HC Deb 10 October 1939 vol 352 cc270-5

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 (Revocation), Order, 1939, be made in the terms of the draft laid before Parliament."—[Captain H. Balfour.]

8.50 p.m.

Mr. Montague

Before the question of the revocation of this Order is put to the House I should like the Under-Secretary of State to make one or two points clear. First, I confess that I hardly see what necessity there is to revoke an Order of this character. It may be that in present circumstances, when inland civil aviation will depend upon the permission of the Secretary of State, some technical difficulties may arise if this Order is not revoked, but I am concerned about another aspect of the question, in that the Order which is to be revoked and the subsequent administrative Orders contain some important provisions which vitally concern civil aviation inside this country. The Under-Secretary will know that important questions were debated by the House and certain decisions were taken to protect a number of interests. Civil aviation will not be put into cold storage for the whole of the war. I should hope, at any rate, that as we gain experience of what can be done in the way of maintaining the ordinary facilities of life while the war goes on there will be some resuscitation of internal air lines. As a matter of fact, I believe that in the case of Scotland and the Hebrides, if it has not been already decided that civil air lines are again to operate, the question is under consideration.

In the original Order of October, 1938, there were several provisions of importance and I will refer to three of them. There was the question of the relations between the companies licensed and the Postmaster-General regarding mails. That may not be of very great consequence, but two other points are. A company which is licensed under the Order has to make a monthly return, and also an annual report to be laid upon the Table of this House for discussion. If this Order is revoked, whatever is done by internal air-line companies will be done without any control at all by the House of Commons. Finally, there is the point, much more important to us on this side, that the Order established the Fair Wages Clause and certain other points regarding the treatment of the employes of companies which are licensed. All that goes by the board if this Order is revoked, and I think that if the Under-Secretary will tell us what necessity there is for revoking the Order and will give us some assurance that the matters to which I have referred, especially as to the conditions of labour, will not be put on one side, the House will feel much more satisfied.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. Mander

I should like the Under-Secretary in his reply to deal with one or two points which are somewhat similar to those which the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) has raised. It seems rather unnecessary to revoke this Order for the whole period of the war without knowing exactly what may happen. We thought, when this war started, that it would go on in accordance with precedent, and that all sorts of things would happen which usually happen, but up to the present it has taken a very different course, and various restrictions which were imposed have already been abandoned. In many ways life for many people is going on just as it did before, and I hope it will continue to do so. We are relying on the economic and financial weapon. It may be that a situation will arise in the future when it will be possible to operate in certain parts of the country, in the Western part or in Scotland, some internal air lines. In those circumstances it would be unfortunate if we had not these powers in operation. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will say something about that matter. I should like also to have an assurance on the question of fair wages, which is a very important one. It would be most regrettable if this provision were abandoned.

Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will also say what is to happen to the members of the board, who have, I presume, full-time jobs. Are they to be drafted to the Ministry of Information? In what part of the country and in what capacity are they to give their services? We ought to know whether they are to be seconded to other work with a view to going back to this work when the right time comes. These are the points which occur to me, and perhaps we may now have some information upon them.

8.57 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)

I will endeavour to give the House some information on the points which have been put to me. In two mintues I shall endeavour to explain the purpose of the Draft Order. It is a war measure which is intended to help to put an end to the system of licensing of internal air lines, which was established in 1938 by the Air Navigation (Licensing of Public Transport) Order, in pursuance of powers given by this House. The reasons why we ask the House to approve this revocation are twofold. At present, no civil aircraft may be flown on any internal route in the United Kingdom except under a licence granted by the licensing authority. Moreover, it is a condition of the granting of the licences that certain minimum services must be maintained.

Since the outbreak of the war, all civil flying in the United Kingdom has, for strategic and defence reasons, which hon. Members on all sides will appreciate, been prohibited except under special permit. Such services have to be kept under strict control as to time-tables and the conditions under which they operate, in order to fulfil the defence requirements, which unfortunately clash with the ordinary commercial requirements which the licensing authority impose. It is unnecessary, and it would be inconvenient, that the requirement of air transport licences should continue and that the licensing authority should be kept up at the public expense. Those are the broad reasons why we ask the House to assent to the Order.

The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) asked me three questions. One was about the mails, and the re-Lations with the Post Office in relation to the carrying of the mails. In any civil and internal air lines which may be permitted during the war, the carrying of mails will have to be the subject of special arrangements between the Air Ministry and the Post Office, as to the conditions under which those mails can be carried for the convenience of the Post Office, and the conditions which we have to impose in view of defence requirements.

The second point of the hon. Member was about the annual report which the licensing authority has to render to this House. The authority had intended to render that report up to the end of October this year. Unfortunately for the licensing authority, but fortunately for the country, two members of the licensing body, and the secretary, have been called up for war service. Therefore we cannot expect a report to be rendered. Nevertheless, ample records and minute books have been kept, and these will be available when the day comes, as we all hope it will, when civil aviation can be restarted in this country.

The third point which the hon. Member asked me—and it was also referred to by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander)—was the question of the Fair Wages Clause. I can give this assurance. In any internal lines which we can run in this country—and we wish to allow such lines to run as can be permitted, having regard to defence requirements and equipment available, when the needs of the Air Force for communication purposes have been satisfied —the financial arrangements will have to be under the close control of the Air Ministiy, and we shall insist on the Fair Wages Clause to no less a degree than would be required by the licensing authority.

Mr. Montague

Would it be possible, if any internal air line is authorised by the Secretary of State, for us to have the details before the House for question and discussion?

Captain Balfour

Let us assume that we assented to an air line going over a piece of the ocean; we might have to impose very strict limitations as to what conditions that service was run under; its frequency and what sort of loads it carried. These are matters which, the hon. Member will appreciate, it might not be in the public interest to state. It might be commercially stupid, but, unfortunately, it would be necessary in the interests of defence. But I will give the assurance that the financial arrangements shall safeguard the interests of those who are engaged in any form of internal air lines in the same way as they have been safeguarded under the licensing authority.

Mr. Mander

What is going to happen to the members of the licensing board?

Captain Balfour

I said that two members and the secretary of the board are now serving their country in other spheres of activity.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: 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 (Revocation), Order, 1939, be made in the terms of the draft laid before Parliament.

To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household.