HC Deb 18 May 1938 vol 336 cc493-502

Motion made, and Question proposed,

" That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, in pursuance of the provisions of Sub-section (3) of Section five of the Air Navigation Act, 1936, praying that the Air Navigation (Licensing of Public Transport) Order, 1938, be made in the terms of the draft laid before Parliament."—[Sir K. Wood.]

7.42 p.m.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

We are not opposing this Motion, but we should like to take the opportunity of getting some information from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air, whom I should like to take the opportunity of congratulating upon his promotion. Under Section 3 of this Order the licensing authority is to consist of members who are to be paid and we should like to know what salaries are to be paid. Under Section 33 a licence fee is to be charged, and we should like to know whether any estimate has been formed of what the yield from these licence fees will be. Finally there is the question of the relations between those to whom these licences are granted and their employés. After this no one will be able to carry on this trade without a licence and, therefore, this will become a quasi monopoly, consisting of a number of firms or persons who cannot fear competition except in so far as the licensing authority is willing to grant new licences.

Therefore, it is extremely important, in view of the Debate which has just taken place, that we should know exactly what the relations between these firms or persons and their employés is likely to be and I desire that the Minister should give us some specific assurances. Under Section 7, when some firm comes forward to apply for a licence certain persons and bodies have a locus to object, including the council of any county or county borough or district, any person providing transport by air for passengers or goods— that is to say a rival company—the owner of an aerodrome or a public Department. Will the Minister explain why the representatives of the employés are not to have a similar locus? Suppose that a firm proposed to start a new air line. Why should not the Airline Pilots' Union, which appears to be the union to which all the pilots have adhered, be allowed to come before an inquiry and to say, "We do not think this firm is fit to receive a licence"? I cannot understand why a right of objection should be given to various bodies and persons and yet be denied to the representatives of that most important section of people, those who fly the machines.

Further on that same point, Clause 18 purports to apply to these new licensed air lines the ordinary provisions of the famous resolution of this House called the Fair Wages Clause, but there is a difference. When a contract is given out by this House, one of the conditions is that there must be a Fair Wages Clause in it; that is to say, a builder employed under some contract for which this House is responsible must be paid the wage which is current among good employers in the building trade. You thus have a yardstick by which you can measure wages and conditions of employment. In the case of these pilots I do not see what yardstick you can have, because everybody employed in the carriage of goods by air will be in and will be subject to the licensing authority. Everybody in the business will now be licensed. What possible outside standard is there by which you can measure the conditions of employment, wages, and so forth, which should apply to the pilot?

When I turn to Clause 30, I think there must be some good reason for it and that my reading of it is not correct. It imposes a penalty upon any air line which transgresses the conditions laid down in the licence. Those conditions are many. They sometimes refer to safety, but they refer to many other things as well. The one condition to which the penalty does not apply, should it be transgressed by an air line, is the fair wages condition. There must be some explanation of that, because I cannot see why we should go out of our way to say: Any person who uses an aircraft in contravention of this Order, and any person being the holder of a licence who fails to comply with any condition attached to the licence other than the condition as to fair wages and conditions of employment shall be liable…to a fine. I cannot understand why it should be necessary to put in a penalty for a number of comparatively unimportant infringements and why there should appear to be no remedy in the case of the important one. I imagine there must be something; appeal to the Industrial Court, or something to cover the point.

In the Debate which took place this afternoon statements were made which will have shown to anyone who approached the matter independently that the English air-line companies have an objection to what we understand by trade unionism. The Under-Secretary of State for Air, who is to be congratulated upon his new post, told us about the dismissal of the men. He defended the dismissal in terms with which he was of course supplied by those who have the information, but which those of us who know about industrial disputes recognise as the sort of explanation and excuse frequently given by employers who want to dismiss people whom they find awkward or too independent. What surprised me about the information was that the men were dismissed because they were technically inefficient.

Captain Balfour

One was not re-engaged, because he was not technically suitable. The others were dismissed. did not give the reasons.

Mr. Benn

One was dismissed—

Captain Balfour

Not re-employed There is a difference.

Mr. Benn

Anyway, he has not got the job. He is regarded as technically unsuitable. I quite understand the difference that is made. I am putting forward a plea for the introduction of the trade union. When was it found out that it was not safe to employ this man upon a certain type of machine? They did not find it out until they had a dispute with him on some other ground. What sort of technical experts are they who are supposed to be responsible for the efficiency of the pilots and who employed this man for so long without discovering that he was not suitable for this type of machine? That is the point. The Minister, when it is necessary to defend the non-re-employment—which I should call dismissal—of this man on account of his activities in other matters, produces this explanation about technical unsuitability.

All these things point to the necessity for recognition by the licensing authority of the constituted trade union of the pilots. There is no question about its being representative, and I do not thing the Minister challenges the statement the it is a thoroughly representative body I have asked for some money figure; particularly on the question of the conditions under the Fair Wages Clause, what locus the pilot may have when new company comes forward and asks for a licence, and for recognition of the trade union by the new licensing authority.

7.52 p.m.

Mr. R. Robinson

I rise to ask two questions concerning this Order. The first is upon Section 16 which, I take it is intended to put a stop to the ban which has existed in the past on air-line bookings. Railway air services will have to be licensed by this authority, if the are to ply, and therefore Section 16 would prevent railway air services, and the railway companies who are financially interested in them, from placing any ban on air-line bookings. I congratulate the Government upon the intention of that Section and I would like the Under-Secretary to say how far it goes. Can we say that the Railway Clearing House as such, the body which makes the ban, has a financial interest in railway air services? Each of the individual railway companies is interested because it holds shares, and the Clearing House as such is not interested because it holds no shares. Is it possible for the railway companies to keep up the ban and to throw the blame upon the Clearing House, which is an outside body? The Section, as far as it goes, meets the point, and I congratulate the Government sincerely upon the courageous way in which they have tackled the matter.

The other point is one which I am sure the Under-Secretary of State will answer very quickly. What is the position under this licensing order of an air-taxi company. I understand that there will be a monopoly on each route between one town and another for a certain company, but I do not see how that monopoly can cover the position of the air-taxi, which is entirely a different business. The owner of the air-taxi line may have to go at any time from one town to any other town.

7.54 p.m.

Mr. Perkins

I also have questions to put to the Under-Secretary of State, the first of which relates to the question of appeal. I understand that the licensing authority will have dictatorial powers. Whatever verdict they give must stand, and an aggrieved person will have no right of appeal. Under the Road Traffic Acts of 1930 and 1933, provision was definitely made by this House for a right of appeal, but for some mysterious reason that right has been left out in this case. I should like to ask why it has been left out. Next is the question of costs. As I understand this Order in Council, practically anyone who owns an aerodrome may lodge a frivolous or a vindictive opposition against the granting of a licence. I can conceive of someone bringing forward opposition on account of spite and putting a company to a great deal of legal expense. The company may have to brief counsel to argue their case before the licensing authority. In previous Orders in Council, licensing authorities have had the power to award costs, but in this case the licensing authority has not that power. Why has it been left out?

On the question of the railway booking ban I am very thankful that that business has now been finished and that it will not longer be necessary for Members of this House to block all railway Bills and generally to make ourselves a nuisance. I would ask the Under-Secretary when the ban is likely to be lifted. I do not quite understand when the Order in Council will become operative, when the licensing authority will get to work and when the ban now in force on certain air lines will be lifted. I should very much welcome any information he can give me on those points.

7.56 p.m.

Captain Balfour

The first question put to me by the right hon. Gentleman had reference to the fees or salaries to be paid. Those have not yet been decided. The matter is now being considered by the Treasury. It may be that the payment will be upon an attendance basis. As regards the yield, if it is estimated to be £10 per application approximately £300 will be directly accruing from the applications. As to their being no locus for representatives of the employés, the reason is that employés are adequately safeguarded by the fact that anyone granted a licence from the licensing authority has to apply the Fair Wages Clause. The authority, in their turn, have the power to take away the licence should any of the provisions upon which it has been granted be transgressed.

In regard to the yardstick to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, he made the point that there is no yardstick for pilots employed on air lines, in regard to fair wages, because every line will now be licensed and there is, as it were, a closed ring. The answer is that there will be people outside the ring of licensed transport undertakings, in the form of chartered companies, pilots engaged on tuition work and pilots engaged on similar commercial work with other lines in other parts of the Dominions. I think there is a recognised standard, which I hope will become an increasingly higher one as aviation is carried further, for the minimum level which should be applied to the valuable services rendered to-day by commercial pilots. Section 30 of the Order will be dealt with in one moment by my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

The right hon. Gentleman said he thought that among these air companies there was an objection to trade unions at the present time, but I do not think that is so at all. To base such a statement on the incident which was discussed in the previous Debate, in regard to Imperial Airways pilots, is to draw a general conclusion from a specific instance. In this case it is an erroneous conclusion. I must refer once more to the question of the pilots—

Mr. Speaker

It would not be in order to continue the debate on pilots which took place on the previous Order. To answer questions raised in another debate would not be in order in this debate.

Mr. Benn

That is so, but may I submit respectfully that Section 18 refers to the question of recognition of a trade union, and seeking the advice of the Industrial Court? Would not that be in order?

Mr. Speaker

Yes, but reference to the dismissal of pilots would be out of order in this debate.

Captain Balfour

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool (Mr. R. Robinson) asked me about Section 16, which refers to the removal of the ban on booking facilities. I can give to the House and my hon. Friend a full assurance that there is now no question of that ban being continued, and, when the Order comes into operation, the ban will be entirely lifted. I should like to say here that, before this provision was put into the Order, the railway companies had intimated to my predecessor that they were agreeable to the removal of the ban, and that they were removing it, so I think the position is satisfactory.

Mr. Robinson

Can my hon. and gallant Friend say when the ban will be lifted?

Captain Balfour

They are removing the ban, and the. position is formally corrected in the Draft Order.

Mr. Perkins

Is not the ban still operating?

Captain Balfour

We have not yet passed the legislation, but it is part of the general scheme, and I think that, in a month or two at the outside, the necessary machinery will be set up and the ban will then disappear.

As regards air taxis, Section 2 of the Order includes all journeys performed by aircraft on which passengers are carried for hire or reward at separate fares, and all journeys on which goods are carried, other than a journey on which a single consignor has the exclusive right to have his goods carried in the aircraft. It excludes, however, ordinary joy-riding which is not incidental to the journey as a whole.

As regards the question of appeal, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins), that question was very carefully considered, and it was decided that it would not be practicable to appoint an appeal tribunal. The licensing authority itself is an impartial body, and an appeal would simply mean appealing from one impartial tribunal to another impartial tribunal. Even if the Secretary of State were made the appeal tribunal, the criticism might be made that he would not be impartial from the Departmental point of view and from the point of view of Service responsibility. There is, however, a safeguard, in that, should it appear that the licensing authority have acted outside their jurisdiction, legal redress is available to any aggrieved party. I would also refer to Section 3, which gives the Secretary of State power to appoint further members of the licensing authority. In the very unlikely event of the licensing authority behaving in some incomprehensible or extraordinary way, it would be within the power of the Secretary of State to swamp them by appointing a predominance of other members. The only other point is that with reference to Section 13, with which my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will deal.

8.6 p.m.

The Attorney-General(Sir Donald Somervell)

My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Perkins) asked whether it would be possible for the licensing authority to award costs. It would be contrary to precedent to give to a body other than a recognised court the power to award costs, and, if such power were given, there would be no machinery for the taxation of costs and so on. The somewhat similar tribunals—commissioners and so on—set up under the Road Traffic Act have no such power to award costs. Under Section 7 of the Order, the number of people who can object is limited, and one hopes, at any rate, that none of the persons or bodies indicated in Section 7 would bring frivolous objections, or that, if they did, the licensing authority would see to it that very little time, and, therefore, money, was spent in considering such objections.

With regard to the point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) with reference to Section 30, I am not surprised that the exception caught his eye, and that he asked about it, but I think that, if he will look at Section 18, with which he will be familiar, he will see that a provision covering a penalty on summary conviction would be quite inappropriate in the case of a breach or suggested breach of the provisions of Section 18. The machinery there set out is that, if a complaint is made, unless it is otherwise disposed of or shown to have no foundation, or is completely clear and admitted, the Industrial Court is to be asked for its advice, and the licensing authority are to be guided by that advice; and if, having received that advice, they are satisfied that the conditions have been broken, they can revoke the licence. I think that that is the right procedure for this part of the Order.

Mr. Benn

Do I understand that, if the complaint is otherwise disposed of, the person who under the Order has the right to make an objection loses his status as an objector?

The Attorney-General

Anybody can raise an objection before the licensing authority that the conditions are not being complied with. The words "otherwise disposed of" are put in to meet the case where, for one reason or another, there is no doubt. For instance, the licensing authority may come to the conclusion that the complaint is purely frivolous, and that there has been no breach of the Order, and in such a case it would be quite inappropriate to compel them to take advice on a matter in regard to which there was nothing to ask advice about. Equally, if, on investigating a complaint, the breach was found to be so plain that the licensee admitted it, there again there would be nothing to ask advice about.

Mr. Benn

Then there is no penalty?

The Attorney-General

They can revoke the licence, and, surely, that is a most effective penalty.


" That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, in pursuance of the provisions of Sub-section (3) of Section 5 of the Air Navigation Act, 1936, praying that the Air Navigation (Licensing of Public Transport) Order, 1938, be made in the terms of the draft laid before Parliament."