HL Deb 15 July 1946 vol 142 cc423-42

3.30 p.m.

EARL HOWE had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government whether they are aware that at present no facilities exist or are available to the manufacturers of motor cars, motor cycles, and accessories for the testing of their products to the limit of their performance, whether they are aware that insufficient testing is likely to affect the successful export of British products, and whether the Government can now make any statement on the future of Donington; and move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I feel I must offer a word or two of explanation with regard to the terms of the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, and if your Lordships will bear with me for a few moments, I will try and explain them. Donington Hall (which is called by the War Office by another name, which, I have no doubt, is nevertheless just as sweet) was a private estate upon which in days gone by a few motor cyclists started motor cycle races by permission of the owner. There was thereafter a rapid expansion and it became in clue course a racing track of international importance upon which really big races between international teams took place.

Your Lordships may wonder whether motor racing is of the slightest use. Motor racing, of course, is not a fashionable sport but it is of great importance from the point of view of experiment, research, and also advertising. Motor racing brought three tracks into being in this country. One of those was Brooklands, which was started a very long time ago, before the first world war. Donington came into being between the two wars, and so did the track at Crystal Palace, which was, comparatively speaking, unimportant. Your Lordships will no doubt be aware that during the war the Brook-lands track was taken over by the Vickers Company, and no racing, of course, was possible, desirable, or even wanted then. At the conclusion of the war, the Vickers Company bought the track, with the result that it could no longer be used for motor racing. That was a tremendous loss to the motor industry of this country, because it was the custom for tyre firms, accessory firms and car firms to take the track for days on end and to send out cars to keep up sustained high-speeds hour after hour. That was of great importance from the point of view of the motor industry as a whole. The Brook-lands track was rather out of date. It was constructed of old concrete which required renewal and that would have cost a great deal of money.

On the other hand, Donington is a purely road circuit, and is to-day in reasonable condition. According to my information, it is in very much the same condition to-day as it was when it was taken over by the War Office. At the beginning of this year I had the honour of taking a deputation to see the Under-Secretary of State for War in order to raise the whole question of the Donington track, to put certain arguments before him, and to hear his reply. If I may, I will tell your Lordships who constituted the deputation. There was my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara and myself; there were three Members of Parliament, two of them belonging to the Government Party, and one belonging to the Opposition; there were representatives of the National Cyclists' Union, the Auto-Cycle Union, the British Cycle and. Motor Cycle Manufacturers and Traders Union, the accessory people, and so on. I should like here to pay tribute to the extreme courtesy of the Under-Secretary who received us. He was quite charming, as is his habit, and we had a most sympathetic hearing.

I should like to put before your Lordships some of the points we raised. We asked: "Why does the War Office want Donington at all?" and the reply that was given to us was that during the war the War Office had spent so much money on Donington that it had really become indispensable to them. They had put down I forget how many miles of water mains to deal with any fires caused by bombing during the war, and they were also using it for the storage of a lot of vehicles. We suggested that within a very short distance of Donington there was other accommodation, notably an ex-American depôt at Sudbury, which had miles of railway sidings, miles of hard standing for vehicles, and apparently most of the facilities which the War Office would presumably require, and another depot at Eggington, which was not very far away. I believe both these places are within thirty miles. We explained that there were several other depôts—the Chilwell Ordnance Depôt, another depôt at Old Dalby, and also a depôt near Derby, at a place called Sinfin.

We pointed out that Donington was the only track where cars could be tested out at high speeds, which is absolutely essential from the point of view of the motor industry, and we explained that before the war Donington was used by over half a million people in the course of a year, with the result that the Chancellor of the Exchequer received over £5,000 a year in entertainment tax. The National Cyclists' Union representative pointed out that a problem would arise because cyclists were going in for racing on the public highway, involving mass starts, and I am sure your Lordships will agree that mass cycle-racing starts, with all the impedimenta involved, are highly undesirable on the public highway, if they can be staged elsewhere, as they can at Donington. The tyre representative on the deputation pointed out that it was absolutely essential for the tyre manufacturers to be able to test their products at sustained high speeds for days on end. To show how necessary this has been in the past, perhaps I may say that the Dunlop tyre Company used to keep two racing cars at Brooklands for no other purpose than to go round and round the track for days on end, even for as long as ten days, in order to carry out observed tests of their tyres, measuring the temperatures and all the rest of the factors involved.

Those were the arguments placed before the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, as shortly as I can put them. We were then told that the noble Lord would go into the matter very carefully, which I know he did, and that he might probably pay a visit to Donington to see the position there for himself. Arising out of the loss of the Brooklands track, I put myself in touch with many of the motor car manufacturers of this country, and they all expressed grave concern over its loss. I will not say all of them did, but most of them. I therefore got in touch with the whole motorcar industry, so far as it was possible for one individual to do that, and I found there were four important firms who were not in the least interested in Donington continuing as a racing track, but that there were twelve other important firms who were.

There are fifteen accessory firms to be considered and the whole of the motor cycle industry, as well as cyclists to whom I have already referred, and incidentally such other organizations as the Camping Club and the Civil Service Motoring Association. The suggestion was then made that the idea of a racing track at Donington might be combined with advantage with a sort of national proving ground which could be available to all the motor industry in this country. The Under-Secretary of State for War referred that suggestion to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the Society considered that for months on end. On April 5 an article was published in The Times and this is what it said: It is to be hoped that the lack of unanimity among motor manufacturers that marred the negotiations with the Government about motor taxation will not once again result in a short-sighted decision which will hamper still further the expansion of this valuable industry. The article began by saying that Donington Park was developed as a motor-racing circuit before the war and it was subsequently used by the Army as a motor reserve depot, and that it had become a matter of national concern. Notwithstanding that very cogent article in The Times—and there are many other passages with which I will not weary your Lordships at the moment—I have a letter from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in which he says this: After considering our question on the usefulness of Donington Park as a proving ground, to the manfacturing side of the motor industry, they reply that after investigation and consideration it has been decided to recommend definitely against Donington Park being used for proving ground purposes. They add that though the necessity for the proving ground remains the industry would not be prepared to press for the release of Donington Park for that purpose. You will appreciate that in these circumstances I do not see my way to take further the suggestions that have been discussed between us, and I therefore propose to proceed on the footing that the War Office may now regard Donington Park merely from the standpoint of War Office interests. In the debate in your Lordship's House on July 4, 1946, upon the retention by the War Office of certain lands and properties, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War, in column 172 of Hansard, laid down two principles whereby the War Office was going to retain land in this country. He said: The first was that the Army must have the necessary land, both in acreage and in kind and quality, that it requires for the essential purpose of making it an efficient Army. And the second principle that I, as a member of the Government, accepted, was that the Army must not have a single acre more than it requires for the purpose of enabling it to become an efficient Army. Those two propositions I think will have the general assent of your Lordships at large. What is there about Donington that is going to give us an efficient Army? The Under-Secretary has told me that the Army spent about £250,000 in laying fire mains there. Will those fire mains help us to win another war? I do not know. If that money has been spent, as I reminded your Lordships the Treasury gets £5,000 a year in entertainment tax at Donington for its usual peace-time purposes and if that amount of money were capitalized surely the War Office would very nearly be able to recoup themselves. Donington Park is by no means the only place where the War Office could go. There were aerodromes all round. Whether they are still there or not I am afraid I cannot say, but there is undoubtedly alternative accommodation. What are they using Donington for? It really is nothing else than a sort of Missenden at the present moment. I have a recent report on the state of Donington Park and this is what it says: There are still approximately 8,000 vehicles in Donington, but when the Ministry says 8,000 vehicles they mean everything on two wheels. There may be 2,000 trailer heads, chassis on a couple of wheels, there may be a large quantity of smoke screen tanks on wheels and a very large number of derelict vehicles which have been in the Park for two or three years. No doubt all of them are classified as vehicles, a very large percentage of which are absolutely scrap. It goes further and says that there is a Lieutenant-Colonel in charge of the depot with a few soldiers and a few A.T.S. It really does not seem that the use to which Donington is now being put is so indispensable as to justify taking away the only track which exists from the point of the motoring world. I have obtained the views of various people, and here is one expression of opinion from one firm: Apart from the vital need of a track as a testing and proving ground in the national interest, there is also a great need for a motor course, as it has been universally realized that motor racing research and development work that goes with it is not only of value to the industry as a whole but is a grand means of telling the world of the excellence of our motor engineering. Then there is another view: It cannot be argued in these times that the racing machine of to-day is the owner's car of to-morrow, but the various problems set to the development engineer to meet the need of the high performance racing machine are a powerful stimulant, which although outside his normal field, is none the less valuable. I could read your Lordships many expressions of view like that but I do not wish unduly to weary your Lordships. There is, however, one view that I would like to put before you, and this comes from the motorcycle world. The motor- cycle manufacturers met recently and passed a resolution that Donington Park circuit was in fact of very considerable value to the motorcycle industry and instructed their chairman to make such representations as were practicable to secure the use of this circuit for the motorcycle industry. The Royal Automobile Club and the Auto-Cycle Union were invited to support these representations. There is the position as well as I can put it. Of course abroad motor racing is looked upon very differently. It must be remembered that in motor racing it is not always a question of the purely racing machine but it is very often the sports car as well. There are firms in this country who have built up their reputation upon the construction of sports cars which have been able successfully to take part in motor racing on the Continent and elsewhere. Donington is the only place we have got.

You cannot test cars out on the public highway. Certain firms in this country are producing cars of high performance. Where are those cars going to be tested? Very few motor manufacturers in this country have got tracks adequate for the purpose and vehicles have to be tested on the highway. I suggest it is undesirable for such machines to be tested in that way. One or two firms have tracks, but they are small. The more important and richer firms are perhaps able to send their vehicles to France and take advantage of the laws of France in sending their vehicles at high speed across France. It may be a very good way of testing the vehicles but I do not know what view I should take of it if I were a Frenchman and saw these cars careering along at very high speed—but perhaps I would not notice it. I hope that your Lordships will support me and that the noble Lord who is going to speak for the Government will indicate to us why it is that the War Office must have Donington, only Donington and nothing but Donington, and why they cannot transfer their collection of derelict vehicles, or whatever it is that they have got there, to some other site, and allow people who are interested in motor testing to use Donington now as they used it before the war. I beg to move for Papers.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl who has just spoken has dealt with this question in a general way. He referred to motorcars and motorcycles and he also included derelict vehicles in his remarks. I propose dealing with the Motion from the point of view of those interested in motor cycles. In the days when I was a somewhat enthusiastic and, probably, dangerous motorcyclist, the motorcycle was a comparatively slow vehicle. We used, when we did not see a "bobby" in the distance, to career along at a maximum speed, if the road permitted, of something like 60 miles an hour. In those days, trials which were organised by local clubs could go a long way to help to solve manufacturers' problems and to find out for them mistakes they might have made in the construction of their machines. The trials were, of course, limited by law, to a speed of twenty miles an hour.

It did not take very much ingenuity on the part of the trials committees to produce courses on which you could go as fast as you dared the whole time. Those courses, naturally enough, were not along main roads where "bobbies" might be lurking. They led over moorland, marshland and other rough land in the country. Often it was very bumpy land, as I well know because my stern frequently told me so. As the result of this kind of testing Britain produced motorcycles which were famous all over the world. The Americans have never been able successfully to butt in on the British motorcycle market. It is the one market that we have always held and we have held it partly because we held trials in which a "motorbike" had to go as fast as any man could ride it, and partly because motorcycle clubs all over the country devised the most infernal tests they could think of to shake up their members' livers and to find out which machines really had got guts built into them.

Now that sort of testing is not possible to-day. Such is the speed of modern motorcycles that, even if the old kind of trials were permitted on our roads to-day, you could not organize trials of that sort and ensure reasonable safety for the lives and limbs of the riders let alone those of the general public. But we have got to maintain our position as the leading motorcycle manufacturers of the world. We cannot do that if we just go on producing pre-war machines which we know to be good; we have got to produce post-war machines which we know to be better. And we cannot know that they are going to be better unless we have a proving ground. The only possible proving ground in this country, at the present moment, is Donington Park. The Army have got most of the country to choose from. The motorcycle manufacturers have Donington Park and nowhere else. I do say for Heaven's sake let the Army authorities show a little consideration for once in their lives.

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, I am not going to detain your Lordships very long but I would like to say a few words in support of the noble Earl's Motion. I do not know if any of your Lordships have ever visited an establishment of one of the big motor manufacturers in America, and have seen the proving grounds which they have there. Not only do they have speed tracks, but they have hills, they have rough country, they have grounds with surfaces which ask of a motorcar all that a motorcar should be asked to do and a devil of a lot of things that it ought never to be asked to do in an ordinary user's hands. One naturally asks the manufacturer: "Why do you put your products through all these tests?" The reply I got when I put the question was: "Our customers at some time or other are silly fools, and unless we break a vehicle up completely we do not know what is going to happen." I, personally, am interested in a small way in the manufacture of a sports car in this country. That car is going abroad, and I hope that it will do fairly well. But we do not know—there is no means of telling.

One cannot do what one does in France. There you can go out on an auto route just outside Paris early in the morning and swing along at 150 miles an hour. Instead of the police running after you like nobody's business, you find that those officers who are about gather round and become frightfully enthusiastic—they will hold up all the other traffic for your benefit. I shudder to think what would happen if one went at 50 miles per hour in this country on a bypass. If we cannot have Donington, because it is such a valuable piece of property, surely it should not be difficult to let us have some little aerodrome, not necessarily for racing, where we could test our automobiles and so help to maintain the high standard of our products that are being exported at the moment. I do not know, but my opinion is that the question of racing should come second to that of providing the necessary areas for trying out and proving our various types of vehicles. The Army has had plenty of opportunity for testing in the desert. Equally, the Air Force has had ample opportunity for testing at Farnborough and Boscombe Down. But the poor people in the motor trade have got nowhere to try out their productions. I hope that we shall hear today that we are going to be allowed to have a little place.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, the first time I heard personally of this controversy with regard to Donington was in November, when the noble Earl who opened this discussion brought to my attention the difficulties with which he felt himself and his friends to be confronted. The noble Earl for a very long period, as I know, has shown the utmost interest and pertinacity in pursuing this question of Donington, and also, as we all know, in dealing with the problems presented by motor racing generally. Let me take this opportunity, if I may, of wishing Lord Selsdon, who has just spoken, the best of good fortune when he carries British colours in the international race which is shortly to take place. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, viewing the efforts of a younger generation, will take a friendly and paternal pride in the success—as we hope it may be—of the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon.

The noble Earl has referred to the deputation led by him, which I received at the end of November. Before that deputation visited me I had done my utmost to familiarize myself with the problem as a whole, and with the various aspects of it which were likely to be placed before me. I found that at Donington a vehicle reception depot had been established by the Army at a very early stage, and that upon this depot some £250,000 to £300,000 of public money had been expended to make it the most efficient establishment of its kind managed by the Army in this country. I went into the question of whether an alternative could be readily found, or indeed, found at all. The result of my inquiries indicated that there would be the utmost difficulty in making a change. Moreover, I discovered that the track in question was the main artery around which the vehicle depôt had been constructed, and that all the buildings of the depôt had been built in such a way that they opened upon the track. Then came the deputation led by the noble Earl. I must confess that I was much impressed by the arguments that were placed before me on the desirability, in fact the need, of a track. And it is not out of place to say that I was particularly impressed by the arguments advanced by the representative of the Dunlop Rubber Company in regard to the testing of tyres.

Then there was brought to the aid of the deputation a powerful reinforcement in the person of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, whose arguments as to our necessity to compete abroad made a very definite impression upon me. In consequence, although when the deputation arrived my mind had been rather negatively inclined I felt that the arguments were so formidable that it behoved me, and others who might be concerned, to investigate the matter further, in order to see what, if anything, could be done, to achieve the purpose which the noble Earl had in mind.

In replying to the deputation, I put forward a definite suggestion. I told the noble Earl that I was prepared, with a receptive mind, to consider the question of alternative user and a scheme whereby the track could be made available for the purposes for which the deputation thought it should be used, yet at the same time could retain its functions so far as the Army was concerned. I invited the noble Earl and his friends to think the matter over—as I would do—and to let me have a suggestion, which I promised should have the fullest consideration in an affirmative frame of mind. I told the noble Earl at that time that although the financial aspect was of importance, and must not be overlooked, we should not allow it to be the dominant factor.

What I wanted was to see a scheme. That was at the end of November. In the course of January the noble Earl was good enough to write to me with a project and a plan. I am bound to say that I regard documents of that kind with a layman's eye, but even to me, as a layman, it appeared at first sight that the noble Earl had not fully met the problem with which I had confronted him; namely, the problem of making the track available for dual user, for his purposes and for the Army's purposes, at the same time. I submitted the plan to those who advise me in these matters, and their advice confirmed my own uninstructed initial view, that the scheme of the noble Earl would not meet the difficulties. So anxious was I to meet the views placed before me that I caused an independent inquiry to be made at the War Office, to see whether the principle of dual user could or could not be achieved. I was presented with a report which indicated that from a technical point of view it was possible. It would involve an expenditure of about £100,000, an important but not formidable commitment, but it would involve a commitment, both important and formidable, in the employment of 250 men for ten months.

At about the same time, it appears that either the noble Earl or some other representative of the interests with which he is associated had—very properly—approached the Board of Trade and the Board got into touch with me on the matter. I gathered that it was proposed to the Board that it might be possible to open a track, possibly at Donington, to replace Brooklands track, which had then been recently closed, so that there was no track available for testing cars. As a result of some discussion, the conclusion was reached since the approach had been made by the noble Earl, representing one organization, accompanied by the representatives of other organizations, working together in the deputation but not representing the organization of the industry, that we should communicate with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, as the recognized organ of the industry, upon this matter.

The position, as put to the Society—on February 23, I believe—was that we had been approached with the argument that Britain would find it difficult to sell her cars in the face of foreign competition overseas, and that as tests could not be carried out on the public highway a track for experiment and research was essential. We then asked the opinion of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders on the use of Doningion for this purpose. We put to them certain specific questions, on the basis of which we thought we would form our ultimate opinion whether we should go ahead. In the event of going ahead we would decide with whom to conduct our discussions, and how the transaction should be financed.

That was in February. It was not until the middle of May that a reply was received from the Society to which I think the noble Earl has already referred. Then the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, in reply to our inquiry, wrote that they had referred the matter to the Motor Industry Research Association, an organ of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which apparently advises the Society on matters of this kind. The letter says: The Society has now received a report which definitely recommends against Donington Park being used for proving ground purposes. Then it goes on: The expense of conversion will be too great and there are likely to be more suitable sites available. In the circumstances, the Society has decided to accept this recommendation. While, therefore, the necessity for a proving ground remains, as quoted in your letter under reference, the industry would not be prepared to press for the release of Donington Park for that purpose. The War Office and the other Departments concerned were confronted with this wholly negative reply in very definite terms from the recognised organ of the motor industry. I informed the noble Earl of that in due course. Therefore, when the noble Earl says to me: "Why must the War Office have Donington and only Donington?" my reply to him on that aspect of his argument is that the War Office was perfectly prepared to share Donington, and had devised a method whereby, from the technical point of view, it could be done, but the organ of the motor industry did not think it was a sound project. The matter does not end there, because the Government do believe it is desirable that there should be a proper testing ground. They are sympathetic to the general project put forward by the noble Earl.

The matter has moved, because towards the end of June the Motor Industry Research Association, acting, it would appear, for the Society, for the recognised organ of the industry, approached the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research upon this matter, and raised not the question of Donington but the general question of providing ground for the joint use of the Motor Industry Research Association and individual firms in and allied to the motor industry, for the purposes of basic research on complete vehicles and vehicle components, materials and so on, under actual and definable operating conditions, and for the development and testing of the products of the motor industry, as well as for the examination and testing of foreign vehicles. Then they go on to discuss requirements, and in this memorandum submitted to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research they say: There is perhaps only one site in the country at present which might be regarded as already possessing some of the necessary facilities, namely, Donington Park. This has been examined and rejected as being unsuitable. It has been suggested, therefore, that a disused aerodrome, should, if possible, be purchased, or rented and converted into a proving ground. I pause on the question of Donington only to show that the burden of the argument now is not whether Donington shall be shifted, as a military organization, to an aerodrome, but whether an aerodrome can be found which will answer the purposes of the motor industry for which Donington Park is felt by the organ of the industry to be unsuitable.

Then the memorandum goes on to state the conditions of a suitable site. They say, as regards location, that no particular area of the country has yet been recommended for the location of a proving ground. They are anxious that a proving ground should be associated with the research facilities beyond those at present existing in the laboratory at Brentford. Then they state that the ultimate aim envisaged in this whole scheme is to establish a centre for the motor industry of Great Britain which will embrace—I think this is important—laboratory research, outdoor research under operating conditions, operational development and testing facilities for the industry, an institution or club for British motor engineers and for distinguished foreign visitors and engineers, to facilitate interchange of ideas and publicize the British motor industry. It is further suggested that, on occasion, parts of the road circuits might be made available for competitive motor racing events of national, and possibly international, interest.

That is the project that was put forward rather over a fortnight ago by the recognized organ of the industry. Discussions have already begun inter-depart- mentally upon this project. A communication has been, or is about to be, addressed to the Motor Industry Research Association inviting them to confer upon this matter. While, naturally, the noble Earl will not wish me to commit myself to every point referred to in the memorandum from the motor industry's recognized organ in this matter, let me say at once that the Government are sympathetic towards the carrying into effect of some such project. I hope that it may be found practicable and that the time is not far distant when it may be so carried into effect.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords I was not going to speak at this stage, but I do not think that we should leave the remarks that have been made by the noble Lord without a protest. I think we have gone off entirely on the wrong track. It is not for us to show why we want a motor track, or what is now, in a very cowardly way, called a proving ground. We produced that on our own. We produced Brook-lands and Donington. We never asked the Society of Motor Manufacturers if they wanted it or not. Yet the noble Lord quietly comes down to the House and says that we have got to show cause why we need it here. It is he who should show cause why he should take it. Supposing the Army had come on to New-market and taken the great race track there. Surely it would be up to them to show why they should go there, rather than why racing should be stopped. That is an entirely analogous position. But, of course, we are motorists, and are despised and rejected by everybody. The Government hates us. Yet they rely on us to a very great extent so far as the export side is concerned. It was for the export side that these particular tracks were being used.

Let me tell the noble Lord perfectly frankly that I myself am not at all satisfied with the production of English motor cars to-day compared with many foreign ones, from many points of view—from the point of road holding and in other respects. It seems to be the policy of the Government to-day that we should export motor cars abroad but not be allowed to import motor cars into this country, and if we are not allowed to breed thoroughbreds in the motor world by virtue of being deprived of these tracks, I cannot see eventually who is going to buy motor cars made in England which are not up to the standard of cars made in other countries. This is a promise. The Government thinks that a proving ground is necessary and has dragged in the motor manufacturers, who were never keen racing men, and they have dragged in the Society of Scientific Research. Goodness knows whom they have not brought into this particular picture now. It seems to me that if these people are all going to recommend something to the Government, we shall never get anything done at all. I should have thought this particular track belongs to the people who produced it and who are keen on racing. I cannot see myself why the Government should not give it up entirely.

The noble Lord said that the Government had spent £300,000 on it. The Government spent £300,000 on it because it was so suitable, and it was suitable by virtue of what had been done to it as a racing track to start with. It was not virgin ground into which the Government put money; it was suitable ground right from the very beginning because it was a track. That is the reason why money was spent on it. Money has been spent by the Government on every single thing they have taken over, but that is no argument why those things should not go back to the rightful owners. The noble Lord has not shown us in any way why we should not have this particular track back again and I hope we will give notice to the Government to end this particular matter.

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, I naturally listened with the greatest possible interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, said. He said it is difficult to make a change. That may have indicated to many of your Lordships that the War Office had put up an extensive range of buildings, or something of that sort. But the War Office have not put up an extensive range of buildings at Donington. Most of the vehicles at Donington are parked in the open and, due to the weather, they are steadily deteriorating. In fact some of them have had to be moved. They were parked under the trees during the war—I suppose because they would not attract enemy aircraft so much—and they had to be removed from under the trees because the water falling off the trees was making them even more rotten then they would have been in the ordinary course of events.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon. I cannot see why we have got to make an elaborate case for Donington. Donington was obviously necessary. It was paying its way before the war and paying a dividend to the country in the form of taxation. It was used by over 500,000 people a year including cyclists, motor car people and campers, and people who came from all over the British Isles. The noble Lord has laid down in debate in your Lordships' House certain principles with which I entirely concur, and I am sure we all do, for the retention by the War Office of requisitioned land. Are we really going to be told that Donington is the only thing that's going to make the British Army efficient, or even that it is going to contribute to the greater efficiency of the British Army as it is used at the present time?

The noble Lord criticized our plan for an alternative user, I think quite rightly, because as a matter of fact it is really impossible to produce a plan of alternative user to the War Office, having due regard to public safety and the safety of spectators. If you are going to have a motor race track you must be able to seal that track off absolutely or you will run the danger of great disasters, and the insurance companies will not cover the risk. We found it impossible to suggest an adequate scheme of alternative user which would have guaranteed us against the risks. All sorts of new openings have been made; they would have had to be sealed off and somebody would have had to stand by the obstructions to see that they were not moved, and to see that spectators did not endeavour to cross the track. Those were the great difficulties about a scheme of alternative user. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders were brought in by the noble Lord, probably quite rightly, but I am certain the society on this question, as on questions of taxation referred to in the article in The Times, have found it almost impossible to arrive at any decision at all.

Suggestions are now produced of using an aerodrome as a proving ground. An aerodrome as a proving ground might be all right, but I do not consider it would be a very good one. I speak with all due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and others who have had the opportunity of seeing American tracks which I have not seen, but aerodromes are chiefly flat—it is their chief characteristic—and I know that an aerodrome as a race track is not by any means the most satisfactory race track you can use. It is better than nothing at all, but that is about all that can be said for it. Donington, on the other hand, is almost an ideal track of its sort. It affords a magnificent test of vehicles, of the tracks, of roadholding and suspension, all features which are eminently desirable in any really good car, and I am certain the experience gained at Donington has been most helpful to the British motorcar trade as a whole. In any event, if the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders are going to have an aerodrome with a proving ground on it, how long will it take before that can be brought into being? We have on the one hand Donington, which would be ready for use in a few weeks or months at the outside, and on the other hand we have the proposal to put down the facilities which now exist at Donington on some aerodrome. But aerodromes are not really satisfactory for use from a racing point of view; they are bound to be flat and very uninteresting. At an aerodrome it is extremely difficult to control spectators, and in motor racing to-day one of the chief anxieties is the safety of spectators. If a car got in among the spectators it might cause hundreds of casualties, as has happened abroad. Aerodromes are not very easy to control from that point of view. I appreciate what the noble Lord has told us, and the sympathetic approach he has made to the whole problem. At the same time, we have got Donington which could be used in a week or two at the outside if the necessity arose.

There is another problem which may or may not come up in the future. If it does come up it will certainly take a long time before it dies down. The whole motoring community in this country to-day is suffering from a severe sense of frustration. Our petrol rationing is going on, and we only get a sort of trickle of supplies. That certainly gives all a sense of frustration when we hear of other countries where petrol rationing is being abolished. All petrol rationing is going to be removed in France on October 1, and it has been removed in Switzerland, Portugal and everywhere else. Cannot the noble Lord do some- thing to help us? Give us Donington. If the Army were told to surrender Donington, perhaps by the spring of next year, and they had to find somewhere else to stand their vehicles, I am certain they would be up to the job. Cannot the noble Lord say something of that sort to us? Cannot he say that he will continue this sympathetic consideration and see whether it is possible to give Donington back to us—not to-day, or to-morrow, but perhaps some time next year? I thank the noble Lord for the way in which he has approached this problem, but I do humbly submit that point to him. I am afraid I must withdraw my Motion. I do not wish to press the matter to a Division now, but I may have to return to it if something is not done.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.