Clause 1. — (Power to Regulate Aerial Navigation.)

Orders of the Day — Aerial Nawigation Bill. – in the House of Commons on 21st February 1919.

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(1) It, shall be lawful for a Secretary of State by Order to regulate aerial navigation over the British Islands and the territorial waters adjacent thereto, and in particular, but without derogating from the generality of the above provision, he may by any such Order provide for—

  1. (a) the grant, suspension and revocation of licences to pilots and other persons engaged in the navigation of aircraft:
  2. (b) the registration, identification, inspection and certification of aircraft, especially those used for carrying passengers, goods or mails:
  3. (c) the licensing, inspection and regulation of aerodromes:
  4. (d) the conditions under which aircraft may be used for carrying goods, mails and passengers:
  5. (e) the conditions under which goods and mails may be imported and exported and passengers transported in aircraft into or from the British Islands, or from one of the British Islands to another.

(2) If any person contravenes or fails to comply with the provisions contained in any such Order he shall be guilty of an offence under the Aerial Navigation Act, 1911:

Provided that if proceedings are taken by the Commissioners of Customs and Excise for contravention of or failure to comply with any Regulation made under paragraph (e), the proceedings shall be deemed to be proceedings for the recovery of a penalty under the enactments relating to customs.

(3) Every Order made under this Section shall have effect as if enacted in this Act, but as soon as may be after it is made it shall be laid before each House of Parliament, and if an Address is presented to His Majesty by either House within the next subsequent twenty-one days on which that House has sat after the Order has been so laid, praying that the Order or any part thereof may be annulled, His Majesty may annul the Order or part thereof, and it shall thenceforth be void without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done there under or to the making of a new Order.

(4) The powers conferred by this Act shall be in addition to and not in derogation of the powers conferred by the Aerial Navigation Acts, 1911 and 1913.

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the word "aerial" ["regulate aerial navigation"], and to insert instead thereof the word "air."

I have adopted the proposal of an hon. Friend of mine which, I hope, will be accepted by the House, that instead of the word "aerial," we should use the word "air" throughout. It is simpler and easier to say.

Amendment agreed to.

Lieutenant-Colonel MALONE:

I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1, a), to insert the words for the conveyance of passengers, goods, or mail, for hire or reward. It will be seen from this and subsequent Amendments that they class themselves generally under matters relating to personnel and material, and that generally speaking they aim at lightening the very stringent restrictions which this Bill introduces. In moving this Amendment, I would like the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to give some indication of the basic principles which are at the back of his mind in putting forward this Bill. First of all from the military point of view. At the beginning of the War—

Mr. SPEAKER:

That would not be in order on the Amendment. It is suitable for a Second Reading discussion. On an Amendment the Debate must be confined to the subject matter of the Amendment, and the issues raised by the Amendment.

Lieutenant-Colonel MALONE:

The issue of the Amendment is the restriction of individual right in experiments in flying. We think the restriction of individuals in experimenting and carrying out private trials of their own if they are limited to Act of Parliament will severely handicap enterprise and individual effort. When this Bill comes into force it will mean a lot to aerial commerce. I do ask my right hon. Friend, in its initial stages, to give the very greatest scope he can to individual enterprise and energy.

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

While I do not wish to accept this and the consequential Amendments, for reasons which I will presently give, I am entirely at one with my hon. and gallant Friend and his Seconder. I agree with most of those who are specially interested in aviation in thinking that we ought to give the fullest possible latitude to experiment and to freeing it completely from State inspection and control. The reason we do not accept these Amendments is that we might defeat our own object. The actual words would limit inspection by the State to those who carry goods, passengers, or mails—it might be presumed for hire, as stated in this and other Amendments. It would be possible—I do not say it is probable—that some company or some eccentric person could evade the Regulation by not charging for their flights, and incurring severe accidents by people with, unsuitable types of machines might retard the progress of aviation to a very great degree. I would suggest, if I may, to my hon. and gallant Friend that if I give him my assurance, as the responsible Minister in charge of the Bill, that we have no intention of using this power for the inspection or registration of experimental craft or other craft built by those who are interested in aviation, and who intend to use them for their own experiments in their own flying, we need not pass these Amendments, or agree to Amendments suggested later, with this added safeguard that, as he knows, this is only an interim Bill and that a bigger Bill will come on later. In the meantime, on my personal assurance as the Minister responsible, I may repeat that we have no intention whatever of inspecting either the men or the pilots who are building machines for experimental purposes and for their own private flying. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will accept this assurance, as it will enable us to agree to the deletion of the proposed Amendments with a view to their consideration in the proper wording of the bigger Bill later.

Lieutenant-Colonel MALONE:

In view of the definite pledges given by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lieutenant-Colonel MALONE:

I beg to move, in Sub-section (1, b), after the word "registration" ["the registration, identification, inspection"], to insert the word "and."

This and two subsequent Amendments can, I think, be taken together. These Amendments deal with personnel and material. I simply want to remind the right hon. Gentleman of the conditions which existed in the country under the two systems. Under the War Office system the development of aircraft was very much restricted. I think it can be generally accepted that the system adopted by the Admiralty allowed us, at the beginning of the War, to have a complete predominance of the air. There is one other point on which I should like him to inform us in connection with this Amendment. Major-General Sykes is to be Controller-General of Civil Aviation. What does that mean? The term "aviation" generally includes only heavier-than-air craft.

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

It may be convenient if I now answer the question put to me. I am asked whether the Controller-General of Aviation (Major-General Sykes) will be concerned with lighter-than-air as well as heavier-than-air craft. The answer is "Most certainly." For the moment, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, the Admiralty are principally concerned in the construction of lighter-than-air craft. However that may be, the Controller-General of Civil Aviation will be charged with the mapping out of air routes, with securing landing grounds, the supervision of Rules and Regulations for air travel; with the arrangements being made to link up this country, not only with the Continent, but with our Overseas Dominions, and so on. All these vast possibilities involving heavier-than, as well as lighter-than, air machines, will come under the purview of the Controller-General. I see it stated in the "Times" to-day that the sea may be regarded as a hostile element. Though I agree with much that is stated in the article, I do not think that is so. A calm sea is a favourable element. In any event, if you include lighter-than-air machines in the things under the purview of the Controller-General of Aviation, the sea is peculiarly favourable for many purposes. For these reasons, I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be satisfied generally that the whole of aerial navigation—or as we shall now say, "air" navigation—will come under the purview of the Air Ministry, and especially of the Controller-General of Aviation, including the heavier and lighter-than-air craft.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

I beg to move, in Sub-section (1, b), at the end, to insert the words, especially those used for carrying passengers, goods, or mails. These words are inserted in order to emphasise, on behalf of the Government, that it is our intention to confine our activities to craft which either wholly ply for hire or attempt to evade proper inspection. They are not words which are at all usual in an Act of Parliament, but this is a temporary measure, and, I think, they may be accepted as being an earnest of our desire to confine our inspection to pilots and the craft of those who ply for hire in the case of passengers, goods, and mails.

Mr. SPEAKER:

If the right hon. Gentleman will look at line 14 of the Bill he will see that his words are already there—"especially those used for carrying passengers, goods, or mails." Has the right hon. Gentleman a copy of the Bill in his hand?

Captain BENN:

Perhaps line 12, paragraph (a), is meant, and not line 14, paragraph (b)?

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

I presume, Sir, that what is suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend was the intention of the Parliamentary draftsman, to whom this matter was referred. I had not observed the particular line in the Bill. No doubt the intention of the draftsman was, as I have said, to insert the words in both places. I will, therefore, move the Amendment in paragrapt (a).

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1, a), to add the words, especially those used for carrying passengers, goods, or mails.

Captain BENN:

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. Will the Air Ministry be prevented from interfering with private individuals or experimental enterprises, and will it have to confine its activities to those engaged in carrying passengers, goods, or mails?

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

I explained before the hon. Member came in that the object of these words was to confine inspection to those who carried passengers, goods, and mails for hire, and conceivably to extend it to those who might attempt to evade the regulations by not charging for a service that was really not safe. I propose, I think with the consent of most hon. Members present, that we should not accept an Amendment which would strictly and rigidly confine it to those persons for fear of that happening. I have given my personal pledge, as Minister responsible, that we do intend to confine ourselves to pilots and aircrafts who are engaged in carrying passengers, goods, or mails.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel John Moore-Brabazon Lieut-Colonel John Moore-Brabazon , Rochester Chatham

I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1, b), to insert the words, but no such inspection or certificate shall be refused on the ground that plans were not submitted to the Secretary of State prior to the completion of the aircraft. 1.0 P.M.

The right hon. Gentleman has been so frank with us that I want to state why I put this Amendment down on the Paper. It has been said that some protection is wanted for the public, and that inspection by the Government is a necessity. The hon. Baronet took the view that he thought this proposal was not necessary, but we think it is necessary. This measure, which looks a very innocent one, gives power to inspect aircraft for public service, but there is a possibility that the Government is going to control the design of all aircraft in this country. I think that must lead to absolute stagnation in a new industry like the aircraft industry. We must allow private firms to have some initiative in design, but before any firm can do aircraft of any sort they have to go to the Government and lay before them their design before they can start. I think that provision will hamper enormously the initiative of those firms. We must remember that private firms have often been competitors before and are to-day in aviation. As we look back we see that the private firm has almost invariably beaten the Government in design and in turning out successful aircraft. If my proposal is carried it will be more difficult for the Government to squash a radically new departure if the machine is brought complete for trial, and when that is done all the Government can do is to look at the machine from the point of view of performances, and they will be able to see whether it does give the performances and results claimed for it, and whether it does the work asked of it. I must remind the House that there are fashions in aeronautics just as in anything else. We have had a fashion for the biplane and for the monoplane and we have had different kinds of engines. If you are going to allow the whole design in aircraft to be centred in the Controller-General, I think it will be a dangerous thing, because that assumes that that man must necessarily be the best, and in a new subject like this we cannot allow the whole design to rest in the hands of one man. On that point the Under-Secretary of State for Air must appreciate that with a load on their necks like this no firm is going to start the exploitation of aviation in order to hand over their ideas in regard to new machines to the Government. That is not a scheme which will promote the success of this great subject.

There is another point of view which I want to bring before the Under-Secretary. On the Second Reading I said that this Bill was a blank cheque on aviation. The Under-Secretary for Air put before us his proposed Orders in Council, and some of those, I am glad to say, have been altered, but there is still this objectionable part. The Controller-General of Civil Aeronautics, who has now passed from a soldier to the wearer of the bowler hat, said the Government intended to standardise design as much as possible. If we were dealing with ships it would never be tolerated for one minute that all ships were to be of the same design, and in a subject wrapped up with so many new possibilities it would be preposterous to impose standardisation of design. I cannot help asking what is really at the bottom of this proposal. I believe there is at the back of the Air Ministry an idea that no machine shall be built in this country unless it has the potential possibility of being turned into a war machine straight away. If the Government by means of this simple Bill have that in mind, I wish to protest here on the floor of the House. If the Government want aircraft built so that they can turn them, into war machines at a moment's notice, then let the Government say so, and let them subsidise them, but do not let such a thing be introduced under cover of this Bill. The Secretary of State for Air told us the other day that the designs for war and for commercial aircraft are taking very separate lines. If the Government are going to compel machines to be useful for war, then they are going to sacrifice their usefulness for commercial work. The two things go entirely separate ways, and it is going to be very difficult to keep them together. I do hope that the Under-Secretary will accept this Amendment, because the trade will feel very much freer in action if they can bring their machines complete for inspection and the Government can only look upon them from the point of view of whether they can do the work that is asked of them, and not whether they are machines that can be turned to use in war at a minute's notice.

Photo of Hon. Oscar Guest Hon. Oscar Guest , Loughborough

I beg to second the Amendment. In doing so, I feel considerable diffidence, as my knowledge of Parliamentary debate and procedure is very small, but, as a pilot during war for four or five years, I feel rather strongly on the matter. The aeroplane which we were given to fly over the lines in France five years ago was a very different proposition from the modern machine with which the War closed. I believe in the same way the change in civilian aviation in the next four or five years will be as striking and as great. If that change be to benefit this country, then every encouragement must be given to invention in aeroplane design. I am convinced that five years from now aeroplanes will play a very large part in the transport of mails and goods throughout the world, and it seems to me a question whether this country is going to reap the benefit of that expansion, and is going to win in the race of invention and progress. My feeling is that if this Amendment be favourably considered, it will encourage and help aeroplane invention and new ideas. I know myself that many a plan for a new aeroplane looks very poor and improbable on paper, and, if it has to go up to a Government office to be considered by a number of men and is pigeon-holed for a time, the invention will be thought of by somebody else, perhaps in another country, and we shall lose the trade coming from that invention. It is vital that we should not be placed in this position, and I believe, if we can secure the lead in the invention of civilian aircraft, as we undoubtedly now have in military aircraft, it will redound to our credit and to the commercial prosperity of this country. I would, therefore, very strongly urge that this Amendment should be favourably considered, and that we should be told the Government's view as to how this situation is to be met.

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

It is not often that anyone on this bench listens to two speeches proposing an Amendment with which he is so entirely in accord. I say at once that I am in accord with every word that fell from my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Amendment (Lieut.-Col. Brabazon), and, if possible, even more, with remarks that fell from the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major O. Guest), who, I think, addressed the House to-day for the first time. We are glad to welcome him here as one who is a practical flying man, and whose advice on these subjects will be of great value to the House. My only doubt is as to the best way of achieving the result which we all have at heart. I suggest, instead of putting it into the Bill, which is a somewhat unusual procedure, that I undertake to make it perfectly clear in the Regulations. I will define what we will make clear in. the Regulations. It is, perhaps, a little more drastic and complete than is proposed in this Amendment. I will deal with two points raised and explain how completely I myself, the Secretary of State, and the Air Council, are in accord with their view. They say, first of all, "We do not want any Government Department to keep on interfering with designs." I entirely agree. That is not the intention of the Air Ministry, and the Regulations will make it quite clear that is exactly what they are not to do. When. I remind the House, as I stated in a previous Debate that I myself struck out the word "suitable" in order to leave nothing but "safety" in the Regulations which provided for inspection, I think they will understand how completely that is the view of the Air Minister. Our duty is to see that aircraft are reasonably safe. It. does not matter what they are like. They may be air ships or tractors, motor planes or monoplanes; they may be of a design of a most fantastic character, but, unless it is proposed to carry people for hire, and they are bound to break the neck of the passenger, it is not our business to interfere. We act solely on the lines on which the State acts with regard to ships. If a ship is reasonably seaworthy, then whatever its design it is certified.

The next point, which is a very important one and a point of real substance, was whether the State would be tempted to endeavour to secure uniformity or standardisation of design in this new science, in order to have the advantage of having aircraft readily available for use in time of war. Here, I think, there might possibly be a divergence of view, but I say unhesitatingly that the State must not and shall not, while we have anything to do with the direction of policy, adopt so fatal an error. In my judgment, as an humble student of air matters, the divergence which we now see beginning between civilian and war types is going to be on an ever-increasing scale. I am quite sure that within a very few years the type of machine which is flown for civilian transport—in which in common with those hon. Members to whom I am speaking I see a very great future—will have diverged in a far greater degree from the fighting machine than even the merchant ship—the fast liner—has diverged from the battle-cruiser. What you want in a fighting machine is extreme speed, and climbing arid manœuvring power. They are points which may be of advantage incidentally in a commercial machine, but obviously they are not of the first importance compared with other factors which are demanded for commercial or other civilian travel. For these reasons I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman who seconded the Amendment that we have no intention whatever of trying to interfere with designs just because Government Departments do interfere, and I undertake to put in special words to make it quite clear that that is our intention. In the second place, still less have we the intention to try and make our Air Force a little cheaper by compelling civilians to build their machines to our design. I hope that will satisfy my hon. and gallant Friend, especially when I say that I have had long consultations with the Society of British Aircraft Manufacturers, which have been continued between the Controller of Supply and the Secretary of the Air Ministry. As far as I know, they themselves are completely satisfied that the Regulations make our intentions plain; but if they do not, I will see that words are put in to make it clear that we will not interfere with design except in so far as it is necessary to give public safety to air travelling.

Captain BENN:

Of course, we accept at once the assurance given by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that it is not his intention to insist on unnecessary inspection of designs. My hon. and gallant Friend, who has a great experience in matters of this kind, is of opinion that interference would discredit the whole thing, and I am sure it is desirable it should be avoided if you are to get progress in scientific inventions. We expect there will be changes of personnel in the Air Ministry. I hope there will be a big change in the direction of restoring to the Ministry its independence and take it away from the control of the War Office. It would be much more satisfactory from the point of view of aerial navigation that what we desire should be put into the Bill, and not depend upon the will of the Air Minister of the day. Moreover, the Bill is only a temporary measure, so there can be no real objection to making assurance doubly sure by inserting these words in the Act itself. For the people who are going to make experiments it is necessary that they should have the assurance and the knowledge that nothing will be done which would interfere with the success of their undertaking. That assurance would be much better given by an Act of Parliament than by relying on Orders in Council made by the Air Minister and laid on the Table of this House which it might be inconvenient to discuss. I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend whether he could not see his way to accept those words and put them into the Bill. He approves of the intention, he knows that the Bill is only a temporary one, and I ask him if he will let these words go in in order to make it unnecessary for Members interested in British aircraft to scan so meticulously every Order that may be brought forward.

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

I can only say a word in answer by leave of the House. There is really an obvious objection to putting these words in the Act. Suppose I were to promise to give to my hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken, to the Mover and Seconder and all those interested a copy of the Regulations embodying the substance of what they suggest. I am making Regulations to secure that any design, however fantastic, provided it safeguards reasonable public safety shall not be interferred with. I think that is far better than introducing words into the Bill. Regulations have not yet been agreed to, but they will have to be laid upon the Table of the House.

Captain BENN:

Will my right hon. and gallant Friend put some words into the Bill?

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

I will undertake to put words to the effect indicated in the larger Bill later on. Anyone who has had charge of a Bill knows that whenever an Amendment of this kind is put in at the last moment without consideration it may lead to all sorts of difficulties and you may defeat your object by using exact words. We will put a provision of the kind suggested in a larger Bill.

Captain BENN:

When will that be?

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

Directly we have got the adhesion of the foreign countries to the contention which I expect to get shortly.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

I beg to move, in Sub-section (1, e), to leave out the words, imported and exported and passengers transported in aircraft into or from the British Islands, or from one of the British Islands to another, and to insert instead thereof the words, conveyed in aircraft into or from the British Islands or from one of the British Islands to another.

This Amendment is a purely verbal one, as suggested by the Parliamentary draftsman.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr Carlyon Bellairs Mr Carlyon Bellairs , Maidstone

I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (3).

My object in moving this Amendment is somewhat disarmed by the assurance which has just been given that there will be a larger Bill this Session. My objection was to the very drastic powers in this Bill. We have got accustomed to drastic powers in war-time, but this is a peace Bill, and I am sometimes tempted to think that the procedure of seizing Naboth's Vineyard was a very clumsy process. They had not invented Orders in Council in those days. If my right hon. and gallant Friend is prepared before this Bill has gone through to give us an assurance that the Orders in Council he proposes, before they come into operation, will be submitted to a Committee of Members—say, of Members nominated by the Air Committee—for discussion, not for decision, that would satisfy my point. The only right of interference which we possess in the case of an Order in Council is to make an Address to the King within twenty-one Parliamentary days, if it comes for discussion before a certain number of Members of this House. If my right hon. Friend failed to satisfy the proposed Committee they would have to get a body of forty Members in this House in order to make the House, and on the adjournment move an Address to the King. Ordinarily we should not even know of the existence of an Order in Council. It is simply a piece of paper nominally laid on the Table of the House, a written copy of which is given to the Librarian, and the Members generally have no means of knowing of its existence. It is that danger I wish to obviate when this Bill comes into force, and I hope my right hon. Friend will give this assurance.

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

I gladly give the assurance asked for by my hon. and gallant Friend that, before making an Order in Council and laying the Regulation on the Table of this House, they shall be circulated to those specially interested—for instance, the Aerial Committee of Members. I have given the same assurance in regard to Regulations to be made under this Bill. I am sure that is a good plan, and I will see that it is followed up. I wish to safeguard this, however, by saying that when the House is not sitting, or in the case of urgency, it may not be possible to do this. I do not see how such a case could arise, but it might be that something occurred involving the necessity for the Government issuing an Order in Council in the interests of public safety or of health, and, in such a case, I will give such notice as is possible. I will see that the hon. Members interested are the first to receive an advance copy of any Regulations we propose to make that will become the subject of an Order in Council.

Photo of Mr Carlyon Bellairs Mr Carlyon Bellairs , Maidstone

On that assurance, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.