§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOB AIR (VISCOCNT SWINTON)
My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I think it only fair that I should pay tribute at once as to how much this measure owes to my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Londonderry. It was under his administration that the great conception of a wide extension of the Empire routes was introduced—the all-up Imperial Air Mail. He had already set on foot, and had largely completed, the necessary negotiations with the Dominions, with India and with a number of the Colonies. Moreover, a very large part of this Bill is founded upon the recommendations of what has come to be known, and rightly known, as the Gorell Committee. I am glad to see 673 in the House my noble friend Lord Gorell who gave so much time and care to the preparation of that Report. It was Lord Londonderry who set up that Committee, which reported upon a new system of dealing with certificates of airworthiness and upon the whole difficult question of third-party insurance. It was my predecessor who received that Report, got it considered by the Cabinet, and announced the Government's intention in relation thereto. I appear therefore before your Lordships with a claim for authorship of only a fraction of this measure, but it certainly has my wholehearted support and that of the whole Government. If I can claim only a small share of authorship, I hope I shall not be found an inadequate expounder of what is in the Bill.
It would, I think, be convenient in the case of a measure which occupies a great deal of space in print, to translate it into rather simpler language such as I, at any rate, can understand and as can be understood also by those of your Lordships who do not follow complicated drafting any better than I do. Before I do that, perhaps I should give very briefly a picture of the particular objects of the Bill. In the first place there is the carrying on of the existing enactment about the granting of subsidies. The Bill empowers the Government to give long-term subsidies which are made necessary by the great Imperial air scheme. It also delegates the functions of the Secretary of State in regard to certificates of air-worthiness over a large field to an independent body established broadly on the lines which Lord Gorell's Committee recommended. It contains provision for the licensing of commercial transport if, and when, need should arise. No such steps are proposed to be taken at this moment, but your Lordships will see when we come to the clause that if such a need should arise, the powers will only be taken subject to positive and full Parliamentary control. The Bill institutes a system of compulsory insurance against third-party risk for damage to persons and to property, and is a necessary corollary of that instituted in the case of the Merchant Shipping Acts—a system of limited liability. The Bill also brings up to date the regulation of air transport in the light of experience and in the light of the recommendations of international conventions. It deals, 674 too, with the powers of local authorities and others in relation to aerodromes, and it clarifies the law in certain respects. It also does a thing which I am sure will appeal to your Lordships: it gives proper and permanent statutory authority to a number of matters which have been governed by rather temporary legislation.
Having given that broad picture, may I, as briefly as I can—and I think it would help to an understanding of the Committee stage—take your Lordships through the main clauses of the Bill? Clause 1 deals with subsidies. As I said, it continues and extends the powers that already exist and, of course, have been exercised under the Air Transport (Subsidy Agreements) Act, 1930, and it gives power to make agreements for a longer term than the 1930 Act contemplated, for as much as fifteen years. The need for that is apparent. When you come to enter into agreements covering the creation of a completely new fleet for the Empire routes, covering such a tremendous innovation as the all-up system of first class mail through a large part of the Empire, obviously the arrangements you have to make are arrangements which must cover an adequate period of time; but I have made a very definite innovation in this matter in regard to the measure of Parliamentary information and Parliamentary control. Under the old system, under the Act of 1930 it was competent, and, indeed, it was the regular practice, for the Government to enter into an agreement, to make a binding agreement and after it was made to notify that to Parliament by means of a White Paper, and merely to provide in the Estimates of the year the current charges which arose out of the subsidy agreement. I am proposing—it will be found in the Bill—a system which provides for fuller Parliamentary information and, if need be, for fuller Parliamentary control.
As before, of course, agreements must be negotiated by the Government, but it is intended that when an agreement has been negotiated a White Paper shall be laid before, and not after, the agreement has been signed, setting out the general terms and tenor and purpose of the agreement. But, more than that, it is now proposed that whenever a subsidy 675 agreement is made, that agreement shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament, and if either House should pass a Resolution against it within, I think it is, fourteen days, then that agreement shall be null and void, but without prejudice to the making of a new agreement. I do not contemplate that in regard to any agreement, made as it will be after communication to Parliament in the White Paper of its nature and purpose, such a Resolution is ever likely to be passed in either House, but I do think it is right in principle that where there are agreements involving large sums of Government money, it may be over a period of years, Parliament should be fully informed of the intention, and that both Houses should have, if they so desire, the right to discuss those matters and to take action upon them. That will be the new procedure, and, of course, the money falling due under any agreement will come up in the Estimates in the ordinary way in any year.
Clause 2 deals with the licensing of machines for airworthiness. As I said, this follows very largely the recommendations of Lord Gorell's Committee. They recommended that this board should consist of representatives of the operators, the constructors, and insurers; and, if I may say so, I think a reasonable Amendment was inserted in another place which will insure that on that board there will also be—this is no reflection upon the board at all—an independent person appointed directly by the Secretary of State and a man with real practical experience as a pilot. It is proposed when this board is established—and it will not be established until an Order has been laid so that Parliament will see exactly what is the constitution and functions of the board proposed to be set up—to give it jurisdiction over all questions of maintenance, the approval of airworthiness and maintenance of machines, and an initial jurisdiction over new machines and civil machines other than those which are designed to carry more than ten passengers. I think that is a fair division of responsibility.
Your Lordships will be familiar with the practice in regard to ships under the Board of Trade, whereby a ship which carries I think it is more than twelve passengers has to have a special survey 676 for which the Board of Trade is responsible. When you come below that there is the Lloyd's survey and the Lloyd's Register. In the same way, I think I am right in saying, in motor transport, if you have a road vehicle which carries more than seven or eight passengers that vehicle has to have some special licence which is approved by the Ministry of Transport. In the air, where you constantly are getting, fortunately, wonderful new designs of larger, brighter and better machines, it is, I think, right that new great types should come particularly under the initial jurisdiction of the Air Ministry. Subject to that, Lord Gorell's recommendations are broadly accepted.
Clause 3 is a simple, practical clause which says in effect that when a seaplane is on the water as distinct from being in the air, if it comes into collision whether on the high seas or in a naval port or in a civil dock or harbour, it shall be governed by regulations which as nearly as possible approximate to the regulations which govern ships. In the air it is an aeroplane, but when it comes down on the water and has a chance of colliding on the water it seems reasonable that it should be treated as nearly as possible as a ship.
Clause 4 requires the operators of air transport undertakings to give certain particulars about the use of aircraft and the personnel employed. It is very like the information now regularly collected both as regards ships and motor vehicles. It is very necessary to have accurate particulars in order to know the size of the aerodromes you want and the accommodation required on civil aerodromes, and also for international interchange of information about civil air matters. All it does in fact is to give us a statutory right to require information which a large number of firms and airports now give us by agreement. As regards foreign lines we shall have power to get information through the Customs aerodromes. Your Lordships will observe that care has been taken to insert a provision to ensure that information which may be confidential or particular to one firm shall not be disclosed. Therefore firms will be perfectly secure in giving information which will only be collated and used in the aggregate.
Clause 5 gives power, if need should arise in the future, to institute a system 677 for licensing commercial flying- We are not proposing to take action upon it at this moment, but one never knows when, for safety or other considerations, it may become desirable or necessary to institute some system of this kind. We have thought, and I hope your Lordships will agree, that much the most practical way of dealing with this is to take a particular power of this kind but to provide that it shall not be exercised unless a complete scheme is presented in an Order to Parliament and is approved by both Houses by an affirmative Resolution. The curious thing is that internationally I suppose we could to-day exercise a complete system of regulation by licensing, because an English line operating in foreign countries requires to get a licence from the countries over which it operates and has to get Government consent here, and of course no foreign company can come here without the authorisation of the Government of this country. It is rather anomalous that we could, if we were so disposed to-day, institute a complete system of licensing for foreign-going and foreign-coming air lines, but that we have no power to do so in the case of the lines operating internally in this country.
Clause 6 gives power of detention for breach of regulations which, although perhaps in less convenient form, is already in the Act of 1920 and is an exact parallel to what has always been the law in the case of ships. Clause 7 is one of those clauses rightly dear to the hearts of draftsmen which really says that the Act of 1920 says what it was intended to mean. Then we come to several clauses dealing with local authorities. Clause 8 gives power to the Metropolitan Borough Councils to establish aerodromes. I do not quite know bow they were ever left out. What Parliament intended to do was to give local authorities power to establish aerodromes. The Metropolitan Borough Councils seem to have fallen between two stools, but everybody, including the London County Council, agrees that they ought to have that power. Clause 9 gives permanent statutory authority to local authorities to acquire land for aerodromes compulsorily. Hitherto, as your Lordships will remember, this has been dealt with in the Expiring Laws Continuance Acts and my noble friend who is now on the Woolsack [the Earl 678 of Onslow] has more than once said that it was not a proper thing to do this year after year and that the power should be put into a permanent Act dealing with air transport. I am glad we have an opportunity now of setting our house in order in that respect.
Clause 10 provides that where a local authority has acquired land for aerodromes and used these compulsory powers—or even has acquired land by agreement, I suppose—it must not use the land for some other purpose or dispose of it without the approval of the Secretary of State. That seems a reasonable provision. As Parliament has given authority to local authorities to acquire land compulsorily for aerodromes because that was thought proper, and as the Secretary of State has been given by Parliament discretion to approve in any particular case, it seems reasonable that, a local authority having been given by Parliament and by the Secretary of State permission to acquire land for that express purpose, it should not be devoted to some other purpose unless the Secretary of State approves. Clause 11 gives the City of London Corporation the power to join with other authorities in the establishment of aerodromes. I do not know whether that power will be found necessary, because the City of London has already set an admirable example, and I would like to pay a very real tribute to the City Corporation for their great public spirit and wise vision in establishing, at what will be very considerable expense, a great air port on the eastern side of London.
Clause 12 gives local authorities power to carry on ancillary businesses at their aerodromes. Your Lordships will observe that this clause differs from the previous practice which was rather an odd one. If a particular aerodrome applied to the Secretary of State for permission to carry on some ancillary business, such as the supply of oil or petrol, and such permission was given to that particular authority, automatically it became a general permission for every local authority in the country which had an aerodrome to establish an ancillary business of that kind. It was felt that that probably was not the real intention of Parliament, and that what Parliament intended was that there should be a power to give the authority in any appropriate case but that each particular case should be dealt with on its 679 merits. That is what this clause in the Bill proposes.
Clause 13 deals with trespassing on licensed aerodromes. I am always nervous about the creation of new offences, because I am fearful that I may come under some new condemnation of which I have no knowledge, and lack of knowledge, I understand from the lawyers, is no excuse. I think your Lordships will agree, however, that not only is this in the interests of those concerned with air navigation, but that it is in the interests of the general public, because it is a very dangerous thing to have people wandering across aerodromes when machines may be landing. They have no business to be there, and just as with the much slower traffic on the railways Parliament long ago said that it was a special statutory offence to trespass upon a railway embankment—as most of us have done at one time or another after a rabbit—so it is now an offence, or will be one if your Lordships pass this clause, to trespass upon an aerodrome. I put it forward, not in any desire to create a new offence, but because I really think it is in the interest of the general public that they should keep themselves off aerodromes, where they may meet with grave disaster. I need hardly say that the provision does not at all interfere with any rights of way or anything of that kind.
Then Clause 14, which was inserted in another place, gives power to an aerodrome owner to light obstructions on neighbouring property. There have been one or two cases—there has been rather a test case, I think, about a certain gasometer—where some obstruction, it may have been in darkness or bad weather, was a danger. Obviously one wants to avoid any risk of that kind, but at the same time it would not be reasonable to make the owner of the property liable for lighting. Therefore the compromise is proposed that an aerodrome owner, if the local authority rules that some obstruction is really a danger to air traffic coming in to land at the air port in darkness or in bad weather, shall have the right to apply to the Secretary of State for leave to light the obstruction or otherwise make it not dangerous, and that leave may be given. The whole of the expense, of course, has to fall on the owner of the aerodrome, and there are detailed provisions for assessing by an independent arbitrator appointed by the 680 Lord Chief Justice if there is any dispute about the amount.
Then we come to the chain of clauses dealing with the limitation of liability for third-party damage. It follows the Gorell Report and the Rome Convention and carries with it, as I said, the necessary corollary that if you are to have compulsory insurance you must have some limit of liability. It follows in this respect the parallel which for many years has been the law under the Merchant Shipping Acts, and the proposed figures, which so far as personal damage is concerned have been increased from those which were originally proposed, are set out in the Second Schedule. They provide that every aeroplane has to insure for £10,000, but that not more than £5,000 shall be payable if the damage is to property only. The amount rises to a maximum figure of £25,000 according to the weight of the aircraft. There is a special provision for gliders for £2,000, with a limit of liability of £1,000 if the damage is to property only. There is, your Lordships will observe, no limit upon the liability if the loss, or damage is due to wilful misconduct on the part of the owner or pilot, and there is a provision which specially exempts workmen's compensation, so that workmen will be secured even if the maximum amount would otherwise be exceeded.
Then there are the provisions of Clauses 16 to 20 for compulsory third-party insurance. They follow the Road Traffic Act as nearly as possible. Clause 16 provides that every owner must insure by policy, by a guarantee or by a deposit; Clause 17 provides that the hirer will be liable if he has the machine for more than fourteen days; Clause 18 provides for every machine carrying the same kind of certificate that cars carry under compulsory insurance; Clause 19 provides that the owner must give the insurer the true facts, and Clause 20 provides that insurance companies dealing in this kind of insurance shall make the usual deposit. Your Lordships will be aware that the Board of Trade has set up a Committee to deal with the whole question of insurance deposits and various other matters connected with insurance. In this Bill, I think with the full consent of the insurance companies, the common practice is being followed. If as a result of that Committee's Report it were found desirable to introduce any reform into the 681 general insurance law, obviously that would properly find its place in a general Insurance Bill and not in a purely local measure.
Clause 21 empowers us to ratify the Rome Convention. Clause 22 enables a date to be fixed for bringing the insurance provisions into force. Clause 23 says that the Secretary of State and not the Air Council is responsible for civil aviation. I must make the confession to your Lordships that he has been so for a long time. The Director-General of Civil Aviation, who is doing his work, if I may say so, quite admirably, is entirely responsible to the Secretary of State, and matters of civil aviation as such never come before the Air Council at all. No formal statutory alteration has, however, been made in this, but now it is thought proper to state in an Act of Parliament what, indeed, has been the practice for a considerable time. Clause 24 gets us out of a similar difficulty. The Secretary of State has a sort of Jekyll-Hyde existence; he does some things as Secretary of State and some things as President of the Air Council, and I suppose that if he misdescribed himself in one of his functions some awful consequence might happen. It is, however, the same animal throughout, and this clause proposes that in future, whether he is acting as President of the Air Council or as Secretary of State, he may describe himself as Secretary of State.
Clause 25 in the same way assimilates the powers which the Secretary of State has for managing and disposing of land acquired for civil aviation to the powers he has in regard to land acquired for military aviation, and there are provisions in Clause 26 of very much the same kind; these give him, for instance, the power to make by-laws for civil aviation, a power which somebody had discovered he did not possess. It also corrects a small point which was discovered, that apparently there was no provision by which property vested in one Secretary of State could descend to another—a rather curious anomaly. Clause 27 really only repeats what has always been the practice: that where there is a subsidy provision there shall be a fair-wages clause, and the fair-wages clause follows the one which your Lordships inserted in the Sugar Industry Act. Then there are some minor and consequential amendments 682 in Clause 28. Clause 29 clears up some legal doubt, and Clause 32 translates the Bill into the Scottish language. Clause 33 deprives the dead men of Ulster of some unknown preference which they apparently possess, I know not how or why. Apparently you could bring an action against the estate of a dead Englishman, Scotsman or Welshman, but the estate of a dead Ulsterman was immune. It will no longer be so.
Then there are the Schedules with which I do not think your Lordships heed greatly be troubled. The First Schedule lays down the procedure where local authorities exercise compulsory purchase, and I can save your Lordships time and trouble if I say that it follows, I believe, the procedure you have already approved under the Town and Country Planning Act. The Second Schedule sets out the limit of liability to which I have referred. The Third Schedule lays down the provisions which are to go into insurance policies. It follows the Road Traffic Act and, wherever it differs from that Act, it is more favourable to the insured person. The Fourth Schedule lays down how existing enactments apply to the Secretary of State for Air. There are the necessary minor and consequential amendments in the Fifth Schedule. In the Sixth Schedule the Ulster dead men have a Schedule to themselves and the Seventh Schedule gives the enactments repealed.
I hope I have made both the broad purpose and, so far as they are relevant to this debate and will help the Committee stage, the detailed provisions of the Bill reasonably plain. I have been rather longer than I meant to be, but I thought your Lordships would wish to have a fairly complete exposition of what is after all a rather important Bill. It is comprehensive, I think it is clear, and it is also practicable. It has been founded on long experience and on the work of bodies like Lord Gorell's Committee, of international experience, and I believe the Bill is, as I trust it will be found to be, a practical, useful, and comprehensive measure. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Swinton.)
My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition I would like to 683 echo the tribute paid to the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, for his foundation work on this Bill, and indeed his general work for civil aviation. He set a splendid example himself as a pilot, and we all know the great interest which he took in this most important service. Also, most respectfully, I would like to echo the thanks of your Lordships' House to Lord Gorell for his careful and painstaking work in preparing the ground work for this Bill. I would also like to add something of which the noble Viscount did not and of course was too modest to speak, and that is that he has explained this comprehensive and important Bill in a very lucid, terse and easily understandable manner.
Now I am going to voice, as briefly as I can, the views of the Labour Party on this very important Bill. With much of it we have no quarrel. With the most important part of it we have a very serious quarrel on a question of principle. We are opposed to the subsidy portion of the Bill in toto. We consider that civil aviation should be a great national and Imperial service, owned by the Empire and under the control of the Empire. We are opposed to subsidies to private enterprise in this and in all other Bills. We are opposed to control by private vested interests. And very important indeed, we believe there is another reason why the State should control and the Empire should control civil aviation, and it is this. We believe there will be no peace in the world without disarmament—no permanent peace. We believe there will be no disarmament without the abolition by agreement of military Air Forces. We believe there will be no abolition of military aviation unless civil aviation is under international control, for very obvious reasons, and we believe it will be easier to bring it under international control if the State and the Empire own it.
Having said that, and explained our position, I must at once make it clear that we do not propose to divide against the Bill. We make it a principle in this House, on this side, not to invite your Lordships to divide upon a Bill coming from another place which has been fully discussed there, but we do ask leave to propose, and I hope to carry, certain Amendments, with the concurrence of the noble Viscount. One Amendment 684 will be to Clause 13, which deals with trespassing at licensed aerodromes. With what the noble Viscount said on the question of trespass we are entirely agreed, but certain private companies owning aerodromes have been at loggerheads with the trade unions to which their workmen belong, and have treated as trespassers the representatives of the trade unions who have come to the aerodromes on their ordinary business. That contest was fought out years ago with the railway companies, and was settled in a fair way. We want it made perfectly clear that this part of the Bill, which prohibits trespassing, will not be made a means of persecuting these men who come on to the aerodromes on their lawful business. I hope that the noble Viscount will agree to that. It is perfectly reasonable.
With regard to insurance, we think that an opportunity has been lost here of making the insurance of aircraft, which is a separate kind of insurance for easily understandable reasons, a State service. We believe that one of the best ways of helping civil aviation effectively—we want to help it, there is no difference between us at all on that point—would be by having cheap unlimited insurance, and the insurance companies, I gather, are not very keen on this kind of insurance. They have no actuarial statistics, they do not know what the real risks are, and I think there would be no great opposition from them if the State took over this insurance. Furthermore, I think there is a precedent also, in the unknown conditions at the beginning, in the fact that the State took over the insurance of mercantile shipping at the beginning of the Great War.
With regard to the subsidy, the figure has increased very greatly indeed. From 1929 till now we have subsidised civil aviation to the extent of £3,500,000. I dare say we have got good value—we have no quarrel with that at all—but under the Bill, during the next fifteen years we shall probably have paid in subsidies upwards of £20,000,000, most of which will go to one company, Imperial Airways, which has a paid-up capital of only £600,000. I want to make it clear that I have no intention of making any criticism of Imperial Airways. They were set up to do certain work, and from my experience, which is not slight, I 685 think they have done their work admirably and efficiently. I took what was then one of the longest flights in the early days, to India, and I acknowledge fully and with admiration the way in which they got over all difficulties, including diplomatic difficulties, and also the high reputation which they enjoy. As a matter of principle, however, it seems to me wrong that this large sum of public money should be made available, for the greater part, for one company, without more control.
I spoke just now of the diplomatic difficulties of Imperial Airways in the early days. The noble Viscount spoke of the flying boat coining under the same rules of the sea as the merchant ship. The flying boat comes under the same law as the merchant ship, and therefore it can enjoy the freedom of the seas, which has been fought for and striven for for centuries. Therefore the flying boat has an advantage over the aeroplane flying over the land, which is hampered by frontier restrictions. I hope the noble Viscount and his advisers will do everything to encourage the development of the flying boat. I believe it is the best way of linking up the Empire in an efficient, valuable and safe manner.
That brings me to another matter which I must touch upon, and that is that this nation has most to gain by what I may now call the freedom of the air. I want to protest against certain allegations which have been made against the German owners of the "Hindenburg" for flying over this country. I cannot understand the mentality of people who become scared because the "Hindenburg," on its lawful occasions, flew over certain parts of this country. If military photographs are needed the last means any one would use would be an airship. Permission could be got for a civil aeroplane to fly anywhere, and if we make difficulties when an airship or anybody wants to fly across this country we shall have the same difficulties made for us when we want to fly across other countries. We are having difficulties enough as it is, and I want to enter this protest immediately against this curious agitation about the "Hindenburg's" flights.
I also hope very much that the Undersecretary of State for Air in another place was not stating the whole of the story when he declared that, provided certain technical matters were satisfied, 686 the Government were going to return to the airship policy. The whole story of airships has been one long tale of disaster. From the end of the Great War until the terrible tragedy when a distinguished member of your Lordships' House was killed in the loss of the R 101 we spent something like £10,000,000 on airships, all of which either came to grief one after another or were scrapped. This is no reflection on British aeronautical engineering or British aviation, because the same thing happened to Italian, American, French and, in the early days, to German airships. I do not believe they are worth the cost; for war purposes, owing to their vulnerability and the rarity and expense of helium gas I believe they are practically useless. If the Americans like to do what they term "negative scouting" in the Pacific, let them do it; they have plenty of money. But if we have money to spend on that sort of thing it had far better go on the large flying boats. I would also like to see the State spending more money on research and experiment, particularly to ascertain the types of aircraft which will pay their way without subsidy at all.
I gave notice to the noble Viscount that I would like to ask him a question. Is it possible for him to give us some idea of the price of the large flying boats? I have seen various statements in the Press. I have seen that the "Canopus" type—for twenty-one of them—cost about £2,000,000. I do not know whether there is any reason why we should not have this information. And I do hope that we are going to push on with the development by this means of the North and South Atlantic services. I heard an announcement from the radio station over the week-end that we have come to an arrangement with the Pan-American Line for the North Atlantic services which is to come into operation in August. I am delighted to hear it and I hope there is going to be no further delay. We should have been flying the North Atlantic seven years ago. There are no technical difficulties in the way of doing it. We are not even flying the South Atlantic yet, although two other countries are doing it, and in view of our great interests in South America it is very essential that there should be regular British flying boats carrying mails and passengers to and from South America. I would 687 like to have some words of comfort in his reply from the noble Viscount.
I do not wish in these remarks on the Second Reading of the Bill to appear hypercritical. I said at the beginning that we on this side of the House have great differences of principle with the Government, but apart from that we want in every way we can to help to develop civil aviation, both as an Imperial and as an international service. We want to see careful flying but bold finance and bold development, and of course we should much prefer that the ultimate advantages should be for the benefit of the people as a whole. We believe that the development of flying, instead of being the curse that it threatens to be through the use of the air weapon in war, can be and ought to be a great means towards peace, by bringing people closer together and breaking down the artificial barriers between nations. If you really got the whole of Europe air-minded and flying across these miserable frontiers that divide the peoples, you would bring the people together in a better understanding and, I should hope, in better co-operation for the peace of the world.
My Lords, after the extremely detailed and clear statement of the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Air it is certainly not necessary for me to detain your Lordships for more than a very few moments, but I should like to express my appreciation on behalf of my colleagues and myself on the Committee over which I had the honourable duty of presiding for the very generous references made to the work of the Committee by the Secretary of State for Air, and I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, for associating himself with those references. I think it is only right that I should join also in the testimony that has been given to the work of the predecessor of the noble Viscount, the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry.
The Committee over which I had the duty of presiding was not quite like all other Committees. There have been public Committees set up, as I think everyone who has been in any way associated with public affairs, either directly or indirectly, will remember, which have been set up rather for the purpose of delaying, than for taking, a decision. That is certainly not the case 688 with this Committee. When I first had the privilege of preliminary discussions with the noble Marquess, the then Secretary of State for Air, he emphasised that it was the definite policy of himself and his advisers to promote the maximum freedom possible for private flying, so that we came to our labours from the beginning backed by the hope that we should be able to make recommendations to that end. I think the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House shows that that policy has not been the policy merely of the individual Secretary of State, Lord Londonderry, followed by the present Secretary of State, and it is naturally a considerable satisfaction to me and to my colleagues to feel that we may have contributed in any degree to that end.
I think that the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House and the history of the Committee over which I presided are in a very complete way an answer to the arguments which are sometimes adduced that civil aviation would be better served if it were separated from the Air Ministry. Some even among my colleagues were apt to take that view. The labours of the Committee were enormously facilitated by the fact that before it was even set up there had been a Committee consisting of Air Ministry experts travelling over the ground and saving us a great deal of labour, and their whole attitude negatives the contention that the time has come, or is even within measureable sight, when civil aviation would be better served by being separated from the Air Ministry. It is quite clear that all along and for a good many years past the attitude of the Ministry has been, as far as was compatible with public responsibility and the development of the new science, to give it freedom. There have been many analogies adduced, referring both to the motor car and to the merchant service. The noble Viscount in moving the Second Reading made apt illustration of those analogies, but if they be pressed too far they undoubtedly, in my judgment at any rate, become definitely misleading.
I should like to associate myself, without travelling over all the ground covered by the noble Lord who spoke last, with that part of his speech which was directed to the ultimate future of air transport. We are, it would seem, 689 at the parting of the ways, when air transport may become either one of the greatest curses that was ever inflicted upon humanity, or one of the greatest instruments for peace. The only point of difference that I would take with him there is that he spoke as if air transport were wholly confined to air public companies. We did envisage air transport in general—private flying as well as the public utility companies—the coming into the world of a new means of locomotion. To my mind this Bill is of much greater importance than the attendance in your Lordships' House this afternoon would suggest. It is indeed the first taking of a very definite step towards the freeing of flying from many of the restrictions which have governed it in the past, a policy with which, as I have endeavoured to indicate, successive Secretaries of State have shown themselves attuned.
The noble Viscount in moving the Second Reading referred to Clause 23, to which it seemed to me, from his remarks, he did not attach any very special importance. I must confess for my part that I do. When we were investigating these matters it seemed to us that a good deal of misapprehension had been aroused in many quarters by the fact of the definite association of the Air Council by name with air transport. We know that the great majority of the members of the Air Council are serving officers who are not definitely associated with civil aviation, and though it is not referred to in this Bill, though, as the noble Viscount remarked, it has already taken place, I attach very much importance to the change of status from Director of Civil Aviation to Director-General. I should like, if I may, to be permitted to associate myself whole-heartedly with the expression of appreciation of the work of the present occupant of that post which fell from the noble Viscount.
There is more in it than a change of name. We realise that the Air Ministry has a dual function to fulfil, but as long as instructions went out in the name of the Air Council the actuality was obscured, and there was a tendency, especially among those who had not followed air matters closely, to consider that in some degree civil aviation was the servant of the military side. Personally I think it is of great importance that that part of the Bill should be included. It is more than a change of title, 690 and I am glad to admit it now because it was while I was at the Air Ministry as Under-Secretary that the previous arrangement was made. I feel that the experience of the past has shown that that was a mistake. It was thought at that time, now about a dozen years ago, that the Under-Secretary of State should be personally responsible for civil aviation. Secretaries and Under-Secretaries change and there was no security for continuity of policy. As I understand the change, the Director-General of Civil Aviation is directly responsible to the Minister, and in that way the change of title has laid a definite emphasis upon the duality of the work of the Air Ministry.
The noble Viscount who moved the Second Reading explained in detail all the different clauses of the Bill, some of which are highly technical. It is not for me to attempt to repeat or traverse anything he said. Where I think the real importance of this Bill lies is in the fact that it is a definite furtherance of freedom for flying. I attach special importance to Clause 2—the delegation of many of the duties to a body which will be representative of the interests of civil aviation. I welcome the Bill though I shall have one Amendment, at any rate, to move in Committee. I sincerely trust it will mark a definite stage in the history of the air, the development of which all of us, in our different degrees and ways, are so interested in promoting.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to say a word or two in reply, if only because it is so pleasant to find, when great issues divide us on so many matters, that there can be such a large measure of agreement on this important question which we all approach with the sole idea of doing what is most practicable in the interest of the country and of the Empire. The noble Lord opposite would not expect me, certainly on this Bill, to enter into any argument with him about whether it would be a good thing to nationalise the airways of the world or to nationalise insurance. If, and when, we decide in this country to change the whole of our system, no doubt airways and insurance will follow banking into the new heaven—or elsewhere; but that really would not be very relevant to this Bill, nor indeed did the noble Lord think so.
691 Let me assure him of one thing. Whatever may be our approach or our ultimate method, we are all at one in desiring passionately that the airways of the world shall be ways of peace. I would add, too, that whether you have airways conducted by the State or whether you have them subsidised by the State, you want the taxpayers to get the best possible value for their money, and therefore you have got to proceed on the lines that you are subsidising at the least possible cost to the taxpayer an undertaking which is both technically and financially thoroughly sound; and your whole aim ought to be so to construct or subsidise that you will help civil aviation as soon as possible to stand on its own feet or fly on its own wings. I think we can say in this country that we have got better value for our money than any other country, and it certainly will be our aim always to secure that. The noble Lord noted the fact that a large proportion of the subsidy was going to one company. That is true, because it has been the considered policy of this Government, as of other Governments, in the Imperial field to make a single company the instrument of the Imperial routes, and nobody indeed has challenged that as a sound economic proposition. Subsidies will not be confined to that company, although they will be on these Imperial routes.
The noble Lord asked about the South Atlantic route. At the present moment we have under consideration the possibility of securing a service across the South Atlantic. Various companies or persons who have plans have been invited to submit them, and we have made in the last year a change which I think is a change of great importance. I have always felt that problems of civil aviation, when you get into the international field and have routes covering the whole world, involve much wider questions than can be dealt with by the Air Ministry alone. Obviously the Treasury comes in always, but the Board of Trade comes in for shipping, the Post Office obviously comes in wherever there is any question of postal contract for the carriage of mails. You have the Dominions and the Colonies, you have the Foreign Office and the India Office, you have also, to some extent I think, a certain interest in the Admiralty. About a year ago we arranged that all these questions of international 692 aviation should come before a Standing Committee, which meets regularly once a week presided over by Sir Warren Fisher and upon which all the Departments are represented by very senior officials. That has had two great advantages. It has the advantage that you get the collective information which each Department of State concerned possesses, you get the combined opinion, and you get quick decision and quick action. I think that has been a very sound and practical thing.
The noble Lord made an appeal for the freedom of the air. He is a little bit out of time. There was, my noble friend will remember, a great international meeting at which the freedom of the air was advocated. It was advocated by every country in the British Empire. We found only three supporters, and there were twenty-five against us. We advocated it intensely but we could not carry it. What are we driven back upon? There is not the faintest chance of getting freedom of the air to-day, and if you cannot get freedom of the air you have to proceed on another tack and that is to get reciprocity. That is the tack on which we are proceeding now. What is the next best thing to freedom? We must make sure that where concessions are asked for from us, where facilities are granted by us, we shall get complete facilities in return. In that way, over the areas over which we fly and others fly to us, we shall get as nearly as possible to freedom in the air.
The noble Lord asked me whether I was going in for an intensive policy of airships. The answer is, no. I do not think anybody in this country, either commercial or military, has it in mind to engage in any such undertaking. I would agree with the noble Lord that the flying boat affords, for us at any rate, much better opportunities, although it has to fly over the land as well as over the sea, and more and more has this borne in on me the close inter-relation in the right sense between civil and military aviation. I do not mean by that the designing of machines that can be used for both purposes. In fact, no air line in Britain designs machines which can be used or would be much good for military purposes. But, in this much better sense are these opportunities, that the kind of research which goes on in the one is of enormous help to the other. I had an 693 example the other day where in some new field of research the military side wanted something and civil aviation wanted something, and with a little care it was possible to link the two together and to make one set of experiments serve the purpose. Either set of experiments must have been very costly. A single set of experiments served the combined purpose of military and civil aviation. That, it seems to me, is the right kind of contact between the two.
Then the noble Lord asked me about the North Atlantic service. He is a little premature in suggesting that there will be a service running this year. He is also, I think, a little optimistic in saying that there are not any technical practical difficulties in the way, and that it might have been done years ago. I do not think he would find that those who are most actively engaged either on this side of the Atlantic or the other in planning for the services would quite agree with him as to the simplicity of the operation. But we are going ahead. I was also asked whether I would give the noble Lord the price of a particular flying boat bought by Imperial Airways. I cannot. I do not happen to know it, but, as a matter of principle, if I did know it, quite frankly I would not give it. I will tell the noble Lord why. I am sure he will appreciate the reason. It has always been a matter of principle where subsidies are given—it has been throughout with the subsidies given to Imperial Airways or to any other air company—that we do not interfere with the commercial management of the firm. It has been the same in other fields where subsidies have been given under any Government, and I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate that it would be a quite impossible position to begin assuming such a responsibility. Only one body can be responsible for the management of an undertaking, and that is the management of it, and you either have to have it managed by the Government, in which case it becomes a Government concern—which is what the noble Lord would like—or it has to be managed by the expert management of the business. You really cannot have a mix-up between the two in which the ultimate and effective responsibility, and, consequently, the efficiency resulting, would reside nowhere at all.
May I interrupt the noble Viscount for a moment to clear up the matter? I do not want to press the noble Viscount for the price of the "Canopus" or any of these flying boats. It is a matter of general interest that is all. Everyone knows the price of the "Queen Mary" which we subsidised, and everyone knows the price of every warship we build for the Navy. What is the objection to giving the price of a flying boat?
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
The answer is that when you put a ship into the Navy it is paid for by the taxpayer out of Votes. No doubt the price of the ship is disclosed in the Vote. When you give a subsidy to an air line, however, it is really on a quite different basis. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Gorell, intervened in this debate, because a debate on this subject would not be complete without a speech from him. I only wish to correct him in regard to one thing. I did not wish to suggest that I thought Clause 23 unimportant on merits. I treated it rather in passing, because I made the confession that it merely gave statutory effect to what has been the practice during the whole of my term of office and had been the practice before, but I am entirely at one with the noble Lord as to the importance of having civil aviation as a function of the Secretary of State and not as a function of a military Council. I am perfectly certain the noble Lord will confirm that that system is working well in practice, and I can give him the firm assurance that I have not the faintest intention of turning my back upon what I believe to be a right system and one that is working well. I am much obliged to the House for the way in which the Bill has been received.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF ONSLOW)
My Lords, before the debate closes I should like to offer my thanks to the noble Viscount who has introduced this Bill and the Government for having taken the action that was promised by my noble friend Lord Templemore last year and adumbrated in former years in relation to the Expiring Laws Continuance Act by my noble friend Lord Stanhope. In Clause 9 as my noble friend has told your Lordships, the compulsory acquisition of land 695 by local authorities for aerodrome purposes is provided for, and in the Seventh Schedule of this Bill paragraph 2 of Part I of the Public Works Facilities Act is repealed. I must say I have for a long time had qualms about using the Public Works Facilities Act, which is an Act passed by Parliament as a temporary measure and one that has to be renewed under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act yearly, for the purpose of acquiring land for aerodrome purposes. I think your Lordships will agree that it is very important to be careful not to make use of temporary legislation for purposes which, although quite legitimate and desirable in themselves, are such as were not contemplated in the Act. Section 2 of the Public Works Facilities Act and Schedule I provided for the acquisition of land for aerodromes and other purposes in relation to unemployment, and not for permanent purposes mentioned in this measure. Therefore I am glad that the Government have taken action to regularise the procedure.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.