§ VISCOUNT ROTHERMERE rose to call attention to the composition of the Board of the British Overseas Airways Corporation and to the civil aviation policy of the Ministry disclosed in the White Paper issued by the Secretary of State for Air; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, considerable anxiety has been caused by the changes which have taken place upon the board of the British Overseas Airways Corporation, and I hope that to-day the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, will be able to give us some further information which will help to restore confidence. The British Overseas Airways Corporation is not an institution which has gone on for very long; it is, of course, an amalgamation of the organizations of Imperial and British Airways, which were in existence before the war. When that amalgamation took place a very vast organization was in fact taken over. I believe that the number of men employed, or who were employed a short time ago, by the British Overseas Airways Corporation is in excess of 15,000. There is there the nucleus of an organization which we all hope will take a great part in post-war aviation.
§ At the present time we have a new policy laid down in the White Paper, which has to do with a new creation known as the Royal Air Force Transport Command. But before I come to that I should like to point out that this constitution of the British Overseas Airways Corporation, as it was originated, cannot possibly function unless it is given a great degree of independence. Nobody, when this was originally considered, imagined that British civil aviation could possibly be conducted by a Government Department. In order to avoid that, arrangements were made whereby a new kind of institution was set up which, although owned by the Government, was to be independent of the Government. The directors were to be appointed by the Government but, once appointed, they were to conduct the affairs of the organization. The only institution like it, I think, that had existed before was the B.B.C. That I believe was the model on which the constitution was more or less framed. But it will be apparent to your Lordships that it is extremely difficult to conduct any organization if it is to be con- 259 tinually interfered with by the Air Ministry, and I should like the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, to make quite clear how far that interference has gone in the past, and how far it is intended to go in the future.
§ The war record of the British Overseas Airways Corporation has, so far as I understand it, been a very considerable one. With the aircraft at their disposal they have managed to keep going a great many routes, and I believe at the same time they have been of tremendous assistance to the R.A.F. in the repair depot that they have in the Western Desert. Therefore when we come to the policy as outlined in the White Paper there is nothing new, and can be nothing new, in the B.O.A.C. co-operating with the R.A.F. It must have been co-operating with the R.A.F. ever since the war started, and certainly could have done nothing else once the Secretary of State had invoked Section 32 of the Act, which gave him the power to take over control of the concern. Therefore when we received the White Paper containing the correspondence that took place between the Secretary of State and the late Chairman of British Overseas Airways Corporation, there seemed to many of us to be an incomplete story.
§ It seemed an extraordinary thing that the four directors, men of considerable distinction, men of considerable commercial experience and great experience in aviation, should take it upon themselves to resign owing to the fact that a Transport Command had been set up. It seemed very strange that this situation should have arisen when it was quite apparent that there must have been co-operation and collaboration going on ever since the war started. On reading between the lines it would seem that there must be considerably more in the mind of the Secretary of State than has so far been disclosed. The Transport Command is an entirely new organization set up for the war effort. I do not want to criticize its setting up; on the contrary, it should in my opinion have been set up a long time ago. I think it has very considerable functions to perform, and it is quite obvious that in the war as it develops it will take a much greater part. But at the same time it seems very difficult to imagine why it is necessary for the Transport Command to take over 260 some of the routes of the British Overseas Airways Corporation.
§ I will come in a moment to the resignations and the new appointments. But before I do that I should like to point out to Lord Sherwood what occurred in the United States. There, as your Lordships know, civil aviation is run by private enterprise. At one moment the President of the United States decided that he would try to run some of those services with the American Air Force. As your Lordships know, this very quickly came to grief and the President had to call off the American Air Force and give back the aviation to the organization which previously ran it. When the war started he never made a mistake of that kind again. He appointed a General of the American Air Force, General George, I believe, who called a conference in Washington of the executives of the principal air lines of the United States. The result of that conference was that instead of taking over and running all the civil air lines, he took over the executives of the civil air lines, put them all into uniform and said: "Now you will go on and run your businesses in order to contribute towards the war effort." It seems to me that something of the same kind is in the mind of the Secretary of State. We only seem, I think, to have got the first part of it, and I want to know from Lord Sherwood whether sooner or later we shall not find the British Overseas Airways in uniform. Already it is stated in the White Paper that some of the crews of the aircraft are going to be in uniform and therefore there is no reason why that should not be extended.
§ The thing I am worried about is lest we do precisely the opposite of what was done in the United States. In the United States the civil air lines have absorbed the Army Transport Command: in this country I am frightened of the Army Transport Command absorbing civil aviation. I see a very serious situation arising from that, and quite an unnecessary one, because the R.A.F. have no experience in transport. They have done a very considerable job in ferrying bombers over from America, but in the actual business of running the regular routes of air transport they have no experience, they have no executives who have any experience of that sort. I am 261 sure that Lord Sherwood would agree that when we are discussing this question of post-war aviation we have all of us a certain responsibility in realizing that we first of all have got to win the war. The effort has got to be made in the first place to contribute everything we can towards victory, without sacrificing plans for after the war where that is unnecessary.
It seems to me that the best plan would have been if the British Overseas Airways Corporation, instead of being absorbed by the Transport Command, had been taken as the nucleus and had built itself up into a Transport Command with all its skilled organization and all its experience and knowledge of transport. I may be wrong, but I think that is really the key to the resignations. The late directors of British Overseas Airways saw perfectly well—naturally they had seen it coming for a long period, not like noble Lords who only read about it in the White Paper—that eventually they would be sitting in an office as directors of an organization which had ceased to exist, which had in fact been taken over by the Army Transport Command, leaving them not obviously responsible for anything. That would be a real ground for resignation. Why they have not stated publicly and properly the grounds on which they really resigned—because Mr. Pearson's letter is extremely short and hardly to the point unless you read between the lines—I do not know, except it may be from some misplaced idea of patriotism, a belief that you should not kick up a row in war-time, whereas in fact the only way you can ever get anything done is exactly the other way round. Mr. Pearson said in his letter:
The proposed arrangements, however, result in a situation which is indefinite for the Corporation and which does little to improve the difficult conditions in which the Corporation has operated throughout its existence.
That sentence can mean a great deal or it can mean nothing. I am inclined to think it means a great deal. We have a right to know from the Minister whether that is true.
§ These distinguished gentlemen in the aviation world having resigned, the Government were faced with the obvious necessity and duty of appointing new directors. It would have seemed to me an opportunity for finding men who were distinguished not only in the world of 262 aviation but also in commerce and putting them on the board, not only for the reason that they were the best men to run the organization but also to restore confidence so that people would understand that the Government still looked upon the organization as a very important one. But what do we find? Who has been appointed? First of all there is Sir Harold Howitt. We were informed in another place yesterday that he is only a temporary appointment. He has been made Chairman. He is, of course, a member of the Air Council, and I believe his principal duties have been checking up on supplies. Why was he appointed even temporarily unless the intention originally was not to appoint him temporarily, and unless the original intention was to have him there so that he could be his master's voice?
§ Then there is the second appointment, which is that of Mr. Marchbank. What is Mr. Marchbank doing on the board? He has already been considered too old to deal with the railways. He has already been retired from his previous occupation. Yet he is appointed a director, in his second childhood, presumably, to try and assimilate the intricacies of the aeroplane. The third appointment we have to deal with is that of Mr. Simon Marks. What are his qualifications for going on the board? At least he is a man who has experience in commerce. He has experience as owner or manager of a large chain of cheap stores, but I cannot conceive what qualifications he has for going on the board of British Overseas Airways. I have no doubt that when his appointment was announced and he was put last on the list, he was put down because he was considered a piece of sugar to cover up the pill of the other two appointments. If that is the case it must have been a war-time ration. I suggest to the Minister that he should really hesitate before he appoints the fourth director—because there is another one to come. How he is going to find another one suitable to join this motley crew already there, I do not know. He is certainly going to have difficulty in finding anybody to join a board which has obviously no responsibilities and which cannot be said to be a responsible board for conducting the air transport of this country.
§ I would like to ask my noble friend another thing. In the correspondence 263 which took place Mr. Runciman made a very generous offer to continue his duties until a new Director-General was appointed. No new Director-General has been appointed as far as I know, but Mr. Runciman has not been asked to do anything whatever by the new board. He has not seen the new board, nor has he done any work whatever in connexion with the, new board, although the Secretary of State in his reply said how very pleased he was that Mr. Runciman was going to carry on till his successor was appointed. You have got on this board at present three new directors, none of whom knows anything whatever about civil aviation, and no Director-General or Managing Director or whatever he is called. They have made no attempt whatever to use the experience of either the ex-Director-General or any of the other directors who have gone off the board. We are thrown back on the obvious idea that the board is not expected very much longer to conduct the organization as we have known it, and that in the next development you will find an Air Marshal in charge of it. Very serious considerations are involved in this matter, and those who not only feel strongly about the war effort but also about post-war aviation should make their protest.
I would like to point out at the same time how the powers of this board have been taken away. Perhaps it was just as well they were taken away before the new directors were appointed. The White Paper refers to the relationship between the British Overseas Airways Corporation and the Royal Air Force, and in 3 (a) it states:
Negotiations with or in neutral countries or with Dominion, Colonial or other Governments for the provision of civil facilities, etc., will be conducted by the Civil Aviation Department of the Air Ministry (or by the Corporation in cases where questions of policy do not arise).
I should very much like to know what that means. Does it mean that negotiations that may now be going on, for instance, with the Dominions will be carried out by the Air Ministry and not by the board of British Overseas Airways? Where exactly is the dividing line? Where the question of policy ends and where the question of carrying it out starts, I do not know. I presume the Air Ministry will lay down the policy and the
board will carry it out. I should like to have a little light upon that point. I would point out to the Air Ministry that it will be too late after the war to make these arrangements with the Dominions.
§ I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Sherwood was here when the Leader of the House was speaking, but I would draw his attention to one sentence in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. He said that in peace you must prepare for war and in the same way in war you must prepare for peace. That is an idea that has certainly not yet penetrated the Air Ministry. They have not the faintest idea of preparing for peace. I suggest that if that is the policy of His Majesty's Government in the great international matters which we have been discussing this afternoon, it certainly should be the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to post-war air transport, because past-war air transport is an essential part of any international arrangements that are made for the future of the world. I think that the Government should, first of all, approach all the Dominions. Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to tell us that that has already occurred. I think arrangements should be made with these Dominions as quickly as possible as to the part, not that this country is going to play in post-war aviation, but that the whole Empire or Commonwealth of Nations, whichever term pleases different sections of the House, should take with us in civil air transport after the war. Once that is done it will be perfectly easy to have an arrangement with the United States of America, but until that is accomplished you cannot possibly get any arrangement with the United States of America. And unless it is accomplished, and accomplished long before the end of the war, you may find that some of the Dominions have entered into other arrangements. The Government will certainly be held to account if that should happen.
§ I hope I have not been too hard upon the Air Ministry in this matter, but really noble Lords know that the record of the Air Ministry in civil aviation has not been a very good one. So bad has it been that I have heard it said from those Benches again and again that air transport should be taken out of the hands of the Air Ministry and given to another Ministry, such as the Ministry of Transport. But I 265 am not qualified in any way to talk on that subject. I think it is one the Air Ministry should very seriously consider because if Parliament is dissatisfied with the conduct of air transport by the Air Ministry that Ministry, when the war is over, will certainly find it taken out of its hands. It is not a question purely of this present crisis in the organization. It goes back over a very long history and it will have to be shown that the Ministry holds its responsibilities very much higher in the future if it wishes to continue to keep civil aviation within its power. I appeal to the Minister to take this matter in hand; otherwise, whatever beautiful speeches may be made from these Benches about post-war policies, if you once have unbridled competition in air transport after the war it will be quite unnecessary to talk about a League of Nations, it will be quite unnecessary to talk about any organizations for the maintenance of peace, because you will have already sown the seeds of another war.
§ LORD REITH
My Lords, may I give you some of the pre-war history of the Corporation in order that you may perhaps have a more accurate picture of what has been taking place recently? And may I tell the noble Lord who has just spoken that in my opinion the formation of the Transport Command was by no means the sole but only the culminating reason for the resignations which a great many of us, certainly he and I, deplore? In July, 1938, the then Prime Minister asked me to leave the office where I had been happily occupied for a great many years and become Executive Chairman of Imperial Airways. I did as I was bid, with one condition.
Imperial Airways was then, as Lord Bennett mentioned recently, in considerable trouble which had led to the Cadman Report. That, as he said, was a scathing criticism of Government and Company. It criticized the General Manager for taking too narrow and commercial a view of his responsibility without, I think, his having had an opportunity to answer the criticisms made against him. In any event, as Lord Morris remarked on the occasion of a recent debate in this House, he was in fact in charge of a commercial undertaking, and he and his directors regarded their first responsibility as being to shareholders. Few men have the same ideas about organization and administra- 266 tion, and Mr. Woods Humphery's ideas and mine were by no means akin, but much of the difference between his ideas and mine was due to the commercial regime under which he worked, and to his dividend obligations. No matter what any of us had thought about the constitution and the management of Imperial Airways, and whether or not they had been foresighted enough technically and politically, there is no doubt that they had a record of achievement under Mr. Woods Humphery of which any company in any country might well be proud; in some respects it was epic.
The condition to which I referred was that I should be supported in amalgamating Imperial and British Airways, and in turning the combination into a public service corporation. As I said on another occasion in your Lordships' House, the serving of two masters is usually both morally undesirable and economically impossible. High dividend expectations from an essential public service cannot be fulfilled without at least a risk of prejudice to the service and the public. But what justification had the noble Duke, the Duke of Sutherland, for saying in this House that more would have been done under a competitive system, and that when British Airways came along to challenge Imperial Airways, the latter could not stand up to it and was swallowed up? I went to Imperial Airways with the intention of effecting the merger and the change of constitution. And perhaps Lord Strabolgi is convinced by this time that there are no private interests in the Corporation hampering, as he said, the future of civil aviation. He referred to the monopoly "so misused by the Corporation and its two predecessors." What justification has he for that? The Corporation has, in fact, never functioned at all, and has never been allowed to function.
I have ventured to tell your Lordships that I, more than any other, was responsible for what happened in the merging and the conversion of the two concerns. It took me a year to do. It might have taken some people longer. Obviously, I could not have done it without the support of the then Air Minister, Sir Kingsley Wood, who saw the business through despite opposition even from members of his own Party. All through that troublesome year before the war we were 267 arguing the clauses of the Statute—almost every line of it—but we were also looking forward—and this is what some noble Lords who have spoken in the debates recently do not seem to have realized—eagerly planning, trying hard to make people inside and outside the Government interested in civil aviation; routes in the Pacific, routes linking various parts of the Colonial Empire and the Dominions together; all sorts of plans, including something that the noble Lord has referred to this afternoon, the establishment of an Empire Corporation for which I had already secured the sympathy at least, and in some cases more than that, of several of the Dominions. In proof of that your Lordships will be interested to know that Sir Kingsley Wood had agreed in principle to keeping seats on the Corporation board open for representatives of the Dominions, so that an Empire Corporation was indeed thought of then. It would have been an immensely important experiment not only for civil aviation but for Empire relationships—British aircraft on full sail of wing flying the seven skies as once the ships of Britain sailed the seven seas. The embryo Corporation was prejudiced not just by lack of interest, but inevitably by war preoccupations, and by the difficulty of getting orders for new aircraft considered or existing orders delivered. Imperial Airways were badly off for machines, but we had little encouragement. Orders at home and in the United States were cancelled on the outbreak of war without, it seemed, any consideration for the part air transport should play even in war.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, speaking in your Lordships' House recently, seemed to regard the Corporation as a satisfactory and reasonable instrument of Government purpose, but I regretted his suggestion that some members of the board had no right to be there because of their interests elsewhere. Mr. Clive Pearson is a director of the Southern Railway and Mr. Irvine Geddes is a director of the Orient Steam Navigation Company. I see nothing inconsistent in this, nor would other noble Lords who recommend that existing forms of transport should be associated with this new form—the Duke of Sutherland, for instance, who recommended that civil aviation should be handed over entirely to shipowners. I 268 suggest that Mr. Clive Pearson and Mr. Irvine Geddes deserve better than to have it said that their presence was not to the advantage of civil aviation.
I said the Corporation had never functioned. Constitutionally it was not established till after war broke out, and I have indicated how the pre-war year was occupied with the negotiations for its establishment, and how otherwise it was a year of frustration and disappointment. The moment it was established the Secretary of State for Air made an Order which brought it under his control. Its war-time duty is the maintenance of essential air-line communications, but it depends entirely on the Secretary of State for Air to enable it to do what he wants done. Air Ministry machinery and attitude to the Corporation have been unsatisfactory, and I say that the Corporation has never had a chance. The spokesman of the Air Ministry in another place made this statement:Unless the Secretary of State considers that on grounds of public interest such a drastic step"—removal of directors—is necessary, he will leave the management alone to carry on their own affairs.I hope I may hear from the noble Lord this afternoon whether or not that is true. Has, in fact, the Secretary of State left the management alone "to carry on its own affairs"? I submit to your Lordships that the Corporation has not merely been controlled, as in war-time it should be controlled, in major policy, but also in executive detail, and that in everything but internal administration it has been under the close and often direct control of the Under-Secretary of State and the Director-General of Civil Aviation.
The Corporation directors appealed many times to the Air Ministry for the aircraft and personnel necessary to operate the routes which the Ministry wished operated. It was not always consulted in the allocation of aircraft and in some cases unsuitable planes were handed over to them. I ask the noble Lord if he is familiar with that, and if he can explain or excuse it. The Corporation has not been kept informed of technical development nor given the authority to obtain it. It has no official priority for spares or supplies. Its demands are routed through the Civil Aviation Department of the Ministry, which is non-technical. It is not allowed to deal direct 269 with the Royal Air Force, to whose requirements it has largely to operate. All negotiations have to be conducted through the Civil Aviation Department. As to personnel the Corporation, although an essential part of the war machine, is treated by and large as an ordinary commercial concern by the Ministry of Labour.
Members of the Corporation board have only recently resigned after being for a long time so dissatisfied with the treatment they were receiving that they felt they could not carry on in such circumstances. As I have said, some of the conditions of the formation of this Transport Command were only the culmination of it. When Pan-American took over the Trans-African route they came complete with all essential stores, including radio and metereologal equipment and even materials to construct living quarters. It was with chagrin that the Corporation compared its own treatment in similar circumstances from the Air Ministry. The attitude of the American Government and military authorities to their civil aviation operators is certainly in striking contrast to what we have here. When we were discussing the establishment of the Corporation one of the great advantages of the new system was that it would enable the Air Ministry to regard the Corporation, not with the suspicion often associated with a commercial concern, but, divested of dividend obligations and with the sole purpose of serving the public interest, as a trusted instrument of Government to which a great many of the functions previously exercised by the Civil Aviation Department would pass. What has in fact passed? There are many things which a Civil Aviation Department must for all time continue to do. But there are many things which even in war the Corporation should have done which it has never been allowed to do. A great deal of what the Civil Aviation Department has done is redundant and a retarding of war effort.
With a dozen old civil boats the Corporation has kept open the routes from Durban via Cairo to Calcutta and from West Africa to Cairo, nearly 30,000 miles long, twice a week. The only service in winter between the United Kingdom and Canada is operated by the Corporation, not by the Royal Air Force or the Americans, although the machines are American. It flew 10,000,000 miles in 270 1942; 21,500,000 capacity ton miles in 1942 compared with 12,500,000 in 1941 and 8,500,000 in 1940. Incidentally may I ask the noble Lord who will reply for the Ministry whether he happens to know what the Post Office thinks of the Air Mail performance, and whether the Post Office complaints are directed against the Corporation or the Ministry?
A further point on which I should like to have information is about advertising. The Corporation has not been permitted to advertise at all—not even a documentary film of its activities. Can we be told the reason for that? Is there some fear of alarming or offending any other country? The Corporation is a public body operating without profit as an instrument of the State. American commercial lines are encouraged to advertise their achievements. I think American air lines say quite openly that they are going to use the war to win the peace. The Vice-Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, a Government official, said he was in favour—and he would not have said that unless he had public support behind him—of a national organization for civil aviation. And in America they do not usually favour national organizations. He said he was in favour of it—listen to this—"because no other basis would adequately reflect the fundamental policies which must be furthered." What are the fundamental policies which must be furthered—monopoly of air transport? If so, we are helping them to get it.
The position to-day is that, despite resounding declarations about bold measures, there has been no statement about Government policy and, one imagines, no policy to make a statement about. The Government attitude to the Corporation, to say the least of it, has been anomalous, if not rather shocking. Even yet transports are only to be planned on a trivial scale, and without them nobody, the R.A.F., the Corporation or the shipowners, can deliver the goods. We know that American transports will be better than ours for years to come—not because their manufacturers are better or cleverer but because they are practised. We know that the design and production of new aircraft is a matter of years. So in spite of anything that Lord Brabazon's Committee may have recommended or the Government adopted, we shall be in the hands of the Americans and dependent on 271 them for a long time. As, by arrangement, we are making bombers and fighters and they transports, will they share as they should?
British Governments have not really cared for air transport; the Air Staff do not understand it, and it is not their job. I agree with what the noble Lord said about the Transport Command. It may be excellent in conception, but it is not the job of the Air Staff to run air transport. All the same, what would have happened had the Eighth Army had, say, 100 good transport planes to use? It might easily have meant that Rommel would have been caught before now. That is the burden of the complaint which I submit to your Lordships—that the Government made an instrument for civil aviation and then starved it. Will the noble Lord tell me what the Corporation has done to be treated in this way since it was established? The resignations of members of the directing body came as a shock, and it is shocking that things should have come to such a pass. Is there something radically wrong with the Corporation, and has it been given a chance to do better? If there is something wrong let us know of it. As things are now, owing to the way the Corporation has been treated it may well be beyond redemption.
Listen to this from the head of the operating company in one of the Dominions in a letter to me:… We are most unhappy at the conspicuous absence of any British plan for the future, and the usual attitude of inertia—a point I have been striving to bring home as you will have seen by our Gazette and other literature I have sent you in recent months.And here is something from the editorial in an aviation paper published in that Dominion:Our Empire air communications have ceased to exist … one cannot call a few broken threads which finish in disconnected spots a line of Empire air communication in a true sense. … We know all about the plea of 'No aircraft.' Could not some have been bought, 'Lease-Lend,' or even have been scraped off the outer edge of bomber production at home? … It will serve us right if, after we have won the war, we find we are not only not in the race of world air communications, but must stand in the sideline and wait to be told when we may tail along.It is not good, my Lords, that we should be written at like that. My noble friend Lord Rothermere is right—and I have 272 information that gives point to it—when he stated that unless the Home Government can do something to convince people in the Dominions that they mean business in civil aviation, they will find the Dominions stretching out their hands to those whose hands are already stretched out to them.
Certain points of principle are clear. First, suppression of aviation in ex-enemy countries. Second, freedom of the air, that is to say no prohibition of flying over any country. Third—but this depends upon the answer to the fundamental question in the Report of Sir Francis Shelmerdine's Committee over a year ago—is there to be internationalization of operation or not? Some might well feel that the formation of a few large operating units working in international agreement had better come first—such as (a) United States and South America; (b) the British Commonwealth running the world Empire routes; (c) Russia; and (d) a European set-up in which England would be the predominant partner with sub-divisions of each large group into geographical zones of operation for local traffic.
So here is my plea. Firstly, for a statement of national and international policy. Secondly, for the separation of civil aviation from the Air Ministry. Transport is transport and air transport is a form of it. Civil air transport, I submit, should be dissociated from bombing and fighting or moving air-borne troops, all of which are specialist military operations. It should in some way, I suggest, be linked with those other forms of transport which it will in part displace but with which it must co-operate if the public interest is to be properly served and the Empire have the place it should. Thirdly, that this Corporation, established as Lord Bennett said after a great deal of care—and nobody knows better than I how much care—should be given a chance to function. I see no reason to have more than one chosen instrument and many reasons against it. It is easy, out of prejudice or misconception, to dilate on the benefits of competition and the dangers of monopoly. There are neither dangers nor benefits that the Corporation, rightly circumstanced, rightly staffed and given the chance they have never had, cannot avoid or achieve. With scratch machinery, scratch personnel, and scratch machines they 273 have done magnificently for the country. They ask to be given the chance to do what they were formed to do. What has been achieved by Mr. Leslie Runciman, to whom great credit is due—more, credit than he has been given—and the Corporation staff is through individual effort and determination, despite immense handicaps and obstructions. But there is no reserve and little hope, and the personnel is now greatly discouraged.
Finally, it is urgently necessary in the interests of civil aviation that civil aircraft should be designed, and some prototypes be produced. The Corporation should be given authority to do this. Presumably, unless the Minister has something different to tell us to-day, pest-war responsibility will be theirs. Unless these things are done and done quickly the British Empire will, in this respect, in the deplorable words of the Dominion commentator, be forced to "stand in the side lines and wait to be told if and when it may tail along."
§ LORD MILFORD
My Lords, I feel that in butting into this debate I perhaps ought to say what my credentials are as regards civil aviation before I express my views. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Keyes, said the other day that he had always been air conscious because he had flown in one of the ramshackle machines that existed in 1912. I have looked the matter up and I find that I can give him two years, for I flew at Bournemouth in 1910. I was elected a member of the Aero Club in January, 1907, two years before the noble owner of Flying Certificate No. 1 flew his historic circuit of one mile. Before that, in 1893, I think it was, I was, I remember, assisting in the experiments of Sir Hiram Maxim. That was the first aeroplane that I ever saw, or that anyone ever saw, I should think. It was steam driven and ran on a rail, and there was another rail which prevented it flying away altogether. I said to Sir Hiram: "You have learnt to fly; why do you not let the machine go, and have a flight?" Sir Hiram replied: "My boy, I know that I can fly. I can fly several hundred miles, but at the end of that time I shall break my neck, and it is not good enough. I have learnt how to fly, but not how to stop." It was not until years afterwards that the Wright brothers, who started by gliding and learnt how to stop before they 274 put an engine in their plane, were able to accomplish real flying.
Some time later, with the late Mr. Holt Thomas, I tried to start air lines in different parts of the world, from the profit motive. We lost our money, and I am afraid that it was never suggested that anybody should pay us back. I offered a prize of a thousand guineas to the first Briton who flew the Atlantic, and this was won by Sir John Alcock, and was presented to him at the same time as the Daily Mail prize. After that, Lord Swinton appointed me as the first independent member of the Air Registration Board when it was established. I understood that by an "independent person" he meant a person who wanted to fly but who was one of the public, and not one of the people commercially interested. Since then I have flown all over the world; ever since the last war I have travelled by air as much as possible.
I meant to intervene in three former debates on this subject, but there were so many Ministers and ex-Ministers who wished to speak that I was squeezed out on every occasion. I do not wish to disparage their work. They have done wonders, and anyone who remembers the Battle of Britain, and remembers that they were responsible for the aeroplanes and the organization, will give them full credit for that. But these ex-Ministers were also responsible for civil aviation as it existed before the war, and in my opinion, speaking as one who has used it all over the world, it was the laughing stock of the world. It could not have been much worse than it was. I quite agree that some Government regulation is necessary. The Government must provide radio equipment, and must light the aerodromes and give the right to land. They must get over the absurd position which made it impossible to fly to India in British machines because of a quarrel with Persia, so that it was necessary to travel to India on a Dutch line. Another absurdity which must be overcome occurred on one occasion when I landed at Brindisi with my wife. We had done so many times before, but on this occasion we wanted to stay two nights in Rome. The aeroplane was going on to Rome, and would have got there in about an hour, but we were made to get out and go on to Rome by a slow train; we were not allowed to stay in the aeroplane if we intended to remain in Rome for two 275 nights. That sort of thing must be overcome, and that is a job for the Government.
I feel, however, that it is very wrong to set up a monopoly, and what we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Reith, makes me feel that still more strongly. The monopoly killed air transport in the Empire. I own that the monopoly was very much handicapped by the Air Ministers, who originally said that no subsidies would be given unless British machines alone were employed, and at that time there were no British aeroplanes which were good enough. I think that we want to get back to private enterprise—to individual enterprise, not committees—and in fact, to paraphrase the Prime Minister's words, I think that if we give the Briton freedom to work in his own way he will do the job.
I have said that I consider that before the war our civil aviation was the laughing-stock of the world. Let me give you three personal examples of what I mean after all, example is better than precept. I want to mention things which happened to my wife and myself in the winters of 1935–36, 1936–37 and 1937–38. In 1935–36 we started by going to Croydon. There was a little mist, and we were told "There is no aeroplane this morning; it has not arrived from Paris. There is a fog in the Channel." Finally we were sent back to Victoria and put on a train. One reason why I prefer to fly is that I loathe the sea, but I had to endure the Channel crossing. Eventually we reached Paris, and were told that the plane for Brindisi had already left. We had to go back to the station and take the train through Switzerland and Italy to Brindisi. Finally, we got a plane at Brindisi and spent the second night at Athens.
The next morning we started off for Crete and Alexandria, but an engine seized up on the way to Crete, and so we turned round and went back to Athens. We spent two nights in Athens waiting for an engine, and then finally we were able to fly to South Africa. On our way home on the same trip we could not go to Athens because of some political trouble. So we were sent to Benghazi, and we spent a night there. Next morning we started for Malta, but there was bad weather in Malta and so we turned back 276 and spent another night in Benghazi. Next day we did get as far as Brindisi, and we were then told that the plane we wanted to catch had gone, so that again, although we wanted to fly, we had to take the train to Paris.
Next year I decided in June that we wanted three berths to fly to Australia in December. We could not book them. This monopoly could not, in June, promise us berths in December. They said: "We may have a lot of Christmas mail, and not be able to take you." We had therefore to travel by the K.L.M., the Dutch line. Everything was beautifully done. It so happened that we started off on the same morning as the Imperial Airways machine, but we spent three days and nights in Java before the Imperial Airways machine turned up. That sort of thing does not encourage one to travel British, does it? I was ill in Java, and Imperial Airways refused to take us on. I chartered a plane from the K.L.M. line, and was astonished to find how well we were treated and how very cheap it was. We had a crew of four and a beautiful Douglas monoplane. When we arrived at Port Darwin, to my astonishment there was a large crowd to meet us. I did not know that there were so many people in Australia! Wherever we stopped in Australia the same thing happened. I thought I must suddenly have become extremely popular, but then I discovered that the Dutch air line had never been allowed to fly to Australia, but with a chartered plane they could do so. So they had advertised all over Australia: "Come and see the only modern aeroplane you have ever seen," and the crowds were there to see it. As soon as they arrived at Sydney they went straight to Canberra, and I believe obtained permission to fly to Australia, so that their cheap trip paid them well.
I was in Egypt in the winter of 1937, when my wife was taken ill in Cairo. It was urgent that I should go back to London as quickly as possible. The monopoly then had their new flying boats, of which they were very proud. They were in fact beautiful boats; and I had never been so comfortable in the air before. The night before leaving, I telephoned to London to my youngest boy and said: "You must come out and look after your mother. Take the Imperial Airways and fly out while I fly home." And he said 277 on the telephone that he would. Well, we arrived at Rome perfectly all right; I never enjoyed an air journey more. Next morning we started off for Marseilles, and we were supposed to be in Southampton in the afternoon. When we got to Marseilles they came and said: "Terrible weather in England. We can't go on. We have to stay in Marseilles." I said: "If we must, we must. I don't want to break my neck." And we went into the hotel to have lunch. That was about half-past twelve. I was just finishing lunch when I saw my boy walk into the room. I said: "Good heavens! How have you got here?" He said: "I have flown here." I asked: "Was not the weather awful?" He replied: "I never noticed it." it is rather funny, I think. The next morning it was a lovely morning and we started away from Marseilles and proceeded towards Southampton. We got over the middle of France. The steward came through and said: "There is a bit of a head wind. We shan't have enough petrol to get to Southampton." It was one of those great big flying boats, and over the middle of France I did not like it very much. They said, "Oh we can land on the river at Mâcon." We circled round Mâcon and made a beautiful descent. As soon as we landed on the water a boat came off from the agent on shore and said: "Oh, I don't know what to do. The barge with the petrol pump on board has sunk at its moorings." I get off and went straight to the station and took a train for Paris. I was very much amused just as we reached the station to see the whole of the rest of the passengers arrive too, and we all went to Paris by train. It is not surprising therefore that I should say: "Get back to private enterprise. Let us have some competition and let us develop our own air transport in our own way."
After those personal experiences may I refer to a speech made by Lord Bennett the other day, raising the question of monopoly? He was very strongly for monopoly, which I am utterly against, and he gave a description of how to choose a committee which was to run his monopoly. If Sir Archibald Sinclair in looking for his wonderful man takes Lord Bennett's recipe, I do not know what he will do. Lord Bennett said that you must have a Corporation whose directors have no interest, nor any reasonable likelihood to have any interest in any other enter- 278 prise. Is he wanting persons ten years old or people who have grown up? Then he said:Is it finance—it should be excluded. Is it shipping—that should be excluded. Is it railways—they should be excluded.It seems to me he will get an absolute nincompoop, and if Sir Archibald Sinclair is doing it on that basis, Heaven help the Corporation. It seems to me he will have a committee which is absolutely incompetent. I agree with Lord Beaverbrook generally about committees. I do hope that we get back to personal initiative, but I should like to say that there are committees that I have managed to do quite a considerable work with. I think you have to have two absolute rules. Any committee I serve on has to be a committee of not more than two, and I must have the casting vote. Then I find it works quite well.
It seems to me that the people who obviously ought to take on this job are the shipowners. I am laying myself open to criticism now because I am a shipowner, but only concerned with tramp steamers, and I cannot see aeroplanes affecting 8,000-ton cargo vessels, for a good many years to come anyhow. I have no interest in liners at all, so I still think I may consider myself an independent person, as I was appointed by Lord Swinton to be on the Air Registration Board. But it is part of the shipowner's business, and the shipowners are going to lose the greater part of their fast traffic because the aeroplane can get to its destination much quicker than anything else. I am afraid they will not be able to carry on unless they are given liberty to run their own aeroplanes, but I do not want them to have any sort of monopoly. They have the experience and the organization, and they can raise the capital.
One other point, which I think led originally to the creating of this Corporation monopoly, was the difficulty of giving a subsidy, but I think it can be got over very easily if the Post Office will pay proper rates. Lord Essendon was talking about this the other day and said that the mails ought to be paid for on a poundage basis, but the Post Office who pay for air mail ought to be on a half-ounce basis, for that is how they are charging the public. If you take it at 3d. on a half-ounce that is £800 a ton, and a flying boat can carry four or five tons. But I do not think the Post Office ought 279 to make money in that way. It is the one form of profit motive which I am utterly and absolutely against. Rowland Hill gave us the penny post, the rate is already 2½d., and in the end I think it will be 6d. Already the postal charges are a frightful handicap to business, and for some businesses the postal costs are absolutely scandalous. But even if they have to pay £800 or even £1,600 a ton to the aeroplanes which do the business for them they must have their letters carried quickly—the whole thing is speed, or ought to be—and the subsidy question will be got over if payment is made in proper proportion to work done. Anyhow, whether we have monopoly or private enterprise, I think it is absolutely essential, if we are to hold our own, that we should have the best aeroplanes in the world, and in the end British engineers will produce the best. But I should like the Government to announce now that at the end of the war they will throw it open so that shipowners and others can prepare in time.
My Lords, I feel sure your Lordships will agree that the noble Lord who has just spoken in such an interesting manner is the most pertinacious air traveller in your Lordships' House, and if we can be imbued, not only here but throughout the country, with that spirit then no airway will lack for passenger traffic. The noble Viscount who raised this question has spoken on a previous occasion in your Lordships' House in a very vigorous style with regard to air transport. He has spoken very much to the point, and I suggest has shown a sound judgment on this vital matter in regard to which his father and, in particular, his uncle gave from the very earliest days such practical encouragement as to inspire not only the pioneers in the design of aircraft and engines but the pioneers of mechanical flight. Your Lordships have listened also in the past two months to several debates on air transport, notably those raised by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, and I suggest that of the material matters engaging the attention of your Lordships' House, economics and air transport are the most important.
At no period in the history of air transport, whether in the stage of pioneering or of full-scale development, have any 280 Government shown by their actions a vision worthy of the Empire's responsibilities and potentialities in this direction. I beg your Lordships to press His Majesty's Government, without remission, to throw off this dreadful lack of vision from which air transport has suffered for twenty-five years and to adopt instead a policy of vigorous action in this most vital field. Not very long ago, as your Lordships will have noticed, The Times stressed the need of air transport in these words:Aircraft has suffered from the type of mind which, when confronted by any drastic innovation, decides at once that it is impracticable, that it is not really needed, that it will prove too expensive, that in any case there is no hurry about it. What are needed are practical visionaries and it is to men of this type that we must look for the tools of victory and of reconstruction.These are the words which were printed a short time ago in The Times, and I am sure your Lordships will agree that one figure alone has stood out in the development of British air transport, and that is the late Sir Sefton Brancker. Were we following the example that he set there would be no need for The Times to write in those words which I have just quoted. It must be the endeavour of all interested in this matter to inject large doses of the spirit of Brancker into the veins of His Majesty's Government so that these injections may overcome the encephalitis lethargica from which air transport has suffered for a quarter of a century.
Transport comes, your Lordships will agree, under three headings—vessels, wheels, and wings. In 1886, when world shipping tonnage was computed for the first time, there were 23,000,000 tons. By 1939 this had risen to 69,000,000 tons. In 1825 the world railway mileage was fourteen, and by 1937 this had risen to 756,781. In 1895 the world car and lorry production was nil; by 1938 it stood at 3,720,000,000. Coming to the air, in 1919 the world air route mileage was 3,200; by 1938 it had risen to 349,000. These figures serve to show to your Lordships that in the realms of world transport, whether with vessels, wheels, or wings, there is continuous advance. Each of these three is complementary one of the other and has a definite place in the development of world amenities. In view of the world spread of the British Empire, it is vital that it should play, as it can play, a leading part in transport by air.
281 I shall condense the suggestions I wish to submit to your Lordships into as few words as possible, as I know your Lordships are very anxious to hear the full reply that my noble friend Lord Sherwood will make. In considering this question, your Lordships will agree that all modern air transports that pertain to the United Nations are of American design and manufacture. The very large majority of these operate under the flag of the United States of America, and in consequence that country possesses the bulk of the essential design and operating experience without which success cannot be achieved. These points have been well emphasized by my noble friends Lord Rothermere and Lord Reith. Therefore it is essential that there should be the fullest co-operation as between the United States of America and Great Britain if success is to be achieved without delay. So the recently formed Royal Air Force Transport Command should, I again urge, be a United Nations concern in which, of course, the principal parts would be played by the United States of America and the British Empire. Only in such a manner can an efficient organization suited to military air transport be created without delay and translated at a suitable moment to the civil air transport needs of the countries concerned.
Referring for one moment to the board of the British Overseas Airways Corporation recently reconstituted, that board, I suggest, must be strengthened at once by the addition of two more members, one with a definite working experience on the administrative side of air transport and the other on the technical side with up-to-date experience in air pilotage and navigation gained on full-scale operation of commercial air transports. It is to be hoped that His Majesty's Government will not restrict plans for post-war air transport services to one organization and regard British Overseas Airways Corporation as the single instrument for carrying out what must be a world-wide plan. I am fully in agreement with what has been said by previous speakers on this matter with the exception of Lord Reith, who put forward the idea that there should be this single chosen instrument. The operation of such services calls for a wide experience in grappling with the many and varying problems that are to be met with when flying in the northern latitudes— 282 eventually trans-Arctic aerial navigation will come to pass—and also through tropical regions. I suggest, therefore, that there should be made available opportunities for a number of organizations to concentrate on operating different sections of the services that will stretch out from Great Britain to encircle the globe and thus provide a series of effective Empire links.
I suggest, too, that such links could well be forged in full collaboration with existing shipping organizations. They have a wide experience, important territorial contacts in the various countries to be served, and such collaboration, providing the shipping companies have the necessary balance of air knowledge in the organization, could be a very effective arrangement. The services operated by these different organizations would each be responsible for a part of the general plan and would operate in healthy competition with each other. It would, for example, be the aim of those operating the North Atlantic routes to provide a service which, for safety, regularity, and cheapness per pound of useful load carried, could give points to other somewhat similar services in different parts of the globe. In order that such plans may be brought about it is vital that the ground work on which they must be built should be laid now, and without delay, as there must be at the right moment no delay in proceeding with the necessary developments.
The existing organization in the Ministry of Aircraft Production will not meet the present emergency so far as the design and construction of aircraft are concerned. The machinery is very naturally taken up with questions of a military character, and in any case experience shows but too clearly that it is prone to delay. The years during the period of gestation, of a large, modern, commercial air transport see several changes in the ranks of the highly placed technical officials in the Ministry who handle the various questions involved, both of a scientific and technical nature. Each new director that comes in has to survey the plans made by his predecessors and, not unnaturally perhaps, orders changes, hence delay. I urge with great strength the importance of creating a new Department in the Ministry of Aircraft Production solely to handle the design and prototype development of air transport and to place at the head of this De- 283 partment a man of proved experience on the scientific and technical side. Dr. Roxbee Cox, a senior technical official in the Ministry of Aircraft Production, has the experience which particularly fits him for such a post.
Then comes the vital question of the technical and administrative side of air transport operations. From the technical side no more suitable man is available than Air Commodore Bennett, who has a wide experience of all the many intricacies of commercial flying as a pilot, and has played a dominant part in building up the Ferry Command. That is a splendid service which was very justly and very rightly praised by Lord Reith, and is now merged in Air Transport Command. Then there is control from the administrative point of view. Here someone is required with a long experience, say at least twenty years' experience, of air traffic organization—someone with an outstanding record in that particular side of the business. For that post there is no better man than Captain Spry Leverton, who, in collaboration with K.L.M., helped to build up that service, referred to in pæans of praise by Lord Milford, that ran from Amsterdam to Batavia, three times a week. The emergency in this matter is very great. We are without air transports and so I submit that extraordinary action must be applied with great vigour and without delay. Our technical and operational skill, once whole-heartedly applied to these problems, coupled with the advantages that a world-wide Empire allows for the establishment of bases, will give us the opportunity of playing an all-important part. But there must be the minimum of delay and, therefore, the purpose of this debate, raised by my noble friend Lord Rothermere, is to take steps to urge His Majesty's Government to shorten the period when such a picture will become a reality.
Finally, in connexion with these matters, it may be well that those who will be responsible for these great tasks should bear in mind a few words written not so very long ago by President Roosevelt. These words could well animate those setting their hands to this great task. President Roosevelt, referring to men who do work of this nature, said they were menwho at the best know in the end the triumph of high achievement and who, at the 284 worst, if they fail, at least fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and tired souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD SHERWOOD)
My Lords, I should like at the outset to thank the noble Lord, Lord Rothermere, for giving me, before this debate began, an idea of the questions he was going to ask. As your Lordships realize, this question of civil aviation is a very important one. It covers not only the narrow question that is on the Paper, the question of B.O.A.C. but it also involves our relations after the war with the United Nations and our Dominions. I can take no exception to the spirit of the speech made by the noble Lord who moved this Motion. 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 be 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.
The noble Lord, Lord Rothermere, asked me if the decision was a sudden one or whether there had been disagreements over a long time. I can assure him it was a sudden decision. It came as a surprise to the Secretary of State. There is, incidentally, some misapprehension as to the position of the Air Council in this matter. It is the Secretary of State who is responsible for civil aviation, not the Air Council, and the board dealt with him and not the Air Council in trying to reach an agreement. The Secretary of State thought he was going to obtain it and it came as a complete surprise to him when the directors said they felt they could not accept the agreement in the form he suggested. I think if noble Lords will read the White Paper they will agree that the point on which disagreement arose is one on which it is absolutely essential, in war-time, for the Secretary of State to safeguard himself. At this point I would like to say that the B.O.A.C., as it is called for short, has done an immense amount of good work up to the present time and has achieved 285 great things, especially in the Middle East, where it has been of immense assistance to the Royal Air Force. There is still a feeling which was expressed by at least one noble Lord that the position of the ex-directors was undermined by interference from the Air Ministry. That point was made particularly by Lord Reith, who said that there was constant interference and he implied that this was the main reason for the decision to resign. I can tell the noble Lord definitely that that was not so. There was no interference.
Under Section 32 of the Act the Corporation has been required by an Order to place B.O.A.C. at the Secretary of State's disposal during the war. The necessary control of war-time policy which arises under this Act has been carried out through directions issued by the Secretary of State through the medium of progress meetings under the Joint Under-Secretary of State, Captain Balfour, but the management has been left entirely to the Corporation. No orders affecting management were given at these progress meetings. The members of the Corporation were entirely responsible for management questions. I can assure the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, and also the noble Lord, Lord Reith, who I wish was in his place because he made great play with this point, that there is no substance in the complaint that there was interference either by the Air Council—that is not possible—or at the progress meetings which merely dealt with questions of policy and had nothing to do with management.
The members of the Corporation—they have been called the board although there is no board really—resigned and, as I have said, this came as a surprise to the Secretary of State. What was the Secretary of State to do? It was his duty to find other people to carry on. He has found three new members of the Corporation who, I regret, have been very much criticized. In war-time eminent people do not stand waiting ready at hand to undertake important and responsible positions of this kind. The Secretary of State put in as Chairman Sir Harold Howitt. I would stress the fact, which has always been made clear by the Secretary of State, that Sir Harold Howitt's appointment is only temporary. Attacks have been made upon him because there appears to be an 286 idea that he is simply a chartered accountant who knows nothing at all about aviation. Sir Harold Howitt, however, is a very distinguished gentleman who moreover has been a member of the Air Council since 1939. In the last war he won both the D.S.O. and the M.C. He is a man of great ability, a man who not only knows a great deal about aviation but who possesses great experience in business management.
Then there are the other members of the board. There was one gentleman who did not resign, Mr. Gerard d'Erlanger. He has considerable knowledge of the air. At the moment he is controlling the Air Transport Auxiliary. There are two other members who have been criticized. One is Mr. Simon Marks. In this organization you must have people capable of running a large scale business and Mr. Simon Marks has had a remarkably successful business career. I am sure we shall not find him wanting. The other is Mr. March-bank, who is very well known in trade union circles; a man who has the complete confidence of the trade unions. There are a large number of employees in this Corporation and you cannot leave personnel problems out of account. Those gentlemen form, I submit, a good board.
I do not wish to go into smaller points, but I have been asked how much is paid to Sir Harold Howitt. He is not paid as Chairman of B.O.A.C., or for his services on the Air Council or for any of his other services to the State. I think it right to state this. As for the appointment of a permanent Chairman, I want to make clear as my right honourable friend has said in another place that the Secretary of State is not going to be hurried into finding a Chairman. This is a very important appointment, as noble Lords who have great knowledge have pointed out, and not one to be made quickly in order to settle with the Press or public. It is not easy to find the right person as Chairman of this Corporation and my right honourable friend must be given time in making the appointment. Another appointment, the importance of which cannot be stressed too highly, is that of Chief Executive, the post previously held by Mr. Leslie Runciman. That appointment has also not yet been made. The appointment will, however, not be made by my right honourable friend but by the members of the Corporation. They will not only 287 appoint him, but they will also decide upon his salary. He is their servant. His appointment has nothing to do with the Secretary of State. It would be wrong to make this appointment in a hurry too. A quick appointment would not necessarily be the right one. At the present moment management is being carried on by an Executive Group at Bristol, and they report daily as a body to Sir Harold Howitt. That is how the executive work has often been carried on before in the absence of the Chief Executive.
There are some awkward questions worrying everyone as to how far Air Transport Command will absorb the activities of B.O.A.C. It is not intended that Air Transport Command should absorb those activities. We wish to avoid duplication and to find some way by which we can get the closest collaboration between the two organizations. Not only will the Corporation remain as it is, however, but it will grow bigger. I am not going to quarrel, although it would be easy to do so, with noble Lords who said that in peace-time we should prepare for war and in war-time prepare for peace. Like all quack remarks it is a mere half-truth. In war-time you have to get peace before you can deal with it although I agree that peace must be kept in sight. A great many of the criticisms which have been made arise because we have had to put so much energy and must continue to put all our energy into the war efforts of the country. It is quite right that noble Lords should ask what our views are about what is going to happen after the war, and whether Transport Command will operate services after the war. On this point I have no doubt that for many months after the close of the war the Command will continue manifold ferrying tasks, and it seems likely that it will continue to operate services if only for a time. Indeed it may be part of the post-war policy of the Royal Air Force to keep an Air Transport Command in being as a military instrument.
Another question that 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 288 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.
Now I come to the big questions which have been raised with regard to the Dominions and Colonies and the United States. These questions are of the highest importance. I do not see my noble friend Viscount Bennett here now, but I know that there are several of your Lordships who take the greatest interest in these very important matters. I can assure your Lordships that the Secretary of State fully realizes the importance of exploratory discussions with the Dominions on civil aviation. In fact such discussions are now taking place. I will not weary noble Lords by reading the speech of my right honourable friend Sir Archibald Sinclair, in another place, but in his statement on the Air Estimates he did make it quite clear that this action was being taken. I cannot give you any account of the course of these discussions and indeed it is for the Dominion Governments to state their own policy. I do think, however, that it might be well to draw your Lordships' attention to the statement which was made by the Prime Minister of Canada in the Canadian House of Commons on April 2. It shows, I think, not only that discussions have been taking place but also that they are bearing fruit.
Mr. Mackenzie King, whose words, I think, are of the greatest importance, said:The Canadian Government strongly favours a policy of international collaboration and co-operation in air transport, and is prepared to support in international negotiations whatever international air transport policy can be demonstrated as being best calculated to serve not only the immediate national interests of Canada but also our overriding interest in the establishment of an international order which will prevent the outbreak of another world war.That is going a long way. There is no doubt that the Dominions are thinking on bigger lines than those merely of domestic policy. There is also no doubt that when these discussions with the Dominions and Colonies have resulted in a measure of 289 agreement, it will be of the highest importance to open discussions on these questions with America. I do not think noble Lords would expect me to go further than that. Obviously it is better to wait until agreement has been reached with the Dominions and the Colonies before opening discussions with America on these very big questions of post-war policy.
I was asked whether we were going to restart certain services between India and Australia. I think it will be obvious that for reasons connected with national security I cannot go deeply into that. To do so would obviously reveal information which might be useful to our enemies. I was also asked whether existing B.O.A.C. routes are being cut down. Noble Lords are quite right to ask these questions. The answer to this particular question is that the routes to be operated by the Corporation and Transport Command respectively have not been finally determined. They may, of course, vary from time to time. It may be expedient to transfer the operation of some routes from the Corporation to the Royal Air Force, and the reverse may also apply. But if we take over—and by "we" I mean the Royal Air Force—any of the routes which are now operated by the Corporation, it will in no way reflect on the capabilities of the Corporation or of their staff and their pilots, for whose courage and efficiency we have nothing but the highest praise. It would merely be because of necessity arising from war operations that a route might have to be taken over.
Now comes the big and troublesome question which is almost bound to come up whenever you have discussions on civil aviation: Are we going to retain B.O.A.C., as the "chosen instrument" for civil air transport, after the war? Lord Reith, who was one of the founders of the organization, touched on this particular question. I wish that my noble friend Lord Reith was here now, because he would no doubt answer my noble friend Lord Milford on this point. Obviously it was to him and not to me that Lord Milford directed some of his remarks. Now the question whether the method of the single chosen instrument is the best method of conducting air transport after the war is one of the major issues of policy on which His Majesty's Government are not, and cannot, yet, be in a position to 290 reach a final conclusion. Obviously it is to some extent bound up with the question of the form and extent of international or inter-Dominion collaboration after the war, on which discussions are now proceeding with the Dominions and India, and will, in due course, be extended to cover a wider field. Meanwhile the Government must retain their freedom of action, and avoid unilateral declarations of policy which would circumscribe or prejudge those discussions in any important respect. I think it must be clear to your Lordships that that should be the policy of His Majesty's Government at the present time. We all would like definite answers and solutions, but it is impossible to arrive at the final shape of post-war civil aviation at this stage of the war.
I should like, finally, to thank the noble Viscount for the way in which he brought this matter before us. We did not wish the members of the Corporation to resign, and there was no sinister motive in their resignation; but, the members having resigned, it was the duty of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to appoint a board and to see that the organization is carried on. That he has done and will continue to do. I hope that the noble Viscount will be satisfied.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, before my noble friend Lord Rothermere replies I wish to say two things. The first is that, speaking for myself, and I think for many around me, we are satisfied on the first point raised by the noble Viscount. We are told that this was a sudden decision with which the Secretary of State was confronted, and we see that he could not have acted otherwise than by making temporary appointments without delay. For my part, I am satisfied about that. On the bigger question of the future, I feel that we cannot say much until we have won the war. There is, however, one point which I would venture to bring to the notice of my noble relative who replied. We hear on all sides that the British Overseas Airways Corporation cannot get the machines that they want, and in fact they are operating with machines far below the standard which this country ought to maintain in time of war. I am sure, from all the information which comes to me, that that is true. I should like to plead with the 291 noble Lord that the Government should turn over a new leaf and make sure that Imperial Airways—I do not quite understand this long name, B.O.A.C.—shall have, for the purposes of the war, the best and fastest aeroplanes which can be produced.
It is often said that engines cannot be taken from the war effort. I cannot help thinking—and I feel that if the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, were here he would say the same—that this is one of those occasions where, if we are going to do a thing at all, we ought to do it supremely well. Not only does it help the war effort very much to land passengers on their important business in good condition, which cannot be done if they have to travel in the wrong type of machine, and not only is it vitally important that they should reach their destination as quickly as possible, but, looking to the future, it will make all the difference, when peace comes at last, if those who have been engaged on civil flying all through the war have been operating the best type of machine, a type of machine which they will have in even greater numbers for the purposes of civil aviation in time of peace. Therefore, while I respectfully applaud the decision of the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary on the first issue raised, I beg of them to make sure that only the best aeroplanes are operated by this great Corporation in the future.
§ VISCOUNT ROTHERMERE
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, for his very informative speech. I think that he has reassured us on a number of points. The resignations are still somewhat inexplicable, but we must accept his explanation. With regard to Dominion policy, I can only express the hope that, in approaching the Dominions, the Government are not being as vague as they are in their explanations to this House. I hope, too, that they are not being as vague as the quotation which Lord Sherwood made from Mr. Mackenzie King's speech. I trust that we are getting a little beyond all that verbiage, and are going to get down to some sensible arrangement. Apart from those comments, I thank the noble Lord very much indeed, and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.