§ 3.32 P.m.
§ The Minister of Aircraft Production (Sir Stafford Cripps)
I understand that it will be for the convenience of the House if I make some statement on behalf of the Government, -with regard to the White Paper on British Air Transport, Command Paper 6605, which has been presented by my Noble Friend the Minister for Civil Aviation. I think that nothing could be more gratifying to those who have long interested themselves in civil aviation, than the very wide appreciation of the importance of this vital national interest which is now being shown not only in both Houses of Parliament, but also generally throughout the country. It certainly is most pleasing to my Noble Friend the Minister for Civil Aviation that so much attention has been devoted to the subject-matter of his White Paper. Through no fault of anyone's, except perhaps the Nazis, circumstances have been such that it has not been possible during the last few years for the Government either to plan or to carry out any scheme 669 for British civil aviation. At first, there was the complete pre-occupation of the winning of the war, which prevented any large degree of forethought to be devoted to either civil aviation or any other of those many matters which are now beginning to occupy our minds in regard to post-war conditions in this country and in the world. Then., when it became possible to give some little attention to this subject-matter, it was necessary to try to clarify the international and the Commonwealth situation, before we could undertake to lay down how best we could organise our own domestic services so that they would fit in with those external conditions within which they would have to operate in the future.
The House is, of course, familiar with the results of the Chicago Conference and of those Commonwealth talks which both preceded and followed that international conference. Unfortunately, we were unable to convince all the nations that were present at the Chicago Conference of the soundness of the plan that we put forward, a plan for the orderly development of international air transport. We failed to obtain the multilateral agreement we were seeking, but that failure has not altered our conviction that the principles of orderly development which we then put forward are right, and, as said on an earlier occasion,we are proposing in those bilateral agreements which we shall now have to negotiate and enter into with other countries to follow, as far as possible, the same line of orderly development internationally as we had suggested in the multilateral agreement. So far as the Commonwealth is concerned we had reached agreement as to the manner in which all the principal services throughout the Commonwealth shall be mutually arranged. After the Chicago and Montreal Conferences we were, therefore, for the first time in a position to deal with the subject matter of the organisation of our own national civil aviation in the light of a known set of external circumstances, and I am sure the House will desire to commend the speed with which my Noble Friend the Minister for Civil Aviation has discharged his obligation to put forward to the House as soon as possible a well-worked out plan for the future of our own civil aviation.
The White Paper sets out the scheme which the Government put forward as be- 670 ing the best and the most appropriate in the existing circumstances of to-day. It is not primarily based upon a political compromise between conflicting theoretical conceptions, but it is rather put forward on the consideration of how to get the immediate best out of all those factors which can be brought together to contribute to the building up of a strong and, we hope, effective British air transport system in the future. Nevertheless, the scheme does result in a political compromise, combining as it does a wide degree of Government control with a measure of independence for private enterprise.
The White Paper sets out at the beginning the general principles applicable to British air transport and the requisites for an air transport organisation. I would like to say a few words about those two matters, because I believe that these general principles and requisites can be agreed upon by all of us, and that that, at least, will give us an agreed basis upon which to formulate an organisational plan. The most general of the principles is that air transport is a service in which the community as a whole has a direct interest to attain the full and the fair development of air services to meet all the community's requirements, while, at the same time, eliminating wasteful or subsidised competition. In other words, we desire to develop and encourage initiative not in an unordered chaos of competition but within an orderly plan. To quote the words which occur on page 2 of the White Paper:The test which has been applied in evolving the plan is: Where can the best contribution to British Air Transport be obtained, and how can it most effectively be used to build up an organisation which will fulfil our public, commercial and social needs?That seems to me to be a test which nobody could oppose. Another principle which is of the greatest importance is that civil aviation must be regarded essentially as a transport service. It suffered, I think, in the past in this country because the aviation side has been so over-stressed compared with the transport side, so that the technique of transport has been sacrificed to the technique of aviation. Indeed, I think it was this urgent need to develop and stress the transport side which led so many hon. Members to press for the setting up of a separate Ministry for Civil Aviation.
Another general principle upon which we insist is that no permitted service 671 should be allowed merely to skim off the cream of the traffic, leaving the unremunerative routes either uncatered for or else to be run at a loss by the help of a subsidy from the Government. The bad must be taken with the good. To quote again from the White Paper:The criterion as to whether a particular route should be flown is not merely, Is it commercially profitable?That would, I think, be referred to by my hon. Friends opposite as service for use as against service for profit. That principle, which has long been applied in a number of different services in this country, such as the provision of transport by rail or the supply of gas, water or electricity, has always entailed as a counterpart to our insistence upon the giving of those services, whether profitable or unprofitable in any particular case, the granting of a monopoly of supply within the selected territory. That has not been based upon any theoretical considerations but upon the very practical necessities of the situation.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
Am I to understand that if the bad routes eat up all the profits, this gang will do without profits?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I think the hon. Member will see that I am coming to deal with that point a little later. Taking those particular principles and also looking at the inherent nature of the services that we want to create we can, I think, lay down some requisites for the air transport organisation. First, it must be composed of units, one or more, which are large enough to operate economically but not so large as to be unmanageable. This size factor is constantly coming up in every line of human activity to-day. I meet it very often in industry. One of the most difficult problems to decide is the best size for any unit. Quite certainly, they can as easily be too large as they can be too small, and there is a very definite limit, which is not always observed, to the economic size of any organisation. With such a service as that we are discussing, operating over a very wide territorial area in most cases, it is quite certain that any attempt to cover the whole British air transport system with a single unitary organisation would be a failure, because the essential requirement of close and per- 672 sonal supervision of the services could not be carried out.
That does not, in the least, affect the question of whether those units are all, or some of them, nationalised or not nationalised. That is purely a problem of 'the size of the operational unit. There must, therefore, in the view of the Government, be some division of the territory, and, so, more than one operaing unit, to cover those services that we want to put into operation at once—or as soon as we can possibly do so in view of the war circumstances.
There is nothing of a static nature in the plan suggested. Indeed, it is contemplated that new routes will be required beyond those originally laid down, and that these will not necessarily be given to any of the existing corporations. These appropriately sized units must, each of them, contain the various elements and types of experience that are best fitted to their own particular job, and they should also, in our view, be linked up, where possible and convenient, with other forms of transport, 'so as to obtain the very great benefits of through or alternative routeing of traffic. They must also have placed upon them the obligation of maintaining the original services upon which their exclusive powers are based and also of operating any new services that they may be required to undertake within the area that they are serving. And the price which they pay for their grant of exclusive rights will be their obligation to provide and to continue providing all the services required, whether in any individual case those services may be profitable or unprofitable.
Another important requisite is, that the separate units should share certain essential services; such, for instance, as the training of crews and the maintenance and repair of aircraft and engines. They must also—which is important—provide uniformly satisfactory conditions of service for their pilots and crews both during their operational career and after superannuation. It is of vital importance to the future of British civil aviation that we should maintain the highest possible standards of training and of operational efficiency of our transport pilots and crews. Upon them, and the high degree of skill and attention devoted to maintenance and repair, will depend the 673 safety and the reputation of British transport services, and so their popularity and their remunerativeness. Another requisite is that the sphere of operation of each unit should be so delimited as to give the most economical use of the aircraft at their disposal. That is to say, services likely to require the same types of aircraft should, as far as otherwise can be arranged, be grouped together within one corporation. I 'will deal later with the actual question of the provision of aircraft, but at the moment I would like to emphasise the fact that it is the intention of the 'Government, and I am sure, too, of this House, and, I may add of the country, that British transport services should be conducted in British manufactured aircraft.
With those requisites in view, the White Paper passes on to lay down the type of organisation which will meet the requisites and also fit in with the general principles that I have already outlined. I have made it clear, I hope, that, in the view of the Government, a single corporation could not economically and efficiently carry out the entire task that lies before British civil aviation. To suggest that such a thing was possible would be to underestimate greatly the possibilities of the future of British aviation. There is too, I believe, a further benefit in having several instruments, as this multiplicity provides an opportunity for testing out differing transport techniques and aircraft and thus avoids the danger of a too rigid uniformity of idea, which may well detract from the value of a single chosen instrument. We have, therefore. elected for three chosen instruments to begin with, each one constituted in the way that seems most likely to mobilise the maximum range of experience and knowledge for the carrying out of its particular job. As the tasks vary greatly, so the constitution of the three corporations which have been chosen will also vary.
First, may I take Commonwealth, trans-Atlantic and Far Eastern routes for which the British Overseas Airways Corporation are to have the sole responsibility? The foundation of this group of services are the Commonwealth Services. Here, as experience has shown us in the past, it is more than likely that the extensive and expensive routes, which must be maintained for the purposes of the administrative convenience and for the safety of the Commonwealth, will require, 674 anyway for some time to come, some degree of subsidy. That makes the B.O.A.C. the obvious agency, quite apart from the long and wide experience that that corporation has had in developing these particular routes. Since the trans-Atlantic route to Canada is an.essential link in any system of Commonwealth routes, it is an economic necessity that the similar services across the Atlantic to the U.S.A., using similar or identical aircraft, should come within the same group. The Far Eastern services will in fact be extensions of the Commonwealth services beyond India, and will, therefore, naturally fall to be dealt with by the same organisation. There will be no question of sharing in this group, which will be wholly run by the B.O.A.C.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I will come to that, but at present I am dealing with the position as far as British national transport is concerned.
Mr. Montaģue (Islington, West)
How does the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain the statement on page four of the White Paper, which, in reference to the structure of the Commonwealth routes, says:On many of the routes, however, a valuable contribution can be made by British Shipping Lines with their well-established organisation and local connections.
§ Sir S. Cripps
The sole responsibility is with B.O.A.C., and if my hon. Friend will wait a moment he will see that. It may, however, I was just about to say, be convenient to run sections of those routes through subsidiary companies in which other interests, such as shipping lines, may take a minority share interest, which will give them no control at all. The control will, in every case, remain with the B.O.A.C., and so the responsibility for maintaining the required services. The second group is the one which has probably aroused the greatest public interest, that is, the European and internal services of the United Kingdom. This, I may add by way of parenthesis, does not include charter services pure and simple in which it is not at present proposed to give any exclusive powers, nor 675 will it cover any routes except those to be scheduled in the enabling legislation. These will be all the present important routes upon which services are immediately required, and will,.therefore, for the present cover the whole of the internal and European services that are needed. At a later date extension to other routes will no doubt become necessary and then, as I have said, it will be open to other applicants, if any come forward, to have their claims considered for those other routes. But we must remember in that regard that air transport is not now the highly exciting novelty and improvisation that it was in the earlier days it has now become an accepted and solid part of our general transport services.
The first point to be noted is the combination of internal and European services in a single group. This grouping arises from the fact that we live on a small but densely populated island, whose people like travel and whose businesses demand it. As a result, a great deal of the internal air travel in England will be more an extension of travel to and from the Continent rather than genuine internal traffic. People will want to go to Paris, Brussels or Berlin from all parts of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and they may or may not want to break their journey on the way there or back in London. The type of aircraft and the distances covered will be much the same for both internal and Continental services, so that there is the strongest case against attempting any artificial division beween services that must be essentially inter-related.
Then comes the question of the constitution of the corporation which is to run this group of services. Here we have a wide area of essential experience to bring in, as well as the factor of the correlation of the air services with alternative means of travel. There is a very great convenience to passengers if they can use a ticket by air, rail or sea according as the weather conditions or their own immediate convenience may dictate. The British railways, with long experience of internal and Continental travel, with all their agency arrangements all over Europe, and the short sea shipping lines which have equally served European traffic, have obvious contributions to make in transport technique.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
This is exceedingly important. Suppose that on some subsequent occasion this House should decide that the internal railway system of this country should be nationalized— [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] After all, the Prime Minister himself suggested it some years ago. Suppose that happened. Will my right hon. and learned Friend say whether that nationalised railway system would have control of the internal air lines, and would play a smaller part as regards the European air services than is now proposed for the railway companies?
§ Sir S. Cripps
That would depend upon the form of nationalisation that this House adopted. The hon. Member knows as well as I do that there are two different forms which can be adopted: you can either take over the whole of the shares of the railway company and put yourself into their position, or else you can expropriate all their physical assets. If you expropriate their physical assets, you do not substitute yourself for the railway companies in their ownership of the shares of this corporation; if you take over the railway companies as a going concern and acquire all their shares, you then put the Government in the position of the railway companies in this Air Transport Corporation.
I was just pointing out that there was a contribution which the railways could make in the matter of transport technique. So, of course, can B.O.A.C. make a contribution in flying technique, and the travel agencies in the very important technique of collecting and servicing passengers. There is, then, one other element and that is the comparatively few pre-war operators who ran regular traffic routes. They, as the House knows, have been invited to come in and to contribute their experience and knowledge, either as participant subscribers to the corporation—
§ Sir S. Cripps
I do not think anybody has fixed the amount yet; negotiations are proceeding as to whether they wish to come in or not—or else by way of subsidiary companies jointly run with the Corporation, like those subsidiary companies which I mentioned in relation to the other group. I understand that a number of those operators have signified their wish to take advantage of the offer, 677 and negotiations as regards that matter are proceeding.
None of these elements I have mentioned will have a majority shareholding, so that the control will be a joint one and will not reside in the railways, the B.O.A.C., the travel agencies, the shipping companies or the other outstanding operators. It has been suggested quite widely that these other forms of transport —that is, rail and shipping—may not be anxious to develop air transport and that they should not, therefore, be associated with an Air Transport Corporation. I think that argument might perhaps have been valid before the war, when. the wide extension of air services was still in doubt, but now that there is no question in anyone's mind at all that people will travel by air, all these interests, I think, realise that they can only meet air competition by air transport. Ever since Parliament, which is the responsible body, gave the railway companies the right to run air services, the railways have done a great deal to develop air routes, and I am quite confident that there is no danger of their trying to use their position in the Air Transport Corporation to suppress air travel. However, to guard against the possibility of such a thing, the Minister will have the power to approve, or not to approve, any nominations for the directorate of the Air Transport Corporation, so as to ensure an energetic and air-minded team of directors.
It must also be borne in mind that the very considerable capital required by this corporation is to be subscribed by the various interests concerned, that there is to be no subsidy at all, and that the subscribing interests will be prohibited from selling their shares. Moreover, it must be remembered that the Corporation will be compelled by law to maintain the scheduled services, and any ether services placed upon it by the Government. Under those conditions it really does seem to me perfectly certain that the directors will be compelled to do their utmost to make the services a success—shipping as well—because their money will be invested—
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
I am interested in the point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman about maintaining the efficiency of the services, but there is a very important point connected with the fares 678 that are to be charged on these services. As I understand it, the private operators maintain that it will be possible even to compete with third-class fares. Is it not likely, therefore, that the railway companies would have an interest in preventing fares coming as low as that and maintaining fares in order to make aircraft a luxury travel and not one which ordinary people may enjoy?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I do not think there is the slightest danger of that at all because, if they so tried on the European services, they would be met by the competition of other countries who would also be running services to this country in exchange, and that competition they can only meet in the air—they cannot meet it in a third-class railway carriage.
§ Mr. Shinwell
But surely my right hon. and learned Friend will admit that cannot possibly apply in the case of the shipping lines, which will be operating the scheduled air transport service to South America, where there is complete monopoly and no competition?
§ Sir S. Cripps
I am always only too glad to answer questions, Mr. Speaker, but I am afraid of taking up the time of the House for too long. I mentioned the various compulsions which would be upon the Corporation as a reason why, in my view, I thought the directors would be compelled, even if they did not wish it, to try and make this service as successful as possible. This Corporation—the European and England one—may also, with the consent of the Minister, operate through subsidiary companies if that is thought advisable or necessary. It may be found wise in routes shared with other countries to run those routes through a joint mixed subsidiary company, or it may be that some pre-existing route could most conveniently be carried on by a subsidiary company in which the former operator had a minority holding. The B.O.A.C., as I have said, will have a very considerable, though not a majority, 679 holding in this Corporation. That is necessary not only to give the liaison with the B.O.A.C. and to obtain the benefit of their experience, but also it is thought right, as the European routes are likely to be the more remunerative, anyway in the initial stages. The considerable share of the B.O.A.C. in those remunerative routes may enable some of the losses incurred on the expensive and less remunerative Commonwealth routes to be offset. Those profits will, if they materialise, reduce pro tanto any call upon the Exchequer for assistance to the B.O.A.C.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
Before my right hon. and learned Friend leaves that point, may I ask if it is visualised that K.L.M.—the Dutch air lines—and B.O.A.C. might form a subsidiary company to run services between Amsterdam and Croydon, or wherever it is?
§ Mr. Bowles
Well, the subsidiary corporation, then, will hand over some of our British civil aviation.
§ Sir S. Cripps
The position is this. It is contemplated that if we come to an agreement with Holland as to an exchange of services between London and Amsterdam, it may be convenient, to get the pooling that is required, to run that by a joint company, half of which presumably would be owned by the Dutch and half by the English. The English company that would own the half would be the European and England Corporation, and that would merely be a convenient way of getting a pooling of fares, and everything else, so I think probably in some cases it would be a wise arrangement, in others it might not be considered to be so wise.
The third and last group is the South American group, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) referred a moment ago. That will be assigned to a new Corporation, in which the majority holding will be by the British Latin-American Airlines Ltd., a combination of all the main shipping companies interested in South American traffic. The B.O.A.C. will have a minority interest—a smaller minority interest than in the case of the European group—again in order to make B.O.A.C. technique and experience available to the 680 new Corporation, and to give the liaison between the various services. Here again, the capital will be wholly subscribed by the shareholders and there will be no subsidies payable. Otherwise, similar provisions will apply as to the other Corporation for internal and European services, to which I have already referred.
That gives the picture of the three new chosen instruments designed, as I have said, to make available the greatest amount of experience and technique in all the different aspects of air transport, some of it drawn from private enterprise, some of it from the wholly controlled Government Corporation, the B.O.A.C. In addition to the ordinary control by shareholding, there will be certain special provisions, to some of which I have already referred. The approval of the Minister will be required for the appointment of all the directors of the two new Corporations—because he already appoints all the directors of the B.O.A.C.—and also his approval will be required for the directors of any subsidiary company which may be formed to conduct any special air route, whether under B.O.A.C. or under the other two Corporations. The sale of the shares, as I have mentioned, by any subscribing interest will be prohibited, so that these people, once they get in, cannot get out again by selling their shares.
§ Sir S. Cripps
Co-ordination of the activities of the three Corporations in certain common services will be insisted upon and that will, I think, lead to a greater measure of economy.
Finally, the Minister's approval will be required for the memorandum and articles of association of the two new main Corporations and of any subsidiary that is formed to play any part in the scheme. Outside these special controls, however, which are imposed to achieve their limited purpose, the managements will be completely free to run their undertakings as they consider best; whether as regards the aircraft they use, the transport technique which they adopt, or their methods of organisation—it will be up to them to employ their own ideas and to take their own responsibility for the success or failure of their methods. There will be ample room for and, I hope, an ample supply of enterprise.
681 I should perhaps at this stage say just a word about goodwill. It is not proposed in setting up these Corporations and allotting them areas of exclusive service to impose upon them any payment for existing goodwill. The reason for this is that as all existing operators have the opportunity to come into the scheme, the payment to them, by themselves, for their own goodwill, would merely be a matter of accountancy, and would also, of course, effect an inflation of capital of the new Corporations. Such an inflation of their capital is considered to be most undesirable.
I have mentioned already the need for co-operation between the three Corporations and any subsidiary companies that may be formed, and I have stated that this will be arranged for as part of the scheme in training of pilots and crews, in maintenance, overhaul and repairs of aircraft and engines. In this the three Corporations and their subsidiaries will, by agreement, join in a common scleme. In the case of the three main Corporations, and any subsidiaries, there will be a condition that the terms of service offered shall be those of a model employer. Such a scheme is in operation with the B.O.A.C. and has been agreed with the employees' unions. Similarly a scheme will be worked out for the other Corporations.
There are three other points about which I am afraid I must detain the House by saying a word. The first concerns subsidies. I have explained the general situation and that, so far as the scheduled routes are concerned, neither the internal services nor the European services, nor the South American services, will attract any subsidy or assistance whatever from the Government.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made that statement three times. Will he explain why the White Paper says that both internal and external air services should operate, as far as possible, without subsidies?
§ Sir S. Cripps
My next sentence will explain that. There is only one exception and that is if, subsequent to the scheduling of the routes, a demand is made on any of the Corporations to run a new service which clearly cannot be remunerative, it will be necessary to provide some temporary assistance in respect of that service only, but there will be no general subsidy.
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes (Carmarthen)
I would like to quote from part of Paragraph 33, which provides that, in the event of highly subsidised competition arising elsewhere, subsidies will' be given in the European routes, and the Latin-American service.
§ Sir S. Cripps
It does not say that subsidies will be given, but that circumstances may arise in which it will be necessary to ask the House to take certain other steps. The proposal which is before the House is that no subsidies should be paid except in the case of the B.O.A.C. where it is recognised that owing to the extent and expense of the Commonwealth routes, some subsidies may be required. Legislation has already been passed, enabling such subsidies to be paid.
There is a second point. Despite ample safeguards against the new Corporations failing to push forward with their job, the Government have put forward, as a tentative suggestion in the White Paper, that the users of air transport might be provided with some means of safeguarding their rights. For this purpose it is suggested that power might be given to some impartial tribunal to consider complaints upon such matters as the absence of reasonable facilities, or the reasonableness of rates and charges and so forth.
§ Mr. Tree (Harborough)
Is it not envisaged that that tribunal should also be the licensing authority for any new routes that are to be considered?
§ Sir S. Cripps
If I might just conclude what I want to say and then answer that question, I will do so in a moment. I wanted to point out that that tribunal, if it were adopted, would secure that any matter which escapes the eye of the Minister, can still be brought forward with a good hope of redress. Of course the House must bear in mind that the ultimate responsibility in these matters will rest with the Minister, and that it is to be under the hand of the House of Commons itself. I think that answers the question of the hon. Member.
Finally I come to what is to me a most important part of the whole matter, the provision of adequate and suitable British aircraft for these British transport services. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that, if we are ever to do any good in the field of civil aviation, or in our aircraft industries, we must fly British. 683 Unfortunately, as the House knows the war has very seriously interfered with the development of British transport aircraft. Indeed, development was completely stopped for some years. Although the Government and the manufacturers, naturally, have been most anxious to get on with this job for at least two years now, we have had to restrain ourselves, so that we should not interfere, by one jot or tittle, with the effective strength of the Royal Air Force or the Fleet Air Arm. I can assure the House that it has required a very conscious effort of self-restraint, certainly on the part of myself and of some of my colleagues, to insist upon this absolute priority of war demands. It is only now when there is a clear indication of the likelihood of the intensity of the European side of the war declining before too long, that we have been able, to a very small extent, to let up on the complete prohibition we formerly had to impose upon all work for transport aircraft.
Surely the transport planes required by the Air Force are military transport planes and not civil transport planes?
§ Sir S. Cripps
The hon. and gallant Member knows as well as I do that, in the division of labour between this country and its great Ally, the United States of America, it so happened in the way the manufacture developed that it was a great convenience for them to go in for the mass production of transport planes.
§ Sir S. Cripps
It is very convenient for us too, to be able to get a greater force of fighter planes in this country. Even so, the most we have been able to do so far is to produce a few military transports, and it will be still some little time before we can produce any real civil aircraft. In the meantime, we are trying to arrange for military transport and aircraft to be adapted.
The trouble, of course, is that our most acute shortage has been on the design and development side. Skilled technicians and workers of all kinds have been short so that we have not been able to go ahead with the preparatory work and, as the House knows, it generally takes a period of years to pass from the begin- 684 ning of the preparatory stage to the actual start of production. In the present state of affairs, while the war continues, it is essential if any work at all is to be done upon transport aircraft that my Department should control the allocation of that work. We shall take our orders, of course, from the Minister for Civil Aviation just as we do from the Secretary of State for Air, or the First Lord of the Admiralty for military and naval aircraft, but this does not in the least preclude direct contact in the future between manufacturers and users. We believe that it is very sound and proper that we should all consult together, and I think all those who are concerned will agree that this combination of pooled experience will be of the greatest value to civil aviation.
§ Mr. Woodburn
With regard to the question of flying British, my information is that the converted British plane will require a subsidy in competition with the normal transport plane. When the question of flying with a subsidy comes up, is it to become operative when the British civil transport planes are available, and in the interval will it be necessary to subsidise the converted British military plane?
§ Sir S. Cripps
That will depend on how quickly the war ends, and how quickly the services can be started. It is not contemplated that there should be any subsidy in any event. It would only be in certain circumstances that some of these less up-to-date planes might be leased, pending the provision of replacements by more up-to-date planes. That might assist the companies which were using the less up-to-date planes.
I was speaking of the method of allocation of work and the necessity for consultation between users and manufacturers and the Departments concerned, and in that general consultation, I think that the civil aviation lines will get the fullest benefit of the experience that the military and naval types of planes during the war have contributed and also the great volume of research that has been carried on for that purpose. We have been able to arrange for a small number of transport aircraft to be developed but not so many, nor yet so rapidly as we might have wished. All I can say about it is that it is the most this country can do while it still has to carry on the immense burden of war which lies upon it. 685 There is certainly, in my view, no need whatever for depression or hopelessness about the aircraft situation. We have the brains and the skill to do as wed as any other country n the world and to produce as good or better machnes. The country that has produced the Lancaster, the Halifax, the Mosquito, the Spitfire, and the Tempest, only to name a few of the planes, can certainly "make the grade" in civil aviation as soon as it gets the chance. Apart from the temporary emergency aircraft that I have referred to, such as the Lancastrian, we have a number of others starting to be developed and a few reaching the stage when we can hope for production before too long.
I would like to give the House a few tentative dates, not I hope over-optimistic, and with the idea that the war against Germany will not last for too long a period of time. There is the York, which is already well known and well tried in operations and an excellent machine. The Tudor I should start on production early this summer, to be followed by the quite different Tudor II in the late autumn.
Sir Alfred Belt (St. Pancras, South-East)
In what way is it different?
§ Sir S. Cripps
Different in that it will be much larger and carry twice as many passengers. The new V.C.1 which will be a two-engined 20-seater should start in production very early next year. During this year too there should be two prototypes coming out of the smaller types of transport planes, an 8- and a 14-seater, to be followed as soon as possible by production. When I say production is due to start at a certain time, the House will realise that we start very slowly, perhaps one or two monthly, and then work up fairly rapidly to the peak of production in a matter of six to nine months later. I have tried to give the House the reason—
§ Major Sir Derrick Gunston (Thornbury)
Could the Minister say whether the Brabazon will be in production in a year and a half?
§ Sir S. Cripps
There are six Brabazons and I do not know to which the hon. and gallant Member is referring. Is it the Brabazon I?
§ Sir S. Cripps
That will certainly not be in production in a year and a half. It is the most outstanding novelty of all, and will want a considerable period for its development. I have tried to give a reasoned picture of why the Government have come down in favour of the scheme set out in the White Paper.
§ Mr. Bowles
I think my right hon. and learned Friend said that this was a political compromise between those who believed in private enterprise, and those who believed in Government control. Surely that is within the recollection of the House. The compromise, having regard to the Government's complexion at the present time; is between free enterprise on the one hand and internationalisation on the other.
§ Sir William Davison (Kensington, South)
Have the directors any control and, if so, over what, because it is not clear that they have any direct control over anything?
§ Sir S. Cripps
If the hon. Gentleman will peruse HANSARD to-morrow he will see that I set out precisely the matters over which the directors have absolute control. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) and I seem to be at cross-purposes. What I said was that the origin of the scheme was not a political compromise, but that, in fact, as the scheme has developed it may be termed a compromise between two different political points of view, which are the view that national transport should be run by a national organisation, and the view that it should be run by private enterprise.
§ Mr. Bowles
The point I am making is that my right hon. and learned Friend—whom I am pleased to welcome back to the Labour Party, but who seems to be going against the policy of his Party already—has not argued the case against world airways.
§ Sir S. Cripps
At the beginning of my speech I went into the external situation. It is no good basing a policy upon international external airways if, in fact, other countries will not join it. We have to take 687 circumstances as they are. We put forward the views at the right time and they were rejected. We have now to deal with the situation as we find it, and unfortunately, as some people think, it has not developed into the international scheme we would have liked. It was not arrived at by way of a political compromise; it was a practical working out of the necessities of the situation, given the present facts, both external and internal, as to public and private enterprise that is working in this area of transport with which we are concerned. Not unnaturally, owing to the fact that there is a mixture of public and private enterprise existing in that area, we come down by a combination of those interests to a mixed scheme which may be looked at as neither complete nationalisation on the one hand, nor unncontrolled private competition on the other. But whichever view we may take, politically, of this problem, one thing is absolutely certain—we must waste no time in getting on with some form of organisation of our aircraft industry. We certainly cannot afford to be held up by any political deadlock. That would be absolutely fatal to the future of British civil aviation.
The solution that the Government put forward is, I believe, a practical one, and it is not one that will necessarily prejudice an ultimate solution in the direction of either extreme, if either extreme should prove to be, after the next General Election, what the country wants. Therefore, I hope the House will approve the proposals of the Government in the White Paper, and give us instructions to get on with the job as rapidly as we can by translating into legislation the various provisions in the White Paper that will need legislative sanction. In that way I am convinced the House will be doing its best to encourage and expedite the development of the strongest possible organisation of British air transport, and will be giving our industry, our transport organisation and our pilots the opportunity for which they ask, that is, to be able to prove that in civil aviation we can do as good and as outstanding a job as we have done in military and naval aviation during the course of this war.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)
Before I endeavour to examine, as I shall do, the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend, I would like to make one or two 688 general observations. The first is the pleasure with which one hears his voice again in this Chamber. The silence has been a long one. It is not surprising, however, that my right hon. and learned Friend should have been selected as the ideal spokesman for this particular scheme, which he has presented most attractively. It accords closely with his traditional political philosophy, and I am surprised that he should have run counter, as he did frequently, to the theories of hon. Members behind me. It has been an artificial quarrel; at any rate, the Debate may show that that is the case. The second general observation I wish to make is that there is no doubt about the importance of this subject. There is no doubt about the importance of the decisions which the House will take. This is a matter of more than contemporary interest. Mahan wrote his classical work on the "Influence of Sea Power upon History"; these White Papers write the early chapters in a new story, the influence of air power on history. What is the contribution that they make? What is the vision that they show? Some of the qualities that went to the making of sea power are needed.
§ Mr. Bowles
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. These are Civil Estimates and this is a Debate on civil aviation. It has nothing to do with sea power, or air power.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
I did not hear the whole of the Minister's speech, but I cannot conceive that we can treat the matter of civil aviation on narrow lines.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I am sorry that my hon. Friend behind me, who has made so many contributions to these Debates on this subject, should endeavour to take a narrow, or myopic, view of what is involved.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Further to that point of Order. Is it quite right that the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) should say that of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles)? Is it not my hon. Friend's desire to see that the Rules shall apply impartially to all?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I should say that that is obvious. I have given a Ruling, and I will apply it to any Member I hear.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I was referring to my opinion that these White Papers are writing the first chapters on the influence of air power upon history. I was asking what contribution they make. Some of the qualities necessary to the acquirement of sea power are undoubtedly necessary for the acquirement of air power. Mahan was right in selecting the psychological as a primary factor. Spain was first in the field in these matters, and I shall call the attention of the House to the reason why Spain lost her primacy, and my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) may find this of direct interest to his thesis. Spain was first in the field. She was first to establish herself in the new world. She held primacy in Europe for too years. She had a good coast line, she had ships, but she lost her position. Why? I will read the conclusion of Mahan upon this point, a conclusion which might have been written not two generations ago but to-day. This is the primary explanation that Mahan gives, among many others, for the loss, by Spain, of her great position in the world, which was at one time unparalleled:Doubless the Government of Spain was in many ways Such as to cramp and blight a free and healthy development of private enterprise.The shipping of Spain, 300 years ago, was run by the Government. It was Government policy which entirely determined the course to be pursued upon the waters and in the ports of Spain, and Mahan, a naval officer, detached from political considerations, studying in an academy, endeavoured to give an explanation—
§ Mr. Buchanan
On a point of Order. I do not want to narrow the Debate but I must ask you, Sir, if this speech is to continue, whether future speakers will be allowed to discuss what Spain did 300 years ago, what South America did 300 years ago, and what various other countries in the world have done? Will you allow all other countries to be discussed?
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
Will you allow subsequent speakers to emphasise the part that Nelson played in taking sea power from Spain?
Sir A. Belt
Is not this extremely interesting digression of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) of greater interest to the House than a quibble about Prestwick?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is not for me to say what is most interesting, only what is in Order. On a big subject such as this, when we are dealing with an international matter, I think we should look at it from the widest point of view.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
Hon. Gentlemen who wish to disregard the lessons of the past can hardly be considered useful guides for the future. It is worthy of consideration that in the opinion of a student of the eminence of Mahan the decline of Spain was due to the way in which the Government cramped and blighted free enterprise.
He points to the same lesson with regard to France. France studied theoretically all the lessons of sea power, and followed all the rules of the game. Her Minister, Colbert, was a Minister of the highest ability and repute. But France, which was within an ace of obtaining the Empire which we possess, lost her position because, also in the opinion of Mahan, there was interference with private enterprise and there was a timidity in allowing the citizens of the country to adopt an expansive policy. He said—these words are also relevant to the consideration of this matter to-day:If elaborate system and supervision, careful adaptation of means to ends, diligent nursing, could avail for colonial growth, the genius England has less of this systematising faculty than the genius of France; but England, not France, has been the great coloniser of the world.Against this historic background how do these White Papers stand? My right hon. and learned Friend has presented a plan of the future in an elaborate and well defined way. He has presented it as a balance. It is neither Government control nor private enterprise. He has offered it to us as an orderly scheme, as an alternative to chaos. There is to be pooled experience. Units are to be neither too large nor too small. Everybody is to be brought in and is to discharge the task best fitted to his own particular ability. The plan avoids rigidity while not being too elastic. The bad must pay for the good and so forth. It is presented as a highly balanced scheme. In my judgment the result comes pretty near to a negation.
691 The first White Paper is the paper which deals with world organisation. What is the policy with which, His Majesty's Government went to Chicago? The first principle which they sought to assert was the principle of national sovereignty of the air. That is in the forefront of their programme. If we look to experience between the two wars we find, on the one hand, Europe divided into 20 or more separate sovereignties. We find on the other side of the Atlantic the Government of a great Republic controlling absolutely the policy of 48 States under a single direction. It is because the U.S.A. control this larger unit that it was able to develop its aircraft. It is because it had this large unit under one direction that it produced half the output of the aircraft of the world. It is because it had this large unit that it has been able to keep its Navy and its Army supplied by air during this war. It is because it had this large base that it has been able, although it had only one overseas line before the war, to develop airlines all over the world, to build permanent aerodromes and to supply permanent ground staffs all over the world. It is because it had this large base that it has been able to inter-weave our Empire. It is because it had this large base that it has been able to send on a regular service eight aircraft a week each way between Australia and the Pacific Coast of America in a flight of 40 hours. It is because of this large base that, when the clouds of war disperse, the U.S.A. will be found to be girdling the world with its aircraft.
How can this little Island going to Chicago with the principle of national sovereignty, absolute and unqualified, put in the forefront of its programme, compete with a unit of that size? How can the United Kingdom in this and some other matters hope to compete with the large federations of the United States on the one hand and Russia on the other? The trouble at Chicago was that we put the international cart before the imperial horse. We should have bent all our energies to creating an Imperial unit—a national unit if you will—which comprised all the Colonies and all the Dominions of the British Empire. Only on that basis can we play in the future the part which we have so successfully played in the past. It is not a question of agreeing upon services or routes. 692 Lord Swinton, to whom we are all grateful for the stubbornness with which he stood up for his point of view at Washington, is going to South Africa to fix routes. What we have to fix is that we form part of a unit which is able to talk to units like the U.S. and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
§ Mr. Tree
I do not quite understand what the right hon. Gentleman means. He talks of our failure to obtain an Empire unity. I thought that is exactly what we did, either just before or just after Chicago—I think it was before. We obtained far greater unity than anyone believed possible when we started out.
Greater unity was possibly achieved after Chicago than before we started out, but that is not the same as an air unity. At Ottawa an Empire economic unit was created and the principle was recorded that we should thenceforth be regarded at International Conferences as an economic unit. When you come to discuss matters like picking up and setting down in the same national unit you have better bargaining power if you speak with one voice for the whole Empire than if you speak with six or seven different voices, however elaborate your preliminary conferences. The central objective of British policy in the air should not be to pursue this international mirage but to pursue Imperial union. There are illimitable prospects before us if we pursue that policy.
We deferred deciding on our organisation until we had had an International Conference. We consumed time and eventually met disappointment at Chicago. Great achievements, of course, were attained in the most favourable sphere for international action, which is technical agreement on safety standards, meteorology, non-discrimination. All these matters can be settled internationally. But on the broader issues the United States in international transport takes up in the 20th century the position taken up by Britain in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. That is one of the stubborn facts which make it impossible to obtain the international scheme which hon. Members behind me desire. It is on Imperial lines that we must proceed.
When you come to the second White Paper, do you find a realisation of the greatness of this subject? Do you find an appeal for everyone who has contri- 693 buted to the success of our air power during the war to come in and help? Do you find any attempt to utilise the real skill and experience which has been recorded during the last five years? No. You find a rigid scheme. Between the two wars every one of the European countries had a chosen instrument. The policy is generally admitted to have been discredited. The chosen instrument policy is admitted now to have failed to realise the opportunities for air development. Having come to the conclusion in Britain that one chosen instrument is an error, are we to multiply the error by three and say, "We will have three chosen instruments!" Exactly the same principle prevails. You have exactly the same restraint upon enterprise whether you operate under a single or a triune system.
Can anyone in this country do what was done in days gone by and be guided by his own genius, taking his own risks? He cannot do that under this White Paper. The Society of Aircraft Manufacturers, comprising most of those who make aircraft and their spare parts, should be heard on this matter. They produced a pamphlet a short while ago which set out their views. Whether you have nationalisation or private enterprise, or internationalisation or an Imperial policy, you will still have aircraft manufacturers, and their interest is to sell the best aircraft and as many as possible. They all criticise this system of monopoly. They point out that between the two wars, they were handicapped by restraint of design, there were no prototypes, there was a uniformity of policy over the whole industry, there was a lack of suppleness about it and both in manufacture and in operation there was a freezing of adventurousness. Those views ought to be heard. They remain valid in regard to this scheme as much as they were valid in regard to a single corporation. There is no change in the relevance of the criticism. This Paper seems to assume that an air route is like a street, a narrow and confined space upon which you have severely to restrict the traffic. It is not like a street. Clearly, when we are dealing with road transport we must apply a different set of principles from those which we apply in the air. We may say that we cannot afford within this confined area to have traffic and vehicles of every kind. We may limit them perhaps here and there very severely. The same applies to 694 a railway line. Surely, however, the main characteristic of the air is that it is illimitable and we should at the outset of air development encourage variety. If we can have a thousand-bomber raid over Cologne, over one single city, why are you afraid to have more than one air line on any single route? It does not appear to be logical. If we reach saturation, then will be the time to come along with a scheme of this kind.
When my right hon. and learned Friend was speaking he was interrupted by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree). My hon. Friend is a pioneer of these discussions in the House, and we are all very much in his debt. He has studied the subject closely, he has written about it and spoken about it, and his views are worthy of regard. He asked a question about the tribunal. There is to be a tribunal before which any aggrieved passenger can appear. If preferences have been shown or if the fares are too high, the aggrieved passenger can come and state his case. When the subject was being explained, my hon. Friend asked whether this body would be able to licence other operators. He did not receive a very clear answer.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
Well, he did not get the answer he required. This is the point. It is beyond dispute that the United States has made a success of its airlines. Nobody denies that. It has not cutthroat, unrestrained competition. This is not an age in which we wish to have that kind of enterprise. Indeed, it begs the whole question to talk of "cut-throat," unrestrained competition. What we want to eliminate is not competition, but unfair competition.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
I will tell my hon. Friend what it means. I do not burke these issues, even when my hon. Friend, on points of Order, tries to make me resume my seat. After the last war an air line, or it may have been two, was started between London and Paris. These lines were remunerative. The French Government then initiated a policy of subsidies and it started up French lines in competition. The effect was to knock our two lines out of the air. That is what I call unfair competition.
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
It is unfair competition to anybody against whom it is applied. The subsidy policy, except in agreed conditions, is what I call unfair competition. What do they do in the United States, in a country where they believe in private enterprise and free competition? They have a Civil Aeronautics Board, and anybody who wishes to start a line can go before that board and state their case. Why are British bodies deprived of that right? Why should not anybody be able to come before an impartial tribunal and say, "We have the ideas, we have the finance, we are prepared to take the risk, and we wish to supply the needs of customers"? If aircraft is transport, as my right hon. and learned Friend says, the whole purpose of it is to supply the customer's needs. What are you afraid of? Why should not anybody, whether he has run an airline before the war or not, come along and say, "I wish to run an airline"? Why must he have been in shipping or railways? In the United States these industries are completely excluded because it is thought that they would deprive the customer who goes by air of the best service and prejudice that service in favour of their own.
This restriction applies only to British companies. Any foreign company can operate a line in Great Britain from a foreign country without applying to anybody.
I do not think that that is quite the case. A foreign company can make a reciprocal arrangement, as my right hon. and learned Friend explained, but it cannot start up here without permission. The point is this. We are starting on a new era; we are not quite at the beginning of it, but we have not advanced far into it; and it is obvious that air transport is going to expand. This is my plea to the Government—why not consider the American system?
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
That is a most interesting suggestion. Would the board to which the right, hon. Gentleman refers grant licences for the British Empire as a unit, in accordance with the previous statement made by him, or for Great Britain alone?
§ Mr. Hore-Belisha
My hon. Friend knows my views and hopes on that 696 matter. As regards Imperial lines, I should hope that the Board would operate imperially; but as to internal lines and lines to Europe and places outside the Empire, operating and originating here, I should hope that anybody who could make out a case would be able to come before the Board. We are, though not quite at the beginning, in the early stages of a new era. It is obvious that the whole character of the air calls for enterprise and initiative in an uncommon degree. When we are dealing with railways and with road transport, we are dealing with very old industries which, in many cases, have reached saturation and cannot be further developed. The country is only of a limited size, and physically there is a limitation upon the development of these industries. In the air, however, we have something that is new, and the advantage of this White Paper policy—and I think it is a great improvement in our institutions—is that it puts ideas down, not in a dogmatic form, but in a way which invites discussion.
It is in that spirit that I have made my suggestions. They really amount to this. First, that our primary objective should not be internationalism or internationalisation, because I do not believe that can be achieved so long as the United States oppose it, but to have an Imperial air organisation, a consolidation of the Empire in this function of the air. Second, there should be no restraint upon enterprise and initiative in the development of services, and, in order to encourage that initiative and enterprise, there should be such a board as this. In the early stages of wireless we decided to set up a monopoly. Can anybody assert that the B.B.C. as the sole instrument for conveying news and entertainment is satisfactory? Nobody can. The justification of that monopoly, against which I protested at the time—there were only about two Members who opposed the charter, and I was one of them—was the scientific difficulty at that time of having many wave lengths run within this country. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham (Captain Plugge) skimmed off the cream by establishing a station in Normandy. There was a monopoly in wireless, and I do not think it is entirely satisfactory. In the air there is no scientific reason for a monopoly. Here we are at the beginning of some- 697 thing, and I ask the Government, having regard to our history and to the, factors which have given us transport supremacy at sea, to take a more extensive view of the air. I ask them to liberate our wings.
§ 5.11 p.m.
Mr. Montaģue (Islington, West)
I do not intend to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), except to remark upon the fact that he roams through history in order to prove from historic arguments that private enterprise is the way in which to achieve prosperity and development. Then he says that, for want of an Imperial policy, we shall have difficulty in standing up, not only to America but to the Soviet Union. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was rather inconsistent throughout. My hon. Friends behind me are rather concerned about the fact that it is the Minister of Aircraft Production who has made a defence of the White Paper and has been chosen by the Government for that purpose. I listened to him, of all people in the world, doing that, and I could almost imagine I was listening to an insurance or banking company chairman making his annual report to his shareholders. It is he, of all people in the world, who tells us that we cannot carry civil aviation upon a big scale in this country but that we must have several small scales.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I said nothing of the sort. I said that, as an organisational matter, it must be organised into several units, and that it cannot be done as one operational unit.
§ Mr. Montague
I do not know why the right hon. and learned Gentleman found it necessary to interrupt me. The burden of his argument was that civil aviation could not be undertaken by the State and could not be undertaken except by dividing it into units which have to be of an economic size. It is the Minister of Aircraft Production, of all people in the world, who is called upon to make a statement of that kind. I do not know whether he would argue that the Royal Air Force could not run a war in the air, because the unit is too big, or because it is not properly divided up. We on this side are not opposed to the idea of a practical measure of decentralisation in any kind of State management, and it is putting a false issue before the House to talk about the impossibility of carrying 698 on civil aviation on a national scale rather than upon the principles embodied in the White Paper.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (Swindon)
I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that the Royal Air Force was so organised that it was not divided into operational units. Surely that is what it is divided into. We have Fighter Command, Bomber Command, Transport Command and various units for operational purposes.
Just as an ordinary business is divided into departments. That does not contradict what I say, that the issue is put in a false way. The question is not the possibility of running civil aviation departmentally or dividing up the administrative side in a proper manner, as in the case of any other industry. The question is the much more important one of whether this medium, the air, shall remain to be exploited by private enterprise, for the profit of private enterprise at home, while the State takes all the responsibility and all the risk.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that this was not a compromise upon theoretical principles, but a compromise of a political character. I have no desire to repeat what I said before, but I feel bound to comment upon that part of the White Paper and on the manner in which it is presented to Parliament and to the public as being a compromise between two political parties. It is really a compromise between two economic principles. That is the statement that is made. There is a surrender on both sides, on the private enterprise side and on the side of public enterprise. Private and public interests have met half way. I believe in compromise, for the simple reason that it is the essence of democracy and is the only way of progress short of revolutionary force. Indeed, it is good Marxism, except that the Marxians call it "a penetration of opposites" in their familiar jargon. This is no penetration of opposites; it is stark reaction, and I wish to attempt to show how reactionary the White Paper is. I have no intention of going over the issues I have raised before, because they have been discussed so often in the very frequent Debates we have had in this House on the subject of civil aviation.
The Labour Party's policy on civil aviation is well known, so far as it covers 699 the activities now under the control of Britain. I admit that the international policy of the Labour Party is washed out. It is impossible, with America and Canada against it, to talk about that policy as a practical political issue, but we still have Great Britain and the Empire. I must point out that we have turned down the two Pacific Dominions on this question of policy. I agree with the hon. Member who spoke last that there is a need for Imperial unity on this matter, although I fancy that my Imperial unity would be somewhat different from his.
The Labour Party policy has been stated and perhaps I might just repeat to the House what that policy is. It is a restricted policy, as regards Great Britain, and it is stated in these words:Britain's civil air transport should be run by a National Airways Corporation; European inter-State and internal services should be owned and controlled as a unified system; the United Kingdom to share in Commonwealth Airways on a basis of reciprocal public service, with public ownership of ports and ground organisation, pooling costs.In view of that statement of policy, to talk about the White Paper being a compromise is simple nonsense. It is nothing of the kind. It does not touch that policy in the slightest degree. It goes back upon any such policy in introducing an entirely new device into the set-up of civil aviation in this country. The Labour Party's policy denies to private enterprise the right to exploit the air and it denies that right upon more than mere economic grounds. There are not only economic reasons, although they are strong enough from our point of view, but there is the reason that the aeroplane, with its rapid development and the development that is likely to occur in the future, ought not to be left for private interests to develop, because of its importance to the peace and security of world civilisation. I am not arguing that point this afternoon; I am just putting it as the Labour Party's policy which we intend to emphasise.
I ask this question: What approach does the White Paper make to a policy of that character? None whatever and, as I have said, it goes back. For the first time shipping and railway interests are brought into Empire aviation. Make no mistake about that; out shipping and rail- 700 way interests are brought in, It is no use saying that B.O.A.C. has the greatest power because it is in a majority upon the Board that will be set up. That may be true, but it does not alter the fact that for the first time railway and shipping interests have come in. Also, for the first time, and this is more important, from the point of view of proportion, the shipping and railway interests are being given a public guarantee of monopoly powers in the United Kingdom and in regard to European service. That is no compromise and, on behalf of the Labour Party, I repudiate both the term and the fact. To provide an excuse for this policy the Government have literally peppered this White Paper with such references astransport experience of the railway and shipping companies,and to what it calls their "commercial acumen." I could talk about that for quite a long time if it were really advisable or necessary to do so. The last time I spoke, I said that the Thames watermen of Pitt's time might just as well have claimed their experience of transport in urging that they should have control of the hackney coaches.
Since that time, a writer in one of the week-end papers, Mikardo of "Reynolds," has provided me with other analogies. He says that for shipping operators to claim to be air operators is like an ostler claiming to be a qualified motor mechanic, or a barber a qualified surgeon. The statement has been constantly repeated that problems of air transport are analogous in respect of land and sea transport, although America does not think so. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the Civil Aeronautics Board of America. I would remind him that that Board turns down any participation whatever in civil aviation on the part of the surface transport companies. America will have nothing whatever to do with it. I imagine that the success which the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about, and which, of course, is correct, with regard to American air transport, is no argument for the participation of railway and shipping interests in civil aviation in this country.
§ Sir Oliver Simmonds (Birmingham, Duddeston)
Could we be quite clear on one point? I am following the hon. Gentleman with interest, but the time has come when we ought to ask whether he 701 is now claiming, notwithstanding the fact that railway companies and, in parts of the Empire the shipping companies, have been running their services now for a decade, that they should henceforth take no part in British air transport whatsoever. Is he claiming that?
The Labour Party claim nothing of the kind. The Labour Party wants every person and every group of persons who can give valuable assistance to air transport to come in. That is a very different thing from giving railway and shipping interests a monopoly, as is being done. These people have no justification for claiming it any mere than have the independent operators, who have been left out in the cold, with, if they wish it, five per cent. of shareholding interest without any power at all upon the board over the company. Many references are made in the White Paper, and there has been much talk, about the ripe experience and world-wide organisation that has been built up for mar y years by a British enterprise and initiative in other forms of transport. "I could a tale unfold" about that. I do not think some of us have forgotten the "Queen Mary," and other instances of the "cap in hand" policy of the shipping companies, when State assistance is required in order to make their lines profitable. I fail to recognise much approach to social philosophy in statements of that kind.
I grant that there are people in privately-owned transport—and this is the answer to the hon. Member for Duddeston (Sir O. Simmonds)—who can render valuable service to a nationally-owned air transport industry, into which they could be recruited upon generous terms. The writer I have already mentioned suggests that the experience of the Royal Air Force is of ten times' greater importance than that of the shipping and railway companies, who have always wanted to interfere with other forms of transport in order to kill competition with their own particular form. I would like to know from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, or whoever is to end the Debate, what the shipping and railway companies have to give to civil aviation in this country. 702 Incidentally, I must apologise in advance for not being able to be here to listen to-the answer, as I have to go to a public meeting rather early, but I shall read what the Minister says on the matter. The argument from the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not been based on the companies' air experience at all. The question of developing civil air transport is surely a bigger thing than giving monopolies to shipping and railway companies because they can run travel agencies or something of that kind, not forgetting that it was the railway companies of this country that blackmailed the travel agencies, and denied them privileges over their lines unless they were prepared to grant the railway companies a monopoly, and not traffic with the railway companies' competitors.
The writer referred to says something which I thing ought to be quoted:Surely all the brains and all the skill to run British aviation can be found from the ranks of the Royal Air Force, which has managed to run a successful flying enterprise as a Government-owned body, without the tender ministrations of the shipping directors.I think there is something in that point. Why do we need to go to railway and shipping companies in a matter with which they have had no experience during this war? Aviation needs new men with new ideas, not the hidebound and earthbound prejudices of men from other and slower transport industries. What are these ground and water transport interests after? Profits, more profits and handsome profits. Does any one doubt it? The private companies give themselves away in the very agreement made with the Government, in advance of the slightest indication of the Government's policy made to the House of Commons. About that matter I have already made strong comments. I said in the last Debate that there is no objection to consultation but there is a big objection to arrangements made before the Government announce their policy to the British House of Commons. That is a grave constitutional danger. The White Paper says:There are services which are essential in the public interest, but which offer little or no prospect of a direct financial return. Unlimited competition in the air by private operators would mean that competing services would be concentrated on the remunerative routes; and that the taxpayer, while reaping no benefit from the more lucrative routes, would be compelled to support by subsidies those services which, although desirable for public or social 703 reasons, would initially, at any rate, be run at a loss, and might, in some cases, never show a profit. On the other hand, if an air transport undertaking is assured of the exclusive right to operate a sufficient proportion of remunerative Services and to develop these to the full, it can and should accept the obligation to run unremtmerative services as part of its general transport system.It is very generous, is it not, of private enterprise to be willing to run unremunerative services, and to accept normal commercial risks? Do they accept normal commercial risks for the rest of the field? Well, there are expected plums, so rich and ripe in this vital industry that it does not seem to matter if there may be a few maggoty ones in the basket. The White Paper says:The British shipping interests have expressed their willingness to risk their own capital.That phrase is constantly used—"to risk their own capital." I wish to examine the White Paper and see how far private capital is to be risked in operating the Latin-American air lines without subsidy.So far as internal services in the United Kingdom are concerned the participants in the Corporation to which these routes will be assigned—and who are investing their own money therein—are willing to run without subsidy the agreed schedule of routes which will include, as well as the remenerative services, those routes which the Government regard as desirable in the public interest, although some of them, if they were dealt with in isolation, could not be run at a profit.I cannot help saying that the Minister of Aircraft Production was somewhat disingenuous in answering interruptions on this question of subsidy, because there is nothing in the White Paper that prevents any subsidy the Government like being given to anybody concerned in the private enterprise side in civil aviation, and the B.O.A.C. as well. Subsidies are to be continued on the Commonwealth routes. Subsidies are nowhere ruled out. The general policy of His Majesty's Government in both internal and external services, we are told in the White Paper, is that they should operate as far as possible without subsidies. If the shipping companies come, cap in hand, to the Government for support, as they have done over and over again, there is nothing in the White Paper to prevent them from obtaining it, but I advise them not to come to a Labour Government if they want a subsidy in the future.
704 What are subsidies? There are the direct and indirect kinds. A fortnight ago, I quoted a shipping expert, who declared that it was impossible to run civil aviation without subsidies. I refer to Major Mayo. Hon. Members can get a reprint—they have probably had one sent to them—of the "Shipping World" article, in which he dealt very exhaustively with the facts and figures of air operation to show that it is impossible to run these air lines without subsidies. Of course they need not be called subsidies. They can be called the economic charge per mile, and it can be said that speed is a commodity that should be paid for, by the consumer, or the State, or both. [An HON. MEMBER: "So it is."] I will deal with that. But the economic charge in this case is the whole difference between profit and loss over the total enterprise, that is the economic charge of speed as applied to air lines. I ask the hon. Member, and the House as a whole, what does that mean? The economic charges of an industry are its costs of production plus average profit. It means that mails are to bear the marginal burden. The cat is out of the bag. Private enterprise is to be guaranteed against loss and the community is to take the margin of risk. There is no answer to that. The only way in which mails can be made attractive to private enterprise is by giving, on the plea of the value of speed, sufficient to cover all loss and guarantee that sufficiency.
The hon. Member does not need to ask that of a Socialist. Of course there is only one source of value; that is service. If you want a service you have to pay for it. That is perfectly true, but it does not alter the fact that if you guarantee mails to companies upon terms which cover their whole risk of loss it is guaranteeing those companies against loss, and getting nothing for that guarantee. They can make as much profit as they like, but they cannot make a loss under this system, which was carried to extreme lengths in America—
§ Sir A. Beit
What evidence is there that mails would be guaranteed and paid for on that basis? Surely they are paid for on a cost basis?
When I was at the Air Ministry—[An HON. MEMBER: "That 705 was a long time ago"]—it was, but that does no: matter—there was a proposal that mails should be charged to the consumer at the ordinary rate for Empire surface postage, upon the plea that the best form of transport should be adopted, and that the State should come in and endeavour to make that a success. That was the idea then. Now, according to the expert I have quoted, it would take huge sums of money, compared with the ordinary costs of surface transport, in order to get letters and goods transported by air mail to the farthest ends of the earth and to various countries in between.
The paint is that these subsidies—because this air mail is in this sense a subsidy—have under a specious plea about payment for speed got to guarantee profits to the whole of the private enterprise civil aviation industry in this country. It means that they are completely guaranteed against loss. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] The White Paper says:only so far as it can he avoided shall we do without subsidies.It says, "so far as possible," putting it in the positive form. Everyone knows that is what these people are asking. Does the Government say that they will at any time allow any part of civil aviation, under this set-up, to be run unsuccessfully without Government support? I wonder what the private enterprise merchants will say to that—the shipping and railway companies? The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well that, at any rate in respect of the Atlantic routes and the Imperial routes, and also the internal and European lines, the Government will back these companies—
§ Sir S. Cripps
I have made it quite clear that so far as the B.O.A.C. is concerned, which deals with the Empire routes, the trans-Atlantic routes and the Far Eastern routes, there are provisions already, which Parliament has passed, entitling the Government to pay subsidies. So far as any other routes are concerned, the Government cannot do so I without legislation, and the Government are not going to ask for legislation to pay subsidies to any other company.
In other words, the Government now make a pledge that they will not ask this House to pass legislation 706 granting subsidies to private companies and private enterprise. Will they guarantee that mail will not be paid for at extortionate rates to cover the equivalent of subsidies?
§ Sir S. Cripps
Certainly. They is no intention of granting any veiled subsidy of any sort or kind, whether by air mail or in any other way.
§ Sir S. Cripps
First of all the company will meet the loss. When it has exhausted its capital it will have to relinquish the service, and somebody else will have to take it over.
That rather underlinesthe curious muddle of the whole of the White Paper. This is what hon. Members opposite call free enterprise—State backing all the time, State risk all the time, but private profits also all the time. It is what the Government and the Prime Minister call free enterprise. The Conservative Party stands where it did—I am sorry the right hon. and learned Gentleman is speaking this afternoon for a Conservative policy—for the use of national resources for private ends. Civil aviation is the first big test of the policy the Conservative Party stands for, and what a Conservative-ridden Government, whatever it might call itself, will stand for in the future.
I will not go back 300 years and talk about Spain and the rest of it, but we might as well review one aspect of the history of this Coalition Government. In the Debate upon the coalmining situation in 1943, the Prime Minister said this:What is it that holds us together? What holds us together is the conduct of the war the prosecution of the war. No Socialist or Liberal, or Labour man has been in any way asked to give up his convictions. That would be indecent and improper. … The principle that we work on is this: Everything for the war, whether controversial or not, and nothing controversial that is not bona-fide needed for the war'Is this bona-fide needed for the war? That remark had to do with the mining industry, and the miners of this country. That was controversial. The Prime Minister also said:We must also be careful that a pretext is not made of war needs to introduce far-reaching social or political changes by a sidewind.707 On nationalisation itself he said:… unless it could be proved to the conviction of the House and of the country, … that that was the only way in which we could win the war, we should not be justified in embarking upon it without a General Election."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th October, 1943; Vol. [...]392, C. 920–21.]Does that apply to civil aviation? It applied to railway nationalisation. When the miners and the mining industry were in a perturbed state at the time, that had something to do with output and had something to do with the war. It does not look, however, as though that pledge now stands. The interests of the miners and the mining industry are controversial, but the interests of the shipping and railway companies, come within the categories represented, by the flag which the Prime Minister, flies at the top of the mainmast, the flag of what is called "free enterprise." The Prime Minister said to the Conservative Party conference:The soldiers are not looking forward to a new world constructed behind their backs.One bit of the new world has been constructed not only behind the backs of the soldiers, but behind the backs of the House of Commons, behind the backs of Members of Parliament. I know we are discussing the White Paper, and that legislation has to be introduced, but the whole thing has been done and worked out by consultation with all these interests without the House of Commons knowing anything about it. That is what I protest against and what this party protests against—the kind of thing that is leading us towards a Fascist State if anything is. [Interruption.] Some hon. Gentlemen opposite, at any rate, were not so antipathetic towards a Fascist State at one time as they appear to be at present.
Viscount Hinchinghrooke (Dorset, Southern)
Does the hon. Member really imply that this House of Commons, indulging as it does in controversy to an acute degree, is capable of framing a scheme for civil aviation, and that the interests concerned should not be consulted prior to what is introduced here?
The hon. Member's position is that all these interests can come to the House of Commons for all the guarantees they want, and all the backing they want, but that we should leave the profits to private enterprise and leave the whole organisation of the in- 708 dustry to the old principles for which the Tory Party stands. That is the position of the hon. Gentleman. Our view is that no private enterprise has a right to come for State support and State guarantees—[An HON. MEMBER: "It has not done."] It has. It has always done so. It is doing so at the present time—unless you are going to argue completely in favour of free enterprise and free competition. That is not what you are arguing. You are leaving out the free enterprise of the independent operator. You are talking about controls; and at the same time you have no objection to controls which leave the moneybags in the possession of the private companies and private enterprise. This is Tory policy, which is not "borrowed from foreign lands or alien minds." I want to ask whether the point of view put by the Prime Minister in the quotation that I have made stands for civil aviation. This is a highly controversial matter. To us it is a vital matter.
§ Sir S. Cripps
I think everybody agrees that it is absolutely vital to do something as regards civil aviation. We cannot just let it stagnate. Therefore, some scheme has to be produced.
But it was not vital to deal with mines; it was good enough to let the miners stagnate. That was controversial, of course. What nonsense to talk like this. We are within a few months of a General Election. We have the pledge of the Prime Minister that no controversial legislation, except for the prosecution of the war, shall be introduced into this House. [Interruption.] They have to do something, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) says, it does not matter what they do. This is being pressed forward by the clamour of private enterprise in a certain direction. We have had these people in this House for years; they have their newspapers, their Press correspondents, and their pressure upon Members of Parliament all the time. The pressure is now upon the Government, and they have succeded in getting the Government committed to a policy which has not had the sanction of the country, and which is brought forward for no other purpose than that if it is carried out by legislation before the General Election it will be difficult to go back, or, as we think, to go forward, to a national transport policy. That is the idea behind this White Paper. 709 When the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) said, in the last Debate, that the Labour Party would untie this particular knot and warn the interests concerned not to put their faith in any legislation of the kind, an hon. Member asked whether confiscation was meant. Of course that would be the cry. He knew that this plan was devised to set up a new barricade of vested interests. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that transport is one and indivisible, and that in future it will be so more and more. All the arguments about different routes and return tickets and things of that character, are arguments in favour of the Labour Party's transport policy of making the whole of transport a public concern, because transport, like coal and many other things of vital importance to the nation, is in itself geographically a natural monopoly. That is our case for its nationalisation. The White Paper coincides very significantly with the Prime Minister's speech to the Conservative Party Conference. It corresponds with historical Tory principles. There is nothing for the Labour Party to do but to take up the gage that has been thrown down so definitely and explicitly. This Labour Party does so here and now, and will explain to the electorate that the Tory flag, now flying at the mast, stands for free enterprise. We will explain that that means common risk and individual profits, against the advantages of the whole nation.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Air-Commodore Helmore (Watford)
It is not my intention to rove over the whole field of this White Paper, nor do I propose to place it in the frame of our history, and survey it from various angles in the interesting way achieved just now by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. HoreBelisha). I propose to deal with what I regard as one of the three prime essentials of any system of air transport. These three prime essentials comprise organisation, aircraft and aircrew, and the greatest of these is the aircrew. We have learned in this war how essential is that individual thing which the pilot and his team are able to give to the aeroplane, for they are its personal motivation. We have had, in this war, very good organisation on the whole and very good machinery. But the thing which has 710 given us ascendancy over the enemy has been the individuals who control the machine. Just as in war so in peace we shall have to lean very heavily on the ability of our civil aircrews and thus their selection is highly important. I have looked most carefully at this White Paper, which in paragraph 27 forecasts the method of selecting personnel for civil air lines. Here is the diffident and none too clear phrase the Paper employs:The three Corporations have expressed their keen desire that every possible opportunity shall be given to officers and men of the Royal Air Force to take service with the Corporations.I am not satisfied with this pronouncement. When the fat jobs of peace come along, particularly under the proposed system which might be regarded as virtually a Government or State monopoly—call it what you will—there is always provided a rich breeding ground for nepotism and favouritism in selection. I want my right hon. and learned Friend to give me an assurance that the Government will provide a first priority to the operational aircrews of the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm in securing jobs in the civil air lines after the war. These men have made the air free for civil aviation by their selfless efforts. It is due to their initiative and their daring that the air is ours to fly in. They have manned their machines against the enemy and hazarded their lives in order, indirectly, that this Debate might take place, and that we may even have the prospect of taking part in civil aviation in the future. Judged by any standard they must be assessed as the finest material in the world for flying civil aircraft. Can anyone imagine that aircrews who are capable of taking an aeroplane out on a pitch black night and dropping markers and bombs within a few yards of an invisible target a thousand miles away against intense opposition, would find any difficulty in reaching the well-lit flare paths of peace-time aerodromes with the welcoming tentacles of Radar to guide them in to land? Can anybody believe that those men are going to be unsuitable as aircrews for civil aviation?
I have stressed this argument, because although I am carrying Members with me in this matter, I know that there is a growing feeling that the operational pilot it not suitable for civil aviation. There have been implications of this sort even at Question time to-day, when the Sec- 711 retary of State for Air was asked questions in which there was a considerable innuendo that the pilot might have been at fault, or that he had not had enough experience on a conversion course to civil aircraft. I believe that the finest training in the world is that given to the R.A.F. as a preparation for and as a result of operations against the enemy. Operational crews will need training for civil aviation, and it is easy enough to take a man who is highly strung; excitable and daring, and tone him down into a reliable and cautious operator. But can you take a man who has not had operational ex.perience—a timid type—and rely on what he is going to do in the stress of an emergency that he has never yet met and surmounted? Therefore the tried and tested pilots of the R.A.F. and those other aircrews who have been through the furnace of war, are going to be the most suitable men for civil aviation. I should like paragraph 27 altered, or rather, if it comes to us in another form as a Bill, that there should be a specific statement made to the effect that first priority will be given to aircrews of the R.A.F. and Fleet Air Arm.
Paragraph 27 commits yet another offence. It uses what, to my mind, is one of the most misleading forms of official English anybody could possibly imagine. Hon. Members will observe from the last sentence of paragraph 27 the perfection of this official diction:It will however be appreciated that openings for employment in civil air-transport will not be large compared with the war-time strength of the R.A.F.Not large—they will he minute! It is only fair that I should say this. I am anxious that it should become a widely known as possible among these devoted men who have given their lives to flying—and four out of six of whom expect to get jobs in civil aviation—that the horizon is severely limited. In fact I challenge the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say that much more than one in a hundred of our operational aircrews would have a chance of a vacancy if every one were offered. Yet here we have this extraordinary form of words:Openings for employment in civil air-transport will not be large compared with the wartime strength of the R.A.F.This, at least, implies a fair proportion, and the statement is going to cause a lot of broken hearts among the flying 712 men of this country. We do not want to lead them up the garden. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has figures and other facts which are not available to me, so I cannot be exact, but it is time that he made a definite pronouncement as to the percentage chance that the average flying man who has given air service to this country in the war is going to have of employment in civil aviation in the palmy days of peace. I hate to have to do this thing, but the facts should be known, and not camouflaged, so that these men may turn their minds to some other employment. In conclusion, I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give an undertaking at the end of this Debate that the Government will provide a first priority for jobs in civil aviation to operational aircrews, and that he should speak with some candour, not only to this House but to the men who are flying and fighting for us, as to their real prospects of finding permanent post-war employment in civil aviation.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Sir Oliver Simmonds (Birmingham, Duddeston)
I thought it was rather a human cry of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) when he protested that the Government had selected, of all Ministers, my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Aircraft Production to open this Debate to-day, because my right hon. and learned Friend certainly showed, in his own inimitable way, how hollow are some of the professions of hon. Members opposite in regard to air transport. I am quite certain that all hon. Members on this side felt indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) for his brilliant examples of the importance of private enterprise. But I thought that after that he rather departed into an atmosphere which perhaps it is his natural wont these days to enjoy—a neutral and wholly unembarrassed position. It did not seem to me that he took any note whatever of the type of political party problems to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington devoted so much time. I am quite certain that I speak for a large number of my hon. Friends on this side when I say that this White Paper represents no Conservative policy. If I felt that it was being held out as a Conservative policy I would vote against it.
713 The only possibility, as I see it, of the Conservative Members of Parliament supporting this policy of the White Paper is in their putting the country before party and saying that it is vital that there should be a settlement of this age-old controversy on what is going to happen to British air transport. With the sufficient assurance that many of us have that we will have the honour to form a Government after the General Election, we feel no great sense of urgency from the party point of view. Certainly, I would much prefer to see the whole issue shelved until after the General Election, but I feel that would be wholly wrong when other countries of the world, as we know, are fitting wings to their aircraft for the civil routes at a rate which is astonishing to us over here. Certainly, that is not a tolerable, patriotic policy in 1945.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is the hon. Member prepared to put forward to this House and the country the suggestion that civil aviation in this country could be left to what he calls private enterprise, without any control or direction on the part of the Government?
§ Sir O. Simmonds
Is it not perfectly manifest that, in all the fields in which private enterprise operates, it is inevitably under the control not of one Department of the Government, but of a number of Departments of the Government? I would not say that civil air transport should have less—I would probably say it might need more—control from certain Government Departments than some other forms of private enterprise. Let us mark this well. If we do support this policy of the White Paper, we can only support it if it does represent a fair agreed policy between the Conservative, Liberal Land Labour Parties. If not, it is useless, and what I would like to know very clearly before the end of this Debate, because it would fundamentally affect my attitude; to the Bill when it comes in, is this: Are we going to regard this Measure as putting air transport out of party politics for a reasonable period of years, or are we going to have the eternal wrangle which has gone on in this House for the last seven or eight years and which has done no good, either to British air transport or to its reputation throughout the civilised world? Let it be well understood that this is no Conservative solution. It is, and I do not mince words, a com- 714 promise between two policies which are very difficult to embrace within one document.
Having said that, I would like to turn to some other points. I can see that this policy appeals very greatly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and when I think of the enormous problems that he is going to have after the war, not only with his internal finance, but, above all, with the external balance of payments, I would think that he regards himself as a fortunate man in that, when he has had to find this avuncular allowance each year to Air Transport ever since the early thirties, if he can get two Corporations out of three to say that no longer, unless they are forced into some operation which _ they would not normally have anticipated embarking upon, will they seek any assistance from the Treasury. That seems to me a tremendous advance that we have been able to make as the result of recent developments in aero-dynamics and aeroengines. Therefore, I would say straight away that we should not forget that British air transport can be a very important invisible export. If we run these lines well, they can bring us a substantial amount of foreign currency from the corners of the earth.
The question of the railway and shipping companies has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Islington. Surely; he will agree that these companies have, for many long years, had to do something that B.O.A.C. has never had to do. They have had to make ends meet. I have, on a number of occasions, tried to elucidate from the Secretary of State for Air what in fact B.O.A.C. was costing the British taxpayer during the war, and I have protested against the insufficient financial data which he has given us during these war years. The answer is that B.O.A.C. is costing the British taxpayer, even when it receives payment for all the services it renders in the carriage of passengers, mails and goods, both military and civil, many millions of pounds sterling per annum. In contradistinction, in 1943, the American internal air-lines repaid in taxes on their profits from air mail no less than 33,000,000 dollars, or over £8,000,000 sterling at the current rate of exchange, because they had so well ordered their organisation. Surely it should be mani- 715 fest that, if this great organisation, B.O.A.C., has, over many years, had to run with little thought of finance, with little thought of economy, war time considerations being paramount, we are likely to mould it into something which will cost the taxpayer less if we can join with it those other organisations which for years have learned to run their particular forms of transport in an economical way, making a profit, if they could, and going under if they could not.
§ Mr. Woodburn
It is the case, I understand, that B.O.A.C. only operates on air services not likely to be profitable. Would my hon. Friend explain, as he has made a charge of inefficiency against B.O.A.C., how they are to have any assistance in building the efficiency of their service when it is to be entirely under their own control?
§ Sir O. Simmonds
I have not said that I regard B.O.A.C. as inefficient. I would say that, operationally, they are excellent, and I think that, from a maintenance point of view, they are also excellent, but I do not think they have ever approached the problem of the economic management and running of transport, and that is where I think the railways and the shipping companies have an advantage. On this subject of the railway companies and the shipping companies, I might say something on the suggestion that they are coming into air transport for ulterior motives. For the past two years I have been chairman of a body known as the Joint Air Transport Committee of the Federation of British Industries, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce and the London Chamber of Commerce, and that Committee represents exclusively users of air transport throughout British industry—neither the operators nor the manufacturers of air equipment. We had a number of sittings with both representatives of the railways and of the shipping companies, and what we found throughout our discussions with them was a single-minded desire to render service in the air transport era. Certainly they want to make a profit, and I would say that if they do not they ought to keep out. Unless they are going to try to make a profit, it means that the air transport side will be relegated to a position where they would have to put it under less efficient and less competent hands. They 716 should make a profit, and I hope they will, and in that way they will relieve the British taxpayer of the load round his neck which my hon. Friends would wish to chain on him over these long years.
May I ask my hon. Friend whether he thinks it is a reasonable argument to quote B.O.A.C. in respect of profit or loss, efficiency or inefficiency, when practically the whole existence of B.O.A.C. has been under conditions of war? What kind of an example is that?
§ Sir O. Simmonds
If the hon. Member will read my speech to-morrow, if it is not too painful for him, he will see that I used exactly those words. It has been all under war conditions and I do not blame the staff.
§ Sir O. Simmonds
The argument, clearly, is this—that if they have never understood how to run an economical organisation, it will take a little time to learn how to do it, even with the best promptings. But, if they shape their plans on a body that has learned how to run its organisation at a profit they will not take so long as if they omitted to take such a body into their organisation.
That was not the hon. Member's argument. It was that B.O.A.C. had been a failure and came down to the Government for support.
§ Sir O. Simmonds
I think I have given way to the hon. Member a number of times, but he gets wider and wider from what I am saying, and I must ask him to try to read my speech to-morrow, when he will see how its affects his own attitude to this matter. I think the hon. Member also mentioned the desire of the railway companies to have a monopoly. Let me assure him that, when the representatives of the railway companies came on several occasions before the Joint Air Transport Committee, their first emphasis was that they asked for no monopoly, and I see that it is in the White Paper that, in fact, they did not ask for any monopoly. [HON. MEMBERS: "Or subsidies.] Indeed, or subsidies. The monopoly was forced on them by the White Paper. Here I want to say that I think it is a great mistake that there should be any monopoly area 717 within the White Paper scheme. Outside this country, clearly, we are competing with the foreigner, and that will be sufficient stimulus, but why cannot we have some internal competition? I have a suggestion to make to the House. Scotland appears recently to have been running a high temperature on the subject of Prestwick as an airport. Why cannot hon. Members relieve that fever, perhaps, by interesting themselves in the conception of a Scottish Air Transport Organisaticn? An airport is a dead thing without airlines. Why should they not endeavour to amalgamate the knowledge of several firms which have done brilliant work and bring them together to form a strong Scottish Airlines Company to give the railway and shipping companies associated with them in the European zone a degree of competition within the British Isles? I am no Scotsman. I merely throw out that idea as the one possible way in which we could infuse some competition within the four walls of the British Isles. It is highly desirable that the competition should be supplied.
§ Sir O. Simmonds
I find great difficulty in understanding the Government plans with regard to the entry of third parties after the three Corporations have been founded. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Aircraft.Production, was, if anything, speaking contrary to the White Paper, which says in page 9, paragraph 35:It is not intended to make any present commitment as to the right to operate new routes. The Government consider that any new routes should be left open to whatever operator—whether one of the main Corporations or some entirely new operator—can establish that he is best fitted to run them.That is a plan which I can thoroughly appreciate, provided that the whole of the rights that are likely to be required for the next decade are not divided out among the three Corporations. Therefore, I am a little disturbed when I turn to paragraph 19 of the White Paper and read:A comprehensive schedule of services will be settled which will serve the public interest as well as fulfilling purely commercial traffic needs.There is a very strong suggestion there that this scheme is going to be so comprehensive that there will be a precious 718 small chance of these other organisations coming into it in the foreseeable early future. If that be so, that is the fundamental defect in the White Paper scheme. It is vital, if we are to see British air transport progress, that young men—and there will be many of them—should come in. They will chafe at the lack of enterprise of the three Corporations which are going to be set up. People will be willing to back them with money. They are the men who will be able to fly these new routes if they are given a chance of getting into the air. I also feel that the organisation of the whole of the industry is to be placed by the Minister in an unnecessary strait jacket. I can understand that in the first instance it is desirable that he should approve the directors, but I fail to understand how, after that, he can say that he is going to trust these men to develop this great industry, if he is continually to have his hand on their shoulders, because they will know that in two or three years time, when they come up for election, if they have been too enterprising or enterprising in a direction other than that which pleases the Minister, then out they will go.
Has not this House had sufficient warning of where this leads us? Did not we chafe under the situation when there was that impasse between the Secretary of State for Air, on the one hand, and Mr. Clive Pearson and Mr. Leslie Runcimen, on the other? Is not this just asking for this state of affairs to be repeated? There is a better way, and it is mentioned in the White Paper. It is, to appoint an independent judicial tribunal. And why not? We had an excellent one before the war under Mr. Trustram Eve and I believe it gave satisfaction to all concerned. Why should we not continue with that system? It is proposed here that there should be a tribunal to whom complaints about lack of services, frequency and excess charges could be made. Let us go further and say: "Here is a tribunal that will consider, as in the United States of America, whether a new service is required and, if so, the best people to run it." That is what I would like to see. I regret very greatly that the Minister feels it necessary to intrude himself so frequently into the general running of the three Corporations. There is too much of the Minister, and I hope that in the light of the discussions which have taken place here and in another place he will 719 be prepared to give the three organisations his blessing. He should certainly nominate the appointed directors of B.O.A.C., but with regard to all the other directors he should say, "These are trustworthy people; they have their money and their hearts in it," and if they do not follow through the national policy, then the House of Commons, at the Minister's request, can manifestly withdraw the licence which they enjoy.
The last point I want to make is an appeal to the Government in regard to what is a very grave blot on these proposals. It is the expropriation, without compensation, of a number of small organizations—the "little men" of air transport—which were given a licence by the State before the war, which licence it is now proposed to take away without any compensation. The White Paper continually says, in appraisal of the Government attitude on this point, that there is no vested interest in air transport. With that I would wholly agree, but the fact remains that we had this tribunal before the war which, after hearing all sides of the question, granted licences to certain air operating companies, some for one year, some for three years, some for five years and some for seven years. At the outbreak of war all those licences were cancelled. It was the assumption that, after hostilities, the unexpired part of the licence would be permitted to run. There is a very definite claim against the State in respect of an unexpired part of the licence where the operator does not feel that he could wholeheartedly enter into the spirit of the White Paper scheme. It may be said that he can come in and put in more capital, but perhaps he has not more capital, and perhaps lost his capital in the enterprise before the war. I earnestly appeal to the Government not to give this offence, in an otherwise clean Measure, to the small men who put their faith in civil aviation and, above all, put their trust in the word of the Government that these licences, granted for this purpose before the war, would be allowed to be enjoyed. That is the strong plea that I make to the Government. I shall support these proposals if they commend themselves generally to the House, but if they are not going to have that degree of inter-party approval then it is not a Conservative policy and as such I shall oppose it.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, North)
There are three views about the future of civil aviation being expressed in this House. The hon. Member for Duddeston (Sir O. Simmonds) wants to get further away from the system which prevails at the present time, and perhaps it is only fair to point out that it was a Conservative Government that established B.O.A.C.
§ Mr. Roberts
A tentatively Conservative Government. I do not want to press the point further, but it is really for those who want to scrap that system to give good reasons for doing so. The onus of proof lies upon them. To do B.O.A.C. justice, it has never had an opportunity to operate. The right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) says clearly that he wants the American system of many independent companies working for profit, licensed by tribunals. Did he mean that for Great Britain alone or for the British Empire? The American system works well because they have a great land continent on which to work. Is Great Britain, or even Great Britain and the services in Europe, big enough to accommodate the introduction of the American system? I do not think we could possibly have more than two or three in Great Britain itself. The Minister himself pointed out that there was such a thing as optimum sizes for any undertaking, and I should not think that it is desirable to have very small air lines. The country is very small. There might be two, one operating on the East coast and one on the West coast perhaps, and I think it would be an advantage. I do not know that the two companies would really experience very much competition, but we should at least have a comparison.
I do not think that there is much competition among the railways to-day, and I do not think that there would be much competition between two or three airlines operating internally but, at any rate, there would be comparisons and an opportunity to try out new methods. The Minister made the distinction that there could be three chosen instruments and they could all be in the same position as the present B.O.A.C. That is not so in this scheme. B.O.A.C. will remain a nationalised undertaking. I cannot say that I find 721 very much fault with the South American proposals. British and American air lines composed of shipping companies, B.O.A.C. and possibly some other interests have expressed their willingness to raise their own capital to operate the route without subsidy and are really to be very heartily congratulated. They are going to be up against fierce competition, presumably, from Pan-American. They will not be operating amongst British Dominions' companies, who might be predisposed to be well meaning. I am not so certain about the proposals for Great Britain and Europe. It is possible that the railways may have a new lease of life under this proposal. I am a believer in air transport and, psychologically as well as financially, it would do the railway companies a lot of good if they ran air lines. It might wake them up a bit. My chief objection to them is that it is high time the railways were nationalised, and we should leave a new and upcoming industry like civil aviation more freedom.
§ Mr. Roberts
Yes, it has always been a Liberal policy to nationalise a monopoly. The railways have become a monopoly and there is no competition, so to speak, amongst them. I would prefer, however, not to hand over a new industry to an old industry, which has really not shown a great deal of enterprise in recent years in developing its own possibilities. I would much rather find the right enterprising people who will risk their capital, as one speaker has suggested—possibly the aircraft makers well as the aircraft operators—to operate the British and European lines, which do not require such big and expensive aircraft—smaller companies, if possible, where it is well known that the business is much more likely to be profitable. Therefore, I would like to sec the railway companies limited to less than 50 per cent. of the control of British air lines. I have seen it stated that the travel agencies are only another name for the railway companies. In another place the enterprise of the travel agencies was much commended by the Minister for Civil Aviation but if that is only a pseudonym for the railway companies, I think we ought to know that before we agree to this, and I would like to ask the 722 Under Secretary when he replies if that is so and whether he has any information on that.
It seems to me on the face of it that the prevailing defeatism and pessimism which one hears expressed by fairly well-informed people as to the future of civil aviation is really ill-founded, and I am glad the Minister did something to dispel that to-day. Surely, with our war record of planes and operations, we have a right to expect that, sooner or later, we shall catch up with our competitors. It seems to me that we are making decisions in an atmosphere of inferiority which may be mistaken in the future. I hope that we can operate our own planes to a greater extent and sooner than is expected. I ask—at any rate for the shorter distances, and by that I mean shorter in time and not space—if this fetish of luxury which seems to surround travel by air is really necessary. I have travelled by air, and I really do not think it is more comfortable in an aeroplane, however soft the chair, or however much chromium plate there is, than in a first-class railway compartment. I have travelled in American aircraft in Europe recently, some of which have been fitted very uncomfortably while others were reasonably comfortable. One prefers the comfortable ones, but it does not seem to me to be essential, if one is travelling for only four hours to Paris or even farther, to be more comfortable than in a first-class carriage.
I am all for having comfortable planes if possible, but I should have thought that if you could adapt even some of our war-time aircraft for use on shorter distances, that would be better than buying expensive American planes. I only throw that out as my personal view and, I think, the view of other people. If British subjects want to go to Switzerland after the war for winter sports, I am sure they will not want to spend an extra pound or two on unnecessary comfort in the aeroplane when it will only take them a few hours to get there. Aim at comfort in the end by all means, but I am talking about the first year or two years after the war when we must either use what we have in the way of aircraft, or buy them from America. This, too, would prevent America from having that advertisement of their planes.
I want to ask whether we are proposing to operate in the Caribbean Sea. This 723 is not mentioned in the White Paper. Also, are we proposing to operate in the Pacific between the islands, and are we going to operate between Australia and Canada, or is there international agreement that we should not do so?
Finally, I would say this, as I see the Minister has returned to his place. He gave a lucid and most convincing explanation of the Government's proposals. It did not satisfy the spokesman of the Labour Party, whose heated criticism was, I thought, unusual, but the Minister, as always, was most persuasive. However, I thought the last sentence or two of his speech destroyed the value of his lucid exposition for, if I understood him rightly, he said there was a General Election coming soon, and that if either extreme—those who want a completely nationalised system, and those who want complete private enterprise—are dissatisfied, then that matter will be decided after the Election.
§ Sir S. Cripps
What I stated was that if the country thought that it should be one of the two extremes, they could express the view at the time of the next Election.
§ Mr. Roberts
That is exactly what I meant, It is a very difficult situation for the companies who are asked to risk their capital, as he told us, and to put it into companies out of which they cannot take it, to be told now, by the spokesman of the Government in explaining this White Paper, that there is that possibility. Of course, no Minister and no Government can pledge their successors, but a Coalition Government is in a better position to do so, and it suggests that the extent of agreement behind this White Paper is perhaps not very great. Perhaps it is a compromise, forced upon the parties concerned without real approval. The speeches we have heard from Conservatives already suggest that they are not satisfied, that they want a much greater number of companies and much more freedom. That is a disquieting basis on which to try to hurry a decision on the future of civil aviation, especially when we are told that it is so urgent that it should be put on a permanent basis now.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
I am glad the Minister has come 724 back, because I would like to congratulate him on the very plausible and persuasive arguments that he used on a somewhat contentious policy. I think he has done amazingly well in explaining what it is very difficult to explain lucidly. One thing that I am not quite able to understand is the rather fractious comments in the House directed towards my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). I think that he took us on a very enthralling journey and as far as I can understand or see he was working his passage back and forth. The trouble, as I see it, in the White Paper is that it suffers from one very significant and very substantial omission. I am very glad that the few arguments that I am going to use have been so strongly reinforced by the hon. Member for Duddeston (Sir O. Simmonds). This omission—and I speak here I think for practically all the Scottish people and the Scottish Members —must be rectified. There is no mention of an air-line either in Scotland, for Scotland, or operated by Scotland.
As the English Members will no doubt realise and appreciate, we in Scotland are tired of being ignored. We are tired of being treated as a poor relation, are tired of seeing our best brains and our best people leaving us for England's benefit. As those of us who belong to Scotland know, and I trust the English Members share this knowledge, Scotland has its own shipping lines, and builds the best ships for the English shipping lines. Now that we have this completely new form of transport, which is likely to dominate both passenger and freight transport in the future, we who speak for Scotland believe that we would fail in our duty if we did not make it perfectly clear to the Government that Scotland, with its vast experience, its great capacity, its highly skilled craftsmen, is not going to be left out.
In the White Paper all the proposed air lines are problematical of success except, possibly, the Government owned B.O.A.C. In Scotland we have a civil organisation, built up over nine years of trial and effort, at present employing something like 5,000 people, with invaluable war-time knowledge and experience which no shipping company and no railway company and not even, I believe, the pre-war operating companies, could have to the same extent. I refer to Scotland Aviation, Limited. It is well known to 725 the Government, and to my right hon. Friend and to our Allies as well, as the only one in Great Britain possessing, as I would like to put it, the necessary leadership, commercial aviation mentality, technical staff, up-to-date equipment and the practical facilities for putting into the field an important air line and operating it on a wide and substantial basis. I want to know from the Government why this great organisation in Scotland is ignored. Why is the competition which my hon. Friend the Member for Duddesdon advocated and which is so essential, I believe in this air-line scheme, not to be used? Why is there this subservience to big business, to monopolistic organisations and corporations? I want to warn the Government that Scotland will not stand for this narrow Socialist policy.
As I said in the last few remarks I made on this subject, during the war England has persuaded or induced or seduced most of the best scientific brains and most of the expert designers in Scotland to go South in her service. If this White Paper is carried into legislation, these people will leave Scotland voluntarily and of their own accord because there will be no future hope of their skill or their experience being used in their own native land. I do not think it is the will or the intention of the Government, but that is what will happen if the White Paper is translated into legislation.
There is one further incidental point that I would like to make. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have referred to the high temperature which Scotland has recently suffered and is still suffering in regard to the question of Prestwick, but I am not going to labour the point, because I do not think it is appropriate to this particular matter, Scotland is the only part of Britain which offers to the world a fog-free clear-weather airport on the mainland of these islands, If this is not made use of as a centre for substantial air-line services, then in my opinion Scotland, and possibly even Britain, will be bypassed by the world's air liners. They will go North via Iceland to the Northern Scandinavian countries and we and England will both be losers and sufferers.
In conclusion, I want to make it quite clear to the Government and to my right hon. Friend that we—and I am sure other Members and other parties in Scotland will do the same—shall press for an altera- 726 tion of this expressed intention of the Government, and shall do our best, as they say in Scotland, to "mak' siccar," to make sure that Scotland will take its proper place, and play its proper part among the air lines operating in Britain, arid between Britain and the rest of the world.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowles
—not because I was facing the hon. Lady, but because of the whole approach of the speeches which have been made and the appallingly narrow nationalistic tone of the speeches also. Even an international Communist was drawn to them. This is essentially a world problem and I deplore those parts of the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend in which he used such phrases as "We must fly British" and "We must put British aviation on the map."
§ Mr. Bowles
I am not ashamed of Britain. If Britain can make the best aircraft in the world, and if it has the best designers, the best pilots and the best crews, I think it can take its part in a world civil aviation, but the policy which is being advocated is more likely to land the world in another war within the next few years. However, I hope the hon. Lady will do me the courtesy of keeping quiet during the rest of my speech.
I have not heard, in all the speeches which have been made this afternoon, a single word about the dangers involved in the future organisation of world civil aviation. There has been a most frightening series of speeches in which all have been talking in terms of the old, narrow, nationalist arguments, talking about "We are one Empire" and "Standing altogether so that we can face the world, and take our stand against any menace." I did venture to interrupt my right hon. and learned Friend once when he was talking about this being the embodiment of compromise. I do not want to go back to that, but I would venture to remind him that I have urged and still do urge that this whole matter must be taken not only out of the hands of private enter- 727 prise, but out of the hands of any Government, even out of the hands of continental Powers like the United States of America or even I believe, out of the hands of a body representing Pan-European Airways.
I believe this matter has to be put on a world basis, and that nothing smaller than that will suffice to maintain the peace of the world. My right hon. and learned Friend talked about one merit of the present White Paper proposals when, in referring to the fact that the air lines would be working one across the North Atlantic, another across the South Atlantic, and others in the Empire and in Europe, he suggested that this diversity of experience would mean that one air-line from, say, Prestwick to Canada, would be able to teach something to an air-line running across the Tropics. I am not a technical man, but I doubt very much whether that sort of argument has any justification from the technical point of view. I think it is a matter that should be looked into.
My right hon. and learend Friend annoyed me when he suggested that the policy for which the Labour Party stands is completely impracticable, and that as the world is not ready for it we must get on with something else, which will vest interests in the way pleaded for by the hon. Member for Duddeston (Sir O. Simmonds). The hon. Member said that before the war certain air lines had taken out licences to run internal air lines, and they were a free enterprise organisations—
§ Mr. Bowles
The hon. Member said that they are not very well treated in the White Paper proposals, and that if they are not able to operate under them, or do not like the White Paper proposals, they should be able to look to the Government to compensate them in some particular way. That is a view which is common among certain people in the country, and it has been expressed more than once in another place by certain noble Lords, who complained that they did not like the position of there being no compensation for good- 728 will. What they say, quite frankly, is that if private enterprise has had its fling, and lost, it should be compensated after death, or compensated because it has failed in the natural struggle for survival.
I do not understand that argument. I deny that the policy for which my Party stands, is anything like so unrealisable as my right hon. and learned Friend says. I attended a meeting of the Empire Parliamentary Delegation, upstairs, because I was interested in what had happened to the proposals made by Mr. Sullivan, on behalf of New Zealand, and Mr. Drake-ford on behalf of Australia. Mr. Sullivan, who put a certain amount of his busy time at the disposal of the Association, said:The policy which it was agreed should be put forward by the two Dominions embodied a principle which appears in the Canberra Pact, and provides for international owner-ship, control, and organisation of all civilian aviation routes on international trunk routes.He said there was a heavy moral obligation on us all so to shape policy that decisions arrived at would make for international peace, harmony, good will and away from disharmony, disunity and war, and went on:Many nice things were said to us, individually, by the delegates, but I am sorry to say there was little evidence of any practical support in the form of votes for the Australian and New Zealand proposals, most of the delegates, apparently, having been in possession of instructions from their Governments. That was an interesting phase of the whole proceedings. I am sure I am not exagggerating, or going beyond the strict truth, when I say that the majority of delegates present at the Conference approached Mr. Drakeford and myself and intimated that personally and individually they were strongly in support of the line taken by our two countries, but said that they had had instructions from their Governments.In other words, that case was very quickly set aside, to some extent, by an intrigue between Lord Swinton and Mr. Berle—
§ Sir S. Cripps
I must ask my hon. Friend not to talk about intrigues between my Noble Friend and anybody else. It has been explained perfectly clearly that this matter was discussed at a Commonwealth meeting before it came up at Chicago, and that a certain line was agreed upon, and taken.
§ Mr. Bowles
I know all that, but I want to ask my right hon. and learned Friend a question, the answer to which I have been wanting to know for a long time. I believe I am right, and I believe "The 729 Times" was wrong. Why did not the Director-General of Civil Aviation for this country go to Chicago?
§ Sir S. Cripps
That, also, was explained quite clearly and publicly. The reason was that it was absolutely essential to have someone at this end who was fully acquainted with the whole of the proceedings that had gone on before with the Dominions and others because, naturally, instructions had to pass back and forwards between the two, and our own Director-General of Civil Aviation was the best person to leave here as liaison.
§ Mr. Bowles
Before hon. Members begin to cheer that remark, let me tell them that they will be horrified to know—again, on information supplied to me—that the majority of the other assistants of Lord Swinton were people connected with the military side of the Air Ministry. In the past that has been one of the great complaints of hon. Members opposite, who always wanted a split between the military and civil sides of this matter In another place, Lord Rennell of Rodd said that as the Government, and Lord Swinton in particular, by the issue of the White Paper, had satisfied the interests of the shipping and the railway companies, their Lordships could be indeed generous and grateful to them for having done so That is—I will not say "intrigue"—but it is not a nice thing to say.
I want now to give the House some reasons why I think that this is a matter for world organisation. About 100 years ago it took about three days to go from London to York. Nowadays one can go from any one place in the world to any other place in three days, and if the hon. and gallant Member for Watford (Air Commodore Helmore) was right, in a speech which he made some time ago, when he said that with the development of jet propulsion we shall be able to increase speed by 50 per cent., I presume we shall be able to make that journey in two and a half days. All this talk about having little air lines running about the Empire is completely out of proportion. Let me give the House some idea of other expansions that have taken place. There was a Committee called the Hoover Committee, which reported on the costs of production, and advised the U.S. Government that no less than 70 per cent. of the 730 cost of production of articles went in transportation charges. That is a very important fact to bear in mind. In the 53 years from 1886 to 1939, the registered shipping in the world trebled—from 23,000,000 tons to 69,000,000 tons. The length of the railways in the world, in 1825, was 14 miles and in 1937 it was no less than 757,000 miles.
As to motor cars, in 1898 I gather that there was no production at all but by 1938 the units produced had risen from nought to 3,720,000. In civil aviation, in 1919 the route mileage was 3,200; in 1939 the routes were 349,100 miles. I think that is very important evidence of the expansion of transportation of all kinds. It is not stopping at all. I believe that it will be possible for these journeys to be made much more quickly. The whole approach of this White Paper is the most narrow that could be imagined. One of the things that seem to have induced Lord Swinton to give the running of certain parts of the organisation to shipping firms is that some shipping people had said to him, "Whether we are interested in shipping or not, you can take it from us that we shall always see that our people travel by air rather than by ships." I imagine either that he felt sorry for the shipping companies, that aviation would cut them out so much, or felt so obliged to them for their general help of aviation, that he felt that they should play some part in the future organisation. It is most pathetic.
I do not see what the objection is to organising this on a proper world basis. I do not see why the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with his well-known sympathy with the views that I am trying to express, should not have taken a stand on this matter in conference. If he failed on this matter of such vital importance to world peace, I think he should have resigned. It is a matter which is interesting millions of people. There was a letter this morning in the "Herald," the writer-of which was appalled at the idea that these things should be handed over to shipping or railway companies. Every air route from this country to Europe has to be negotiated. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about agreements being reached between this country and any other European country, where a line was going to be run in which it might be thought more economical and efficient to have a subsidiary company 731 with half the capital British and the other half the capital of the country with which we were negotiating. What happens to British civil aviation in those circumstances? It seems most extraordinary. It is hopeless to try to convert hon. Members' opposite but I hope I can convert you, Sir, as it is you I am addressing. This is a matter of the most fundamental importance. We have had Members make speeches pleading for this, that or the other interest. The Debate has been going on for four hours, and nothing has been said about whether this will be of any use in trying to preserve the peace of the world. To my mind a lot of sophistry has been talked about whether this kind of organisation or that would give a decent service. I would ask my right hon. and learned Friend to consider the matter again. The people to consider are the users of the aircraft, but the whole thing is being approached from the point of view of the operators' interests.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Brooke (Lewisham, West)
The hon. Member will forgive me if I do not follow him all round the world because, although he has raised interesting considerations, I feel that, the Debate having continued for some four hours, it would be well for us to concentrate our thoughts in the remaining hour or two on the actual terms of the White Paper. I speak as a director of the Southern Railway, and my principal reason for getting up is that I think it is right that the House should have on record an authoritative statement about the railway's position, and should have an opportunity to question me, if it so desires, on these matters.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
Does the hon. Member wish the House to understand that he is speaking as a representative of his constituency or of the Southern Railway?
§ Mr. Brooke
It is the custom, and a very good custom, that when a Member has a personal interest of this kind ho should begin his speech by stating it.
§ Mr. Brooke
I am speaking as a Member of Parliament. The first point that I should like to deal with is the very important one raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Watford (Air Commodore Helmore), who asked whether these new Corporations, when they were formed, would give first priority to operational air crews in their recruitment policy. As far as railway companies are coming in at all, I can say, unreservedly, that that is their intention. All bodies taking part in these new Corporations will have certain reinstatement obligations to their pre-war employees, and it is right that that should be recognised and acted upon. Subject to that, it is in. full desire of the railway companies to obtain as many suitable men from the R.A.F. as they can. The railway companies are fully seized of the immense value of R.A.F. training in the civil aviation work that lies ahead. I hope these words of mine will be given as much publicity as possible among those brave men in the R.A.F. for whom my hon. and gallant Friend was speaking.
The real test of these proposals is not whether they please this or that interest or this or that political party. The real test is the value of the public service which the Corporations can render, and it has been a disappointing experience to hear in some speeches so much theoretical argument, and so little attention paid to that, the only criterion that really matters. I was grateful to the hon. Member for Duddeston (Sir O. Simmonds) for giving his independent testimony to the vigour and energy with which he saw the railway companies approaching air proposals. I can add my own first-hand testimony, that the railway companies are dead keen to make a success of whatever opportunities this House decides to give them in the air. They were, before the war broke out, responsible for operating 80 per cent. of the internal air lines. Nobody can say 733 that they have not taken their opportunities, and nobody can say that they have not got a considerable and important body of experience to contribute to any new corporation.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The hon. Member is a director of a railway company. I am simple in these matters and cannot understand them, but I have to travel occasionally on railways. The railway companies run hotels, steamships and all kinds of things; now they are going to run aircraft. I wonder all the time when they are going to start and run decent railways.
§ Mr. Brooke
I am delighted that the hon. Member asked that. The railway companies are not going to run aircraft. They are being asked to take a share in a corporation that will run aircraft, and theirs will be a minority share. I know as well as anybody that the railway companies before the war were not able to give the public all the service that they would desire in station amenities, refreshment rooms, and other directions. Why was that impossible? Because this House shied at its task of producing a properly coordinated transport system in this country.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Private enterprise failed to supply the biggest thing of all. The Weir Committee and other bodies reported in favour of the electrical development of railways, but outside the Southern Railway there has been very little electrical development of the railways in this country.
§ Mr. Brooke
I should be called to Order if I made a speech on all that the railway companies did before the war. They spent hundreds of millions of pounds on re-equipment in the years between the two wars. The test by which I would prefer the railways to be judged is whether, when this war came, and an unprecedented strain was placed upon them, and when they were called upon to get enormous numbers of men and quantities of materials to the right port for D-Day, they did it.
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), in an early stage of the Debate, asked whether the 734 railway companies would want to see air lines run on a luxury basis, so that they would not compete with railway travel. That is certainly not the case. The railway companies know perfectly well that air travel in this country can only succeed if it is done on what I might call a popular basis, a broadly commercial basis, not for the few, but for the many. They recognise that and want to act up to it. Some hon. Members have suggested that the railway companies' interest would be to kill air travel. If that were the case, the railway companies would certainly object to a Government scheme which gives them only a minority interest in a corporation, for no minority interest can determine what a corporation does. This, at any rate, can be submitted to the test of history. The railway companies have never operated their air services in such a way as to make them secondary to the prosperity of the railways. Let me give an example. The service to the Channel Islands was being run by an independent company. That passed to the control of the railways. What did the railways do? Same people would suggest that they would at once have stopped spending money on it. What they did was to order immediately better aircraft, and within a year the number of passengers by air to and from the Channel Islands increased from something like 19,000 to 34,000.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Is not the answer that they were not in direct conflict with the railways? In the case of the Glasgow to London air line, they took you on a tour round Britain before you got to London. Anybody who had done it would travel on a sleeper to London rather than go by air.
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Member is wrong about the Channel Islands, because the two steam-boat services were railway owned, so that there was direct competition.
§ Mr. Perkins (Stroud)
Could my hon. Friend answer the question about the London to Glasgow air line? You used to leave Victoria at 2.45, you got in an aircraft, and, after three stops, arrived at Glasgow at 8.30; that is to say, 5¿ hours against 6 hours by train.
§ Mr. Brooke
I am not going to say that in the embryonic stage civil aviation was perfect. I am speaking of future arrangements to give this country the finest civil aviation system in the world. The rail- 735 ways have not asked for a monopoly in this, or for subsidies. In a scheme which they submitted to the Government last October they made that perfectly clear. Any element of monopoly in the White Paper comes from Government suggestion and not from the railway or, so far as I know, from the shipping side. The railways are willing to come into this plan, not because it is their plan, but because, if Parliament decides on it, they are keen to do all in their power to make it a success.
§ Mr. Shinwell
But they are doing nothing; they are only coming in. If, as the hon. Member says, the railway companies are keen to come in and help, will he say precisely what assistance the railway companies are giving in coming in?
§ Mr. Brooke
The railways will not be merely risking a great deal of money, but will be putting at the disposal of the new corporation the whole of their resources and experience. They have vast experience in travel between this country and the Continent, and in all kinds of arrangements about through bookings. Nobody is better qualified to advise either about foreign communications, or about foreign law respecting communications. The railway companies are willing to put all their transport experience at the service of this new corporation. We believe that this Government plan, though it does not seem to us perfect, can be made to give the public good service. That is the one ground on which the railway companies have signified their assent to it. They have not asked for monopolies. In their plan they invited other operators to come in and participate with them. They wish to keep nobody out.
I would like to warn Members on all sides of the House not to argue too swiftly from American experience. The American transport problem is very different from that of Britain. America has three times our population, and the distances are far greater. America is also a richer country. The potential attractiveness of air travel in America is therefore much greater than here. Much more time can he saved there by air travel. In addition, the Americans undoubtedly have a considerable start on us in this matter. Therefore, it is false to argue that what is right for America now is, necessarily, 736 exactly right for this country now. We have a different problem to meet.
Of one thing I am convinced. Whatever arrangement we decide upon in this country, we ought not to imagine that a whole collection of small companies can do this job. There must be real strength behind the companies that are to operate. That applies not merely to those companies which are operating oversea routes against foreign competition, but also to companies operating within this country. There must be financial strength and great technical strength behind them. Not enough stress has been laid in this Debate upon the importance of the technical organisation, the development organisation and the maintenance and repair organisation that should lie behind flying companies. Without that strength, any effort that people make, however brave, and whatever the pioneering quality in it, might be doomed to failure.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
When the hon. Member speaks of financial strength, does he mean that the railway companies will be able to put their capital reserves behind the development of their shipping interests in the new lines? Will, therefore, the users of British railways have to pay subsidies in higher prices in order that the railways may control the air lines? Where will the railways get their share capital from for this concern?
§ Mr. Brooke
The railway companies are prepared to risk capital in this matter, because they believe it is their duty, and because they believe that, ultimately, it will be remunerative; but it may not be remunerative for a long time.
§ Mr. Brooke
The railway companies have gone into this matter very carefully, and they realise that considerable capital will be required—and they have considerable reserves.
§ Mr. Brooke
Anybody who looks at railway balance sheets will see that the railway companies have reserves.
§ Mr. Brooke
There is not the slightest intention, or the slightest evidence over the 10 years of railway aviation, that the railway companies have overcharged rail passengers in order to subsidise air routes.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Does the hon. Member think the railway directors give that reply to the railwaymen's unions to justify a £4 minimum wage? Will they say "We have plenty of money"?
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Member for Sea-ham (Mr. Shinwell), who is so experienced in these matters, must know that any sort of business cannot be run unless sufficient sums are put to reserve.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
On a point of Order. Is this discussion about where railway companies get their reserves relevant to the Debate?
§ Mr. Speaker
The subject of railway companies is, of course, relevant to the discussion of the White Paper, but the particular point is becoming rather far removed from the question of whether the railway companies should take part in the proposed organisation. I cannot rule it out of Order.
§ Mr. Brooke
Perhaps I will help by passing to another point. An important question is whether it is desirable in the plan to mingle the European and the internal services together, or to keep them separate. I should have said there was an overwhelming case for managing these two together. There will be a great deal of travel to and from the Continent which will not originate in London or end in 738 London. People will wish to travel from the North direct to France, or from France direct to the Midlands or to Scotland. If separate Corporations are set up, London will inevitably be made the one big terminus and focal point of all cross-Channel services. In everybody's interest, and especially in the interests of those who live in more distant parts of the country, we arc anxious to arrange that London does not have a monopoly of service. The railway companies want Scotland to have its full share, however Scotland gets it. The railways' plan was to give Scotland its full share. The railways sincerely hope that the schedule of routes under the White Paper will treat Scotland fairly.
I am entitled to make another point, on which I do not think any hon. Member opposite will challenge me. One of the greatest factors of importance in civil aviation is safety. The railway companies cannot be challenged on their record for safe travel, either by sea or air. During the war the, railway-owned air services have carried some 300,000 passengers without the loss of a single life, except by enemy action. That is a record of which the railways may be proud.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
The hon. Member has challenged us. He said earlier that the railways were not to run the air lines; therefore their reputation as safe custodians of travel will not entitle us to give any more confidence to the air lines, in which the companies will be only shareholders.
§ Mr. Brooke
That was not one of the hon. Member's better interruptions. He had already asked me to explain what the contribution of the railway companies would be. This is one of the directions in which we hope that the railway corn-panics' influence and experience will be of value to the new Corporation.
Not much has yet been said in the Debate about the safeguards for efficiency in the new Corporations. It strikes me that Parliament ought to watch that point. The White Paper is relatively vague there. It speaks of the tribunal to which people will be able to go if they consider that rates are unreasonable, or that unfair preference is being given. I hope that whoever replies to the Debate will be able to define more clearly what is in the Government's mind, how he expects the tribunal to work, and what criteria it will apply. The railway companies will not 739 be afraid of criteria designed to maintain a high level of efficiency, nor do I believe that any of the other authorities in this scheme will fear them.
As I have said, the railways are to risk a great deal of money in this scheme. It is to nobody's interest more than their own that the Corporations should operate efficiently, and because they and all the participants in the scheme will be risking money, surely a considerable degree of freedom of management should be given to these new Corporations. I was a little disturbed by one phrase which the Minister used. He spoke of the Tribunal taking up any matters which might escape the eye of the Minister. I had not visualised the working of these Corporations as being under the constant, scrutinising eye of a Minister. I would much rather that the Minister should approve the first directors who are appointed, and that then they should have to stand on their own feet, so that it is up to them, and they bear the full responsibility and have to make a success of it, and if they fail they must go out. The Minister said he wanted to make sure that he would secure an energetic and air-minded board of directors. From the record of the other participants, from the stake they are proposing to put into these new Corporations, surely it is obvious they will be all out to appoint the most competent men they can find for these jobs. Hon. Members have asked that we might have new men with new ideas. What we want are the new ideas. Whether the men are new or not, whether they are young or old, we want men of enterprise, men of initiative, men who are determined to make the British civil aviation services the finest in the world.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frame)
I think I am the only Member of my party who voted against the continuance of the subsidy to Imperial Airways until 1953, because even then I wholly disapproved of the policy of the one chosen instrument. It is indeed satisfactory to know that the Government have at last caught up with me. To-day I am unhappy because the same complacency with which the Government regarded their progress in civil aviation before the war, for which there was so singularly little justification, seems to me still to run through the White Paper. That is why I am grievously dis- 740 turbed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in introducing the White Paper this afternoon, said "It must be a matter of great satisfaction to the Minister for Civil Aviation that his White Paper has aroused so much interest." I regard that as an almost tragic statement. We are passing into an entirely new age, the age of the air, and if British people are not interested to-day in the future of British civil aviation they have no realisation of the changing age into which they are passing, nor have they any understanding of the opportunities they must seize, they are living in a world that is dead and gone.
I regret the very narrow aspect from which so many people seem to have regarded this problem to-day. Why I am not wholly satisfied with the White Paper is because although it says that the policy of the chosen instrument has been given up, and we have instead three chosen instruments, I fear there will be little improvement if they are going to be more or less under one control. There still appear to loom the ossified brain and the dead, skinny hand of bureaucratic control in this scheme. There is really one main control if the Minister has such power over the three chosen instruments as is outlined in the White Paper, I regard it as a most fortunate thing that the White Paper has not received the paeans of praise from Members in this House that it met with in another place, because whatever view one takes, whatever policy one wishes to follow, this White Paper leaves a very great deal to be desired, and a very great deal open to criticism and to various interpretations. I would have preferred more or less the policy outlined by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). We should not altogether ignore the fact that although the White Paper has been received until to-day with praise in this country, it has also been received with hoots of joy in America. She has made no bones about her intention of capturing 70 to 80 per cent. of the traffic of the world air routes. If she regards this White Paper as so eminently satisfactory in helping to further her aims, I think it is worth our while taking a second look at it before we are certain that it will further the aims of this country.
When I was in America long ago, when Pan-American Airways was still in its in- 741 fancy, they had a motto, "Wings for trade," but to-day it is wings not only for trade, but for one's country's prestige and influence in the world. That is why I was so appalled by the contribution made by the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. Roberts) when he said: "What does it matter how we travel? Let us travel cheaply and uncomfortably in the early days after the war." Does he really believe that that will enhance the prestige of British service or of I his country among the nations of the world? Will that type of approach help us to capture trade?
§ Mr. Roberts
I would ask the hon. Lady whether she prefers to travel very comfortably in American planes, or a little less comfortably in British planes?
§ Mrs. Tate
I prefer to see Britain fly air routes, and I would like them to have the best machines in the world. If they cannot manufacture them themselves, at present, then until they can they should get them from anywhere they are able. But for Heaven's sake let Britain run efficient air lines. Had that been done before the war, the Government would not now be coming here with such flowery phrases as to what they are going to do; they would have a background of achievement. I ask hon. Members to look at page 4 of the White Paper. Paragraph 15 is an appalling paragraph. It says:The trunk route from the United Kingdom to South America presents a new field for British civil aviation. It is one which our long and close relations with the States of that Continent make it essential that we should enter.Memories are very short, but I remember the late Sir Philip Sassoon standing at that Box and giving a categorical promise that this country would be flying the South American route by the spring of 1938. I am not at all sure it was not the spring of 1937, but I want to be on the safe side. I remember getting up and pointing out that crocuses were out in St. James's Park, and that English lambs were shivering in little English fields, which is often the only way one knows that spring has come in this country, but that there was not a sign of an aeroplane run by a British company flying across the South Atlantic. And when 1939 came we still were paying, I think £37,000 is the very lowest sum, to French and German lines to carry our mails across the South Atlantic.
742 To-day the Government make the same promise, in what I consider the most impudent phrases, and expect us to greet this Paper with thankfulness, and to feel completely confident that the prestige and efficiency of British civil aviation are now assured. I, unhappily, cannot forget the past, and I cannot feel happy about the various disabilities which I find in this Paper. I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that the railway companies have not given us an ideal railway service in the past. As for the statement of the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) that the lamentable catering arrangements on British railways were due to the fact that we had not had a co-ordinated transport service, what utter bunkum. The food on British railways and railway stations is a disgrace to civilisation. But it is typical of the British attitude to food. Certainly the hon. Member for North Cumberland, who wants to travel in discomfort, looks as if he took no interest in food.
§ Mrs. Tate
I apologise; but I was only trying to refer to the hon. Member's very aesthetic and high-minded attitude, as shown in his speech praising lack of comfort. Personally, I admit that I think there are very few things which can give one so much pleasure three times a day, from the cradle to the grave, as food can do. [Laughter.] This is really no laughing matter. It is absolutely vital to the future interests of this country that we should progress in civil aviation. If I thought that the compromise—and I call it a rather deplorable compromise—in the White Paper was going to get wholehearted support, and assure us of an immediate service and a real appreciation of the tremendous importance of this subject, I should feel happier. But I have listened to this Debate from beginning to end, and if this is complete unanimity and a hearty welcome to the spirit of compromise, it is the strangest I have ever met.
I hope that we are going to get the service at no distant date. Ministers were fond of referring to our safety record in the past, when we ran those extraordinary Heath Robinson machines across the Channel, that was the stock excuse the Government brought forward: 743 "Look at our safety record." I am as anxious as anyone that air travel should be made safe. But people will travel by air whether it is, in its initial stages, safe or not. People travel on the roads, and there are few more dangerous methods of getting about than that. If we are to build up our foreign trade, Empire unity, Empire communications, our prestige, and our influence, we must give first-class service. I genuinely believe that our influence in the world is an influence for good and an influence for peace, just as the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) believes that peace would be assured by international control. To build up our influence we must have on our routes the best aeroplanes that can possibly be manufactured—and I agree that it will be many years before we can produce them, owing, I think, to a deplorable policy which was followed in the past. There was an excuse in the hour of great danger, when we decided that we would concentrate on fighter machines and that America would produce transport machines, but many of us protested at the time. I think it was a shortsighted view, just as I thought the Government's policy of a chosen instrument before the war was a shortsighted policy—as it proved to be. But anyway we must now have the best machines, and we must have really good service.
I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that the Government will appreciate the very important part that women could play in that service. For many years America has had women hostesses on her air-lines. Before the war I wrote and asked that Imperial Airways should have women hostesses.
§ Mrs. Tate
I am referring to what America had, and American calls them "hostesses." The detail of the name we could doubtless change, to suit the hon. Member's predilection for "stewardesses." But when I begged Imperial Airways to have them before the war, they said: "No; men would help with the luggage." It is not part of a steward's business to help with the luggage.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Personally, I just travel by train, tram, bus, 744 or tube; but I believe that before the war we had in this country Dutch air lines, with women hostesses, and I believe the Swiss had them too, actually serving in the air-lines of this country.
§ Mrs. Tate
About the Dutch, who had the most admirable service, I do not know, but the Swiss certainly had. The British had a man in a striped coat, who for luncheon served you with a damp, imported chop, half-way across the Channel—which is, of course, a wonderful way of ensuring that you shall not forget you are on British ground but is not the ideal way of attracting foreigners to travel on our air lines. In future we could have at our airports the most wonderful films of the countries we were going to travel over, showing the history of our Empire, and the literature, architecture, and history of the countries the passengers were going to travel over. We could have women instructing in all these things, as well as giving service to the passengers. That is what would capture trade. A large number of people, after the war, will travel by air who have never travelled in that way before, and when people do something entirely novel and strange, and perhaps a little alarming, they are inclined to revert to the instincts of their childhood. If a man reverts to the instincts of his childhood, it is to a woman that he wishes to turn. I believe that air hostesses, with a certain amount of nursing training, with a real training in their approach to the passenger, with a knowledge of the countries over which they pass, and a knowledge of the history of this Empire, can do far more work than the British Council have yet done to further the knowledge and influence of the British way of thought throughout the world.
If this White Paper is going to be put into operation, for Heaven's sake let us realise the seriousness of the position, and the appalling need for speed and for less complacency and self-satisfaction. Let us remove the influence of the Minister on the Air Boards. As to the planes of the future, we know that it will take six years from the drawing board to the time a machine is in the air, and I want to ask if we have anything which can compete with the D.C.4, the D.C.6, the D.C.7 or the Constellation? Are the railway companies and the shipping companies prepared to keep their machines up-to-date, 745 and are B.O.A.C. going to be given facilities to keep their machines up-to-date as compared with the best that are being produced in the world, or are we going to have the pre-war policy of machines which look like something from past ages and which one could scarcely recognise as aeroplanes at all?
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
It is rather interesting to note, at the close of this Debate, that we have had, as we have on more than one occasion, and as has been revealed by the hon. Lady who has just spoken, the suggestion that we might borrow our policy from America. This is most interesting, because the suggestion has never been made on this side of the House that we should turn to other countries for our policy. But there have been a large number of surprising statements made in this Debate, and it would obviously be impossible to deal with even a percentage of them. One of the most surprising to me was the statement of the Minister himself that to organise civil aviation in this country under ore central control was too vast an enterprise to be considered.
§ Sir S. Cripps
No. This has been misquoted before. What I said was "under one operational unit," which is a very different thing.
§ Mr. Hynd
Well, under one central operational unit, I could not help thinking that, only a few days ago, we had a remarkably fine statement in this House from the First Lord of the Admiralty, who made no apologies for the size of his operational units or instruments, and, in fact, brought forward a story which has aroused the admiration of the whole world. I do not know whether any hon. Members on the other side of the House, who are so anxious that private enterprise should be brought into this civil aviation, would be equally anxious that we should split up participation in the capitalisation and management of the Royal Navy in the same way. There is certainly evidence in the House to-day that there is no great common enthusiasm for the White Paper. I think that is inevitable, because here we have, as has been said from every side, a new age dawning 746 before us, with new instruments, new opportunities and a new world. It would be supposed that, after our long experience of transport matters, the Government would approach this in an entirely new way which would enable them to avoid the many blunders and confusions which we have seen in the past in all branches of surface transport, whether it be the story of the canals, the story of the railways up to the 1921 amalgamations, the story of the docks and harbours, the story of the chaos and confusion on the roads or the story of London transport. There has been so much disorganisation and confusion in an era of private enterprise controls that it has been necessary, time and time again, to establish Royal Commissions and committees of inquiry in order, in the public interest, to get some kind of order from this confusion. Apparently, in the minds of some hon. Members who have spoken, there is a desire that in civil aviation we should start at the beginning of this old story and work through the same process. One hon. Member, though he thought the railways should be nationalised, has suggested that civil aviation should start at the bottom and work up to that confusion and chaos and build up the same problem.
The Goverment have signally failed in this respect. This is one of the typically mongrel devices that we have come to expect from the Coalition, and, when it comes to dealing with such a vital instrument as this, I hope every hon. Member will begin to feel that the Coalition has gone about as far as it can go in this direction. The Minister admitted pretty frankly that this was not an ideal scheme, but the best that we could get out of the present Government set-up. It is possibly a pity that he did not say so a little more plainly and honestly, as did one of the other Ministers only a few weeks ago, when he said that lie did not think anybody would expect him to defend that particular proposal, because they would not believe him if he did, and, in any case, he did not believe in it himself, though he asked the House on behalf of the Government, to support it. Instead of saying that, the Minister has led us into the controversies of the issue.
One of the chief points that has been made is that, in splitting up civil aviation arrangements into these three sections, it has been felt desirable that B. O.A.C. should have a certain measure of control in two 747 sections and almost monopoly control in the other, to enable it to bring into the organisation all its experience of flying. On the other hand, it is thought desirable that the railways and shipping companies should bring in all their experience of foreign travel. But the Minister does not really suppose that that is the reason why the arrangement was made, because he has said that this is purely a political compromise, and the reason why B.O.A.C. has been mentioned is because the party on this side of the House is too strong, and the feeling behind it in the country is too strong, to have it otherwise, whereas the other party is so strong that we have not yet reached the position where we can close out private enterprise altogether.
Therefore, this scheme is another evasion in the long history of evasions, and we have been driven to the inevitable conclusion that only public control of the whole system can solve the problem, as we were in 1921 when the railway amalgamations took place. The latter have been recognised ever since as a pure evasion of the issue, and as an attempt to give the format of competition where no competition existed. We had the same thing in the Royal Commission on Transport of 1931. The final conclusion which the Government could reach, on this great issue of whether this instrument should be under public ownership or control, was that it would raise political differences that they could not resolve. That was the obstacle all along, and I wish that Ministers would admit that it is the obstacle now. The difficulties of controlling the service have nothing to do with it; it is a political consideration only, and I think the sooner the public come to realise that the better.
The White Paper tells us that the Government are determined that there should be no vested interest. What else is this but a concession to the established vested interests of the largest capital concentration in this country, and, possibly, in the world—the railway and shipping companies of this country? They say that there is to be protection against vested interests because there is to be no right to transfer holdings. It means that a railway company is not to be in the position to offer the whole of its holdings to some other private company, say, a greengrocer or somebody like that, but the real 748 individual shareholders who contribute to these holdings can transfer their shares any time they like on the stock market. Similarly, we are told that the railway and shipping companies should bring in their vast experience of foreign travel into this scheme, but who has this experience? Is it the railway shareholders or the shipping companies' shareholders, because they are the people directly and vitally concerned in this whole proposition? It is not the railway shareholders or even the railway directors who have experience in handling booking offices and travel agencies, driving trains or catering, but the administrative staff, the workers. If that is so, and obviously it is so, what is there to prevent the Government, if they have the responsibility of a common public service, advertising and s-Turing the services of those people who could serve the State as well as they could serve private owners?
We have the final and very pathetic suggestion in the White Paper, as a justification for participation of railway and shipping companies in this scheme, that they will be able to provide through tickets. Is there anything more farcical than a suggestion of that kind, as if it was not possible to provide through tickets and through services without having to do it though such a scheme? We could buy a ticket on the Caledonian Railway at Glasgow through to London without the London and North Eastern having to hand over half their capital to the Caledonian. Could you not on the continental service buy a through ticket from London to Paris, and travel on a foreign boat and on a foreign railway, by agreement with the company? It is absurd to suggest that that has anything to do with the scheme and it is unworthy that it should be put forward.
We have heard enough about the railway companies' experience, efficiency and so on. It is interesting to hear such an apologia of railway companies and their efficiency and expect shipping and railway interests to provide the drive towards efficiency. We on this side of the House—we may have read the policy of the other side wrongly—always understood that efficiency came from competition. But this is not competition, it is giving a monopoly.
§ Mr. Henry Brooke
The hon. Member says that it is not competition. He must 749 realise that something like two-thirds, or I would say three-quarters, of the routes that will be operated by the internal and the European corporation will be overseas routes—routes to and from foreign countries, which will be exposed to the full blast of foreign competition.
§ Mr. Hynd
Yes, competition with the chosen instrument. We will have to compete the same way in these services, but there is no competition between rail and shipping interests and B.O.A.C. in the internal services. Therefore, I do not see the necessity for bringing in this concern in order to provide efficiency within the industry itself because there is no competition. My hon. Friend the Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) said that any of us here could spend hours in tearing up the story of railway companies' efficiency. I would like to quote one reminder from the Report of one of the Royal Commissions on railway efficiency. It was the Royal Commission on the Coordination and Development of Transport, which reported in 1931. On page 151 it says:In the days of their monopoly, the railways had in some ways insufficiently studied the needs of the public, and their policy had become unduly conservative. The truth of the doctrine that facilities create traffic appears to have been forgotten.I should like to thank the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) for his exposure of the vast accumulations of reserves which the companies apparently possess. That is rather interesting not only to me as a railway man, but to thousands of colleagues outside who will shortly be asking the railway companies how many reserves they have got, and will be told, no doubt, that they Lave not paid interest on their capital for years. We were told for a long time before the war that the railway companies were anxious to have efficient electrified suburban services but they could not afford the capital. We have been told that they have been unable to pay interest on 80 per cent. of their share capital. We have been told time and time again in this House that the railway companies did not get a fair deal out of the 1941 agreement, and that they are pressing the Government for more money, and yet we are told that they have accumulated vast reserves which they are prepared to put into this new service. If they have all this money, efficiency and experience why have they 750 not shown a little more energy, initiative and development?
I have quoted from the Report of the Royal Commission on Transport but here is an interesting note from the "Railway Stockholder," the organ of shareholders, dated October, 1944. It says:Not long before the war, two members of former Argentine Governments came to Europe…to obtain first hand knowledge of the railways. Part of the time was spent in studying the principal systems on the continent, including the German State Railways, where highspeed diesel electric passenger services had been developed and modern terminals had been erected in the principal cities, which provided travellers with standards of comfort surpassed in few other countries.It goes on:It would have been of little avail to recapitulate the causes which had allowed London to lag behind other world capitals in the matter of terminal railway stations…The distinguished visitors drew their own conclusions and, on their return to Buenos Aires, were reported to have expressed the opinion that Argentina had little to learn from the English railways. Not many months later, large orders for rolling stock and equipment, running into many thousands of pounds, were placed on behalf of the Argentine State Railways with manufacturers in Germany.So much for the efficiency of the railway companies, who are to be brought into this new transport service. I am interested in the reason why the Government have been forced to come to this House with this strategem, because it is a strategem. It is an expedient, as was the 1941 Act, to avoid the inevitable creation of a nationalised service. It is clear why it has been done. As I said at the beginning, and as the Minister confessed, purely political considerations are deciding our policy in this Coalition Government. A few weeks ago in the Debate on full employment the hon. Member for Pudsey and Otley (Sir G. Gibson) gave the game away effectively when he said:At the moment industry is actuated by patriotism and the desire to see this war brought to a successful conclusion. When the war is finished, the incentive in industry will be profit, because anybody who goes into in-industry knows that success in industry is measured by the profit one makes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21St June, 1944; vol. 401, c. 263.]Why not he honest about it? Is that Government policy? Now that war is coming to a conclusion patriotism has to go and profit steps in. The participation of railway companies in this new venture will be a good thing from the material angle for many thousands of railwaymen, 751 of whom I am one, who are concerned with railways for their bread and butter. But the railwaymen are concerned with other things than immediate practical advantages in these matters. They are concerned with something generally known as patriotism, and they have shown it during this war. Apparently it is not reasonable to expect even private enterprise monopolies should be concerned about patriotism after the war. As the hon. Member for Pudsey and Otley frankly admitted, that is not their intention now that the war is drawing to a conclusion.
I suggest that in these conditions it would be well if the Government were to say frankly that that is the position. They are not being sufficiently courageous in this; they are concerned with the demands under pressure put on them by various interests, railway and shipping companies, for the maintenance of the rights of profit-mongers in this new national service, as it ought to be. I suggest that, if the Government feel any responsibility to the nation on this, if the Government are far-sighted enough and realise just exactly to what this can lead, the Government ought to give the reply to these interests that even when the war is over there is still a place for patriotism in this country, and that patriotism shall be the rule and not profit.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Captain Plugge (Chatham)
I have listened to every speech that has been made during this Debate and I think that probably the most entertaining was the one delivered by the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mr. Tate). However, her contribution to this Debate was much more than entertaining, it was full of common sense and I, for one, endorse every single thing she said. With reference to her closing remarks regarding lady hostesses, the one disadvantage which I was told about when I was in America was the fact that lady hostesses cost so much for training as they get married so quickly. That is really a measure of their efficiency.
§ Mrs. Tate
I do not want to interrupt, but does not my hon. and gallant Friend think that they might in that way perhaps be the most valuable ambassadresses for this country; and that, although it might cost a lot of money, in long-term policy 752 and as prestige for this country, if properly trained and properly chosen, they might do invaluable work for the country and the Empire?
§ Captain Plugge
I hope the hon. Lady does not think I am against the lady hostesses in our planes; I merely said that was one of the financial disadvantages to the air lines adopting lady hostesses. I quite agree with the remarks the hon. Lady made, and I would like to add that when I crossed the Atlantic by an expert American line, that same plane crashed on its return in Newfoundland and the small, fragile, red-haired American girl who was my air hostess when I flew over succeeded in saving some seven people's lives by diving in the "drink" when the plane collided with a floating log on taking off.
As I said, many speeches have been delivered to-day and I think they have all, except one, been in severe criticism, and very truthful criticism, of the White Paper. If I were to judge of the reception of the White Paper by the way it has been received to-day by the House, I would say that the White Paper is completely dead and the Government had better return home and think again. Why should it be so? Such a reception is quite obvious. I think just one sentence in the White Paper spells its doom, and that sentence is:The Government are convinced that the policy of a single chosen instrument…is unsuited to deal with the great expansion of the future.That outlook was repeated by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aircraft Production who opened the Debate. Why is it that the Government plan is so unsuitable, and why is it that the White Paper is no real advance on the single chosen instrument of the sad past? We are told that there are three chosen instruments but are they truly three, are they not really just one? What has happened in reality? By a trick of words and of hand, the Government acquired from outside subsidies for the B.O.A.C. To secure this they have simply called in the railways to bring forward the finance even without granting a reasonable degree of control. They have asked the railways, who possess large sums of money in reserve, to put up the capital and to risk the financial side of the enterprise of B.O.A.C., the really only chosen instru- 753 ment. B.O.A.C. is a majority holder in the whole group of the three branches of the chosen instruments that form in reality only one chosen instrument, and a mere continuation of the B.0 A.G. of pre-war sorrow. In the lines running to the Commonwealth they have too per cent. participation. In the internal lines and the routes to Europe one would presume that it would be 40 per cent. participation.
It is said that the participation will not be of a controlling nature but will be considerable; that might be anything between 40 per cent. and 49 per cent. In the South American group B.O.A.C. will probably he given holdings to the extent of 30 per cent. This means that in consequence B.O.A.C. will have 170 per cent, of the 300 per cent. which represents the three-branched chosen instrument. The sentence in the White Paper which I have just quoted spells the doom of this White Paper, because we find that the railways which are helping towards the enterprise are really just contributing in the way of finance. Their directors are not allowed to be elected freely, they are subject to the veto of the Minister which, in reality, will mean the veto of the B.O.A.C. We may be quite sure that B.O.A.C. which, is so closely allied with the Government to-day will see to that. If the chairman of B.O.A.C. were to say: "I do not like that particular man who has been put forward by the railways," then the Minister would also say that he did not wish that man to be on the board. The three-branched chosen instrument will be entirely controlled by B.O.A.C. I want to ask who other than B.O.A.C. will we have for the running of our civil airlines.
There is one sentence in the White Paper with which I think everybody will agree:Civil aviation is primarily a method of transport.That might well have been left out, because anyone who knows anything about civil aviation would naturally consider it so. The people who are to be considered are the travelling public, and the travelling public, are the people who have seen in the past and in other countries that they get the best service when such service is provided by private enterprise.
Of the two contributions which represented the most live views one was made 754 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), and the other made by my hon. Friend the Member for Duddeston (Sir O. Simmonds). The former flew the flag of free enterprise, and I think the examples he gave of shipping were most suitable to this Debate, because the only thing akin to travel in air is our vast shipping network throughout the world. What we need is competition among ourselves. This White Paper says that it was compiled to avoid competition. What greater competition can we have than the competition of all the foreign lines that are to be allowed to operate in this country? The House must realise that against this one European Corporation there will be some 20 Corporations from foreign countries who will compete along the lines from their countries to this country. I interrupted my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport, saying that foreign companies had more rights to operate in this country than had an Englishman or an independent English airline. An independent English airline cannot operate, according to this White Paper, yet any foreign company formed in a foreign country can operate from their country to this country and vice versa, because, if we do not allow a Swiss company, for instance, to operate a line from Zurich to London, then the B.O.A.C.—I mean the European Corporation of the White Paper—would not have the right to land their aeroplanes in Switzerland. We must give a quid pro quo, which means that we shall be faced continually with the competition of these foreign lines on the actual lines we operate.
Another point in the White Paper is that B.O.A.C. must have a share in the remunerative lines, because of the unremunerative lines they will run. Does that mean to say that we shall charge more for our passengers flying on our European lines in order to pay for non-remunerative lines that go to the Far East? Will we do this when the French companies, the Belgian companies, the Dutch companies will not have to finance these distant lines and therefore will be able to compete with us and with better comfort and lower fares? This will be a very serious competition to our British lines.
A further point which we have to consider is our vast Air Force. What are we going to do to provide jobs for the 755 large number of R.A.F. pilots, navigators and ground staff who have been used during this war? This White Paper restricts our air activities. Have these men no right in this matter? When they come back from the war hoping to start a private air line in this country are we going to say "No" to their enterprise? The Paper says "No." They will have to go to some foreign country and either change their nationality or get some rights that these countries may decide in the kindness of their heart to allow them to have. I want to ask a specific question of the Minister regarding these foreign companies. Who will be allowed to operate over Great Britain? It is quite clear from the White Paper that foreign companies are allowed to operate in this country, for it says:His Majesty's Government will welcome the closest co-operation between foreign air line operators running services to the United Kingdom…Here, too, while parallel operation will probably prevail in the initial phase, the possibility of running joint services through subsidiary companies in which the foreign operator would participate…may present great advantages.The question I want to ask the Minister is, What is a foreign company? I take it that a foreign company is a company that is registered in a foreign country, flies a foreign flag, uses foreign-made aeroplanes, uses foreign pilots, foreign staff, foreign navigators, and runs on foreign finance. I assume that such a company could operate and come and land in London, disembark passengers and fly passengers away. But are we going to analyse a company before allowing it to come and operate in England by disqualifying it if it is partly British? If a foreign company were to use British aircraft, for instance, would it be considered a British company and not be allowed to come to England, or, if it used ex-pilots or navigators of the R.A.F.—men who could not get jobs over here—would the Government say: "That is not a pure foreign company, therefore it cannot come here because we know it operates British aeroplanes, or because it is flown by British pilots, or because it is operated by British directors." It would be an unenviable job of those committees concerned to turn down from British operation companies, not because they were too foreign but because they were too British. Yet that is what this White Paper is making them do. I suppose that if ex- 756 R.A.F. men want to run an airline abroad it will be said: "This is a way of getting round the White Paper." I would be happy if the Minister could say whether, in analysing foreign companies, the Government are going to search out by how much they are British, taking this as a measure of how little chance they have of operating in Great Britain. If the White Paper goes through as it is there will be more foreign aeroplanes and foreign pilots flying over Britain than British planes and British pilots. This is an important matter, which should be considered. Are the Government going to track down British pilots who obtain licences to fly, say, between Spain and Portugal? Are they going to say: "This is a British line operated by a British pilot and we ask you, therefore, not to allow it to operate?"
It is often said that speeches which criticise do not end by putting forward something which is constructive. My constructive plan, therefore, would be as follows: I consider that we should have a licensing authority which would enable any private British corporation.to fly any line in England, to the Colonies, Dominions or abroad according to how they present the line which they wish to operate and on all the particular merits of the case. There should be an independent tribunal for appeals against the decision of the licensing authority. The general considerations should be: a company should fly only British aircraft. That should be the first criterion. They should not be allowed to fly if they cannot provide themselves with British aircraft. Second, the company should have sufficient capital to be able to run their line efficiently over a certain period of time, even at a loss. Three, they must also satisfy the authorities from the point of view of safety measures. Four, they should guarantee the employment of British staff only. British staff should also be employed in the agencies which serve the company in other parts of the world. Those are my counter-propositions to the White Paper, and if they were followed the British spirit of enterprise would flourish and we could, in the field of civil aviation compete with success throughout the world.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Major-General Sir Frederick Sykes (Nottingham, Central)
I should like to 757 congratulate the Government upon the appointment of a Minister for Civil Aviation and also to congratulate the Minister for Civil Aviation on the great energy he is putting into his new work. As a result of the progress which has been made, we know that the Chicago Conference, although it did not do all that we hoped it would do, went some way in the right direction. There were same 28 countries represented at the Conference, and the first two of the great freedoms of the air, the right of innocent passage and the right of re-fuelling and repairing in a foreign country, were generally agreed to. What is perhaps more important, there was agreed too an international framework within which civil aviation would operate. The Chicago Conference had a very valuable sequel in conversations between the Minister and the representatives of the Dominions, which resulted in the setting up of an Air Transport Council in London. This brought the members of the British Commonwealth together in a way which I rather believe has never been done before.
But, having said that, I am afraid that, like many other hon. Members who have spoken in the Debate, I cannot contribute very much more to the chorus of approval which the Press has given to the White Paper. At long last, we have a Minister for Civil Aviation separated from the Air Ministry. The fact that there is an independent Minister is a great and beneficial change, but we must realise that a great deal more is necessary. Lord Swinton has great responsibilities, but actually he has no Ministry and, as yet, has only paper independence. The statutory control of civil air transport, including such vital matters as funds, organisation, research and staff are all within the hands of the Air Ministry. Civil aviation has still to depend upon what remains from the funds of the Air Ministry itself.
We have heard a great deal about the building of new types of passenger aircraft, but, so far, these have been only on paper. It is useless to try to convert military machines into civil aircraft of any real merit. Lord Swinton has told us that the Tudor I would start a trickle of production in June, and the Tudor II in November, and that there would be a flow of production next year. I do not think this will be sufficient to enable us to compete in any real sense with our energetic and adventurous American 758 rivals. The time has come to set a certain number of designers to work upon definitely civil types of aircraft, and also to allocate factories for the production of those aircraft. The average passenger, to-day, will travel only if he realises that the lines on which he travels offer the best possible service to him and has comfort, speed, safety and regularity.
I think the White Paper proposals for the allocation for the various civil air routes are really inadequate. There are to be three groups of chosen instruments, but it will be seen that the B.O.A.C. is still the predominant chosen instrument of the three. The whole set-up is really what Lord Rothermere called it in another place; it is like the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, three in one and one in three. No one really knows where one ends and the other starts. I suggest that the White Paper proposals will need a good many amendments and modifications before they are passed into law. I do not disparage the efforts of the B.O.A.C.; it has done a great deal of good work, and it has vast experience. On the other hand, it is a definite Government monopoly and I have always been anti-monopolist, and I am still in that attitude of mind. Healthy competition, wherever it comes from, is absolutely essential in order to stimulate progress and initiative. In my opinion, the task of the B.O.A.C. ought to be lessened and consolidated rather than enlarged. I would prefer, as I always have done, that there should be five or six corporations, rather than even the three to which we arc at present directing our attention. I realise that if we block these White Paper proposals, or the Bill that will be based upon them, we may have to wait longer for the better instruments, but I think we ought really to face up to the difficulty of the air route question. I maintain that the three Corporations which arc at present proposed are quite inadequate, and wrongly constituted and organised.
On the question of monopolies, the White Paper rather contradicts itself. It starts, in paragraph 9, by giving the hope of initiative and enterprise, but later it advocates that the three groups of services should be amalgamated, or more or less amalgamated, into a monopoly, under the direct control of the Ministry. I cannot reconcile the statement which the Prime Minister made the other day at the Conservative Conference, that private 759 enterprise was going to be the means by which we would try to direct our destinies, with this White Paper, which came out almost simultaneously.
There are one or two more points to which I should like to direct attention. One is the question of monopoly of maintenance. I think that is definitely a very ill-advised proposal. I am very much averse to this, because it is far too rigid, there is no chance for initiative, and no flexibility. Unless maintenance is under the control of the company or corporation which is operating the air-line, it seems to me that it canot be responsible for the air-line operation itself. I would urge most strongly that this aspect of central control of maintenance should be eliminated from the Bill, if ever it appears. The question of a licensing authority has also been mentioned. There was one just before the war and it licensed various companies in this country and gave them a certain hope that they would be able to carry on for some years. I hope that, when the war is over, a licensing authority will be set up which will have complete independent status and be quite impartial and will be able to license air-lines, not only the larger ones which are going to operate the great routes all over the world but any smaller ones which it would be thought right and convenient to set up in this country. I think the small air operators have been rather side-tracked in the White Paper, and I hope they will get a fairer deal than they seem to have got as yet.
In all this question of a new set-up of civil air transport, I hope we shall keep at the back of our minds the necessity for an independent structure. We want to encourage the difference between the various operating, corporations through-the world. If there is one monopolistic company operating various routes, it will tend to get a stereotyped personnel and stereotyped aircraft, and we shall not gain that immense experience which various corporations can bring into the common pool of the Ministry and may then be used to the advantage of all the corporations operating. Therefore I hope a special point will be made of the psychological aspect of an independent structure. The B.O.A.C., which has great experience, should be utilised as one 760 of the various corporations, but I am entirely against its being enlarged, and allowed to permeate all other corporations throughout the world. We ought also to note in passing that the phenomenal advance of the American lines in civil aviation is due to the encouragement given to healthy competition, and also the fact that in America no surface service has any control at all or any inter-linking with the air services. I hope that, if we set up concerns which are largely railway or largely shipping, they will not be shipping or railway monopolies. They will bring their experience and their help to it, but they should not be monopolies. I am not in favour of cut-throat competition any more than Lord Swinton is, and I share his objection to subsidies, but each of these routes should be served by companies, or small groups of companies, licensed by the licensing authority, and the Minister for Civil Aviation should license the personnel who are operating those companies.
I should like to endorse what the hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) said about the vast importance of this subject. I think the development of civil aviation is going to be of vital importance to the prosperity of the country in the near future, and I hope that at long last, now that we have an independent Minister, a Ministry will be added to him and that he will be given proper powers—not too many but the right ones—and that we shall set up the embryo of a world-wide net-work of corporations which will be able to show what British aviation can do. I should like to have one or two companies dealing with this country and with Europe—perhaps the Scandinavian area and the Northern part of Europe coming into one, and Southern Europe up to Paris in the other—both overlapping with the Paris route, which of course is the most paying. I would have one to South America, another to North America, another to South Africa, one to India and Australia and then, if possible, one inter-linking either with the South or North American one to Central America and the Caribbean. Unless we get very busy in the immediate future and we arrange matters so that we get parity with other countries, we shall miss the chance of being able to help our trade throughout the world and of making all the efforts which we feel are so necessary in regard to the Dominions and the Colonies, and to 761 our position internationally. For all these reasons I hope very much that the Government will reconsider the White Paper in the light of the discussion that has taken place and that we shall get the principles readjusted, and I hope improved, in the near future.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Major McCallum (Argyll)
Time is running very short and it is not possible to make all the points that I was hoping to make. We have had speeches on both sides of the House dealing with the problematic future of civil aviation. I should like to bring the House back to the position of civil aviation to-day in Scotland, where this White Paper is causing grave anxiety. We believe that such services as we have established there are going to be crippled. While I am a great admirer of the railways and their great efficiency, I feel that they are not quite the people who should take over the air-lines. I should like to give one very recent example. Scottish Airways runs o service along the West coast and to Ireland. It also runs an ambulance service. Last week an ambulance was called for to go to one of the islands in my constituency and, as it has done many times previously, collect a dangerously in patient and take him off to Glasgow hospital. Why now, under the present regime, this ambulance was not allowed to land on the island I have no idea, but before the railways took over the company it landed several times and took patients away. If that is a sample of the efficiency of the lines when the railways take over their running, I am afraid it does not augur very well for us in Scotland. I feel that this White Paper offers nothing in the way of enterprise to Scotland. Scotland has the greatest tradition in the world for shipbuilding, and we had hoped to have the greatest tradition for aircraft, but I see no hope of that.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Major Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)
My hon. and gallant Friend and I naturally take a great interest in what this White Paper is to mean to the internal air lines in this country. Like him, I am not prepared to swallow whole the case for the railways, which was so ably put by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke), nor am I prepared to swallow this White Paper whole. Doubts about it on many points 762 have been expressed on both sides of the House, and I shall avoid touching on those points. I should like to endorse what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Nottingham (Sir F. Sykes) said when he drew attention to the way airways were run in America. What this White Paper is doing is to put civil aviation in a position in which it will be dominated by a Government-controlled organisation with two competing forms of surface transport, shipping and railways. It is arguable whether that is or is not sound policy, but it is diametrically opposed to the way in which internal air-lines have been developed in the United States, where an independent hoard controls the whole outfit, and competing forms of surface transport are not allowed to take any interest in it. I know it is dangerous to compare the situation in America and the situation in this country, but that is the way the United States have chosen to do it, and they have made an oustanding success of it. They have given the public a magnificent service, far in excess of anything that will be achieved in the proposed set-up here.
I am particularly interested in the future of the internal air-lines in this country and the part that the railway companies are going to play in civil aviation. I am not impressed by the past history of the railway companies in this matter. They obtained their first powers in 1929, but did nothing about it. A number of independent operators got busy and did quite a lot. Then the railway companies woke up, and in 1933 they started a few experimental services. They then began to do all they could to throttle the independent operators. Among other things, they denied them the use of the booking agencies, which was a great inconvenience, and when they could not freeze them out, they eventually started to buy them out. The position at the outbreak of the war in 1939 was that they had acquired seven of the independent operators in this country, and through those acquisitions they controlled four-fifths of the total internal route mileage. Since the war they have, with one exception, operated all the internal air lines that the Government have required for war or semi-war purposes, the only exception being the Allied Airways Company, which operates from Aberdeen to Orkney and Shetland. The other company that operates in that part of the world was acquired with the rail- 763 ways. There is no question that Scottish Airways, which is now virtually controlled by the railways, has gained some advantages through amalgamation with the railways. It has paved the way for certain economies and some degree of efficiency in maintenance. I am certain, however, that if the North of Scotland had been left to the tender mercies of the British railway companies there would not have been any attempt to develop an air service to that part of the world. I am certain, too, that there is nothing that the railways could have contributed that would have given us a better service than the one we had from Scottish Airways once they had established themselves.
The arguments put up by the railways in favour of a virtual monopoly are curiously and uncomfortably like the arguments for nationalisation.
§ Mr. Henry Brooke
The railways have not asked for a monopoly. As I explained in my speech, no demand for monopoly was suggested by them.
§ Major Neven-Spence
That is perfectly correct. The monopoly is being set up by the Government. The point is that it is a monopoly, and the railways are not State-owned, so that they are entitled to argue that they will be in a position to display more enterprise and efficiency than if they were under the State. The railways have bought up most of the independent air lines and are, therefore, bound to get a large share of the internal service in this country. What I dislike is the prospect of the railways being able, through this Corporation, to suppress all competition from independent operators. They say they will develop them as they have their surface routes, but the long-suffering shareholders may have something to say about that.
What interests me primarily is to know how the public is likely to be served with the set-up proposed in the White Paper. The past history of the British Government in regard to civil aviation is simply deplorable. There is no other word for it. Nothing that can be said will convince me that the Government have taken the interest in this matter that they should have done. We have every reason to be apprehensive of what may happen to the internal air services to some of the outlying parts of the country. The pioneers had no help whatever, and no 764 recognition was given them in the hazardous and dangerous enterprise on which they were engaged. No notice was taken of the great benefits that were to flow to some of the outlying parts from the enterprise of these men. They got no help in the matter of landing grounds, and they had an exceedingly costly job in scattered parts of the country where municipalities had no money and could not help them. They got very belated help from the wireless and no help from the Postmaster-General. I went repeatedly to make representations on behalf of the two internal air lines operating in the far North, but the Postmaster-General took advantage of that situation and accepted a cut-throat tender for the mails. The Government would not pay the proper freight rate, but paid only half rate, leaving the passengers to pay the balance. I want to pay a tribute to the men whose names I know best in this pioneer work—Gandar-Dower and Fresson. They blazed the trail in the North of Scotland, and I have the greatest admiration for them. They are the equivalent in the twentieth century of the Elizabethan sea captains. They risked everything, their wealth and their lives, on what everyone of us there regarded as a hopeless enterprise.
They won through with the greatest credit to themselves, yet this White Peper speaks in a contemptuous and ungracious way about these independent operators. I do not propose to quote it, but perhaps hon. Members would look at paragraph 17 and see what is said there. There has been a very great opportunity for the Government to recognise what these men did, and to pay them a tribute for their work.
In the North of Scotland we have suffered from a shipping monopoly for 50 years. Complaints for 50 years have produced no redress whatsoever. A great many people in the North of Scotland have also suffered from a monopoly by the railways, and complaints have again produced no redress. That is what I do not like about these proposals. The shipping and railway companies are each a monopoly in their own spheres, and in each case a dissatisfied public have had no means of getting redress. I am therefore very much afraid that once these Corporations get into the saddle we shall be fobbed off with a secondhand service. I 765 want to stress the fact that mountains, blizzards, gales and fogs will have to be contended with there through the great part of the year, which makes this the most dangerous part of the whole British coast. Therefore I say that we must have nothing but the best machines, the best pilots and the best servicing and ground organisation. We have had it in the past from private enterprise, and we ought to get nothing less from these new Government organisations, when they come into existence.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary.to the Ministry of Aircraft Production (Mr. Lennox-Boyd)
As this is the first time I have had the opportunity of addressing this House for five years all but one month, I feel that I ought to ask for the indulgence of the House for what is almost another maiden speech. This is particularly so as, for some three and a half years out of the five I was away in the silent Service, and although I have enlarged my vocabulary I may have become a little rusty in the matter of presenting a case in Parliament.
The contents of the White Paper are, in their form and matter, dictated by the urgent need for speed in action. A South American newspaper said a day or two ago that in aviation matters days count as years. His Majesty's Government are conscious of that fact, and that is one of the reasons why my Noble Friend has brought these proposals forward so very swiftly after his appointment. I am sure that the House would like to pay a tribute to the Minister for Civil Aviation for the speed with which he worked out this policy, put forward the White Paper and got it publicly discussed. I am sire that everybody is glad to realise that the same speed has taken him swiftly and successfully to South Africa in an Avro-York plane in 39 flying hours, and only 69 hours altogether after he left his place in the other House after having first presented these proposals.
As a result of these proposals—though I do not pretend that they have commanded universal support from every section in the House—I think we are entitled to go ahead with what is a national policy. These plans have been supported by the National Government and by Members of all parties in that 766 Government, and it is the view of the people who are responsible for framing them that on these proposals we can build safely, without any prospect of violent changes in policy, no matter what the result of the next General Election may be. It is of tremendous importance that we should get an agreed national policy. No other plan has been suggested to-day which could be worked out and got under way with the same speed as this plan, to save us from the very grave disadvantages of further delay.
The delays have been due to unavoidable causes, and no one need be blamed for them, but now, as my right hon. and learned Friend has said, that we can see the end of the European war in sight, we are entitled to go ahead with full vigour in formulating a Civil Aviation programme. As for that part of the work for which both he and I are responsible, the actual construction of aircraft, I can assure the House that, consistent with the overriding obligation to supply the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm with essential types, which obligation has not yet ceased and which will continue until the Japanese war is won, we are going ahead in every possible way in pushing, on with design and development of transport aeroplanes.
This has been an informative Debate and I can assure hon. Members that all the points that have been raised will be brought to the attention of my Noble Friend when he comes back from South Africa. We have had an indication of the general attitude of the House in its two, aspects, in the first two speeches, the first from my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) and the second from the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague). I am not going to use the comment of a previous Prime Minister that if proposals are attacked equally from both extremes they must be right. I was never convinced, when that argument has been used in respect of myself, None the less, I feel that this is a compromise, not in its birth, but in its nature and is something acceptable to all sections of the House and the Cabinet, which proves that it is a policy on which we can safely build. My right hon. Friend talked about the inertia of the State, and the hon. Member for West Islington talked of the proposals providing for exploitation by private interests. The 767 truth is that these proposals are neither, but are a genuine attempt by merging all transport aircraft experience, to use all the resources of this country in formulating a national plan. The only people whom we recognise as having a vested interest in aviation at all are the people who are going to fly, and it is to consider them that we have been at pains to draw up these proposals and not in order to keep in the business anyone who was there before or to bring in people whose powerful clamour may have made a public case.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport brought forward a number of historical illustrations, but those who remember the classic way in which he quoted history in order first to secure his election for Devon-port will be a little disappointed in the illustrations he gave. To suggest that the collapse of Spain and France in the 17th and 18th centuries was due to the attack on private enterprise scarcely bears historical examination. What he failed to point out was that the reason why these great States have one by one collapsed is that they lacked the adaptability which we believe we in England possess, and which enables us in our own way to evolve, in the changed conditions and circumstances of our differing world.
The right hon. Gentleman said also, dealing with Imperial relations, that we had put the international cart before the imperial horse. Yet whatever charge may be made against my Noble Friend the Minister for Civil Aviation, that surely cannot be said. He went to Canada and America and he came back here, having secured a wider measure of imperial cooperation and collaboration than we have had in most other spheres and than we have ever had in the field of civil aviation. I am sure that is true, and that those who are attending the South Africa Conference to-day will bear it out. My right hon. Friend also said, or hinted, that as a result of the plan we would have in construction stereotyped designs drawn up by a Government Department, lacking the spontaneity and the freshness of ideas springing from individual requirements.
It is implicit in these proposals that as soon as the interim period is over there shall be direct access by the operators to the manufacturers. We attach the great- 768 est importance to that. The people who know what they want are the people who are going to use the aeroplanes. We have no wish to fasten any outside control upon them. Nor would I accept the charge that in this war there has been a dead hand at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, or at the Admiralty in the case of the Fleet Air Arm. It is our intention in the immediate future, as soon as the interim period is over, that there shall be this direct contact.
Finally, my right hon. Friend drew attention to the analogy of the United States, and asked why we could not have a comparable licensing system. Our difficulty, and I am sure the House will share it, is to see that the unremunerative routes are run. It is easy to get people to tender for the operation of remunerative routes. What we have to see is that the routes that are necessary for our security, for social or commercial reasons, are worked, even though they are not remunerative. It is because we believe that the best way to secure that is to pool remunerative and unremunerative routes together that we have put these proposals before the House. The Lord Privy Seal on another occasion used a phrase "plucking the eyes from the carcase." We are determined that that shall not happen, and we want to see that the people who are prepared to run the unremunerative routes shall also have a reasonable share of the remunerative ones. There is the further complication in applying the right hon. Member's suggestion to the United Kingdom. America is a vast continent of 48 States, not separated by frontiers.
We believe that an unanswerable case has been made out for integrating the internal air lines in the United Kingdom and the European air routes. It is obvious there must be a greater measure of control and order in the European routes, where we shall be dealing with foreign Governments, than in the United Kingdom, so that it would be impossible to have a separate policy for the purely domestic routes and the European routes. They are to be welded together so the obligation to have greater order on the European routes leads inevitably to a partial elimination of competition in the purely domestic routes at home. To those people who may be frightened of the absence of competition at home, I 769 would say there will be full and free competition, full and relentless competition in Europe. The company operating in Europe will have to face up to that fact, and it will cause them to apply the lessons there to the problems of internal air-lines as well and to use there the same vigour as in Europe. I am sorry to hurry so but I have not very much time, and I hope the House will forgive me if I speak at rather record speed.
The hon. Member for West Islington attacked the proposals from quite another angle. He seemed to regard this as the introduction of railway companies into air transport, but the railway companies were introduced into it in 1929. During that momentous year we had both a Conservative and Labour Government, and the railway companies came in through the action of Parliament. If there is something wrong, which I do not believe, the mischief was done then. The railways had considerable experience before the war, and have had substantial experience during the war, and as my hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) said, they have flown successfully vast distances and carried large numbers of passengers during the war. They have realised that they can only meet air competition in the air. There has been a story in the past of attempts, perhaps, to strangle other forms of competition in the competitive circumstances of the day. But they realise they will only meet competition in the air in the air, and I have little doubt that they will prove in every way competent to grapple with this new competition.
The hon. and gallant Member for Watford (Air Commodore Helmore) asked two questions with regard to the recruitment of the pilots and personnel. I am sure he would not wish me to say there is going to be a "closed shop" for the R.A.F. and the Fleet Air Arm. If I did I might have to go back on my words a few months afterwards. But as the Corporations will want the best men for these jobs, so they will inevitably turn to the very obvious nursery of courage and talent, the R.A.F. and the Fleet Air Arm, and there will be a great sense of priority in their minds when they come to decide who shall be the pilots and crews in their various fleets. But lest it should be thought there are going to be innumerable openings for R.A.F. and Fleet Air Arm pilots in the early days, I would say that 770 the first tentative estimate is that some thousand people will be required for all the civil air crews in the immediate future. The hon. Member for Duddeston (Sir O. Simmonds) gave the House a very interesting speech based on his wide personal experience as an aeronautical industrialist. I am quite sure that my noble Friend will read that speech with particular interest. It was full of good ideas and suggestions.
I agree with him that half the value of these proposals is the genuine belief of His Majesty's Government that they represent a wide measure of agreement in all sections of the House, despite surface disagreements. I agree with him that the fact that two out of the three Corporations are prepared to operate without subsidy is an earnest of their confidence in the future of British aviation. I was asked about independent operators. The same point was referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Major Neven-Spence), who was, I am afraid, brought rather prematurely to a close. The independent operators have great experience, and there is no intention whatever to belittle or to under-value the part they have played in the building up of aviation in past years. Nor is there any intention to deprive ourselves or the Corporations in the future of their experience. They have not been expropriated without benefit or compensation. Every one of them still surviving at the time these proposals came out has been offered shares either in the main company or, what appears to some of them more attractive, the right to run subsidiaries in co-operation with the main company. These offers remain open, and the fact that certain operators have not so far accepted them is no reason why they should not come in. A number have accepted the offer and are prepared to cooperate. The offer remains open to those who have not accepted.
The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) asked questions about the travel agencies. It is true that three of the great travel agencies have been acquired by the railway companies, but a number of others have not, and I would mention two—Lunns and the Workers' Travel Association, both of which are to co-operate. The Government particularly welcome the co-operation of the Workers' Travel Association. We believe that the view that aviation in 771 the future is to be limited to a few rich people or business people is a form of national suicide. We believe that air travel should be extended to other sections of the community, and we are glad to think that the Workers' Travel Association are going to play their part. The hon. Member also asked me about the Canadian and Caribbean routes. In regard to the Caribbean route there is a local company, the British West Indies Airways, which we are assisting in every possible way with crews and ground staff, and shall continue to assist, which will probably come into co-operation in the form of a subsidiary. As to the Pacific, we are hoping to co-operate with the Canadian and Australian operators between Canada and Australia.
A number of hon. Members asked questions about Scotland. When the schedule of routes comes to be published it will be found that Scotland has got a very substantial network right across that Kingdom. Indeed, because of the number of the islands and remote districts, it may be shown that Scotland has a greater density of potential routes than any other part of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) made certain statements in regard to the Australian and New Zealand plan and seemed to suggest there had been an intrigue between my Noble Friend and Mr. Berle, whereby there was not full discussion of these proposals. I think that that was a most improper suggestion, if I may venture to be frank. We have worked in the closest co-operation with Australia and New Zealand, and I am sure that the delegates of those two countries at Chicago would indignantly deny that we had in any way interfered to prevent full and frank discussion of their proposals. At the preliminary meeting, at Ottawa, it was arranged that they should raise the matter at Chicago, and that if it did not command support they would line up behind the British plan, because it seemed absurd to spend time in discussing something which, however ideal it was thought to be, was nevertheless outside the scope of practical politics. The hon. Member also suggested that there was under-representation of the civil side of aviation at the Conference. The fact is that our delegation consisted of eight members, all of them civil aviation men, the Permanent Secretary, Air Ministry; 772 the Assistant Under-Secretary from the Civil Aviation Department, and only two men in uniform, both of whom had been previously in civil aviation.
The hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) was very depressed about the future. We share her enthusiasm, and recognise the single-minded devotion with which she has applied herself to promote that policy in this House. I do not believe that it will work out in the gloomy way she imagines. We have no intention of allowing a sealed pattern of management. She referred to the United States going into paeans of delight because of these proposals, There have been no paeans of delight in the United States. Such paeans as there have been there have been severely tempered by the fierce discussions in Congress as to whether they should have a chosen instrument. It may prove that this country has come to a more permanent decision than some of our Allies. The hon. and gallant Member for Chatham (Captain Plugge) asked if foreign operators would be allowed to operate in this country. It is, of course, our hope and intention to encourage the widest possible number of foreign operators to come to this country. Cabotage is preserved; and so there will be no competition from foreign operators on internal lines in Great Britain. The hon. and gallant Member asked whether, if British pilots and machines were used by foreign operators, they would be banned by the monopoly requirements of these proposals. Any country with which we have made bilateral agreements will be able to settle entirely who fly their machines, and where the aeroplanes come from.
My right hon, and gallant Friend the Member for Central Nottingham (Sir F. Sykes) made one or two references to conversions and new types of aircraft, and also made a series of valuable suggestions, which I will pass on to my Noble Friend. No one is more entitled than my right hon. and gallant Friend to speak on all matters dealing with flying, as regards both the R.A.F. and civil aviation, and I welcome his intervention. We are confident that we have made progress which will stand examination and will survive. We know that in the last five years we have made the best combat aircraft in the world. We have in the R.A.F. and the Fleet Air Arm men whose skill and courage saved civilisation. We have in our factories the best fund of engineering 773 skill. We know that our future lies in the air. We believe that this national policy, which links up with our international policy, will best enable us to use our resources so as to hold that unequalled place in the air which our Imperial position demands.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I would point out that we cannot talk about legislation on a Supply Day.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
Surely this is not a matter of discussing something which will occur in legislation; it is a matter of asking the Government's intentions.
§ It being a quarter-past Nine o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14, to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Report of the Resolution,
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to—