House Of Commons
Friday, 12th October, 1945
The House met at Eleven o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
For the City of London, in the room of Sir George Thomas Broadbridge, baronet, K.C.V.O., now Lord Broadbridge, called up to the House of Peers.—[ Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.]
Troop Transportation (Re-Allocation Of Liners)
In view of the considerable public interest in the use of the liners "Queen Mary," "Queen Elizabeth" and "Aquitania," I desire, with the indulgence of the House, to make a statement.Earlier this year when the war against Japan still continued and the most urgent military necessity was the redeployment of the American forces from Europe, it was arranged that the best use of these three ships, in the common cause, was to ferry American troops with all speed across the Atlantic. Since the defeat of Japan, discussions for the reallocation of these liners, or the provision by the American authorities of equivalent transport capacity for the repatriation of British forces, have been opened with the American Government. As a result I am able to report that the "Queen Elizabeth" and the "Aquitania" will, in future, be used for the carriage of British troops. The "Queen Mary" is to remain at the disposal of the American authorities for the present, but the Americans are placing at our disposal a number of smaller ships. In total, these smaller vessels will render us equivalent service which it is most convenient for us to have, as we shall be so enabled to move forces from areas where it would be wasteful, and even impracticable, to use such a large vessel as the "Queen Mary." I am sure that the House will regard this as satisfactory, and His Majesty's Government wish to express their appreciation to the American Government for this friendly and helpful arrangement.
Is the Minister aware that the statement will give great satisfaction to men serving overseas; and will he take steps to see that the reasons why the "Queen Mary" is not being allocated immediately are made known to the men overseas, so that they understand the position?
If the hon. Member will study the language of this statement, I think he will find that it conveys accurately the points in which he is interested.
I am aware of that, but I would ask the Minister to take steps to see that those reasons are promulgated to the men overseas, and not merely to this House?
I will certainly consider that.
Orders Of The Day
Coatbridge And Springburn Elections (Validation) Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time." I apprehend that in the course of this Session hon. Members will have to consider a great many Bills; a number of them will be long, some of them may be complicated, and one or two conceivably may give rise to some small degree of controversy on the part of one or two hon. Members opposite who have not yet fully appreciated their beneficent purpose. I am the more fortunate in being able to move the Second Reading of this little Bill which is at once very short, very simple and, I hope, entirely non-controversial.Hon. Members will realise that the Bill is the result of the Report of the Select Committee which was appointed at the beginning of the Session to inquire into the validity of the Elections for the Coat-bridge Division of Lanark and the Spring-burn Division of Glasgow. The circumstances were these. Under an Act of Parliament which operates only in Scotland, the Rent of Furnished Houses Control (Scotland) Act, 1943, there is provision for the establishment of tribunals of lay persons to assist the Secretary of State for Scotland in the administration of that Act and, under the Statute, there is a power in the Secretary of State to pay to the persons he appoints to these tribunals such sum by way of remuneration and expenses as, with the consent of the Treasury, he may think fit. The then Secretary of State decided to take advantage of the considerable public experience and local knowledge of Mrs. Jean Mann and Mr. John Forman in this capacity and he appointed each of them to be members of tribunals constituted under the Act. Each of them appears to have been paid on the occasions on which they sat as members of these tribunals—occasions which seem to have been very infrequent—the perhaps not extravagant sum of 31s. 6d. in respect of each day, together with some quite trivial amount for actual travelling expenses. The Select Committee inquiring into the matter came to the conclusion—and, if I may say so, there can be little doubt that their conclusion was correct—that the holding of these appointments brought Mrs. Mann and Mr. Forman within the scope of the Succession to the Crown Act of 1707, which, as hon. Members know, provided that the holding of certain offices of profit created after that time should be a disqualification from election or from sitting in the House and should give rise to a substantial penalty on the part of persons who, thus disqualified, did in fact attend and vote. The Select Committee, however, were satisfied that both in the case of Mrs. Mann—who was elected as the Member for the Coatbridge Division of Lanark—and in the case of Mr. Forman—who was elected as the Member for the Springburn Division of Glasgow—they had acted completely inadvertently and in good faith, and they recommended that legislation should be introduced validating the two Elections and relieving Mrs. Mann and Mr. Forman from the penalty they had otherwise incurred. That eminently sensible recommendation we accept, and I think it is only necessary for me to say this: although there are precedents for relieving hon. Members who have incurred penalties under the Succession to the Crown Act of those penalties, there seems to be no case in which an actual Election has been validated. But there are cases in which the disqualification incurred by the acceptance of an office of profit in the course of an existing membership has been set aside by Parliamentary action of this kind. There appears to be no sort of distinction, in principle, between that kind of case and this case. It is, of course, if the greatest importance that nothing should be done to suggest that Parliament will normally intervene in order to validate an irregular Election, but the circumstances here are quite exceptional. There is the finding of the Select Committee that the disqualification was incurred completely inadvertently. There is the fact that the time has now long passed for the presentation of an Election Petition, and that although the matter was attended by some publicity at the time no elector in Coatbridge or Springburn has thought it necessary to challenge the validity of the Election, or seek for the penalties that arise. In these circum- stances, the House will probably feel that there is no justification for imposing either on the electors of those two divisions, or upon Mrs. Mann or Mr. Forman, the burden of a second Election which, one might assume, would be likely to lead to exactly the same result as the first one. I ask the House to say that we ought not to deprive ourselves any longer of the counsel or assistance of this lady or this gentleman. There is another matter, to which think it would be right for me to refer. The Select Committee, in their report, drew attention to the Report of another Select Committee made so long ago as 1941 which had inquired into the whole position in regard to the holding of offices of profit under the Crown, and which had recommended the introduction of legislation simplifying and clarifying the position. I, personally, appreciate very keenly the importance of the recommendations made by that Committee, because I myself was very nearly enmeshed in the trap which arises under this somewhat ancient Statute. I recently held an appointment as Chairman of the Catering Wages Commission, and under the Statute under which that appointment was made, there is power to pay a salary to the Chairman. As it happens, I was not paid a penny but two days before the Election my attention was drawn to the fact that the mere holding of this office might constitute the holding of an office of profit under the Crown. By the grace of the legal adviser of one of the Departments, I was able to effect a hasty, if undignified, retirement from that office just before I presented myself to the electorate in my constituency. Hon. Members will realise therefore that I speak with sincerity when I say that we shall give the most sympathetic consideration to the recommendation of the Select Committee and to the report of the previous Committee in order that we may see whether later, when Parliamentary time permits, we can introduce legislation to carry out those recommendations.
I think I am right in saying that this is the first occasion on which the learned Attorney-General has had to make a speech of any length in this House. We had, of course, high expectations of him in view of the office which he holds, and his own reputation, and I want to say that those expectations have been amply fulfilled and that we look forward to the no doubt frequent occasions on which he will have to come to the assistance of his colleagues.We must start our consideration of this Bill with two facts in mind. First, that it is undoubted that these elections were invalid and, second, that there is no precedent for an Act of Parliament declaring a person to be a Member of this House who has not been validly elected to be a Member. It is true that there are precedents which enabled those who had inadvertently incurred disqualification during their membership, to continue to be Members without re-election, but I do not altogether agree with the Attorney-General that there is no distinction. Therefore, we must consider first, whether it is very proper to take so drastic a step. I never much like absolute rules that have no exceptions, and I do not think there should be an absolute rule here. But I think any infringement of the general rule should be most carefully examined, that the burden of proof which lies on any one who seeks exemption from the rule is a very heavy one, and that we must look narrowly at the circumstances to make sure that this is such an exceptional case that we can properly pass it. It is of the greatest importance to maintain the general law while it exists as at present. It is true that the law is involved, and while, in general, a mistake in the law is no excuse in this country, perhaps that rule cannot be applied quite so stringently in this case, looking to the great difficulty which the Select Committee in 1941 had in finding out what was the existing law and practice and, indeed, looking to the experience of the Attorney-General himself. It is the case that Mrs. Mann and Mr. Forman were aware of the existence of this rule, but they seem to have taken it into their heads that this was a case which, on any reasonable principle, could not fall under the rule, and to have left it at that. It is extremely dangerous for anybody dealing with an old and technical rule to approach the question in that way, that because commonsense says that the rule should not apply, therefore it does not. I think it was unfortunate, to say the least, that Mrs. Mann and Mr. Forman dealt with the matter in that somewhat short-handed way. After all, they had the resources of a great party behind them, and it would not have been in the least difficult for them, knowing the existence of this rule, to find out the true interpretation. They did not do so. Of course, it was purely inadvertences there is no question of bad faith or anything of that kind, and I think it was, perhaps, a venial offence.
I have been under the impression so far that these two persons acted in ignorance. Could we be told whether they knew of the existence of this regulation?
Yes, I have the evidence here and I think I can find the relevant passage. On page 13 there is a question:
She replied:"Were you a lecturer to the Forces at the time of your election to Parliament, Mrs. Mann?"
"Yes. I deemed that that office would be an office of profit under the Crown, and I immediately resigned."
that is the appointment in question here—"I never dreamed for one minute that this"—
Then she goes on with an explanation, so that she was well aware of the existence of the rule but thought that this was not an office of profit. I am not quite sure that Mr. Forman had the matter so clearly before him, but he said, as reported on page 11 of the Committee's evidence:"was considered an office of profit, it is like county councillors."
He then goes on to narrate what Mr. Johnston, former Secretary of State for Scotland, had to say. Accordingly, this was a mistake in law committed in complete good faith by these two people. I, personally, attach some importance to the fact that both of them had decided, and had intimated their decision before the Election, not to resume the performance of their duties. They had, however, refrained from taking the technical step of resignation. Both had, in fact, determined to resign and all that was wrong was that they had delayed their formal resignations. It seems, therefore, that this case is so exceptional that we can allow the Bill to go through, although I would like the Attorney-General's con- currence in my statement of the facts that this case is so special that it can never afford a precedent for any other case that may arise, at least for not more than one in a million. There is another matter to which would like to refer. The 1941 Select Committee made a very clear recommendation, in a very full Report, that the law should be put right. During the war that has not been possible. Equally, of course, it cannot be done this year owing to congestion of the legislative programme, and we do not know how long this will continue. We cannot ask for this matter to be put in a high priority, but perhaps we could have a statement from the Government that the preparation and passing of such a Bill is regarded as a matter of some urgency, and that at the earliest possible date it will be pressed forward, I do not think it will be a difficult Bill to draft. The Select Committee went into the matter fully, and made a clear recommendation which commended itself to all quarters of the House. I do not think it need be a long Bill, or a. controversial Bill. I feel sure that it would get through Committee upstairs in a short time and that there is a strong case for clearing up this question if possible next Session, but certainly at an early date. I hope we can have an assurance that that is the Government's intention. If that was done then this sort of case would never recur. But in the interim period before it is done I think we can say that this case is so special that we may allow it to go forward."It never occurred to me that this was an office of profit, because there was no salary attached to the office."
This Bill in my opinion raises an important constitutional issue on which I should like to make one or two observations. With the particular effects of the Bill I think the House will agree, namely, that Mrs. Mann and Mr. Forman should be relieved of the consequences of inadvertently committing an offence against an Act of 1707. The constitutional issue involved is that of the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature, between the Crown and Parliament. I had occasion yesterday to look up the fundamental Statute, the Succession to the Crown Act, 1707, and might I say in passing, as a lawyer, that I wistfully looked back to a day when all the Acts of Parliament from Henry III to Queen Anne were comprised in a single volume and no reference to statutory regulations made in any of them. The short Title of the Act indicates the intention of Parliament to assert its right to determine the succession to the Crown and to insist on its own supremacy by limiting the number of office holders and thereby limit and control those whose votes would be influenced by the patronage of the Executive. It is fundamental in the Constitution that the number of office holders in the House of Commons owing their appointment to the Executive must at all times be rigidly watched and controlled.On that fundamental principle, two series of Acts have been built up. The first is a series of Acts which have enabled Ministerial or political office holders to be Members of the House in order that the House may maintain control over the proceedings of the Executive. A number of Statutes, of which the outstanding are the Election of Ministers Acts, 1919 and 1926, and the Ministers of the Crown Act, 1937, have enabled Ministers to sit in the House without the possible consequences of submitting themselves to re-election. These Acts do not infringe the principle that non-Ministerial offices are incompatible with membership of this House. A second series of Acts have been the Indemnity and Relief Acts to relieve innocent offenders and it is in this particular that the present Measure departs from precedent of previous Indemnity Acts. The Under-Secretaries of State Act, 1939 and the Arthur Jenkins Indemnity Act, 1941, not only relieved persons who were already Members of the House if they accepted an office against the penalties but also allowed them to keep their seats in the House. The novel feature of this Bill is that it makes valid by retrospective action the election of persons who at the date of the election were disqualified by law from membership of, and election to, the House. It is quite true that this so-called office of profit which they held has been of very little profit, and that the two Members in each case acted with complete inadvertence and in good faith and public spirit. Nevertheless, the view taken by the Select Committee on Elections, 1945, on the recommendation of which this Bill is based, is that the appointments they held were in fact offices of profit under the Crown. Therefore, the effect of this Bill is that Parliament is in fact making Members of the House of Commons persons who could not have been so elected because they were holders of office under the Crown. That is a very important constitutional development. It is entirely at variance with the fundamental theme of the 1707 Act. It for the first time negates those words in Section 24 of that Act which says that holders of office of profit shall not "be capable of being elected." It is the first time that a Bill has been directed at those particular words in the 1707 Act. Nevertheless, we agree that as regards these particular persons, it is entirely right and proper that the Bill should be passed into law. How are we to overcome the unsatisfactory position that the justice of the individual case requires a Bill to be passed which is at variance with the constitutional principle? The whole difficulty is that of determining what constitutes an office of profit. It is almost impossible at present to ascertain what constitutes an office of profit under the Crown. For that reason I welcome the assurances and the appeals which have been made that the matter should be looked into on the lines recommended by the Select Committee on Offices of Profit, 1941, and I do appeal for a declaratory Act to be passed into law, after proper inquiry, setting out the criterion of an office of profit, so that this House may preserve the fundamental principle that office holders shall be limited and controlled, so that all men may know what constitutes an office which would debar them from entry to the House, and so that persona who have acted in good faith throughout may be spared the anxiety of proceedings of this nature.
I would like to say a word or two on this subject, first, because I come from an area where the two constituencies are located, and, secondly, because I served on the Select Committee that made the general recommendation for the legislation to regularise this whole matter. I join with the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. Reid), in congratulating the Attorney-General on his new appointment, and the responsibility which he has taken over. I notice that the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead, in a reference to the legal pro- fession, suggested that the Attorney-General would frequently have to come to the aid of his less-learned colleagues, but if he will cast his memory back in history to the first Labour Government, he will perhaps recall the fact that it was brought down by the necessity of laymen coming to the aid of the Attorney-General. I think the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead was perhaps straining a point when he read from the evidence which he said indicated that Mrs. Mann acted with knowledge. I listened very carefully while he read the passage and I think it was a bit thick. I do not know whether he knew that the hon. and learned Member behind him was going to ask this question, but it seemed to me that they were sitting too close together for it to have been quite impromptu.
I can assure the hon. Member that he is mistaken.
I think the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead could have perhaps done a little better if he had had more time. He showed that Mrs. Mann resigned from one position, which she believed to be definitely an office of profit under the Crown, but she did not resign from another position. She knew when she went lecturing to the Forces that she was getting money from the national purse. Nearly every Member of Parliament was speaking to the Forces or speaking on the B.B.C., except for my little group. Mrs. Mann and Mr. Forman did not regard sitting on this particular committee as being part of the national work. They regarded it as an extension of a long period of voluntary, unpaid service which they had given as members of the city council. Having sat on dozens of committees of one kind and another, not very dissimilar to this, they thought, as any ordinary, non-legal person would think, that they were perfectly entitled to believe that it was a municipal duty and not a paid office under the Crown. I hope this House will not merely pass this legislation, but will make it absolutely clear that there is no slur on the character of these two new Members of this House who have rendered very fine public service up to now in their walks of life.I think I am the last surviving member here of the Select Committee which dealt with this question of offices of profit. The Chairman of the Committee, who conducted our affairs very capably, was Sir Dennis Herbert, former Deputy-Speaker of the House, now Lord Hemingford. That Select Committee was appointed to deal mainly with a very extraordinary development of an office of profit under the Crown—the appointment by the then Prime Minister of a Member of this House to be High Commissioner of Canada and to retain his membership in this House at the same time. That was the main, immediate problem we had to cope with, and we coped with it. What I want to ask the Attorney-General and the Government is to resist legislating to the limited extent that that Select Committee reported. I imagine that if this House, composed as it is now, set up a Select Committee, composed proportionately, as it would be, according to the political representation in the House, their recommendations would perhaps be more far-reaching, fundamental and offer possibilities of a final solution. I would suggest instead of legislating on the basis of the last Select Committee's Report that, not immediately, but in due course, another Select Committee, composed somewhat differently, should be set up to look at this problem again. The hon. and gallant Member for Merioneth (Squadron Leader Roberts) does not think, I am sure, that this House of Commons has the same problem with the present Monarch, as our predecessors had with Queen Anne. Our problem is not one of restraining lascivious, incompetent, despotic monarchs.
Is the hon. Member applying these epithets to the late Queen Anne?
No. I know she is dead. My historical knowledge just reaches that length and no further.
My remarks related to the Executive as a whole and not to the Monarch. Would the hon. Member apply those epithets to the Executive Government as well?
I am giving an historical picture of what an earlier Parliament in this country, right up to that time, had to cope with in restraining monarchs in all their adventures at home and abroad and preventing them packing this House with their paid placemen. That is not the problem now. It is an entirely different constitutional problem which arises. The serious problem in any Parliament of to-day is to see that this House is not packed with the paid men of the capitalist system of society in its futile attempts to maintain its existence for a few years longer. I do not want to get into a discussion with my hon. and gallant Friend. I am merely saying that now, the problem to be confronted is entirely different from what it was in those days, and should be tackled from an entirely different fundamental point of view. I support the Measure.
I hesitate to prolong the Debate, especially as I was a Member of the Select Committee, but I venture to trouble the House for a few minutes, because the proceedings, as reported, might encourage a feeling at some time, that I had some doubt about the correctness of the decision at which the Committee, with one exception, arrived. That might arise out of the fact that as hon. Members will see if they look at page 6 of the Report, I was present at the meeting which took a decision, but my name does not appear in the Division list. That was an accident with the causes of which I need not trouble the House, but I wish to make it clear that the recommendation in the Report had my full approval and consent. Indeed, would have been prepared to go further, and to vote that in the circumstances disclosed in the evidence we heard that there was not in fact any breach at all, and that the election had not been invalidated. It seemed to me on the evidence we heard, that to say there had been the holding of some office of profit was wholly fantastic. The nature of the office held, the nature of the remuneration and the extent of the remuneration and what the candidates had done before the Election together amounted, in my mind, to a case of mere technicality.Where, in circumstances of this kind, there was only a technical breach, I should have been prepared to hold that there was no breach at all. Had the majority of the Committee come to that decision, they would have been confronted with all the precedents except one. They would nevertheless have been in agreement with the latest precedent, the case of Mr. Pringle in 1924. Had they felt able to decide as I have suggested, they would have had precedent to support them in their decision. I preferred, with other Members who were in a minority, not to press that, if the majority thought that there was a technical breach, on the basis that we agreed that it was a technical breach and that no consequence should follow, either in the way of personal penalty or in the way of invalidating the election. So far as our recommendations went, think it right, for the sake of the record, to make that explanation.
With the leave of the House, may I say a word or two in reply to the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. Reid) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). We will certainly take into more than sympathetic consideration, as soon as we are able to do so, the Report of the Select Committee of 1941, without of course considering ourselves restricted by the terms of that Report. We will examine the whole problem. As I indicated in my previous remarks, we realize that this is a problem of considerable complexity which may lead hon. Members inadvertently into great difficulty, and it is one in which the position should be clarified as soon as Parliamentary time permits. As for the position of Mrs. Mann and Mr. Forman, I hardly think it can be doubted on the evidence that both of them knew vaguely, as all of us know, that the holding of an office of profit may constitute disqualification for membership. What they did not know, as I understand the Report of the Committee, was that the mere receipt of fees amounting, as the Committee pointed out, to very inadequate compensation for actual loss of their remunerative time, constituted such an office of profit, in that sense no one doubts that both Mrs. Mann and Mr. Forman acted quite inadvertently, and in complete good faith. In those circumstances I hope the House will pass this Bill without creating any kind of precedent that will apply in future to a case differing from this case.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Monday next [ Mr.Mathers.]
Indian Franchise Bill Lords
Order for Second Reading read.
beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."This Bill has been rendered necessary by the decision to hold elections in the course of the coming cold weather in India. Its main object is to secure that the absence of any person by reason of war service, whether with the Armed Forces, or in any other capacity under the Crown directly relevant to the prosecution of the war—for example, a munition worker—should not impair his residential qualification so as to prevent his right to vote when the exercise of that right becomes practicable. In other words, it is considered that such a person should not be disfranchised merely by reason of the fact that he has lost his residential qualification as a result of absence from home on war service. The Bill also seeks to ensure that persons on war service whose names have never actually been included in an electoral roll, but who will, on war service, have acquired such qualifications as may be necessary to entitle them to be enrolled as electors—for example, the attainment of the prescribed age of 21 years—should not be deprived of the vote because of the lack of the prescribed residential qualification. The House will appreciate that the requirements as to residence vary widely in their terms, and particularly in their definition of residence. Thus, in Madras a prospective voter is required to have resided in his constituency for a period of 120 days in the previous financial year, while in certain other Provinces it is only required that a person should be a resident or should have a residence in the constituency. The second object of the Bill is to effect what is essentially a drafting Amendment to secure that the term "military service" in the existing franchise provisions shall be extended to embrace service in any branch of His Majesty's Forces, whether naval, military or air. This question only arises in respect of the franchise qualifications for the Provincial Legislative Assemblies in respect of which past military service is one of the qualifications. I should say that past military service is not recognised as a franchise qualification for either the Provincial Legislative Council, that is the Provincial Upper House, or for the Central Legislature itself. When the Sixth Schedule of the Government of India Act, 1935, which establishes the basis of the franchise in the Indian Provinces, was drawn up, it was decided, in order to avoid further complications in an already complicated piece of drafting, to use only the term "military service," more especially as at that time there was very little Indian Air Force or Navy. Since that time a great expansion has taken place in recent years in the Indian Navy and Air Force, and the great services rendered by those forces in the past war make it anomalous that they should be excluded from this electoral qualification while those who have served in the Indian Army should be singled out for enfranchisement. In view of the fact that the provisions governing electoral qualifications are contained in a number of Orders in Council and Statutory Rules, in addition to the Sixth Schedule of the 1935 Act, it was thought preferable to achieve the desired result by a self-contained Act of Parliament rather than by way of amending these Rules and Orders individually. I hope, therefore, that this small Bill, which seeks to put right the very small anomalies to which I have referred, will receive the approval of the House.
We would certainly not wish to put any impediment in the way of passing this Bill. We can see it is clearly necessary. The need for it arises, as the Under-Secretary of State has said, from the decision to have elections in the cold weather, and it is not our desire that there should be any impediment in the way of those who would otherwise be qualified, by reason of residence, to be ruled out from having the vote. We hope there will not be the same unfortunate result from the inefficiency of the electoral roll in the Indian Elections as occurred in this country recently, and we look to those who compile these rolls for success and efficiency. We on this side of the House welcome the extension of the definition of the term "military service. "The services rendered by the Indian Navy and Air Force in this war are outstanding. It would have been a real shame if those who have performed service in those Forces had not had their services recog- nised by being enabled to vote in the forthcoming Election.In regard to the Bill itself, it seems a pity it has been necessary to have an Act of Parliament. I was a member of the original Indian Franchise Committee which went to India under the distinguished chairmanship of Lord Lothian. I recognise that our recommendations on the subject of residential qualifications are extremely complicated. It is only in so far as those qualifications are governed by the Sixth Schedule to the 1935 Act, that an Act of Parliament is necessary. Otherwise the object in view might have been achieved by the amendment of Rules and Orders. It is a little alarming to find the extent to which under Clause 1, Subsection (3), and Clause 3, Sub-section (2), matters are left delegated to the discretion of the Governor-General and the Governors, and the power given them to make electoral rules. The situation before this Bill was introduced was very complicated in regard to residential qualification as such, and I cannot but think that it may become more complicated after the passage of this Measure. However, I do not think these small points which I have raised constitute any reason why we should spend very long on the discussion of this Measure. It is for us on this side of the House to wish the hon. and learned Gentleman well in the passage of his Bill, and I hope that the conduct of the Indian elections will thereby be simplified and rendered more efficient.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Monday next.—[ Mr. Mathers.]
House Of Commons (Parliamentary Constituencies)
I beg to move,
"That the Draft of an Order entitled the House of Commons (Boundary Commissions) (Appointed Day) Order, 1945, a copy of which was presented on 9th October, be approved."
hope the Under-Secretary of State is going to give us a short explanation of this Order.
Certainly, Sir. If the right hon. Gentleman requires a short resume of the purpose for which the Order is required, I will gladly accede to his request.As the House will know, the purpose of this Order is to bring forward by one year, the appointed day under the Representation of the People Act. Under Section 33 (2) of the Representation of the People Act, 1945, the day appointed for the Boundary Commissioners to commence their work of reviewing Parliamentary constituencies is 15th October, 1946, but power was given to the Secretary of State by Order, subject to the approval of both Houses of Parliament, to retard or advance the date by a year. It was originally contemplated that the work of review should start when complete electoral statistics were available, but in 1944 no register had been prepared and, as a matter of fact, the last register to be prepared before this year was in 1939. By the passing of the Representation of the People Act, 1945, the Register was ordered to be made for May of this year and a subsequent one for October, but in February of this year, when that Act was being passed no one could foresee what would be the date of the conclusion of the war, and it would have been foolish then to attempt to fix an arbitrary period for this work to start. With the early termination of the war in both hemispheres, it is now possible to bring forward this date. It is bound to involve a great deal of work. In the period of the war there have been many changes in the country. Populations have moved enormously by natural processes and also by reason of war industries; many constituencies are much below the quota figure and many are well above that figure. I thought the House might be interested to have some little idea of what the position is and the position as it will confront the Commissioners when they start their work. Under the Redistribution Act the number of constituencies in Great Britain shall not be substantially greater than 591, of which Scotland shall not have less than 71 and Wales not less than 35, which are their present representations. It is now 28 years since the general redistribution of 1917, and in that period many changes of population and of location have taken place. The general problem involves three main considerations. On the basis of a 54,000 electorate, there are approximately 195 constituencies which are outside a toleration limit of 25 per cent. above or below the quota prescribed by the new Redistribution Act. There are considerable numbers of the 135 Parliamentary boroughs which are not co-terminous with their municipal boundaries. The readjustments which may be expected to involve varying major and minor changes in the boundaries of approximately two-thirds of the constituencies. From this it will be realised that redistribution will be a wholesale matter, and will affect the boroughs and divisions in almost every county in Great Britain. Coincident with the resettlement of people in peace-time conditions, it is desirable that all electors in towns and rural areas should know in which constituencies their franchises are to be exercised in the future, and that much of the present confusion over Parliamentary and local government votes being assimilated to different areas should be eliminated by the present redistribution. In the boroughs in England there are 37 constituencies above the quota, and in the counties 70 constituencies above the quota. Below the quota in the English boroughs there are 48, and in the counties 13. In Wales there are four counties above the quota and two below the quota. In Scotland, there are eight burghs below the quota and 10 counties below the quota. There are 28 metropolitan boroughs exclusive of the City, comprising 62 constituencies, with a total electorate of about 2,000,000 people. On the basis of any quota from 50,000 to 54,000, with the application of the 25 per cent. toleration limit, there are 41 to 45 constituencies below the limit, and one constituency—East Lewisham—above the limit. On the basis of the new quota it would appear that in London's present 62 constituencies there is an over-representation of about 21 seats. From that information it is quite obvious that the task which confronts the Commission is a substantial one. When the Commission gets to work and the general review has been made, it will not be necessary to come back to this House for special legislation because the Boundary Commissions are permanent bodies and will be able—indeed, they are required—to keep constantly under review the movements of population and the needs for which they have been created. The Statute requires them to make periodical reports to the Secretary of State in a period of not less than three years, and not more than seven years. For those reasons it will be obvious to the House that one is justified in making the suggestion that now the war is past, and as the work which confronts the Commission is rather substantial, no time should be lost for the purpose of getting this Commission into working order.
I make no apology to the House for asking the hon. Gentleman opposite to give us some explanation of this Order. It is a matter of supreme importance and most intimately affects every hon. Member of the House because the boundary of his constituency at the next Election will as a result differ from what it is at the present time.No one on this side of the House will quarrel with the Order on its merits. Redistribution is long overdue, as the statistics quoted by the Under Secretary of State clearly show, and the sooner this Boundary Commission gets to work the better for all concerned. At the same time, there are two questions to which I should like an answer. The first is this: The effect of the Order is that 15th October of this year—next Monday, I think—is the operative date from which the Boundary Commission will start their labours, and I rather think that in accordance with the terms of the Third Schedule to the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, 1944, that is also the date to which the Boundary Commissioners are to have regard, when calculating figures of population for the purpose of the new redistribution. If that is so, of course, there may be some unfortunate consequences because our population, which has made considerable shifts during the war, has not yet resumed stability. There are still large blitzed areas which, in the course of the next two or three years, will no doubt be built up again and to which the population will once again flow. If the effect of this Order is to fix 15th October of this year as the date to which the Commissioners have to have regard when considering figures of population, I say that there may be some unfortunate consequences. The second question to which I should like some answer is on quite a different matter. The Minister told us, I think, that there were 135 boroughs where the Parliamentary boundaries were different from the municipal boroughs. Hon. Members attach considerable importance, and I think rightly, to the municipal and the Parliamentary boundaries being, so far as possible, co-terminous. It is a matter of great inconvenience when you have overlapping boundaries. I do not know whether the Home Secretary in making this Order had in mind that there was passed in June last a Statute—the Local Government Boundary Commission; Act—which set up a new Commission to review local government boundaries. That Commission, I am told, has been established, although I myself do not know who are its members. It would seem of vital importance that these two Boundary Commissions, the one charged with a review of Parliamentary constituencies and the other charged with a review of local government boundaries, should work closely together. There surely should be very close liaison between the two. For all I know there may be some persons who are members of both Commissions, but if there are not, it would seem highly desirable that machinery should be established to enable these two Commissions to keep closely in touch. Otherwise, we shall have two bodies, one settling the Parliamentary constituency boundaries and the other settling the local government boundaries, acting independently, and coming very often to quite divergent conclusions. Those are the two points which seem to me to arise on this Order. We want on this side of the House to see redistribution proceed as speedily as possible, but we should like to have some assurance and some explanation on the two points which I have raised.
My right hon. Friend has just said that the Order will be of great importance to every Member of this House, because any Member might find the boundaries of his constituency rearranged. He might have added that the Order may affect Members of this House in an even more vital way because, when redistribution is carried out under the Order, the number of seats in the House will be reduced from 640 to 615. Therefore, 25 Members sitting here will lose their constituencies altogether. I should like to ask the Gov- ernment whether the Boundary Commissioners were consulted before it was decided to put before the House an Order to advance their sittings by one year. It is very desirable that they should have been consulted for the reason that my right hon. Friend has stated.I do not suppose that all new Members of the House will be aware that, under the Redistribution of Seats Act of last year—Rule 5 in the Third Schedule—this Parliamentary Boundary Commission is under a statutory obligation, as far as possible, to make the boundaries of Parliamentary constituencies correspond with local government boundaries. That at once raises the question; Is the Parliamentary Boundary Commission which is to start sitting next week, according to this Order, to consult the Local Government Boundary Commission which is also shortly to sit, or is it not? If these two Commissions are to act independently, it seems to me that the maximum of inconvenience will result to hon. Members, to the local authorities and, indeed, to the whole population. If the two Commissions do not act in consultation, the Parliamentary Boundary Commission will rearrange constituencies according to existing boundaries of local government areas, and while they are doing that the Local Government Boundary Commission will rearrange those boundaries. Then the Parliamentary Boundary Commission will have to start its work all over again. I do hope that the Home Secretary will deal with that point.
As my hon. Friend has just said, the operations of this Commission will closely affect almost every Member of the House. I want to put in a plea for close cooperation with the sitting Members and with every party organization in the constituencies, in the working of this Commission. I understand that the county councils and other bodies have been asked to prepare their recommendations, but I can see it happening quite easily that the recommendations of the Commission will be formulated and laid before this House when it will be too late for any hon. Member to protest or to get any alteration. There is a great sentimental tie between Members and their constituents. I should very much regret it if a large part of my constituency were taken away and I were given a large part of another constituency. I happen to have in my constituency an electorate of singular intelligence and discrimination, while I imagine that the electorates of the constituencies of many hon. Members opposite must be lacking in those qualities; but I also happen to have a constituency that is more ill-arranged than almost any other constituency in the country. It contains parts of many local government areas and it is clear that my constituency will be subject to a good deal of re-arrangement.The first half of the First Schedule to the Act of 1944 says that the Commission may, if they think fit, cause a local inquiry to be held respecting any constituency or constituencies. I ask that the Commission shall be encouraged to hold such local inquiries fairly generally and that people qualified to express an opinion, such as Members of Parliament and people from various party organisations in constituencies, shall be heard, before the recommendations are made. It is clear that we are putting our future political life, in effect, completely in the hands of the Commission. It will be no good pretending that when the recommendations are laid before this House we shall be able to propose Amendments to change their shape. I can imagine the Home Secretary saying, "You swallow this holus bolus or you reject it holus bolus." There is another point to which I should like to refer. The Under Secretary of State has said that many metropolitan constituencies are below the required number. Perhaps he has overlooked the fact that it is laid down in the Third Schedule;
There will be many difficulties arising out of that provision. I do not think this will be such a simple question as the Home Office appear to think. I urge the Minister again to encourage the Commission to hold, formally or informally, contact with interested persons, among whom I should include Members of Parliament, so that they may offer suggestions in the framing of the final recommendations."No metropolitan borough or any part thereof shall be included in a constituency which includes the whole or part of any other metropolitan borough."
I wish to ask for further information about the procedure which this Commission will adopt, and whether we shall be informed from time to time of the decisions at which they have arrived; or whether it is proposed that the whole country shall be reviewed before we are to have any information about what is to be proposed. It may well be that in the course of the proceedings persons interested may wish to make recommendations to the Commission, but it will be impossible for them to do so if we are to be presented with a finished project upon which we shall be unable to exercise any influence.The other point concerns two-Member constituencies. Under the Act at present, the Boundary Commission are required to split those constituencies, unless a good case is made out for not doing so. There can be little doubt that there are certain inconveniences associated with two-Member constituencies, and it would be most convenient if those two-Member divisions could know at the earliest possible moment what their fate was going to be. I therefore urge upon the Minister the necessity of attaching priority to that question in the work of the Boundary Commission. It will also be very important that every hon. Member and every constituency should know what the shape of the area is to be in the future. It is still more important for the constituency to know whether it is to have one Member or two Members next time. This is a comparatively small question, as only some 14 divisions are affected, and it could quickly be disposed of. I ask the Minister to ensure that the Boundary Commission will deal with it before going on to larger matters and I suggest that we might have an interim report as to the progress the Commission are making.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson) may remember that the interim recommendations of the Boundary Commission are to be submitted to this House in one draft Order in Council. It is impossible to alter or amend a draft Order in Council, as the whole thing has to be thrown out, or passed as submitted. I remember that the then Home Secretary, now Lord President of the Council, and the ex-Attorney-General, gave the House an undertaking during the last days of the last Parliament—I think it is also in the Boundary Commission Act—that the permanent recommendations of the Boundary Commission would be submitted to this House in the form of a Bill, with the recommendations set out in a Schedule. That would enable the House of Commons in Committee to amend—I think I am right in saying this—the recommendations as a whole, if we felt that the Commission had not been quite fair. I also hope that the Boundary Commission will take the opinion of this House now, that it should have more local inquiries. I feel that some of my constituents who were taken away from me during the redistribution of scats before the last General Election were overlooked rather too quickly, merely because they were on the wrong side of the rural district boundary.
I would point out to the hon. Member that there is no power to introduce a Bill to give effect to the report of the Boundary Commission. If he would look at Section 5 of the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1944, he will see that the recommendations have to be submitted to this House in the form of a draft Order.
I think that refers to the interim report and not to the permanent recommendations. I may be wrong, but attention has now been drawn to the matter. I do remember clearly that in the last Parliament the then Attorney-General, and the Home Secretary, said that the permanent recommendations, not the interim, would be submitted in the form of a Bill. The other thing is that local knowledge and matters of that kind should be taken into account by the Boundary Commission. I realise that the. Boundary Commission were faced during their previous inquiries with difficulties of travel and I consider that they did a very good job of work. They consulted local maps and saw where the local boundaries were, and they tried, as far as possible, to keep within the prescribed limits of population. Now that travelling is easier, I suggest that the Boundary Commission should, where they have reasonable requests from the Member of Parliament, from local authorities, or any other suitable person, go down and inspect boundaries, and hear evidence as to the lines on which redistribution should be recommended.
I will endeavour to answer the various questions which have been put to me so courteously by hon. Members opposite and if I take the speakers in the order in which they spoke, I hope that will make my explanations more clear. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) asked a question about the effect of choosing 15th October, 1945, for fixing the populations which have to be taken into consideration. He is quite right in the view he expressed that it does mean that the populations that will be considered by the Boundary Commission will be those at 15th October, 1945. Then he asked me about the liaison between this body and the Local Government Boundary Commission. That point was raised also by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) and it came more or less into all the other questions that were raised. The two Commissions will have to sit during the ensuring few months and years dealing with their respective problems. There are some questions which the Boundary Commissions that we are now appointing can consider without having any great regard to the final conclusions of the Local Government Boundary Commission—such points, for instance, as those that were raised by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe), as to splitting the two-Member constituencies. I should imagine that, being people of sound common sense, they will tackle first that part of their job which does not depend on the findings of the Local Government Boundary Commission. That body has a very long job in front of it, and its terms of appointment indicate that it is not expected that its job will be finished within the lifetime of the present Parliament. Therefore, if we are to wait until we get the final conclusions of the Commission, we might very well not be able to have the redistribution of seats for which these Commissions are required. It is clear that in a matter of this kind the less influence that the head of a Government Department brings to bear on a Commission the better, certainly for me—I will not say anything about the Commission—because I am sure that people would find it hard to believe that I was trying to rearrange the boundaries of Surrey, for instance, so as to secure the continued presence here of the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson). I should be sorry to see him go, but I should have difficulty in persuading people that that was my true sentiment.
That was not the right hon. Gentleman's attitude during the General Election, when he made a fiery irruption into my constituency and put out monstrous inaccuracies, which only had the effect of assuring me of a large majority.
But it was only about half the majority obtained at the previous election.
If the right hon. Gentleman had not spoken, it might have been only a quarter.
I increased the Conservative vote by—I do not know how much.
But think of the increase in the Labour vote, which far outweighed anything gained by the hon. Gentleman. I agree with the point of view expressed by the hon. Gentleman that the Boundary Commissioners should hold as many local inquiries as are reasonable, because there is a great feeling in a constituency like his, where there is a big town like Woking at one end and an old town like Farnham at the other, and it may be difficult for anybody sitting in London to note which are the natural affiliations of people just on the border-line. I should desire, and I am sure the whole House would, that ties of local sentiment should receive proper recognition in any recommendations that the Boundary Commissioners make to us.We are faced with the fact that throughout the country at the moment the effect of the various local and government reviews that were carried out under the Act of 1929 have considerably altered the boundaries of a large number of constituencies. To take my own constituency, the Act of 1918 defined the Parliamentary borough of South Shields as being the municipal borough of South Shields. Since that time, part of the old municipal borough has been included in the municipal borough of Jarrow. The consequence is that I represent about 120 electors who are within the borough of Jarrow, and my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) represents about 6,000 or 7,000 electors who are within the enlarged municipal borough of South Shields. The consequence is that these people vote in the municipal borough for municipal elections, but not in the municipal borough for Parliamentary elections. One would desire that that kind of anomaly, which makes the effective use of citizenship difficult on certain occasions, should be brought to an end as soon as possible. That is one of the things, as the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling) pointed out, with which the Boundary Commissioners are charged. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Brighton, in view of what I have said, will not expect me to give any precise indication to the Boundary Commissioners as to the order in which they should tackle the various tasks that fall to their lot.
As the right hon. Gentleman said that he would deal with the questions in order, will he answer my question whether the Boundary Commissioners were consulted before the Government decided to advance their sittings by one year?
There are no Boundary Commissioners for Scotland and Ireland, and while there are some for England and Wales, it does not follow that they will be the people who will carry out the work under this Order. There may be some changes in their composition.
They are still in existence.
They are in existence, but they will not of necessity be the people who will be the Boundary Commissioners when this new work is started.
That seems a poor reason for not consulting them.
The only other point which has arisen was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). The answer I will give may, I think, remove some of the apprehensions that have been expressed. The first general distribution which these Boundary Commissioners will undertake will be submitted to the House in the form of a Bill, which will be capable of amendment during the Committee stage with regard to each individual constituency in the country.
Does not that go against the 1944 Act?
Sub-section 4 (2) of the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Act, 1944, says:
"Reports under the last foregoing Subsection shall be submitted by a Commission—(a) in the case of the first report, not less than three or more than seven years from the date of the passing of an Act giving effect (whether with or without modifications) to the recommendations contained in the reports submitted by the Commissions under the last foregoing Section."
I hesitate to argue with the right hon. Gentleman, but if he turns to Section 5 of the Act, he will see that a report of a Boundary Commission shall be submitted in the form of a draft Order in Council. Such an Order is not subject to amendment by the House, but, if it is rejected, the Secretary of State may amend the draft and lay another Order before the House.
I have taken care to be advised on this point, and am told that the effect of the Sub-section I have read is to give an assurance that this first redistribution will be submitted in the form of a Bill which will refer, as the Representation of the People Act, 1918, did, to each constituency individually, and the Bill will be capable of amendment in Committee, as, in my recollection, the Measure of 1918 was. I admit that the passage I read seems to me, as a non-legal person, to be somewhat obscure on the point. I know, however, that it was the intention of the Coalition Government, which introduced the Bill which is now the Act, and it is certainly the intention of this Government, that the first general redistribution of seats shall be submitted to the House in the form of a Bill.
Is that a definite pledge?
That is our intention. If it should be found on further examination that the good intentions of the Coalition Government in this matter did not find full expression in the Act, I will see that the matter is put right before the question becomes ripe for decision by the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds was not unacquainted with the proceedings on that Measure, and I think I have correctly interpreted the intentions of the Coalition Government. I hope that what I have said will be deemed sufficiently satisfactory for the House to give us this Order.We are engaged on a long and delicate task, and the sooner we get down to it the more likely are we to be able to present a Bill that will be generally acceptable to the House. We were aware of the point that was made by the hon. Member for Farnham with regard to the peculiar provisions applying to Metropolitan Boroughs, but, even allowing for them, there will be a substantial reduction in the membership of this House, as far as London is concerned, in the next House of Commons. There will, in addition, be a reduction of 25 members, bringing it back to the 615 which was the number of the last House. All these matters require a certain amount of adjustment in the constituencies after the House has decided what the areas and the number of the constituencies are, to be. I am sure that hon. Members whose constituencies were involved just before the last General Election know that some delicate negotiations have to take place between candidates and organisations as to which part of the carved-up constituency the sitting Member was to be regarded as candidate for, and how the arrangements for the remaining part of the constituency were to be made. We are hoping that we shall be able to get the decision of the House on the redistribution of seats sufficiently early to enable these delicate negotiations to be carried through rather less hurriedly than was the case before the General Election of 1945.
The right hon. Gentle man was good enough to refer to my constituency. There are many like that, and it would be of value if he could officially or unofficially give the Boundary Commissions some indication of the principles they should have in mind when there is, on one side, a large industrial town and, on the other, an ancient borough. On the question of amendment, I hope he will hold unofficial conversations first, because I can see that it will be very difficult to amend a Bill—
The hon. Member is now making a second speech, which he can only do in Committee.
I should be very reluctant to give directions, or even hints, of the kind that the hon. Member has suggested, because, as between industrial areas and ancient boroughs, there is apt to be very acute party cleavage. I do not want this Bill to degenerate into a gerry-mandering Measure on one side or the other—
It was only meant as a compliment to the right hon. Gentleman's fairness.
But when the Greeks bring gifts, we have to examine them very carefully. I ask the House to accept the view that what I have said to-day and the reception that it has had in the House is probably better as a direction to the commissioners than a circular or a private conversation. When we get nearer to a General Election suspicions that are lulled to-day may become more active.
Question put, and agreed to.
"That the Draft of an Order entitled the House of Commons (Boundary Commissions) (Appointed Day) Order, 1945, a copy of which was presented on 9th October, be approved."
Indian Divorce Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."This little Bill is not controversial, and it is designed to validate certain divorce decrees made in good faith by the Bombay High Court since 1942 in the exercise of a jurisdiction formerly possessed by that court but of which, as was subsequently discovered, it had been divested before the cases in question came before it. Five cases are affected. In three of them decrees absolute have been made, and in the other two decrees nisi have been passed which it is desirable that the court should be empowered to make absolute. As in all these cases, the parties are Europeans domiciled in the United Kingdom, and therefore an error in the exercise of the jurisdiction of the court can only be cured and the state of the parties legally determined by legislation. I should explain that in divorce cases affecting Europeans domiciled in the United Kingdom jurisdiction has been conferred upon the courts of India by the Indian and Colonial Jurisdiction Act, 1926. That Act, however, did not provide for the distribution of the jurisdiction so conferred upon the various High Courts of India, and by an amending Act of 1940 an appropriate area was introduced for each High Court, which was given responsibility for the cases arising in its appropriate area. The cases covered by this Bill arise in the Indian State of Hyderabad, which up to 1936 came within the jurisdiction of the Bombay High Court. In 1936, however, a notification was issued by the Government of India under the Indian Foreign Jurisdiction Order in Council which had the effect of substituting the Nagpur High Court of the Central Provinces for the Bombay High Court for the purposes of all divorce cases arising under the Act of 1926 in relation to persons residing in the State of Hyderabad. In the results the Nagpur High Court became and thereafter remained the only appropriate court for hearing divorce cases affecting European British subjects domiciled in the United Kingdom but resident in the State of Hyderabad. Unfortunately this notification under the Order in Council escaped the notice not only of the officers of the Bombay High Court but also of the solicitors and barristers practising in that court on the divorce side, and also of the court itself, and the consequence is that these invalid decrees were passed which it is the purpose of this Bill to validate.
It seems to me to be even more regrettable than in the last instance in which the hon. Gentleman moved a Bill in this House to have to trouble the Imperial Parliament with this matter. It strikes us as very peculiar that this notification should not have been observed by anybody practising in the Bombay High Court or by the court itself. I understand that was due to the fact that notification was not made directly under the Indian Divorce Act. That is the excuse given. If that is the case to pass this Bill appears to be the only course for the House to take, but I trust that in future when notifications are made by Order in Council steps will be taken to bring them to the attention of the court in question. There must have been some laxity in this case. The fact of having to trouble us here indicates that the matter was not properly handled. Subject to these observations it appears to be to the interest of the parties concerned that we should dispatch this Bill as quickly as possible.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Monday next [ Mr. Simmons.]
British Settlements Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."This Bill, like the last one, is very short and also, I trust, noncontroversial. Its object is to remove difficulties sometimes encountered in framing Constitutions for the Colonial Empire. These difficulties are purely legal and affect only those territories in the Empire which are British Settlements; that is to say, from the legal point of view they are dependent upon the British Settlements Act, 1887, which this Bill is designed to amend. The Act of 1887 was passed to provide for the government of British possessions acquired by colonisation, such as those which British subjects resorted to and settled in in different places abroad, where there was no suitable Government and such settlements afterwards became possessions of His Majesty. British settlements are a comparatively small part of the Colonial Empire. Excluding Protected States, where His Majesty has in general no jurisdiction, the Colonial Empire consists of the following types of territory settled territory—with which this Bill is concerned; conquered territory; a ceded territory; protectorate; and mandated territory. In many cases a Dependency which is regarded generally as one administrative unit consists of a combination of two or more of the types of territory to which I have referred, and it would be highly inconvenient and undesirable for each constituent part of such a Dependency to be given a separate Constitution, and, indeed, the present tendency is to reduce the number of legislatures and increase the area of their jurisdiction. For example, the Gold Coast, to which I shall refer later, consists of the Gold Coast Colony, which is a British Settlement, Ashanti, which is a Colony but not settled, and a Protectorate called the Northern Territories. An instrument setting up a legislature for a territory comprising areas of different kinds must be made in exercise of the powers appropriate to each area, regard being had to the method of their acquisition. This gives rise to no great difficulty except where part of the territory is a British Settlement. The authority to set up a legislative body for a British Settlement is derived from the British Settlements Act, 1887. This Act enables His Majesty to make laws for a settlement by Order in Council. By Section 3 the King is empowered to delegate that power by Letters Patent under the Great Seal to "three or more persons within the Settlement. "It is immediately apparent, therefore, that there is objection to establishing one legislature for two or more areas any one of these areas being a British Settlement, because some of the members must of necessity be persons within the other areas and they would not be persons "within the Settlement." This difficulty has been recognised for some years, and though certain methods of overcoming it have been suggested from time to time, conflicting opinions have been expressed as to their efficacy, and the legal position is highly unsatisfactory. Recently the problem has become acute in connection with projects for important constitutional reforms in Africa. In the Gold Coast, to which I have referred, it is proposed to set up a legislative body to make laws for the Gold Coast Colony, the whole or part of which is a British Settlement, and Ashanti, which is not a British Settlement. There must, of course, be members to represent both territories and not only persons within the Gold Coast Colony. Similarly, the Gambia consists partly of British Settlement and partly of a protectorate, and a proposed legislature for the whole territory must include representatives of both parts. This restraint under the Act upon the creation of proper legislatures serves no useful purpose, and it is therefore proposed in this Bill to remove them by providing, in effect, that for the words "any three or more persons within the Settlement" there shall be substituted a reference to any specified person or persons or authority. That is the most important effect of the Bill, but this amendment will serve a further purpose. When a Colonial Territory is first given a legislature with an unofficial majority it is necessary to vest reserved powers of legislation in the Governor. The Governor may be "within the Settlement" but the vesting of reserved powers in the hands of one person would obviously be inconsistent with the words "three or more persons". The Amendment will permit the necessary powers to be given to the Governor. Section 3 of the Act at present requires the power to make laws to be delegated by Letters Patent under the Great Seal. In the case of a Protectorate the same sort of delegation must be effected by means of an Order in Council under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act, 1890. Hence, when a legislature has to be set up for a territory which is in part a British Settlement and in part a protectorate, two different kinds of instruments are required. This difficulty it is proposed in this Bill to overcome by providing that the power to make laws may be delegated under the British Settlements Act by means of an Order in Council. It will then be possible to issue one Order in Council which will be under the British Settlements Act as respects the Colony and under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act as respects the protectorate. I am afraid that the issue is, as my hon. Friends will see, a very legal matter, but one which I trust that I have made reasonably clear to them, and I would therefore ask them to give me the Second Reading of this Bill.
This is a Bill which raises a point of interest to the legal historian rather than, I think, to a practical House of Commons. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bristol West (Colonel Stanley) asked me to apologise to the House for his absence and to explain that it was unavoidable and did not arise out of any discourtesy on his part. The Bill, as I understand it, makes a formal improvement in the law rendered necessary for administrative reasons by the curious fact that a single British Colony may have within it territories of at least three different legal types: A British Settlement originally formed out of British subjects who had gone to reside there; a Colony properly so called acquired by conquest; and a Protectorate which may have been acquired by cession or treaty. In those circumstances enactments which are applicable only to a Settlement may cause embarrass- meat in Colonies where the territories are of more kinds that one. So far as we are concerned we consider that this Bill can be given a Second Reading without further discussion, and if I may be permitted a remark as to the moral to be drawn from this and other Bills this morning, it would be that a great deal of Parliamentary time might be saved if His Majesty's Government would consider the codification and consolidation of our laws, thereby reducing the jungle which at present is flourishing, growing and increasing every day.
I am rather surprised to hear my hon. Friend speak about the legal jungle because he himself belongs to the profession whose members might be called its wild denizens, and gets his living out of it.
We guide people out of the jungle.
Is the implication behind this Bill that the policy of His Majesty's Government, when granting constitutions to Colonies, will be to do it by Order in Council? I have been hoping that this House would have more time than in the past, and more powers, to consider the provisions of such constitutions. I take it that the right hon. Gentleman implies by his remarks that in future the procedure will be as in the past, namely that Colonial constitutions will be promulgated only by Orders in Council.
The point which my hon. Friend has put is one which I can answer in a sentence. There is no change in the law as it exists. The intention is, as far as possible and when the House desires it, that when any change is made in a constitution or any new constitution is granted, opportunity will be given to the House to debate it.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tuesday next.—[ Captain Michael Stewart.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Captain Michael Stewart.]
No excuses should be needed at this stage, after the Government have been in office for some months, for my bringing forward the question of civil aviation. There are those of us who believe that the future prosperity and unity of the British Empire, as well as our British trade in general, depend to a very large extent on Britain being as enterprising in the field of civil aviation as she was in the past in developing her maritime marine, and I am determined that this matter shall not be allowed to rest. There was quite enough delay under the National Government in setting up the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Some of us pressed for it for a very long time, and eventually our demands were acceded to. The Ministry of Civil Aviation was set up and a Cabinet Minister was appointed, with direct access to the War Cabinet, to deal urgently with matters of civil aviation.Those of us who have been pressing for that policy for a long time thought we were getting somewhere when the Ministry was set up and the Government introduced an agreed White Paper on the National Government's policy. We thought that after the White Paper, which was a compromise, had been presented to the House the Government would introduce a Bill and press forward with the development of civil aviation. Then, of course, came the General Election and a new Government was elected, and instead of advancing as we had hoped, we find ourselves to-day having lost all the ground we won in the past because the Government have not produced a policy. The policy outlined in the White Paper has gone by the board, and instead of the companies which were brought into the White Paper scheme being given the word "go" and allowed to get on with it, they find themselves to-day still without a policy and not knowing where they stand. This is very serious for more than one reason. For instance, there is the disbandment of the Royal Air Force and particularly of Transport Command, where a very great potential field of recruitment for future civil aviation existed. I find that quite a number of my Royal Air Force friends who intended to make civil aviation their career after the war found themselves so disappointed with the lack of any decision as to what their future prospects might be that they have abandoned all thought of such a career and have, in many cases, been demobilised from the Royal Air Force and taken up other occupations. Some of them—I know quite a number—have taken permanent commissions in the Royal Air Force. They are, therefore, lost to civil aviation. In addition to that, we have the high pressure competition from countries like America in the field of civil aviation. I have lately been on the Continent, and everywhere I went I found, whether among countries who were our Allies in the war or countries like Sweden, every desire to co-operate with us in the field of civil aviation. All of them were having pressure brought to bear upon them, in particular by the Americans, who are very much alive to the importance of this subject, to enter into bilateral agreements. They have held out against such agreements in the past because they were anxious to co-operate with us in the development of civil aviation in Europe, but they have been driven by despair and by the fact that we have no policy to enter into bi-lateral agreements with the Americans, and in that way the prospect of our forming any definite European policy, or at any rate of initiating any definite European scheme, is going by the board. That is a very serious thing. I believe there has been an admitted difficulty in providing the planes, and planes are wanted more than anything else, but planes are not everything. Foundations have to be laid for an airport, civil or military, before it is possible to operate planes and those foundations have not been laid. If the planes were available to-day they could not be operated because the opportunity of laying the foundations for an air service, by entering into agreements with different countries and doing all the groundwork and preparation that is necessary, has been lost. Many of us were not very enamoured of the Government's White Paper, but taking it by and large it was a fair compromise between those who believed in the nationalisation of industry, and those of us who believed that private enterprise was the system which would give this country the best hope for the future. On that basis, the White Paper was accepted by the House, to which it was commended by no less a person than the present President of the Board of Trade, who was then Minister of Aircraft Production. Most of my hon. Friends on this side of the House who take an active interest in this subject would have preferred a different policy, but realising the urgency of having a policy at all and the difficulty of obtaining full agreement in the National Government on any policy that was not a compromise, we accepted the White Paper as a basis for going forward. Lord Swinton, in introducing his policy in another place, did get support from all sides and said that in his White Paper scheme party politics had been left outside the door, where he hoped they would remain, because it was absolutely essential, if we were to go forward, to make rapid progress. We could not afford to quarrel over ideologies. What has happened since? The new Government have been returned and the White Paper scheme has been scrapped. The B.O.A.C., the railway companies, the shipping companies and the booking companies and travel agencies who were brought into the White Paper scheme have since been left absolutely without any direction or Government policy, and they do not know where they stand. The reason why I am pressing this to-day is because it is urgent that we should make a decision and get moving on this question. What was the White Paper policy? The B.O.A.C, which is a Government institution, is as badly off as any of the other parties concerned in the White Paper scheme, because they do not know where they stand. All this potential material, human and otherwise, is going adrift because they cannot recruit for the future, being unable to offer any terms. The railway companies have gone a long way in forming a company to operate European routes, and they are left in the same position. The shipping companies also had begun to prepare the ground, and are now waiting for direction and for the word "go." All they get is rumours and inspired statements in the Press to the effect that the policy stated in the White Paper is not to be carried out, and that private enterprise is not to play any part in the future of civil aviation. They do not know where they stand. I should have thought that the Government had quite enough on hand in the way of nationalisation without interfering with the policy laid down by the National Government, a policy which, after all, was agreed to by Members of the War Cabinet, including the right hon. Gentlemen who are now Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, President of the Board of Trade and Lord President of the Council. All of them approved of the scheme in the White Paper; surely, that ought to be enough to commend that scheme to the present Government. But we are told the White Paper does not go farenough, and the nationalisation addicts in the party are blocking the scheme. If that be the case, then let us find out what is the alternative policy. What we object to so strongly, and what we think is so serious, is that no alternative policy has been put forward in place of the National Government's scheme. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell the House what the Government's policy is. Time is on the march, we are losing ground everywhere. I have had a good deal of correspondence on these matters with countries within the British Empire and with Colonial Governments responsible for airlines. Only the other day I met the chairman of the British West Indian Airways. That company belongs to the British Government, and the Colonial Office have spent a lot of money in building up that line. The chairman has been in this country for several weeks trying to get a decision from the British Government on policy, because the company wants to expand or at any rate, to maintain the services it is now operating in linking up the West Indian islands. The chairman of the company informed me that he has been hanging about over here for weeks because he could not get a decision on matters connected with the airline, which is part of the scheme of Empire routes. That sort of thing is happening all over the Empire. It is happening in this country in the case of people who are struggling to operate internal airlines. There is no direction, no encouragement, and no policy. I turn to another question. During the war we have spent over £200,000,000 on the development of aerodromes and air- ports. It is true that they were developed chiefly for military purposes, but the fact is that we are left to-day without an airport large enough and well-equipped enough to serve as a world airport. I know that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) intends to uphold Prestwick. I know the large amount of traffic which Prestwick has carried during the war; it has done wonderful national service during the war; but for all its merits, it is obvious that we must have an airport nearer to the seat of Government and the capital, although no doubt use can be found in the future for Prestwick. The position is that we have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on building airports and not one of them is adaptable to civil aviation purposes. Surely, the Government ought to have been far-seeing enough, as we pressed them to be, to prepare at any rate one airport that could have been switched over to civil aviation within a reasonable period after the war. Heath Row may or may not be suitable, but I do not think it is situated in the best place for an airport; the civil air operators would be very glad if it were available. As for Croydon, which I have used a good deal, it becomes more and more congested and less suited for the job it is trying to carry out. The only other near airport that could be used for the purpose of relieving Croydon is Northolt, which we are told the R.A.F. will not surrender. Is that true? What alternative is there to Croydon in the event of fog or of Croydon being unserviceable? It is essential we should have another airport. Fortunately, owing to the Business of the House having been finished earlier than we had anticipated, there will bean opportunity for hon. Members to state their views on this matter. I very strongly urge upon the Parliamentary Secretary and the Government the importance of making a statement upon civil aviation and the Government's policy with regard to it at the earliest possible moment. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to do so to-day, but if not, I hope he will give us a date upon which a statement of policy will be made. A great many people are very much concerned by the vacillations, inaction and delays on the part of the Government in coming to a decision. I urge him to tell us what is in the Government's mind and to answer some of the questions I have put to him.
I am sure the House is grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) for taking this opportunity to call attention to the very important matter of the future policy of this country on civil aviation. I gather that the Government are not yet in a position to declare their policy, and therefore, if we on these benches have an opportunity of stating our points of view to the Minister and to the Parliamentary Secretary, on whose appointment I should like to congratulate him, I hope we may thereby prevent a mistake from being made. I have no knowledge of what the Government's policy is going to be, but to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight, who referred to the White Paper on Civil Aviation as a compromise, I will say, Thank God the days of compromise with the Conservative Party are over. We are now able to stand on our own feet, and however much some of our Ministers may have felt obliged, in order to maintain national unity, to enter into what may be regarded as commitments in one White Paper after another, we have a clear policy. There is a completely new Government.
Where is the policy?
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman had taken the trouble to read the case of his opponent at the General Election, he would have seen the policy clearly published in a well-written pamphlet entitled "Wings for Peace." I hope that no Minister now feels in any way that he or the Government are bound by what was in the White Paper. I know that many of my hon. Friends who have studied the White Paper feel that it was quite deplorable. The hon. and gallant Member was completely wrong when he said that the House accepted the White Paper. If he will look at the Official Report, he will find that the House never accepted the White Paper. What happened was that it was introduced on a Supplementary Vote of Credit or on a Consolidated Fund Bill, and it was quite impossible for hon. Members who disagreed with the contents of the White Paper to vote against the request for money which the Government were making. A vote against the Government would have been misunderstood and it would have looked as if we were trying to prevent the Government from having funds for the conduct of the war. I emphasise that the House, and certainly the Members of my own party, did not accept the contents of the White Paper.
How about the Ministers in the National Government? How about the present President of the Board of Trade, who introduced the White Paper to the House?
However much Ministers may have felt obliged to compromise in the production of the White Paper for the sake of national unity, there is national unity no longer. The party fight is now on; we are the Government. On many occasions in the past I have warned the Conservative Party, and their friends who are shareholders in railway companies and shipping companies and who wanted to take the risk of advancing money for the purpose of developing airlines to be run by railway companies and shipping companies, that they would do so at their peril. I am sure the records will prove that they had a very clear warning of what would be the fate of their investments if they were so foolish as to take any notice of the contents of the White Paper.This matter is a tremendously important one. If a mistake is made at the beginning, it may be irremediable. From the other side of the House I have advocated over and over again that this matter must be approached from the point of view of an international service to the user, and not from the point of view of what a certain interest can get out of it. I have heard and read speeches in this House and in another place, particularly in another place by various noble Lords, such as Lord Londonderry and Lord Essendon, stating what they thought were the fair claims of the railway companies and shipping companies to a share in the rake-off which it was hoped to get from running civil aviation as a private enterprise venture. Therefore, we start from this point, which is one on which I and my colleagues on these Benches feel very strongly: we must not allow the Government to make a mistake at this stage in their policy. We must approach this matter from the point of view of a service to the user of aircraft, whether for business, pleasure or cargo carrying, and not from the point of view either of the national prestige involved in running an airline or the profits that can be made out of it. I remember years ago standing at Le Bourget aerodrome, watching the aircraft of various airlines arrive. I have seen the Imperial Airways 'planes arrive and put out the light blue ensign. Then the Sabena would come in and put out the Belgian flag and the K.L.M. put out the Dutch flag and so on. There was a ridiculous demonstration of Nationalism at every single airport when airliners landed showing the flag of their nations. I put this to the House seriously. It is possible to fly from one place in the world to any other in three days. It is expected that, with the development of jet propulsion, we shall be able to go from any one place to any other in two and a half days. That is really not very far off. How absurd it is to talk of each country even having its own nationalised airlines. At these big international conferences, such as San Francisco and others, something like 50 or 55 different nations turn up and are represented. They are big enough to attend these conferences and we are really coming to the situation that there will be in London, Stockholm, Copenhagen and New York, 55 different airlines' offices all hoping to get orders for travel and so on. Surely, this is a matter which should be dealt with on a world basis right from the start. I am told that there will be difficulties and that America might find it difficult or might be awkward in accepting a recommendation of this kind. May I put this to the House? We are not alone on this side of the House in holding this policy. It is the policy of the Australian Government and of the New Zealand Government and it was agreed to at the Canberra Conference, as the House will remember.
I must correct the hon. Member. That policy was adumbrated by the Australian Government and the New Zealand Government and rejected at the Chicago Conference.
I know that it was not dropped by these Governments and that it was rejected by Lord Swinton.
He said it was a fantastic policy.
The position is that it is the established policy of the Australian Government and of the New Zealand Government and the policy of this Government. The fact that it was adumbrated by the representatives of the two Governments at the Chicago Conference and challenged by vested interests in this country demonstrates the importance of the suggestion that this service must be taken out of the international scramble for power and private profit. I asked the Secretary of State over and over again after the Chicago Conference to publish a verbatim account of the arguments used against Mr. Sullivan's argument at the Chicago Conference. That has never been done. I understand the question will now be asked whether the American Government is now prepared and ready to publish it, and are the Government prepared to put into the Library the whole verbatim report of what took place in Chicago? have never seen.—and I have been all through the files, every one of them why Lord Swinton and Doctor Adolf Berle and others turned down the policy I am advocating and which was advocated by Mr. Drakeford and by Mr. Sullivan, representing Australia and New Zealand at Chicago. [Interruption.] I wish the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight would allow me to go on with my speech. I have been through the whole of the files in the Library. They are very large and I challenge him to produce evidence here within the next two hours, because this would give me a chance to get on with my speech. The arguments against Mr. Sullivan were not published, and we have pressed for full publication.I have always regarded civil aviation—particularly recently—as international dynamite. It might easily become the cause of the next world war. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary knows—we met abroad during the Recess—I have seen the kind of efforts that are being made, particularly by the Americans, to establish—and I gather with success—the kind of spheres of influence and the right to fly in and out and to take up cargo and passengers as much as they possibly can. You have a real nationalist approach behind American Airlines at the present time. That is the danger. We in this country admit that our position is weak. We have very few airlines, we see the kind of difficulty and danger this country is in and the danger which arises from the nationalist policy conducted by different countries. I think that before Mr. Truman stopped Lend-Lease, we were flying between London and Stockholm something like six services a week. After Lend-Lease came to an end—we were using American aircraft and petrol—I understand that the Americans said that we must cut down our services to three. I think that is right; it may be four services. What did we do? And this is the kind of danger to which I want to draw the attention of hon. Members. We then said to Swedish Airlines, "As we can only go to Stockholm three times, you can only come to London three times." This is quite fantastic. We live in a world which is the smallest in history and is getting smaller year after year. Here is something to span the world in a few days. This must be done on a world basis. The policy I have advocated over and over again—and I am glad to have this opportunity of doing it to a new House of Commons—is that I believe we should set up an international or world airways limited or incorporated and have a board of directors really anxious from the beginning to provide the very best international air service for mankind; also they must be men and women who have an international outlook. Those of us who have spent any time at Geneva between the wars know that it is possible for Englishmen, Frenchmen, Belgians, Germans and Prussians to work together in an international body with an international outlook, only concerned to give the very best services, whether medical services or whatever kind of services or jobs they have irrespective of the activities or the complexion of the Government of the countries of their origin. We know, therefore, that it is possible to find people who can have an international outlook. I am sure that it is not impossible to find men and women, say, to the number of 20, who are sufficiently intelligent, keen and able to provide the directorate of a world airways, or an international air service. I regret to say that it is obvious that it may be difficult to find them in the sense that the method of selection might be a matter of difficulty, but I cannot believe that 20 such men do not exist. The question is one of appointment, and I have argued over and over again that it ought to be made by some small Government, such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark or Switzerland—countries whose smallness is their strength, countries who will be able to appeal to world opinion if pressure is being brought either by the British or American Governments to appoint a certain person because he was likely to give orders for certain aircraft to factories in America. They should be the nominating Governments—and I want to emphasise that I am not suggesting that they should nominate their own people but the best people they could find for the purpose of filling the board. As I say, the very smallness of these Governments would be their strength. One of the most awful things about this is, supposing that we had just Government nominees, British Government, American and French Government nominees, it is obvious that we would have a tremendous tussle all the time with, a British director looking after British airways, an American director looking after Amercan aircraft industry and so on. We should get away from that conception altogether. The war is now over, and we should try to enter an era of peace. If mankind cannot collaborate and co-operate on a matter of this kind so obviously in its infancy, then it would be a very grave outlook for the future. Having got your board—and I do not put this beyond the realm of possibility—you would probably have to delegate authority to boards at regional offices and you would have to have delegated bodies to run services in various areas which might be described as branch offices. The board ought to select the aircraft irrespective of where they are made, but it should be the best aircraft for the purpose of giving the best service. We always say in this country—and I am sure that no hon. Member in the House would deny it—that we build the best aircraft. We should not be afraid of that. We should select the best aircraft for the job in hand; I would go further and say we should select the best personnel irrespective of nationality. The whole conception must be international. The airfields should not—as the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) is hoping to advocate very soon—be subject to political pressure from people who run airlines, or who are concerned about people in their constituencies.
May I say that Scotland is a little tired of the kind of remark which has just been made by the hon. Member? We are getting very impatient about the delays in coming to any reasonable decision with regard to Prestwick.
However that may be, we are getting much more tired of Prestwick being advocated by hon. Members in this House. It is so ridiculous in a matter of international magnitude of this kind to have anyone pressing the narrow claims, however good, of one airport against another. The emphasis I am trying to place all the time is on the world-wide importance of the issue under discussion. I therefore, ask that full powers be given to this international board to select its aircraft, its personnel and its aerodromes. No doubt Prestwick, from what hear about it, would qualify but it cannot be left to the wire-pulling of aircraft manufacturers or of the political wire-pulling of various people or of Governments. I came across a case during the last four or five weeks—I will not mention the country or the airline; it was a private conversation—in which the intention was obvious. Here was a certain air director, who said, "I am going to enter into agreements in this or other countries and it will be all right if I can do all I want with the Government." We cannot have Governments in the pockets of airlines. Here we have an opportunity, and beg of my hon. Friend and of his Noble Friend the Minister to give us an indication of policy.
On a point of Order, I raised this question and I notice that the hon. Member points at me when he talks about vested interest. I have no interest in civil aviation apart from national interest.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman asked for a hurrying up of the production of a policy, and said that railway companies, travel agencies, and shipping companies did not know where they were. His calling for a hurrying up of the publication of policy is based on the argument that these four vested interests do not quite know where they stand.
I also mentioned B.O.A.C.
The hon. and gallant Member was allowed to make his speech without interruption, and he should allow other hon. Members to do the same.
I hope that the Minister here and my Noble Friend will have regard to what have tried to say. I hope that the world conception of this service, as something that can be such a boon to mankind, may be accepted. It should not be upset by either private or national interests. I am just as frightened of the chosen instrument in this country as of the chosen instrument in America, each backed up with the power and finance of their own Government, because this will certainly lead to serious international trouble. There was no difficulty at all in getting agreement at Chicago on technical matters; the difficulty came on the political level.Therefore, I do ask, as seriously as I can—although I do not want to threaten of course—that the Government should produce a policy along the lines of the party policy which I am advocating to-day. I say that, unless they do so, they will incur the displeasure, and possibly worse, of a great number of us who are anxious about this matter, and who are not necessarily always great experts on aviation. It is a political question and in considering this aspect one need not know anything about navigation at all. It is a matter which must be dealt with on the political level. I appeal to hon. Members to recognise that this question must be settled on an international basis, and, roughly, along the lines I have indicated. I hope that, in view of what I have said, the Minister will consider his draft proposals and will see to it that this question is really dealt with as a very big issue. I do not blame the Minister for not having introduced his policy within six weeks; I only hope that, when he does introduce it, it will be a policy which will commend itself to hon. Members on this side of the House.
I think hon. Members of this House and indeed the country too owe a debt of gratitude to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) for his courageous effort to try to get the Government to say what is in their minds in regard to this most vital question, affecting, as it does, the prosperity and security of this country as well as that of the world in general. I would also like to congratulate the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) on his speech. Candidly, I enjoy it more every time I hear it, and I become increasingly interested on every occasion by his arguments, which I hope he will continue to use again and again. I do not suppose for one moment that they will ever have the slightest effect on the Government, but it gives the hon. Member pleasure and why should he not have it?The one thing which the hon. Member for Nuneaton forgets is that it takes two to make a contract. Possibly, if he consulted the Foreign Secretary after the recent conversations of the Foreign Ministers, he would find that it is not just enough for this country to have a point of view, or even to express it. You must make sure that other great nations take a similar view, and I advise those who take an idealistic conception of civil aviation to keep their ears to the ground, and be realists as well. We know that Lord Swinton introduced a White Paper in the spring of this year, and set out very clearly and lucidly the Government proposals. We know that they involved a threefoldmonopoly—the B.O.A.C., the railways and the shipping lines. Here, I must diverge from the line taken by my hon. and gallant Friend who introduced this subject, and, to some extent, must agree with the hon. Member for Nuneaton. I am now speaking for Scotland, and I say that Scotland did not accept the White Paper, but rejected it, for the simple reason that Scotland was ignored in the White Paper. Owing to the very strong pressure, of which the hon. Gentleman complains, from the Scottish Members in this House, the then Parliamentary Secretary announced two concessions a few days before the last Parliament dissolved. The first was the granting of a monopoly to Scottish Airlines of the air traffic between North America and Scandinavia; the second was to nominate Prestwick as a main terminal. With those two concessions, Scotland was content. Unfortunately, the Election took place, and, still more unfortunately, the present Government were elected. We are not going into the reasons for that amazing convulsion which stirred the British people out of their normal, sane attitude of mind, but, if I were to read the fantastic Election Address of my opponent, the reason would be obvious. The Minister has decided, and I think rightly, that the White Paper should be scrapped. Good riddance to it. We do not object to that, but we do complain that nothing has been put in its place. I think I hit the nail on the head rather aptly the other day when I suggested that an atomic bomb seems to have struck the Government and destroyed all their power of decision, vision and achievement. I hope my hon. Friend, now sitting so lonesome on the Front Bench, will be able to infuse a little encouragement into this somewhat gloomy picture. Meantime, while the Government are looking back on the convulsion launched by the atomic bomb our good and active friends in the United States have got busy and have entered into agreements with the Government of Eire by which, ultimately, Great Britain is going to be by-passed in civil aviation. That is the gloomy position, from which no Government and no Member of this House can get any comfort. I said that I was speaking for Scotland. Where does Scotland stand now? Scotland has got two air lines ready to operate, both externally and internally. Scotland has got the best airport in Great Britain and probably in the world, as it is fog-free all the year round, while, at others, planes wait for days for the fog to lift so that they can get out. In the 4½ years that Prestwick has been in use, 12,000 flights have been made with the lowest casualty record of any airport in the world. These are facts which I trust are going to sway the Government in forming their air line policy. Prestwick has an organisation which has been tested, tried and found good in the bitter strains and stresses of war. It is known by all nations and by every type of service plane in use in the various air forces of the United Nations. I cannot believe that the policy of the Government will again ignore the valued contribution which Scotland can make in the matter of operating air lines both inside and outside the country, as well as the question of retaining this great airport which has served this country so well as an Atlantic terminal. I would like an assurance from the Government that all this organisation which has been created, built up and devised, shall not be scrapped simply to satisfy this ideological policy of nationalisation. You can nationalise a whole heap of things—domestic things, trade and so on—but you cannot nationalise an industry which is integrated with the industries of other countries in the world, and especially such an industry as this
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend back. We missed him sadly—his genial warmth and biting criticism. But would suggest that there are 2½ hours to go, if this Debate goes the full time, and we may have the extreme pleasure of hearing him in one of his outstanding contributions on this most important matter.
Forgive me interrupting, but, as there are still 2½ hours to go, I thought the hon. and gallant Member might have given some proof of the statement he made. I gather that he is not blind to possible support.
I would willingly satisfy the legitimate curiosity of my hon. Friend, but, as my hon. and gallant Friend who introduced this Debate pointed out, there are a great many hon. Members in the House who are most anxious to take part in this Debate, which means a great deal to the future of our country, and far be it from me to keep from the House the many informed minds that are willing and ready to enlighten it. Surely, the Government will not be so short-sighted and so lacking in confidence as to throw all this organisation which I have described away? Incidentally, I would like to remind the House that Scottish opinion is very strong on this matter, and I do not want the Government to weaken their very tenuous claim on the affections of Scotland by alienating the good will which may not have yet disappeared, although the seven or eight weeks which have passed have begun to wear down the confidence with which Scotland faced the brave new world which was to be ushered in.My hon. Friends opposite may well say: "What do you want? What do you suggest? "The hon. Member for Nuneaton gave his ideas on what should be done. I think I am speaking for a large section of Scotland and Scottish air-minded people. We want freedom, We want freedom for Scottish air lines to operate inside and outside Scotland. We want a Civil Aeronautics Board to decide and allocate licences and routes fairly and openly without any subterranean pressure. We want to ensure that Great Britain plays her full part in the whole world scheme of civil aviation, and to ensure that Scotland, as the predominant component part of Great Britain, gets her full share in that part. We go further and insist that Scotland shall be permitted to play its appropriate part. I said once before in a Debate on this subject that Scotland was never more united, never more unanimous and never more determined than on this one issue of having its fair share of air line transport traffic, and also of having Prestwick as a main Atlantic terminal. I warn the Government that it will be highly dangerous for their future safety and security in occupying the Government benches if they thwart the feelings, decisions, and wishes that Scotland has expressed on this occasion through me, and on many other occasions through even more skilled and knowledgeable voices. They ignore Scottish opinion at their peril. That is the last word I say to the Government on this subject.
I rise to ask that when the Government are considering the important question of the sites for these airports, the claims of the city of Bristol shall not be overlooked. A very large and influential meeting was held in that city two months ago, representative of all the commercial and industrial interests of the West of England. It was attended by the mayors of the various municipalities throughout that part of the country. We had the advantage of the presence of Lord Brabazon and other experts in aviation, and, after considering the question in all its bearings, that meeting unanimously recommended that Bristol afforded all the facilities required for establishing a national airport. I sincerely hope that when this very important question is being considered those recommendations will be taken fully into account. If any doubt should exist in the minds of those who have to give the decision, I hope that full opportunity will be afforded to the representatives of my city and district to put their claims before them.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) in arguing with him the theme which he has so often argued before in this House. It is so impracticable that it would be a waste of time for Members to argue about it. Obviously two great nations like Russia and the United States of America, to name only two, would not be willing to come into such a scheme, and it could not be carried out merely by the unilateral action of this country. However, I agree with him on one other point he raised. He said that aerodromes ought not to be selected by wire-pulling or political considerations. Aerodromes ought to be selected for technical reasons, for commercial reasons, and so on, and it is because of that that we on this side oppose schemes of nationalisation, for it is then that you get all this wire-pulling—political considerations and so forth entering into it. Take the building of the railways in Australia. Railways were built there, because of political considerations, which ought not to have been built or developed. We have just heard hon. Members advocating the claims of their own constituencies. They are entitled to do it, but those things happen when you get the schemes of nationalisation advocated by hon. Members opposite.I think that the House is indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) for introducing this Debate to-day. There is very real anxiety in the country about the future of our civil aviation. We know of the great progress being made with civil aviation in the United States of America. There are our own men about to be demobilised wanting to take up civil aviation as a career, but they do not know where they are. The railway companies, the shipping companies, all those who can provide such valuable help with their great experience in conveying passengers and goods from place to place, unrivalled in the world, do not know where they are. Nobody knows where they are. Surely the Government ought to make some state- ment quickly about the position. Why is it that this White Paper is to be scrapped? What is the reason for scrapping it?
Because it is so bad.
We ought to know. The country ought to know. Things ought not to be left in this state of uncertainty, because, when there is uncertainty, nothing can be done. If this country is to go ahead in the field, of civil aviation, as it is rightly entitled to do, then information must be given at once about the plans for the future.The right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said in reference to this White Paper:
That observation was made in this House some six months ago. The House is entitled to know what are the changing circumstances which have decided the Government to scrap this White Paper."The White Paper sets out the scheme which the Government put forward as being the best and the most appropriate in the existing circumstances of to-day."
The war is over.
What are the changes? We ought to know, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say:
That was the reason for accepting this White Paper six months ago. What has happened in the last six months to change the view of the Government on that point? [Hon. Members: "The Election."] Hon. Members opposite say "the Election," but how can the General Election affect "the building up of a strong and, we hope, effective British air transport system in the future"? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the White Paper was not based on theoretical considerations but on practical considerations. It was put forward in order to get the immediate best out of civil aviation. Those were the factors. What has happened in the meantime? I hope the Parlia- mentary Secretary will be able to give us a satisfactory answer to-day, because the country is waiting to know and is entitled to know. What has happened in the meantime to alter the views so cogently expressed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade when he made his observations on the White Paper six months ago? I do not want to detain the House any longer, because surely that is the pith of the whole tiling—what has happened to alter the views of the Government? Shall we be told? How long will it be before the present state of uncertainty is removed?—so that the expansion of civil aviation, the benefits which the air can bring to employment, the increase of trade, the bringing together of the peoples of the world, may be used to the best possible advantage by the people of this country at the earliest possible moment."This White Paper is not primarily based upon a political compromise between conflicting theoretical conceptions, but it is rather put forward on the consideration of how to get the immediate best out of all those factors which can be brought together to contribute to the building up of a strong and, we hope, effective, British air transport system in the future."—[Official Report, 20th March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 669–70.]
I am taken rather unaware, Sir, as did not Know that might be called upon to speak on this matter to-day, and, added to that, I am terribly nervous, but I know I shall have the consideration of the House. I agree with a lot of what I have heard to-day, but much has been said about what should be done immediately and of the harm caused by delay. Frankly I do not know what harm there is, because there are no aeroplanes at the moment for civil aviation except those in B.O.A.C. or in Transport Command of the Royal Air Force. I believe Members will agree that we had better build on a certain and sound foundation before we can blossom forth into the future. Prestwick is a marvellous airport, but it is not the only airport in Great Britain, and it is of no use except as a diversionary airport for the capital of these Islands. I have never heard anyone suggest that Prestwick should not be retained, or will not be important, but I cannot understand the agitation on the matter. As I have said, it is a very fine airport but it is not so good as Heath Row, because it has not the same room or landing facilities. As a port for Scotland it is unrivalled, because it is clear of fog, and, as such, always will be important, but I do not think the House should disturb itself too much about its future. With regard to civil aviation generally, as see it we intend to have the finest system in the world. We have in the Royal Air Force which, after all, is the nursery for civil aviation, and always has been, the finest pilots and navigators. We have as good an aircraft industry as any in the world, possibly better, and I see no reason why we should be despondent about this matter. We have just fought a war in which we have been creating aircraft and pilots fit to bomb and light, although I am certain that our pilots will much prefer to be in a more constructive field. We intend to have the best civil aviation, better than America who, I know, will understand that sort of talk. I do not think there is any harm in competition beween America and ourselves in civil aviation. They have the advantage now, as we all know, but the time is not far off when that advantage will cease to exist. Geographically, we are better situated than America. We have advantages within the Empire which they have not. With our personnel and aircraft industry I see no reason at all for despondency.I think it is a little premature to talk about this matter before the Government have had an opportunity of putting their White Paper before the House. I cannot agree with those who have said that the railway and shipping companies can contribute very much to civil aviation. I do not want to see civil aviation run to coincide with railway schedules. That is a wrong interpretation. We need to fly from this country without having to worry whether the train will meet the plane at Dover or anywhere else. But perhaps the shipping companies have more right to be interested. If the railway and shipping companies are given an interesting this matter where do they go for their personnel? To the Royal Air Force. Why should the Corporation be fettered by the railway and shipping interests? I should have thought that the railways had plenty to do in the next few years in bringing up to date their own system, in getting rid of level crossings and improving station waiting rooms. Civil aviation in this country must be the reserve of the Royal Air Force. We do not want to look ahead to the days when we might have to fight again, because we all hope that they are past, but just as the Mercantile Marine is the reserve of the Royal Navy so civil aviation must be the reserve of the Royal Air Force. For that reason, as well as others, we must ensure that it is the most up to date and best service we can provide. There is a lot of talk about the atomic bomb, but I think that bomb may possibly be a blessing, because it must, as we see things at the moment, be conveyed by air. In the past, a firm hope of peace has not seemed practicable because we have not had an international instrument capable of dealing with it. There is talk of an international Air Force, What is the use of such an Air Force when it could never be so strong as the Air Force of a first-class Power? But if an international Air Force had an atomic bomb that would be something worth while. Therefore, through the air, I think we may have a contribution to make towards the problems of foreign policy. Lastly, we have the greatest confidence in the Minister of Civil Aviation and in my hon. Friend his Parliamentary Secretary. We are premature, I fear, to criticise what may turn out to be a most successful Bill on civil aviation. I do not know whether Members realise that one person in every eight, during the war, was engaged in the aircraft industry or aviation. For that reason alone I want to see civil aviation a thriving industry. For it to be that it must be nationally controlled, because there is no concern in the country which could possibly keep up the ground installations, aerodromes, signal and maintenance organisations on the scale at which they must be maintained in the future. No railway or shipping company could handle that problem. I hope the Minister will find it possible, while controlling these various efforts, to leave young pilots in the Royal Air Force an opportunity to make their contribution in an independent manner.
May I, first, congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Derby (Group Captain Wilcock) on his excellent maiden speech, and on his sincere and frank statement? I trust we shall have the opportunity of hearing him again and again. We welcome him and congratulate him on his excellent speech.Civil aviation is one of the great subjects we have to face to-day, and we are bound to face it four-square—face it bravely and courageously. Civil aviation is destined to bring the world closer together; not only to hasten voyaging from one country to another, but to bring the world into a closer brotherhood. I am glad that the Government are facing the issue. I hope that they will face it boldly, because have had the feeling for a long time that the United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland should lead the world in civil aviation. We can do it, for, in spite of all the ravages of war, we still have something of the courage, heroism and pluck of our ancestors. It will be something more than putting up money. There will be required strong determination to press this thing on, and it is a matter we must face without counting the cost. I feel we must place civil aviation on a solid foundation. Let us begin aright. If we lay a solid foundation for civil aviation, we shall be in the very forefront; if we do not, we shall lag behind. So I am glad this subject has been brought before the House to-day, because it is the mode of locomotion for the future, and the more we put into it of energy, determination and pluck, so much the better for ourselves and the world. I do not want to detain the House, but I want to put in a strong plea for a transatlantic airport in Northern Ireland. I have been talking about this outside the House again and again, and I have talked to Ministers about it. Nothing definite has been settled. We, in Ulster, did our very best in the war. We are proud of that, and we would do it again. It must be recognised that in Ulster we surrendered some of our very best land, some of which produced two crops in a year within my own constituency, for aerodromes. We held nothing back that could help Britain in winning the war, and I think we have a very strong claim, which I would enforce to-day. This week I was told, and I was very glad to receive the information, that certain aerodromes had served their purpose, and served their purpose well. Without those aerodromes, our shipping could not have come through to the North of Ireland as it did. Many of these aerodromes are no longer required, and I want them back to cultivation. I have had a favourable promise concerning that, for which I am very grateful to the Minister. I make a strong plea to those in charge of civil aviation to give this matter very serious consideration, and I make an equally strong appeal to the Government, as Northern Ireland has a strong claim for such an airport. We are definitely part of the United Kingdom, and a transatlantic airport in Belfast or vicinity would serve a very important purpose, and I hope we shall not be overlooked. As I say, we deserve it, but I am not putting this forward on that ground alone but also on the ground of convenience and helpfulness. I trust the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary and the Government will consider all this. We have had it up again and again, and the furthest we have got this week was about getting some of the airports back to cultivation to produce food for the people. That is good. We want, very definitely,. Northern Ireland to be a centre for a civil aviation transatlantic airport, that will meet the convenience of coastal passengers and be a source of strength to civil aviation. We are not exactly an outpost, but we are nearer the Western world than you are here. I commend this to the Government and to Members of the House. Do not forget what we have striven to do, and I hope the Government will not forget that Ulster is a very important centre for a transatlantic airport—a sort of half-way house in taking passengers across and bringing them back. I am glad the Government is facing up to this problem of civil aviation, and I wish every blessing on its efforts, because it is the locomotion of the future.
Speaking for myself, I am delighted that the Government has not hastened to produce its civil aviation policy in the short time in which it has had to consider the tremendous problems involved. If it had come hastily forward with some new White Paper in preference to the one which was prepared by the Coalition Government, it would have run, as I see it, a very grave risk of incorporating in its scheme something which would not have met the general views of hon. Members on this side of the House. I am also glad that there has been this opportunity for hon. Members on this side of the House to express their ideas in the hope that the Government will take them into consideration before it makes a pronouncement.I wish, therefore, to deal with one or two points, which, I trust, my hon. Friend and the Minister will take very carefully into consideration when dealing with the details as well as the general policy, which we hope they will put before this House very shortly. The first point concerns the London Air Port. We have heard from hon. Members opposite that they wish consideration to be paid to what one might term regional interests. One hon. Member spoke of sectional interests. We, on this side of the House, sincerely trust that the Government will take into consideration the national interest, as well as the international interest. In putting these first—thinking also of the practical method of carrying out the policy—I want them to pay very careful regard to the detailed planning of the London Air Port. The air port plan when it was first prepared, I believe, from information I have had, would not have satisfied the standards of safety which we ourselves lay down, and certainty would not have complied with the standards of safety which the Americans adhere to, and, as such, it would not have been used by them. I have the disquieting information to reveal that it was only by sheer chance that this plan did not go forward. It was by accident that it was seen by persons with intimate operational experience, and they ridiculed the first plan that was prepared. I do appeal strongly to the Government, and to the Minister in particular, to take advantage of the most expert advice for this plan, because unless we do so we shall be prejudicing our chances of having in the London Air Port a very important centre of civil aviation. The next point with which I wish to deal concerns policy. There have been outcries, clamourings in the Press, for railways, shipping companies and other big business interests to come into this field of civil aviation. If we allow that to happen we shall be going back 20 years to the time when we found that these vested interests failed in their job. Indeed, it was necessary for the Government to step in in the early 1920's to take over responsibility for our civil aviation by the organisation of Imperial Airways. The Hambledon Committee indicated that the vested interests had failed, and one cannot see that this Government can possibly go back to that time when those vested interests failed. Another point in support of this argument is that even the Americans, who take private interests into account, have also seen that it is unwise to link up civil aviation with other means of transport, and they have specifically excluded railway and shipping interests in the development of their airlines. They realise those interests have little or nothing to contribute to the air, which is a different medium. To think of the problem in terms of ticket booking offices is to me useless. We have to think of something vastly bigger, of a new virile form of world transport, which is expanding. Unless we think of it in those terms, instead of in terms of regional or sectional interests we shall fail in our task. I am perfectly sure that the Government will now go forward with a scheme of socialisation, because the Labour Party has pronounced on that in the past. I cannot see that His Majesty's Government will for a moment go counter to that very definite opinion which has been expressed by the Party in the past. I am sure they will not deviate from that policy, because they realise that this is a public service and that it is a public responsibility to see that it is well and truly operated. A large sum, £4,000,000, is given as a grant to the development of civil aviation. I cannot think that the Government will allow any possible contact between the public purse and private interests. In any case there is a very much better chance of our civil aviation being kept out of international controversy if it is run as a public responsibility. My next point is with regard to the present chosen instrument. When instances are raised in this House from time to time of the adequacy of the chosen instrument to tackle the job of operating our civil airlines, the Minister very often hides behind that Section in the British Overseas Airways Act which says that the Corporation is responsible for its day-today operations and that the Minister will not interfere in them. But the Minister does appoint the Board, and I cannot see how he can possibly evade responsibility for the efficiency of the airlines. I intend to put a Question on the Order Paper next week which will bring that into strong relief. I wish to emphasise that point because if it is brought before the Government, and the Minister realises that the matter is being carefully watched by Members on this side of the House, I am sure he will take steps to eliminate anything which woul dperpetuate the widespread inefficiency which is in the Corporation at the present time. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) has raised something which should have the attention of the House—the international aspect of the civil aviation problem. Although I think it is a very fine idea, and I am with him entirely in the principle that he lays down, I feel that it will not happen yet, and that we have to take some immediate practical steps first. Unless we in this country can first of all establish the fact that we can run a first-class airline—I will go further and say that unless the Commonwealth can show that it can run a Commonwealth airline really efficiently which will impress other countries—we shall not be able to lead other countries on to this ideal of running aviation internationally. I appeal to my hon. Friend to give support to what I feel is a more immediate step, that is, that we urge the Government to expound an aviation policy coupled with the Commonwealth interests. If we do that really well, so that in any case it tends to unite the Commonwealth, which will be an added advantage, and it further tends to promote prosperity within the Empire in that it promotes rapid intercommunication, we shall have taken the first practical step towards international airways, which may come in due course. I cannot see that it is logical to have international airways where there are excluded such other things as international shipping lines, international banks, international finance, and so forth. In carrying out the Government's policy, which I hope they are about to pronounce upon, I would ask the consideration of the Minister for the formation of an Air Transport Board. He has the power to delegate some of his responsibilities, and he has already done that with regard to technical matters, with regard to the safety and the maintenance of a high standard of repair of aircraft, through the Air Registration Board. I now ask, and I think there is considerable support for this suggestion on this side of the House, that there should be formed an Air Transport Board which will efficiently carry out the task of insuring that we have efficient civil air lines. If the Minister thinks he can do that within his own Department, and tries to get round him a few experts, as really first-class experts will justifiably demand high salaries, and his Department will not be able to pay for absolutely first-class men, he will only get second-class men and it will probably result in a third-class air line. I ask him to consider forming an Air Transport Board consisting essentially of experts—people who know what they are about, not people who have some interest, possibly very successful, in industry, finance arid so on. What are such qualifications alone in running air lines? In conclusion I would ask my hon. Friend to take into consideration very carefully, and perhaps convey to the Minister, the idea which is current on this side of the House, that the socialisation of air transport is essential and that if it is done it must be done wholeheartedly and must be really efficient. Then we shall form a proud air line which our men in the R.A.F. and others will feel that they have fought for and have trained for and which will form a channel for expression of the gallantry and keenness and efficiency they nave shown in this war.
The subject before this House is one which I have very much at heart. I think it is usual to make known one's interest in any particular industry and therefore I must confess that I have been operating an air line for eleven years. But I approach the subject as a Member of this House and as a lover of the whole wonderful idea of shortening communications throughout the world and persuading people to travel in comfort and safety across the globe. This indeed is not a party matter. If only I could persuade the House that the development of civil aviation is beyond all party politics. It is a heritage which this country cannot afford to throw away because of any bickering between sides in this House. I sat in the Public Gallery and listened to Debate after Debate on civil aviation before I had the honour to become a Member of this House and I always went away with the grievous disappointment that politics had interfered with it. Look for one moment at the success of the British Mercantile Marine. Do hon. Members believe we could have built up our premier position in the world if we had treated the development of the Merchant Service as a matter of politics? I often wonder whether Drake would have sailed from Plymouth Hoe if he had had to get permission from a Government official.In the spring of this year I had the privilege of attending an International Conference of all the world's air line operators at Cuba. It was amazing to find the measure of agreement to which we were able to come without Government interference. Following that conference I had the privilege of flying 16,000 miles on American Air Lines. As this House may know they number 19. They have been developed by free enterprise; they have an excellent controlling system—the Civil Aeronautics Board—and they lead the world, I am afraid. We cannot do better than study how they have so successfully and keenly developed. I know that we have the plea that during the war we have been concentrating upon the development of fighters and the Government may advance that as an excuse. My memory, however, goes back to the years between 1934 and 1939when aviation was treated as unimportant and was neglected. It is too young a child to put into the strait-jacket of Government control. A monopoly would be injurious to the manufacturer who requires the stimulus of the demands of various air line company boards. After the International Conference at Cuba I visited the Lockheed, Douglas and Consolidated American Aircraft factories. I had the privilege of flying the Lockheed Constellation at 20,000 feet with a cabin showing 8,000 ft. pressure. It has a cruising speed of over 300 miles an hour. I was also enabled to fly the D-C.7 which carries 86 passengers. These aircraft for which large orders have been given by American air line companies are greatly in advance of anything we have at the moment. I pray earnestly that the Brabazon types will prove as good but they will have to be very good to do so. I plead that the Government will interfere as little as possible with the development of civil aviation. It should be given its own head. The Government should interfere only if there are signs of unreliability, profiteering or unfair employment of staff. I hope that the delay which the Government have shown in the production of their policy is due to the fact that they are studying the various excellent reports submitted to the late Minister of Civil Aviation by knowledgeable bodies. These reports are beyond suspicion. One came from the Joint Air Transport Committee of the London Chamber of Commerce, another from the Society of British Aircraft Constructors, another from a valuable independent Committee composed of people with no interest in aviation. It was commonly known as the Lamplough Committee. Besides these there is the report of the Aerodrome Owners Association, which comprises all the civic and commercially-owned aerodromes in Great Britain. The reports mentioned are, I venture to suggest, above suspicion. They are prepared by bodies with one common object—to make British aviation the best in the world. There is another report, the case of the Licensed Independent Air Line Operator, which you may choose to regard as suspect. I wrote it myself. We Members of this honourable House who serve constituencies a long distance away have their own case to consider. With the exception of that of the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence), my constituency, Caithness and Sutherland, is, I believe, the most inaccessible. If we could develop internal air lines, it would be possible to travel quickly and attend to matters better in far off constituencies. I wish to plead that there should be an air line service from Wick to London. There is already one from Wick to Aberdeen, but from Aberdeen there is no air line to London. This House may remember Admiral Sir Murray Sueter, who is no longer with us, having resigned after many years of valuable service. He stated in Debate that he looked forward to a helicopter service from the Thames to take us from this House to the nearest aerodrome, and thence by air line to our constituency. I do not think that is a flight of fancy. I would ask the Minister who has undertaken the responsible task of organising the future of air transport to limit his responsibilities as far as possible to safety, to the conditions under which staff are employed and to the restoration of the Air Transport Licensing Authority. Aviation possesses one unique quality. No one who has anything to do with it ever wishes to give it up. I can assure hon. Members that within a few minutes of this House there can be found many of the pioneers of air transport keen and willing to give of their best to catch up arrears. Great Britain has many years of neglect. Air line companies, air taxi and charter firms, ask permission to start. I beg the Government to assist them. Some lines from Henry V appear appropriate:
The reference to greyhounds may be unfortunate but these are at least knowledgeable."I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start."
This is the first time I have had the privilege of addressing this House, and in so far as you, Mr. Speaker, can afford your toleration to me I shall be pleased to avail myself of it. Many people hope civil aviation will get a new deal under this present dispensation. There are in the country a good many people who have felt that with too much bureaucracy or too much private enterprise civil aviation has not had a fair chance. I am not pessimistic about the future. I think we have the men, and, given the right leadership on the ground and in the air, we shall have the personnel to ensure that we make a really first-rate contribution to progress in aviation in the future. We are rather behind in regard to machines, but that is not altogether our fault. I feel that the fundamental reason why we are behind in civil aircraft types is one which reflects very well upon the honour of this country.So far as airports are concerned the position is not quite so bright. For three or four years during the war, a good many of the civil air lines from this country have gone out from a caricature of an airport. Within the aerodrome circuit you had over 500 feet of hill, and there was one runway only and it was insufficiently large. It was altogether dangerous but the men coped with it. They still have, to use it coming back from a long flight. You still have to take your machine back to that airport for servicing and maintenance. I would ask whether the Minister has proper plans in mind for facilities for servicing and maintenance of the aircraft that will be coming along. Are they to be serviced at Heath Row? Are facilities to be provided there? If not, it is about time that we had something around which we could start working as an alternative place, and to which we could already be going for servicing facilities. The London airport situation is really disgraceful. I would like to know, irrespective of whether the plans of hon. Gentlemen opposite will mature, or our ideas on this side have full play, when we are to have proper airport facilities for London. Croydon would make a pretty good park with a few trees, but I am afraid it would never make an airport. We should have an indication where our London airport is to be, cither under the long-term plan or within the next few years. Without wishing to put myself alongside the Scottish stalwarts, I would say that within my own constituency an airport is being developed. I am not pressing its claim, but I say that it appears to be a feasible airport for the next two or three years. Has the Minister in mind the use of Northolt as a civil airport? If so, is it being developed properly? They have extended the runway, but the only effect has been to distress many of my constituents because it denies them the use of one of their principal highways. The local authorities in the district want to know where they stand and whether they can look forward to the return of this highway, or whether it is lost to them permanently because Northolt is to be an important airport in the development of civil aviation. If it is to be so, they will doubtless have to make other plans when developing their areas. This matter of airports can be taken right out of political controversy and I feel that some progress should already have been reported in this respect. As far as the actual operational organisation of civil air lines is concerned, there, of course, we get on to more controversial matters. I would like to make one point, which is that I feel there is scope for a charter for feeder, or internal air lines, which could probably be run on the small firm basis, but our international air lines should not be run by a private concern. For one thing, I do not see how a private concern can get personnel, as has been stated in this House before, and I can see no private concern which can get personnel who would not be prepared to work equally well for a national concern and later on for an international concern. If we are to allow them to work, I say that we have to allow them to get on with the job in their own way. I hope there is not going to be the same kind of frustration in the future, as there undoubtedly has been in the past, so far as the so-called National Corporation is concerned. I hope that the Noble Lord will consider very carefully what he will do with the one national body which is set up and whether he is satisfied with what is possible within that Corporation. When he comes to set up other Corporations to run the other units, are we to sink into a simple compromise between that side of the Houseand this side? Are we to have a set-up which is neither one thing nor the other? I do not think it is going to be so. I do not know what the plans are but, from rumours which are percolating, I feel that the Ministry might very well take a little more time, and consult other interests, before coming along with plans and laying them before this House.
It falls to me to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge (Flight-Lieutenant Beswick) on his excellent maiden speech, delivered in an extremely felicitous style and infused with genuine personal knowledge and experience. It is one of the happy results of this tragic war that so many people on both sides of this House will be able in the future to take part in aviation Debates with knowledge acquired in the war, and with a genuine desire to see our country play the useful part that we all believe it can play. At the same time I should like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Gandar Dower), although his was not a maiden speech, that it was a further illustration of the interest which this House will always show in people who have personal experience of the problems of which they are speaking. To both those hon. Members we may look in the future for further useful contributions to our Debates.As my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland said, this is strictly not a party matter. Speaking from these Benches I can certainly promise the Government every possible support if they will push forward vigorously with a policy which will commend itself to the country as a whole. Many things have changed in this House, but the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) always gives us illustrations of our view that he must constantly impute motives to the people who disagree with him, always in the happiest way but none the less with continually undiminished vigour. We are not a vested interest. Many of us have no aircraft or railway shares, and we are not interested in the management or in the trade union side of the aircraft industry. Many of us are not anxious to bring large aerodromes into our constituencies. If we make speeches on this matter it is because we want to see civil aviation go ahead and to see our country use the medium of civil aviation to bring about Imperial unity, increased export trade and an enlargement of the social life of the mass of our people in the Empire, as well as the furtherance of the cause of world peace. The imputation of motives, this constant moral superiority to which we were accustomed in the last Parliament from the hon. Member, we put down to the fact that the electorate had continually rejected the blandishments of his party. We imagined that now, with their overwhelming victory at the polls, he would drop that particular line. The House, and I hope the Government, are only concerned to see real and useful action taken. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, whom I congratulate on his appointment, and who has friends on both sides of the House, will be able to say something useful in the Debate. I am not very sure that he will be able to do so, because I believe that his Noble Friend will be making a statement at an early date in another place. It is of the utmost importance that we should get a statement at the earliest possible date. We cannot afford to allow civil aviation to be held up by any political deadlock. These are not my words. They are the words of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the present President of the Board of Trade when I was serving with him as Under-Secretary. He commended Command Paper 6605 to the House in those words in March of this year, and he asked the House to support it as the best possible plan in the existing circum- stances. If that plan has been scrapped, we want to hear why. If it has not been scrapped, we want to hear why it is not being implemented and why the many bodies that it anticipated would be set up, some of which were in fact set up, are still left completely in the dark as to what is expected of them in the field of civil aviation. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade commended these proposals to the House, he was at pains to meet the very criticism that the hon. Member for Nuneaton has raised once more to-day. He said:
Those necessities have not changed because Members wedded to one political nostrum have won the General Election. The necessities of the present situation are not settled for us by our own domestic circumstances, but by the fact of the world-wide competition and activities all over the world of our friendly rival, the United States. The hon. Member also said that this problem should be approached from an international point of view. We all agree that the ideal organisation would be an international organisation, and nobody on this side of the House would quarrel with that, if it were possible, but, as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said, it is no good basing a policy upon international external airways if in fact other countries will not join it. We have to take circumstances as they are. We put forward the views at the right time and they were rejected. We have now to deal with the situation as we find it, and unfortunately as some people think it has not developed into the international scheme we would have liked. All that has happened since the Election shows that those interests in the United States which are determined to push ahead for the American control of the airways of the world appear to have scored at least a temporary triumph in their own domestic sphere, and the situation is worse from the point of view of international co-operation than it was when the White Paper was first presented. There may be hon. Members who, like myself, have interests and associations in the Irish Free State and who know what is happening in Rhine- anna and Limerick and that part of the Shannon which the United States, in co-operation with Eire, are busy developing for their own purposes. Anyone who has had a chance of seeing what is being done at first-hand will return more than ever convinced of the need of our agreeing on a policy, making it as near as possible the national policy and then implementing it with full vigour. When the hon. Member for Nuneaton says that we can afford to wait if necessary another four months, and the hon. and gallant Member for Derby (Group-Captain Wilcock) uses the lack of civil types as a reason for not having a policy in this field, I despair of the chance of our playing a proper part in civil aviation."It was not arrived at by way of political compromise; it was a practical working out of the necessities of the situation."—[Official Report, 20th March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 687.]
I only said that it would be worth while waiting another four months for a good policy to be promulgated rather than to have a bad policy.
But it is even possible that a second-rate policy now might be better than a first-rate policy in a few months' time when we shall find that much that we could have achieved has been snatched from us by our competitors. At the time of the White Paper we had everything agreed, we had the structure of the corporation, we had inter-Imperial agreement, which is a priceless asset, and we had many people for whom the paths had been blazed and who were able to set out working on these difficult paths. The hon. Member for Nuneaton also referred to Imperial relations, and spoke again of that hardy annual, the proposals of the Australian and New Zealand Governments for international control. I hope that one result of our having a Socialist Government will be that we shall once and for all clear that particular problem out of the way and let our people know the real facts. The hon. Member had full access to the discussions that took place at Chicago and knew that, if he wished to see any particular record of evidence, either I or the present President of the Board of Trade, who was then Minister of Aircraft Production, would have been only too ready to oblige him. We are perfectly satisfied that nothing but fairness was done at Chicago when the Australian and New Zealand proposals were brought forward. If I may refresh the memory of the House of some words I used in that Debate, it would be useful, and I would welcome it if my hon. Friend who winds up the Debate will deal with the point, because, having got Imperial co-operation, it would be a tragedy if we gave the impression that the United Kingdom Government had taken a different line from the Governments of Australia and New Zealand and had successfully prevented their plan from being adopted by the world. I said on 20th March this year:
I know something of the difficulties of the constructional side of civil aviation, and we do not want to be unreasonable to Ministers who have inherited difficulties and responsibilities which are not of their own exclusive making. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Uxbridge, who said that our backwardness in the field of construction in civil aviation is due to the fact that we made an agreement with our Allies by which we deliberately refrained from constructing civil aircraft and concentrated on fighters and bombers. I believe that history will certainly agree that it was the right policy that we should use the economic resources of the Allied nations in the best possible way. The late Government had difficulties, however, which do not apply to the present Administration. We not only had to concentrate on the construction of military and naval types for the war against Japan, but we had also in the field of construction, and still more in the field of export, the handicap of the Lend-Lease proposals. Lend-Lease prevented us exporting civil types which were in any way similar to civil and military types which we were having from America for the prosecution of the war. These difficulties are now out of the way, and we must leave the Government in no doubt of our determination to see that they do everything possible to push forward with the construction of civil types and to let the House know what is happening. No security considerations any longer apply, and I shall be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us precisely what is happening to those types which are conversions from bomber types, and what is happening also to the various Brabazon types, to the Bristol Brabazon type, to the Airspeed Brabazon type, to the De Havilland type, and, in particular, to the Vickers type on which so many hopes were pinned. If he could give us some information about the prototypes that have flown and of those that have not flown, it will be of assistance to the House and the country as a whole. I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) for raising this subject. The more it is raised the better for the country, and, as long as the Government adopt a policy which is British in scope and commands support from the country as a whole, they will have nothing to complain of at the hands of the Opposition."The hon. Member for Nuneaton made certain statements in regard to the Australian and New Zealand plan and seemed to suggest there had been an intrigue between my Noble Friend and Mr. Berle, whereby there was not full discussion of these proposals. I think that that was a most improper suggestion, if I may venture to be frank. We have worked in the closest co-operation with Australia and New Zealand, and I am sure that the delegates of those two countries at Chicago would indignantly deny that we had in any way interfered to prevent a full and frank discussion of their proposals. At the preliminary meeting at Ottawa it was arranged that they should raise the matter at Chicago and that if it did not command support they would line up behind the British plan because it seemed absurd to spend time in discussing something which, however ideal it was thought to be, was nevertheless outside the scope of practical politics."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March, 1945; Vol. 409, c. 771.]
I welcome this Debate in the name of the Government, and I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) for having initiated it. We do not take it in any untoward spirit; we take this Debate rather as a token that all parts of the House are determined to see that we get a move on in civil aviation. We welcome that, and we shall be fortified by the knowledge that the House as a whole desires us to take active steps to put British civil aviation on the world map. It has been a rather longer Debate than was anticipated, and, I think, a very useful Debate. I should like in particular to congratulate the hon. Members who have made maiden speeches; they did not have the usual notice of subject which is the fortunate lot of most Members making their maiden speeches, but they spoke from a great wealth of experience. I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Derby (Group-Captain Wilcock) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Flight-Lieut. Beswick) on the excellent contributions made from their great practical knowledge of this subject.I have been asked many questions about the Government's policy. Clearly, having given an answer on Wednesday that my noble Friend hopes to make a statement at an early date, I cannot make that statement this afternoon. On that I would like to say to the hon. and gallant Member for Bedford that when that statement is made it will be by arrangement in both Houses, and I shall be jealous to preserve the prerogatives of this House. Obviously I cannot make the statement which has been promised for an early date, and I think that position is accepted by the House.
Will the statement be made at Question time or otherwise?
As to that I cannot say, but it will certainly be made by arrangements in both Houses, supplemented by a White Paper if that seems desirable. However, although I cannot explain policy this afternoon my speech may not be entirely useless; I may be able to say something useful in answer to one or two inquiries. With regard to the White Paper, this Government clearly is not committed to it, and I believe that position is accepted by the House. It is in accordance with the constitutional practice of the country. But I want to make it equally clear that we shall not reject any proposal merely because it happens to be in the White Paper. My noble Friend is approaching this problem in an entirely practical spirit. It happens to be the case that on this side of the House we believe that in a very large number of cases public enterprise is more efficient than private enterprise, and in that belief we have been supported by a very large number of the electorate. That is the new set of circumstances which has come in, about which the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) asked. It is the Election that has made this difference to the position of the White Paper. But our approach is entirely practical and operational, and that will govern our treatment of every question raised in this Debate.I should like to make it perfectly clear that the fact that the Government has not yet stated its policy on civil aviation does not mean that there has been any delay in making plans. The difficulty, as I stated on Wednesday, and as has been freely admitted to-day by hon. Gentlemen opposite, is solely the physical question of aircraft. As one of my hon. Friends so pertinently pointed out, these difficulties reflect credit on this country. It is not sufficiently realised that in the six years of the war this country put out every ounce of its effort, and in particular, we concentrated on, the production of combat aeroplanes to the virtual exclusion of transport types, leaving the production of transport aircraft to the United States. That was the proper division of effort for the winning of the war, and if we had to do it again we should come to the same decision. But it does mean that we are in a relatively weak position at the present time compared with the United States in transport aircraft. There has however been no delay over the question of policy, because we have been able to get ahead with all arrangements necessary on a tentative and provisional basis. I can give one example which will show perfectly what I mean. In the White Paper it was proposed that a corporation should be formed, in which the shipping companies would have a predominant interest, to run our services to South America. British Latin-American Airlines proposed to run a survey flight to South America. That survey flight has gone; although we have not announced our new policy my Noble Friend undertook the responsibility himself and the aircraft took off earlier this week. There need not therefore be any delay, and there has been no delay, on the grounds of policy. I should like to say also that since we went to this Ministry we have had matters in hand apart from the question of formulation of policy—in itself no light matter. My Noble Friend has had to take up the threads of many delicate international negotiations, and these are progressing satisfactorily. We have been handicapped even more than most Government Departments, because we are an expanding Department, by shortages of staff and difficulties of accommodation. Then there is all the day-to-day work of a great Department of State, and I can assure hon. Gentlemen that there has been no slackness. My Noble Friend has not taken a day off since he assumed office, and he has been work- ing on this problem most assiduously. I may also say, without entrenching upon the enunciation of policy, that my Noble Friend is framing his plans with the object of getting into the air as quickly as possible, and he will take into account all factors bearing on that problem. We realise, as many hon. Members have urged, that it is absolutely imperative that we should make progress in civil aviation at the earliest possible date, and we will do our level best in that direction with the support we know we shall get from the House. I think we shall get that support, and as the hon. Member for Bedford has said, this is something on which the parties can co-operate. There have been several references to-day to the atomic bomb, and perhaps I may use it as an illustration. I understand from Press reports that in the atomic bomb two pieces of uranium are brought together. When they are apart they liberate no useful energy; when they are brought together there may be an explosion, but if it is done in the right conditions useful energy is liberated. So, I believe, with the two parts of this House. When we are brought face to face there is a clash, but if the energy that we liberate can be properly controlled, I think we shall be able to get a move on in civil aviation. Many detailed questions have been put in the course of this Debate and I cannot of course answer them all to-day, but I assure hon. Members who have made suggestions that full note has been taken of them and they will be carefully studied in the Department. It is useful that this Debate has taken place and that the Government has had the views of hon. Members before a policy is stated. The hon. and gallant Member for Bedford asked whether I could give details about the conversion of aircraft and about the Brabazon types. Of course, there have been teething troubles in the production of some of these types. There comes a point in the production of any aircraft when the designers are almost tearing their hair out. In general, however, the production of our civil aircraft is going on very well indeed. Hon. Members will have seen that the Vickers "Viking" flew recently. The reports we are receiving about that machine are very good indeed; they will need to be confirmed, of course, by the experience of the next few months; but at the moment it looks as though the machine is the answer to a Minister's prayer. The prototype of the "Dove" has just flown, and that is another machine from which we are expecting much. The various freighter machines are going well. There is the Miles "Aerovan," for example, and the Bristol freighter, which are making satisfactory progress. I do not wish to go through all the types, and I could not this afternoon give the various dates at which the prototypes are expected to fly, but I hope hon. Members will accept my assurance that the programme is progressing well. I must be particularly careful on this matter, because this is not a matter on which my Noble Friend has primary responsibility; it is the province of the Minister of Aircraft Production, and we are interested only as potential users of the aircraft. From our point of view, the programme, subject to the usual anxieties experienced in all aircraft production, is going satisfactorily. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight raised a large number of questions, of which I have taken careful note. Let me here deal only with a few of them. He said that the British Overseas Airways Corporation, the railways and the shipping companies and travel agencies do not know where they stand. I am bound to say that they have not made any complaint to us on that score. I think they understand the position perfectly well and know that the one overriding factor in this matter is aircraft and not policy.
Does the hon. Gentleman mean that there is no ground work to be done before the aircraft fly? There will be six months' work getting agreements with other countries, with the travel agencies, and so on.
The question of agreements with other countries is one for the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The argument used in the White Paper for bringing in the shipping companies and travel agencies was that they have agencies in other countries already. On those two points, therefore, there is no difficulty. I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that we have had many conversations with the persons concerned and the position is well understood by them. The hon. and gallant Gentleman also mentioned the question of aerodromes. I agree with him that Croydon is very much congested and is not suitable as a major airport for London. I answered questions on this matter on Wednesday last, and the House knows that it is our intention to make Heath Row a really first-class aerodrome equal to any aerodrome in the world. Work is progressing well at Heath Row. The R.A.F. will be using one runway in November and three runways should be available to civil aircraft next summer. I think that is good progress. We are not so far ahead with the buildings, but after all, the runways are the most important part of an aerodrome.
The hon. Gentleman has omitted to make any reference to the pledge given in the White Paper, which announced that pending Heath Row being developed, Prestwick would be retained as the No. terminus for this country. We ought to be given an assurance that there has been no departure from the White Paper in that respect.
I have not forgotten Prestwick. I did not suppose for one moment that I should be allowed to forget it.
Can the Parliamentary Secretary say whether land owned by the Port of London Authority at the Eastern end of London is to be used at all? There are excellent facilities there for flying boats as well as for land aircraft if they were properly developed. Has that scheme been abandoned altogether, or is it under consideration with other proposals for future airport facilities for London?
I should need to have notice of that question. There are certainly more immediate considerations before the Ministry, of which one naturally is the use of Northolt. As many hon. Members will realise, Northolt is admirably suited for civil flying. It is close to the centre of London, and when the constructional work is finished it will be very suitable for the purpose. I mentioned on Wednesday last that we had been having discussions with the Air Ministry on this matter and that we had found the Air Ministry most co-operative. That statement was greeted with a certain amount of scepticism, but I am bound to say that it was literally true. We have found the Air Ministry most co-operative and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air has been particularly helpful in this matter.
Does that mean that this winter there will be an alternative to Croydon as an airport for London in case of Croydon closing down because of fog, or for any other reason?
I cannot say that definitely this afternoon, and I would rather not be pressed. This Debate has taken place unexpectedly. It may be that if a Question is put on the Order Paper a little later, I shall be able to give a definite answer on this matter.
I think my hon. Friend said that Northolt was required by the Royal Air Force for the defence of London.
No, Sir. My hon. Friend has not reproduced my words exactly. What I said was that we had found the Air Ministry very co-operative and that we for our part recognised the overriding needs of defence, and that the Air Ministry recognised the place of civil aviation in the post-war world. I was not dealing then with Northolt alone, but with the question of the joint use of aerodromes throughout the country at large. I hope that at an early date I may be able to give a satisfactory answer on the question of air ports for London, and I believe there is a Question on the Order Paper for next Wednesday on that subject.My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), for whose kind words I thank him, raised once more the question of an international organisation for air transport. The party to which he and I belong is, of course, internationalist in its outlook. I may differ from him in my approach to this question, because I think the right approach to internationalism is through the nation. I think one becomes a good internationalist by being first a good member of one's family and then of one's trade union or some other society, and eventually of the nation itself. It is a difference of emphasis. The party to which he and belong is internationalist in its outlook, and we desire very much to see an international organisation set up for civil aviation. We shall do all we can to promote that ideal. There are difficulties at the moment. It is clear that any international organization at the present time would have to start without the United States and without the Soviet Union. It would have to start without several of our Dominions. It would have to start without the Netherlands and without Sweden. [Interruption.] There may be general elections in those countries which may alter the outlook there, but that is the present position. There is another difficulty. Even those countries which desire to see an international organisation for civil aviation are clear that flying within that country and to its external territories must be reserved for the national state, which further limits the possibilities for international organisation at the present time; but our outlook is international and we shall see that our plans fit into any subsequent scheme of international organisation that maybe devised, and we shall do all we can to promote that ideal, in particular by endeavouring to see, in our bilateral agreements with other countries, that there are standard clauses which will ensure a more or less uniform pattern throughout the world.
That is in the White Paper.
Yes, that is in the White Paper. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) raised the question of Prestwick, as indeed other Members have done. The statement which has been promised will in all probability include a full reference to Prestwick and, therefore, I am not in a position to announce any policy to-day. If Scottish Members would wish to convince my Noble Friend, it is most important that they should use operational arguments. The future location of aerodromes cannot be determined by political considerations. I believe it is the case that Prestwick can serve a very useful purpose and there will be no desire on the part of my Noble Friend to debar its proper use. I do not want to go too far in any statement on this subject, but I should like to make a few comments on the American position to which reference has been made.
Are we leaving Prestwick now?
Whilst accepting the appeal of the Parliamentary Secretary that Scottish Members should press forward operational reasons in pressing the claims of Prestwick, are we to understand that his Department will admit the claims made about Prestwick by all pilots flying to Prestwick during the war? Prestwick was open all the time, except for eight hours due to adverse flying conditions, a record incomparably better than that of any other airport in Great Britain.
I am glad to admit that Prestwick has a very good weather record but there are other factors involved besides weather. The one difficulty is that Prestwick is not on the direct route from London to New York. It is on many other routes but it does not happen to be on that route. We know how the roads of England were constructed; at least according to Chesterton:
and he has told us about"The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road";
Is it to be insisted that we should always go to any part of the world by way of Prestwick? That is the point at issue. Some hon. Members from Scotland have sometimes tended to put the argument in that form. There is certainly no prejudice against Prestwick on the part of my Noble Friend but rather the reverse. He has recently flown from Canada to Prestwick himself. Within a few hours he was discussing the whole question with the directors and certainly has no prejudices against it."That night we went to Birmingham byway of Beachy Head."
I am sorry to have to appear to "nag" the hon. Gentleman but will he say if the policy announced in the White Paper that Prestwick would be retained as No. aerodrome, until that at Heath Row was completed, obtains? If he wants operational reasons in addition to the political reasons advanced, then let him arrange for a Debate and I undertake to spend two hours in giving full operational reasons for the retention of Prestwick.
No, Sir. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman understands, we have promised to make a statement of policy at an early date, and I cannot be rushed into making a statement now, but I will give some of the considerations that are involved.
Is it not a fact that the records show that the weather conditions at Valley aerodrome in Anglesey were infinitely better and also that on many occasions aircraft were diverted from Prestwick to that aerodrome?
I am glad that the Noble Lady intervened, because, along with other Members who have spoken this afternoon, she has put the matter into its proper perspective.
Its Welsh perspective, but not its proper perspective.
If Prestwick is to be supported by political arguments, and Scotland must have a major transatlantic airport because it happens to be Scotland, then Wales would be equally entitled to have Valley or some other aerodrome as a transatlantic airport. There was also the appeal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Alpass) on behalf of Bristol. Naturally, every hon. Member of the House, except possibly the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) would like a major trans-Atlantic aerodrome in his constituency.
There were very much better weather conditions in the Isle of Wight but I did not put that fact forward.
I pay tribute to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for his forbearance. We have been pressed on behalf of Valley and Llantwit-Major and on behalf of many other aerodromes that they should be recognised as trans-Atlantic aerodromes second only to Heath Row; I am glad that there is at least agreement that Heath Row must be the principal airport. [Hon. Members: "No."] I am apparently premature, but perhaps there will be agreement when hon. Members have seen what we are going to make of Heath Row. For some minutes I have been trying to proceed to the question of the United States routes to Europe via Ireland. It is suggested, not I am happy to say in this House but outside, that the United Kingdom has somehow been remiss in not seeing that the American aircraft came to Prestwick or to some other port in the United Kingdom. That is not the case. The decision was taken a long time ago, in fact as long ago as June, 1944, by the Civil Aeronautics Board of the United States to send their principal air lines to Rineanna. The fact must be faced by Scotland that unless Prestwick is reasonably near to the great circle route, the Americans do not wish to go there. It is no doubt the case that in our international agreements we could insist that if American air lines come to this country they should land at Prestwick. If we did that against the wish of the American operators, it would not only conflict with the political principles by which the hon. and gallant Gentleman stands, but would be a source of international friction. I hope he will bear that consideration in mind, and, therefore, perhaps, I can conveniently leave the subject of Prestwick. [Hon. Members: "No."] Among the claims that have been made for a transatlantic airport, I had almost forgotten that which was advanced by the hon. Member for County Down (Dr. Little), which has been put to us officially.The time is advancing and there is further Business, so I do not propose to take much more time. I apologise to all hon. Members to whose points I have not been able to reply. Let me close by saying that we have had great difficulties in civil aviation in the past few years. I do not blame, in any way, our predecessors in office, because I am fully conscious now of the difficulties they had in the matter. These difficulties were a result of the war, and, in particular, of our wartime agreement not to make transport aircraft. There is also the further difficulty arising from Lend-Lease. The hon. Member for Bedford referred to one aspect of the matter and said that our difficulties were now at an end. They are not altogether at an end, of course. There are many outstanding problems to be settled under that heading, but certainly these two difficulties have put us, at the present time, in an inferior position relative to the United States in the matter of civil aviation. I am nevertheless confident in the ability of this country to hold its own in the future with the United States or any other country. I say that in no "Jingoistic" spirit, because we are not "Jingoes" on this side of the House, but because I believe that civil aviation can make a great contribution to world peace and world happiness. The hon. and gallant Member for Bedford—
On a point of Order. Three times reference has been made to the "hon. and gallant Member for Bedford." I happen to be the Member for Bedford and I do not wish to be credited with the views of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd).
I apologise to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bedford and hope that notice will be taken of the correction. I was saying that I believe that civil aviation can make a great contribution to world peace and happiness. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) placed that last; we should place it higher, and that is the difference between us. I am confident because we have, as the result of our wartime experience with the Royal Air Force, the finest flying experience in the world. We have the finest designing skill, both for aero-engines and aircraft in the world. That skill has been given recently to the construction of military-aircraft, and, in such aircraft as the Vampire, the fastest thing on earth at present, we have seen what it can do. That skill is now being turned to civil aircraft and its results will be seen there too. We have also the best engineers in the world, and, further, and this is often overlooked, a favourable geographical position for civil aviation.I have seen many maps which seem to show that all civil aircraft will fly over the North Pole in future. There is no reason to believe this will be the case. Great Britain will, in fact, be one of the most important cross-roads on the earth. Professor Eva Taylor, in an interesting booklet "Geography for an Air Age," says there are 44 cities with populations of over 1,000,000 in the world, and that one-quarter of the world's circumference is 6,250 miles, or about 25 hours' flying time. Of these 44 cities, 41 are within 25 hours' flying time of London. We are, in fact, very near to the centre of gravity of the industrial world and that position ought to play a notable part in the economy of the Air Age, just as our favourable geographical position played a part in the building up of our merchant marine. I am, therefore, quite happy about our ability in the future to build a civil aviation which will be worthy of all the traditions of this country in the past. I am confident, above all, because transport is something that we in this country understand. We have it in our blood. We are pre-eminent at sea, we have been pre-eminent on the railways and on our roads, and I am deeply confident that in a very short time we shall be pre-eminent also in the air.
Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell the House when it is expected that personal flying will be allowed to start again? The Flying Clubs all want to start up, the Dominions have already started up and people are asking why this country should be behind the Dominions in allowing private flights to take place.
This question should properly be addressed to the Undersecretary of State for Air, as this matter is administered by the Secretary of State, but I will go so far as to say that I hope, at an early date, to be able to make a statement.
Royal Air Force (Releases)
In congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary upon his Marathon concluding paragraphs, I wish to say that I shall be as brief as possible on the matter that I am raising—the arrangements for the release of Royal Air Force personnel as announced by the Minister of Labour in his recent statement on demobilisation, which was, in the main, satisfactory. The Under-Secretary for Air, who has come here at very short notice, will be aware that that statement has caused very deep concern in the Service for which he is responsible to this House. It is true that the original White Paper on Re-Allocation of Man-power said:
But can the then Minister of Labour, or the last Parliament, or the country at that time, have envisaged a disparity so drastic as this? By June next year, the Royal Navy will have reached Release Group 45, while the Royal Air Force will only have reached Release Group 28. That seems a most extreme inequity at the expense of the R.A.F. A week ago I was on my way home from South East Asia, just after this announcement had been made. I can assure my hon. Friend the Undersecretary that, at every R.A.F. station we touched—from the notorious Mauripur, about which I am in communication with him, to Shaibah, to Cairo West, to Malta—there was a most violently unfavourable reaction to this announcement among the R.A.F. men there. I found it very difficult to explain it away or to answer their argument that this was tantamount to a serious breach of the whole "Age-plus-length-of-service" principle. First, in order to get the facts in their due proportion, would my hon. Friend, when replying, tell us, not merely the figures, because they have already been published, but the percentages, because it is not always so easy to work these things out for ourselves? We want to know the percentages of the strength of the three Services, comparatively, which will have been released by the end of next June. It seems to me that there are two aspects of this matter which deserve special attention. First, what may be called the public-relations-within-the-Service aspect. It should surely have been explained to the men in the Air Force at the time of the Minister of Labour's statement why they were being asked to sacrifice themselves. I have already quoted once from the original White Paper in a sense which perhaps helps my hon. Friend's argument, but I shall now quote from it something which I do not think helps his argument at all. One of the two main principles of the White Paper was:"Owing to military considerations, releases will necessarily proceed at a different rate in the different Services."
Surely that principle has been departed from, in this instance at any rate? The statement of the Ministry of Labour was just a bare recital of facts—very pleasant facts for most of the Services, very unpleasant facts for the Royal Air Force. Surely the reasons and the explanations behind those facts should have been given, to the R.A.F. at least, at the same time. If the facts are inescapable, and the reasons are sound, intelligent Servicemen will always accept them. I think that the Minister might also consider making a broadcast giving the reasons which I hope he will be able to give us this afternoon, so as to reassure to some extent the naturally disgruntled relatives of the R.A.F. men, particularly of those men serving overseas. The second main point is, what can be done to improve matters? Is this apparent injury to the R.A.F. irreparable? Is the plan, as announced by the Minister of Labour, final? I hope the Under-Secretary will tell us that he will explore every idea and use every device—whether re-mustering or any other kind of device—that can save the R.A.F. from having, in vulgar parlance, to "carry the can" for the other Services. What about the question of intake—the new recruits coming into the Services in the near future? Would it help to modify this disparity if a larger percentage were allocated to the R.A.F. than had been intended? If so, will my hon. Friend press for this? One point which has been suggested—the idea is not mine, it was suggested by another hon. Member of this House—is that civilian inspectors should be appointed to go round R.A.F. stations and check redundancy. That seems to me a very good idea. I know that the Under-Secretary of State, like the Secretary of State, has the welfare and interests of the men of the Royal Air Force really at heart. I hope he will show to-day, and always, that he is looking after them properly."the arrangements for the release of men from the Forces must be such as will be readily understood and accepted as fair by the Forces."
I, too, will be brief, to give other speakers a chance. We want the Under-Secretary to tell us why the Royal Air Force has been singled out for this treatment and we think it is a failure in the Government's publicity machinery that that explanation should not have been given earlier. We hope he will be able to tell us this afternoon if there are good reasons.It is possible that those reasons may be related to military commitments. If, in fact, they are, then that is a departure from the Minister of Labour's statement on the general programme of releases which says that, to the major extent, the rate of release will be dependent upon transport facilities. If, however, military commitments are one of the determining factors, I suggest most strongly to the Under-Secretary that he should consider the formation of a special Man-Power Board, not drawn from members of the Royal Air Force, to consider whether men are being usefully occupied. We have heard too many disquieting stories from the men themselves really to believe that that is so. One can understand men being under-employed if there is no transport to bring them home, but one cannot accept that explanation if we are to be told that "military commitments" keep them there. We saw from the Minister of Labour's Press statement that the intake into the Army is to be much larger than intake into the Royal Air Force. That should be altered if, in fact, the Air Force has to lag behind. The Minister should announce the permanent conditions of service at the earliest possible moment. Let the men know what they are taking on, let them see the colour of the horse, and they will perhaps back it. I hope the Government will, therefore, put out that information as soon as possible. Further, will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary tell us when the groups in the Royal Air Force, which are now lagging behind, will be brought up-to date with the general release scheme? Accounting clerks are sadly behind and signals officers will be out only up to Group 13 by the end of this year. No wonder that the phrase the men use about the scheme is not, "Age plus length of service" but, "Age plus what service you are in." Finally, it would be reassuring to Members if my hon. Friend could tell us what percentage of the whole strength of the Royal Air Force is in the special groups which are lagging behind.
I do not propose to make a long speech, because I know that the Under-Secretary wants time in which to reply, which I am sure the House will be very willing to grant him. There is great anxiety about this question. We are glad that the matter has been raised by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg). It is a technical point, and because of that I think it is interesting to know the views of the people who are actually affected. I think the Under-Secretary and the House might be interested if I read two short extracts from letters I have received from constituents of mine. The first is from a leading aircraftman, who is stationed in Norway, and who says:
That is the prevailing opinion in many Air Force camps in this country and in many parts of the world to-day; and it is a view which requires to be categorically denied or explained away. This aircraftman goes on to give figures; for instance, that the Navy are releasing up to Group 45 by the end of next June, the Army up to Group 31, and the Royal Air Force up to Group 28 only. Imagine the effect these figures must have had on aircraftmen at these camps. He also gives the percentages—the Navy 49 per cent. the Army 62, and the Royal Air Force only 38. On the point of redundancy this aircraftman says:"We have been repeatedly told that the age plus service scheme which was agreed by all Service men to be the fairest would be carried out; but in announcing the new proposals Mr. Isaacs deliberately and quite clearly, has broken it."
It seems to me obvious that people who were transferred from the Air Force a few months ago into the Army, because of redundancy, now find themselves—and I think the Under-Secretary will find it difficult to get out of this—in a much better position. What about the chaps in the R.A.F.? What are they to think about that? I think this is a real point; and I do not think it is fair. The other quotation which I wish to make is from a corporal now stationed in India. He says:"A few months ago there was a surplus of man-power in the Royal Air Force, and thousands were transferred to the Army. Even now, in camps everywhere, men are left in idleness. Here in Norway this is more apparent than ever. I am an armourer to trade, and I have been here since January with nothing to do. Had it not been for the fact that I was able to operate a Linotype machine for the printing of a newspaper for the troops out here, I think I should have gone mad."
That is clearly the attitude of mind in certain Commands, and I must say I think there is something to be said for it. Another point he makes:"There appears to be a complete departure from the age plus service release scheme, and we all consider it a gross breach of faith on the part of a Government so recently elected, with such overwhelming support from the Services."
"This news is particularly galling to those who, like myself, have release groups under 38 and have recently arrived in this Command (that is to say India), for I hear from a friend in Blackpool that personnel with release groups under 38 will now no longer be sent overseas; and, in addition, I have evidence of several cases of mis-employment in this theatre, and I am led to believe that is the rule rather than the exception."
It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Mathers.]
That is really all I want to say. I think the House is always interested in the views of people directly concerned; and what these letters show clearly is the kind of effect this announcement has had upon the average aircraftman in the ordinary R.A.F. station. If they are any indication of what they are feeling, they must be feeling pretty sore. I cannot understand how my hon. Friend, with his great experience and knowledge of publicity and propaganda, has not managed to put this thing over better than he has, even if his Department was what might be called "pulling a fast one." Mothers and wives in this country, who are getting this sort of letter from all over the world at the present time, must be in a state of seething indignation; and I feel that it is due to the House, the country and the R.A.F. that a perfectly clear statement should be made, to-day if possible, as to the reasons that led the Government to take the action they have done; and, if possible, to demonstrate to us that the action itself is not so unfair as it would superficially appear to be.
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) and other hon. Members have raised this matter because I realise that it is one on which the men in the Forces feel very keenly. It is a matter about which I believe there is an explanation—two weighty reasons, at any rate, which must be taken into consideration. It is very valuable therefore that I have this opportunity this afternoon to put them before the House. First, I do not think we want to exaggerate what has happened. I have seen in the Press and elsewhere an extremely exaggerated view of those facts. I have seen it stated that there is no speed up but rather the reverse in releases from the R.A.F. So far as the present is concerned, that is, up to the end of the year, this of course is by no means the case. Under the Ministry of Labour's recent announcement the R.A.F. releases 338,000 men by the end of the year. That is over 100,000 more than were to be released under any previous announcement. So, for the remainder of this year there is a very rapid speed-up in releases from the R.A.F., at least equal to the speed-up in the other Forces.I stress that because I think we should all be wise to take, as hard and fast, and, as far as one can humanly say not subject to revision, only the figures down to the end of the year. So far as these hard and fast figures to the end of this year are concerned then, there has been a rapid speed-up in releases from the R.A.F. in common with the other two Services. It is when you come to the forecast of what will happen in the first six months of next year, that great anxiety has undoubtedly been caused in the minds of members of the R.A.F. and no doubt their relatives, because they see that it is forecast that in the first six months of next year there will be only another 140,000 added to the 338,000 who are released up to the end of this year. They see that, consequently, not now, but next year, the rate of release from the R.A.F. will be very much slower than the rate of release from the other Services. They see that in terms of groups, for example, not so much in comparison with the Army—there is no great disparity there—that we propose to release up to 28 Group by midsummer next, while they see that in the case of the Navy they are going up as high as 45. This question of groups is connected with the point just made of evenness of release as between trades. I think the hon. Member who raised this matter will find if he looks at the figures and facts as circulated in the Official Report that the naval release, going up to Group 45, is achieved, rightly or wrongly, by a very much greater degree of unevenness as between trades than we have foreshadowed for the R.A.F. It is thus a little unreal to compare Air Group 28 with the Navy's Group 45, as I think it will be found that there has been a bigger spread-over in the case of the Royal Navy. You can have it either way. You can reach a comparatively high group by causing great unevenness, or the release can be kept more even as between groups. But that is really a side issue. The tact remains, and I face it, that as at present forecast, in the first half of next year the rate of release from the R.A.F. so far announced is considerably slower than that of the other two Services. The hon. Member asked for percentages. The fact I am dealing with is reflected in the forecast which showed that the VE-Day strength of the Royal Navy will have been reduced to 52 per cent. by midsummer next, the Army to 36 per cent. and the R.A.F. only to 58 per cent. I give these approximate figures because they show a disparity, but they also show the limit of the disparity. It is not the enormous disparity which some people have in mind when they have looked entirely at group numbers. When all that has been said there is this disparity—the Minister of Labour forecast a substantially slower R.A.F. release in the New Year. Why is that and what is the justification for it? The reasons, whether they be justifications or not, are two. In regard to the first one I ask the House to clear away any misconception that this release scheme is a sort of private enterprise show by each Service working separately. It is not that at all. The speed-up in release which was announced by the Minister of Labour was a most carefully taken decision by the Government as a whole working with the Chiefs of Staff and the three Services. It is a planned scheme in which the rate of release of each Service is dependent upon the rate of release of the other two Services. It was only by that plan that the Government could see their way to do the two things they had to do. One was to meet our world-wide commitments, and the other was to get a million and a half men out of the Forces by Christmas and 3,000,000 men out of the Forces by midsummer next. Both those objectives had to be achieved, and the only way in which they could be achieved was by having this appreciably uneven rate of release as between the Royal Air Force and the other two Forces. That was for two reasons—first, that when the survey of our world-wide commitments and the ways in which we could meet those commitments, which the Government called upon the Chiefs of Staff to make, was made, it was soon found that by far the most economical way of meeting those commitments in man-power was by retaining relatively substantial air forces and relatively small ground forces. In other words, you can occupy or police a country either by divisions or by squadrons. And it is very considerably more economical in manpower to do the job as much as you can by means of squadrons and as little as you can by means of divisions. If your total forces at the end of the period—in this case 30th June next—consist of a relatively high number of squadrons and a relatively low number of divisions, you can do your maximum amount of work and can meet your commitments with a minimum of man-power. Therefore, when the survey was made the Chiefs of Staff and the Government found that the only way they could get the over-all figure of 3,000,000 men out of the Forces by 30th June was by this uneven division in the rate of release between the Forces. There is no doubt whatever, of course, that this has fallen hardly upon the members of the Force for which I speak. They are particularly wanted because they can do this particular occupying and policing job more economically than ground forces can do it, but I realise that this is little consolation to the individual airman who finds that he is going to get out appreciably later than a soldier or a sailor in the same age and service group as himself. But is it something which my Noble Friend and myself should have resisted at all costs? Is it not rather true that there is an overriding necessity before this country, not only for the sake of the men in the Services to get them out as soon as they wish, but also for the reconstruction of this country and for the industrial life of this country which must be put on its feet again at the very earliest possible moment, to get the highest over-all figure out of the three Services taken together? This appeared to be the way, and the only way, in which this could be done. That is the first reason which has led His Majesty's Government to make this particular plan for release from the Forces, but it is not the only one. There is another reason of at least equal importance, and it, too, unfortunately for the Royal Air Force, bears hardly on us. In order to observe the principle of the age and service group as between the men at home and the men overseas, an immense and urgent transportation task arises. That is the task of getting the men home from the Far East, Italy, and all over the world; and in that task the Royal Air Force is imperatively needed. I wonder if the House quite realises—I did not realise it until I got the figures put before me and added them up—the immense magnitude of the transportation task which faces Transport Command, and not only that Command—it is wider than that—in the next nine months? It turns out that between now and 30th June next we have to meet a task of moving almost exactly 1,000,000 men and women over various journeys. That is a transportation and trooping task of a magnitude which, I suppose (with the exception of the repatriation task faced by the United States Air Force last summer over the Atlantic with much greater resources), no Air Force in history has ever dreamt of facing before. The over-all release scheme, the indispensable leave schemes from the Far East, the return of men after their tour of duty in all three Services—none of those can be looked at unless the R.A.F. can move those million bodies in the next nine months. That is a task which bears most heavily on the R.A.F., and, in addition to the very big rôle which, as I have just said, it is called upon to play in meeting our worldwide commitments, it means that we need a larger proportion of the Force, 58 per cent, as compared with 52 per cent, of the Navy, to be retained within the R.A.F. next summer. It means that between 600,000 and 700,000 men—add the figures up for yourselves—are needed in the Royal Air Force next midsummer. Those two reasons will account in the New Year for the smaller rate of release from the Royal Air Force as compared with the other two Forces. Think what would happen, for example, if we, facing that transportation task, released a rapidly increased number of men. That transportation task cannot just be done by anyone. It cannot be done by new recruits. Hon. Members have mentioned the question of intake. It is a valuable suggestion and will be taken up, but I am afraid we should delude ourselves if we thought it would help very much in the short run. You cannot put on to this enormous trooping job any but experienced men. I do not mean merely experienced pilots and navigators. Those are very important, but I mean also men experienced in maintenance tasks both here and at the staging pests which have to be made from here to Singapore. It may interest the House to know that Transport Command makes a rule that two full journeys to the Far East and back have to be made by each crew which goes out, carrying freight only, before they carry passengers. Yet even with the very great efforts which we make in the interests of safety there probably will be crashes and accidents in an immense task of that sort. If we relaxed in the very slightest, or allowed our experienced men to go, I am afraid that the accident rate might become one which this House could not possibly allow to continue. In all, we calculate that, during the six months of next year, and not merely in Transport Command, because half at least of Bomber Command will be engaged in the task, and counting the share of Maintenance Command and the training and auxiliary services which are backing up the transport services, some 40 per cent. of the entire man-power of the R.A.F. will be engaged in this transportation task. The switch-over of man-power from the war-time tasks of the Royal Air Force lo this new task having to be carried out at the same time as hundreds of thousands of men are going out of the Service, is a problem of remustering such as no Service has ever had to face before. Because then the R.A.F. is the most economical way of meeting our commitments and because of this huge transportation task, the rate of release which we thought it safe to forecast for the first six months of next year is an appreciably slower one than is possible for the Army and the Royal Navy. Have I, therefore, to end these remarks by saying that the men and women of the Royal Air Force must simply bear their burdens? To some extent I am afraid that, for the reasons I have given that is the case, but I do not think that we need leave them entirely without hope. I think there are two legitimate grounds for hope here—
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is proposing to do anything about redundant staffs by cutting them down?
That is bound up with the problem I have mentioned, and I am glad the hon. Member has mentioned it. It is bound up with the problem of remustering. The whole force is being re-sorted at the same moment as numbers of men are leaving it. Men may be redundant in one command at the moment, but they are desperately needed in Transport Command and the like, and in the re-sorting out and retraining certain individuals may feel that they are redundant because they have not yet been put into their new jobs.
All hon. Members have instances of re-mustering being hampered because people fairly low down in the R.A.F. hierarchy will not send names forward.
No process of this sort is perfect, and that is a matter of individual cases from which we cannot draw general conclusions.To resume, it seems to me—and I have no more information on this point than any other hon. Member—that when we are looking, not three months but nine months ahead, in the very nature of things the world situation is bound to change, and as it changes it must be reviewed by the Government and the Chiefs of Staff. The commitments which will face this country must obviously change also. They may, of course, change for the worse, but they may also change for the better, and we may find that it is possible, looking ahead to the first six months of next year, to get a review of the world situation, and it may be possible to lighten that burden of occupying and policing functions which is falling heavily on all our Forces, and especially heavily on the R.A.F. Then as to the transportation task, this is a matter largely of the availability of shipping. No one would, if they could, bring these men home on this scale by air transport. It is not really an economical or sensible method if we had the shipping available, especially as we have to do it in converted aircraft such as Stirlings, which were never built for such purposes. It would be far preferable if the shipping could be made available to take over part, at any rate, of this enormous trooping task from the R.A.F. There is the prospect, which I think has improved in the last few days, that in the new year the shipping position will be appreciably easier. If it is so, there again I think the Royal Air Force can legitimately ask on behalf of its airmen and airwomen for some substantial easing of the very heavy burden which falls upon them and which necessitates their slower rate of release.
; While sharing the hopes of the hon. Gentleman, hon. Members have asked whether he will consider, in consultation with his colleagues, whether some form of financial compensation might be paid to Servicemen whose rate of demobilisation will be retarded beyond the average rate.
That is a question for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer rather than for me. What I do ask the House is to say quite frankly to airmen that while the figures of releases to the end of the year are hard and fast, and will be as far as is humanly possible realised in the quantity and at the speed stated, in the nature of things a forecast running six or nine months ahead is by no means, and cannot possibly be, so hard and fast. There is, therefore, the possibility, when looking so far ahead, of revision. We recognise this in the Royal Air Force by only promulgating the groups due for release in each trade three months ahead; beyond that we must regard any prospect which is given as subject to revision. But whatever revision is made, a heavy burden will still fall on the Royal Air Force, and the airmen and airwomen who did so vast a work in the war; for they are asked, for the remaining months of their service, to play a very large part in our occupying and policing forces and in the work of transporting: home their comrades of the other two Forces.
Will the hon. Gentleman explore the possibility of remustering members of the other Forces into the Royal Air Force?
That is a possibility which we will certainly consider very care- fully, but I am afraid it would not provide very quick relief.
The hon. Gentleman has made a statement which, I fear, will give very little satisfaction overseas. Like my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), if I had known that this Debate was to take place I could have brought along a letter couched in even more censorious terms about the arrangements than even that which my hon. Friend has read out. May I ask that the Minister should look into the possibility of mitigating the effect of this announcement with the utmost despatch? In particular, to-day he has mentioned nothing about leave. A letter which I received this morning pointed out that many men in the writer's unit had had no leave for four, five or six months, a state of affairs which undoubtedly exists in some units. Would it not be possible to make arrangements for increased leave facilities for the men who, under present circumstances, are having to engage in extended duties?
That, of course, is a shipping and air transportation question. The more men brought home on leave, the greater the pressure on the transport available for men coming home for release or at the expiration of their term of duty. That again is a burden on the transport function of the Royal Air Force.
Question put, and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-Nine Minutes past Four o'clock.