Orders of the Day — Gliding Clubs

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21 May 1957.

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Motion made, Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Oakshott.]

11.7 p.m.

Photo of Major Sir Robert Conant Major Sir Robert Conant , Rutland and Stamford

In raising the subject of the gliding clubs tonight, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary may be able to tell us something about the Government's policy in connection with gliding. In almost every other country gliding is supported by subsidies. In Britain, the gliding movement prefers independence and freedom from official control. I am not asking, therefore, for any subsidy, but I am asking for help and co-operation in other ways.

I think there are many excellent reasons why gliding is deserving of support. There is the question of national prestige. There is the matter of research; the need to encourage a spirit of adventure and exploration, just as in the past we have so often encouraged it on the seas, on the mountains and in the Arctic regions. We have a great deal still to learn about the air in connection with weather. cloud formation and aerodynamics, and it is not, I am sure. generally known that a great deal is still being discovered about the air by the use of gliders.

Dr. R. S. Scorer of the Imperial College of Science and Technology wrote in the Manchester Guardian the other day that he estimated it would have cost about £1 million if the study of the wave formation at Camphill in Derbyshire had had to be carried out by a special experiment and if the Gliding Club at Camp-hill had not been available to co-operate with the undertaking.

Many Members will have heard that in the World Gliding Championships this year, in the single-seater class, out of the first eleven places, six were held by machines of British manufacture, the other five being won by five different countries. The two-seater class was won by a British machine, the Slingsby Eagle, piloted by British pilots, Commander Goodhart and Mr. Foster. That was in itself a particularly creditable feat, because I believe it was competing against machines which had cost up to fifteen times as much to manufacture.

Those are some of the reasons why it seems to me that gliding is deserving of support, and I will now indicate the form which I think that support should take. Most important of all is the question of sites. Gliding has increased in popularity considerably since the war. There are now thirty-one clubs in Great Britain. Last year, 16,000 hours were flown. Gliding necessarily tends to be concentrated at weekends, and there is a limit to the number of aircraft which it is safe to put into the air at one time. Almost every club, therefore. becomes very congested at weekends. Some clubs have had to stop the enrolment of new members.

Sites for new clubs and greater security of tenure for several existing clubs are urgently needed. I saw in The Times yesterday that a number of aerodromes are to be derequisitioned. At least one of them is at present used for gliding. That is Detling in Kent. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to say that it will be possible for gliding to continue on that site in the future. I understand that the Aberdeen club which is now at Fraser-burgh has to leave that site and would like to go to Dyce, the Aberdeen civilian airport. From what I know of that airport. I should have thought it was quite possible. There is no reason why gliding should not take place in association with power flying, as happens very often on R.A.F. aerodromes, when gliding can be temporarily stopped by the firing of rockets. I should like my hon. Friend to look into that matter as soon as possible.

More important still is the position of Lasham, the site of the Surrey Gliding Club, where a number of other clubs are also sited. They have very limited security of tenure, and without that they are unable to spend money on such amenities as a club house and reasonably modern sanitation. I should like my hon. Friend to tell us what the position is at Lanham.

Relevant to the question of sites is the possibility which many people envisage of setting up in this country a national or Empire gliding centre, I think this is a good idea, but it depends upon having a suitable site available with adequate security of tenure. We have, after all, the largest sailplane factory in the world. in Yorkshire, and I am told that 60 per cent. to 80 per cent. of its products were exported over the last three years.

I am told also that there are many suitable sites on property owned by the National Trust, particularly in the neighbourhood of Newcastle. Unfortunately, the National Trust regards gliding clubs as eyesores. On the other hand, the Peak Park Planning Board in Derbyshire takes a different view. The Board has said that the gliding club at Camphill, of which it has practical experience, is one of the amenities of the National Park, and if my hon. Friend or any hon. Member has any influence with the National Trust, I hope they will persuade the Trust that there is no reason why a gliding club need be an eyesore; on the contrary, it can be an amenity.

The other problem concerning gliding clubs today is the problem of airways and control zones, which is of far more importance to gliding in this country than it is in those countries which are less congested. Interest and enthusiasm in gliding after the initial stages is fostered internationally by issuing certificates which are based on the distance that a pilot travels horizontally and vertically.

Every pilot from his earliest days, no matter how inexperienced or old he may be, hopes eventually to obtain a gold "C" certificate for covering a distance horizontally of 300 kilometres and an altitude of 3,000 metres. But in Great Britain we start at a great disadvantage compared with countries where the seaside is much further off, and it seems to me that, unless the airways and control zones take some account of the siting of gliding clubs, the higher international certificates will be obtainable only by those people who have the time and money to travel abroad. I should like to feel that they were available to every pilot from the moment he starts.

The Derbyshire and Lancashire Club at Camphill has discovered a standing way in which pilots have soared to very considerable heights. I believe the record to date is 14,500 ft. I only hope that the airway problem in the neighbourhood will not put an end to soaring at Camp-hill. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend could say something on that point.

It seems to me that, just as we have restricted the use of land by planning boards and so forth, so we ought to prevent the use of air solely for commercial purposes. I think that airways ought to be raised to a base of at least 5,000 ft., and I hope it will be possible always to consult the British Gliding Association when new airways are envisaged.

A small point which is of some importance is equipment for gliding clubs. With the contraction of the Royal Air Force, there will obviously be a great many surplus stores, and many of these are suitable for use in gliding clubs. Target towing cables are, I am told, useful as winch cables for launching gliders. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would sec what he can do with the Air Ministry to obtain supplies of R.A.F. stores for distribution to gliding clubs.

Finally, I would say that the gliding movement is not unconscious of or ungrateful for the help which it has received from Governments in the past. It is particularly grateful for the freedom which it enjoys and for the great responsibilities with which it is entrusted, but it asks for continuing co-operation and help from the Government on the lines which I have tried to indicate.

11.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Beswick Mr Frank Beswick , Uxbridge

I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Rutland and Stamford (Sir R. Conant) upon the case he has made out for gliding, and I hope his words will fall upon sympathetic ears. The hon. and gallant Member is himself an enthusiast, and in the world of gliding that word means a great deal. I know of no sport in any country in which the keenness. self-discipline, self-help and general sense of responsibility in administration encountered in gliding is excelled.

Apart from the benefits which follow for the individual glider pilot, the hon. and gallant Member is absolutely right when he calls attention to the way in which the British gliding movement has brought credit to Britain. In spite of all our difficulties and handicaps, and in spite of our climatic conditions, we have been able to take the world championship in this sport and to lead the world in many ways.

Because of the benefits the sport brings to the individual and to the nation at large, I hope that some more official encouragement can be mustered. Sites seem to be the crucial matter. We need more sites. It is very difficult to believe that when the Royal Air Force is contracting it will not be possible to make available some other gliding sites in this country.

I was grateful for the way in which I was received recently at the Air Ministry when I took a deputation there on the subject of Lasham, and assistance was given very readily in removing one or two petty restrictions. But there remains this problem of some security of tenure there, and if the Parliamentary Secretary can say that more can be done in that matter he will earn the gratitude of all who go to Lasham, not only at the week-end but also during the week.

The question of equipment seems to be a matter in which much help could be given. We hear in this House how some of the speculators do well out of surplus razor blades and one thing and another. I should have thought it might have been possible to make available some of the items to which the hon. and gallant Member referred.

I have great sympathy with the Parliamentary Secretary when it comes to these airways, because we face a difficult problem in balancing different claims. But it is the fact that commercial aviation is being developed to make possible a better life, and in that better life I would have thought the opportunity for practising the sport of gliding would take some place. Therefore, even in this matter, I hope gliding will be thought of sufficient importance to merit an extra effort, either to re-route the airways or to lift the ceiling in one or two cases, so that in a case like Camphill, which seems to have special climatic advantages, these can be enjoyed and exploited by the gliders. Therefore, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say that a little more is being done to encourage this sport.

11.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Kershaw Mr Anthony Kershaw , Stroud

May I join my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Sir F. Conant) and the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) in hoping that a favourable ear will be given to this debate, partly because I admire, as we all do, the way gliding appeals to the peculiarly individualistic British sense of adventure, and because a new gliding club has recently started up in my constituency, which is doing well and from which records have been established by Mr. Peter Scott and others. I hope that the Minister can do something to help this valuable sport, which is also, as is so often found with our English institutions, a valuable export field. If something can be done, I am certain that it will give a great deal of pleasure to a lot of people.

11.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Airey Neave Mr Airey Neave , Abingdon

The sport of gliding is growing in popularity and is full of fascination for people of all ages. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Sir R. Conant) is an enthusiast, and he has done a great service to the gliding movement by raising this subject tonight. I am also grateful to, and sympathise with what has been said by, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw). The Fe is a vigorous spirit in the gliding movement and a sense of pride and independence which we all greatly admire. Gliding provides for many people a delightful sense of isolation from an all-too-busy and hurried world, but it is also a science through which much can be learned, as my hon. and gallant Friend said, of the atmosphere and its waves.

Speaking in a recent debate in which the hon. Member for Uxbridge raised the question of flying clubs, I made it clear that it was the desire of my right hon. Friend to encourage interest in private flying. In the same way we welcome the keenness and high standards of proficiency which have been shown by British gliding clubs and the British Gliding Association under the chairmanship of Mr. Philip Wills. The appeal of gliding is steadily growing, and the clubs are flourishing and prosperous; indeed, a number have had to limit recruitment.

I would also pay tribute to the increase in the national prestige of British gliding by the recent winning of the world two-seater championship, to which reference has already been made. Although gliding is not subject to a Government subsidy, my right hon. Friend feels that he ought to give every encouragement to this pursuit, which gives such a sense of achievement and for which so much keenness has been shown.

There are two major problems to which I want to refer and which have already been mentioned. First, I am well aware of the problem of sites. This is not a very easy matter to solve. I want to refer to some of the particular sites and the problems of security of tenure for the gliding clubs concerned. The difficulties that arise vary a great deal. I obviously cannot mention all the different places where the British Gliding Association wishes to have secure sites, hut my hon Friend has mentioned Lasham. This is a Royal Air Force airfield, and the position at the moment is that the Surrey Gliding Club has been offered a lease by the Air Ministry for quite a substantial period. Negotiations are now proceeding, and I have every reason to hope that the outcome will prove satisfactory to the club.

Detling was also mentioned by my hon. Friend. This is to be disposed of by the Air Ministry, but the precise method has yet to be decided. This is one of the airfields in which the Kent Gliding Club is interested, and 1 hope it will be possible for the club to make a satisfactory arrangement with the purchasers. Another airfield which is of Interest to the gliding movement at the moment, and which is in a similar position to that of Detling, is Edge Hill. There the Coventry Gliding Club is hoping to obtain part of the airfield, and again I hope that it will be possible to arrive at a satisfactory settlement locally for this purpose.

Camphill is in a different category. I shall refer to that in regard to the question of airways. My hon. Friend mentioned the site of the Aberdeen club; I will look into that matter and let him know what can be done. He also mentioned that the National Trust might be concerned about certain gliding sites being eyesores. That is a matter for negotiation, and if my hon. Friend will let me have further details of particular cases, I shall certainly try to do what I can about those negotiations. I very much hope that the National Trust will not take that view.

Of course, there are tenancy questions with regard to these sites which are not always very easy to resolve, but I wish to assure my hon. Friend that my Department will try to give the British Gliding Association every help.

The second and perhaps equally important problem is that of airways, which arises in regard to the site of the Derbyshire and Lancashire Gliding Club at Camphill, Great Hucklow. By the year 1958, considerable changes will be required in the Manchester area to ensure that traffic is satisfactorily handled. At the moment a by-pass airway around Manchester is projected for traffic from London to Scotland, so that such traffic will avoid flying over the Manchester zone. The proposed by-pass will branch off at Lichfield and run northwards to Halifax, and from there to Prestwick. The reason for the difficulty over the gliding site is that the section of the air by-pass between Lichfield and Halifax will pass over the Camphill area.

Last year this plan was discussed with the British Gliding Association and for the base of the airway the height of 3,000 feet was proposed. The Association thought that that would seriously affect gliding at Camphill and put forward alternative proposals. I can say that we are now discussing a scheme whereby, although the base of the airway would still be 3,000 feet. it would be moved slightly westward. Glider pilots would be able to soar safely and without restriction to the east of Camphill. It is also proposed that, in order to give greater freedom in the westerly direction when necessary, the controllers of the Manchester Control Zone should be informed, and traffic along the airway would then not be cleared to fly below 5,000 feet.

That is the state of the negotiations at the moment, and, of course, nothing is yet final. I hope that some final agreement acceptable to the Association will be found. I have taken a note of what the hon. Member for Uxbridge has said about the sense of achievement and exhilaration which gliding gives, and I do assure him that we shall do our best to find a solution on the lines I have mentioned.

There are two further points which I should mention. First, is that the base of the airway must be determined by the height to which an aircraft can climb after taking off from Ringway; and that does make it difficult to raise the base of the airway or to bring it any further to the west. It has been suggested that the proposed route of the by-pass airway—that is, with a base as low as 3,000 feet—would not be sufficiently safe because it would pass over high ground where there is occasional turbulence and iciness. We are advised, however, that these conditions should not normally be so severe as to affect safety.

Finally, my hon. and gallant Friend mentioned the matter of equipment. I can tell him that there is some surplus equipment in the form of wire cable available. I am told that the Admiralty has a certain amount of it for disposal, and samples of both types are being sent to the Association. Some of the lighter type is already in stock, and disposal of it will be suspended until the Association has decided if it is suitable for its own use. That is an example of the help and encouragement which we will continue to give to the gliding movement.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes to Twelve o'clock.