HC Deb 03 August 1939 vol 350 cc2800-4
Lords Amendment

In page 22, line 3, leave out the Clause.

11.14 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Air (Sir Kingsley Wood)

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

I am moving this and other Amendments in compliance with undertakings that I gave when the Bill was in Committee. This carries out an undertaking with regard to the charges for landing and other facilities. The point was made that it would be convenient and right that the corporation should make available at reasonable charges facilities to other organisations if they so desired. This Amendment and others carry out the undertaking. The point was also made that the corporation themselves might perhaps not be willing to do that, and I have also provided for that by the fact that the Secretary of State might direct that such facilities shall be available in the circumstances mentioned. I hope that hon. Members who are interested will feel that I have met them in the way that they desire.

11.16 p.m.

Mr. Montague

I should like to ask one question on this Amendment. Facilities are to be granted to the Royal Air Force by the new corporation. Obviously if war comes civil aviation will go by the board, and I take it that what is in the mind of the Minister is the possible use of an aerodrome like Heston for the purposes of training. Yet we are told in the Clause that the corporation's needs shall be satisfied first. I should like to know whether in the case of the Royal Air Force wanting to use the aerodromes for training purposes it would clash with the facilities required by the corporation. What is in the mind of the Minister in respect of the provisions of that part of the Clause?

11. 18 p.m.

Mr. E. Smith

I want to put one or two questions. The Lords Amendment says: The Corporation shall, without making any charge therefor, afford to any aircraft which is being used in His Majesty's service the use of any such aerodrome and the benefit of any such facilities as aforesaid. Will this also apply to the Civil Guard, and to air clubs who are training young men for the specific purpose of entering the Royal Air Force? An increasing number of young men are training in their spare time to become pilots and observers in the Air Force in case of an emergency. I would like to know whether these facilities are to be extended to these clubs and to these young men? The next point is this. I am sure that everyone was very disturbed and regretted the accident in which the Secretary of State was involved during last week-end. I have spoken to a large number of people who do not know the Secretary of State for Air personally, but who had followed what has taken place since he accepted his present important position and they were all relieved to find that he and his colleagues had not been affected to any great extent. At the same time, it must be a shock to anyone who is involved in such an accident, and it is for that reason that we ought to be concerned as to whether there is the danger of a repetition of what has occurred.

I want to ask whether the Amendment will enable the whole of the Air Force to have the benefit of the facilities provided by the Corporation. I have in mind, first of all, the meteorological service, which is so necessary. It is obvious that something was wrong with regard to the particular aeroplane in which the Secretary of State was flying. I believe that if they had had the benefit of the meteorological service and the wireless service, they might not have been involved in that serious accident. Therefore, I ask whether the whole of the Air Force will have the benefit of the facilities that can be obtained and that will be at the disposal of the Corporation when it is set up.

11.21 p.m.

Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter

I join with the hon. Member for Stoke(Mr. E. Smith) in congratulating the Secretary of State for Air in coming out of his accident so well, and I hope that his Parliamentary Private Secretary will soon recover. I want to ask a question with regard to the "reasonable charges" to which reference is twice made in the Amendments. I have heard many complaints that the charges that were made by Imperial Airways for machines using their aerodrome were excessive. If I take a private machine and land on an aerodrome controlled by the corporation, who is to say whether the charges are reasonable or not? I might protest that the charges were unreasonable. Would the Secretary of State for Air take up the matter and settle whether the charges were reasonable or not?

11.22 p.m.

Sir K. Wood

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) for the personal references they have made, and 1 will try to answer the questions they put to me. With regard to aeroplanes being used in His Majesty's Service, the Amendment provides that the benefit of any of the facilities that are available shall be given to such aircraft free of charge. As far as other aircraft are concerned, many hon. Members in all parts of the House took exception to the fact that there was no provision in the Bill for those aircraft to be afforded the use of such aerodromes at reasonable charges. They gave illustrations of cases where other countries have afforded our aircraft facilities of that kind at a reasonable cost, and suggested that it was right that the new corporation should be enabled to do the same thing.

Therefore, this Amendment provides, first, that the aircraft used in His Majesty's Service shall be afforded the benefit of such aerodromes free of charge —which I think is quite right from a military point of view—and secondly, that other aircraft should be afforded these facilities by the Corporation at reasonable charges. If we found—I think it is an unlikely event—that the corporation was not prepared to do this, then the Secretary of State would be enabled, as he is by this Amendment, to direct the corporation so to do. In answer to the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague), I think it is quite right to provide, as is done in the proviso, that the facilities in both cases must be subject to the corporation being enabled to carry out its proper functions and discharge its duties to the public. Subject to that—and that of course is the main purpose of the corporation—the proviso is made that the corporation must enable those facilities to be given.

Mr. Montague

That does not quite meet the point. The Secretary of State has not only an intimate relation with the corporation itself; he is also the political head of the Royal Air Force. If there is a clash of opinion between the two, which side will the Secretary of State take? If there is any difficulty in respect of civil aviation and there is a clash between the two sections what will be the position?

Sir K. Wood

My own view is that there should not be any difficulty in a case of this kind, and I do not anticipate any difficulty. If any difference did arise I should be questioned in this House and would have to justify the decision to which I came. As regards charges, my hon. Friend will remember that there is an approved schedule of landing charges for aerodromes in this country. The Corporation will charge accordingly; and in the last resort, if there is any suggestion of improper charges being made in this country or elsewhere, the matter will come to me and I will give a direction on it, again a direction for which I shall be responsible to this House. I think all those points are amply safeguarded.

Subsequent Lords Amendment in page 22, line 27, agreed to.