November 7, 1941 (19th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Clarence Decatur Howe (Minister of Munitions and Supply)



We have private secretaries who are trained in that sort of work. Naturally if I sign a letter on a matter of the kind I must be sure the information is correct-or reasonably sure; I suppose nothing is infallible. Had that letter come to me my hon. friend would have received his answer. He may have written to someone in the Department of Munitions and Supply who would know nothing about it, because the air branch of the Department of Transport, while it reports to me as Minister of Munitions and Supply, is not a part of the Department of Munitions and Supply. He may have written to an officer of the air force, who would naturally look up the financial encumbrances of the air force and, finding that no financial encumbrances had got back to his file, would therefore assume that no such thing had taken place.
I would ask my hon. friend to address letters of that kind to a responsible minister, in which case the government will take the responsibility for the reply. I dare say the man who answered the letter did so in the best of good faith and to the best of his knowledge, but he would not have the knowledge which the minister would have.
The responsibility for spending any money for a war department rests with the Department of Munitions and Supply. It was placed there by the munitions and supply act passed by parliament. The only exception, apart from small sums which are spent by a department by arrangement with the Minister of Munitions and Supply, is that as a matter of convenience the Department of Munitions and Supply segregated to itself the air services division of the Department of Transport, because there was in the former department
The War-Mr. Hansell

a staff highly skilled in selecting and improving airports. It was felt that to duplicate that staff would be a waste of effort. It would be impossible to duplicate this skilled staff in this very highly technical operation. The selection of an airport is not an easy task. The skill with which it is done depends greatly upon the experience of the men doing it, men who know both topography and problems of aviation, because there must be a relation between the two in the selection of an airport. It is true that surveys for airports are made by the air services division of the Department of Transport. The preparation of plans and specifications and the awarding of contracts is carried out by the air services division of the Department of Transport, and the work of building the runways and developing the field is supervised by the air services division of the Department of Transport. The selection of the sites is a matter for the user. The user in this case is the Department of National Defence for Air. The need for a site is determined by that department. The air services division of the Department of Transport is communicated with, told that a site is needed in a certain area, and asked to bring forward surveys. The division tries to anticipate those requests and makes many surveys of sites without a requisition. In this way information is had in advance as to where sites are available so that prompt service could be given to the air force. The air services division submits plans and estimates of cost of development usually on three or four alternative sites. These are placed before a special technical committee, and the choice of a site is made with one or two technical men from the air services division sitting in. I can say with full knowledge that they are invariably made on the basis of merit. I never concern myself with the selection of any site for an airport, and I know that my colleague the Minister of National Defence for Air is in exactly the same position. We decided when we undertook our work that the selection of sites, the location of air training schools, was a technical matter which we would leave entirely to our technical men, and that policy has been carried out.
I do not know whether I have covered the field; if not perhaps my hon. friend will ask a supplementary question.

Topic:   THE WAR
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