Air Estimates, 1940.

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th March 1940.

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Photo of Group Captain John Wright Group Captain John Wright , Birmingham Erdington 12:00 am, 7th March 1940

We shall then be in the position of having to try to tackle the vast competition which will take place in this new form of transport—for which there will be an enormous demand in the future, certainly immediately after the war and even if the war is not finished then, we shall still need these boats for our Empire communications. I hope that we shall not repeat the mistake we made with the Hannibal class; after 10 years we find ourselves trying to compete with the London-Paris traffic with machines which would do only 100 miles an hour, if that, against American machines which would travel at 150 miles an hour.

What about the South Atlantic route of which we have heard so much? Surely the North Atlantic and South Atlantic routes might be of importance to us in the very near future. Funnily enough, the war has made these two routes, which were looked upon as rather a hazardous undertaking, the safest way of crossing the Atlantic to-day. From that point of view alone, we should consider this matter very carefully. Of course, the Bermuda route which has been referred to is a real tragedy. That is probably the most lucrative air line in the world and because we had a crash in which we lost the Cavalier, we have allowed the whole thing to go by default to Pan-American Airways. That is a dreadful thing for the prestige of this country and for its future trade.

I do not believe that it is impossible to continue to work internal airways. After all, with the railways so congested and with motor transport practically non-existent the air might be very attractive to-day to a large section of the public who want to travel perhaps to the North of England or to the North of Scotland. With the improved information which we must obviously have, if one judges by the example of the small number of balloons we see in the air nowadays, we must be in a position where we feel we will have much longer notice of an intended air raid; and if that is so, why cannot we run our internal lines? Surely, the small amount of wireless which is used by fast travelling machines cannot be of any great value to the enemy. Surely, in the time which we have at our disposal any aircraft travelling at reasonable speed would be able to make its way to an airport before danger arrived. If we really feel that the East Coast is dangerous why not let our patrolling aircraft keep an eye on the liners? I do not believe for a moment that if we had at the top of the Civil Aviation Department that proper drive and desire to get on with the job, we should fail to get a great deal more than is being done to-day.

There is another point I would like my right hon. Friend to consider very seriously. Is he really satisfied that it is wise to break up entirely the organisations of these smaller firms in this country? Is it really wise to hand over ruthlessly the whole of our assets and experience to the railway companies which have not always been too sympathetic towards the development of air line transport in the past? I can see the difficulties and I am very sympathetic with my right hon. Friend in dealing with a very difficult question, but I think that he should consider it.

Finally, I want to put forward three points for his consideration. The first is that we should order at least 100 Flamingo machines to be built between now and say 1942. I mean machines not for the R.A.F. but for the development of civil aviation. Even if they are not used we shall have them there ready when we most want them, when this transport again develops. As I have pointed out, there is a very big export market which we cannot afford to neglect. It is just as important to look after the export side of the aircraft industry as any other form of export trade in this country. The Royal Air Force side of the Air Ministry must realise that and must not grab everything away from the civil side. I have said this before in the House; I believe that we should get on faster if the civil department of the Air Ministry were divorced altogether from the control of the Royal Air Force.

One can understand—it is perfectly natural—that the defence of the country must come first, but I think that people in loyalty to the services in which they are serving, are apt to be carried away and to look upon the other side of the question as of no importance at all. We have seen the same thing in the Ministry of Supply. We are now having to insist that our export trade shall get the raw materials which it needs and we have exactly the same picture to-day in the aircraft industry. My first point was that we should order at least 100 Flamingo machines. My second point is that we should order 50 of the new Short flying boats. My third point is that we should take steps to see that these organisations of skilled personnel who have priceless experience in the running of air transport are not entirely scattered and dissipated beyond recall.

I believe that if the right hon. Gentleman would consider those matters, he would find that it can be done, and that when we come to the end of these hostilities we shall be in a position to tackle the economic war which may then be greatly intensified. People talk to-day as though the economic war were just a part of this war, and that it will end when hostilities end. We can make no greater mistake. It is when hostilities finish that the economic war will start and it is then that we shall need to be really well equipped in civil aviation.