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Number Of Air Forces

Volume 161: debated on Wednesday 14 March 1923

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Postponed Proceeding Resumed on Question,

"That a number of Air Forces, not exceeding 33,000, all ranks, be maintained for the service, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland at Lowe and abroad, exclusive of those nerving in India, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1924."

Question again proposed.

I beg to move to reduce the Vote by 100 men.

I believe it is customary to allow a general discussion of policy on the Vote for the number of the Air Force. I wish to draw attention to what I consider to be a grave scandal in connection with the Air Force. The scandal I will describe in a moment or two, and in the meantime I wish to address one or two questions to the Secretary of State for Air. The Navy is, I think quite rightly, proceeding for strategical reasons to provide the port of Singapore with modern equipment for the Fleet. In the last session I inquired from their representative of the Air Service whether there was any provision for an air force for the defence of Singapore, and the reply was a very astonishing one—that there was none whatever. I then remarked that I thought that was scandalous, and if the same reply is made to-day I shall venture to make the same remark again. It is perfectly scandalous. We can waste millions on the air defence of a perfectly useless Middle-Eastern Empire, which is no good to any one except certain profiteers who make money out of supplying armaments, and we can neglect the port of Singapore which, from the strategical point of view, is the most important in the whole world. As long as we maintain a navy at all, with the present distribution of power in the world Singapore must be of the mast vital importance. If the air defences of Singapore are neglected the defences of the place are not complete and very grave reflection lies on the Air Ministry. Singapore ought to be equipped with a modern air station for the defence of the port, for scouting purposes, for torpedo attack on hostile vessels, and so on.

If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has signalised his accession to his present high office by remedying this grave state of affairs, I shall congratulate him, and he deserves the thanks of the whole Empire.

The next question I wish to ask is, what provision is made in the Air Service for giving preferential treatment to the sons of ex-officers, and serving officers who wish to train for commissions through the cadet schools. The Navy makes special provision, and I believe the Army also, for entrants of this class. If the Air Force does not do so, it ought to do so. At the same time, I wish to know if facilities are afforded for young men of good education and character to enter through the cadet schools, and if they are not debarred from the career of an air officer by lack of means. I notice in the appropriations-in-aid on this Vote, a sum of £6,000 for cadet fees as against £5,000 last year. Does that mean that only people who can afford the fees are entitled to enter or are we to understand that boys, in every other way fitted to be air officers, are not debarred by the poverty of their parents from embarking on this career? We are supposed to be living in a democrafic age and wealth should be no advantage where ability is non-existent. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"] I am glad that sentiment appeals to hon. Members oppo- site, and I trust if a satisfactory reply is not forthcoming, they will support me in what is, I hope, a praiseworthy effort to democratise the Air Service.

It is very necesary the Air Service should not be officered by only one class, and that the wealthy class, in view of the temptation to use the Air Force against the civil population in times of trouble or commotion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad hon. Members cheer that sentiment and agree with me that the danger of the misuse of the Air Service, by any class in the country, should be amply safeguarded against. The highly-coloured advertisements appealing for recruits for the Air Force, which adorned the walls of our cities, included a picture showing the ladder of promotion, from the lad entering, up to the flying sergeant, but it did not go beyond that. I wish to know if provision is made for promotion from the ranks and if the avenue is broad and easy for men of ability to advance to the highest ranks in the service? I do not pretend to any special knowledge of the Air Service, but I do know that the struggle in the sister Service—the Navy—to open the commissioned ranks to all men in the Service, was a very long one, and is not yet fought to a finish. The Air Service is new, and ought not to be hampered by certain obsolete traditions, as are the older Services; there is not the same excuse for placing any obstacle in the way of men rising by sheer merit and ability to the highest positions.

Now I come to the scandal hon. Members are anxious to hear about, and I take this opportunity of referring to a subject which has happily been referred to before in this House, and that is the use of the Air Force against native villages in tribal warfare, particularly on the North West frontier of India. I do not suggest that in tribal warfare the Air Force should not be used to the fullest extent possible compatible with civilized notions of warfare. [An HON. MEMBER: "What are they?"] They are that we should confine our attacks to the armed forces of the enemy and not attack women and children, nor, which I think is also a very scandalous thing, the dumb cattle. I do not think it is a very chivalrous thing to punish tribes, either in Mesopotamia or on the North West frontier of India, by bombing their herds of cattle. It is not a thing that we can be proud of as a nation. It is a very mean way of punishing people, but please do not let it be understood that I am suggesting that the Air Force should not be used when, by its humane and proper use, the lives of our men can be saved. War is always a terrible thing, and I hope that if it has got to be waged I shall not be accused of squeamishness. My great complaint in the last. War, as regards one branch at least, was that we were much too tender.

In this matter the House of Commons has a very special responsibility. These tribes on the North West frontier of India and in Mesopotamia, and some little time ago, in the time of the last Parliament, in Egypt, cannot really defend themselves. They are not represented in the League of Nations, they have no diplomatic representatives in this country, and therefore it is doubly incumbent upon us to see that our actions towards them are actuated by principles of humanity and chivalry, and I would like assurances on that point. The newspaper reading during the Recess of tie operations in Waziristan and on the frontier of North West India was unhappy reading. There was a gloating account of raids on native villages that would have done credit to the official communiqués of the great General Staff of Germany during the War.

No, I read them in an English paper which contained an official communiqué from the Government of India describing the successful bombing of these villages and attacks on the cattle of the tribesmen. I wish to have an answer to these questions, which were raised at the beginning of this Parliament., when the hon. Gentleman made the perfectly justifiable reply that he was making full inquiries. Now I take it that he has the full information, and I wish to ask him, in these cases of reprisal raids on these villages, is any warning given, so that the inhabitants, the aged, the women, and the children, can be removed? If not, I think it is scandalous. It is just as heinous to destroy by air-raids Arab women and children as to destroy the worm n and children of Edinburgh or London, which we resented so much during the war.

Secondly, is this bombing of cattle, camels, and horses really necessary? The Secretary for Mines, who was addressing the house on the previous Vote, spoke of his great love of horses, in answering certain questions about the treatment of pit ponies. Quite rightly, we prosecute people in this country who ill-treat horses. Ts it really necessary in the interests of this Empire that we should visit the sins of the North-West Frontier tribesmen on their cattle anal horses? The aeroplane as a weapon is very liable to misuse, and it should he used with the greatest care in these places, otherwise we shall only stir up hatred against ourselves.

The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air in his opening remarks referred to the Army and Navy Estimates as well as to his own. And, indeed, as these three great branches of our defence are indissolubly intertwined, the Army Estimates have been prepared with a fine appreciation of the financial situation and with great courage. As regards the Navy, the other day I offered a few friendly criticisms which, I think, were not received in the spirit in which they were offered. I was referred by the First Lord to a memorandum which l had read, but did not attach the importance to it as its author does. The Geddes Committee, when the figures of the Air Estimates were £15,000,000, suggested that they should be reduced to £10,000,000. They are now £18,500,000. So by a parity of reasoning the Geddes Committee was right or the Estimates are too high by about. 8½ millions. To return, however, to the details in the Report. There was mention made of 32½ squadrons. The Geddes Committee suggested that they should be reduced by nine, which would mean a saving of £2,500,000, but the present proposal is to increase them by 15, of which, I think, five or seven of that increase is to take place in the present year. We all know that the Air Service is one of the most important, and maybe the most important, of our defences. Still, we ought to consider very carefully whether we are justified in an expenditure of 8½ millions more than was thought proper by that Committee. To turn to another detail, the num- ber of machines at the present time was stated to be 1,954. That was on an Estimate that was supposed amply to allow for all reserves—everything in fact that the Air Ministry thought possible and desirable. In addition to that 1,954 there was actually in existence 1,924, so at that time, 1922, the supply was enormous. I believe the intention is to add 575. No doubt these machines will very rapidly get obsolescent, yet the action taken would appear to be necessary to replenish our reserves. Again, take Mesopotamia. The figures are disguised in the Estimates, because the expenditure on Mesopotamia is classified Appropriation-in-Aid, but apparently if we quit Mesopotamia we should save another five millions. Under these circumstances, I think it would be well if the. Government could see, their way to reduce the Estimates.

The Secretary of State for Air made a speech this afternoon which I listened to with great care and interest, and to me it was a splendid example of the adage that armaments depend on policy. The right hon. gentleman begun by saying that nothing he intended to say ought to be considered in the slightest degree as meaning hostility towards our great Allies in the late war. Nevertheless, the whole burden of his speech in regard to this expenditure was directed to our defence against what nation? It was not Russia, Germany, or the Balkan States. Every hon. Member present knows perfectly well why we are being asked to spend so much money on aerial defence or preparation for it four years after the War that was to end war. Our armaments depend upon our foreign policy and if our present relations with foreign Powers develop in an adverse way and become hostile, the Air Minister will probably be compelled to come here again with Estimates asking for money to a very much greater extent in the near future, and we on these Benches would regard that as a very great disaster.

I want to draw the attention of the Committee rather to the financial side of the proposals which have been laid before the Committee by the Secretary of State for Air. For example, it is proposed to spend £205,000 upon subsidies to civil air transport companies, but I gather from the memorandum which has been issued that certain changes are contemplated. That Memorandum says
"There is every reason to anticipate that from now onwards the orders placed by the Air Ministry in the ordinary course, under a strict estimate of requirements, will be sufficient to maintain an adequate number of firms on a sound and stable basis."
I regret to see money being voted to maintain private firms on a sound and stable basis. There are other indications which go to show what is in the mind of the Government regarding future expenditure upon civil aviation. The memorandum to which I have referred further states:
"The nature and extent of the assistance to be rendered by the State in the future to civil aviation is receiving close attention and the fact that that merely embodies the status quo must not be taken as implying that it represents the final policy of the country."
There is, however, another document. The Secretary of State for Air referred at some length this afternoon on Government financial assistance to civil air transport companies, and he told us that we were spending £200,000 per annum upon subsidising four aerial transport companies, and all he seems to have got for this expenditure is 18 pilots and 20 machines. Precisely what some of us on this side of the House said a year ago outside this House would happen, the right hon. Gentleman admits to be the case, because he has stated that that £200,000 subsidy which was originally intended to stimulate aerial development and encourage competition amongst the competing firms to devise new types has only resulted in these four companies eating up public money to the extent of £200,000, and the Government is engaged now in competing against itself. The right hon. Gentleman has now seen the folly of that proposition, and the Report of the Committee on Government Financial assistance to Civil Air Transport Companies makes it perfectly clear that the gentlemen who sat upon that Committee understand exactly what has taken place, because the Committee in paragraph after paragraph advise the Air Ministry and the Government to adopt a new financial subsidy policy.

In paragraph 25 on page 12 the Committee say:
"Although we cannot agree that serious progress has been made towards the Services becoming self-supporting we do not desire to create the impression that the subsidising of the air transport companies has been of no value."
They are not enthusiastic, to put it mildly, about what has happened to the £200,000 that has been poured out. In paragraph 27, they say:
"After the expiration of nearly two-thirds of the total period of three years, commercial civil aviation has, in fact made little progress towards being able to fly by itself without financial assistance from the Government";
and on page 29:
"We have … heard evidence from representatives of the Federation of British Industries and of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce ";
and then,
"even at the cost of considerable subsidies from the Government, notwithstanding their strong views and the need for national economy"
these gentlemen propose that £1,000,000 of public money should be given over by way of subsidy, not to the four firms who have sunk their private capital—to what extent I do not know—plus the Government subsidy, in developing aerial transport, but to a new company, unspecified, undefined; and the only condition attachable to it, if I understood the right hon. Gentleman correctly was that they in turn should be able to raise,£1,000 though I think the Report says only half of it need be called up. This private group is to raise £1,000,000, the Government is to hand over, another £1,000.000, and the shareholders in the private company—the right hon. Gentleman did not indicate it this afternoon—are to get 10 per tent. on their capital, while the Government is to get no interest on its capital, and is only to get a return of its £1,000,000, or any portion of it, after the 10 per cent. has been paid to the shareholders in the exploiting company. That, I think, is an extraordinary position to put before the House of Commons. Despite the urgent need for economy, £1,000,000 of public money is handed over to a nameless, unspecified group of financial exploiters, who are to get 10 per cent. on their capital, while the Government is to get no 10 per cent. on its capital. If we get back our £1,000,000 —if—we are to get it back without interest; and, most precious jewel of all, after the Government has got its £1,000,000 back, all the apparatus and the outfit of the company, floated and strengthened by Government money, is to become the solo property of the private shareholders in the company. I know nothing whatever about the shareholders in the four companies who have already been engaged in this work of civil aviation, beyond what I have read in the public Press, but I am told that the shareholders in these companies have pretty well lost their money, and I should dearly like to know why it is, if a private company is to be subsidised for aerial transport and given command of the aerial way, to carry our mails and our passengers, why is it that those who have already had experience of the work and have been associated with the Government, who have sunk and lost their capital, are not invited to co-operate with the Government in this new venture? For my part, I want no private company in it at all. You do not hand over the British Navy to a private exploiting company.

Because this is civil aviation. You trust the Mercantile Marine.

If the hon. Gentleman had read the Deport, he would have seen that the whole purpose for which this proposed company is formed, and for which the Government is going to subsidise it, is because the Government wish to have, to its hand, in times of national need, an adequate supply of air pilots. They also wish that our mails and our communications with the outer world should he adequately developed against the aerial transport which is being subsidised by foreign Governments. The whole burden of the Air Minister's speech this afternoon was that the French Government was giving subsidies amounting to an enormous sum of money and that therefore we must do the same. Why do we hand over this essential arm, essential from the military point of view—

It is essential if the Chambers of Commerce of London, Leeds, Liverpool and the Federation of British Industries are appealing to the Government to develop it in the interests of the trade, commerce and prosperity of the country. Why should the Government hand over that which is essential to the prosperity of the country to a private exploiting company, which will get, ex hypothesi, £50,000 a year as a picking out of it? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Surely they are to get 10 per cent. on the £500,000 they put in. That is, £50,000 per annum, which they will get—an additional tariff on our aerial transport.

They may lose the lot! The British Government is putting in money to back it up. They will become shareholders, and co-directors, although they will be in a minority, and the private exploiting members will be in the majority. That is a bait thrown out to induce the Finance Market to come in and take 10 per cent.—a fine gilt-edged investment.

They are away with £1,000,000 of your money, and they are putting in £500,000. I know nothing safer than that. What are the, qualifications of this group of financiers? Are they to be air pilots and to know anything about civil aviation at all? Are they to be the courageous men who go up into the clouds and risk their lives? Not at all. They are going to be the usurers, the men who bleed every national industry; the men who were responsible for the fact that to-day you are paying £375,000 a year too much for your telegraphs. You handed over your telegraphs to a private trust and after many years the telegraph companies sold out to the Government..

I am talking about telegraphs, and there is a fundamental difference in the part of the country I come from, between telegraphs and telephones. You are paying £375,000 too much because you handed over your telegraphs to a private trust which sold out to you watered stock which was not there and who wee bleeding and will bleed you for years, and then your private enterprise Press turns round and says, "Look at the failure of State enterprise." Look at the plunder of private enterprise while there is yet an opportunity before they have their clutches on your airways, before they strangle your commerce and trade. I beg the Minister not to listen to these proposals. When you run aerial transport as you run the British Navy, run it not for an exploiting trust, but for the good and the well-being of the British people. The Committee say on page 41 they will not recommend the creation of a Corporation or company administered under Government control but a commercial organisation run entirely on business lines with a privileged position with regard to an air transport subsidy. They see the £1,000,000. They are like Sir John Falstaff, who said on one occasion, "He that will caper with me for a thousand marks let him lend me the money and have at him." Here they are. They are to have the money free of interest. They will take the 10 per cent.

I shall be glad to listen to any defence which either of the two hon. Members can put up to this exploitation of the public purse to the tune of £1,000,000. I will listen in peace and quietness, and will not interrupt them.

12 M.

I do not interrupt. They say they want a privileged position in regard to the air transport subsidies. They want £1,000,000 they want the 10 per cent. If I understood the right hon. Gentleman aright this afternoon, he was in favour of negotiating with some private finance trust on a basis such as has been proposed in this Committee's Report. A week or so ago I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he thought it advisable that he should have appointed the three particular gentlemen he did to act upon this Committee. He rather took it that that important question was a reflection upon the business capacity or integrity of the three Members of the Committee. Not at all. Those three Members, for aught I know to the contrary, may be the finest business men in London. They may be the greatest financiers in London. Possibly it was because they are great financiers that they made these proposals. They are typically usurious proposals. The question I put to the right hon. Gentleman is not directed against the business acumen or ability of these three Gentlemen; but I asked if he thought it was advisable that, holding the family relationship that one of them did to himself, the business relationship that another had to him, and the business relationship that the remaining one had to a member of his family—the three of them all closely connected in a business way—if he thought, it was advisable that these should be the three gentlemen he should have appointed, particularly in view of the fact that the Committee comes forward with a proposal for £1,000,000 subsidy and that the private trust who are to be the fortunate recipients of the million are to get 10 per cent. For my part. I trust that the Government will retain civil aviation in their own hands, that they will run air transport for the benefit and the well being of the British people, and that private finance, private plunder, and private capital will not he allowed to put its finger in this pie as it has put its finger in telegraphs and telephones.

I should like to bring the Committee back from the speech we have just heard to the few facts and figures given by my hon. friend the Member for Kennington (Mr. Harrison) in the speech he made just beforehand. The point he brought before the House was that the Estimates for the Army and the Navy have been reduced, and that the one service which has increased its Estimates is the Air Service. My hon. Friend was telling me this afternoon that the Air Service Estimates, instead of being £18,000,000, should be about £30,000,000, and that the Navy ought to have reduced their Estimates to the same amount. There is a quarrel between the experts, one side suggesting that the real defence of this country is in the air and that we ought to economise on the Navy and the Army and concentrate on the Air Force. If it can be proved that the Air Force is the real defence of this country, I can understand our economising on the one service and spending the money on the other. But until it is proved that there is an argument for increasing this year's Estimate for the Air Force, at a time like this, when we know that estimates are being pruned in every other direction, I cannot understand why the Air Estimates are going up instead of being cut down still further. A large amount of this money is being devoted to Mesopotamia.

The right hon. Gentleman says that in Mesopotamia the Air Force has a separate command, which is a rather unique thing in the history of the force. I hope that the influence of the right hon. Gentleman with the Cabinet is not used to prolong our stay in Mesopotamia, in order that this costly experiment may be carried out to show that the Air Force is capable of a separate command. In Mesopotamia itself we have not only air squadrons, but also battalions with machine guns and so on, practically a miniature army, under the Air Ministry. I understand that an air squadron is practically as expensive to keep up as a battalion of infantry. We have not today received sufficient explanation from the right hon. Gentleman as to why these Estimates should go up. I notice that he suggests that it is because war stores have run out and new stores had to be bought. If that is so we are to presume that next year the Air Estimates are to go up further, and so far as I can see there will be no limit eventually to our Air Estimates. Before we go further we should have some competent Committee to go into the whole question of defence and the opinions of the various experts. One says that the Air Force should be increased, another the Army, and another the Navy, and we should know where the money ought to be spent. I think that a sum of money ought to be set aside for the defence of this country and apportioned between the three Services in a proper ratio. I would like a further explanation from the right hon. Gentleman of the increase, and a statement as to whether such a Committee is going to be appointed.

I am grateful for, on the whole, the very kind reception which has been given to the Air Estimates. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) made a very interesting speech which seemed to me to contain very little serious criticism of the Air Estimates. He referred to the importance of civil aviation. I agree entirely with him. I hope that he has not gathered from my speech the impression that I think that civil aviation is of inferior importance. Not only do I not think so, but I do not think that civil and military aviation are contradictory policies. With practically every word of his speech I am in agreement. There was a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for Hallam (Sir F. Sykes), and there again I do not think there was any thing with which I found myself in disagreement. He quoted the case of chaplains. We try to make use of any chaplain who is available. If there is a small detachment of the Air Force at any particular station, if we can we make use of the services of the local clergyman or the minister of any other denomination; or if there is an Army chaplain available we make use of him.

We try to carry out the principle the hon. and gallant. Member for Hallam inculcated. At present there is an inquiry going on. That inquiry will be continued by the Committee of National Defence almost at once to see whether this co-operation cannot be carried a step further still. The hon. and gallant Member asked me one or two questions about the percentage of the flying personnel of the Force and the officers generally. At present. there are 3,288 officers for the total establishment of the Royal Air Force. Of these, 1,579 are actually engaged in flying the machines in commission, and 2,599 are liable to fly. The others are either older officers, past the age for flying, or officers like stores officers and other technical officers. I agree entirely with the suggestion the hon. and gallant Member made, that as many officers as possible should fly, and that they should fly for as many hours as possible in the course of the year.

Can the hon. Gentleman give us any figures as to the mileage flown by military machines in any suitable period?

I am afraid I cannot do so offhand, but I shall be delighted to obtain the information as far as it is available for the hon. and gallant Member. The hon. and gallant Member asked me about the hours during which officers had flown. I will see if I can get that information for him.

Then there were the two speeches made by the two hon. Members on the other side of the House in moving and seconding the Amendment before 8.15. I do not think I find myself in any serious disagreement with the Mover of the Amendment. The Mover of the Amendment seemed to think that I did not attach sufficient importance to the potentialities of civil aviation or research in civil aviation. If that was the impression which the hon. Member got, he must have misinterpreted what I said, or I must have expressed myself badly. That is not at all the case. Two very interesting speeches were made upon each side of the annual controversy between the Air Ministry arid the Admiralty by my hon. friends the Member for Chatham (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) and the Member for South Battersea (Viscaunt Curzon). I do not think the House will expect me, standing where I do, to enter into a battle with my right hon. friend the First Lord of the Admiralty upon this subject, all the more so, because of the fact that we hope the question is going to be settled through an impartial inquiry by the Committee of Imperial Defence. A series of questions was addressed to me by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). I may tell the hon. and gallant Member that we have missed his questions very much during the last few weeks. He was kind enough to tell me that if I could give a satisfactory answer to one or two of them, I should deserve his congratulations. I am very glad to think that at any rate upon his first question, I can give him a satisfactory answer, and presumably I shall deserve his congratulations. As to Singapore I can assure him due provision is being made for the Air Service in the provision for the strengthening of the Force.

I will tell the hon. Member why. That part of the expenditure does not take effect this year, but will come into the Estimates for next year as far as I can remember. At any rate in the near future it will come into the Estimates. He also asked me about the facilities given to the sons of Air Force officers and officers who have been in the Air Force. There again, think I deserve his congratulations, for the system is exactly the same as in the Navy and Army. As to his further questions, whether a poor man has a good chance of entering the Air Force and getting on in it, I think I can reassure him. The cost of cadet training at Cranwell is kept as low as possible and special terms are given to needy cases. I do not think the hon. and gallant Member need be at all anxious upon that point. Then there was what he was bold enough to call a scandal, with which he charged my administration—the fact that we have been so wicked sometimes as to bomb cattle in different parts of the Empire. Obviously, one does not wish to throw bombs upon human beings or upon cattle, but at the same time if the hon. and gallant Member will look impartially at what has happened on the North-West frontier of India and Iraq, I am certain he will come to the conclusion that the air operations have been most carefully directed, that the casualties on either side have been reduced to a minimum and that really the operations are much more humane than any ground operations by military expeditions could have been.

May I repeat my question. Is warning given to these villages before they are bombed, so that non-combatants can be removed?

The hon. Member asked me so many questions, that I forgot that particular one. Yes, I can assure him that it is. Then questions were asked me by the hon. Member for Kennington (Mr. F. C. Harrison). I hope if he will look at what I said this afternoon, he will see that I tried to give the reason why the Air Estimates are being increased. The increase is almost entirely due to two things. First there are the 15 extra squadrons for home defence and the three extra squadrons for naval work. Then there is the fact alluded to by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. E. Harmsworth), that owing to the exhaustion of war supplies we now have to give new orders. Lastly, there was the speech of the hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. T. Johnston). He made a very determined attack upon the system of subsidies. As I told the House, I dislike subsidies too, but with civil aviation as it is now, I cannot myself see how it can be kept alive, unless subsidies are given, at any rate for some further period. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not take it over?"] Hon. Members ask why not take it over? That was the question which underlay most of the remarks of the hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan. I will tell the House why. I do not want to take it over. Civil aviation is a very risky business, and I would much rather that private investors lost their money in it than the State. That is the whole history of it. Let me reassure the hon. Member that, as far as I know we are doing no injustice to existing shareholders. In fact I do not know who the shareholders are in the two or three existing companies. In any case, we wish to treat them perfectly fairly, and in any arrangement made we wish them to have a fair chance, and if they can subscribe to the conditions, an outline of which I gave to the House this afternoon, we shall be very happy to avail ourselves of the work they have undoubtedly done.

I hope I have dealt shortly, at any rate, with the questions which have been asked me. As the Air Estimates will come up next week on Report stage, there will be an opportunity of asking further questions upon these points, and I would ask the Committee now to let me get this Vote.

The least I can do after the remarks of the right hon. and gallant gentleman is to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.