HL Deb 11 May 1944 vol 131 cc723-36

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion, moved yesterday by the Marquess of Londonderry, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to the policy which His Majesty's Government propose to adopt for the development of British civil air transport upon the following matters of importance:

  1. (1) Ministerial responsibility for civil air transport in His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom;
  2. (2) The international regulation of civil air transport;
  3. (3) Internal, Inter-Commonwealth and Empire air lines;
  4. (4) Chosen instruments and subsidies;
  5. (5) Types of aircraft;
  6. (6) The scope and powers of air line operating companies.


My Lords, the main point in the debate today seems to be, are we any further forward as regards civil aviation after the war than we were when we heard the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, some time ago? My own view is that we are not very much further forward. Apparently nothing can be done or settled until this international conference takes place, and what we have to ask ourselves is whether, if any of us were in the shoes of Lord Beaverbrook, we should be able to hurry things on any more than he has done. I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, with all his energy and drive, is the man to represent civil aviation for us. He is undoubtedly in a difficult position. He has a hard row to hoe because he has to satisfy everybody. He has not only to satisfy England and Scotland, but he has to satisfy the British Empire, he has to agree with the United States of America, and possibly with Russia. He has to bring everybody along together in a happy frame of mind. He has to avoid any future ill feeling on the part of any of the Dominions, the United States or any other country, and yet to see that the Mother Country gets her fair share of air transport after the war. He has to do all those things and I think it would be very difficult for any of us, if we were in his position, to move any faster than he has. A more difficult job was never set before any man, and I have no doubt that Lord Beaverbrook was chosen by the Prime Minister to tackle this problem because of his energy, drive, tact and his Colonial and international experience. It may be a well-nigh insoluble problem to satisfy everybody, but I think that the majority of members in this House and most of the British public outside, both in this country and in the Empire, are united in the view that they are in favour of private initiative and private enterprise in regard to aviation all over the world and they are opposed to the spirit of the monopoly system, as it was practised before the war. That, I think, is generally agreed.

But there is another and perhaps not less important branch of civil flying. It has had far less consideration either from the Government or from their critics—I refer to private flying. I have heard it said and seen it written that there will be no room for the private flyer after the war because the air will be filled with transport aircraft. I do not subscribe to that view. It will take more than a few years for any nation to get enough transport to fill the air. If you can pack a thousand bombers over one German city in one hour in the dark, you can find room in the air over this country—not to mention the Empire—for all the aircraft you are likely to get. It is true that increasing speeds tend to crowd the air, but as speeds increase so do radio and other navigational aids improve, so that the air, although containing more aircraft, is probably less dangerously crowded today than it was twenty-five years ago. The view that the air is too crowded for the private flyer does not bear examination. In any case, we shall be compelled to find room for the private flyer. There are two good reasons. The first is that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of men and women will expect to do some flying after the war. The second is that the safety and prosperity of the Empire demand that they should.

Who are the people who want to fly? First of all, they are the pilots who are flying to-day: they will want to go on flying. Some may be glad to give it up for a time after the war, but many will want to continue. Then there are the other members of air crews, men who are flying as navigators, bomb aimers and so on, but are not pilots. Some of them will want to learn to be pilots and take up aviation. Among the ground staff of the R.A.F. there are thousands who took on ground jobs as second best because they were not medically fit for war flying. But they may be fit enough for peace flying, and will expect their share of light aircraft. There are thousands of other young men and older men and women whom the war has brought into contact with aviation—men and women in the factories and workshops attached to our flying services. Many of these have been inspired with the desire to fly; they have become air-minded. And behind all these stand the younger generation, the lads now in the Air Training Corps, the Air Scouts and the Women's junior Air Corps. They, too, will demand the right to fly. And whoever tries to prevent them from flying will not only be denying them their rights, but will also be jeopardizing the safety of the country and of the Empire. You cannot have an Empire strong in the air unless the young men and women of that Empire are so keen to fly that they will give of their time and money to fly Whenever possible, not merely as units in a military machine or as passengers in transport machines, but as free men and women enjoying the freedom of the air.

The same is true of the aircraft industry. You cannot have a healthy aircraft manufacturing industry that depends solely on peace-time orders for military aircraft and on orders for a few hundreds of transport machines. If our aircraft industry is to flourish as our motor-car industry has done, it will have to cater for the masses. The prospect of thousands of aircraft lying over our countryside may not appear pleasing to some people; I confess that I do not find it altogether pleasing myself, but I am afraid it is in-evitable. If we prohibit private flying to our own countrymen, then one day the air over England will be filled by the private aircraft of alien countries. Fortunately it will not be necessary for all our private flyers to do all their flying over this country. We have a vast Empire, with great distances. In that Empire the need for private flying is not merely a military one. On the contrary, in the wide territories of the Dominions and Colonies it is a social and commercial necessity. Indeed, proper development of the Empire demands the private aeroplane. There are no adequate alternatives. The private aeroplane will mitigate loneliness and isolation of the settler, and I can foresee that many of our young men will be attracted to the Dominions and Colonies because they offer better opportunities for flying. An Imperial policy for private flying is therefore an urgent social, commercial, and military necessity.

We want an Empire of flyers, not a mere collection of queues of air-line passengers. America is well aware of this. In our admiration for American air transport production and organization, we are inclined to overlook the fact that America also leads the world in private flying. Before the war America had the greatest number of private flyers and a well-organized Bureau of Air Commerce to regulate their activities. American firms now famous for their war planes were well known in America before the war for their private aircraft and racers. Private flying is still permitted, even now, in parts of America, and small aircraft such as Taylorcraft, Pipers, Stinsons, and others are being turned out in large quantities for use in the Services. Plans are being made for more flying clubs and for new designs of light aircraft, cheap to build and cheap to operate.

I do not suggest for a moment that the American industry is engaged in any campaign to capture the world's light aircraft market. But they are turning out light aircraft of such quality and in such numbers that the mere momentum of their war effort will enable them to fulfil the world's needs for the first few years of peace. Britain and her Empire cannot be left behind. I suggest, therefore, that the Government should interest themselves in the design of light aircraft suitable for use in the Empire; that they should make up their mind about supporting flying clubs and reserving for sporting flying some of the war-time aerodromes not required for military purposes in peace. I realize that little practical work can be done now but I should like an assurance that the Government, with their plans for civil air transport, still intend to reserve a place in the air for the man in the street, and that it is favourable to the idea of an Imperial policy for private flying.


My Lords, I hope my noble friend the Duke of Sutherland will forgive me if I touch upon a different aspect of this matter and do not follow him in the lines he introduced so brilliantly in his speech. The debate yesterday, to every word of which I listened, ranged over a very wide series of subjects. We heard about cabotage—a word new to me until then—and chosen instruments. We heard about Empire routes and many other things all highly technical. We also had a very important announcement from the noble Lord, the Lord Privy Seal, who I am glad to think is going to speak again at the end of today's debate. There was one person who was never mentioned at all in yesterday's debate, and that person was the man in the street, the ordinary traveller, the man who, after the war is over, is going to use some of these civil aircraft. If I may, I should like to say a few words on his behalf, being a very keen traveller myself.

We heard two admirable speeches yesterday, one from the noble Lord, Lord Essendon, who spoke with vast knowledge of shipping matters for the shipping companies, and another from the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who, being a railway director, spoke not only with great knowledge and experience, but spoke also for all the railway groups. I shall say a word or two about these speeches in a minute. I myself, as I said, am a keen traveller, and I want to put forward the point of view of the ordinary traveller. I am not associated with any of the railway groups or shipping companies. I merely want to talk for the man in the street or (shall I say?) the man who will be in the mind after the war to take an aeroplane. Therefore, being free and unassociated with any company, I can speak with greater freedom. If I were to ask the Lord Privy Seal, who is a brilliantly clever man, a brilliantly clever and difficult question, I am sure, when he came to reply, he would give me a brilliantly clever and difficult answer, but I propose to do no such thing.

What I want to do is to ask one very simple, frank question, and I shall hope in due course to get a simple, frank answer. Are the railway companies going to be allowed to compete, or are they going to be shut out when civil aviation plans are put into effect after the war? That is a very simple question, and of course it affects the shipping companies too. Lord Essendon yesterday told your Lordships about the wonderful services that the shipping companies have been able to perform in the war for the country's war effort. He was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who talked in a similar strain about the railways. It was not until last week, when I read in Hansard the report of the debate on war transport which occurred in another place last Friday, that I realized the great contribution which the railways have made to the country's war effort. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport, Mr. Noel-Baker, used one very striking sentence in his speech. He said this: Transport remains the very blood-stream of civil production and of the nation's social life. There are only fourteen words in that sentence and I should like to repeat them: Transport remains the very blood-stream of civil production and of the nation's social life. Mr. Noel-Baker went on to pay a great tribute to the railways, and gave all sorts of facts and figures as to what the railways had done.

Four of these figures stand out in my mind. He said, first of all, that journeys of over 200 miles constitute 80 per cent. of the travelling which is done to-day. Secondly, as compared with 1938, the traffic in light merchandise had gone up by 86 per cent. whereas heavy merchandise and minerals had increased by 68 per cent. He then proceeded to tell the House that 7,000 extra trains a week are being run for war workers—that is 1,000 extra trains a day. Lastly, he said that passengers in 1943 were more by 106,000,000 than in the previous year, 1942. These are very striking figures, and your Lordships will appreciate what these figures mean when I remind you, as Mr. Noel-Baker reminded another place, that this has been done in spite of the fact that scores of locomotives have been sent abroad to the various theatres of war, and 120,000 railway workers have been called to the Fighting Services.

Can it really be argued that the railways and the shipping companies should be excluded from the plans of the Government for civil aviation after the war? I cannot believe it. I cannot believe that the wealth of experience which the railways have gained in all transportation matters will be discarded. When I think, too, of the comfort with which they have transported millions of men and women over the sea and over the land in the years that have passed, I ask myself, why is it that the third element, the air, should be excluded from them? In my view all the different forms of transportation should be complementary. The noble Lord, Lord Essendon, made that a feature of the speech which he delivered yesterday and the railways have long seemed to take that view, hence their interest not only in railways but also in shipping, in road transport, in harbours, in docks and in hotels. Hence also in the year 1929, as my noble friend Lord Kennet reminded the House yesterday, the railways came to Parliament and asked for powers to run air transport as well and those powers were accorded to the railways with suitable limitations and provisos.

I was much struck with the speech of my noble friend Lord Rennet. He seemed to me to make five or six points which are worth stressing. In the first place he said railways are engaged now in all forms of transportation. He stressed the vast experience they have had in continental traffic, and urged that the great booking agencies which are run by them and the shipping companies, with all the travel expedients which they put at the disposal of the public, are easily adaptable to travel in the air. Then the noble Lord went on to make a very striking statement. He said that air transport was regarded by the railways as likely to become the primary method of transport after the war. That, as I say, is a very striking statement from a railway director. He also said that while the railways meant to keep up all other forms of transport they were very anxious to engage in air transport as well. Then he offered to co-operate with the shipping companies, and any noble Lord who was present during Lord Essendon's speech heard the noble Lord welcome competition with the railway companies. Lord Kennet made perhaps the most striking statement of all when he said that what the railways were asking for would not cost the taxpayers anything at all. How joyously different that is from the usual talk of planners who come either to another place or this House and, in advocating schemes for social reform, for agriculture, for better health and housing and hospitals and medical services and the like, are joyfully prepared, it scorns to me, to mortgage millions of the taxpayers' money in advance or their schemes cannot come to fruition. That is not so with the railway companies. They ask for no subsidy and they make one proviso that the competition is fair all round.

Lastly, my noble friend Lord Kennet talked about the co-ordination of all methods of transport. This would mean for instance the inter-availability of tickets. Let me give your Lordships a short example. Supposing after the war I had an important business date in Paris and it became very urgent for me to go there quickly, naturally I should take an aeroplane; but, having done my business in Paris and being in the mood perhaps to loiter a little, how charming for me, especially if I looked up at the sky and thought the weather was not too favourable, if instead of being forced to go back by air I could take the train and the ship and land in my own time in my own way in London. That inter-availability of tickets seems to me to be a boon which the travelling public would welcome tremendously. If it is true that transport is the blood stream of civilian production and of the social life of the people, then I cannot see how the Government can leave the railways out and I am pretty sure that the public will not let them. In my view, if the railways and the shipping companies are brought in without fear or favour, they will quickly earn the confidence and the gratitude of the air-minded public, just as they have already earned it from those millions whom they have transported so safely over land and sea.


My Lords, the questions I am raising this afternoon and asking the noble Lord, Lord Beaver-brook, to answer have to do with the future and not with the present or the past. The noble Viscount, Lord Rother-mere, pointed out that we had really not heard very much from the noble Lord yesterday with regard to the future. He told us of the present B.O.A.C. subsidy, that that was the only company that had it and other things like that, but what we want to know is what is the Government's policy with regard to some of these questions. It would be much better if the noble Lord could answer some of them, but if there are some that cannot be answered to-day let the noble Lord say so and not confuse us by talking about things of the present. There are one or two points that are very important which I want to clear up. This is a big subject and I am only going to refer to certain of the points in regard to which one may say without exaggeration there seems to be complete confusion in the minds of your Lordships and I think even in the mind of the noble Lord himself. I will not go back into past history, as the noble Lord did in the debates that were held in this House in October, 1943. He then criticized Lord Rothermere's action in 1935. I am referring to what has happened in the noble Lord's own time.

My first point is that Lord Beaverbrook, in the debate on the 19th January, said: The chosen instrument is not a monopoly; there is no monopoly at all. It has a monopoly of subsidies for overseas air traffic, but nothing else. He went on to say that other companies, shipping companies or concerns may be carried on without subsidies. The noble Marquess who raised this Motion yesterday also referred to the confusion in his mind about what Lord Beaverbrook meant. Well, if the B.O.A.C. is the only company to have a monopoly of subsidies for overseas air traffic, and if that is not a monopoly, then there is no sense in words. Of course it is a monopoly. And I gather that the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, did admit yesterday that it was a monopoly. The noble Lord yesterday talked about the Government being keen to move to the day when there were no subsidies. I think we all agree that that is advisable provided the Governments of foreign countries do not subsidize their lines. He said that the Imperial Airways received aggregate contributions of £900,000 a year and that the B.O.A.C. was its successor. Then he said he had made the briefest and clearest explanation he could make of the position of the B.O.A.C. but that it is a position not easy to grasp. In fact he said he had some difficulty in grasping it himself. I do not think any of your Lordships have any difficulty in knowing the position of the B.O.A.C.—namely, that it is the only company that has a subsidy for overseas air traffic. That therefore puts the company in the position of a company with a monopoly.

Then when the noble Marquess interjected yesterday and asked whether it was a decision to maintain the Act of 1939 in being, he was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, in these words: The question of the Act of 1939 rests with Parliament. The decision must depend on Parliament. What decision Parliament will take I cannot anticipate. What I think the noble Marquess was asking is what all of us are asking—namely, whether it is the policy of the Government to recommend Parliament to maintain that Act or not. Do the Government recommend it or not, or have they not made up their minds? Are they going to subsidize only one overseas company, or more than one overseas company? I hope my questions are plain and will not add to the confusion.

Now I come to my next point, on the question of the freedom of the air. In January again Lord Beaverbrook stated that Mr. Burden, speaking in Washington on January 5, had said: Complete freedom of the air in the present state of the world might result in commercial anarchy. Lord Beaverbrook added: "I share Mr. Burden's views." Yesterday the noble Lord referred to bases and cabotage. There were many people who asked for a definition of cabotage. I could not find the word in the Oxford Dictionary, but I did find it in a French dictionary where it is defined as "coasting or coast trade." Lord Beaverbrook explained it yesterday as "the right of a nation to carry its own traffic within its own territory," and he said cabotage does involve traffic between Great Britain and the Colonies. In other words we look upon the Colonies as our own country, absolutely our own. We claim the right to carry our own traffic, say between Bath and London, and that nobody else has that right. I think that is what the noble Lord meant.

Then I asked a very simple question—I think I put the question three times— whether we could fly over anybody's country in a straight line from one point in the British Empire to another. The noble Lord replied in an amusing way that I knew whether an aeroplane goes straight or not. Anyhow, I know a straight answer. The noble Lord said: Flying ever the territory of another nation will necessarily involve the authority of such nation for such a flight. The foreign country would have to give permission for such a flight, but there is a way round. We have not had to fly over France for our journeys to the Mediterranean of late. We can always find a way round. That is the point to which I want to draw particular attention. Did the noble Lord really mean that? Did he really mean that if we want to fly from here to Aden, for instance, we have got to fly round the Cape, or if we want to fly to India we have got to fly round the Cape?

He also spoke about agreement with nations. Have we got to ask leave each time a machine goes, or make a separate agreement for a series of flights with all the countries concerned? That is one of the points that cropped up after the last war. Therefore I ask the definite question whether, if cabotage means flying between this country and the Colonies, that means that we can fly over other countries without landing, or whether it means that we must make an agreement for each flight or arrange an omnibus agreement. This seems contradictory to the statement of the President of the United States on October 1 last, when he is reported to have said: The objectives [of post-war aviation] were rather simple. Freedom of the air, which meant freedom to use airports—with one limitation. Is that correct? Does the noble Lord understand what I am really asking about when I speak about flying straight? I hope I lave made the question quite clear to-day because it was not clear, apparently, in the various questions and answers yesterday.

Now I come to another question which really is part of the same question. In his definition of cabotage, Lord Beaverbrook said it means "the reservation to a nation of all traffic within its territory." That is simple and understandable. But does this mean the reservation of all traffic to and from England within the Empire, including the Colonies, but not including the Dominions—not between England and the Dominions? When he was asked this question by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, I was not quite certain what it did mean. Then what is the Government policy towards another country, such as Spain? Can any British company fly from England to Spain with passengers and freight, unload, and pick up more passengers and freight and return to England? That is not cabotage. Is that allowed or not? Perhaps this is the hardest question I am asking to-day. Can we be told what the Government are recommending on this subject? Is a bargain to be made with each individual country throughout the world on that sort of point, or will it be the policy of the Government to recommend to the international conference that every country shall have the right to fly to another country? Is that what is called "innocent passage"? In carrying out this policy, will companies be limited in number, or can any number of companies get a licence? It might be that mushroom companies would spring up and it would be impossible for any country to agree to an unlimited number. This is the hardest question I am putting to the noble Lord, and if he is not able to answer to-day I shall not complain.

To go back to cabotage, the noble Lord referred to the British Commonwealth of Nations and the meaning of cabotage in the Empire. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, asked if he referred to the British Empire excluding the Dominions, and Lord Beaverbrook said: Yes … the Dominions would claim cabotage for themselves just as we would. The noble Viscount then asked: That does not apply to traffic between the United Kingdom and Australia? The noble Lord's answer was that "Australia would come to the conference under her own steam." When asked again by the noble Viscount if that did not apply to the British Empire as a whole, Lord Beaverbrook said: I specifically mentioned the Dominions included in the Commonwealth. India comes into the Commonwealth and India also would come to the international conference, and would make her claim to cabotage. With regard to international authority, on which we were told that there was an American plan for an authority on a non-executive basis with no power or means of enforcing its regulations, we were told that the United Kingdom put forward a Canadian Draft Convention and that the Canadian proposal was considered too rigid. Then Lord Beaverbrook told us that we could go forward on the basis of proposals for international handling of civil aviation, agreed to at the Commonwealth conversations some six months ago. It is apparently on these proposals that the international conference is going to meet, but could we have them explained a little more clearly? Could he amplify that at all? An explanation would, I feel sure, assist the noble Marquess whose Motion we are discussing, for he asked especially about it. Another point, my Lords, what about mandated territories? Are they Dominions, foreign countries or Colonies? Do they come into the cabotage scheme? We should, I am sure, be very glad if Lord Beaverbrook could give us an answer to these questions.

I have detained your Lordships rather longer than I thought I should, but I am one of those who still believe that there are certain points on this very complicated and difficult matter which should be dealt with now; that there is no need to delay dealing with them any longer. In this connexion there is a point to which I should like to refer, and for the purpose I will go back to what the President is reported to have said: Freedom of the air, which means freedom to use airports—with one limitation. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Kennet and Lord Essendon thoroughly; I am all for freedom, for shipping companies, railway companies, aviation companies and other organizations being put on an equal basis. In the words of Lord Kennet: "A fair field and no favour." But I take the view that it is not a case of a fair field and no favour. I think that all these companies ought to be licensed by the Government so as not to risk a lot of mushroom companies growing up. The big organizations capable of working the different routes efficiently, limited to a certain number, should be granted a licence by each Government.

I know the Labour Party do not agree, and think that all aviation should be run by the Government. I and most of the people who travel by air, railways or ships, are perfectly certain that the one way to get inefficiency is to have transportation run by Government-owned companies. There is no doubt whatever on this point in the minds of those who travel, quite apart from other reasons which have been put forward. With regard to the international authorities that Lord Beaverbrook mentioned, we know that there is going to be an international authority set up. That is something definite. I hope, however, that authority will not have too much power but that it will have what was outlined yesterday by some of the speakers.

There is another matter I wish to refer to with regard to B.O.A.C. being at present under control of the Air Transport Command to which Lord Rennel referred yesterday. From my own experience—and I have travelled all over the world—I have found, and I think it is true, that the B.O.A.C. and Transport Command work together very much, not one under the other, and whatever machines are available in the two organizations, take whatever passengers there are; whether they are in uniform or not—and no passenger can travel without official permission now. If I may say so, I think it was rather unnecessary to laugh at the abbreviation of Air Transport Command as A.R.D.U. It may be that it is purely a matter of taste, but I do not know that the abbreviation B.O.A.C. is much better. I consider that both these organizations, working as they are under war-time conditions with a shortage of machines, do an extraordinarily fine job of work. I would ask that some of the questions I have mentioned might be answered this afternoon.


My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned during pleasure.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned during pleasure.—(Lord Beaverbrook.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.

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