HL Deb 12 May 1943 vol 127 cc471-508

VISCOUNT ROTHERMERE rose to ask His Majesty's Government to explain their policy for the development of civil aviation and to inform the House of the reasons governing the selection of directors of the B.O.A.C.; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, a month has passed since the last debate, in your Lordships' House, on this question. We were told in that debate by the Under-Secretary of State for Air that the appointment of Sir Harold Howitt as Chairman would be a temporary one, and that the Secretary of State would not be hurried in his search for a new man to hold the office. To-day, I do not wish to hurry the Secretary of State, or to press unduly the Under-Secretary of State to announce a name. I feel that the office is so important that time should be taken in order to find the right man. So I shall not be surprised if, to-day, Lord Sherwood tells us that he has no news to give as yet upon this point. I hope, however, that the delay will mean that when the appointments which have to be made are announced they will find satisfaction in your Lordships' House. I feel that the men to be chosen should be men of vision and resolution, men of experience, men of energy, men who can be relied upon to drive the Corporation forward upon its appointed task and can be expected to enable the Corporation to fulfil the great destiny for which it was conceived. There is, however, another point, which is that not only have you to find the right men but you have also to persuade them to accept the offices. I feel that, as the situation is at the moment, it will be easier to find such men than to persuade them to accept the offices. I feel that as the situation is at the moment, with the publication of the second White Paper, the position has deteriorated, and that it is unlikely that any man or men of the quality that we hope to see in those occupying these positions will accept readily the positions that they are offered.

I should like to point out that in our last debate a statement was made by the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, which I venture to suggest was not entirely in accordance with the facts. Lord Sherwood said: A very important decision was taken by the directors of the British Overseas Airways Corporation when they decided to resign, but I think it would he wrong to say, as has been represented I think by the noble Lord, Lord Reith, and by some other noble Lords, that something more than what was said by Mr. Clive Pearson in his letter to the Secretary of State was behind these resignations. I think there has been a certain amount of confusion in regard to this.

When we turn to the second White Paper and read the letters written by Mr. Clive Pearson on February 22 and March 10, we see that already there was great dissatisfaction and great irritation, and that the point of resignation was rapidly being reached. Although technically the resignations took place upon the issue of the Transport Command, in fact the issues on which the resignation took place date much further back; and, as there was no answer at any time to the letter of February 22, the decision must be related to that letter. I imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, when he made that statement, was not himself fully informed of the whole correspondence; I am quite sure that he did not mean to mislead the House.

This raises the question of whether the resignations took place owing to the formation of Transport Command, or owing to disagreement upon matters affecting civil aviation both during and after the war. If they took place upon the question of the formation of the Transport Command, as was supposed by most of your Lordships at the time of the last debate, they obviously took place through pique, or from a realization on the part of the directors that a great deal of their power was being taken from them. I suggest to your Lordships that those resignations took place for no such reason, but took place because those directors felt that they had the responsibility of being, in a way, the guardians and custodians of the future of civil aviation, and they felt that they could not maintain themselves in that position, vis-à-vis the Secretary of State and the country, unless they were given more responsibility, and not less.

The resignations, we are told, came as a surprise to the Secretary of State. I suggest that resignations always come as a surprise to a Secretary of State. Resignations are not in the usual run of politics; they do not materialize very often. No doubt the Secretary of State thought that, when the time came, the directors would be willing to forgo some of their demands, and to adapt themselves to his will. I do not blame the Secretary of State in the least, therefore, for being surprised at the resignations, because I am sure that most people in political life are surprised at such an occurrence. Sometimes, however, resignations are not quite all that they seem to be; sometimes resignations are really in the nature of a very polite way of being removed from office. These resignations were not of that kind; they were voluntarily decided upon by the directors, and the Secretary of State was, I understand, loath to see them go. I am sure your Lordships will understand what I mean when I say that the position remains the same although these directors have gone. The position is in. no way clear. Any new directors who take office will take on their office at the point at which the other directors left. They will be faced with the same problems, and will have to ask the Secretary of State the same questions. We hope, that in this case they have had an answer, because the old directors never received an answer, and it will be within your recollection that we have received very few answers in your Lordships' House.

I should like to raise one or two of the points which were raised in the letter of February 22, because if we can get an answer to those questions—which the directors failed to get—I think it would clear the situation. One of the questions, and a very fundamental one, which was asked in that letter was as follows: Can we be informed whether it is intended that the Corporation should remain the sole British instrument for overseas air transport, or, if not, then what limitations are intended? The noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, replied to that question in the last debate, and he said this: Another question which has been asked is: Will the Secretary of State hand back to the Corporation the powers that he has taken under Section 32 of the British Overseas Airways Corporation Act at the end of the war? Of course it would be logical to suppose that after the emergency which led the Secretary of State to take this action has passed away, the Secretary of State would hand back the powers he has assumed, unless Parliament in its wisdom has meanwhile legislated otherwise. In any case the validity of the action taken under Section 32 does not extend beyond a ' time of war, whether actual or imminent, or of great national emergency.' As I say, it seems natural and logical therefore that these powers should lapse at the end of the war.

If you study that answer for a moment, you will see that it means precisely nothing. It simply means that the situation will remain the same, provided that it is not altered. We have not had a single word as to what the view of the Government on that question is. It was unnecessary to ask that question to get that answer, because any noble Lord in any part of the House could have given that answer. We know that if the law is not altered the Corporation will have its powers handed back, and will remain the chosen instrument; but what we should like to know is whether the British Government favour the continuance of the Corporation after the war, or whether they have any idea that they would like to alter the legislation with regard to it; because I am sure that Parliament, in its wisdom, would take cognizance of the view which the Government might express.

The letter of February 22, which was addressed to the Secretary of State, raises very many important questions. I do not want to weary the House by reading it fully, but I should like to read part of it. It says: The Corporation, as it appears to us, if they can be given full information regarding the intentions and requirements of the Government,"— you see, they have no information at all— can in the light of such information make their plans and be responsible for putting them into execution. Well, that is quite a fundamental matter, which you would think that anybody conducting any enterprise would like to know before it proceeded. I know that in your Lordships' House information cannot always be given because of questions of security, but I should have thought that in a matter of the relationship between the Ministry and the Corporation, the directors could have been taken into the confidence of the Government. Apparently, they were not at all. They say: We feel that we are not in either of the above positions and that as your appointed members we are in an anomalous situation. Moreover, not being an independent concern, we have not the discretion in directing policy such as would rest with a commercial undertaking; whilst, on the other hand, not being a branch of the public service, we have not the defined and regulated authority of a Service of the Crown. We are responsible to you, furthermore, as your appointed members under the Act, for securing the fullest development of overseas air transport services. Later on the letter says: The board of members should be strengthened, and in particular the Chairman should be one who at least informally would have access to the Ministers of the many Government Departments with which the activities of the Corporation are concerned. And it suggests that The functions of the department of Civil Aviation other than those on the regulatory and financial side should be transferred to the Corporation.

Those are matters on which, I think, we should have a reply from the Government. I imagine that this Corporation is to remain the chosen instrument of the Government. I imagine it is very unlikely that the future can hold anything else after the war. I think it is very unlikely that the financial side and the organizing side and the research side are possible for any different organization than a Government organization. Therefore at least I think the Government should give their reply upon that matter. If they are going to give that reply I would suggest that the B.O.A.C., if it is to be the instrument of civil aviation after the war, should be given a great measure of independence. When I say that I do not mean only independence in running their own service; I think they should have their own research department. Pan-American Airways and practically all the big lines in America have large research departments of their own, and I do not think it possible that the B.O.A.C. should rely entirely upon the Research Department of the Air Ministry. The Research Department of the Air Ministry is, very naturally, concerned primarily with the R.A.F. and the requirements of a fighting service are entirely and absolutely different from the requirements of a civil service. In the R.A.F., after all, the main requirements are for a fighting aeroplane or for a bombing aeroplane. Both those instruments are absolutely different from a transport aeroplane which is expected to take large numbers of passengers from one place to another. The safety of the passengers must always be the paramount consideration of those who are directing a civil air service, but that is not a requirement that is considered in relation to the R.A.F., which has to measure the objective that it is desired to obtain by the sacrifice necessary to obtain it.

I say that the B.O.A.C. after the war should have a large organization, should be as far as possible self-contained. It cannot be self-contained as far as politics are concerned, as far as international regulations are concerned, but as far as operations are concerned it should be as self-contained as possible. I would urge the Minister most seriously to consider how necessary it is to encourage the enthusiasm for civil aviation in this country. Practically all the suggestions and all the enthusiasm and keenness for civil aviation have come from Back Benchers in this House and from the Back Benchers in another place. All that we get from the Government is either obstruction or apathy or inertia, and I think it is the Government's duty to lead the country in these matters. The Government's duty is to harness the enthusiasm which we hope will be generated throughout the country. I do hope that they will alter their opinion in these matters, and try to encourage those who, after all, are only working to see that this country shall not be left out of its rightful place after the war.

I would even encourage those who might have a financial interest—who certainly will have an indirect financial interest—in aviation I refer to the shipping companies. I do not think it is possible to have private enterprise running civil aviation after the war. I do not think it can be done on a big enough scale by private enterprise, but I think that private enterprise should be encouraged to help, and I understand that the shipping companies are prepared to put up large sums of money, which may or may not be needed. They are prepared, which is far more important, to put at the disposal of the Government their experience in running what is, after all, the most magnificent service which this country possesses, and a world-wide organization which could be of tremendous help in establishing civil aviation after the war. How that can be done I do not know. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, pointed out in this House, it probably would be a great mistake to have any representative of the shipping companies on the board, but it could easily be arranged in subsidiary companies; that is to say, the control could still remain with the parent company, but the shipping companies could have perhaps either a financial interest or—if that is considered not to be wise—at any rate some sort of partnership in the formation of air transport after the war.

I hope that to-day the Minister will be able to give us a little more information about what is happening in relation to consultation with the Dominions. So far that has been almost as vague as everything else. I understand that there have been communications, but of course it all depends on what is the form of the communications. I fear in this matter that if the British Government approach the Dominions to ask their views on civil aviation—thereby trying to get them to make up their own minds for them—and if the Dominions then reply (as they will reply) in a perfectly non-committal sense, you will have a sort of game of Box and Cox going on between Great Britain and the various Dominions and you will never get a decision of any kind before the end of the war. I should think it is not impracticable to have a conference of the Dominions and ourselves. Summon a conference in London, and have representatives of all the Dominions here, or, if it is considered more practical, have it in Canada. It does not matter where the conference takes place, so that the representatives can sit down and decide on some form of agreed policy for air transport after the war. I feel that a decision on that is absolutely fundamental. Unless a decision is come to with the Dominions it will be impossible to organize air transport after the war.

We have to recollect that this country in civil aviation can only take its rightful place if the Empire is considered as a whole. If you are going merely to consider this country's share in civil aviation as being confined to these islands, it will be a very, very small share; it will hardly be a greater share than that of some of the smallest nations of Europe. This country is only great because it is the centre of great Imperial communications, and if those Imperial communications, which stretch across the seas, are not going to stretch across the skies, this country must gradually descend to the position of a second-rate Power. I would urge your Lordships to thrust aside this question which crops up from time to time, especially in the minds of Government Departments, that the air transport service after the war will be an international one. Of course it will not be an international one. It is perfectly useless trying to imagine you can run an international air service. If you did attempt to run an international air service it would have to be divided up into sections, and each section would have to be run nationally. That is to say, if you had a national headquarters for air transport (and there would be a great deal of coming and going before it was decided where that centre would be; I presume it would be Geneva or some place of that kind) the first thing the international board set up to conduct an international air service would do would be to divide the world up into spheres of influence, and decide on various countries to conduct the air transport within those spheres. So you would get back in the end to exactly the same thing.

You could not possibly—it is not conceivable at this stage of our development—have an international transport system in which you had every nation in the world engaged, without a common language and with no possibility of conducting it efficiently. But to those people who believe it is possible I say it does not alter the circumstances at all, because if you were to have an international air service formed at the end of the war there is not the slightest doubt as to which country would conduct it and which country would provide the transport planes. It would not be Great Britain. Great Britain will have at the end of this war an organization for conducting civil aviation that is minute, and will have absolutely no transport planes with which to conduct it, so that if there is an international air service our part in that service will be very small indeed.

I do no wish to weary your Lordships by going over the same ground as has been covered in previous debates, but I do feel that the war has reached a stage—none of us wishes to indulge in overoptimism of any sort or kind—at which this Tunisian victory gives us the right to consider our material future. The moment has come, in my opinion, when men and money can be found to safeguard our future in aviation. This country was built up by what is known as the command of the sea. It was built up by the fact that our ships sailed throughout the length and breadth of the oceans of the world. I say that the same must happen in the skies. I ask the Minister that at some not too far distant date he will announce that there has been appointed an efficient Director-General and a firm and resolute Chairman. At the same time I say that there are many other facets of our aerial future which we cannot afford to ignore if this country is to remain the corner-stone of the Commonwealth of Nations. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, we owe a deep debt of gratitude to the noble Viscount for again raising this question in your Lordships' House. 1 may be allowed to congratulate him on a very far-reaching, comprehensive, and interesting speech delivered in a very short space of time. The noble Viscount has touched an immense question, and we owe him, as we also owe to his predecessor, a debt of gratitude for the contributions they both have made to aviation not only in this country but all over the world. In raising this subject again—I have already done it twice in your Lordships' House—there are certain drawbacks. Reports of the debates which we have in this country are sent all over the world in different forms. Some of the reports go to foreign countries, and also to the Dominions, in so compressed a form as to lead people to believe that there is a vital point of difference between those of us who raise the question and the Government. There really is no fundamental difference of opinion between any of us. We are only too anxious to assist the Government in carrying out all their duties, and we are pressing the Government to announce their policy in regard to this great idea.

As I have said, I have raised this question already on two occasions, and each time the reply we have received from the Government has been of so inadequate a character that we feel it is our duty to go on pressing the Government to enunciate a definite policy. We feel that the whole of our ideas as to the development of the future is based on the enunciation of a definite, far-reaching, progressive policy by the Government. I am afraid that if we do not on this occasion receive a statement of definite policy from the Government, my noble friend and I, and our friends, will only have to raise this question again because we are determined, in the views which we hold, to carry the Government with us, even though they appear to be, as the noble Viscount puts it, lacking in energy and rather apathetic in regard to the question of the air. The noble Viscount stated very clearly—and I fully agree with him—that the whole position of this country as a world Power depends on the position we are going to occupy in the air. The only manner in which we can proceed is that we should tell the world and our people here and in the Dominions the position we are going to occupy and how we are going to occupy it. We have for centuries exercised great influence throughout the world, and we are determined to go on doing it, but if other nations are far in front of us in their comprehension of the air we shall find that the influence which we want to exercise will not be so great as it would otherwise be.

In the newspapers we read various extracts from speeches by leading members of the Government. I do not know whether it is owing to the restriction on space in these newspapers, but your Lordships will find that there is hardly ever a reference to the air in any one of the speeches. On Sunday I read a speech delivered by the Home Secretary. As far as I was able to read the report of that speech, there was no reference in it to the air. I expect your Lordships will think that the subject-matter of that speech was of a highly controversial character. The right honourable gentleman made statements which I expect most of your Lordships are anxious on some future occasion, when it is proper to do so, to refute; but that was a speech by the Home Secretary, a leading member of the War Cabinet. I am certainly not going into the details of that speech, but I do hope in future that members of the Government placed in a high position in the War Cabinet will give some idea to the country and the world that air-mindedness is one of the objects they have in view. I read speeches by the Minister of Education. I have never heard from him one single word of the development of air-mindedness in this country. In America every newspaper report which we read shows that all the education authorities, including the universities, are taking tremendous interest in this subject. I do riot know what is going on in this country, but I do know that in the schools of America the children are being taught geography of the air, not geography across the seas and across the lands. Children there are being impregnated with the knowledge of the air and what it means and what the developments are likely to be.

There is one word I would like to say about the difficulty which we have in what I would call getting this subject across to our high authorities. I return here to a subject I have already raised in your Lordships' House in relation to the War Cabinet. My own idea of a War Cabinet is a certain number of high Ministers who are not trammelled by the burdens of office, and I should like to see a member of the War Cabinet whose special responsibility was this tremendous question of the air. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House, who has spoken in debates on the air on more occasions than one, seeks to give us solace and comfort by telling us there is access to the War Cabinet. I personally attach very little importance to access to the War Cabinet. What we want is that the Minister dealing with this matter should be put on a much higher level than that, and should be able to go into all these matters and put forward a policy to the War Cabinet with the object of solving many of the problems with which we are faced.

I was listening to the B.B.C. this morning and we were told that the Prime Minister had gone to America and that the staffs he had taken with him were naval and military. I am wondering why there was no mention of an air representative. I have no doubt that he has taken an air representative with him but that was not stated; and this illustrates the whole attitude of mind of the Government and the angle from which they approach this great subject of the air apart from the tremendous deeds that the Royal Air Force has performed. The whole science of the air is omitted from these official statements. In contrast there is a statement to-day emanating from President Roosevelt in America. He gives figures which are very interesting and astonishing as to the measurements of American air production. In 1941 it was 87,000,000 lb. This was increased to 291,000,000 lb. in the following year and is to reach 911,000,000 lb. this year. Those are pounds weight. The estimates for 1944 are 1,417,000,000 lb.

We never hear in propaganda from official circles anything in relation to the air, or as to our plans, or what we are doing, and so far as the general public are concerned they get no guidance upon this question and no propaganda from any official sources. I do not know what importance the Government attach to what we call air-mindedness. Those of us who have been engaged in air activities in all branches over a great number of years can remember that before the war there was no air-mindedness in this country whatsoever, but we are hoping to develop it now by means of education and propaganda. We see that America, quite rightly, has taken this subject up and that it is dealt with by their propaganda, and that the basis of their education is bringing to the knowledge of the rising generation the tremendous possibilities of the air. We, who are in an independent position, naturally have to be careful and temporate in what we say, but when I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships I have always stressed co-operation between this country and America in the air. We all realize that the future depends on cooperation in peace of the Allied Nations just as their co-operation has been so far, and will be in the future, successful in war. Co-operation is the reverse of cutthroat competition, and I am quite sure that if this subject is properly approached we shall have no great difficulties in making those who are responsible for the government of their countries realize the tremendous duty which is in front of them in the development of co-operation for the benefit of humanity all over the world.

Your Lordships know that I have had a certain amount of experience in these Matters, and I have always felt that one of the greatest difficulties and drawbacks which Governments have met and made for themselves has been, as a rule, their timorous approach to all these great questions. There is an abiding fear that the Government will say something which will offend somebody else and the result is that nothing is clone. We need only to think of the timorous approach which was made by this country to France and Italy and the world in general in the years before the war, to come to the conclusion that that probably was one of the main reasons for the war. If, during the remaining stages of this war, we are going to make the approach to peace in the same timorous attitude of mind, it seems to me that instead of Great Britain enunciating the great policy which it is fully entitled to enunciate, her policy will be enunciated for her by other people and we shall be called upon to fall into line with or confirm what they decide. The thought in all your Lordships' minds in this connexion is of the British Empire. The noble Lord emphasized that particular point. We are a very small country but, as the British Empire, we are entitled to put forward a bold policy and I am sure that the bolder the policy we proclaim the more likely are we to be successful.


My Lords, I do not propose to reiterate what I said to your Lordships a few weeks ago but to direct attention to two points that were misunderstood. I refer to the purchase of the three machines from the Pan-American Company. It was suggested to me that I indicated that we paid twice as much for them as we should have done. What I did say was that we paid twice as much for them as they could be bought for at a different time. That is a widely different thing. As a matter of fact the machines were bought from Pan-America, who in turn had bought them from a manufacturing firm in the United States. As we had to buy them from people to whom they had been sold, we had to pay those people a profit, and when the matter was investigated in Congress, the profit they obtained was found to be, as your Lordships will recall, a profit that was not regarded as unreasonable. I say that in fairness to the Department responsible for the purchase of those machines during the war.

The second point is one that I cannot yet quite understand. It arose I think out of observations of the Under-Secretary for Air who said that because the directors of the B.O.A.C. were doing a good job it was not important that we should analyse their relations to the policy of the enterprise. I pointed out that this being a Government-owned enterprise the Government had very properly provided that, if anyone serving as a director in that enterprise should have what might be a reasonably likely interest in conflict with the interests of the owners, he should be debarred from serving as a director. I pointed out that one could not serve two masters. The noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, has just pointed out that no man can serve who has shipping interests nor anyone who has railway interests, and the Statute definitely provides that if anyone has any interest that is reasonably likely to conflict with his interest as a director of this enterprise he should cease to be a director.

I rise, however, to-day to draw your Lordships' attention to another phase of this situation. First, let it be distinctly understood that the people of this country own the present British Overseas Airways Corporation. It is theirs by Statute. The price has been paid to the two companies that sold to the Corporation. The country itself as such cannot serve as directors. It is essential that it should have someone to represent it, and power is given to the Secretary of State to name the directors. Obviously those directors must, like directors in other enterprises, give effect to the policy of the shareholders. That is their job. We have no right to complain about them if as directors they carry into effect the policy, the purpose and the intention of the shareholders, that is of the people of this country, which means for this purpose the Government. Therefore, so far as policy is concerned, it must be the policy of the Government that rules and determines the action of the directors. In Canada where the country owns its transcontinental air service, the Prime Minister has said that it is not proposed to grant to private interests the right to cross the boundary or to cross the seas for the moment. There is a State-owned service and the Canadian Government appoint the directors of it. The directors are carrying into effect the policy of the Ministry of Transport, that is of the Government of the country.

I conceive the directors of this enterprise, appointed for the purpose of giving effect to the policy of the Government, to be the administrators of this vast enterprise. That is their job. They are there to give effect to the policy of the Government. My contention is that the Government should declare a policy with respect to several matters that I shall mention, because otherwise the directors cannot carry it into effect. I am not complaining because the directors do not make a declaration. I am complaining because the Government have not told the directors what is their policy. That is an entirely different thing. You have to con-skier this matter from the domestic, the Empire and international angles. I will not touch upon the domestic angle to-day, nor will I do more than say with regard to the international side that it is idle to ask the Government to make a declaration of their international policy at the present moment. Why? Because until such time as hostilities cease you cannot possibly have a declaration of international policy. There must be discussions that may take weeks or months with respect to matters of that sort, and to declare our policy in the absence of any understanding with respect to other peoples' policy, might engender strife and difficulties which need not come into being. But with respect to the Empire there is no reason why the Government of this country should not take a decision and call together a conference of the Dominions for the purpose of dealing with that.

I put this to your Lordships. There is no reason why we should not have an Empire Air Service. We can create such an air service without impinging on the territory of any country in the world. That service, subject to international regulations which all countries use, would be free from international criticism. That is what I suggest we should carry into effect at once. Then we should be in a position to talk internationally when the time comes to talk. In addition we should have established for ourselves lines of communication between every part of the Dominions and this country, which for the purpose of the Statute of Westminster stands in the same position as a Dominion though its importance of course is very much greater than that of other Dominions from the standpoint of geographical location, traditions and history and all that goes to make it the great country it, is. How is its prestige to be maintained if there is no line of communication with other parts of the Commonwealth? I plead for a family air service, a family air transport, in order that we may be not only independent of others but able to go our own way without finding ourselves in difficulties with respect to international conditions. I see no reason why' it should not be done, and certainly Canada is the key point as far as air transport is concerned because of those vast areas that lay round about the North Pole.

We know that before the war the only people who took an interest in giving effect to the physical fact that the journey round the world by the North Pole is much shorter than the journey by the Equator were the Russians. They, as your Lordships know, sent a great expedition over that area. You can leave San Francisco, for instance, cross Canada and fly over the Pole areas, traversing a distance many hundreds of miles shorter than if you crossed the American Continent. That is because the world is round. We have been accustomed too often to look at the world from the standpoint of Mercator's Projection which has left upon us an entirely erroneous view about the whore situation of air transport. When we go round the world and lose a day one time and gain a day another time, we begin to realize that the world is round, but we have been too much influenced, and particularly children in schools are largely influenced, by Mercator's Projection. We have a conception of the world as being round because it has an axis above and an axis below round which it spins, when of course in fact there is no axis because the world revolves in space. The result is that we have approached the problem from a wrong angle.

Why should we not have an Empire air service? There is every reason which should operate to induce us to establish one. There are two great facts that should be in our minds in considering this problem. One has to do with passengers by air. Much can be done as far as the carriage of mails is concerned by the use of converted bombers. It is perfectly obvious that we can make some trans- formation in bombers and carry on a mail service. Something can be done in that way also in the case of certain types of freight. As was pointed out during the week-end by a very distinguished member of the Government, that is feasible and possible. But it is not feasible to carry passengers in a converted bomber with any degree of success. You must have for the conveyance of passengers proper machines designed for the purpose for which they are to be used. It is quite easy, we know, to cross from Canada or the United States in a bomber, because we know that every day our friends are doing this, but it cannot be suggested that that is the type of machine that can be used to invite passenger traffic after the war. Therefore I suggest that we should take steps at once to that end.

I am not for one moment suggesting that we should lessen our war effort, as was said by the Minister of Aircraft Production, but in view of what was said by the President of the United States last week that that country is now making as many planes as all the rest of the Allied Powers together, I think we might be able to spare a designer for the purpose of designing machines that will be adequate for air service and air transport in the future. The Minister, I am bound to say, did suggest that the supreme purpose should be the winning of the war, with which I agree, but he also, I think, held out some hopes that we might be able to spare a designer or so for the purpose of providing us with the best machines possible to carry on an Empire air service, an air transport service. Secondly, there is the matter of the engines. We are making experiments every day, but I do suggest that the Government might be able to add to our research personnel in order that we may be able better to meet the requirements of the future with respect to the types of engines and planes which we shall utilize.

Frankly, I have nothing further to add to the discussion than merely to make this suggestion and to indicate why I do so. I feel very strongly about this, and I agree with my noble friend Lord Rothermere that unless we do this we are going to lose our place, lose our prestige and sink to the level of a second-rate Power. That sounds extravagant, and I doubt not that many of your Lordships will think that it is an unduly strong statement, perhaps an exaggerated statement. Well, my Lords, I should have thought that was so myself until I began, some years ago, to study this question with more care. The greatness of this Kingdom as the centre of the Commonwealth of Nations arises from the fact that, in the past, the sea has been dominated by our influence. We established ourselves as a great trading country. We are what we are partly by reason of the geographical position of these islands and largely by our mastery of the sea. Our seamen, the type of men they were, the kind of ships we built and the service they gave—all these things have determined the position of these islands in relation to the world's trade and commerce. But I invite your Lordships to study statistics, and to note the falling position with respect to our sea-borne trade before the war. The figures, I think you will find, are rather startling.

I recall noting, when I was in South Africa, the subsidizing by the Government of an Italian shipping firm. That firm was subsidized because the Government of South Africa was unable to get from a British concern an undertaking to convey highly perishable commodities within a certain specified time to markets over here. But the Italians were willing to give that undertaking. I saw German companies offering quicker voyages to this country than one was able to get from a British company, and the result was that the Germans got control of the passenger traffic between South Africa and Southampton. They built new ships, they increased their speed, and so they went ahead. At the end of the last war the North German Lloyd and the Hamburg-Amerika lined had practically no ships. They had scarcely a tug boat between them. Their ships had all been handed over to us. Yet within a reasonable time—some people suggest that it was done with our money—they had acquired a very great part of the carrying trade of the Atlantic. Off went the "Berengaria," off went the "Majestic," off went the "Mauretania," off went the "Homeric." One by one they went, and, as they went, the "Bremen," the "Europa" and the "Deutschland" were taking their places and carrying the trade. Now we have remedied that by giving the world the "Queen Mary" and the "Queen Elizabeth." But in view of the effect that air-borne traffic must have upon the world these ships will not dominate passenger traffic as was intended. It cannot be so. We are taught to believe now that it is important to cut time taken in travelling between two points to the last possible minute, and so we must realize that in the future the place of sea-going ships will be taken largely by great ships of the air.

The important problem that has to be considered is the extent of the power which is needed and which can be created reasonably to lift a given load from the ground and to carry it through the air. Every day we are making improvements. Only the other day I read that we had created a new plane, the Mosquito, which had attained a higher rate of speed than any other and so was now announced to the world as the greatest plane which man had ever built. Is there any reason why the genius of the people who created that plane should not be used to create passenger ships of the air? They must be ships which will ensure, first of all, safety, for that is the great thing which has to be considered. The second point to be kept in view is carrying power. That is purely a question for the technical men. Given the necessary opportunities to carry on research, they will in the end achieve results in this sphere comparable with those which they have already achieved in others. Take the history of the Spitfire and bring it down to date with the last modern machine which we have produced. When one does this one realizes that there are certain fundamental principles that cannot be departed from. It may be possible to make improvement with respect to the application of these principles, but that is something which is constantly being done, and is going on very rapidly.

Now that, I suggest, is the reason why before we have to deal with the complex international problems that will arise later, we should now establish, without impinging on anyone else's power or territory, our own air service. I suggested not long since a conference. I realize the difficulties connected with Imperial Conferences in the sense in which that term is generally used, and yet as long ago as 1902 our statesmen realized that, while we could not have Imperial Conferences continually, continuous consultation was highly desirable. Therefore, at the time of the Coronation of King Edward VII, the Empire Conference of that day passed a resolution for subsidiary meetings to deal with problems such as this. It was realized that the Prime Ministers might not be able to attend, but that they might name delegates, specially qualified, men with special knowledge of technical subjects such as air services and well able to deal with these problems. That resolution is still important and the words of it are these: That upon matters of importance requiring consultation between two or more Governments which cannot conveniently be postponed until the next Conference or involving subjects of a minor character or such as call for detailed consideration, subsidiary conferences should be held between representatives of the Governments concerned specially chosen for the purpose. That was the resolution passed at the Imperial Conference of 1902 and it has been acted upon frequently since with regard, for example, to the highly complicated question of copyright and highly complicated problems concerning Empire patents, forestry, mycology, education and agricultural research. These were made the subject matter of subsidiary conferences.

Canada has already made a declaration as to policy which will govern for the moment with respect to air services abroad and across the Atlantic. It is also known to many of your Lordships that the pressure which is being exercised in Australia with regard to their air service is such that immediate action should be taken, or arrangements will be made with some other service, and we shall not be connected directly with the service which they themselves control. With New Zealand the difficulties are not great. With regard to South Africa declarations have been made by the Prime Minister from time to time, and the actions taken indicate that there is a desire that we should have a unified service round the Empire.

I am not a prophet, but I say with great frankness that my study of the situation induces me to believe that, unless this country recognizes the importance of air, largely as a substitute for sea, with respect to our prestige and importance and place in the world, we shall cease to be a first-class Power. That is a terrible statement to make, but I believe it, and I believe it strongly. I therefore urge once more that we ask the Government to direct their directors as to policy, themselves announc- ing the policy so that the directors may carry it out. And I ask your Lordships to consider this matter just as though we were shareholders in a company, for that is what we are. For the moment we represent the shareholders of this great enterprise, which was created in 1939, and I should like to ask this question: Would any body of shareholders permit their directors to fail to announce their policy with respect to a matter of such importance without protest? Would not they avail themselves of the opportunities afforded by the articles of association, and insist upon the directors stating their policy? Would not they call a special general meeting for the purpose of insisting on a declaration of policy being made? It is because I believe that to be so that I do trust that the Government will lose no time in making a declaration of their policy with regard to the Empire; for I know that I am correct in saying that, unless we tie up with the Dominions now, we may not have an opportunity to do so later. That is the position, and that is why I respectfully, earnestly and with all the force at my command plead that without delay we should take steps to organize and put into operation an Empire air transport service.


My Lords, I feel sure, if I may say so, that your Lordships were greatly impressed, as most certainly I was, by the remarkable speech to which we have just listened from the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett. He and the noble Marquess who preceded him have added important considerations to the Motion now before your Lordships' House. As they have pointed out, the noble Viscount who moved this Motion comes from a family which has always been set on a course of pioneering, and he is showing now how truly he belongs to the family of those two great predecessors who were members of your Lordships' House, and who did so much for the cause of the air on the civil and on the military side. The noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, has certainly enabled us to see more clearly exactly what the situation was between His Majesty's Government and the former board of British Overseas Airways. He has explained the situation very clearly, and it is much more clear to me now, having heard his speech, than it was from reading the White Papers and the letters in the Press. I agree entirely with what the noble Viscount has said, with one exception. If I understood him aright, he argued that it was desirable that there should be one chosen instrument of His Majesty's Government to carry out the air transport plan. If that is a right interpretation of the noble Viscount's views, I would suggest to him that it is not desirable to confine these activities to one chosen instrument; the problem is too big for that. There could, and should, be a number of instruments. That the majority of them should work in collaboration with shipping interests is, I think, absolutely right, and I strongly support that idea.

I should like, if I may, to submit a few suggestions on the vital question of policy in regard to air transport which arises from the Motion now before your Lordships. I suggest that His Majesty's Government should decide as soon as possible to set up a separate Air Transport Authority to deal with the commercial and civil aspects of this all-important branch of transportation, that separate Air Authority, of course, being free from the control of the Air Ministry and of the Air Ministry's source of supply, the Ministry of Aircraft Production. I think your Lordships will agree that experience over a number of years has shown very clearly that the primary functions of such Ministries do not allow them to handle and to advance in the most rapid and effective manner air transport, which is so vital a question from the Empire standpoint, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, has just pointed out. I think that many of your Lordships will remember a Committee, presided over by a member of your Lordships' House, Lord Gorell, a few years ago. This Committee made a very useful Report; but, if I may say so, the kernel of the Committee's work lay in the minority section of that Report, which was signed by Lord Brabazon of Tara and Mr. Gordon England, and in which they recommended the freeing of air transport from Air Ministry control.

The setting up of a new Ministry will take time, but I hope that the time will not be spun out too long, and I suggest that, in order to bridge the gap, a separate Air Transport Department of the Ministry of Aircraft Production should be set up to study these technical matters and to plan the development of types and of equipment required to meet future develop- ments. In previous debates, I have already submitted certain suggestions as to the names of people who are particularly competent in the different fields for consideration in such a development. But making plans will not be enough in itself; His Majesty's Government must agree to set aside a certain measure of design activity and manufacturing activity for the development of air transports and the engines therefor. I suggest now that 5 per cent. of the design staff capacity of those pioneering firms who have a record of achievement in the design and construction of air transports should be set aside to develop designs of air transports and also suitable engines therefor.

That deals only with the design side of the question. Then comes the manufacturing side, and I suggest for that purpose that one per cent. of the capacity of the aircraft industry should be set aside to build the prototypes that will be designed, so that these may be tested out and proven, so that everything may be ready for an advanced programme of manufacture as soon as the time is ripe. I think that that is a very important matter indeed, and, as my noble friend Lord Sherwood will reply in part no doubt on behalf of the Secretary of State for Air, and in part on behalf of the Minister for Aircraft Production, I hope he will give some indication of whether something on those lines will be possible.

As I see it, the most vital aspect of the whole question is that of effectively planning the programme for world air transport with the United States of America. That has already been referred to by the noble Marquess, who had such a distinguished record as Secretary of State for Air, and also by the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, but, as your Lordships will realize, the bulk of the operating experience and the manufacturing experience available in the world is in the hands of the United States of America, and it is very desirable indeed that with them we should collaborate on this world programme of air transport. The information that the United States of America have already available is being rapidly increased in the cause of the United Nations by the development of new types of transport and by their use for war purposes to-day. Great Britain and the Empire, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, has pointed out, have important contributions to make both technically and, particularly, territorially. I suggest that together the United States and the British Empire could create and operate in their respective spheres in various parts of the world a really first-class world air transport network.

Your Lordships will have noticed that there was a debate on air transport in another place yesterday, and some interesting speeches were made. The Minister of Aircraft Production said: I hope the world will look upon them— that is, aeroplanes— as engines of help and progress and advancement in the years that are to come. The Minister also referred to the desirability of close co-operation with our friends in the United States of America. There are so many aspects in the field of air transport in which co-operation is essential that there surely should be no delay at all in getting down to discussions in which each country may expose its views the one to the other, and from such exposure an agreement and a plan will emerge.

In my remarks to your Lordships I have stressed the aspects of design, manufacture and operation. These are all important, but there are other aspects of this picture: for example, the provision of the necessary supplies of fuel. This situation is one of immense importance, as the sources of supply of petroleum, as your Lordships will be aware, are not inexhaustible, and in any case the pronounced technical development in aircraft engines of to-day calls for more and more highly specialized fuel; so much so that ordinary straight-run products of petroleum are used in fuels to-day only to the extent of about 30 per cent., and as time goes on the light fuels, the aviation spirit as it is called, of the future will primarily be produced synthetically. Therefore those technical problems should be studied. Nobody has done more advanced work thereon than the United States of America, and problems of that kind should be gone into so that a plan may be devised for the use of the best process for the creation of this synthetic fuel. Plans should also be made so that these plants may be stationed at the strategic points which are suited to the scheme of world operation in view.

The Minister of Aircraft Production very rightly stressed the importance of cooperation with the United States of America, but I might draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that in the field of aeronautical science and engineering that co-operation has always existed. The brothers Wright made their great contribution, the greatest of its kind, to the development of mechanical flight, and that work was taken up and marked in a very special way in this country. The Royal Aeronautical Society, now in its 77th year, following on the death of Mr. Wilbur Wright in 1912, instituted a lecture in his memory, which was given each year—on one occasion by a United States citizen, and the next year by a British citizen, but always in London; and when the 31st commemoration of Mr. Wilbur Wright's work falls to be held on the 27th May, Dr. Edward Warner, the Deputy Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board in Washington, will come over here specially to deliver that address, which will be entitled "Performance and economy in transport aircraft." Can we not follow in a political sense the example that the world of aeronautical science and engineering has already given us since its beginning and march together with the United States of America in the field of air transport to the good of humanity?


My Lords, I rise just to ask my noble friend before he replies if he will bear in mind the suggestion put forward in the first debate on this subject raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, on February 10. It was a suggestion put forward by the Federation of British industries, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce and the London Chamber of Commerce, who are all, naturally, vitally interested in the commercial side of this question—a suggestion that the Government would look with favour to the establishment of a joint Committee of both Houses, which would be charged particularly with attention to this matter, and which it is thought might result in giving to the Government the stimulus which has been so eloquently, so temperately and yet so resolutely urged by my noble friend Lord Londonderry, on this the third occasion on which he has spoken on this subject. I would like to associate myself entirely with the recommendations and the hopes put forward by my noble friend who moved this Resolution.


My Lords, I would like to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, on raising this vitally important subject to-day, and, as one who has taken a great and practical interest in civil aviation for some years, I feel that we owe him a debt of gratitude. As some indication of the interest that I have taken in civil aviation, I may say that I have flown five times to Australia, with the R.A.F., with Imperial Airways and with the K.L.M., and made a report to Imperial Airways on the experience gained in those early trips. The Imperial aspect of civil aviation referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, is the vitally important one. We in this country cannot run these air-lines on our own. It must be done by the Empire as a whole, and I think the sooner we get a conference of all parts of the Empire together, the better it will be. Surely we have learnt a lesson in that respect from what happened before. Possibly some of your Lordships may recollect that the air-line to Australia was held up for, I think, nearly a year because an agreement could not be reached with the Australian Government for it to go through. Now is the time to settle all those fundamental questions with the Empire.

We had in the early days of civil aviation a great figure, I refer to Sir Sefton Brancker. He was the ambassador of British civil aviation. Whenever there was a difficulty in civil aviation, Sir Sefton Brancker got into an aeroplane and was on the spot within a few hours or a few days. Since his death we have had no ambassador of civil aviation, and I feel that careful search should be made for a man of his type who after the formal conference would get round the Empire and round the world and see that there were no misunderstandings about the policy to be pursued, such as arose in the period between the two wars. The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, referred to the necessity of developing air-mindedness. I quite agree with him, but I do not think he sufficiently distinguished between military air-mindedness and civil air-mindedness. I think the population to-day has military air-mindedness. Every schoolboy knows every type of aircraft that flies overhead. But I do not think the average person, when he is going to travel, thinks first of the aeroplane and afterwards of the train, boat, or 'bus. That is the spirit we want to get so that when someone wants to travel he asks, "Where and when is the next aeroplane? "

As an illustration of the lack of general air-mindedness in this country, there was actually in one of our daily newspapers not long ago a serious discussion as to whether flying should be abolished altogether after this war. That is laughable, but it is actually true. In order that the reputation of British civil aviation may be kept up I do think that the few services which we are at present able to run should be absolutely above criticism. It is no secret—it has been announced in the Press—that we are running services to Portugal and Sweden. I recently met an Englishman who is in an official position in Sweden, and he told me that the reputation of our air service in Sweden was not all it should be. I ask His Majesty's Government to do all they can to see that these two services are above reproach, because they are a tremendous advertisement, or alternatively a lack of it—possibly in Sweden one of the few we have left. That is all I wish to say, except that this civil aviation question must be an Empire one, and, I hope that will be realized by everyone.


My Lords, the debate we have had this afternoon is the fourth within the last few months on civil aviation. This proves how strong the feeling is both in your Lordships' House and outside on this very important question. I have to ask your indulgence for being the Government spokesman on each occasion. I know I shall receive it, because, after all, the main reason for the difficulties and criticisms which have arisen on this question, and one which I cannot stress too strongly, is that, in spite of the great successes we have had, in spite of all that has happened in Tunisia and elsewhere, we are, after all, a long way from the end of this war, and every effort in any direction other than towards winning the war tends to lengthen it. While therefore His Majesty's Government are quite aware of, and in sympathy with, the feeling in your Lordships' House, the paramount consideration in their minds must be to win the war. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, for the way he presented his case to-day and to the other noble Lords who have spoken. In reply I will try to state the facts and to describe the Government's policy as far as it is possible to do so at the present time.

This debate, as far as I see, falls into two parts. The first is concerned with the future of civil aviation, and the second, and much narrower one, is concerned with the position of the British Overseas Airways Corporation. On the question of civil aviation generally, I must tell your Lordships quite frankly I have got nothing new to say to you to-day. The noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, made a statement on behalf of the Government on March 11 last, and a statement in similar terms was also made by another member of the Government, the Minister Without Portfolio, in another place, on April 20. He then said: I think it is essential that we should ascertain what measure of international cooperation can be arrived at in regard to civil aviation before attempting to commit ourselves as to the best form of national set-up. As a first step, and before making our proposals in regard to international co-operation, we desire to have the fullest consultation "— and here is the point made by my noble friend Lord Bennett— with the Dominions and Indian Governments to see if we can agree upon a common policy. These discussions are now actually proceeding. We hope on their conclusion to be in a position to formulate our proposals to other members of the United Nations. That is all that can be said on the policy of the Government at the present time. I cannot elaborate it to-day, nor would your Lordships expect me to do so, but I would add, as the representative of the Air Ministry, that as a Department we are determined, as, indeed all of us are, that civil aviation shall get the greatest support and the squarest deal possible at the present time. Noble Lords must not think that the Air Ministry are trying to keep down civil aviation.

Now I should like to deal with the question of the British Overseas Airways Corporation. It is held in some quarters that the Air Ministry interfered unduly with the Corporation's work, and that we have been reluctant to give the Corporation the aircraft supplies and equipment which it needs. That is not correct. When at the outbreak of war the Secretary of State, acting under Section 32 of the British Overseas Airways Act, required the Corporation to place itself at his disposal, the direction of the policy of the Corporation became his responsibility. There seems to be confusion in some people's minds as to the provisions of Section 32 of the British Overseas Airways Act. I should like to read the section to your Lordships. It is as follows: (1) An order made under Section seven of the Air Navigation Act, 1920 (which authorizes the Secretary of State to make orders in time of war, whether actual or imminent, or of great national emergency) may require that the whole or any part of the undertaking of, or of any property and rights of, or under the control of, the Corporation shall be placed at the disposal of the Secretary of State, or of such persons as may be provided by the order. (2) So long as any such order is in force, the Corporation shall comply with any directions which may be given to them by or under the direction of the Secretary of State. Let us be quite clear on the meaning of this section. The impression seems to be that the Secretary of State is trying to encroach on the proper functions of B.O.A.C., but surely a man cannot poach on his own preserves.

The direction of policy, at the moment, belongs to the Secretary of State. There has been a good deal of misunderstanding on this point and it has been suggested that the Secretary of State has been going further than he is permitted to go under Section 32. But I would point out that under that section the whole of the Corporation's undertaking was transferred to the control of the Secretary of State and, as I say, he cannot poach on his own preserves. But while the Secretary of State is responsible for policy, management and staff questions remain entirely with the Corporation. I can recall an occasion when in another place my right honourable friend Captain Balfour was criticized because he would not take action on an individual case concerning a member of the staff of B.O.A.C. In spite of strong Parliamentary pressure he refused to interfere in staff questions and there has been no interference on those or any other questions of management.

I regret that Lord Reith is not here to-day because he raised a great many questions of detail on the last occasion we debated this matter and was unable to remain while I answered them. I think a number of them are also relevant to this debate. He accused us, for instance, of starving civil aviation of suitable aeroplanes. I can assure your Lordships that the B.O.A.C. have been given the best aircraft which could be made available having regard to our other needs, by which I mean the national needs for defeating the Germans. The situation in this respect is now better and this year we have made definite allocations of first-class aircraft to the Corporation. Lord Reith also referred to the question of spares. I am not going into the question of spares in detail. I want merely to point out that it is not only the B.O.A.C. who have anxieties about spares. There have been shortages of spares all round and we have had to ration them. Complaints have been made from every quarter wherever aircraft are used of the shortage of spares, but there is no reason to believe that B.O.A.C. have not received a fair allocation in relation to other requirements.

May I return to the question of the control of B.O.A.C.? The point is made in the White Paper, in the letters of Mr. Runciman, that the board were not free agents. Let us examine that point for a minute. After all, the shipping companies and the railway companies are not free agents; it has not been found possible for them to remain free agents. The policy of the Government towards them has been exactly the same in the case of B.O.A.C. Then the question of man-power has been raised. Here the position in regard to B.O.A.C. has been the same as that of other people. The Ministry of Labour, to meet the requirements of the forces, has had to make claims on war factories, on Government Departments and upon all kinds of undertakings, and it cannot be expected that the B.O.A.C. should enjoy a privileged position by comparison with these other undertakings. Everyone must contribute to the nation's man-power needs in the manner prescribed by the Minister of Labour.

To turn now to the correspondence in the White Paper and in particular to the letter of February 22. This raises a number of comparatively small issues. Some of them are general points common to shipping companies, railway companies and almost every industry. I do not believe, nor do I think any fair-minded person can believe, that these points are relevant to the directors' subsequent resignations. I do not pretend that everything was perfect; of course it was not. Perhaps even the board of directors of B.O.A.C. were not perfect and I say that in spite of the laudatory comments which have been showered upon them since they resigned. I must say that those comments are very different from what was said about them when they were in office. We then had to face in another place a good many adverse comments on the direction of B.O.A.C. The laudatory comments which are now heard are slightly divergent from the attacks that were made upon the board by many people in other places.

I was told by my noble friend Lord Rothermere that I was wrong when I said that the resignation of these directors was a surprise when it came. I repeat that it was a surprise; I withdraw nothing from my former statement on this matter. The question of principle on which the members resigned and in regard to which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Air could not agree with them-was their desire to operate all regular trunk services and that alone. Mr. Runciman's memorandum of March 8 suggests that the Corporation should conduct all regular strategic services along all routes where such services are required. That was the crux of the question and my right honourable friend tried to meet it. He could not, however, wholly meet the directors on it for the reasons explained in his letter of March 20, and I have not seen it said anywhere flat he was wrong in his decision.

Now we have a new board. Its members have been described in this House as a motley crew. Everything that could be slung at them has been slung at them. But for all that they are men of public experience, they have taken up this work at short notice and they are giving unremitting attention to it. I can assure your Lordships that they have found plenty to do and they have done it well. The question of the appointment of the remaining members is, as my noble friend Lord Rothermere has said, a very big matter and I am not in a position to-day to make any announcement on it. I must ask your Lordships to wait a little while—it will not be long—and then you will be able to see the picture as a whole. I think you will find a well balanced board. In the meantime the present board is carrying on and is working in harmony and in close co-operation with Transport Command.

There were many points in the last debate, including some put by the noble Lord, Lord Reith, which I must say I think were petty points; in fact, pettifogging points. There were, for instance, questions about advertising and complaints from the Post Office. What is advertising in this war? Winning it is the best advertising we can get. And of course there are complaints on the question of mails. There are difficulties in transport all over the world. I do not agree with the line which was taken by my noble friend Lord Reith, that all these little points contributed to make it impossible for the board of the British Overseas Airways Corporation to continue their duties. It was a fundamental difference on which they went out.

My noble friend Lord Rothermere said that no notice was taken of a letter which was written on February 22. But on February 27 there was an answer from the Secretary of State for Air which is published in the new White Paper. My right honourable friend, as you will see, took the natural line of asking the board to come and see him. Mr. Clive Pearson went to see him. These matters were discussed orally, so the answers cannot be printed in the form of a letter. But I do not think it is fair comment to suggest, as Lord Rothermere has done, that the letter of February 22 went unanswered. If he will look at the letter of February 27, he will see that the Secretary of State said: Meanwhile, I should like to tell you personally a little more than I have written in this letter, and I should be grateful if you would come and see me at some convenient time next week—if possible, on Monday.


May I be allowed to interrupt? The noble Lord, the Under-Secretary, has quoted from a letter of February 27, but if your Lordships look at the letter dated March 10, you will see that in the last paragraph Mr. Pearson says: Upon other matters, particularly the responsibility for the development of overseas air transport, we have addressed the Secretary of State by my letter of February 22. The inference is that there had been no reply.


A great deal was said in the interview which cannot be dealt with in writing. There are many points such as have been brought up in this debate, questions such as "Can we be informed whether it is intended that the Corporation should remain the British instrument for overseas transport?" That is a thing which the Secretary of State cannot answer by letter. It is a matter of War Cabinet policy and the Secretary of State told Mr. Pearson how the matter stood. Briefly, I do not think there is anything in this further correspondence which make it necessary for me to retract from what I have already said—namely, that the reason for their resignations was made perfectly clear in the correspondence published in the first White Paper and that there was nothing more to it than that. The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, dealt with various points, and no one knows more than I do the immense interest which he takes and has always taken in this subject. I do not think, however, that some of his remarks were quite fair. He said that the Air Ministry lacked energy, and that there was apathy on matters concerning the air. I do not think that is a fair comment. As I said at the beginning of my speech this afternoon, there is no lack of energy and no apathy on air questions in the Ministry to-day.


The noble Lord is confusing the issue. I was talking about the policy of the Government. They have been lacking in energy and have shown apathy. It is their policy which we want to hear.


I think the noble Marquess said the Air Ministry. That is a question for the Government to decide in collaboration with the Defence Departments and the United Nations. There is no question of apathy or lack of energy in the Air Ministry. He pointed out that in the announcement of the Prime Minister's arrival in Washington only two Services were mentioned. This announcement was issued from the White House, and the absence of a reference to an Air Force representative can, no doubt, be explained quite simply by the fact that in America the Air Force is military. I can assure the noble Lord that of course all the Services are represented, not merely the Army and the Navy.

Lord Barnby asked me—and this is a question which was brought up in the previous debate—whether there could be a Standing Committee of both Houses to deal with civil aviation. That is a question which has been brought before my right honourable friend, but such a Committee would surely be premature until the broad lines of Government policy have been laid down.

I have welcomed this debate. No doubt there will be many others on the subject of civil aviation, for of course there exists a strong feeling that we must be looking ahead. On this point, however, I would draw attention to what was said in another place by the Minister of Aircraft Production. He said: We are not prepared to sacrifice war necessities to any advantage we might gain after the war. We regard the war purpose of victory as the first and over-riding purpose for the present. That is the policy of the Government, and I can assure your Lordships that if we departed from it we should lengthen the war. We are fully aware of the vitally important part civil aviation must play after the war, but let us never forget that, although we have had these recent victories, we have a very long way to go before we can really enjoy the benefits of civil aviation.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I ask whether words which he has just used include the enunciation of an Empire policy regarding post-war aviation?


The policy was laid down by the Leader of the House.


There is no policy.


I have made it clear that consultations are now going on with the Dominions and that later there will be consultations with the United Nations in order to formulate an agreed policy.


My Lords, if I may comment upon the last statement of my noble friend Lord Sherwood, I would say that the announcement made on behalf of the Government merely emphasized that after the war this country was going to be interested in civil aviation. It went no further than that. There was no policy laid down. Had there been a policy laid down in that declaration, these debates either would not have taken place at all or they would have followed entirely different lines. The Government must not imagine that we are demanding a policy which already exists. There is no policy and certainly there is not any more policy as the result of these debates than there was before. In fact, I think there is rather less. I suggest that it is no use lecturing your Lordships about the impossibility of winning the war if the war effort is interfered with. Your Lordships, I am quite certain, realize that; it is not a very complicated point of view to understand. Clearly there are great difficulties in the situation which we all realize.

We know that the production of aircraft is limited. We know that we were not as forward in the matter of the production of aircraft as we should have been when the war started. We know that a Transport Command has only been formed three-and-a-half years after the outbreak of the war. We know all these facts, but still we wish for a declaration of policy—not for the production of aeroplanes to implement a policy. We know perfectly well that the necessary machines cannot be designed and produced immediately. It may be that they can be designed, but it is unlikely that they can be produced until the end of the war. Nevertheless, there is nothing in the world to stop a policy being formulated, nor is there anything in the world to stop an Empire air scheme being arranged so that when the time comes we can go straight ahead. As things are at present, if the war were to end at any given moment, there would be no policy of any sort or kind to act upon, and we should have to start right at the beginning. We should have to decide whether we were going to have an Empire policy with regard to the air or not, and what form that Empire policy would take. It is that consideration which led me to suggest that we should have an Empire Conference.


My Lords, may I be allowed to say one word, for I think the noble Lord is misrepresenting the Government, though I am sure he is doing so quite unintentionally? If he would read the speech to which the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, has referred he would see that the declaration states that: The Government are also giving close attention to the organization of civil air transpart on the international plane after the war. … Our exploratory work is in fact in hand and we are now in preliminary consultation with the Dominions and India. Consultation with other members of the United Nations will follow. I made it absolutely clear in my speech, as any noble Lord who was here at the time will recall, that it was both undesirable and impossible for the Government to make a public declaration of policy pending these international negotiations. I went into it at great length. I remember recalling to the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, his past experiences at Geneva and elsewhere. I pointed out how impossible it would be to go into negotiations if the Government were to take up a rigid attitude in advance.

The noble Lord, Lord Rothermere, will appreciate, I trust, that if we have not given a declaration of policy in detail in this matter, neither have other great nations which are concerned. But that does not mean that a policy is not being formulated. It is being formulated properly. Discussions with the Dominions and India are taking place, and discussions with other members of the United Nations will follow. I do not think that that is the impression which the House gained from the speech which my noble friend Viscount Rothermere has just made.


I do not think that that is the impression which in fact the House has. I knew that the noble Viscount formulated a policy of consultation with the Dominions and stated that after that there was to be consultation with other nations, but I would suggest to him that from that date we have heard absolutely nothing. I am sure it would be wrong to give information of anything that was happening in the midst of negotiations, for to do so might interefere with those negotiations. But I do think that from time to time we might perhaps be told that something is happening, that we are getting along and that everything is progressing favourably. Some suggestion might be given that action is being taken, because since that declaration we have had no sustenance to keep us going, and no suggestion that anything further is being done. If I am to take it from the statement which we have just heard that that is entirely untrue, that action is in fact being taken, that conversations are going on and are progressing extremely favourably, and that at some time in the not too far-distant future we shall have the privilege of hearing something further on the matter, then that is the best statement that this House has heard on the subject since the noble Viscount made his original statement, and I am more satisfied with that interpolation in this debate than with anything else I have heard. I hope that I can take it that that is so.

With regard to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, I do not wish to go over all the old points regarding British Overseas Airways Corporation and its relations with the Secretary of State and so on. I thought, however, that the noble Lord did not give a very fair statement of the position of the ex-directors. They have gone now, and they do not come into the present problem. They will not affect the future of civil aviation, and therefore in this debate they have ceased to be important. I do not wish to carry the matter further than need be; but I do hope that those who will follow them in the B.O.A.C. will be given more chance than they had. I do not like the noble Lord's statement that the Secretary of State has a perfect right to poach on his own preserves, because I think that that can be overdone. First of all the noble Lord said that the Secre- tary of State did not interfere, and then he said that the Secretary of State had a perfect right to poach on his own preserves, and therefore a perfect right to interfere if he wished. I think that too much interference is not the best way to conduct an enterprise where you can rely on responsible people.

We have not got a great deal further to-day, but I hope that we are progressing slowly. I can assure my noble friend that we shall continue to have these debates. I can assure him that until we get something moving we shall continue to try to push the Government. If he is in his place in a month or so's time, I am sure he will be replying to a further debate. I should like to suggest however, to my noble friend the Leader of the House that, if something could be done to reassure noble Lords and the country generally, it would be something which the Government would find well worth doing and for which we should be extremely thankful. It would give confidence to those who look to the future. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.