HC Deb 11 July 1946 vol 425 cc593-620

3.51 P.m.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)

I beg to move, in page 26, to leave out lines 33 to 37.

As the House knows, the Government are setting up an Air Transport Advisory Council. It will be the only body before which anybody who has any complaint or suggestion to make will be entitled to appear. It is true that, from time to time, questions may be asked of the Minister of Civil Aviation in this House, relating to the adequacy or otherwise of existing services. However, unless the Minister is still further to strengthen the control over the corporations, which we feel has already gone much too far, the only outside body before which complainants tan appear is this Air Transport Advisory Council. It is a pretty poor thing, but it is the best the Government are prepared to give to the travelling public. It is a poor thing because, for example, the Minister need only give this Council the information that he deems it expedient to give. While the Minister can fine anybody who does not tell him everything he thinks he ought to know, sums ranging from £100 upwards, he is only obliged to tell this Council what he thinks it expedient to tell them. It is again a poor thing because at any time the Minister may exempt whole classes of people, and a whole range of subjects, from the purview of this Council under the power he takes in this particular Clause. None the less, being, as it is, the best that the Government are prepared to give to the consumers, we want to see that it takes the best practical form under these rather lamentable circumstances.

What do the Government do in the words to which we take exception and for the removal of which we are now moving? In these words the Government expressly prevent the Council from being obliged to hear complaints about any service which is, for the time being, regulated by international agreement. It is true the words do not prevent anybody complaining to the Council. What they do is, they prevent the Council from being obliged to listen to that complaint. We know quite well that, earlier in this Clause, it is provided that the Minister can set up any conditions he chooses. As it is obviously the intention of the Government in these words, that matters relating to international agreements shall not be discussed, it is not unreasonable for us to assume that the Minister will direct this Council not to consider complaints from the general public which relate to matters that are, for the time being, the subject of an international agreement. It is easy for the Government to suggest, in general terms, that the treaty making power is for His Majesty's Government, and that no outside body, such as, the Air Transport Advisory Council, should have the right to criticise, or animadvert on what the Government have done.

I think—as I hope to show—that in this case the Government are going far beyond the proper protection of the treaty making power of the Government, and are, in effect, preventing the air-travelling public from having any say in matters over which they most certainly ought to he allowed to exercise comment from time to time. Nearly every air service is or will be subject to some international agreement. A week or two ago we signed an agreement with Eire. For example, the London-Dublin service is now subject to the Eire agreement. The London-Paris service is subject to the agreement with France. The provincial service from Manchester to Lille in France is subject to an international agreement—appearing, I believe, as one of the scheduled routes in the agreement with France. It will be impossible for anybody to be sure that, if they do complain, the Air Transport Advisory Council shall be obliged to listen to what they have to say. If I feel there ought to be another service to Dublin, not run by any other corporation, or any competitor, but another service provided by the State-owned corporation, and if I say that service should run every day, or twice a day, because of travelling needs, or that other routes should be followed, the Minister may tell the Council to take no notice whatever of my complaint. This applies over the whole range of services between one country and another.

There is one further point which I think the Government have lost sight of, and I hope they will now repair it by agreeing to our Amendment. We on this side of the House accept the Government's view that it is a good thing to link up the home service and the European service. British European Airways, which are to run the service to Europe, are also to take charge of the internal services in the United Kingdom. That was also part of Lord Swinton's plan. All parties agreed on it in the Coalition Government and the Conservative caretaker Government accepted that provision as well. We certainly do not intend to go back on that. Consider the consequences of it. By linking up the home services with all the European routes, almost every home service has now become subject, in greater or lesser degree, to some international agreement. We shall find more and more of these services prevented from having proper discussion before the Air Transport Advisory Council. The defence of the Government in Committee was that it would be embarrassing for them to have an advisory council commenting on international agreements. As has been shown constantly, this is only an advisory council; it can only recommend something to the Government, and the Government are not in the least obliged to take the slightest notice of it. Indeed, it is one of our complaints that they are not obliged to listen to the Air Transport Advisory Council. Surely the Government cannot seriously argue that they are being embarrassed in their international negotiations by advice tendered by an expert advisory body, whose advice they are not even obliged to accept?

I think we are entitled to ask this question: How on earth do the Government expect to get information which will enable them, when the time comes for these various treaties to be reconsidered, to put forward sensible suggestions for varying any international agreement they may have made? After all, it is the travelling public who know, and will know, where the shoe pinches. If they are not allowed to say so, how are the Government who represent them, and are their only representatives, to get information to enable them to make a better agreement next time with another country? I feel we are drifting into further illustrations of the results of all Socialist schemes, of the dislike of the Socialist Government to have proper discussion, and of their prevention of people commenting on what, in a moment of electoral aban- don, they appear to have voted for. It is an illustration also of how the Government are fastening restrictions round the electorate, and if they had seriously thought those restrictions would be imposed upon them it would have certainly led to a very different result at the last election.

What will be the result of a provision of this kind? I hope I am as patriotic a citizen as anybody else. I certainly have no wish to do anything to harm my country, or to travel by other countries' routes when those of my own country are available. However, if I find it is impossible to complain about the service between London and Paris which is supplied by the British Overseas Airways Corporation, and if I find that Air-France welcome my complaint, and indeed provide me with a paper on which to write it down, despite the fact they are linked by an international agreement, I will begin to go by Air-France, when there might be some chance of my complaint being listened to and my ideas followed.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

That is if the hon. Member wants to go to France?

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Most certainly. If it is a question of going to Spain I must be allowed to comment on the Spanish service and on the route there. I think even the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) may find himself travelling by a Franco-sponsored corporation when he goes to stir up more trouble in Madrid.

I have taken pains to find out from some of these foreign companies what they do in a matter of this kind. What, for example, is done by Pan-America? Pan-America invites complaints from all sorts of people, without regard to their nationality and without regard to the route of which they are complaining, yet Pan-America, through their Government, are bound as we are by the agreements between the United Kingdom and America. The Belgian Line invites complaints and they do not say that no one can complain about the service between London and Brussels because it is, for the time being, regulated by an agreement between England and Belgium. This seems to be the only country in the world whose citizens are not to be allowed to complain because of some international regulation, which never prevents the other parties to the regulation from making their complaints.

We are gradually building up a State-privileged service which will have, as it has now, a complete monopoly, and which will also have complete protection against any sort of public criticism. We shall be driven to use the House of Commons as the only forum where we can make our complaints, and the grotesque situation which now arises on the Order Paper nearly every day will be magnified a hundredfold as, hit by bit, we find that the activities of these outside corporations cannot be discussed by the general public but that all complaints must be passed through the Parliamentary bottleneck. I cannot believe that that is in the interests of good government or of the proper discharge of our tasks in the air. I do most earnestly ask the Parliamentary Secretary or the Attorney-General to say that they will look at this again and either accept our Amendment or, in another place, introduce some words which will meet the same point of view.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)

I beg to second the Amendment.

There is not much left for me to say in advocacy of this Amendment after the able speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), but I would like to underline one or two points which seem to me to arise if the Government persist in their present attitude. The first is that as the Bill stands the wings of this Air Transport Advisory Council are clipped, and the value of the Council is gravely interfered with. From where is a Council of this kind to draw its information? Surely the fountain of all complaint or criticism of any kind of enterprise, whether it be Government or not, is the public? Therefore, if the public are to be muzzled in this way, if they cannot complain about any service which is the subject of an international agreement, the value of the Air Transport Advisory Council as the source on which the Minister may draw to improve the situation will be seriously curtailed.

Let us think for a moment of exactly what this means. The Government have announced that their conception of air travel is internationalist. If in fact—and we have moved a long way along that road—it is to be internationalist, we might as well scrap the whole of this Clause. Already we have a wealth of agreements with various countries going much beyond what most of iv, thought, as we elicited in Committee. Let me for a moment take the treaty with Eire. We in Scotland and in Great Britain have all our services from this country to Eire conducted for us by a combined service, in which we are junior partners, and which is the subject of an international agreement. That means that we cannot open our mouths to this Air Transport Advisory Council, which is the only channel through which we can approach the Minister on anything to do with air travel between this country and Ireland. This, I submit, is a fantastic situation, and if it is multiplied by the number of other countries—Egypt, France, and, through the Eire treaty, Brussels, Amsterdam and Copenhagen—where are we left with any value in this Clause? I would like who-ever, replies for the Government, to say whether we are prevented from using the Air Transport Advisory Council to bring forward any representations in respect of a line which is indirectly the subject of international agreement. Under the Anglo-Eire Treaty, Irish aircraft are allowed to land in this country to pick up cargo here and then go on to Brussels, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Oslo. Are travellers from this country to be prevented from criticising any other line which may be started from this country to Oslo, etc., because there exists an international treaty with Eire, against which it would offend if we raised complaints on the service to, say, Oslo? I would like to know whether the Government's contention is that this Air Transport Advisory Council is precluded from listening to complaints on that score because indirectly, through Eire, the service to Oslo is the subject of an international agreement.

The Attorney-General made much play in Committee with the objection to this proposal on the ground that this, as he said, was a quasi-judicial body. I say it is nothing of the sort. There is no judicial function attached to the Air Transport Advisory Council; it is entirely an examining and advising body, and I do not even believe that it is necessary for their deliberations and their advice to the Minister to be made public. But even if it is so, will it really offend the susceptibilities of a foreign country if our nationals who have some complaint to make about a service which is the sub ject of an international agreement, go to some body in our country and say so? Surely that is carrying susceptibilities to a terrific length. We have already danced a merry dance in order to avoid treading upon Irish corns, and here once again we are to be prevented from opening our mouths upon any matter of criticism—fares, frequency of service, comforts and so on—because some other Government may be offended if we do so.

As a matter of fact, these treaties, if they are studied, do not regulate fares, and do not regulate the frequency of services. They lay down broad principles, and I do not believe that the broad principles are the kind of thing about which the public will in fact complain. They will complain about the ordinary mundane discomforts of travel, and to argue that because there is a treaty with some other country covering broad principles, anything that even touches the fringe of that treaty, becomes sacrosanct and exempt from criticism is indeed going too far. Would it really matter? These treaties contain Clauses laying them open to revision. The Anglo-Eire Treaty, for example, includes provision for a year's notice. What is the value of that, and what is the value of the Clause saying that where any point of disagreement arises the treaty is open to revision, if nobody is allowed to bring a complaint to show up a defect? The whole thing becomes a vicious circle, in which the Bill is so to speak chasing its own tail. Until some convenient channel can be found through which complaints may flow, it will not be possible to take a step forward in. order to improve the treaty, or the commercial agreement which hangs on it.

Surely the Attorney-General's case that it would offend foreign susceptibilities if these matters were to be considered falls to the ground when he tells us that, although the Air Transport Advisory Council is not forced to listen to complaints, it may nevertheless examine, of its own volition and under its own impetus, the very same things? If it will offend a foreign country if the Air Transport Advisory Committee is asked by the public to examine something which is the subject matter of a treaty, how comes it that it will not offend the foreign country if the Air Transport Advisory Council examines the very same thing on its own initiative? The Government have made an extremely weak and poor case in defence of this Clause, which so restricts one of the few opportunities the public have to make their voice heard against the inefficiencies which, I believe, will show themselves under nationalisation, that if the Government do not accept this Amendment, Clause 36 will be of little value.

The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)

I did think at one time that, apart from the constitutional aspects of this matter, this Amendment might have had something in its favour, on the merits; but I confess that any such delusion has been dissipated by the speeches of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) and the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison). Although I have heard a good many speeches from the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford which have had little relation to the subject under discussion, I do not think I have ever heard a speech which was so completely misconceived as that which he has addressed to the House on this Amendment. May I say, without, I hope, using language which is exaggerated or discourteous, that I cannot help thinking that the two hon. Gentlemen have completely misconceived the position under this Bill?

The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford devoted a considerable part of his speech to saying that if he found he could not make complaints about the services provided by one of the statutory corporations in this country, but that he could make complaints—and would even be provided with a form so to do—in regard to the services provided by Air France, he would travel by Air France; or, if it was a question of going to Spain, that he would travel by Spanish air lines. I do not think the hon. Member has appreciated what this Clause does. There is nothing in this Clause, or in the Bill, to prevent the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford from directing whatever complaints he chooses to the corporations, to any one of the three, in regard to the facilities which they provide. He has exactly the same liberty—indeed, a great deal more—of directing complaints against the services provided by the three English corporations, as he has in regard to the services provided by any foreign corporation. I really do not understand to what point the hon. Member was addressing his mind in this regard. If he considers the services provided by one of the statutory corporations are, in some respect, less efficient than those provided by Air France—whether he is provided with a form for writing down his complaint, I do not know—he is certainly entitled to address his complaints to the corporation, just as he can address them to Air France, just as he can address them to the Spanish corporation; but with this difference, that so far as Air France or the Spanish corporation is concerned, it may be that the complaint will merely be put in the waste paper basket. Certainly, they will not be considered by the foreign corporations with the knowledge that must exist in the case of any complaints addressed to the British corporations, that if the complaints are not dealt with they may be raised in the House, or some communication sent to the Minister in regard to them.

It is not only that in regard to addressing complaints that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford will have a greater opportunity in the case of the British corporations than in the case of Air France or the Spanish corporation. He has, of course, additional rights of complaint. He has the right to complain to this independent, outside body, the Advisory Council. I know of no institution of this kind which exists in France or in Spain to which he can address his complaints. With certain exceptions of a very limited character, as I shall seek to show, the hon. Member can if so minded spend all his time in addressing complaints to this independent body, whose duty it will be to examine them—and, of course, to examine them in a quasi-judicial way. When representations are made to a body of this kind it has to consider them, as I said in Committee, not arbitrarily, but in a quasi-judicial way. He will have that right. In addition, if he wants to make these complaints, he will be entitled to address them to the Government. He will have the ordinary right of a private citizen of writing a letter to the Minister; he will have the ordinary right of a private citizen of this country of writing a letter to his Member of Parliament and of having a Question asked in the House. No such right exists in the case of Air France or in the case of the Spanish corporation; and I cannot for the life of me think why it was that the hon. Member devoted such a large part of his speech to suggesting, that the rights of complaint against the British corporation would be less than those existing in the case of foreign corporations, or that we were, in any way, attempting to protect the British corporations from proper complaint by the users of the services. Far from that being the case, we have provided additional means of complaining about the facilities provided by these corporations, going far beyond any procedure which is available either in the case of foreign corporations or in the case of private undertakings in this country.

4.15 p.m.

Now let me come to what is really the subject of the Amendment which both hon. Gentlemen—no doubt, exercising wise discretion—carefully refrained from mentioning. So far as the proviso, which the Amendment seeks to delete, is concerned, the matter is without any great significance, apart, possibly, from the constitutional point of view. It is one thing to establish a kind of quasi-judicial body, advisory though its functions certainly are, to inquire into the conduct of a statutory corporation and to report upon that conduct to the Government, and an entirely different thing to require such a body to inquire into the conduct of the Government. And that is what this proviso seeks to exclude. If it is desired to question the propriety or the expediency of any treaty into which His Majesty's Government enter the appropriate place to do so is Parliament. That is a matter involving the collective responsibility, not of these corporations, because it has nothing to do with these corporations what treaties His Majesty enters into, but of the Government; and it would be impossible, and, indeed, I should have thought, most embarrassing in our foreign relations, if an outside semiofficial body should be required by law to pass upon any kind of complaint which a private person, not being a British subject, might wish to address to it in regard to the treaties into which His Majesty had thought fit to enter. I would invite the House to say that, in regard to these matters, which are functions, not of the corporations, but of Parliament and the Government, it would be most undesirable to set up a multiplicity of legal' advisers. The legal adviser to the Gov- ernment is Parliament, and the legal advisers to His Majesty are his Ministers. That is the constitutional position in this country, and it would be a pity to alter it in a Bill dealing with civil aviation.

But it is in no way the intention of His Majesty's Government, as the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford appeared at one time to suggest, to issue any directions excluding altogether from the purview of the Advisory Council, questions which may, directly or indirectly, touch upon foreign agreements affecting matters of civil aviation. The Minister may himself refer such matters to the Advisory Council for consideration, if he thinks it proper and expedient so to do, if he thinks that their views will be useful to him on any question which might arise thereafter as to the amendment of the treaty. He is free to do that under the Clause as it stands. Beyond that, the Council will remain free to consider, at its discretion, such matters as may be referred to it, both directly or indirectly, that may touch upon some question of a foreign agreement. If it were the case—I think some example of the kind was suggested on the opposite side of the House—some matter of detail was involved, then, no doubt, the council, exercising a wise and sensible discretion in these matters, would feel that that might properly be examined without causing any embarrassment, either to His Majesty's Government, or to any foreign Government which might be concerned in a particular treaty. If it was a question of frequency, or a question of comfort as one hon. Member has suggested, no doubt the Council would think that here was a matter which was not fundamental, not one of real principle, and was one consideration of which by them would not cause any difficulty.

Colonel Hutchison

I agree with what the Attorney-General is saying, but how is the Council to know that those are issues if the public cannot bring such matters before them?

The Attorney-General

There again, I think there is complete misapprehension on this matter—I am excluding the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow from the observations I made before, because it was, I think, the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford who devoted the greater part of his speech to comparing the posi- tion of Air France with the British corporations. There is nothing in the Clause as it stands, to prevent any member of the public, whether a British subject or not—and that is a very curious feature—making representations to the Advisory Council and complaining about some treaty into which His Majesty has entered. The Clause provides, however, that the Advisory Council are not compelled to pass upon such representations, and are not compelled to take them into account. If they receive a complaint upon the subject of some foreign treaty, they would be entitled to consider whether it was a mere matter of detail, such as some question on comforts provided by British services in comparison with other services, or whether it was an attack on the principle of a treaty concluded by His Majesty with a foreign Power. If the Council took the view that it was a matter of principle—as has been said, most of the treaties deal only with principles—and not of detail, the Council would not pass upon it. If in was a matter of detail which was not really covered by a treaty or, did not affect the general principles of a treaty, then no doubt the Council, in the exercise of wide discretion, would say that this was a matter with which they could deal. In the case mentioned of an Irish service through this country to some foreign country, I can see no reason why the Council should be precluded under this Clause from considering an independent representation that there was need for additional facilities, unless the treaty was expressly limited in some particular way: but if that was not so, it is open for anyone to say that there are not enough facilities. Corning back to the matter with which this proviso is intended to deal, the basic principles of international agreements, l must ask the House to say that the constitutional advisers of His Majesty are His Majesty's Ministers, and if the public of this country consider that His Majesty has entered into a treaty which is undesirable or inexpedient, the proper forum in which this matter should be considered is the House of Commons

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

I understand the Attorney-General is refusing to admit this Amendment, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) so admirably moved, as suitable to this Bill. I under- stand that the Government are rejecting it, on the ground that this Advisory Council is of a quasi-judicial nature, in spite of the thorough explanation given by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison) showing that it is not. It is suggested that, if this Advisory Council were empowered to inquire into representations by members of the public about international agreements, it would, in fact, be inquiring into the conduct of the Government. Apparently the Council are not allowed to do this, but are to inquire into the conduct of the corporations. I understand that that is the reason why this Amendment is not acceptable to the Government. For the life of me I cannot see the difference. What are these corporations? They are publicly owned bodies, controlled by the Government, and they are the instruments of the Government. I cannot see the difference between these corporations and the Government, because, as I have said, they are owned and controlled by the Government, and their policy is the direct responsibility of the Government. If the Advisory Council criticise the conduct of the corporations, they are criticising the conduct of the Government, because the Minister is responsible for the operations of the corporations.

It seems to me that the Attorney-General has made a completely false point. If he is willing to concede that the Advisory Council can criticise the corporations, I cannot see why he does not accept the logical conclusion that they can criticise the Government. As the Bill stands, it seems to me that there is nothing much left for the Advisory Council to do. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies will tell us what there is for the Advisory Council to do. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford has pointed out, the air lines from this country run to all countries in the world; indeed, the internal air services in this country are part of the services which run to other countries. If all these services are subject, directly or indirectly, to international agreements and are to be excluded, what is left for this Advisory Council to advise about? The exclusion of what seems to me to be a very reasonable Amendment, makes nonsense of this Clause because it abrogates all the powers of this Advisory Council to advise. Again and again the Attorney-General has said that if the public have complaints, they can make them to their Members of Parliament, but surely Members of Parliament have other work to do than deal with complaints of this kind.

The Attorney-General

I said that the normal course would be to make a complaint, in the same way as you would make a complaint in the case of any private undertaking, to the corporation, and then, if that did not bear fruit, there was the additional sanction that you could go to your Member of Parliament.

Sir W. Wakefield

That is true, but the purpose of having an Advisory Council of this kind is to introduce a medium for complaints by the public, and so there is no need to trouble Members of Parliament. I welcome the setting up of this Advisory Council, but what we complain about is that while we are setting up this admirable piece of machinery in the Bill, the Government are proceeding to take away all the powers it might have had; they are taking away all its most important functions. I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter in view of what has been said, and if this Amendment is not precisely suitable, I hope it will be reworded so that the Advisory Council can, with propriety, hear complaints from the public about rates, fares and conditions of service, even if these matters are the subject, directly or indirectly, of international agreement.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Mikardo (Reading)

The Attorney-General has given a plain answer to hon. Members opposite which must convince everyone, who is not completely blinded by ignorance or prejudice. Since the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) is clearly one of those travellers who makes up his mind that he is going to complain before he starts travelling, and starts to complain from the moment he gets to the booking office, it would probably be a good thing for the British air services if, in fact, he gave his patronage to foreign air lines.

Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stone)

I think that everyone throughout the country regards a safeguard for the public, such as an advisory council, as a matter of the greatest importance when a monopoly of any sort is set up. In normal trade, if the customer is not satisfied, he can go elsewhere. Under this scheme, of three monopolies, it is not possible for him to go elsewhere, except to a foreign air line. I think that it is of extreme importance that this Advisory Council should be an organisation which can be of genuine help to the people of this country. The speech of the Attorney-General has shown clearly that this organisation is of almost no value to the consumer whatsoever. He said that there would be three methods by which the public could appeal, if they felt that they were not receiving the service which they should receive for the money they were paying. He said that, first, one could write to one's Member of Parliament, and, secondly, one could write to the corporation.

The Attorney-General

First, to the corporation.

Mr. Fraser

He can first write to the corporation, secondly, to the Member of Parliament, and, thirdly, he may write to the Advisory Council a letter which they may reject, if they do not think it suitable. It is a case of the corporation—"Passed to you;" the M.P., "Passed to you;" the Advisory Council, "Reject." I believe that it is vital—and we were promised something of this nature in Committee—that there should be an Amendment to this Clause to say that the Advisory Council is a reality, instead of a myth, which I think is what is wanted by the people in the country, if not by some in this House.

Major Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

I wish to take up one point made by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield). That was the question of using the service of Members of Parliament in these forms of complaint. I, personally, looking into the future, object, on these nationalisation issues where there is a question of a complaint being raised, to the Government always saying, "You can bring the matter up through your M.P." I have listened to the Attorney-General speaking on other Bills—the Coal Bill, for instance—when the same sort of arguments which were put to him received a similar answer—"The M.P. can take it up." With the prospect of the nationalisation of iron and steel, gas, electricity and transport, it would seem that, on all these occasions, the Government will take the attitude that there is no need to set up a proper method of dealing with complaints, because you can use this House as a channel for dealing with them. If that is so this House is going to lose a great deal of its power. It is going to be turned into a, more or less, routine complaint shop. I do not like that suggestion, and I do not like that method. This is the first time that I have intervened in this Debate, and I was only encouraged to do so, when I heard the Attorney-General using exactly the same argument here as he used on other nationalisation Bills. I think that we are beginning to see the trend, which is a very dangerous one, and I suggest to him, that, in the future, when he comes to advise the Government on other Bills of this kind, he should remember that we do not want this form of arbitration, I ask him, or the Parliamentary Secretary, to address himself to that point.

Mr. Mitchison (Kettering)

I think that we are getting some way from the consideration of the Amendment and from the proviso, which it is asked should be omitted from the Bill. As I understand the proviso, there is nothing whatever in it to restrict any matter being brought before the Council. The only point in the proviso is a simple one—that the Council shall not be required to hear certain representations.

Mr. Fraser

That surely is the whole point.

Mr. Mitchison

That is the one and only point under consideration now. The only point, therefore, of this Amendment is this: that the Council shall be required—if those who put down the Amendment have their way—to hear these representations. They shall be required to hear representations about matters which, for the time being, are regulated by international agreement to which His Majesty's Government is a party. With very great respect, what does it all come to? They are to be required to hear, and, therefore, presumably, to use the learned Attorney-General's phrase, to pass on representations as to matters of international agreement. Those who have supported the Amendment made a distinction between on the one hand the Corporation, regarded as a creature of the Government and something almost identical with the Government, and on the other the Air Transport Advisory Council, set up equally by the Govern- ment and constituted by the Government. In some mysterious manner, the Advisory Council is to become the guardians of our liberties to such an extent that this Government-created body, set up for its expert knowledge on air transport, is to be the right body to consider foreign treaties to the exclusion of the Minister, who is a Member of the Government for that purpose, and to the exclusion of this House. That is what it comes to. It seems a remarkable view that the guardians of the liberties of the subject and the constitution of this country, should be a technical body, and should not only be entitled but actually bound to consider representations about treaties on a particular subject. I can conceive of nothing more dangerous, and no more peculiar innovation than that which is proposed.

Colonel Hutchison

This does not say "treaty"; it says "international agreement." The hon. and learned Member will know that these travel international agreements descend to details, so much as to come very nearly to include such matters as reductions of fares. What we say is that it should cover all that.

Mr. Mitchison

Surely that is the whole point. It does not matter, as regards the substance of the fact, whether you use the words "international agreement," or, for the sake of brevity, "treaty." There is nothing to prevent the Advisory Council dealing with these matters. In fact, they are required to do so, except on matters covered by international agreement. Concerning the general accommodation of the services and on matters in which the public is likely to be interested they not only can deal with them, but it is their duty to deal with them under this Clause.

I want to make one further point. I, like other Members of this House, have had from time to time to make representations to large privately owned undertakings on behalf of the public and generally I find it, to use a colloquialism, far from easy to get any change out of a large railway company, a large steamship company or even a large privately owned aeroplane company. I welcome this Clause because it will set up a body which will deal with representations from the general public, and I hope and believe that it will go far beyond anything which has hitherto been done by the railways and other private undertakings of this country.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

The Government have just had the assistance of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), who made out, no doubt, a very plausible case, but, if I may say so without offence, I do not think he went the whole way towards clearing away many doubts and fears of hon. Members on this side of the House with regard to this paragraph. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman made a much better case in support of the Government than did the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo), who said that he agreed with the Attorney-General, and that the only thing that lay behind the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) was that he started complaining before he embarked on his journey. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect again on those words and I think he will agree with me that they were not justified. The only reason we are complaining about this paragraph is that we desire to see air travelling conditions for the public in the future made as easy and as comfortable as possible.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering towards the end of his speech talked about the representations he had made in the past to companies with regard to complaints from the general public and, as I fully expected, he instanced the railway companies of this country. I am not going to stand here, nor arc any of my hon. Friends, and suggest—I am talking now of the years before the second world war—that everything in the garden was lovely, with regard to the conditions on the great main lines of this country as far as the general public were concerned. I have been travelling to and from Scotland once a fortnight for 25 years, and I can certainly say that I found many causes for complaint in the years before the war. However, under this Bill we are proceeding to set up a State-owned, State-controlled air service for the people and naturally we expect greater efficiency—I know that is a word which always appeals to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite—from a publicly owned company than we should get from any privately controlled body. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to have that support from hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, but they not think for one moment that I am porting public enterprise against private enterprise. Not at all. I believe in private enterprise and in individual liberty. I prefer the doctrines of the Manchester school to the economic theories held by hon. Members opposite, of which we have heard such a lot since the General Election.

Major Bruce (Portsmouth, North)

Would the hon. Member say he preferred the doctrine of efficiency?

Mr. McKie

I said I preferred the doctrines of the Manchester school to the economic theories held by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. I really hope, despite the assistance which this Debate has provided for the Parliamentary Secretary and the Attorney-General, especially from the hon. and learned Member for Kettering, who urged them to stand firm with regard to our proposal, that the Parliamentary Secretary will indicate that perhaps in another place he will see fit to introduce some words which will seek to allay our fears. I would ask him to remember, and indeed, all the supporters behind him, too, that we have only one object in mind and that is, to provide the greatest possible comfort for the general travelling public. We all hope that as a result of this Bill—and "hope springs eternal in the human breast"—we shall see a great extension of air travel. We certainly want to do everything possible to see that there are no unnecessary inconveniences as far as the great travelling public are concerned.

4.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Mr. Ivor Thomas)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) have disposed admirably, I think, of the constitutional aspect of this question, and it is only the constitutional aspect which induces us to put this proviso in the Bill. I only intervene because it is obvious that hon. Gentlemen opposite think that many more subjects are excluded from the purview of the Advisory Council than are, in fact, excluded by the proviso. I think it is possible to reach an amicable settlement in this Debate. This proviso relates only to matters which are regulated by international agreements to which His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are a party. That is an- other name for saying treaties, for it does not relate simply to international agreements as such. If I made an agreement to meet a young lady in Paris on Saturday next, that would be an international agreement, but it would not be an international agreement to which His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom would be a party; at least, the collective responsibility of the Government would not be involved. What I am leading to is that agreements between operators are not, of course, excluded by this proviso. It relates to agreements to which His Majesty's Government are a party, and only to those agreements.

Secondly, the agreements to which His Majesty's Government are a party, that is to say, the treaties, do not cover nearly so many of the subjects raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite as is supposed. In the first place, the internal services of this country are not touched by this proviso. The fact that we are using the same corporation to run the internal services of this country does not affect this question. The internal services of this country are not regulated by agreements to which His Majesty's Government are a party, and, therefore, they are not covered by this proviso. Any questions affecting these services can be considered by the Air Transport Advisory Council. With regard to international agreements to which the Government are a party with other countries, there are also many subjects that can properly be considered by the Air Transport Advisory Council. All questions of comfort and whether bunks should be provided instead of seats and questions of that sort can properly be brought before the Council.

What are the subjects which are regulated by these inter-governmental agreements? They are questions of certificates of airworthiness, charges to be imposed on aircraft for landing, whether petrol brought in aircraft should be subject to Customs duty and so on. I do not imagine the Air Transport Advisory Council would wish to have such questions considered. Capacity is generally regulated by such international agreements, or at any rate the principles fixing capacity. Within those limits of capacity, frequencies are not generally fixed by intergovernmental agreement. Provided the capacity is not exceeded, we do not, in general, trouble how the frequencies are fixed. In some agreements the frequencies are laid down, but those are exceptions. With regard to fares, they are, in general, subject to agreement between the companies. They are not directly the subject of inter-governmental agreement. I think I have made it clear that there are few subjects, on which the public would wish to make representations, which would be excluded by this proviso.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

We are not entirely satisfied with what we have heard, but what the hon. Gentleman has said, and those parts of the learned Attorney-General's speech which he devoted to the Amendment, and not to personalities, have provided some amplification. We feel that this Debate has been justified, and that some of our doubts have been assuaged. That being so, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

I think it would be for the convenience of the House if the next two Amendments were discussed together.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I beg to move in page 27, line 10 to leave out "he thinks," and to insert "they think."

The House will see that the Minister, under this Bill, is obliged to provide the Council with such information and assistance as he thinks expedient for the purpose of assisting them in the discharge of their functions. As it is an Advisory Council, to which it is hoped to recruit people of substance and integrity, they should be allowed to ask from the Minister the guidance, information and help which they think it is expedient for them to receive. If people do not tell the Minister all he thinks they ought to hear, they will be fined, according to other parts of the Bill, £100, and if they go on doing it will perhaps be gaoled. The Minister, can tell the Council only what he thinks they are entitled to hear. If Government-inspired councils of this kind are to be limited in this way, people unaccustomed to great responsibility will be the only people who will agree to serve on such bodies. More and more, in provisions of this kind, we find the Minister taking the line that it is a concession on his part if he gives information, that the general public, who are the masters of the Minister, and the travelling public, are not entitled to be furnished with information, and that even councils of this kind can only be told what is thought to be good for them to hear. If I may draw a parallel between some of the things which have happened in our Food Debates and this provision, I would say that when the Minister of Food refuses to tell the House, or the people, the essential facts and figures relating to food supplies we are not altogether surprised, because the Minister had at one time a close association, as his first lieutenant, with Sir Oswald Mosley in his early Fascist days——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must be fully aware that that has nothing at all to do with the Amendment.

Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, King s Norton)

On a point of Order. The statement made by the hon. Gentleman that the Minister of Food had an association with Sir Oswald Mosley in his Fascist days is completely false and untrue. There is no truth whatsoever in that statement.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) cannot accuse another Member of making an untrue statement. I would ask him to withdraw the word "untrue."

Mr. Blackburn

I bow to your Ruling, Sir, but may I, with great respect, raise this as a very serious point of Order? A very serious charge has been made by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), a charge which I know to be untrue, and which many Members on this side of the House know to be untrue. It is a disgraceful charge. I am prepared to withdraw any words imputing a desire by the hon. Gentleman to tell a falsehood, but I am not prepared to withdraw the statement that what the hon. Gentleman said was a monstrously untrue thing to say.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I cannot ask the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) to withdraw; that must rest with him. I will only say that what he said was most undesirable.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd rose——

Mr. Scollan (Renfrew, Western)

On point of Order. Does your Ruling mean, Sir, that any Member of this House can get up and tell a most abominable lie?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Gentleman himself is now out of Order. I must ask him to withdraw that statement.

Mr. Scollan

I was asking for your Ruling, Sir, on a point of Order.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member cannot raise a point of Order until he has withdrawn the statement he made.

Mr. Scollan

I was asking a question, not making a statement.

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member made a very definite statement that was un-Parliamentary and, that being so, he must withdraw it.

Mr. Scollan

I will withdraw it, Sir, but may I pursue my point of Order? I want elucidation, I want to know where we stand. Is it your Ruling that a monstrous untruth can be told in the House?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Can I come in on the party now?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I appreciate the difficulty of the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan), but a Member must not make charges in that form.

Mr. Scollan

I want to know exactly where I stand.

Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)

On the wrong foot.

Mr. Scollan

I want to know whether a statement can be made by any Member, including myself, that is grossly untrue.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Shortly, the answer is "Yes," provided it is not un-Parliamentary.

Mr. Blackburn

Would it be in Order for me to say to die hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) that he has been closely associated with Franco and Fascist Spain?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is not a point of Order, and is out of Order.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am grateful for this chance of being able to reintroduce myself into the discussion. I want to put my remarks in perspective. The hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn), with a fury equal to his interest in atomic matters, and a lack of accuracy, charged me with saying something 1 did not say. I was at pains to say—and I said it deliberately, in the hope that we might learn the truth—that the Minister of Food was associated with Sir Oswald Mosley in his early pre-Fascist days——

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think it is quite undesirable to say that.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

It has been said a great deal inside and outside this House, and it would be most interesting some time to hear exactly what the association was. I must claim the right to make plain what I said. I said that—and for the purposes of the record I would like to say it again—and that is all I did say. As to what was said against me by the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan), who accused me of telling an abominable lie, may I tell him that the last time that was said in the House was by Mr. Beckett, who was associated both with the Minister of Food and Sir Oswald Mosley in the same party?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I suggest that we should get on with the Debate on the Amendment.

Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

On a point of Order. Would it be in Order to ask the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) whether the other observation, made about him by my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn), was right or not?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We are not discussing the hon. Gentleman's record, or his past. We are discussing an Amendment, and it would be to the advantage of the House if we got back to it.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The cause of the slight excitement which, considering the weather, has been conducted in a very amicable way, was my saying that when certain Ministers refuse facts and figures, some of us are not surprised because of their totalitarian background. But when it comes to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, or the 'noble Lord who is his chief, we are a little more surprised, because we remember that the noble Lord's background was desertion from the Liberal Party when they looked like doing badly, and joining with the Socialists when they were on the up-grade. I think we are entitled, in view of the more liberal background of those Ministers, to expect some information from them for the benefit of this Council. I think we are entitled to say that the Minister shall provide the Council with such information as the Council think expedient for the purpose of assisting them to discharge their functions. I hope that the extraneous matter which has been so freely introduced into the Debate by hon. Members on all sides, including me—it is a good thing to enliven the Debate from time to time—will not divert the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary from the undoubted merits of this limited Amendment.

5.0 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)

I beg to second the Amendment.

I will preface my remarks by saying that, although this provision of the Bill is an odd one, it is not surprising, since this is a very odd Bill. This provision is another example of the thoughtless and ill-considered phraseology with which the Bill is filled. I do not complain of the phraseology so much as of the fact that the Parliamentary draftsmen who are responsible for it have been so rushed, with so many equally obnoxious Bills, that they have been, obviously, in a harassed state of mind, and have not yet been able to get proper and easily understandable phraseology, or intelligent phraseology, to denote their meaning. Obviously, the meaning of this provision is as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), that is, that the Council, who want the information, should go to the Minister and say, "This is the information we want, this is the assistance we need." It must be obvious to hon. Members that it would be ridiculous that the Minister should hold himself to be the Pooh-Bah of all knowledge, the fountain-head of all wisdom, and should say, "You ought to know this, and therefore, I will give you this information." Surely, the House will not allow an essentially stupid provision of this sort to remain unamended.

The change proposed in the Amendment is necessary. I think I see the dawn of good sense and intelligence in the Parliamentary Secretary's expression, which is so different from the grim and menacing expression of the Attorney-General. I believe that if I sat down now, the Parliamentary Secretary would rise and say that he accepts the Amendment; but I do not intend to sit down now. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford has made certain assertions about the Advisory Council, about which we all hold different views. Personally, I do not think very much of the Advisory Council, especially with the last provision of Subsection (2) left in. But one must give the Council some justification for existence, some raison d'être, something to get their teeth into. If they are simply to sit around in armchairs and wait for the Minister, in his discretion, to tell them what assistance he proposes to give them, that will be denying all identity, all independence and all reason for existence to the Council. If the Advisory Council are to be formed, they should at least be given something to do, and should suggest to the Minister what help and information they need. The Council are the best judges of that. The present Minister has great capacity, although I wish he would use it on more beneficial objects, and net attempt to destroy the possibility of the success of our air services; but if we regard the Council as having any justification for existence, undoubtedly we must charge them with the responsibility of securing from the Minister what, in their judgment, they need. It the House accepts this Amendment, it will be giving vitality to the Advisory Council and will be giving the Council something which will be of enormous benefit, not only to the Council, but to the people who will be looking to them for assistance. If the Amendment is rejected, the Advisory Council will be one more unnecessary and useless appendage to the Minister.

Major Bruce (Portsmouth, North)

It is indeed a pity that the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) saw fit to introduce a theme into the discussion of this provision, a theme which can only have been introduced for the purpose of providing material for his own Press, with which he becomes intoxicated from time to time. I say that because I think there is a good deal of cause for misgiving in this particular Clause. Obviously, the, most desirable words to be inserted in the Clause, in the ordinary way, would be the words '' are expedient for the purpose of assisting the Council to discharge their functions." It should imagine, however, that the insertion of the word "are ' before the word "expedient" would have involved certain legal difficulties or ambiguity, which it would be desirable in the normal course of events to avoid.

I think the safest words to insert here are those words which bring the responsibility squarely upon Parliament. I believe that in this Subsection the responsibility is thrown squarely on the Minister and, in being thrown squarely on the Minister, is made the ultimate responsibility of the House. It is surprising to me that hon. Members opposite, who have lately become the champions of the ordinary people, should suggest in any way that a very important point of this kind should be taken out of the control of the House. If the words are left as they are in the Subsection, the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford will have adequate opportunity, when his political spleen has died down considerably, to raise the matter intelligently as and when the occasion arises. Therefore, I shall resist the Amendment.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

I am rather more confused about the Amendment now than I was when the Debate began. I have done my best to see what substance there is in it, but despite the illuminating speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) and the intervention that followed, I have not succeeded in discovering any substance. The Amendment seems to me to fall down for two reasons. In the first place, the Advisory Council may not know what information is desirable for the purpose of their inquiries; they will not know for which information they ought to ask; and therefore, the duty should not properly be put upon them. Secondly, they might easily ask for information which was irrelevant to their purpose, or which it was undesirable for them to receive, and under this Amendment the Minister would be obliged to supply it to them. Under this Amendment they might, for example, ask for Cabinet conclusions which they thought were necessary for their purpose but which were, in fact, quite irrelevant.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Is it intended- to appoint quite such silly people as that?

Mr. Thomas

No, Sir, but I must deal with the Amendment as it stands literally and grammatically, and the conclusion would be a reasonable one as it stands. There is nothing in this Amendment which says that, notwithstanding the Amendment, the Privy Counsellor's oath shall stand. I think that is a valid objection to the Amendment and, furthermore, if the Council should take the view that the Minister has not supplied them with information with which he ought properly to supply them, they can easily point this out in their annual report, which has to be laid before Parliament. It will thus become common knowledge and can be raised in this House. In those circumstances, I do not think the Minister is likely to withhold information which the Council ought properly to have.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

I beg to move, in page 27, line 17, at the end, to insert: ' (7) the draft of any Order proposed to be made under this Section shall not be submitted to His Majesty until it has lain before each House of Parliament for a period of forty days; and if within that period either House of Parliament resolves that the draft be not submitted to His Majesty, no further proceedings shall be taken thereon, but without prejudice to the laying before Parliament of a new draft. In reckoning any such period of forty days as aforesaid, no account shall be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which both Houses are adjourned for more than four days. This Amendment fulfils an undertaking given in Committee upstairs and means that an Order under Clause 36 will be made the subject of a negative Resolution in Parliament.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

We on his side of the House welcome this action on the part of the Government, which shows their own good sense in this limited matter, and also the watchfulness of the Opposition.

Amendment agreed to.