§ LORD MOYNE rose to ask the Secretary of State for Air whether he is aware that a foreign air line offers a faster service to the Far East than that provided by Imperial Airways, whether in the subsidy arrangements now in force any condition exists as to speed of service, whether any extension of the subsidy period is contemplated and whether in case of such extension the Government will consider imposing such conditions; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I put this Question on the Paper before the recent statements by the Under-Secretary of State for Air, by Sir Eric Geddes at the annual meeting of Imperial Airways, and by the Postmaster-General on Imperial air mails, but the information which we have had, very satisfactory in its forecast of accelerations, has only whetted my appetite for more information. I would say that I am not a pilot; I am entirely ignorant of the technical side, of flying; and I am a mere passenger who happens to have taken advantage of public facilities in five continents. I have felt very uneasy on some of the flights that have come my way by the impression one gets that our services often compared badly in speed with services in other parts of the world. Of course advances take place so quickly that it is impossible for flying services in different countries to keep exactly in step, but I do hope that when these new aircraft are in service—which must, I fear, mean a considerable lapse of time—we shall not find that our competitors have been taking two steps while we have been taking one.
§ I want to give a reason for venturing to raise this question of speed. I have often been told in the past that people who go as passengers prefer safety to speed. I do not think, in the light of experience of other lines besides Imperial 34 Airways, that this is any longer a true antithesis. It is a well-known fact that there have been unfortunate cases—I will not specify them—where foreign lines have gone in for speed and neglected safety. Naturally passengers would prefer a safe and slow line to one which is dangerous and fast, but I hope that Imperial Airways will be able to keep up their splendid reputation for safety and efficiency and, at the same time, be able greatly to accelerate the services which they offer. I was sorry to get a circular from Imperial Airways—in common, no doubt, with others of their ordinary passengers—saying that they were suffering very much from the misunderstandings on the part of the public as to the speed of their services. I think that is most regrettable and most unjust, so far as it depends on the result of the Australian air race, which of course has no possible direct bearing on a commercial service like that run by Imperial Airways. After all, this is a matter which can easily be seen in the time-tables and I readily admit that since the recent accelerations of their service to the Far East and the slowing down of the K.L.M. service there is very little to choose between them.
§ It is certainly far from my mind in any way to criticise the general efficiency of Imperial Airways. I think we are indebted to them for building up a great Empire service and for having collected pilots and personnel second to none in their efficiency, and for having achieved an unsurpassed record of speed and regularity. My comparisons in this question have been based on the service to the Far East, and that particular service does offer certain rather fertile comparisons. I have had letters rather challenging my suggestion that the Dutch service is faster than the British, so I had better remind your Lordships of the present position which I find in the time-tables. It is quite true that if you fly from London to Singapore you get there in practically the same time going by Imperial Airways direct as going by Amsterdam and taking the K.L.M. plane, but really the service is not altogether comparable because you have to change at Bangkok from the K.L.M. plane into a subsidiary plane, which flies round by Sumatra and takes a day and a-half to get to Singapore, while the Imperial Airways plane, which flies direct, does it in a day.35
§ If you take the furthest point, Bangkok, to which both lines fly direct, you do reduce the total time, including in our case the handicap of a railway journey. From London to Bangkok by Imperial Airways takes eight days, and from Amsterdam to Bangkok seven clays. There has been an improvement in our favour. Imperial Airways have quickened up since the summer by half a day and the Dutch have slowed down with their winter time-table a whole day. I do not want in any way to dispute what Sir Eric Geddes said recently about the economic obstacles to running faster planes, but after all Imperial Airways are a subsidised monopoly and we are bound to examine the arrangements to see whether they are the best that can be devised, and, if these economic obstacles are against the national interest, to see whether the Government can help.
§ I appreciate that the problems of the Dutch and British services are rather different. Imperial Airways carry a far larger weight of passengers and goods. Perhaps in consequence the organisation is also different. Whereas the Dutch fly right through from Amsterdam to Bangkok with one crew, Imperial Airways fly on the relay system. The end-to-end time now gives a satisfactory comparison, but I am afraid this system of flying in relay, and thereby with a slower plane being able to make up on the total time, is not a permanent solution because it is pretty certain that conditions are going to change and night flying will take place. Really there are two points in that connection. It is not entirely a matter of indifference to the passenger. I speak from some experience in this matter. When you have flown day after day, getting up long before dawn and coming to earth just about sunset, you not only worry about the total number of days but you also notice the total number of hours you have to fly.
§ One sits—or one did sit; I do not know what changes may have taken place in some of the slow planes—on a rather narrow seat in a very uncomfortable position, and one longs to be able to make up for the loss of a night's rest by a chance of sleeping in a more comfortable position in the air. I have sometimes happened to sit next to such a large neighbour that it has been practically impossible, on this narrow seat, to read. Sir Eric Geddes said that he was 36 satisfied that Imperial Airways offered by far the quickest and most comfortable service, but I suspect that, as is proper not only for physical reasons but also because he is Chairman of Imperial Airways, when he flies, as he so rightly does, all over the Empire, they give him a seat to himself. I hope that next time he will find someone of just his own size to sit next him so that he may feel how comfortable he may be!
§ The other difficulty about these long day flights as compared with what the Dutch do—that is to say, quick and shorter flights—is that when night flying comes into operation throughout the world on these trunk lines, as it inevitably will do, we shall no longer be able to equalise by that means. Sir Eric Geddes told us in his speech the other day that if higher speeds were wanted, someone had got to pay. That statement is rather interesting and perhaps rather disappointing, because it seems to dismiss from possible solutions the idea that there will be any startling improvement in the design of aircraft and in the efficiency of engines. He did not say anything about the possibility of mails making an economic contribution to any faster service. I do not know whether the Secretary of State will be able to tell us anything about that to-day. I read in The Times that the receipts from the air mail in America—the Pan-American external services—were only 13 per cent. of the cost of carrying those air mails. I hope that the prospect of the Empire mail is not so very unfavourable as that from the financial point of view.
§ But if these alternatives are out of the question, you are thrown back, as Sir Eric Geddes said, on the cost being found either by the shareholders of Imperial Airways or by the travelling public, neither of whom he thinks can contribute more, or alternatively by some further help from the Government. We all see the difficulty and danger of further subsidies. There is a very widespread feeling that subsidies are already established quite widely enough and that it is difficult to justify any extension, but if you are to have subsidies for transport. I think there can be no stronger case than there is for this vital Imperial link. We have recently seen, I think with full approval, a subsidy given to a great shipping company to enable us to try to get back the record for the best and 37 fastest service, not to the Empire, but to the United States. If that is right, surely we ought to give special treatment to these services which link up the Empire capitals.
§ No doubt the subsidy policy, which was established about ten years ago I think when Imperial Airways started, was a sound one. The policy was to taper down the subsidy over ten-year periods for each service until the service reached a self-supporting basis. I was very glad to see that Sir Eric Geddes the other day endorsed this policy, and he added words, with which I think we shall all agree, deprecating the mad race, as I think he called it, among foreign countries for subsidised air travel. I do not know how far foreign countries are spending more than we are. I believe that France is certainly giving bigger subsidies. In the case of Holland it is difficult to arrive at the exact figure, because there is a very valuable mail contract (though I do not know whether it is economic) and over and above that there is a guarantee against loss. It may well be that we shall be compelled to follow suit, and it will be very interesting to know what exactly are the prospects in that event, and, so far as he can tell us, what are the intentions of the noble Marquess.
§ Are there any hopeful designs for those great airplanes which we shall need on the Imperial routes? Sir Eric Geddes told us of four-engined machines which would be used chiefly for European routes and certain subsidiaries, but these have a top speed—not a cruising speed but a top speed—of only 170 miles per hour. They seem to be rather of the same type of machine as the Diana, which is to be run in conjunction with Qantas in Australia, and whose disastrous crash last week we all deplored. But these machines are really not going to outstrip our Dutch competitors if they have a top speed of only 170 miles per hour. Perhaps for the Empire routes there is going to be something very different. Sir Eric Geddes told us that it was hoped to develop a type which would carry a weight of between 3½ and 5 tons. Can the noble Marquess give us any information to-day as to the prospects in that direction?
There has been a rather alarming account—which I have not been able to verify and which I give only for what it
is worth—of the exhibits now to be seen at the exhibition in Paris. I take this from a Sunday paper:
France has produced a stream-lined twin-engined monoplane that can carry thirty passengers at more than 230 miles per hour, and a three-engined machine with a passenger capacity of forty and a top speed of more than 240 miles per hour. Both will ply on Air France routes next year. The London-Paris time will be cut down to one hour.
Italy has two new thirty-passenger machines said to have a speed of more than 250 miles per hour, and two of them are the fastest fighting machines in existence, with speeds of nearly 3[...]0 miles per hour.
Germany shows a 280 miles per hour light air liner—the famous Heinkel—which can be converted to a war plane in a few hours.
Then it is said that Great Britain is the only important nation that does not build a standard 200-miles per hour air liner, but that it has a very interesting design—it does not say whether it is on exhibition, but I gather not—which is to carry 100 passengers, to weigh 200 tons, and to have a speed of 130 miles per hour.
§ This statement is a little puzzling in some respects. It does not make it clear whether the French planes and the Italian plane are actually shown, though it does say that the German plane is shown. It would be extremely interesting, and perhaps do something to lessen our anxieties lest we are being left behind in these large designs, if the noble Marquess could give us some information as to the truth or otherwise of the statement. It is quite evident that it is only by means of the great monopoly of Imperial Airways that these large planes can be developed. No private concern can possibly afford the research and the costly experiments which are necessary to work out such plans, and it can therefore only be by the assistance of the Secretary of State's Department, working through Imperial Airways, and through the policy which they must combine together, that these great liners, carrying about five tons weight, can possibly be developed.
§ I know that the noble Marquess is fully alive to the necessity, not only of efficiency, but also of such speed as will ensure that there is no criticism of our lines as compared with foreign competitors. From what the Under-Secretary of State said the other day three-party negotiations between his Department, the Post Office and Imperial Airways, have 39 been going on for months, and one will understand how necessary it is to plan ahead, that these air fleets cannot be transformed, that they cannot be planned, and built in a short time, and that it is essential, if a year or two hence we are to have the best planes, that even at this period modification in subsidy arrangements should be arranged and notified to those concerned. Can the noble Marquess at this stage tell us anything on this matter? It may well be that Imperial Airways, who have deserved very well of aviation and of the Empire for the services they have built up during the difficult period of experiment and development, are deserving of a further lease of their facilities, but if so, if they are to have better terms, I would urge that the Government should secure in return that they provide services of not only the fullest efficiency but also of the utmost speed. There are today such rapid advances in the conquest of time and space that the impossible of this year may well be the commonplace of two or three years hence, and it does seem vital that in future arrangements any public assistance which is given shall secure that these Empire services shall be second to none in their efficiency, and beyond all question the most popular among customers of the services for the speed and facilities which they may offer. I beg to move.
THE DUKE or SUTHERLAND
My Lords, I think Lord Moyne made it plain that the only important reason why the citizen of to-day takes to the air is to get quickly from place to place. It is not for the sake of the comfort, or for the view, which flying affords, or for recreation, and therefore the main economic necessity, if we are to hold our place in world aviation, is to see that this is carried out under reasonably comfortable conditions. After all it is not so easy or even possible to smoke or read in an aeroplane as it is in a train, and as these are things that modern man likes to do on a journey, aviation must produce some over-riding advantage to win the ordinary travellers over to the air. Speed and shortening of the journey is the only real advantage it can produce, and consequently it must concentrate all its efforts in that direction.
I am not going to say one word against Imperial Airways. Like Lord Moyne, I 40 agree that they have done magnificent work, blazing a pioneer trail to Cape Town and to India, and although they take half an hour longer to get to Paris than some other lines, they are immensely popular because of their great caution and safety. They never take risks, and that is what the public want. The time has now come, however, owing to the great strides that civil aviation is making in other countries from the point of view of speed, for them to realise fully, as I am sure they do, that in order to keep pace with a world movement, ever growing and ever improving, they must with Government help revise their time-tables for long-distance flights. They must improve their ground organisation, so that they can fly by night as well as by day. They must build faster machines, fitted with sleeping accommodation for passengers. All these things cost money and mean a much larger Government subsidy, which falls on the taxpayer, until in time it can become a commercial proposition, pure and simple.
Petrol in this country costs as much as three times the cost in America, and even in America it is stated that important air lines must shortly go out of business unless more Government help is forthcoming. All this tends to show how difficult it is to make a purely good commercial proposition out of an air line, but there are so many other advantages in civil aviation to a country like ours, in its relation to military aviation, that I think the Government are fully justified in spending the taxpayers' money to keep us in the front rank of civil world aviation. In our own Empire, at least, we must be in a position to compete favourably with any other country. We ought to aim, I think, at getting to Australia in five or six days, and I do not think the Dutch could do any better than this with a Douglas air liner on a regular time-table.
All statements I have seen up to date, whether made by the Chairman of Imperial Airways or by the Under-Secretary of State for Air in another place, have seemed to me to err on the side of vagueness when it came to discussing actual speeds, dates and schedules, though I am well aware that new schemes take some time to formulate. Plans of new machines have to be drawn up, and, what is often more difficult, Treasury sanction has to be 41 obtained for an increased expenditure, whether by subsidy or otherwise. I do not for a moment suggest that we should concentrate entirely on speed. On the contrary, comfort and safety are of equal importance. We must remember, too, how immensely better suited for aviation America is, compared to us, from a geographical point of view. In this small country of England, where only small distances can be flown, civil aviation is at an immense disadvantage compared with other countries, where there are vast stretches to cross, such as from New York to California, or Florida or Mexico or South America. What is the use of flying to Scotland, for instance, when you can get there comfortably, while you are asleep at night? There is no advantage in that. But you fly to California from New York in about fourteen hours, either by day or by night, instead of spending five days and five nights in the train. That gives America a great advantage over us in our small country. But we must try to make up For it in our Empire.
Again we find difficulties, because we have to fly over foreign countries on the way. France, Italy, Persia—all have to be dealt with on the Indian route. And in view of the difficulties with which we are sometimes faced on our Imperial routes when flying over foreign countries, which might become worse in war time than in peace, I suggest that the Government's attention might be given to the possibility of a flying boat service on real Empire air routes over the sea. At present our main artery crosses the Continent and is at the mercy of any obstructing Power in peace. France does not permit Imperial Airways to fly beyond Paris, although we permit French air services to fly over India. We have only recently come to an agreement with Italy. Persia made us switch our route to the south side of the Persian Gulf. If these things happen in peace, what might come about in war? A hostile country would, of course, stop us; a neutral or even an ally might be compelled to take a similar course.
Are we to give up Imperial air communications just when they must be of supreme value? Is not the sea the one neutral area which is reasonably free from interference, apart from less developed countries under our influence? Our Empire was built up on the sea. Many 42 of our big cities are built near or on it. Ought we not to pay more attention to it and develop large fast flying-boats, flying an all red route? Are we not falling behind in the development of such craft since the big civil flying-boat was stopped as an economy measure in 1931? In 1933 civil aviation in the world flew 100 million miles. Our share was 2,500,000—about the same as Holland, and less than France, Germany and Italy. The United States of America flew 48,500,000. We have in this country only 386 glider pilots, while Germany has 20,000. German civil pilots outnumber our civil and military pilots by two to one. We have one civil aeroplane for 6,000 square miles of Empire. Germany has one to 170 square miles of territory.
I should like to take this opportunity to comment on the recent agitation to remove civil aviation from the Air Ministry. In my view such a proposal is both impracticable and undesirable. It may be true that civil aviation is the Cinderella in the house of the Air Ministry. It would be the smallest of foster children in any other Department. We must recognise that civil aviation is still, and will remain for many years, unstandardised and in need of the same kind of research and experiment as is required for military aviation. It must be economical for such research to be grouped in a single Department. And the Air Ministry at least knows all that is to be known about aeroplanes; to other Government Departments they will for long be a mystery and a nuisance. It is only necessary for the Government to give a lead to show that they recognise the enormous importance of this new transportation to our widespread Empire, and I am sure that the Air Ministry, strengthened and encouraged on its civil side, as it should be, can do all that is necessary to put our country in the first rank of this great new commerce of the air.
Lastly, we must not forget that civil aviation is the foundation of military air power. It provides reserves of pilots and mechanics readily trainable to meet expansion in war and many auxiliary "tradesmen" such as operators, navigators, etc. It ensures a supply of raw material of a suitable kind, and inspectors to deal with it, also designers to conceive new machines, and factories with skilled workmen to build them. For 43 its use aerodromes spring up all over the Empire, which may be vital to our operations in war. It creates an air-using population accustomed to the strange spaces of the air, and capable of appreciating its influence on our prosperity and security. It is not for us to lay down by what precise method the Air Ministry will achieve the necessary results, whether by flying longer hours with relief pilots, as I have seen suggested in some quarters, and having sleeping accommodation also for the passengers, or by producing planes capable of a much higher speed and flying shorter hours. I do not know which method is the best, and I shall leave it to the experts to decide. I feel sure that one method or the other is necessary to carry out that great work of commercial aviation in which we in this country must see that we do not fall behind. My noble friend Lord Moyne has done a public service in raising this question to-day and I shall look forward very much to hearing the noble Marquess's reply when the time comes.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, has done a great service in bringing this topic before your Lordships' House, and I think that what he said was very thoughtful and valuable, and based on his own experience. I also think that the speech we have just heard from the noble Duke has a very serious implication for this country. It is time that we drew away the veil from the eyes of our people, and realised what is going on in other countries and the extent to which we have fallen behind. I am not saying a word against Imperial Airways. They have got a task very much more difficult than America's. They have got, first of all, short distances in this country. It is quite clear that it is absurd to fly to Edinburgh when you can go comfortably by train. And in the long-distance Empire communication they have to deal, not with a single country, as is the ease with America, but with broad and difficult patches of water, with very many different nations, and with difficult flying conditions. But that, it seems to me, is no excuse for the slow speed and the slow development of these communications vital to the Empire. In the United States normal cruising speed now is in the neighbourhood of rather over 200 miles an hour. I have flown from New York to Los Angeles in thirteen hours.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY)
Has the noble Lord taken into consideration the difference in time?
§ LORD MARLEY
Oh, yes, and, coming back, the difference in time is three hours. It is sixteen hours one way, and thirteen hours the other. From a physical point of view it would be an interesting idea to work out how long it would take if we were able to fly at the speed of the rotation of the earth, that is to say, in that latitude, about 500 miles an hour. But I am not going into that for a moment. I am taking the speed of the machine through the air. The maximum speed of the Boeing twin-engine machines is 230 miles an hour, the cruising speed 200, and these speeds are largely exceeded when the machines are flying with the wind, or at comparatively low altitudes.
Speed, of course, is not everything, but I submit that the statistics of accidents in America show that the United States is one of the safest countries in the world for flying. The accidents are singularly few, due, I think, not only to the excellence of the machines, but the very careful lighting of the aerodromes and of the night flying routes, with moving beacons every fifteen miles, so that at any time from a machine one is in view of two or three beacons, and the skill and experience of the pilots. I am not saying a word against our own pilots. I am merely pointing out that if we are to develop in this country we must use the experience of every other country. We must not pretend that we are better than other countries. We must be prepared to learn from other countries what they are doing, and what is good in their experience we should make use of in order that our own flying services may be bettered.
Night flying in the United States is the normal method of air travel. One leaves New York about five o'clock in the afternoon and arrives in Los Angeles or San Francisco about eight o'clock in the morning; that is the sort of normal night flying. The machines are twin-engined and the engines are not attached to the chassis of the machine, they are attached to the wings so that you get the minimum of vibration. You can hear yourself speak, and the machines themselves are extremely comfortable. The seats fold 45 back for sleeping, and one gets pillows and so on, and very good hot meals are served in the air without the slightest difficulty. Night flying is not the only method of obtaining these great speeds, is not the only method of making rapid travel available, but there are most valuable methods of landing under conditions such as we are experiencing in London to-night. Fog landing in America is universally carried out by a transmission of beam radio from the aerodromes coming in to receivers in the machines by which, with earphones, it is possible to get a balance of sound so that the machine can land safely through fog. That is very important on the Pacific coast where there is a great deal of fog and cloud, and sometimes you can land on an aerodrome without seeing it at all, entirely through this development. Moreover these machines are equipped with radio telephones so that business men can carry on their work of exchanging orders as they pass over various cities in the United States. That is a method by which money can he made available by increasing the air-mindedness of our people, increasing the ease with which they use aeroplanes.
In this country we do not use flying anything like as much as we ought to do. In America you do not make your will before you get into an aeroplane, you do not give your next-of-kin instructions as to where you want to be buried or messages of that kind. It is just like getting into a taxicab and going off without difficulty or fuss. One reason why flying is so safe in America is that the pilots are so well acquainted with the routes over which they fly. They know every pocket, every area where they may expect curious air conditions. They have flown over it hundreds of times, and no assistant pilot in that country is allowed to pilot a machine until he has been over the route very many times. That fact was proved when, owing to an alleged scandal in the financial position of the American air lines, it was decided to cancel the air mail contracts and hand over the carrying of the mails to the Army flying service. American Army machines are admirable machines, but the airmen did not know the routes, and the result was that immediately that happened America, was startled by a dozen or twenty terrible accidents in which a considerable number of young 46 pilots lost their lives merely because they were not acquainted with the routes over which they had to fly. I suggest that that is an argument for the relay system in our Empire communications, an argument for only asking the planes to fly from one point to another and back so that the pilots on that particular part of the route will know intimately the whole of that stretch, the flying places, lights, and all the other points which are necessary.
It is quite clear that subsidies, if we can avoid them, should be avoided. A far better method than subsidies would be to increase the mail contracts, to pay higher fees to the companies as long as we have private companies for carrying the mails, and to secure, in return for that, additional mail carrying by a far greater encouragement of the public to use the air mails. Of course, speed comes in there, because the public are not going to use air mails unless they are certain of getting some advantage in rapidity of delivery. I cannot see why the Government should not initiate a much more active policy in trying to get agreement with other countries regarding frontier restrictions. If there are, in fact, frontier restrictions—and I understand there are—we should try by international agreement to get rid of these frontier restrictions and secure that Europe is served with just as good long distance flights as is America.
I am not qualified to deal with the type and design of machines, but I would say this, that I understand it is not necessarily the number of engines which makes the speed. You can get just as great speed with two engines as with four engines, given suitable design. But all the difficulties we find, the financial difficulties of the companies, the difficulties of making the industry pay, the difficulties of mail contracts, the difficulties of development of safety—all these are inherent in the private ownership of the great flying lines, and the difficulty of adapting these machines to military requirements is also inherent in the private ownership of civil flying. I am perfectly certain that if civil flying were a national task undertaken by a Government organisation, under, if you like, the Air Ministry, co-ordination would be far closer and these difficulties could certainly be overcome. Speed and safety would be more available, I believe, and I am 47 certain it would be to the advantage of this nation and the Empire were some such solution to be adopted.
My Lords, I should like to join with the other noble Lords who have spoken in congratulating my noble friend Lord Moyne on having put down this Question to-day, because it is not only a most interesting and vital one, but it has raised a most useful debate. I, like my noble friend, am only a layman in these matters, but I flew before the War and I have taken opportunities of flying ever since, and so I feel that perhaps I may be permitted to say a few words on this subject. The development of air science and aircraft has been so rapid during the last two or three years that it almost makes one gasp, and one can only really judge, as a layman, the effect of this development by the practical results which we see before us. For instance, within the past few weeks an English machine piloted by English pilots reached Melbourne from London, a distance of nearly 12,000 miles, in less than three days, and a Dutch air liner carrying a full complement of passengers and mails did the same distance in slightly under four days. With those feats before your Lordships you can quite imagine that those who are interested in trade and commerce, apart from our positions in this House, are tremendously impressed with the possibilities of the future in relation to trade and commerce within the Empire. The greatest incentives to trade and commerce are rapid, cheap and regular communications, and this applies more particularly to the carriage of letters than to the carriage of passengers, but, if you apply all these three advantages, then together they must be of enormous benefit to trade within the Empire and help to cement and expand the Ottawa Agreement into which we entered two or three years ago.
My noble friend Lord Moyne spoke particularly with regard to speed. I should like to say a few words about that later on, but first of all I wish to refer to the question of charges for air mails. In this connection I should like to add my meed of praise to the Postmaster-General for what he has recently accomplished in that direction. A flat rate of 6d. per half oz. of letters carried in the air to the East is a very 48 great advance upon the present rate, and a flat rate of 3d. per ½ oz. to other places where it is lower than 6d. at present is also of considerable benefit. Both of these concessions, if I may call them so, are very much appreciated indeed. But whilst I praise the Postmaster-General for what he has done in that connection, I venture to state quite definitely that that does not go far enough.
I have the honour to be President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce of the British Empire, and a few days ago, at a meeting of the Council of that Federation, upon which there are members from all parts of the Empire, there was a discussion upon this question. One and all, as I have to-day, added their tribute to the Postmaster-General for the advance he has made, but none of us was satisfied. We will not really be satisfied—and I do not think we are asking too much in the long run—until that flat rate has been reduced to 1½d. per ½ oz. for all letters carried by air to any part of the Empire. That is the rate which applies to letters carried under the usual conditions at the present time. I think that the Postmaster-General, representing His Majesty's Government, must carry out a really bold policy in this connection. I feel sure that it will pay in the long run.
The noble Lord, Lord Marley, I think, raised the question of the air mail contracts. It is quite evident, if letters are to be carried at the ½d. rate, that the air mail contracts at present arranged between His Majesty's Government and Imperial Airways so far as the Empire is concerned will have to be adjusted, and more will have to be paid. It may be said that this is subsidisation, but it is an old custom to enter into mail contracts with the shipping lines in order that our mails should be carried and no one has ever suggested that that was subsidisation. Therefore I suggest that the Postmaster-General should consider the question of readjusting the air mail contracts as soon as arrangements can be made with Imperial Airways, or with whatever other service has to carry these mails, so as to enable them to be carried at that rate. My noble friend Lord Moyne referred to the fact that in the United States the actual percentage of receipts on the transcontinental air lines 49 so far as the mail contracts are concerned was only 13 per cent., and that the rest was from passengers.
§ LORD MOYNE
I am afraid I was misunderstood. I said that the mail charges—stamps and so forth—paid by the public only represented 1[...] per cent. of what the Government paid for having the mails carried by aeroplane.
I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I had no intention of misrepresenting him. But I think it really makes my case stronger. In other words the actual amount of the postages or charges paid is only 13 per cent., and the Government have to make up a very large difference. It, may be true that there will be losses, and there must be losses for the first two or three or four years if such a low flat rate were to be introduced, but I fed quite sure that in the long run it would pay, and the results would be seen in greatly improved trade and commerce within the Empire. What are required are fast, cheap and regular services for mails and passengers, and cheapness and regularity should not be sacrificed entirely to speed. There seems no reason why these things should not all be combined.
I do not agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Moyne in what he said in that connection. He said that subject to efficiency speed should count a very great deal more than it does to-day. I do not know whether he intended to convey that efficiency should also include cheapness and regularity of service. If he did I am in agreement with him. If he did not, I would say that I believe you should at least ensure those two other features alongside that of speed. There are other ways of producing speed than by high-powered engines. I want to suggest to the noble Marquess a few instances of what I mean in that regard. First of all, we might make more adequate provision for improved ground organisation. We might have more emergency landing grounds and more of those wireless beacons to which the noble Lord, Lord Marley, referred.
Then night flying equipment on Imperial routes is, I believe, of the greatest importance and most essential. There is no doubt that the United States have done more to increase speed on their transcontinental flying routes by night equipment than almost by anything else. I 50 think it was only two years ago, or a little over, that the route from Chicago to Seattle took some 36 hours to cover. To-day you can do that same flight in 18 hours. I was told a few weeks ago, when I was in Canada, that the real reason for this was the great improvement in and expansion of night flying equipment. Another way in which improvement might be made is the development of civil aerodromes for both night and day flying and in particular making them more accessible to the towns which they serve. We all know how often in our air expeditions we are landed at an aerodrome which is perhaps twenty minutes or half-an-hour's motor distance from the town itself. Attention to all these points will help to speed up our flying.
Another point I would like to bring to the notice of the noble Marquess is the investigation of trans-oceanic air services. That is most important in connection with our Empire flying routes, and it was emphasised by what the noble Duke said when he advocated a service of flying-boats over Imperial routes. One other point is the provision of cheaper petrol. I do not quite know how that is to be accomplished, but obviously speed and the price of petrol are closely allied. In the United States petrol is very much cheaper than it is here or on any of our Imperial routes. Possibly the Government in their wisdom may in time find some method by way of rebate or something of that sort, of ensuring that cheaper petrol can be obtained for use on the Imperial air routes.
Before I sit down there is a further point with which I want to deal. I can well imagine that the Secretary of State for Air will ask after the debate this afternoon and after the debates which are to take place in another place: "How can I possibly manage to deal with all the suggestions and to undertake all the duties connected with these matters which you are putting before me, whether they be in relation to civil aviation or whether they be in relation to military aviation?" I believe that the present headquarters organisation and administrative staff is probably not able to deal with the immense and sudden development which is taking place in every aspect of flying. On one side the noble Marquess is pressed to help civil aviation and on the other side he has urgent demands made upon him for the increase 51 of the Air Force. I agree that his Department must be in a very difficult position. The Air Ministry has developed into one of the most important Departments of State and should be adequately and efficiently staffed. I venture to suggest that the noble Marquess will be asked to do all these additional things and at the same time probably be told that he must do it as economically as possible and with as little increase of staff as will enable the work to he performed. All the same, I think the taxpayers ought to be generous in that regard and if it is necessary—as it is necessary—to develop civil aviation to-day and to develop the defensive Air Forces of this country, adequate provision should be made to enable it to be done.
I wish to make two suggestions to His Majesty's Government in this connection. I venture to suggest first of all the appointment of a second Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to deal exclusively with matters of civil aviation. I do not think that the Air Ministry to-day can possibly cope with all these new developments with one Under-Secretary. The debate to-day at least has shown that civil aviation is of sufficient importance to require an additional Under-Secretary to look after it. The other suggestion is that the Director-General of Civil Aviation should become a member of the Air Council. The functions of civil and military aviation, as we have been told already to-day, cannot he altogether divorced. They must be dovetailed in many directions. I venture to believe that the representative of civil aviation should at least be able to talk on equal terms with any other member of the Air Council in view of the importance of civil aviation to-day. I do not expect an answer to-day from the noble Marquess to those two suggestions, but I throw them out as proposals the adoption of which I believe would alleviate the difficulties under which his Department must be suffering to-day owing to the enormously increased duties which are being thrown upon it. I hope that this debate will have a great effect in advancing the development of our Imperial air routes, and I must once more thank the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, for having raised the issue.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I should like to make a few 52 observations on this extremely interesting subject, a subject which is vital to our country. First of all I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Moyne for bringing this topic forward. I know perfectly well that it is carrying coals to Newcastle to put our views before the noble Marquess who so adequately looks after our Air Ministry, but after all, the Air Minister must undoubtedly have some weight of opinion behind him before he can convince his Cabinet that it is necessary that certain things should be done, and the debates which have taken place in your Lordships' House have great value from that point of view. I was extremely interested to notice that in the gracious Speech which we heard yesterday in your Lordships' House, a reference was made to civil aviation and to the thought which is being directed towards increasing our Imperial air communications and the speed thereof. I think it is the first time that a gracious Speech has made reference to this aspect of our life.
I do, however, differ from the noble Duke when he says that he thinks that civil aviation ought not to be separated from the Air Ministry. I feel a certain sympathy for the noble Marquess; I think that he has got more than he can do in developing and bringing up to even an equal one-Power standard our military type of aeroplane, and in ensuring the safety of our country from an air point of view. It is conceivable that civil aviation has now reached a stage of development which demands some separate control and separate development. We have expanded and developed to an extraordinary extent in the last ten years. You have only to look at the maps contained in the report of Imperial Airways to see the extraordinary range and speed to which we have developed since 1924. Having reached that stage of development there is no more reason why our civil aviation should be in the hands of a War Department than that our mercantile marine should be under the Admiralty.
They are bound to work in the closest co-operation if and when the need arises, but I venture to suggest that as we became, and I believe now are, the greatest shipbuilding country in the world, there is no reason why we should not in time become the greatest aeroplane builders in the world. We have 53 the finest engineers, and in engines of all kinds we have a record of extreme quality and reliability. It only remains for our designers to devise the necessary frames in which those engines can act in order to enable us to produce the type of machine which gives not only range but speed. It was to my mind a lesson when we observed the marvellous performance of that Dutch American-produced liner in the race to Australia. It was an extremely fine performance. Although we were glad that this nation held the honour of the record for speed to Australia, yet that performance from a commercial point of view and from a transport point of view was a very remarkable achievement. With the great mechanical engineering brains that we have there is no reason why we should not surpass any other nation in the world, but to do that you undoubtedly want to encourage, and I think the Government ought to encourage, the development of our commercial flying.
Here I rather agree with my noble friend Lord Elibank, when he says that speed is not everything. In our mercantile marine we have two classes of ships, or rather many classes of ships divided roughly into speed and utility ships. You have the luxury liners which move at great speed and carry luxury passengers, and on the other hand you have the slower liners and also the commercial craft. I hope and believe that as years go on we shall develop not only the fast liners of the air, but also commerce-carrying liners which will move at a slower pace and perhaps with shorter hops. This leads me to suggest that you cannot really develop air transport throughout the Empire to any great extent unless you develop your bases. Our great Navy and mercantile marine owe their supremacy in the world to the extraordinary foresight with which our bases, our fuelling and replacing stations, were situated all over the world. I think attention to that point, to which my noble friend Lord Elibank referred, is very essential. We have rot to consider the comfort of the public we carry on these great liners. If you continually start flying at very early hours which are an inconvenience to the public, you undoubtedly will prevent many people from flying who otherwise would fly. Therefore from that point of view we must develop and improve our bases in the 54 various great territories which we have in the Empire, and if necessary arrange for the dual purpose, not only from the point of view of Imperial defence, but also from the commercial point of view.
Beyond that, there are undoubtedly countries with which we shall have to make definite arrangements in regard to the question of the air. It might perhaps be in the interests of this country if in making commercial agreements with countries like France, Italy, Persia and others, we could include some declaration of freedom of the air and provide for the passage of our craft over their countries. At any rate we are in an era of great development, as I realise when I look back to the days when I was at the Staff College, and occasionally went down to Aldershot to have a flight with Cody. If you consider the very few aeroplanes which we had when we went over to France in August, 1914, and look at the state of development to which we have attained to-day, who can say what developments may come about in the next twenty years? I think it would be a good thing if our Government took a very active interest, and if necessary at the expense of the taxpayer a financial interest, in the development of what is undoubtedly going to be a means of travel throughout the world such as the world has never seen before.
One reason why I suggest that the Ministry for Air might in some way be divided into two is that there are so many other Ministries which are intimately connected with the subject of commercial flying. There are the Colonial Office, the Dominions Office, the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Transport. I think that it may well be that the thing has got so big and demands such close attention that some division, or at least some re-arrangement, might be effected. As I said before, I know perfectly well that there is no one in this country so air-minded as the noble Marquess who represents the Air Ministry, and we are in many ways in this debate carrying coals to Newcastle, but I think public opinion has got to be agitated over this development in which other countries are now moving faster than we are. I do not consider for a moment that we can compare America to ourselves, but in Europe, and in the near positions in Europe, we have undoubtedly 55 many lessons to learn about air developments. Only recently in Germany, where I have been, I have found wonderful developments in commercial flying. We follow along very often, and in the end generally get ahead, but I can only say that in any efforts which the noble Marquess may make in order to convince his colleagues of the necessity for quick action and financial help, he will have a very large body of public opinion behind him.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I think your Lordships will agree that we have had the good fortune this afternoon of listening to a very interesting and very important debate. I should like, speaking in the capacity of Secretary of State for Air, to say how grateful I am for the tone and manner in which noble Lords have addressed themselves to this subject, and to say that I feel grateful to them, not only for this debate this afternoon, but for the manner in which they, and many others, have done everything in their power to assist me in the arduous task in which I am engaged, by bringing forward suggestions of a helpful and beneficial character.
I am very glad the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, has put down this Question, for it gives me an opportunity of dealing not only with the immediate points he has raised, but also with a number of cognate issues on which it is perhaps timely that I should give your Lordships' House a full and reasoned explanation. The spectacular achievements of the Melbourne race have naturally focussed a remarkable degree of public attention on civil aviation—one outcome of which has been a stream of comment in the Press and elsewhere, and, of course, not all of it has been well-informed. We, whose duty it is to foster the development of commercial air transport in season and out of season, through good report and ill, in times of public inertia no less than times of public enthusiasm, always welcome sane and constructive criticism, based on a real knowledge of the facts. There are, however, critics and critics. In the first category I number my noble friends, whose criticism is always constructive and helpful, but there is a minority of critics who, on the present occasion, have devoted their energies to a disparagement of British 56 achievements and to eulogies of the achievements of our foreign competitors—and this on a basis of data and figures which are very largely erroneous—and are hindering rather than helping the cause which I do not doubt they, like the majority, have sincerely at heart. But before I proceed to deal with the wider issues to which I have referred, I should like to answer one or two of the particular questions which have been put to me.
The noble Lord who sits opposite spoke of a journey which he undertook in America. I understood him to say he left New York at 5 p.m. and reached Los Angeles at 8 a.m. There is apparently in his mind a fifteen-hour schedule, but the point I ventured to make in my interruption was that this—owing to different time systems in the two places—is actually an eighteen-hour schedule, or sixteen hours fifty minutes exclusive of stops. The time-table to-day is to leave New York at 4 p.m. and arrive at Los Angeles at 7 a.m.—again apparently a fifteen-hour, but actually an eighteen-hour schedule. If he went faster than that he must have made a special journey or have been travelling under favourable conditions with a following wind.
§ LORD MARLEY
I flew four times across and took on an average somewhere about sixteen to seventeen hours. The fastest journey was about 13½ hours, due to favourable conditions.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
The noble Lord may make an exceptional flight, but to-day's schedule from East to West is eighteen hours.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
Another remark which the noble Lord made, and I am not sure whether I fully got the meaning of his remark, but I think he suggested that civil aviation machines were somewhat hindered by being required to have military characteristics.
§ LORD MARLEY
Not at all. What I said was that if the two classes came under the same authority co-ordination under military conditions would be very much easier. That is the opposite of the opinion attributed to me by the noble Marquess.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I am not sure that I should not say at this time that that is a point to which we have particularly devoted our attention, and I would like to draw the noble Lord's attention to the remarks which I made in a Memorandum on the Report of the Committee on Control of Private Flying and other civil aviation questions:British air transport policy (unlike that of almost every other nation) has in fact been directed throughout first and foremost to commercial development for pacific Imperial purposes. It has in consequence aimed at the maintenance of a civil air fleet and of personnel to man that fleet on a scale dictated by commercial needs alone.I would like to emphasise the point that we have separated those ideas and not brought any military ideas to bear on the manner in which we have dealt with commercial aviation.
Lord Moyne asked me, firstly, whether I am aware that a foreign air line offers a faster service to the Far East than that provided by Imperial Airways. I am aware that it has been publicly stated that the Dutch line to the East—the K.L.M.—operates a five-day service to Batavia. But this statement is wholly incorrect, and in fact the schedule for this service is eight days in summer and nine days in winter, as compared with an eight-and-a-half day schedule the year round by Imperial Airways to Singapore. It is doubtless true that as the foreign lines concerned are re-equipped with new aircraft, they will curtail their present schedules. Imperial Airways intend to do the same as they replace their present fleet.
The noble Lord next asks me whether, in the subsidy arrangements now in force, any condition exists as to speed of service; whether any extension of the subsidy period is contemplated; and whether, in case of such extension, the Government will consider imposing such conditions. The answer is that the present agreements with Imperial Airways for their Indian and African services do require that, to count for subsidy, flights shall be completed within a certain period of time. But as these agreements were concluded several years ago, the periods of time allowed have in the natural course been greatly improved upon by Imperial Airways in actual practice. That is the obvious drawback to fixing static conditions in dealing with a form of transport which is in an essen- 58 tially fluid state of development, but I may say at once that, if and when any new agreements are concluded with the company—the first of the current agreements does not run out till 1937—appropriate minimum conditions will certainly be insisted upon.
I must mention to your Lordships the minimum conditions on which it is proposed that we shall insist. These conditions will not, however, necessarily take the form of a requirement of so many miles per hour, for that is merely a means to an end. I would suggest to your Lordships that in air, as in other forms of transport, what really matters is the time which we take to convey passengers, mails and goods from one point to another. It is, for example, of little moment that a railway engine is capable of a speed of ninety miles per hour. What the travelling public wants to know is how long will be taken on the journey from London to Birmingham, to Cardiff, to Edinburgh or to Glasgow. It may be, therefore, that it will be on this basis that we shall ultimately deal with this matter, though I do not wish to prejudge the precise methods at this stage.
The noble Lord has mentioned certain machines of foreign manufacture, which I understand are reported as being now on show at the aeronautical exhibition in Paris, and of which he says particulars appeared in a newspaper last Sunday. I can assure the noble Lord that I have made the most careful inquiries from our Air Attaché in Paris, and I am unable to trace machines of the description and performance to which he has referred. The only machines remotely approaching the description he has quoted are the following:—First, a French two-engined Bréguet with twelve to fourteen seats, which has not yet flown but which it is hoped will reach a speed of 239 miles per hour.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I said that they had twelve to fourteen seats. I think the noble Lord means, Are they destined primarily to carry passengers rather than mail?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I have not got that information at the moment. I have dealt with the Bréguet. 59 Another is a French three-engined Dewoittine machine, which is a development of the Eméraude, which met with disaster last year. This has thirty-two seats, and an estimated top speed of 217 miles per hour. There is also a model of an Italian machine—a Caproni, with three engines aggregating 2,500 horsepower. This is designed for twenty-seven seats and to develop an estimated top speed of 224 miles per hour.
I should remark, for the noble Lord's comfort, and probably for our own, that no aircraft of this type has actually left the factory yet. I may perhaps add that it is reports of this description which are doing so much damage to our aircraft industry from the exporting point of view, and that is why I am very glad that the noble Lord has given me the opportunity of making that statement. With regard to these figures which I have just given, your Lordships are well aware, of course, that the cruising speed, the actual speed, used on these journeys is very different from the top speed. But the top speed is a figure which it is right that I should give.
This issue of speed was first raised with me several months ago in the light of the performance of the new air liners which Air France—the great French air transport company—had brought into service on their cross-Channel services—a speed which enables them to perform the flight between Paris and London in some thirty-five minutes less than Imperial Airways. Thirty-five minutes may not seem very much, but as the normal schedule for a flight from Croydon to Le Bourget is two and a quarter hours, it represents a very substantial proportion of the total time taken on the journey. It has been exceedingly interesting to follow the subsequent course of events. The Air Ministry keep, of course, a careful watch on the trend of passenger traffic and its division between British and foreign air transport companies, and full statistics are rendered to me month by month. Now it was as long ago as the summer of 1933 that the re-equipment of the French fleet with these faster aircraft began, and by the end of last spring it was more or less complete. Yet during the last four months—from July to October inclusive—Imperial Airways carried three times as many passengers as 60 Air France across the Channel from London to Paris, and vice versa.
These figures certainly suggest that speed, beyond a certain point, is by no means the only thing that would-be travellers by air look for. They look for safety, they look for comfort, and they look for regularity just as much as speed. Personally, like the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, I like, if I travel by air, to travel as fast as possible; and I am even prepared to put up with some degree of discomfort to achieve this end, and I think that my noble friend, unlike myself, is prepared to go through a degree of danger which I should not be prepared to go through. But I suggest that we must not organise our commercial air transport system to meet the demands of the few, but the demands of the many. We must cater for the average, rather than for the exceptional passenger, for the normal user rather than for the technical enthusiast. And of one thing I am certain and that is that on the long-distance routes, as schedules are speeded up, and more and more of the twenty-four hours are spent in actual flight, the average passenger will demand, and will rightly demand, an increasing degree of comfort.
One would think from reading some of the criticisms which have been given such free vent in the past week or two that I, as representing the Air Ministry and British air transport, should be hiding my head in shame. I suggest to your Lordships that when we are carrying three times the number of passengers on a route on which we are in direct competition with a powerful rival, whilst we must—and I can assure your Lordships that I shall—avoid any undue degree of complacency, we certainly need not allow ourselves to be rushed into extravagant panic measures in the blind pursuit of mere speed with a reckless disregard of all other factors. I am not suggesting that in any of your Lordships' speeches this afternoon I have been driven in that direction at all, but I know that I am addressing a wider public than those who have made such helpful and constructive speeches this afternoon. That is not, of course, to say that we must not take advantage of each fresh technical development and insist, when existing fleets are re-equipped, on a substantial increase in speed. Of course, we shall do that, and suitable 61 provision will, as I have already said, be made in any new agreements with Imperial Airways to ensure that a reasonably increased rapidity of service is forthcoming. But the comparison I have given of the cross-Channel passenger traffic by air between July and October last seems to me a sufficient answer to that minority of critics who have so loudly advocated a vast immediate increase in our air expenditure, and who seem to expect that the moment a foreign fleet obtains faster aircraft, because the incidence of its re-equipment policy happens to fall at a different period from our own, we should immediately write-off our existing aircraft out of hand and buy new. That, frankly, would be a policy which could only end in bankruptcy and disaster.
My noble friend Lord Elibank, who in his speech ranged over a wide area and said at the end that he did not expect me to give him a full answer, has gaily narrated to us what we require, and I am bound to say that I agree with him that all these requirements would be very helpful and desirable, but I was glad to note that as a man of the world he put in his caveat at the end that if all these demands are satisfied the taxpayer ought to know what he is going to be called upon to pay. Your Lordships will understand the difficult position in which we are placed who have these responsibilities on our shoulders. While we can listen to all suggestions and listen with interest to all criticisms, we have to do what the critic whose responsibility is not so great has not to do—we have to consider the financial aspect and render an account of our stewardship to those who have placed us in these responsible positions.
I would repeat that it was specifically in connection with the cross-Channel services, and the French fleet in particular, that this question of speed was first raised with me by others than the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, and it is for that reason that I have dealt with those services at some length. As I have already said, the noble Lord rind the majority of critics are altogether helpful and constructive, but there is, I regret to say, another school of criticism in which the constructive attitude which I welcome so much is conspicuous by its absence. These critics are, I am glad to say, a minority, and I hope that the many friends of British civil aviation, whose support I value highly, will not think 62 that in the remarks which I now make I am addressing myself to them. They are on the contrary directed to the minority of whom I have spoken. These latter critics, disconcerted when they find themselves confronted with the hard facts I have cited, airily dismiss the cross-Channel services and say that comparisons should be made not with them, but over the longer routes and services.
Now I must point out that nearly 91,000 passengers travelled by air between England and the Continent in 1933, so this traffic is no small matter; and I may add that of that 91,000, some 53,500 were carried by British aircraft as compared with 37,500 by all foreign lines in combination—including French, German, Dutch and Belgian. Nevertheless, I gladly transfer my basis of comparison to the wider sphere of the world operations of British and French air transport respectively. What do we find? I take it that the object of commercial air transport is to carry the largest possible volume of passengers and mails by air at reasonable cost—not to maintain, at the taxpayers' expense, extravagant fleets flying about the world half or three-quarters empty. Your Lordships will therefore be interested to know that, during the year 1933, over its world services as a whole, Imperial Airways carried a larger mail-, a larger passenger-, and a larger total ton-mileage than the French; and, as was recently pointed out by a distinguished correspondent in the Press, whereas Air France showed, in the last accounts we have seen, a loss at the yearly rate of £1,300,000 after excluding subsidy, the corresponding figure for Imperial Airways was under £450,000.
But the school of critics to whom I allude, like the Hydra of classic legend, have a hundred heads. Lop off one, and straight another springs in its place. "That may be true of the French," they say, "but look at what the Dutch have achieved!" I have a great respect for the achievements both of our good friends the French and of our equally good friends the Dutch. If, however, the object of commercial air transport is, as I have suggested, to carry the greatest possible volume of aerial traffic, I may remark that last year the ton-mileage carried by Imperial Airways was nearly 90 per cent. greater than that carried by the Dutch. I may add further that it was more than 100 per cent. greater than that carried in 63 the same period by the Italians. Lastly, your Lordships may like to know that for the first five months of the current financial year Imperial Airways ton-mileage showed an increase of a third on the corresponding figure for 1933.
I have spoken so far of French, Italian and Dutch commercial air transport; let me now turn to the United States of America. There is widespread misunderstanding of the course of events in that great country, which have certainly been both spectacular and worthy of the closest study. The fact is, as noble Lords have said to-day, that geography gives the United States a unique field for the development of internal air transport, and the conditions which have governed this development are quite unlike anything else in the world. It is, of course, our plain duty to watch the progress of commercial air transport in America with the closest attention and, more particularly, we must be ready—without letting our emotions rim away with our reason—to learn from the very striking technical advances which have been achieved in that country in the design both of aircraft and engines. It would, however, be idle to imagine that there can ever be the same scope for air transport within these islands as there is in the United States; or that our Imperial air services (though they have before them, in my confident belief, potentialities just as far-reaching, but of a different kind) can ever operate under equally favourable conditions. Thus, as I have pointed out, our service to Australia will traverse eight foreign countries, and we obviously cannot dictate to those countries what their ground organisation, on which so much depends, shall be. I agree heartily with the remarks which fell from the noble Lord opposite that we must go on pursuing our endeavours to get that understanding by which we may have international flying without let or hindrance as far as that can possibly be done.
Again, it has recently been pointed out that petrol, the largest single item in our air transport costs, is obtainable at about 7d. a gallon in the United States as compared with something like 2s. 6d. in the case of our Imperial services. Nor must we overlook the enormous sums which have been spent on the development of civil aviation in the United States. I know your Lord- 64 ships will agree with me that in a survey of this kind it is only right that I should point out the financial position as we see it and as it is only right that they should see it. I spoke of "civil" rather than "commercial advisedly, for I myself am disposed to think so huge an expenditure really takes American air transport outside the sphere of commercial operation in any true sense of the term, whatever developments the future may hold in store. Thus in the American fiscal year 1933 the net loss to the United States Post Office (in other words the direct subsidy) was in the neighbourhood of £4,750,000 per annum. The United States Government expenditure on the development of civil aviation, in the seven years from 1927 to 1933 inclusive reached, if we add the other items of expenditure to the amount of subsidies, the staggering total of £25,000,000. The American technical achievement in this field has indeed been striking; but I cannot feel any surprise that the view is held in some quarters that it has been dearly bought.
For what is the real state of American air transport to-day? It employs a number of machines of outstanding performance, and in the case of one or two routes it has express services with very fast schedules, though, exceptional and spectacular flights apart, those schedules bear as yet but little resemblance to what has been widely claimed for them by some people in this country. For example, there has been talk of services operating for years past at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour. This is wholly wide of the mark. But, erroneous as have been many of the figures put into circulation, there is no doubt, as I have said, that the American air transport industry has been artificially stimulated by a vast expenditure of public money, and by a long series of boom flotations through the medium of which the small investor, to his great detriment, poured millions of dollars into the manufacturing industry. As a result it is to-day employing some remarkable aircraft in the operation of some very fast schedules though, let it be remembered, under wholly different conditions from those governing our Imperial air services.
But what is the economic condition of air transport in the United States of America? We have just received the first instalments of the evidence now 65 being given before the Federal Aviation Commission appointed to review the whole field of aviation in the United States, on account of the general dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs—and, particularly, with the "multiplicity of regulating authorities." One would have thought, from what has been said by the critics, that in the American air transport industry all was fur the best in the best of all possible worlds. The leaders of the industry are of a very different opinion. Earlier this year the American Government apparently reached the conclusion that even the United States Exchequer could not continue its past lavish expenditure on civil aviation; and that the Post Office could not go on carrying such enormous annual losses. In consequence the air mail contract rates were reduced. The result is that leading representatives of the air transport industry, in evidence before the Commission only last month, frankly stated that they are on the verge of ruin. I will give you the actual words of three of the leading witnesses.
The first of them stated that the companies "were facing huge monthly deficits" and that there was "no visual possibility of profit." He went on to say that:most, if not all, of the present companies carrying mail, express and passengers by air, in the United States, can continue only so long as their capital reserves hold out or until their officers and stockholders are no longer willing to permit the continued rapid dissipation of their money.The evidence of the second was equally emphatic. He said that with some exceptions.the aggregate result of the last few years of intensive effort … has been substantial financial losses.The third, giving evidence as recently as the 18th of last month, stated thatat the present rate all the lines will be in bankruptcy not later than June 30, 1935.These are the methods which in some quarters we are apparently being asked to emulate. In short, I repeat that the United States offers a field for the development of an internal system of air transport which we could not parallel in these islands, even if we were to copy their vast expenditure.
I hope to see a steady development of air transport in the United Kingdom, but it is in the Empire as a whole that British 66 commercial air transport, as I see it, has its greatest future. Our problem is in fact fundamentally different from that of internal air lines in the United States, and I suggest that we must recognise the fact and shape our plans accordingly. Indeed, when we turn to American external air transport, where conditions obtain which are more in parallel with those which prevail on our Imperial air services, operating as they do through foreign countries and often through difficult, remote, and sparsely populated territory, we find that the Americans have found themselves confronted by very similar problems to those with which we have had to contend. In this field, they have accepted as inevitable the use of different types of aircraft from those employed on internal services, and, in consequence of this and other factors, such as the delays clue to Customs and passport regulations, the necessity for materially slower time schedules.
I am sorry to inflict upon your Lordships so many figures and such a mass of technical data, but the erroneous information which has been so freely broadcast on this question of late has made it necessary for me to make some attempt to correct a perspective which has, in my judgment, been gravely distorted. I deprecate, indeed, this tendency to talk, in the sphere of air transport, almost exclusively in terms of miles per hour. What matters, as I have already suggested, is the number of hours or days taken in transit from one point to another—and it is on a far-reaching curtailment of the existing schedules that the Air Ministry, in conjunction with the Post Office and Imperial Airways, have been concentrating for many months past. Obviously, in any scheme for the development of our Imperial air communications, we have to act in the closest co-operation with the Dominions and Colonies, and the time is not yet ripe for me to make any detailed statement of the plans which are naturally in our minds.
I will therefore confine myself to saying that they were drawn up long before the Melbourne race and that they allow for a seven day schedule between this country and Australia. I was interested to see that the manager in this country of the K.L.M.—the highly efficient Dutch line—is reported in the Press to have stated, in the light of the results of the Melbourne race that, using the Douglas 67 machine about which we have heard so much, he considered a seven day schedule should be practicable. Months previously we had reached the conclusion that that was the schedule at which to aim, and in due course we hope to improve even on that programme. To those critics who have been so loudly proclaiming that my advisers and I have been asleep—I do not think it is unfair to say that that has been the general sense of their remarks—I can only reply that it seems to me that it is they who have been asleep, not we. Indeed they still seem to me, if I may say so without offence, to be rubbing their eyes over the results of the Melbourne race and the Douglas machine in particular, and, as is apt to happen to people who are rudely awakened from their slumbers, to have started up in panic confusion and to have lost their bearings.
I notice one authority, for whom I have great respect, remarking in the columns of the Press that the Melbourne race had given him and his friends "the jolt of their lives." Well, I will not say that if I had been asked, before the race, to give the minimum time in which that flight was likely to be performed, in the exceptionally favourable conditions which in fact prevailed over the greater part of the course outside Europe, I should have been right within two or three hours. But at least we at the Air Ministry had not forgotten the immense development of speed during the past six years, and barring accidents we should not have been so very far out with a forecast of the winning time.
The Douglas machine is undoubtedly a remarkably successful machine, which reflects the greatest credit on its designers and constructors. On the other hand, save for certain limited purposes, it is quite unsuitable for standard use on our Imperial air services, where our present aim is to achieve a paying load of three and a-half to five tons, under conditions in which the Douglas would give less than half that load. I am, however, surprised that so many of those who are now so anxious to teach the Air Ministry its business apparently knew so little about this machine until the recent race. Nine months ago we at the Air Ministry were considering the advisability of the purchase of one of these machines, because of its great technical merits. We de- 68 cided the purchase was not worth while. We have in fact purchased another equally interesting machine of American design and manufacture. We are not too proud to learn from others, as they have learnt many lessons from us, and, whatever may be said to the contrary, we are always on the look-out for new ideas, wherever those ideas may emanate.
I have, I fear, trespassed unduly upon your Lordships' time and even now I have not been able to answer all the questions or cover all that very interesting ground over which your Lordships have moved. Nevertheless, I would ask your indulgence whilst I add a few words on our commercial air transport policy. First I would emphasise the word "commercial" and its bearings upon the question of speed raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moyne. I am not one of those who ask or expect that civil aviation should fly by itself this year or next year or even the year after. I consider our air transport system fulfils a vital Imperial need, and it must be still further improved and developed. But I also am quite convinced that we must never lose sight of our economic goal, and I suggest to your Lordships that we must continue to aim at getting British air transport eventually on a firm commercial basis, though we must be prepared to assist it financially for a longer period than was contemplated ten years ago and very possibly on a more liberal scale. Having formed that view, I have, with my advisers, and in continuous consultation with my right honourable friend the Postmaster-General—for one of the main instruments for the furtherance of Imperial air transport, the mail, falls within his province and not mine—been co-operating with the Board of Imperial Airways for many months past on far-reaching plans of development.
The suggestion is sometimes made—and it has been made this afternoon—that civil aviation is the "Cinderella of the Air Ministry." That is the wildest travesty of the facts. Civil aviation has in fact given us all more work this year than ever before in its history—work which I hope will, before long, be productive of great Imperial benefits. Long before the recent race we had completed our plans for a drastic curtailment of existing time schedules between London and the other Empire capitals. I have mentioned in this connection a seven-day 69 schedule to Australia—that is nearly halving the schedule with which the service is to open. I need hardly say that we are aiming at similar accelerations to the other great Dominions such as South Africa and to the Colonies. We aim at faster aircraft; we aim at greater frequency; we aim at greater comfort, the importance of which we fully recognise, and I shall call the particular attention of Imperial Airways to the remarks of the noble Lord upon this head. Last, but by no means least, we aim, with the assistance of the Post Office, at a further development of air mail traffic.
But all these things we plan to achieve without destroying that approach by Imperial Airways to a commercial basis of operation which has been so steadily proceeding for the past ten years, under the prudent, but always progressive, guidance and direction of its very able Chairman, Sir Eric Geddes. Our object is, in short, in accordance with Whitish tradition, to lay solid foundations which will endure; not to run up a showy, but flimsy, edifice which would be in danger of crumpling at the first breath of another economic blizzard, should we have the misfortune to encounter one. We realise that in air transport, as in every other form of transport, it is a question of striking a balance between those speeds of operation which are technically, and those which are economically, feasible. As I have already indicated we shall not shrink, if need be, from recommending a larger public contribution to civil aviation for the next few years—provided we are clear that we are getting results which justify that expenditure. But we have no intention of spending money on mere "window-dressing," which we believe would be a short-sighted policy, contrary to the best interests of civil aviation.
I have already mentioned that Imperial Airways carried a larger ton-mileage than the French last year; that their ton-mileage in the same period was nearly twice that of the Dutch, and more than twice that of the Italians; and that it has already shown a substantial increase this year. Further, we regard it as a thoroughly healthy sign that the percentage of subsidy to Imperial Airways' total receipts has been steadily falling year by year until it is now under 45 per cent., as compared with a very much larger percentage in the case of all their 70 Continental competitors, whilst I may add that the revenue received by the United States Post Office on American external air services in 1933 was no more than 13 per cent. of its expenditure, which meant that 87 per cent. fell on the country. We regard it as a matter for satisfaction, not for lamentation, that the present subsidy to Imperial Airways per ton-mile carried is markedly lower than in the ease of the French, the Italians, the Germans or the United States. If these facts had meant a declining share in the world's air traffic, I should go a long way towards agreeing with the critics; but I have explained that so far the reverse is in fact the case, and I claim, therefore, without hesitation that the foundations of British commercial air transport have been well and truly laid, and that we may hope to see built upon those foundations a superstructure which will, when the special circumstances and special needs of the Empire are taken into account, stand the test of time and keep us in the very van of air progress.
In conclusion, my Lords, I trust that I have made it clear that, whilst I have felt it necessary to endeavour to correct some of the many misstatements which have been current of late, it is in no spirit of complacent satisfaction that I have reviewed our past achievements in this field, though I see much in which we are entitled to take legitimate pride. I repeat that we have long been planning to better those achievements, not least in the matter of speeds of operation. But I do venture to submit to your Lordships that, in the light of the facts I have placed before this House this afternoon, there is no shadow of justification for panic measures based on exaggerations so feverish that the other day the editor of a leading aeronautical periodical not unjustifiably stigmatised them as "Air Hysteria."
§ LORD MOYNE
My Lords, I am sure that we have listened with very great interest to the statement of the noble Marquess. He told us that he was going to correct certain misapprehensions and errors in perspective, and he has given us a most enlightening picture of the present state and possibilities of civil aviation. He has gone further: he has outlined to us the future policy of the Ministry with regard to building up the services. He still points to the perfectly 71 sound principle that the ultimate aim must be that these services should be self-supporting, but he has told us that whilst there is this forced draught of subsidised competition he will not be afraid to ask for whatever funds are necessary to protect our services from unfavourable competition. To the particular questions which I asked he has given, I think, very satisfactory answers. Clearly he cannot lay down any stereotyped conditions for efficiency, in which I certainly include regularity and speed, and there is no doubt that these matters must be left to the discretion of the Air Minister of the day. But I do hope that he will find some method to secure more satisfactory qualifications for a subsidy than those very easy mimima which he told us were laid down in the early days before the possibilities were appreciated. It is evident that at this stage the noble Marquess can tell us no more of the de- 72 tails of the negotiations which are going on, and as the time is not ripe to lay any Papers I naturally will not press my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.