HL Deb 15 June 1938 vol 109 cc963-73

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It arises out of the Report of the Committee presided over by Lord Cadman. It arises also out of the realisation to which we have been driven, that the old saying that British civil aviation had got to fly by itself cannot stand to-day against the subsidised competition which it has to meet. In asking your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading it is not for me either to defend or attack Imperial Airways, but I do think it is fair to Imperial Airways that we should remind ourselves of the fact that up to the very latest we have made it a cardinal rule of our civil air policy that our subsidies should be as low as possible and that we should aim at civil flying being put on a completely commercial and paying basis. We are the only country that has asked that particular industry to bring this about.

Again, if any of your Lordships have flown on the modern flying boats which are now in operation, I think you will agree that there is really nothing to compare with them throughout the world. I myself have had experience in the last eighteen months of flying something like 30,000 miles in Africa and Australia and on the way back from Australia. I repeat that I have seen nothing to compare with the new Imperial Airways flying boats. Not only have they speed, but they have quite extraordinary comfort, and those of your Lordships who have done any of these long journeys will agree with me that comfort most certainly does count in flying. Yesterday we had the welcome news given to us that Sir John Reith had consented to take on the responsibility of the Chairmanship of Imperial Airways. While many of us may regret the loss to the B.B.C., we must all feel intensely delighted that this great national business has been put under Sir John Reith's care.

In spite of these points which I have ventured to put, we have to admit that, taking things all in all, there is no doubt that many other countries have gone ahead of us in civil flying, ahead of us even in those parts of the world which we are entitled to consider as our particular sphere of influence. Here we come to the need for this Bill. What are the recommendations which have to be considered in discussing this Bill? We were recommended that services should be established between London and all the capitals of Europe. I can tell your Lordships that we envisage under the financial provisions of this Bill an extension of services to Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Oslo, and Lisbon, and I particularly underline Lisbon as being the first stage in the South Atlantic scheme. We were recommended to go ahead with the South Atlantic scheme, and I can inform your Lordships that not only was one important survey carried out last year, but there is another at present in progress, and while I cannot give your Lordships any exact date at the moment for the initiation of the service, I can assure you that the arrangements are going ahead as quickly as possible. Then there is the question of services in the West Indies and the Pacific. With regard to both of these services, again, negotiations are in hand, and with regard to the Pacific service I can inform your Lordships that so far as we have got they are progressing exceedingly favourably.


May I ask the Minister what he means by the Pacific service—between which places?


The service over the Pacific from the North American Continent down to Australia and New Zealand. Finally we were recommended to put up more money for the better treatment of civil flying, and accordingly this Bill appears before your Lordships with the recommendation that the subsidy to civil flying should be increased from £1,500,000 to £3,000,000. To a very large extent that increase will go to the improvement of the Empire air mail services. It will also be used to the extent of about £400,000 for the European schemes, and then there will be a sum of approximately £100,000 allotted to the development of civil flying here at home. We shall hope that in time to come the home services will be put on a more commercial basis. These are very large sums to be handing out, but I can inform your Lordships that all companies receiving a subsidy are liable to have one or more Government directors appointed to their boards. That has been carried out both in the case of British Airways and Imperial Airways. There will also he arrangements made in the negotiations for the subsidy to see that the subsidy does not lead to undue profits.

With regard to the home services, they will be carefully co-ordinated under a licensing authority set up under the Air Navigation Order to which your Lordships gave your consent only a few days ago. There has been some criticism in the past, perhaps not entirely without reason, as to the backwardness of some of our civil machines. At the present moment the Air Ministry is co-operating with the industry in producing new machines of the most up-to-date type. De Havillands have now on the stocks a machine called the "Albatross," a machine which is more specifically for the carriage of mails, which has a range of 3,000 miles and a speed of approximately 200 miles an hour. The same firm have an all-metal liner, a medium sized machine, in process of production, which can carry from nine to twelve passengers, according to what is going to be required of it, with an average cruising speed of 200 miles per hour. Then there is a new and larger machine some way on now in production. That machine will carry eighteen passengers with a considerable amount of mail, has a range of over 2,000 miles and is capable of a speed approximating to 250 miles per hour. I think your Lordships will agree that as and when these machines come into use a very considerable advance will have been made in the development of British flying. It will be possible under moneys provided by this Bill for His Majesty's Government to continue and increase the assistance given for this purpose. I have tried to put before your Lordships very briefly the main purposes of the Bill. I gather that there are a certain number of points which the noble Lord sitting opposite (Lord Strabolgi) wishes to raise, and I hope that I shall be in a position to answer his questions when he has put them. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Earl De La Warr.)


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Earl has safely accomplished his 30,000 mile flight—I understand that was the distance when he went to Australia and New Zealand by air. It would have been a terrible scandal if one of the members of His Majesty's Cabinet had been killed on board a British air liner, and I am very glad to see the noble Earl back in time to move the Second Reading of this Bill, apparently safe and sound. I gave notice that I intended to raise several questions which I think are of substance, and I thank the noble Earl for having touched on one or two of them already. May I say how glad I was to hear his remarks about flying boats. I have had a kind of bee in my bonnet about flying boats for many years. I was turning up some of my former speeches made in another place on civil aviation subjects, and I found that I was always girding at the Government to develop the flying boat. I believe it is particularly suited to the genius of the British people. We have always succeeded in marine arts, and, combined with flying, I have always thought the flying boat was the ideal means of joining together the outlying parts of His Majesty's Dominions. I was bold enough to interrupt the Lord Privy Seal to ascertain what he meant by Pacific services, because I had given him notice that I wanted to ask when it was hoped to inaugurate a regular service between Australia and New Zealand. I thought that was what the noble Earl was referring to, but apparently he was referring to the project of a service, I presume, to British Columbia.


It would be from San Francisco or Vaucouver to New Zealand.


From Vancouver, British Columbia, to New Zealand. Could the noble Earl tell us the proposed stopping places? If he has that information I should be very glad if he would furnish the House with it.


Those things are not yet settled. We are on the point of settling terms with all of the Dominions, but there are still some outstanding points that we have not yet got agreement about.


I should imagine that the best way to go about that would be by collaboration with the United States of America, particularly as we are doing that successfully with Pan-American Airways in regard to flying the Atlantic. I should have thought that the obvious thing to do was also to collaborate with them as to the Pacific. We have Ireland on this side of the Atlantic and there are Dominions of His Majesty on the other side of the Pacific. I see nothing derogatory in collaborating with the United States who happen to have important stopping places on the way and also a great deal of experience of flying the Pacific Ocean, which in my experience is usually anything but pacific. I believe I am right in saying that it is a much more trying ocean to fly than is the Atlantic, because the weather cannot be forecast so readily as in the case of the Atlantic. However, that is by the way.

I must continue my brief remarks by re-stating once more in your Lordships' House the policy of the Party for which I speak with regard to civil aviation. We believe that, particularly as it has to be subsidised, it should be a State service and be co-ordinated and linked up with all other modes of transport under State control; but as that is not the policy of His Majesty's Government we have to examine this Bill and the policy behind it. In doing so I wish to add my word of praise, if I may do so, to the Government for having chosen Sir John Reith as whole-time Chairman of Imperial Airways. One of the questions of which I gave notice to the Government last week through the noble Earl, Lord Lucan—I did not know then who was taking charge of this Bill—was to ask when the whole-time Chairman of Imperial Airways was to be appointed. Apparently I have stimulated the Government into making the announcement which was made yesterday in another place. From what we know of Sir John Reith and his engineering background, his energy, integrity and firm character, I should think he would be an excellent Chairman for this great service of flying. I gather that the initiative came from the Government. That is as it should be, if I may say so. It is one more step towards controlling, as it should be controlled, because we in effect subsidise it, this great flying service.

The noble Earl referred to the South Atlantic and spoke of the Lisbon service as being one link. He also spoke about surveys. I contend that the South Atlantic surveys could have been made years ago. We should not have been waiting all this time. Other nations, as your Lordships know, are already flying the South Atlantic. If I want to send an air mail letter to Buenos Aires I have to send it by a foreign air machine, which I think is not as it should be. Meantime, while we are talking about delays, I must repeat that I think there has been regrettable delay in inaugurating the whole South Atlantic services. What has been done—and this refers again to what the noble Earl said about flying boats—with regard to Langston Harbour? A large suitable base on the South Coast for flying boats is really essential, and this matter has been hanging in the wind too long. I hope that an early decision will be taken with regard to it. There is also another question of which I gave notice to the Government. I understand that it is proposed, or at any rate is recommended in the Cadman Report, that there should be a separate Under-Secretary for civil aviation, and I would like to know if the Government hope to be in a position soon to take a decision on this point. I hope, too, that the Under-Secretary appointed will be suitable for the job. He will be almost unique in the present Government if he is.

I would now refer to another matter which is of very great importance to this country in the matter of civil aviation. I have also given notice to the Government chat I intended to raise this matter. One trouble to-day, for anyone making a moderate flight, say to Paris or Berlin, is the inordinate length of time it takes to get from the centre or the west of London to the nearest flying ground. For example, it takes almost as long to get from my house in Kensington to Croydon as it takes to fly from Croydon to Paris, and the congestion is getting worse and the delays are getting worse. This matter must have been apparent for years. Heston is almost as bad. The Great West Road which is the approach to Heston is becoming more and more congested. It ought to have been quadrupled in width long ago. It is one of the most dangerous roads, one of the most congested and the slowest. We have allowed ribbon building along the whole length of it. That is the way we have to get to Heston, which is the alternative to going to Croydon. There has been a great lack of vision. I do not blame this Government for it because the trouble has been growing for years. What should have been done five or six years ago—this recommendation, I know, was made at the time to the noble Viscount who was Secretary of State for Air up to a week or two ago—was to take over all the flat land round Heston for the State, as could be done under present legal powers, and make a really fine air port with an overhead railway, or a special underground railway, or a specially reserved road to Heston. That could have been done if the matter had been tackled in time.

Having put these matters, which are not without importance, to the Government, I want to refer in a little detail to an aspect of the Bill about which I take a very serious view. As I read the Bill and the speeches which have been made explaining it, I gather that as regards external services from this country to foreign countries—to all those European capitals referred to by the noble Earl—apart from Imperial services, the only subsidies to be paid are to be paid to Imperial Airways and to one other company, the British Airways. I think that is wrong, and indeed unjust. It is a mistaken policy and it is unjust to existing air lines. Let me say that I have no interest in any commercial or civil aviation company, but I have given some attention to this matter and I want to make a very serious complaint to the Government regarding their policy as at present announced. Up to the time of the Report of the Cadman Committee, the Imperial Airways was the only company subsidised. The present Bill, as explained by the noble Earl, increases the present subsidy from £1,500,000 to not more than £3,000,000. I understand that this sum is to be divided between Imperial Airways for Empire aviation and British Airways, which will be the only companies operating externally from this country to receive a subsidy, apart from £100,000 for internal flying.


There is one other company under a special arrangement operating to Oslo. Otherwise, in general, that is right.


I think that is unfortunate. You are once more creating a monopoly. We have seen what has resulted in the past from the monopoly of Imperial Airways. This is where the injustice comes in, that even companies running existing services will no longer be able to obtain facilities from foreign Governments through our own Government to enable their services to be continued. Your Lordships have been discussing the Coal Bill recently and will be discussing it again in a few days. The principle of that Bill was payment of compensation if people's property was taken from them, and there have been loud protests—I think on the whole sound protests—against skimpy treatment where people's rights are being taken away. The Cadman Report makes it perfectly clear that existing companies with air services, if they are deprived of the support they have had in the past in their dealings with foreign Governments, will find it most difficult to continue. They are to be deprived of their good will and the assets they have built up without any subsidy in the past, and that is being done without compensation. If your Lordships swallow that and allow it to go through without protest, you will deserve all that comes to you in the future with regard to coal properties.

I could develop the matter by referring to the Cadman Report in detail, but your Lordships have all read it and are familiar with it, and I am sure I shall carry your Lordships with me when I say that the Government are departing from the clear recommendation of the Report in this respect. It was never intended that British Airways should have a monopoly of external services with the exception of the one to Oslo, and in my submission it will not be in the interests of civil aviation. I suggest that smaller companies which have established services on particular routes should benefit from the subsidy as long as they are properly run and are substantial. Even if they cannot have the subsidy, if they can continue to fly as in the past without subsidies, their business should not be interfered with for the benefit of the favoured company, British Airways. In my opinion this is a great blemish on the Government's policy and I hope that it will be reconsidered.


My Lords, the noble Lord has raised a number of important points and I will deal first, if I may, with his last. He complains that there has been a handing out of monopolies to specific companies. Really, the noble Lord must make up his mind whether he wants civil flying to be developed on an ordered basis or not. If he says that he wishes it to be developed on an ordered basis, then I say that it is quite impossible to be handing out subsidies to a very great number of companies. It is far better to try to bring all the interests together and co-ordinate our efforts—far better not merely from our own point of view but because it is very much easier in dealing with foreign Governments. Foreign Governments are always very much easier to handle if we approach them on behalf of one large company rather than if we approach them for a great number of privileges for a great number of companies. The Cadman Report, as the noble Lord will no doubt remember, does very specifically except companies running specialised services. The noble Lord complained that we were late with the surveys which were being carried out for the South American route.


If the noble Earl will forgive my interrupting him, I hope he has not left the first point without answering my argument. Even if subsidies are not to be given to these other companies, why withdraw the diplomatic and Governmental support from them, if they are successful and well run? Let them fly by themselves.


My Lords, we cannot actually stop them flying; we can only recommend to foreign Governments that they should grant permission to British air companies to operate on their territory, and we can emphasize the importance of particular services. With regard to the noble Lord's complaint about the South Atlantic service, and the fact that certain surveys are only now being carried out, I touched upon that very point at the beginning of my speech when I said that I think we all as a nation have got to take the blame for the fact that up to very lately we were not prepared to encourage civil flying with large subsidies, so that, quite naturally, we did not get the enterprise necessary for the establishment and development of these services.

The noble Lord then asked about Langston Harbour. I can only tell the noble Lord that there are very considerable difficulties with regard to Langston Harbour, not only from the civil point of view but from the defence point of view, and for that reason if it were possible to find anywhere else it might very well be a good deal better to do so. Whether or not we shall eventually have to decide on Langston Harbour I cannot tell the noble Lord at the present moment, but I can tell him that we are conscious of the need for a decision as soon as possible. The noble Lord also asked about the appointment of a special Under-Secretary. As the noble Lord knows, in general His Majesty's Government have accepted the Cadman Report and the Bill which is before your Lordships is an attempt to carry out its main recommendations, but on this particular point His Majesty's Government have made no announcement and have reached no decision.

There was a point upon which I think the noble Lord was not quite sure. I mentioned it in my speech, but I do not know whether I made it quite clear to him, for he raised it in his speech. It is the question of the Pacific service. The Pacific service is from North America to New Zealand. There the intending passenger for Australia would change on to the Trans-Tasman service, a special service operating between Australia and New Zealand. I hope I make that particular point quite clear now. Then one last point which the noble Lord raised, and if I may say so I think an extremely important one—narnely, the question of routes to and from the aerodromes. On that point I would like to assure your Lordships that His Majesty's Government are very keenly aware of its importance. I cannot tell your Lordships that we have any immediate recommendations or proposals to put into operation. I think on that point I would recommend your Lordships to look at the Bressey Report dealing with the whole question of the replanning of London, because that is only one side of it; but I would like to reassure the noble Lord who has raised this point that not only the Air Ministry but the Government as a whole do appreciate the very great importance of the point which he has raised. I beg to move.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.