I beg to move,
That this House
has considered funding for the National Spitfire Project.
A national monument to the iconic Spitfire is long overdue, and in moving this debate, I hope the House will also consider the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. The Spitfire, like me, was made in Southampton—I always have to get that in. The prototype was designed by the famous aeronautical engineer—he was also one of the country’s most successful apprentices—R. J. Mitchell, at the Supermarine factory in Woolston, which is situated in the east of the city and the heart of my Southampton, Itchen constituency.
I agree with the hon. Lady that it is a national monument that we seek. I acknowledge that R. J. Mitchell was born in Stoke-on-Trent. In fact, it was where he started his apprenticeship. However, he designed the iconic Spitfire in my constituency of Southampton, Itchen, which is where I think the monument should be situated.
The Spitfire completed its maiden flight from Eastleigh airport, latterly renamed Southampton airport, on
September 1940 was Southampton’s darkest period of the war. On
The blitz on Southampton was devastating, and the city was hit over and over again, not just because of its Spitfire production, but because of its docks and many other strategic targets. There were 57 attacks documented in all, dropping more than 2,300 bombs. Nearly 45,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed, with most of the city’s High Street devastated. There were reports that the glow of the firestorm as Southampton burned could be seen from as far away as Cherbourg.
After the awful attacks on the Woolston Supermarine factory, the Nazis thought they had succeeded in halting production of the Spitfire. However, they underestimated the British spirit and stoicism, and not for the first time. Under the instructions of Lord Beaverbrook, production was dispersed to sites around Southampton, Hampshire and Wiltshire.
I commend my hon. Friend for securing this debate and for the powerful case he is making. He may be aware that production of the Spitfire was distributed to bus depots, laundromats and all sorts of improvised mechanical workshops around Southampton. In that way, thousands of Spitfires were produced, touching the lives of almost every family in Southampton. Does he agree that the monument would be a tribute not just to the air force and the plane itself, but to the enterprising spirit of the people of his home town?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept that when he talks about Southampton, he means both sides of the city. Indeed, it is a pleasure for me to be here this afternoon to support him in what he is saying about the Spitfire, provided that the word “Southampton” is completely underlined in proceedings so far as the national monument is concerned.
I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman, my neighbour and friend. Southampton is the home of the Spitfire. It just so happens that the Supermarine factory was located in my constituency. However, I am referring to Southampton in general.
Returning to the comment made by my hon. Friend
Within a few weeks, the Spitfire was back in production all over Southampton and the neighbouring towns and villages, including Salisbury, Reading, Newbury and Trowbridge. It was an enormously challenging business building the Spitfire in that way, and we should not underestimate that. The work was carried out at the height of the blitz, often by unskilled labour. A large part of the workforce was women, girls and retired men, because most eligible men were in the armed forces fighting for their country.
The effects of the war touched the lives of almost every family in Southampton, and they continue to do so today. In fact, Flight Lieutenant James Brindley Nicolson was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1940 for his bravery in a dog fight over Southampton. His bravery has been studied and recognised by children from Sholing Junior School in my constituency. The pupils designed and raised funding for a memorial to commemorate his achievements.
Once assembled, the Spitfire was delivered to air bases across the country by the Air Transport Auxiliary. Many of those pilots were women. One of note is Mary Ellis, who celebrated her 100th birthday last month. Her extraordinary milestone was marked by a flight in an extraordinary aircraft, the Spitfire, one of the aircraft types she flew during the war. In 1943 the women of the Air Transport Auxiliary were awarded equal pay to their male colleagues, making the ATA the first equal opportunities employer.
The Spitfire played a central role throughout world war two, and our British pilots were joined by allied pilots from all over the world. In fact, up to 20% of pilots who flew in the battle of Britain were not British. Most notably, the Royal Air Force was joined by Poles, Czechs, New Zealanders, Belgians, Canadians, Australians, Norwegians, Greeks, Swedes, Italians, Indians and Pakistanis. Tomorrow the Prime Minister will write to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, informing him of the UK’s intention to leave the European Union. One of the first priorities of our withdrawal negotiations must be the status of European Union nationals living in this country and British nationals living in European Union countries. As the negotiations begin, it is important to take a moment to remember the significant contribution that those countries of the European Union made to our war effort.
A total of 145 Polish fighter pilots served in the RAF during the battle of Britain, making up the largest non-British contribution. By the end of the war, around 19,500 Poles were serving in the Polish Air Force in the UK and in the RAF. One Polish pilot of note was Stanislaw Skalski, who came to England after the fall of Poland. While flying with 501 Squadron, he shot down seven enemy aircraft before being shot down himself. After recovering in hospital, he joined 306 Squadron in February 1941 and by October he had claimed a further five enemy fighters.
Of course, this country produced its own heroes and the pilot credited with bringing down the most enemy aircraft from the cockpit of a Spitfire was Air Vice-Marshal Johnnie Johnson, who had 38 confirmed kills—that might well have been more, if he had not missed the beginning of the battle of Britain due to a rugby injury. Flight Lieutenant Eric Lock became the RAF’s most successful battle of Britain pilot, shooting down 16 German aircraft. In one week alone, Flight Lieutenant Lock managed to shoot down eight German aircraft—an impressive tally that earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In November 2016 a new memorial was unveiled in Grimbergen, Belgium to honour the fallen Norwegians who flew Spitfires during the war. In the UK we have many monuments, including that to the women of world war two on Whitehall, the RAF Bomber Command memorial in Green Park and the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. It would therefore be fitting to further commemorate, in the Royal Air Force’s centenary year, those who dedicated their lives to protecting our freedoms.
In order to celebrate the fantastic achievements of the RAF over the past 100 years, the RAF 100 committee has a selection of events planned. Those national events will raise the profile of the RAF across the whole of our nation, enhance its reputation and promote a better understanding of what it does. It will showcase the RAF’s people, their depth of talent and their diversity. The events will celebrate the history of the RAF, but they will also demonstrate why it remains, and will continue to remain, vital to the security and prosperity of the UK. The national tribute to the Royal Air Force will be the only physical legacy to recognise and commemorate the RAF’s centenary. It will serve to remind everyone who visits the monument what a significant contribution the RAF and the Spitfire have made far into the next 100 years.
The project for the Spitfire monument has been led for many years by my very good friend and colleague, Councillor John Hannides. He is joined in his endeavours by retired Air Commodore Gordon Moulds, Paul Lester and Tony Edwards, and the president of the trust, Sir Ralph Robins.
Everyone in Southampton has grown up knowing the story of our brave pilots and the iconic Spitfire. As a constant reminder, a fully functioning Spitfire is still the major attraction at the excellent Solent Sky aviation museum in Southampton, run by the determined and dedicated curator Squadron Leader Alan Jones. The legend of the Spitfire lives on in countless films, documentaries, essays and books. My right hon. Friend Dr Lewis, who is unable to be here today due to his duties chairing the Defence Committee, is a keen supporter of the project and has himself written an acclaimed account about a highly decorated pilot, Kink Kinkaid, who died in Southampton water trying to break the airspeed record in a forerunner of the Spitfire, the Supermarine S.5.
We now have a site on Southampton’s historic waterfront, generously donated by Southampton City Council, where the more than 1.8 million passengers on one of the 450 cruise ships that visit Southampton each year will pass. We have a detailed design for a stainless steel monument 1.5 times the size of the original Spitfire, which will soar 130 feet above the ground—nearly as high as the Statue of Liberty and twice as high as the Angel of the North—and be visible for miles around. We also have all the planning permissions in place. All that is missing now is the funding required to bring the project alive.
Since 2012, the Government, through the Financial Conduct Authority, have levied fines on the banks of more than £973 million for fixing LIBOR rates. Much of that has been allocated to worthy causes, and rightly so. The Chancellor has made clear his intention to use the remaining fines for armed forces and emergency services charities. I completely agree with that approach and I suggest that this project fits those criteria perfectly.
Sir Winston Churchill, one of our nation’s greatest ever leaders, summed up the debt of gratitude we owe to the Royal Air Force, when he said:
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 364, c. 1167.]
It is time for the many now properly to honour the few, and what better way than to immortalise them and their most famous aircraft in a fitting monument to the Spitfire.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies—and may I assure you that I am at least one of your Twitter followers who does not hate you?
I declare my interest in this subject. Both my parents were in the Royal Air Force during world war two—indeed, they met there, which is why I am here now. My father was an engineer. He maintained the Merlin engines on the Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters and Mosquitos. He always said thereafter that he got very bored when jet engines came along, because the Merlin was such a beautiful and sophisticated engine to maintain, whereas jet engines were too simple for him.
In an iconic fashion, the Spitfire represents the common endeavour of these islands in their crusade against evil. With a nod back to last week, that is something that we should always remember. In expressing my interest in the subject, and as a member of the Scottish National party, I want to say that the Spitfire represented something for all these islands and for all the people of these islands—for the common people, for working people and for members of the services. The importance of the prospective Spitfire monument embraces not just the aircraft, but the human endeavour that lies behind it. I think we could all agree on that, which is why I am so serious that we must finish the project. As most people here know, the project has been a long time in gestation—far too long—and it is time that we make sure that next year, the 100th anniversary of the RAF, is the year that it actually happens.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and also you, Mr Davies, for your chairmanship. It is a pleasure to serve under you. I also love you on Twitter—and everywhere else too.
It is great to hear a member of the SNP being so positive about something. That is something of a revelation to me, sitting on this side of the Chamber. I hope the Minister is taking notice of the cross-party support at this point for the memorial. I was involved in the Sir Keith Park memorial campaign, as were others here, and I was helped by some of those who my hon. Friend Royston Smith mentioned. It is great to see the project finally coming to fruition, but it does now need the Government to step up to the plate.
I am happy to reinforce the sentiment to the Minister that the support comes from all over the islands. I want to underpin that with a little bit of extra history on the Spitfire, which I think all of us will do this afternoon.
The Merlin engines were largely manufactured at the Rolls Royce shadow factory at Hillington, just outside Glasgow. Some 160,000 people worked at that factory and it provided the engines not just for the Spitfires, but for many of the other aircraft that served the RAF. That was part of what happened in world war two, and people did that selflessly. However, there is an interesting side to the Hillington experience of building the Merlin, because large numbers of the people making the engines were women. Initially, they were not paid the same as men; they were not even paid the same as the ordinary labouring workers were. That led to a lot of industrial unrest and, in 1943, to a major strike. Of course, that was a very difficult thing to contemplate in the middle of world war two. The feeling in the factory was that we were not just fighting against evil, but fighting for a new, democratic society, so they took industrial action—very regrettably, but they took it. The result was that for the first time in these islands a major engineering factory granted equal pay to men and women. We should weave into the Spitfire story the fact that the fight for equal pay began with the Spitfire, strange as it may seem.
I will not keep Members long, but I want to add another couple of Scottish contributions. I do so not to be sectarian, but to underline the fact that this would be a common monument and would represent all of these islands.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. His parents worked on the Spitfire, as did my grandparents. Does he agree that, without the combined resources and ingenuity of all the nations of the United Kingdom, the Spitfire would surely have never flown, and that the Spitfire is a powerful reminder to us today that we truly are stronger together?
It is self-evident that we have to defend these islands together. What divides us at the moment and in times past is how we organise our democracy, and I think we are mature enough to have that discussion. What the SNP bring, and have always brought, to the table is the idea that we will share the common defence of these islands. That has never been in question. Indeed—my hon. Friend Brendan O’Hara might say this in a brief moment—we often have discussions about defence issues because we do not think the Government protect these islands adequately, but that is a debate that we can have elsewhere. Our division on how we organise our democracy in these islands should not get in the way of the fact that we have a common interest in defending them. The history of the Spitfire and the second world war is an exemplar of that.
I will be very brief, as other Members want to speak. There is one other person who needs to be mentioned today with respect to the Spitfire and the Battle of Britain: the man who was the head of Fighter Command, Hugh Dowding. We have all seen the film “The Battle of Britain”, which, for all its faults, I still love—when the music comes up I still get excited—and we have all seen Laurence Olivier play Hugh Dowding. There is just one slight problem—it is the same problem I had when Laurence Olivier played Earl Haig in “Oh! What a Lovely War”. Earl Haig was a crusty Scot, with a deep Scottish accent, which Laurence Olivier definitely did not have, and Hugh Dowding happened to be born in Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway. His father was a teacher at Fettes school in Edinburgh. The unity of these islands in the Spitfire story goes all the way to Hugh Dowding from Moffat, who was head of Fighter Command in those dark days. There is a large and very simple, but I think poignant, monument to Hugh Dowding, head of Fighter Command, in his home town of Moffat. That underlines the fact that the Spitfire monument in Southampton has been a long time coming.
I will finish with this. My wife was born and bred in Southampton—I know it well—and her image of the city is the bombed-out Southampton of the 1950s, so these islands are interconnected. We can have a serious debate about how we do our democracy. I grant no ground on that—Scotland will be independent—but we will all stand together in tough times. We share these islands; we will defend these islands together.
May I say on behalf of all Conservative Members that we are delighted that George Kerevan made such a telling case for the Union—not only for the Union of the United Kingdom, but the union of the Kerevan household, in which England and Scotland are clearly united, as they are in my family? My parents, like his, served in the Royal Air Force during the second world war. My mother was a Scottish Borderer. I come from a long line of rapers and pillagers—I have a lot of Border reiver blood in me. My father was a Lancastrian. They met in Ceylon, where my father was serving on Mountbatten’s staff as a Royal Air Force liaison officer. One of his jobs was to vet material being submitted to the Royal Air Force journal for publication. He had to go and check this stuff, and he thought this WAAF sounded rather interesting, so he went up country to check her out. Five weeks later, they were married, and their marriage lasted 40 years.
My mother had a lifelong passion for the Spitfire, which I have inherited. I can tell my hon. Friend Royston Smith, who made a great case in opening this debate, that she was at Netley hospital and witnessed the bombing of the Woolston factory in 1940. She then went to Rednal, where she worked on Spitfires, and she wrote an article in Royal Air Force Parade called “The It in the Spit”. I have inherited all that Royal Air Force blood, and I have had the privilege to be a pilot for getting on for 52 years.
For those of us who fly, the Spitfire is unquestionably one of the most iconic aircraft ever developed. What a man RJ Mitchell was. Yes, he was born in Stoke-on-Trent, but he designed his aeroplane down in the south. I went to Southampton University, so I have a huge association with the Spitfire. It was an iconic aeroplane. It was born of a competition, of course—the Schneider trophy. It went on to do such sterling work throughout the second world war, and it continued afterwards and was in service until the 1950s.
The greatest privilege for me was when my 65th birthday came up—a short while ago—and my wife gave me a surprise present. I did not know until the week before that we were going to the Goodwood Revival festival. I said, “What should I wear?”—people are supposed to wear 1950s attire—and she said, “I think you should wear your flying suit.” I wore my flying suit, and we had a celebratory lunch and drink in the golf club at Goodwood, of which both my sons are members. The champagne was passed round, and I held up my empty glass and said, “What about my glass?” She said, “Well, you’re not drinking.” I said, “Why am I not drinking?” “Because you’re flying.” I said, “What am I flying?” I had the privilege of flying a Spitfire.
I do not know how many other Members of Parliament have had the privilege of flying a Spitfire. I have flown quite a few aircraft types—only as a private pilot, in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and in Southampton University Air Squadron—but there is unquestionably something completely special about the Spitfire. Some colleagues do not seem to understand that machines can have human attributes, but the Spitfire does. It is the most gentle of aeroplanes to fly. It is incredibly sensitive. On the south coast of England as sunset was approaching on Battle of Britain Sunday, there I was patrolling in a Spitfire.
Willy Hackett, the Royal Air Force officer testing the F-35, was flying in the front seat, because I could not fly it solo unless I had done the conversion course, which costs £40,000. He said, “I’ll do the takeoff,” and at 350 feet I had control. He let me roll it—rolling a Spitfire is a fabulous experience—and he did the landing.
The Spitfire is such an iconic aeroplane, and it is so much a part of the history of these islands and the defence against tyranny. Of course there were other aeroplanes, notably the Hurricane, but the Spitfire is so beloved of pilots. Having flown it myself, I can certainly respect that.
We have sadly very few Battle of Britain pilots left. Among them is Geoffrey Wellum, who wrote “First Light”—a fantastic guy—and Tom Neil, who is still alive. They will be celebrating the Battle of Britain on the south coast in July. Then there are great men such as Tony Iveson. Tony was not only in the battle of Britain, but in 617 Squadron and responsible for the sinking of the Tirpitz. Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown, born in Melrose, was probably the most celebrated naval aviator who has ever lived. He died only last year, at 97. It was a privilege to know him. Eric flew more aircraft types than any other man in the world—487, I think, which will never be exceeded—with 2,500 deck landings; no man has flown that many deck landings. He also flew the Spitfire.
The Spitfire has a fantastic history, which is so bound up with the history of these islands that I believe it deserves this monument supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen. He is joining forces with Dr Whitehead, so the whole city of Southampton will be behind it. There can be no fitter monument for the centenary of the Royal Air Force.
My hon. Friend rightly pointed out that so many of the Spitfire pilots were not from the United Kingdom. One was an American, with an English mother and American father, John Gillespie Magee. Some will know his poem, “High Flight”, which he wrote as he was taking a Spitfire mark V up to 30,000 feet on the
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.”
The Spitfire—I congratulate my hon. Friend.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate Royston Smith on securing the debate and on his work on this matter.
As a piece of engineering excellence, the Spitfire has long been considered in a league of its own. Its speed and agility is legendary, and we just got a flavour of that from Sir Gerald Howarth. Surely there can be no better way than the proposal of the National Spitfire Project to remember that incredible piece of history, a monument on the waterfront of the city that built the Spitfire. The Spitfire project is warmly welcomed.
We have been discussing the funding of the project, and I pay tribute to those who have supported the crowd-funder effort to take it forward. At the height of the war, the public donated their pots and pans to be melted down for their Spitfire project—literally, to create and build the aircraft—and it is important that now the public find a way to put money into a national project that will properly recognise the Spitfire’s contribution.
To me the Spitfire is familiar, and it has become part of my weekly commute: I see a Spitfire, or at least a replica of one, at the entrance to Edinburgh Turnhouse airport most Mondays on my way down here. The particular model that I am so familiar with is painted in the colours of the 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron, which was said to be one of the most effective units in the battle of Britain, which we have heard so much about this afternoon.
My constituency has its own tale to tell of its history with the Spitfire and with flight more generally. Stirling was the home of the Barnwell brothers, Harold and Frank. They were aircraft pioneers who built their first glider two years after the Wright brothers’ flight. The Barnwells’ first prototype, built in 1908, failed to take off—no pun intended—but, undeterred, the brothers successfully took to the skies on
The Barnwells’ feat has been marked with an elegant plaque in Balfron, where the brothers hailed from, and with a granite sculpture by what is now the Causewayhead roundabout, the site of their flight—I also understand that the brothers won £50 for their success in completing the first one-mile flight in Scotland. Although those memorials may not be on the scale of the one under discussion today, they are to achievements that are still worthy of recognition in the story of powered flight.
In Scotland, we feel a strong bond with the servicemen and women who have served us through the years, and I am sure that we all agree that their service must never be forgotten. That is part of the reason why I think the Spitfire project is particularly appropriate. As we have heard, we have just had the 75th anniversary of the battle of Britain—Scotland’s First Minister was down here in London alongside Prince Charles and the Defence Secretary to mark that date—and last year Stirling commemorated 100 years since the formation of the 43 (Fighter) Squadron, initially a unit of the Royal Flying Corps, in the Carse below Stirling castle.
In my research for this debate, in seeking to tie the story of the Spitfire to my own constituency, I was delighted to find an account given to the BBC’s Mhairi Campbell by Campbell Chesterton for the “WW2 People’s War” site. In 2005 he wrote:
“During WW2 while my father was in the army overseas my mother and I stayed with my uncle and aunt (her sister) Mr and Mrs Blyth on their farm, Hill of Drip three miles NW of Stirling…During the second world war the carse of Stirling was used by the RAF for low fly training as low as thirty foot was permitted, this was very exciting for a young boy, one day we saw a spitfire aircraft and the tail of another over Dunblane. We heard that one crashed in Callander, there were many accidents. A hurricane fighter landed in the next farm with its wheels up, we managed to get a seat in it before the guard arrived.”
That gives us a flavour of just how dangerous flight was in those days. It is a lot safer now. There used to be a lot of accidents and casualties even in training.
For such memories to be preserved is important, and the National Spitfire Project aims to educate the next generation, an aim that I wholeheartedly welcome. There can be no better way to tell the 100-year story of the Royal Air Force to future generations than with the backdrop of the Spitfire rising 130 feet above Southampton Water. I also echo the sentiments of Members who have made the point that we must commemorate not only the pilots but the hard work of the engineers at home who supported the RAF fighters in the battle of Britain and through the 100-year history of the Royal Air Force.
Part of the reasoning behind the memorial is to commemorate the history of the RAF, and in doing so we remember the individuals who have served in the force. It is worth pointing out that the average age of an RAF pilot in the battle of Britain was 20 years—people who were not yet old enough to vote, many of them, were old enough to lay down their lives so that we could have the democratic debates we have in this place in the manner that we do.
I also want to make special reference in my contribution to the non-British RAF personnel who have been mentioned by a couple of the speakers so far. The Ministry of Defence cites Fighter Command in the second world war as a “cosmopolitan mix” of 141 Poles, 87 Czechs, 24 Belgians and 14 free French among its servicemen and women. Each individual was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice during the conflict to protect our freedom and way of life, and Scotland and our friends throughout the UK and beyond will never forget that.
I again thank the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen for the debate. The Spitfire project is an important one, and I wholeheartedly support it. I sincerely look forward to visiting the national project in Southampton on its completion, commemorating the iconic Spitfires.
It is a pleasure to join the debate on the funding of the National Spitfire Project, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Royston Smith, whose constituency neighbours mine, on securing it. It feels particularly poignant, as I spent this morning with one of my youngsters at the Churchill museum in the War Rooms, which I urge people to find time to enjoy.
I found the input of my hon. Friend Sir Gerald Howarth touching. He said so much of what we need to hear in the debate. I have the RAF yacht club in Hamble, and its members would have loved to hear the words he said. Also in my constituency, the Royal Victoria country park at Netley includes a very touching graveyard, where it can be seen that people from around the globe gave their souls to make the world a better place for us. I urge the Government to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen and to everyone with Southampton in their address. The cause is a worthy one for the LIBOR fund. In fact, many people work at Southampton airport, which some people still call Eastleigh airport, and rightly so. Many of the people who live in my constituency work nearby at NATS in Fareham. There is a strong association with the aircraft and the industry.
Perhaps we can raise money to help the Government match the funds. Perhaps hon. Friends will join us at Eastleigh— or Southampton—airport in the very early dawn on
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen and other hon. Members in hoping to secure this much-needed monument. It will certainly put Eastleigh airport on the map, although I may find myself in trouble with Southampton airport for bringing that name up.
I rise briefly to support Royston Smith in his debate this afternoon, which I congratulate him on securing. I also congratulate him on his tenacity in pursuing this aim of a national monument for the Spitfire in Southampton. The bottom line of what we are talking about today is a request for money. We need the money—ideally from the Government. The hon. Gentleman’s suggestion for where that money might come from would be an appropriate source for the rest of the funds. Many people have already contributed small and varying amounts to the fund to secure the aim of a memorial for the Spitfire on Southampton Water.
Why is the memorial so important? There are three things we might say along with all the other things that have been said about the Spitfire. In this context, I want to offer the story of my father, who was an aeronautical engineer with the Fleet Air Arm. He spent most of the war repairing aircraft, never leaving these shores. Unfortunately, the story does not neatly end with Spitfires, because he worked on Swordfish. As some hon. Members may know, Swordfish were in service at the same time as the Spitfire, but they looked like a completely different generation of aircraft. They were held together with bits of string, sealing wax and various other things. Although they did a good job, if we put the Spitfire next to the Swordfish, the Spitfire design appears to have been from the future and an imagination from I do not know where. They brought this amazing aircraft into being at a time when those aircraft were the staple—
On that point, it is worth remembering that RJ Mitchell also designed the Walrus biplane seaplane, which picked up so many downed RAF pilots. It looked as antediluvian as the Swordfish, but equally it was very efficient.
Indeed. That underlines what I was about to say: RJ Mitchell designed a plane that was never equalled throughout the whole of the second world war. Not only did the Spitfire save our bacon during the Battle of Britain but it went on to play all sorts of other roles across Europe and the world as the second world war progressed, due to its unique capacities and design and the way it stood head and shoulders above any other aircraft. Later in the war it was not only employed in a fighting capacity but was the first effective reconnaissance aircraft for the RAF. It could fly high at speed and take reconnaissance photographs. Indeed, it got the first reconnaissance photograph of German radar, the first photographs of the Peenemünde works for the V-1 rockets, and was instrumental as the war progressed in all sorts of other fields as well as in the Battle of Britain.
Secondly, hon. Members have paid tribute today to the few who fought in the Battle of Britain and the fact that they were an international cohort of pilots. Hon. Members have mentioned the large number of Polish pilots: 15% or so of the total number of pilots. They not only made a great contribution, but I understand that the particular way in which they flew the Spitfires was unlike anybody else’s, and they tested the aircraft to destruction. It did not get destroyed, it still flew, and the things they could do with that plane, as was proved throughout the war, is another tribute to the genius of the aircraft design.
Thirdly, for all those reasons, Southampton as a city is proud of its heritage as the progenitor and manufacturer of the Spitfire. As the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen has said, the Spitfire was not only manufactured at the Supermarine works in Woolston. There was a remarkable arrangement subsequently whereby shops, factories and sheds produced that amazing aircraft literally in people’s back gardens in and around Southampton. The people from the city worked so hard to get the aircraft in the air and doing the job that they knew it could do.
So Southampton has an indelible and deep bond with the Spitfire. It is therefore absolutely appropriate that the site that has been chosen for the memorial faces out to Southampton Water, exactly under the path where the Spitfire pilots flew the planes from Southampton—or Eastleigh—airport, depending on your point of view. They flew over Southampton Water, absolutely at the centre of everything that happened that was part of the Spitfire legacy. The idea of a monument with a Spitfire soaring above Southampton Water seems absolutely the right use for the money that I hope will come in for that monument.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen on his efforts to make sure that the money comes our way. I am confident that his further efforts and hopefully those of the Members gathered here today will nudge the Government in the direction of making sure the money is available and will lead to an early and successful conclusion to this project. I will be first to applaud the successful completion of a long mission to get a monument to provide the recognition for the Spitfire that we in Southampton know is absolutely deserved, which can then go to a wider world.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Davies. May I be the latest to add my congratulations to Royston Smith on securing this debate on a subject that I know is dear to his heart and to those of many of his constituents? He spoke movingly about the sacrifice made by those in the Woolston and Itchen areas of Southampton where the Spitfires were originally built. I agree that the monument would be a fitting tribute to the memory of those who died when the luftwaffe destroyed the factories in September 1940.
It has been an excellent debate and there have been many first-class contributions. That all-too-rare beast, cross-party consensus, seems to have emerged. That tells the Minister that we believe the memorial is important and should be built, and that there is no more appropriate location than Southampton. I agree with my hon. Friend George Kerevan that it is right for the monument to be seen as common to everyone in these islands. Regardless of what the future holds for their constitution, we have a shared history and the Spitfire is a central part of that. I commend the words of my hon. Friend Steven Paterson, who was right to highlight the role that Scotland, and indeed his constituency, played in the development of the Spitfire. I could not—I would not dare—attempt to match the eloquence of Sir Gerald Howarth, but I share the sentiment he expressed.
It is remarkable that in 2017 we are discussing with such obvious affection and warmth an aeroplane that ceased production 65 years ago. The Spitfire has almost uniquely embedded itself in the collective consciousness of the country, and has a unique place in popular culture. Apart from the Titanic I cannot think of many other objects that have taken up so many reels of celluloid—starting in 1942 with “The First of the Few”, starring and directed and produced by Leslie Howard, and co-starring the great David Niven. Then, of course, came “Malta Story”, in which Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins told how the Spitfire provided the main defence for the island of Malta. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian mentioned “Battle of Britain”, which had a stellar cast—Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer, Ralph Richardson, Michael Redgrave and Susannah York. The one that stands head and shoulders above them all is “Reach for the Sky”, the 1956 classic with Kenneth More playing the part of Douglas Bader. I saw it as a child, and have seen it many times since.
I am sure that we all have personal anecdotes from family and friends that link us directly or indirectly to the Spitfire. My story comes from my time as a youthful barman in the Royal Air Force Association club in Ashley Street, Glasgow, in the early 1980s. Back then the RAF club was a busy, thriving establishment with a loyal clientele of former RAF service personnel and their families. The walls were adorned with photographs and memorabilia, but pride of place was reserved for the Spitfire. The majority of members had not flown in them, but none the less the Spitfire emerged as the symbol that unified them as a group of RAF veterans.
I fondly recall how many an evening on a quiet weekday shift I would sit at the end of the bar listening to some of those remarkable men, who, at the same age at which I was pulling pints, were clambering into planes to defend the skies of the UK and Europe from the Nazis. With hindsight, a bit of life experience, a slightly more cynical disposition and an ability to count, I am now convinced that at least one or two of those men sharing stories of derring do with a highly impressionable teenager must have had their Royal Air Force career thrust on them by dint of national service, and been more—how shall I put it?—Kenneth More than Douglas Bader. However, at the time it was a fascinating insight.
Regardless of whether they flew or not, the fact remains that everyone loved the Spitfire, and everyone who could be associated with it—however loosely, in some cases—wanted that association. It is without doubt a source of great pride for many, and a permanent memorial to remember those who built, designed, fought in and maintained the planes is well deserved. I am sure that when the memorial is built it will commemorate the immense contribution of the chief designer, R.J. Mitchell, the chief draughtsman, Joe Smith, and the chief test pilot, Jeffrey Quill, whose contribution to the success of the Spitfire it is impossible to overstate.
We have heard much of the role of the Spitfire in the Battle of Britain, and it is worth remembering, as Dr Whitehead did, that it played a hugely important role throughout the second world war. He mentioned its use in photo-reconnaissance of the factories that were building the V2. As I mentioned earlier, it played a crucial part in protecting Malta, and it was also involved in the Pacific theatre, defending Singapore in the early part of the war and, as part of the final push, driving Japan out of Burma. It played a crucial role in defending the city of Darwin in Australia from attacks by the Japanese. This country was not alone in using the Spitfire. I recall that the Soviet Union ordered 1,000, and they were used, in smaller numbers, admittedly, by the Americans and the Yugoslav Air Force. After the war they were still in production and were seen regularly in India, Ireland, Holland and Egypt, which all made good use of them.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen was right to say that the role played by the Spitfire in the Battle of Britain ensured that it would leave an indelible mark on the collective consciousness. Although, as the hon. Member for Aldershot said, they were fewer than the Hawker Hurricane—a plane that suffered far greater losses in the Battle of Britain—it is the Spitfires’ role that has been preserved in the country’s collective memory, and rightly so.
However, let it be a true memory, because we were not alone in fighting the Nazis in the 1940s. The United Kingdom gave refuge to those fleeing fascism, and welcomed those, wherever they came from, who were willing to help defeat it. I hope that when the monument opens we shall not forget the 30 Australian, 30 Belgian, 84 Canadian, 90 Czech and Slovak, 13 French, two Caribbean, 10 Irish and 135 New Zealand pilots, the 30 from Southern Africa and, of course, the 147 Poles, who shot down more than 200 enemy aircraft.
I am sorry to interrupt a fantastic speech, to which I was listening with enthusiasm. I was waiting to hear whether the hon. Gentleman would add to his list of those who should be recognised by the memorial the factory workers who built the Spitfires. Workers such as my grandmother spent many hours in factories. They were asked to work longer hours—six and seven-day weeks—to make sure that Britain’s war production was kept up. Should they not also be recognised in the memorial?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I did make the point earlier in my speech that the memorial would be for the workers, designers, test pilots and everyone involved in the Spitfire’s success. I absolutely concur with what he says.
I will conclude by thanking the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen for securing the debate, and for the work that he is doing to secure a permanent memorial to the Spitfire and all those who designed, tested, built, flew, repaired and maintained that iconic aircraft. I and my hon. Friends wish him extremely well in his endeavour.
It is always a pleasure to debate under your stewardship, Mr Davies—and particularly on this occasion. Regrettably, I do not have any stories to tell about R.J. Mitchell’s connection with my constituency or with Liverpool, but there is a story about a Spitfire that crashed in October 1942 in Birkenhead park. It flew over the Mersey and the pilot, who had baled out, landed on the Liverpool Maternity Hospital. It took until 2007 to recover the Spitfire. It was said that the engine was still in beautiful condition, which is a tribute to its engineering.
Hon. Members have referred to many aspects of the matter, and I want to comment on the speech of Royston Smith. I thank him for bringing this important matter before the House, and for his tribute to the people of Southampton; they deserve it. He referred to the role of women in the factories and the whole range of people who were involved in building and servicing the Spitfire.
George Kerevan talked about the Spitfire being an iconic symbol of these islands, about people’s endeavour in fighting Nazism and fascism, and about the role of women in manufacturing Spitfires. Sir Gerald Howarth talked about his and, more importantly, his mother’s passion for the Spitfire. We will have to take his word for it that he flew the Spitfire with sobriety; I am sure that he did. Steven Paterson talked about how the Spitfire helps with bonds between servicemen and servicewomen across the country and made reference to 43 Fighter Squadron commemorating 100 years at Stirling castle. There is no better way to tell the story of the Spitfire than by looking at the role of those people in that. Mims Davies joined us all in supporting this proposal.
My hon. Friend Dr Whitehead asked clearly and unambiguously for the money right up. He, too, talked about Southampton’s proud role in the story of the Spitfire and its deep bonds with it, and about how he is looking forward to seeing the monument over Southampton water. Brendan O’Hara said that he, too, looks forward to going down to have a look at the Spitfire over Southampton water. All those contributions were fantastic. This is a matter of substance, honour and pride, about which many Members spoke in detail, and I have tried simply to echo what they said.
As the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute indicated, people of a certain age, including me, used to watch the black and white movies of the 1940s and ’50s. Those were part of my staple diet on a Sunday afternoon after my lunch. One of the pictures he referred to was “The First of the Few”, which was released in this country in 1942. Its title in the United States was “Spitfire”, and it was released there in 1943, just days after the main actor, Leslie Howard, who played R. J. Mitchell, was himself shot down by the luftwaffe. It is perhaps fair to say that that picture was the first memorial or monument to the Spitfire. However, no matter how iconic it might be, the Spitfire needs more than a pictorial monument.
The story of the Spitfire is replete with stories of bravery, commitment, honour, valour, stubbornness, will power, camaraderie, self-deprecation and, above all, modesty. How else could people have got through without all those virtues and that approach to duty? The story of the Spitfire is legendary, but legends are often untrue—not this one. If anything, it has been underplayed. We all have family members who fought or were injured or killed in the two world wars, and who may have died thereafter as a result of the trauma. They command—that is not a word that they would use, but they do—our attention, our thanks and our commitment to their memory. Who could argue with that? None of us would argue with that.
Many of the comings and goings of the Battle of the Atlantic—a literal nom de guerre given to it by Winston Churchill—occurred in my home town of Bootle and in Liverpool. The battle was conducted from Derby House and was the longest of the last war. It started on the day war broke out and concluded on the day the war finished—it was five years, eight months and five days. At Pier Head in Liverpool we have a memorial to those who were involved in the Battle of the Atlantic and a monument to a brave man, Johnny Walker, who went across the seas after U-boats and is one of the most successful U-boat hunter commanders in history.
There are quite rightly monuments elsewhere, but we have a monument in Merseyside, symbolically next to the water from which many never returned, to celebrate their memory. As the monument says, they have no grave but the sea. I say “celebrate” because I, for one, do celebrate those who fought for our freedom against the most evil of regimes. Those who lost their lives in the Battle of Britain and other air combat, and those who were willing to give their lives freely, are equally important and also deserve a monument to celebrate their sacrifices. The Spitfire personifies those men and women. It was a stalwart of the war and beyond, as were those who built, serviced and flew it.
The National Spitfire Project website sums up the issue as follows:
“Even after the bombing of the Supermarine factory, the people of Southampton continued to produce the Spitfire, dispersed to locations throughout the city, for the duration of the war. The Spitfire and Southampton are inseparable and it is the attitude of perseverance, ingenuity and patriotism that really does embody the Spirit of the Spitfire.”
We really do need a Spitfire monument, and it needs to be near the fulcrum of its design and build; near where, under siege and bombing, brave people fought on in more ways than one. I do not think that is too much to ask. It should be a monument that does our nation proud, does our democracy proud and, more importantly, does our heroes and the people of Southampton and its environs proud. There are only a few of the few left. Time is not on their side. We really should try to stop the clock now and, with good will, help to resolve this issue.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. What a wide-ranging, erudite and evocative debate we have had. It is always a pleasure to hear colleagues on both sides of the House speak with passion about issues they really care about. I particularly congratulate my hon. Friend Royston Smith, who, as we heard, is an RAF man himself, on the vigour with which he promoted the National Spitfire Project.
We have heard from many colleagues with connections to both the RAF and the Spitfire. The shadow Minister, Peter Dowd, had an anecdote, and I came very close to having my own Spitfire anecdote to contribute. I visited Dover last Monday, which was the 100th birthday of Dame Vera Lynn. It was planned that that anniversary of a very British icon would be marked with a fly-past by two other British icons: two Spitfires. Sadly, that was put off for 24 hours by similarly iconic British weather, which closed in at the last minute and prevented anything from leaving the ground, so it all happened on Tuesday and I missed it. That is a shame, because although, as a London MP, I have seen Spitfires go overhead on several occasions on days of national commemoration, it would have been nice to be a little closer.
The National Spitfire Project is of particular significance in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen and, as we have heard, across the city of Southampton, which played such an integral part in the birth of that iconic fighter plane. But its significance is not limited to Southampton—as many colleagues said, R. J. Mitchell’s exceptional design, powered by the mighty Merlin engine, was instrumental in winning the Battle of Britain—so I endorse everything that my hon. Friend and others said about the national and international importance of remembering the plane.
I represent a very international constituency, so I welcome the comments from both sides of the House about the plane’s significance, not just to the British but in Europe and across the Commonwealth. It was wonderful to hear many people remind us of the multinational nature of the corps that took to the skies to defend Britain. Friends and allies joined British pilots in flying these planes with such courage and bravery. We also heard from my hon. Friend about the courage and bravery of the people of Southampton, who displayed great stoicism in the face of the Nazi onslaught on the city as they continued to produce this plane that was so integral to our war effort. I admire him for his involvement in the National Spitfire Project and congratulate everyone who got it to where it is today. I wish them continued success.
Let me turn to the money and the call that my hon. Friend made for money to be granted from the proceeds of LIBOR fines. As hon. Members will be aware, LIBOR funding has been allocated to supporting a wide range of armed forces and emergency services charities and good causes. Since 2012, in fact, more than £700 million of LIBOR funding has been allocated. That includes nearly £20 million at the last autumn statement alone, which is being used to support museums and memorials.
The shadow Minister mentioned doing our heroes proud. It is worth noting that more than £15 million has been allocated towards RAF museums and memorials, including the Battle of Britain memorial, the Lincoln Bomber Command memorial, Bentley Priory Museum and the Battle of Britain bunker at Uxbridge.
At the autumn statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed that, to mark the 100-year anniversary of the RAF, £2.4 million of LIBOR money is being provided to the RAF for its RAF100 programme, allowing many other events to take place. Some of that money is being committed to the RAF Museum to prepare for 2018 to tell the compelling story of those 100 years of the Royal Air Force, helping to share that story with more and more people as the human connection in terms of the generation of people who were around at the time is gradually lost. It was touching to hear some of the personal memories from within people’s families of those connections. It will be more and more important that we support the RAF in telling the story and keeping it alive, to ensure that down the generations people are aware of the RAF’s role in guaranteeing us the security and freedom that we are privileged to enjoy today and perhaps have had cause to reflect on more in the past few days than in usual times.
That is alongside a wide range of other projects. Money has also gone towards helping former and current armed forces personnel and their families, air ambulances and children’s hospitals. All in all, more than £260 million has been committed in this Parliament, and more than £700 million in total since 2012. As the Chancellor confirmed in August 2016, any further money from LIBOR will continue to be used to support military and emergency services charities and other related good causes that demonstrate the very best value.
Let me turn to the application process for those funds, if I may take the debate in a more prosaic direction for a moment. With regard to the possibility for further applications to the fund, the last round ran in August and September last year and generated more than 550 expressions of interest. The Chancellor has yet to confirm whether there will be further opportunities to apply for support from LIBOR fines. With £700 million paid out to date, the funds remaining are dwindling and we do not anticipate further significant receipts from the Financial Conduct Authority. However, if there are, we will publish any future LIBOR public funding opportunities in the usual way. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen and those he is working with on the project will want to monitor the usual channels, such as gov.uk, for such opportunities carefully.
Despite the inspiring flights of oratory this afternoon, my Treasury feet are—predictably, perhaps—very much on the ground, and never more so than when I turn to the issue of governance and how funds are allocated, which is important to touch on. The allocation of LIBOR funding follows a robust governance process and adheres strictly to the mandated minimum standards for Government grants, which were introduced last year following the Government’s response to the report by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on Kids Company. We all remember the nature of that news at the time.
Under the current LIBOR governance process, each applicant is required to submit an application form, which is assessed by an independent team of grant-making experts, checked with the Charity Commission and reviewed by the Government’s new grants advice panel before final consideration by the Treasury. Each application is considered both individually and holistically for any impact across its particular sector. Specifically, the assessment team examines the governance of the charity or organisation, working closely with the Charity Commission to do so. The team also does a full assessment of the feasibility of a project, its value for money and any risks to its delivery.
I know that some of that has been touched on in conversations between Treasury officials and my hon. Friend. We are always happy to give more information about how the process can be followed and helpful steers on how that path can be taken, if that is of use to those involved with the project. In summary, I want to thank my hon. Friend.
The LIBOR fund, which was developed by our right hon. Friend Mr Osborne, was a splendid initiative that has done a tremendous amount of good work. I was rather involved in the Bomber Command memorial, which was put together by a tiny group of people. This is a stunning and long overdue memorial to commemorate the 55,573 men who gave their lives in Bomber Command. In the end, Prime Minister David Cameron knocked a few heads together in Whitehall and we got some money to cover the costs of policing on that day of three quarters of a million pounds, which otherwise would have had to have come from the charity itself.
I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that it might be a good idea to be slightly ahead of the game. This is quite an emotional and iconic issue. It is not just a question of pounds, shillings and pence; it is also a question of our national identity and, in the centenary of the Royal Air Force, marking what was a special, iconic contribution to the maintenance of the freedom of these islands.
I assure my hon. Friend that that has not been lost on me this afternoon. Rarely have I sat through a debate with such genuine passion felt across the House. His point about timeliness and the anniversary is well made, and as I said, we have already made moneys available to mark that for the RAF. I look forward to seeing some of those projects come to maturity. His point is extremely well made. I assure him that I will make the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who is responsible for sport, tourism and heritage, fully aware of both the project—I am sure she is aware of it already—and the ambitious plans to mark our heritage; and, indeed, of the passion expressed for the project today in Westminster Hall.
I hope that all hon. Friends will understand that the process for allocating LIBOR funding must be transparent and objective. There is a process that all bids must take, so although I know that friends and colleagues would wish me to go further, sadly I cannot commit further at this stage.
I appreciate that the Minister is in some difficulty as far as allocating funds off the cuff is concerned, and I would not advocate a further banking scandal in order to try to release more funds for that purpose. Will she indicate, today or in future, and in particular to my colleague Royston Smith, whether she can think of any other avenues in her area of competence that might be used to facilitate the process of, shall we say, coughing up for this monument? I am sure that she will be happy to undertake that with the hon. Gentleman for the good cause that we have all talked about this afternoon.
I am more than happy to commit to talk to my colleague in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who is the lead Minister on heritage, about the debate and to relay that request. I will reflect on whether there is more we can do in due course to direct my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen to other sources of funding that might be available. I will reflect on whether it is possible for me to do that subsequent to the debate, or indeed to ask another Minister to do that from sources other than LIBOR funding.
However, I reassure all colleagues that, should further LIBOR funding opportunities arise, any application from the National Spitfire Project that falls within the published scope will be given full consideration along with other applications. In the meantime, I extend my good wishes to my hon. Friend and all involved with this project in its noble aim of creating a lasting memorial to a truly British icon.
I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions, which were made on a cross-party basis. To ever achieve anything, it is better to have everyone lined up in a row, rather than anyone thinking, “It’s not a great idea.” To have the support of Members from across the House has been really helpful, and I am grateful to everyone for that. I am grateful to the Minister for her words of support. I am heartened by her encouragement to continue and to put in an application in the way that she describes. I will pass that back to the trustees of the project.
It is interesting that in some debates people start to repeat the same things over and over again, whereas in this debate we could probably have talked for hours and never needed to repeat any of the anecdotes that we all have or the stories that we hold so dear about something as iconic as the Spitfire. I think that says as much about how important the Spitfire is and how important it has been in our nation’s history as anything else could.
Why now? To further commemorate 100 years of exemplary service and commitment of our Royal Air Force personnel, both past and present. Why the Spitfire? Because the Spitfire was, as one person described it, a symbol of defiance, unity and hope, and because the war would have ended very differently but for the iconic Spitfire and the brave pilots who flew it and, as everyone has said, those who maintained it, built it, designed it and test flew it. Why Southampton? Because the symbol of freedom that the Spitfire has become was designed, built and test flown there. In a world divided and troubled, the Spitfire reminds us of a time when we stood up against all the odds and against evil—and we prevailed.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered funding for the National Spitfire Project.