist, and to my mind, taking human nature for what it is, no other decision would have been practicable.

Freedom of the sea is possible because the sea does not pass over or under any nation's country. The air, on the contrary, does, and after all the air is as free as the sea for there are no limitations on the flying of any Power over any part of the sea. Where the sea is free for ships it is free for aircraft. To ask for absolute freedom of the air, therefore, is to ask for something very much greater, and far in excess of the freedom of the sea. We are peculiarly well situated outside of Europe with regard to the making of flying agreements with foreign Powers, should they wish to fly over our territories. Should we be justified in considering for one moment the jettisoning of a right which is a most valuable asset to the British Empire? I feel that we gain most by upholding the decision which was made last year or the year before by the vote of twenty-seven nations, and we have most to lose by overthrowing it.


My Lords, I should like to express my thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, for having raised this question. Civil aviation is a fertile field and needs constant weeding because of its fertility, and any one who, like himself, has taken the trouble—I will not say the risk—of flying over our air routes and expresses an opinion in this House will always be heard gladly, at least while I occupy my present position, and his suggestions, which are most constructive, will be most welcome. Civil aviation is quite one of the most important functions of the Air Ministry. Personally I put it second to none, and it is a question which cannot be ventilated too often and one on which too much information cannot be given.

The noble Viscount has put certain questions with regard to our air route to India and with regard to the permanence of arrangements which can be entered into on that route. I would like to remind him of a fact which he probably knows extremely well already—namely, that we are situated in rather a difficult position in this matter. We have our own small island with excellent railways, and roads which are really motor race tracks, and here we cannot develop civil aviation to quite the same extent that larger countries with less good communications can develop it. On the other hand, we have a far-flung Empire which we can only reach by crossing other people's territory, and to do so we have to enter into a variety of agreements with the Governments of those countries.

My noble friend Lord Trenchard has referred to that very delicate subject, the freedom of the air. It is rather a misleading phrase. Generally speaking, the freedom of the air is really a freedom to operate along certain air routes. We British have always held the view that any civilised State to-day will and should possess an international air route across its territory, and by freedom of the air we mean that any country, a member and a subscriber to the International Convention, would be able to fly along such an international air route in the territory of another member of that international body. That, unfortunately, is not quite the case. The whole dispute at the present time turns on the interpretation of Article 15 of the International Convention, and Article 15 no one quite understood.

I cannot help thinking it must have been drawn up by some great international jurist, because so little did any one understand it that various countries put up their own interpretations of this Article, and the interpretation put up by the French representative, now a member of the French Government, was this:— Every contracting State may make conditional on its prior authorisation the establishment of international airways and the creation and operation of regular international air navigation lines, with or without landing on its territory. The words I would like to draw your attention to are, "may make conditional on its prior authorisation." That is to say, any country in Europe has, we will say, an air line, and other members of this international body are not allowed to use that air line freely: they can only do it on the prior authorisation of the State concerned. That interpretation was accepted by 27 votes to 4 on the international body. Twenty-seven countries voted for that very restricted interpretation of the freedom of the air, and four countries voted for a wider interpretation. Those four countries were Great Britain, the United States, Sweden and, I think, Holland or some other Scandinavian country. We were in the fortunate position of having voted for the wider interpretation, but were voted down.

My own policy ever since that date has been to adhere loyally to the majority's decision, but I would like to add that our representative on that body then and there moved an addition to the clause I have just read out, and the words he proposed to add were:— Such authorisation may be refused only on reasonable grounds. That proposition was turned down by eighteen votes to eleven, but on this occasion the French Government voted with us. That is the position; and when the noble Viscount says to me: "What assurance can you give us of permanence of arrangement and regular travelling on the route to India, which inevitably must cross Europe?" I can only tell him that that permanence will entirely depend upon the local arrangements we make with each territory we pass over.

I may say this, that so far as Britain is concerned we have not the least difficulty in reaching agreement with the countries that the air line to India now passes over—not the least. France has always been most kind to us in this respect, and indeed it was only last summer that I was able to conclude a general agreement on a reciprocity basis with the Secretary of State for Air in France. All through now to the Balkans, to Salonika, and to Athens, we experience not the least difficulty in concluding arrangements on a reciprocity basis. The noble Viscount has referred to certain difficulties with Italy, and to the breakdown of our communications with Egypt in the latter part of last year, which he attributed to an accident. I need hardly say that I am not in a position to go into our difficulties with Italy, but from the point of view of the Government I can assure him that there has been no real friction of any sort, kind, or description, but a certain amount of rivalry between Imperial Airways, our company, and the company that operates the line for Italy. That was a rivalry largely of a trade character. And the difficulty in regard to it is that Italy stands out for the restricted interpretation of freedom of the air, and when we come to make a special arrangement with Italy it is rather difficult to find a basis of re- ciprocity because we have nothing to give Italy in return for the privileges we enjoy on Italian territory. We have offered them various facilities, but they really do not require those facilities. The consequence is that we shall have to continue to negotiate in the same friendly spirit with Italy as that in which we have conducted our negotiations in the past, and I have not the least doubt that in the end we shall come to a satisfactory arrangement.

But in the meantime the existing arrangement is by no means bad. It is now an established route across the Balkans to India, the Mid-European route, and that is functioning with the greatest regularity and, indeed, with remarkable punctuality. The route to India now passes from London to Cologne, Nuremberg, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, a place called Uskub in the Balkans, down to Salonika and, since April 15, the whole of that route has been by air. Without intermission the service has functioned really with remarkable precision. I do not deny that in the winter months, when there is snow on the Balkan mountains, that route may be dangerous on occasions and it may be necessary to resort to a train service over certain sections of it. The loss of time will not be great; but, of course, it would be preferable to have a through air service, as is being maintained at present with extremely satisfactory results.

I do not know whether your Lordships are aware of the times taken. The route goes from London to Egypt entirely by air in three days; from London to Iraq, with one small rail journey from Alexandria to Heliopolis, in four days; from London to Karachi in seven days, sometimes in six and a-half days, and from London to Delhi in eight days. It is no mean performance when you come to think of the vast variety of territory that is passed over and the number of agreements that have to be entered into with all those countries. When you leave Europe you reach Arabia; when you leave Arabia you reach Persia. The noble Viscount complained, and I have no doubt he has some reason for so doing, of having possibly passed a very uncomfortable night at Jask or somewhere else, and of insufficient accommodation, and he asked me, I think, why we could not arrange for more permanent buildings there. I want to speak quite frankly. Our concession from the Persian Government expires, I think, in twenty-two months and until we are certain that we can renew it, it would not be worth while for the company to build permanent structures for the reception of passengers by the air route. I need hardly say that every effort is being made to persuade the Persian Government, or to come to some definite arrangement one way or the other with them. But in the hot season in Persia diplomatic deals go slowly. I hope we shall have a satisfactory solution of this matter some time about next October. As soon as that deal is settled one way or the other—we cannot press people, we can only make a fair offer, we can only offer to a Government like the Persian Government some advantages from this communication which should be obvious—when that deal has been concluded, at once the accommodation will be improved by the company.

The noble Viscount referred to possible extensions of our civil aviation system and I should like to refer very briefly to that. I would point out that at this present moment there are in the British Empire something like 22,350 miles of air route in regular operation. As a people we rather decry our own efforts and make little of our achievements, but I would like to point out to the House that that is the second largest mileage for air routes in the world. It is second only to the United States, which enjoys unique advantages in this respect from the extent of its territory. The British Empire has more miles of air route in regular operation than either Germany or France, and Germany, it must be remembered, is singularly favoured in a geographical sense. It is the sort of focal point of Europe on the highway to the wide spaces of Russia and, so to speak, the link between Europe and Asia. But in spite of those advantages, the British Empire has at this moment 22,350 miles of air route in regular operation, equipped, I think we may say without undue national pride, by some of the finest flying machines in the world and certainly piloted by some of the best pilots. It is a feature of travel on the Continent by air how every traveller of whatever race will always go in a British aero plane if he or she can. That, I believe, is largely due to the excellence of our pilots. But it is in some measure due to the ground organisation and the care that has been taken to eliminate all possible risks through faulty structure.

The extensions that we anticipate are twofold. One, through India to Australia. The exact date when that extension will be effected depends to a very large extent on the Australian Government, but I have hopes it will be at the end of next year. At the present moment discussions are going on with the Government of India regarding the route across India. The air mail is functioning as far as Delhi, Karachi to Delhi, by charter rates and not under the general system that we are all aiming at, of one overhead establishment, the great trunk route to Port Darwin and on to Australia under one management. I am afraid that ideal has not yet been achieved. Whether it will be achieved or not I cannot tell you for the moment; I am anyhow a little doubtful. The other extension that we contemplate is through Africa from Cairo to the Cape. That should be completed as far as the Great Lakes in Central Africa by the end of this year and to Capetown itself by the spring of 1931. I should like here and now to pay a tribute to the Government of South Africa, who have been most helpful in this matter and have practically agreed to their share of the subsidy. Those are the extensions that I think the noble Viscount asked me about.


Will the noble Lord tell us how long it will take to go to Capetown by that route via Egypt?


I am afraid I could not say exactly but I will have that looked up. I could give a guess but I would rather give an exact answer. It is a point that I have not looked up, but I will let the noble Viscount know. The question raised by my noble friend Lord Trenchard in regard to subsidies is the next point to which I would draw your Lordships' attention. I frankly confess that if I could have dictatorial powers in this matter for a short time I would endeavour to work along the lines he has suggested and plan Empire air routes, not so much from the point of view of whether they are paying propositions or not, whether they are commercial or not, but with a long view to the future and with the idea of really linking up the Empire both for communication and strategical purposes. I should like to do that, but it would cost a great deal of money. What has been done up to date is that with a view to securing contributions of a private nature and capital from private sources, subsidies have been given to companies to operate certain lines. In the end it has come to this that a monopoly of the subsidy has fallen into the hands of a given company.

That company in this case is Imperial Airways, and it is no good concealing the fact that a great deal of dissatisfaction has been expressed at this monopoly of subsidy given to one company. I do not myself quite like subsidies, and especially a monopoly of subsidies. I think it is wrong. In fact, I do not like subsidies paid out of public funds being used to pay dividends to private investors. I do not think it is right, but that system is one which I inherited, and, while I have expressed my personal point of view, in common justice to the arrangement that has been entered into, and to Imperial Airways, I have to say this, that it has been found necessary in every country that operates commercial air lines to follow our example. I would like to give you the case, for example, of the different European countries that are doing exactly the same thing as ourselves. In Germany one monopoly company, the Luft Hausa; in Holland, one monopoly company; in France, three monopoly companies, with special provision to avoid competition between them; Belgium, one monopoly company; Sweden, one monopoly company; in Italy it is proposed to merge the six existing companies into two monopoly companies, one for service over land and the other for service over seas; in Spain, one monopoly company.

Your Lordships may well ask: "Why is this?" I think the answer is that unless the Government assistance is concentrated on one company, if it is distributed among several, there is a very considerable danger that all those companies will go bankrupt. It sounds magnificent to have a lot of companies competing with one another, but the whole process of rationalisation—and this is in a sense rationalisation—is to eliminate competition as far as possible, and especially in an industry like civil aviation. So precarious are the commercial prospects of any aviation company at the moment that it is necessary, and has been proved necessary in all those cases I have quoted, to give one company, or a group of companies, a monopoly of the subsidy. Therefore, against my better judgment, I might say certainly against my predilections, I find myself the inheritor of a system, whose good points I feel it my duty to point out.

Now I would like to give your Lordships some figures with regard to our monopoly company, and the monopoly companies of two or three other countries, because here we do shine. I would like to point out, first, that I do not suppose any one with a responsibility for civil aviation would justify the granting of subsidies unless there was a fair prospect that in the end the company would be self-supporting. If I felt sure that civil aviation would never pay, would never be a commercial proposition, I think I would be more strongly opposed than I am to the granting of a subsidy at all. I would then be much more definitely determined to see to it that civil aviation was an affair of the State, for State running. But, though I can give you no really good reason, I do believe that, somehow or another in process of time, either by a reduction in the cost of running, or some new invention, we shall see commercial aviation on a self-supporting basis; but in the meantime I have had figures worked out so as to afford a fair basis of comparison between the value received for our subsidy and the value received in other countries, and these are the final figures.

In Germany, which is a very leading country in commercial aviation, 68 per cent. of the receipts of the Luft Hausa, the monopoly company, are represented by subsidy. When you travel as a passenger in a German aeroplane 68 per cent. of your ticket is being paid for by the taxpayers in Germany, or the ratepayers of some municipality. In France, 77 per cent. of the receipts are paid for out of public funds. France is actually spending nearly £1,600,000 a year on subsidies to civil aviation. I have been charged, not by any one in this House or any one in my own Department but by the Treasury, with being a little grasping in the matter, yet I have not reached £500,000. In Great Britain only 50 per cent. of the receipts of Imperial Airways are paid for out of subsidies-50 per cent. compared with 68 per cent. in Germany and 77 per cent. in France. I think that is a good showing, because to hear people talk about our civil aviation one would think it was a most wasteful, crazy concern. As a matter of fact, those figures are very convincing as regards the businesslike manner in which our monopoly company is managed.

There is another basis of comparison which I would like to give, and, indeed, it is more searching—the cost per ton mile of the machines. The cost per ton mile—that includes passengers, goods and mails—in France is 16s. 9d. paid out of subsidy; in Germany it is Os. 4d.; in Britain it is only 6s. 9d. If you take our European routes, and they are the fairest comparison, because none of these other countries go quite so far afield or to the same extent afield as we do, it is only 3s. 4d. per ton mile on our European services. That is another tribute to the businesslike manner in which our civil aviation service is conducted. I have given your Lordships those figures with the special purpose of proving that the system, which I do not really like myself, thanks to the highly efficient method in which it is worked, should justify itself in the eyes of all business-minded people.

There is one other point which may interest the noble Viscount. He talked about extensions. We are now discussing, and I think we are seeing the light at last, the opening up of what are called Atlantic Airways in the Western Atlantic. I need hardly say that such a development call only be carried through in cooperation with the Canadian Government, but we are meeting with the most sympathetic response. A great deal of work in that connection has been done by the Consultative Committee which was set up last July, and I would like to take this opportunity of thanking the members of that Committee for the very excellent public service they have rendered. When I mention their names, you will realise haw busy these gentlemen are. One is Sir Alan Anderson, representing shipping. Another is Mr. Quirey, representing railways, and a third is Sir It. Nugent, representing the Federation of British Industries. The Members of Parliament are Sir William Brass from the Conservative Party, Sir Archibald Sinclair from the Liberal Party and Mr. Snell of my own Party—all very busy Members of Parliament, you will admit. The three gentlemen from business life are well known for their activities. In addition, we have Colonel O'Gorman, a well known authority on aeronautical science.

These gentlemen have made many reports. They are continually putting up reports to me which are of the greatest value, and I need hardly say, in view of the character of these gentlemen—as I warned them from the first—I have the very greatest difficulty in turning down any scheme they recommend. In fact, their recommendation would carry weight with any one. They have reported most sympathetically on this Atlantic Airways scheme, and I repeat that I am fairly confident now that we shall be able to do something of that kind. We shall then have established something on the far side of the Atlantic independent of the monopoly subsidy, something new, something which I trust may lead to the sale of British aircraft in South America and other parts of the world, something which will certainly develop and quicken our communications.

There has been a Bill introduced in another place called the Air Transport (Subsidy Agreements) Bill, and I was amazed to find that many people thought that Bill meant that the Secretary of State had a Million pounds a year to play with for civil aviation. I wish it were so, my Lords. That Bill has been introduced merely with a view to giving the Secretary of State for the time being statutory authority to enter into longterm agreements. That statutory authority makes the agreements binding on succeeding Governments. We are continually entering into such agreements, as I have already indicated, and we shortly will be entering into another rather large one with regard to South Africa. The Bill is there, but I am afraid that the Air Ministry have got to go through the usual process before they can extract a single farthing out of the Treasury.

They have to go through negotiations with the Treasury first, every penny expended is shown in the Estimate, and the debate on the Estimate affords an opportunity for a thorough discussion of subsidy policy. So I can reassure your Lordships if you were afraid that in any sense of the word I had "got away with it," because I have not. There is really only a difference in form and not in substance. I would remind your Lordships that the sum of £1,000,000, which sounds rather large in view of the moderate Estimates this year, is not so large as appears at first sight. It includes contributions from the Dominions and Colonies. It is quite possible that the contributions from those sources may within the next few years amount to something like £370,000, so that with £400,000 odd we have already we are in the neighbourhood at once of £750,000. That leaves only £250,000 for developments, some of which are not yet even in sight. It also includes anything which may be done with regard to subsidising airship navigation.

I have answered nearly all the questions, but if your Lordships will allow me to inflict myself on you for a little longer, I would like to say a few words in conclusion on the subject of airships, because I am aware that there has been a great deal of disappointment in regard to the airship programme. I would like to remind your Lordships that the airship programme, which I had the honour to introduce in this House in 1924, was then described by me, not once but several times, as experimental and tentative. It was never claimed that we were going to build two commercial airships which would at once take the air as their native element, and fly to all parts of the globe. That was not so at all. If you will allow me to re-enumerate the stages of that programme, I think you will see that there is some justification for my remark. It was to begin with experiments and research, and then to go on with full scale flying with an old airship, reconditioned. There was then to be the construction of an experimental section. The fourth stage was meteorological investigation of the most searching character on the Indian route. The fifth stage was the provision of ground organisation, and the sixth stage was the building of two ships. The building of those two ships was only started three years ago.

Now many of your Lordships may wonder at the insignificant character of the results achieved. Well, I repeat it is an experiment and the final stages of that experiment will only be made this month in regard to one ship and in September in regard to the other. If there is any blame to be imputed in this matter, I would like to take it at once. This is one of the most scientific experiments that man has ever attempted, and there is going to be no risk, while I am in charge, of the thing being rushed or of any lives being sacrificed through lack of foresight. It is far too scientific and important a matter for that. I am grateful to the Press for the advertisement they have given to it, but as a matter of fact this scientific experiment really does not need advertisement. Sometimes undue publicity is a little inconvenient, as when people get the impression that you are building an airship which will take one hundred M.P.s all over the country. That was the greatest error of all my life. I was punished by weather. These are scientific experiments, and they will not cease to be experiments until these supreme tests of the airship have been completed.

One will take place at the end of this month to Canada, and the other to India in September. I regret extremely the disappointment that has been caused in Canada by the delay. Hopes were raised in Canada that early this month there would be the ship over Montreal where the Canadian Government, at their own expense, have built a mast. No one deplores more than I do their disappointment, but it cannot be helped. We are not going to send that ship while there is anything perceptibly wrong with her, and though what was wrong was of a very minor character, it is going to be put right before the ship goes. Until the test flights have been finished it is impossible to give an idea of what future airship policy is going to be. If the almost unthinkable happened and these ships failed on their final flights, there might be a strong movement towards scrapping of the programme. That would be heart-breaking. I cannot tell you what magnificent work has been done by the airship men. There are officers in that work to-day who have sacrificed promotion and many other advantages in order to get on with this great experiment. We have a body of enthusiasts at work there, and only the worst of luck could interfere with the success of the experiment. If we have bad lack I should have thought it was in the British character to stick to it still and triumph over temporary adversity.

Supposing—and I think this is very likely to be the case—that these two final flights prove satisfactory, it may be urged that the construction should then proceed forthwith of a 7,500,000 cubic-ft. ship, as that would be about the size for a ship that would be a commercial proposition. Whether that ship would be constructed at Cardington by the Government constructors is an open question. It is certainly one of the policies open to the Government. The second policy is to invite the collaboration of the big shipping companies. If, for example, during the course of this year several flights take place over great distances and careful records are kept of the expenditure of fuel, the running costs, the risks to be avoided and the methods of navigation to be pursued, I have many good reasons to believe that the great shipping companies would be interested, and not only shipping companies at home but shipping companies on an international basis. I have always regarded airships as an international means of navigation. My object has been to make British ships the best and safest in the world, because I feel that we ought to take the lead in this matter, this being essentially an Empire problem.

The third course is the one that I think is most likely to be pursued in the event of our having a good record of achievement during the autumn of this year. This is a point which may interest some of your Lordships. You may well ask why it is that the "Graf Zeppelin" can go round the world and make enormous flights while our two ships spend their time mainly in their sheds. That is a very easy question to answer. The Germans have 30 years' experience of building airships. They ran commercial ships from Lake Constance before the War. I do not wish to decry the virtues of our own people, but in view of that experience I think it is only natural that we should accept the fact that there are very few Dr. Eckener's in this world. We have not had time to produce our Dr. Eckener—one of the most remarkable men I have ever met. They are not found in every generation.

Then again, though I wish to say nothing in depreciation of the "Graf Zeppelin" as a ship, I do not think you could compare it as a structure with R.101, or even R.100. We have started out on the design of these two ships on a basis of first principles. We have not copied any well-known model, but we have produced two ships that are the strongest in the world. One of Dr. Eckener's principal experts, after seeing R.101, said to me: "That is the safest conveyance on land or sea or in the air." He was enthusiastic about its qualities. During the construction of these two ships we have never attempted to secure a gain in lightness at the expense of solidity. We have produced two almost unbreakable ships in any foreseeable weather conditions, and providing they are properly navigated. There are improvements to be introduced into both of those ships which will considerably lighten their loads, but those improvements will be on the basis of "Safety first"—exactly on the same basis as that on which the ships were originally constructed. "Safety first" may not be a very paying proposition in regard to politics, but I am sure it is the right thing in regard to airships.

What have we achieved? We have those two ships, and we have a magnificent ground organisation and design staff. We have spent £2,300,000 odd on the whole programme. I read in the newspapers about a £1,000,000 ship. Those two ships put together only just cost £900,000. There is no £1,000,000 ship. The figures are certainly rather interesting. The cost of the two ships together was £894,000, research cost £305,000, and then we have a ground organisation which includes two of the largest sheds in the world, three mooring masts—one of the great developments due to British enterprise—and, last but not least, an immense amount of knowledge. Personally I believe the knowledge we have gained, which we could not have gained unless we had built the ships and had practical experience, is alone worth £2,300,000. There are various improvements in sight, and if we can only keep our design staff going I have not the least doubt that our experiment will have been amply justified.

There are three conditions of safety, as my advisers tell me, in airship navigation. The first is sound construction and first-rate material. Those, I think, we have. The second is good navigation and well-trained crews. Good navigation is necessary to avoid thunderstorms and electric discharges, and well-trained crews are as necessary on airships as, or even more necessary than, on any seagoing ship. It is amazing how the men are training in airship practice. They take to airships like a duck to water, I was going to say, or like an eaglet to the air. They seem to be at home in it at once. The third condition of safety in an airship is good meteorological information, communicated promptly and systematically, and that also is being attended to and, I think, is satisfactory.

The hour is late and the faithful few have listened to me with a patience for which I am indeed most grateful. I wanted to make a statement about this new experiment. I wanted, if I could, to reassure people as regards the progress that is being made and the success that we have achieved hitherto. I have always been an enthusiast in these matters. I take a special pride in the fact that I introduced this programme and I want to see it through to ultimate success. I can only add this, that in spite of many setbacks and some disappointments my faith is absolutely undimmed, and I am sure the people of this country will be right in continuing these experiments. They can continue them on the basis of research alone and they will find that their money has been well expended. It is unnecessary to point out what the airship may mean to our race and to our Empire. It is essentially a vehicle for going over wide ocean spaces. It is not much for going over land. It would link up our Empire in a way that, so far as I can see, no other means of transport can approach. It combines speed, safety and indeed amenities, because to travel in an airship is by far the most delightful form of travel that I personally have ever experienced. I hope I have answered the questions put to me sufficiently. The noble Viscount has moved for Papers. I do not know what Papers I could give him. I could give him an advertisement for the publicity of Imperial Airways future movements, but that he can secure for himself. If there are any Papers that I can, without disclosing confidential information, supply to him, I need hardly say that they shall be supplied.


My Lords, like the noble and gallant Lord opposite I am enthusiastic in this matter. I think I was a member of the Civil Aviation Board at the Air Ministry before he became Secretary of State for Air, and I should like in a few words to congratulate my noble friend Viscount Gage for having brought this question forward and for having elicited the most interesting statements to which we have listened. I did not expect, being used in another place to Ministerial evasions, so clear and full a statement as has been given by the noble and gallant Lord. I am grateful to him and I am sure that the country will be equally grateful when it reads his statement to-morrow morning. Whether I should go so far as to join with him in the hope that he will be Minister for Air sufficiently long to see the fruition of these experiments I can hardly say, but at least I hope he will live to see the result of these experiments under some Government equally concerned with their development as he is himself. Perhaps it is only fair I should have made that remark, as a tit for tat for his remarks about "Safety first."

There are one or two points of importance to which I should like to refer. First of all, with regard to the Convention and the question raised by Lord Trenchard about the right of flying over any country in the world. Personally, I think, I should have been inclined to vote with the majority on the Air Convention. It might become in the future, when the air becomes as densely populated as many people think it will, desirable to allow free and unlimited flying over all countries. I should, on the other hand, have voted for the modification—namely, that the right of flying over air routes should not be unreasonably withheld. While that was not passed I think the noble and gallant Lord has given us sufficient information to show that most countries are reasonable, and that Great Britain is not finding any great difficulty in getting through the air routes connecting our country with outlying parts of the Empire. I should like, of course, to see the extension of air services made as rapidly as possible. I was struck by one point referred to by the noble and gallant Lord—namely, that Germany is the focal point of general air transport. I think he will agree with me that Egypt is the focal point of air transport for our Empire.

There was one point not raised by the noble Lord, but which is of very great interest as confirming what he said with regard to the ability of our pilots and the excellence of our machines. He did not mention the new industry which has sprung up, that of surveying by aircraft. I believe one company has conducted air surveys during the last seven years, with fees amounting to £133,000. This survey from the air is an entirely modern invention. Eleven thousand square miles of our own territory on the Zambesi have been surveyed, 1,000 miles around Iraq and 2,000 miles in India, and quite recently, when I was travelling in Egypt and the Sudan, I found that a very large and important area was being surveyed by British machines—something like 20,000 miles over a part of the country which could not be surveyed by any other means.


I might add that 90,000 miles of territory in Northern Rhodesia have been surveyed, and the work completed in two years.


I should like to add one word of testimony to the bravery of the young men flying these machines through the Sudan. It is a very dangerous country, if any unforeseen accident occurred and the machine had to come down. All this work of surveying is being done by air, and it could not have been done five or six years ago. I may mention another point in confirmation of what was said by the noble and gallant Lord with reference to the excellence of our machines. I think it is on record that in the export of aircraft we beat all other countries in the world. During 1928 we exported 352 aircraft, as compared with America, the nearest other country, 102; and we exported 432 engines against 179 by America. All through the War we raced ahead in the desire to improve aeroplane engines, and last year we exported 1,148 aeroplane engines against 321 exported by America. The total value of aircraft and engines exported was over £2,000,000 sterling. That does show that under the fostering care of the Air Ministries of various Governments and the skill and ability of our aircraft constructors and engineers, we have got far ahead in this matter.

I do not like to criticise, and it is not by way of criticism that I say one word more in regard to subsidies. Like the noble Lord opposite, I confess I do not like subsidies. I should like to see some other companies, perhaps, taking a share of the great work. I can understand that in Germany, Italy or France, which are self-contained countries, it is perhaps desirable to have some sort of monopoly for air services, but we have no air services in England at all. We are either too small or our railways are too good. We have no air services in this country, say, from London to York, or from Manchester to London. All our air services are run to different parts of the Empire, and I should have thought that, allotting as we have done to the Imperial Airways our great route to India, it might be quite possible to institute, or permit the institution of, some other company to take air passengers to some other part of the world, say Africa. I only throw out that suggestion for the consideration of the Secretary of State himself. But even then he told us that Great Britain only spent last year in subsidies something like £465,000. Our own Dominion of Canada spent a great deal more—nearly £750,000 in subsidies; Australia £250,000; and India £178,000; while France spent nearly £1,600,000, Germany £500,000, Italy something over £500,000 and the United States of America, including their air mail subsidy—which, of course, the noble Lord will agree is a subsidy to the air services—well over £3,500,000.

Now, if your Lordships know anything about me, you will know that I am not an extravagant Minister. Having had the privilege of serving for some few months at the Treasury, I am all for the utmost economy. But I do want the noble Lord to consider what the noble Lord, Lord Trenchard, said in regard to the benefits to be derived from subsidies. It is not merely the fact that we can carry a ton of food or a ton of passengers at a particular price. The benefit is in the enlargement of the communications of our Empire. I see the noble Lord is not inclined to disagree with me in that respect. I think he will agree that, with a far-flung Empire such as ours, we must depend upon communications. The greatest Empire before ours which the world ever knew, the Empire of Rome, was built up by road transport. Her communications were through that marvellous system of roads which was instituted by the Roman Empire. We had a hundred years ago the inception of the great railway system, and now we see the era of what I think will develop into an enormous system of air transport. I want this country to be well in advance of other countries, and I especially desire that the utmost effort should be made to link the Empire together by air transport. There are, of course, other methods of linking the Empire together, and I am not going to draw a red herring over the interesting debate we have had to-day by mentioning any other methods; but I am satisfied that one of the best possible efforts we could make to link the whole Empire together would be by an intensified development of the air services of this country.

I congratulate the noble Lord on the statement he made in regard to airships. Again, I am not going to criticise. Again, I feel that it would be foolish to break off the experiments before they have been thoroughly tried out; and I sincerely hope and trust that the experiments which have taken so many years to perfect will prove to be successful, and that we shall have airships second to none in the world. But these, on the other hand, cost a vast amount of money, and, compared to the ordinary aeroplane of commerce, they are a very expensive method of transport, and are bound to be for some years at all events. I do not know whether I could ask the noble Lord to plead with the Treasury, perhaps in the early future, for a larger grant for the development of civil aviation. It is not money thrown away. It will be money well spent, and particularly in the development and improvement and the closer building together of our Empire.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister and to other noble Lords who have spoken for the information they have given, and I regret that your Lordships have not been in attendance in larger numbers to hear what has been said. No doubt in years to come the attendance at debates on civil aviation will be larger. I do not wish to press my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at five minutes before seven o'clock till tomorrow, three o'clock.