HC Deb 12 March 1947 vol 434 cc1450-60

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Snow.]

10.26 p.m.

Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)

I should like, first, to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation on being back in the House after his recent accident. Probably he now realises that flying is much safer than breaking the ice for his morning swim.

I wish to raise a subject which is of importance to the civil aviation industry, regarding the appointment of retired senior R.A.F. officers as commandants of civil airports. I dislike having to raise this subject. A number of the people concerned, to whom I am going to refer, are friends and acquaintances of mine. I attach no blame to any of these officers for merely trying to supplement their pensions by getting jobs. Nevertheless, I do blame the Ministry for making the appointments as they have been made. There are many like myself who feel that those employed in civil aviation are not getting a square deal over the recent appointments. For example, there are men flying our air liners who have, perhaps, done 25 years in civil aviation. They are getting near the end of their flying days and are looking forward to ground jobs at the age of, say, 45. They should be the men to be considered for these ground jobs of commanding civil airports.

It is sometimes said that pilots have not administrative experience. A civil pilot, with his great knowledge of operating aircraft, and having travelled over the world on the air routes and knowing the requirements of foreign airline operators, is much more capable of running a civil airport than is an officer who has perhaps spent 30 years in military service and knows nothing whatever about civil aviation. The men to whom I have referred, as their flying days come to a close, have to find other appointments. They are absolutely in their prime at the age of 45. It is most regrettable that these appointments have been made. A'series of appointments has been made in the last six or eight months. Part of my argument is that none of these appointments have been advertised in the daily Press. The Minister of Civil Aviation, then Lord Winster, told the Guild of Air Pilots and the British Air Line Pilots Association that the jobs would be advertised and that those organisations would be consulted regarding any appointments made. The Ministry in question has failed to carry out that pledge. The jobs were not advertised.

Early last autumn the appointment was made of an air vice-marshal as Civil Air Attaché to Washington. The officer was well known, with a great record of service to the country, but nevertheless he had no experience at all of commercial aviation. Pressure was brought to bear on the Ministry and an assurance was given that the matter would be reconsidered at the end of the year. So far nothing has been said about putting a new officer into that appointment. I should like to quote an extract from a letter I received from the British Air Line Pilots Association in which they refer to this matter. The letter states; It is a pity that the Minister of Civil Aviation goes outside the ranks of those who have been intimately connected with civil aviation in the appointment of civil airport officials during the present expansion. It gives rise to the impression that there is no future in civil aviation for the man who enters the industry either on the ground or in the air. He will feel that after he reaches a certain stage of development he will not get any further because the plums will be given to retired R.A.F. officers of high rank and title. I do not want to say anything which will debar my former colleagues in the Air Force from getting good jobs. If the Minister cannot get a man from the civil aviation industry, then let him obtain young men from the Air Force, young wing commanders and group captains who know their job. not men of 55 years of age.

Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)

Are these officers active officers or retired officers.

Air-Commodore Harvey

Retired officers. I will give a few details. One of the appointments is that of area commandant for South East- England, Air Marshal Sir Roderick Carr, a very fine officer who has a great war record, but I cannot say he is the man to have charge of the whole of the airports in South East England. Other appointments are Heathrow, Air Vice-Marshal Sir John D'Albiac; Northolt, Air-Commodore Simpson; Prestwick, Group Captain MacDonald, who, I know, has been employed in the Air Ministry for a few months. I do not quarrel with that appointment, because he is younger and has recent flying experience and, being a Scot, is well fitted to go to Prestwick. The next appointment I refer to is that of the gentleman who is going to control all the civil airports in Scotland, Air-Commodore Murray. I am told he is to get a salary of £1,850 a year. His history in aviation is that he has commanded a balloon squadron and a balloon group during the war. What on earth does he know about aeroplanes? We must have a young man who knows his job, not a man who has been employed with balloons. I quite agree that on other appointments where officers are taken into the Ministry of Civil Aviation for a period of two years—specialist jobs in signals. There is a strong case there, but I do believe that young men who have done signal courses during the war, and have done well in running signal groups, could well have been considered for these appointments.

This is just not good enough. I know of one man, a Captain Brent, who has completed some 10,000 or 12,000 flying hours. He decided that his flying days were drawing to a close, and he wanted a job on the ground. He went to the Ministry and asked for£1,200 a year, and was told it was much too much. He is lost to aviation, because he is now managing a factory manufacturing boot polish, and making more money than he would in any Government job. That is a case where a pilot has left a flying career, and gone into a really good administrative job and is holding it down. He could have taken any of the jobs which have recently been filled by these senior officers.

Recently the Government approached the Air Ministry for six Air Vice-Marshals to join the Coal Board, but, fortunately, the Air Ministry refused because they wanted their good Air Vice-Marshals. I think it is a very sad day when these Government concerns have to rob the R.A.F. of men who are doing good service. I do ask the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider this matter, because it is a slur on our air line pilots and those employed in the civil aviation industry. They have done a great job during the war in B.O.A.C. and Transport Command and since, in building up this industry, which requires all the help and encouragement that can possibly be given to it, so that this almost young industry will go ahead in the way we want to see it progress. What surprises me is that in the past the party opposite has accused my party of finding jobs for the Admirals and Air Marshals, and now we see these very important jobs being filled by officers of general rank without any consideration for those outside the Services. There is great concern in the industry. I know that in my own company, and in the Guild of Air Line Pilots—of which I am on the court—there is great concern, and I believe that if the hon. Gentleman pursues this policy, he is certain to lose by it. We want young men coming in who know their jobs and who will stay for 20 years, not men who will come in for, perhaps, three years just to make a little bit extra, over and above their pensions. I hope a great change will be made, and that these appointments will not stand for even three years.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough, West)

I find myself in the rather regrettable position of having to agree with an hon. and gallant Member on the opposite benches, but I approach the subject from a rather different angle. I am deeply concerned that our civil aviation industry, which has been nationalised, should be an outstanding success. After all, if these early schemes of nationalisation are not to be outstanding successes, which will set an example, the policy which is being pursued by the Government will tend to be discredited. Therefore, at an early date, we should take steps to see that the people appointed by the Minister are entirely suitable for the jobs. I know it is a very easy thing to say, but in a new industry like this there are not the people who have the experience required.

I have looked at this list of recent appointments, which the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) has described, and I cannot see what special qualifications they have for taking up appointments in civil aviation. The one point, the obvious point, is that their chief qualification is having some knowledge of flying, but, taking a parallel example, if it were a question of running a shipping line, or controlling one of our seaports, should we necessarily look to the ranks of the Navy, and put a retired Admiral in charge? I do not think that would be done. I think that in those circumstances, whoever was responsible would look into the ranks of industrialists and those who had commercial experience in shipping lines. The same would apply in the case of the nationalised railways. I am sure the Minister responsible would not look to the ranks of the Army to find R.T.O.'s to become stationmasters. Here we have the civil aviation industry, which is a young and developing industry requiring people with imagination and people who have their careers to make in the industry. These are the people who will take a vital interest in the way in which the airports are managed and operated. We do not want men who are mere figureheads and who are taken from the retired lists of the Forces, whose outlook is already established. These men have the outlook of men who have been brought up all of their lives in a military atmosphere, and it is not an atmosphere we want in our civil air ports.

With regard to the question of whether or not suitable talent can be found, my experience has been that when men come back from the Forces—and I expect it is the experience of other hon. Members of the House—they have written to us asking if we knew of any way in which they could get into our nationalised civil aviation. Time and time again I have had to write back and say that their only way is to approach the Ministry directly. They have told me they have already done so, without any success whatever. If they were fortunate enough to get an interview, they were told that many hundreds had applied, and the prospects held out to them were very slight. Yet now, at this late date, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman has indicated, without even advertising the posts, these men are appointed to responsible positions, and having only their past military careers as qualifications. I have known civil air line pilots who have left the industry in disgust because when they have completed their flying careers, they cannot enter suitable industries commensurate with their talents. Some of these disappointed men have even left the country because it is not offering them a chance in the industry which we need to build up probably more than any other country if communications throughout the Empire are to be adequately developed.

On 27th February, the Minister of Civil Aviation sent out a circular to the Press referring to a number of appointments he had just made within the Department. Six appointments were being made, all of senior Royal Air Force officers, to fill certain technical services—as they were described—in the Ministry. They included the post of Director of Civil Air Operations, Chairman of the Joint Aircraft Control Board and Deputy Director of Civil Air Operations, Deputy Director of Control, Deputy Director of Civil Air Operations, and so forth. Two of those posts were of a technical nature, those dealing with telecommunications, the Director and Assistant Director of Telecommunications. But, I cannot see that the other posts necessarily require military men to fill them. The circular says that these men will be there only for a short time while civilian personnel are being trained. If civilian personnel are being trained for these posts, why is it that in these posts not only the man in charge, but the assistant also—the Deputy Director of Civil Air Operations for example—is drawn from the ranks of the Air Force?

I should have thought that if men were to be trained from civil life, to take these posts, it would be proper that the deputy, the man who is the understudy, should be the man who would take over the post at a later date. Has my hon. Friend already got the men in training for these posts? Here we have military men becoming established in new Departments, yet in civil aviation it is becoming the general practice, not only in this country, but in America also, to have men specially trained for civil aviation. If we are to train men for a special job, surely if they are already qualified as military men that will be the standard set, because they are the people we are taking on for these jobs on the staff at the start. These jobs are of a civil nature, and it is essential that we should have civilians in them, from the beginning. It is essential that we should have men of experience in these posts—

Air-Commodore Harvey

On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I appeal to you that time should be given to the Minister to reply?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

That is not a matter on which I can give any instruction, but the hon. Member who is speaking should bear it in mind.

Mr. Cooper

The last point I wish to make is this. Instead of carefully describing the qualifications of the individuals, as has been done in this circular, will my hon. Friend be good enough to describe the posts which the men are going to fill? There is a good deal of confusion in the civil aviation world about all the many jobs in the Ministry and the way in which the Ministry is meant to function. It is not at all clear at present.

10.45 p.m.

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

First, I should like to thank the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) for his reference to my accident. It may be tragic to admit it, but apparently I need "air-commodore's weather" to save me on the ground. But I am glad of the opportunity given me tonight to give some indication of the policy of my noble Friend in regard to the staffing of the Ministry for which he is responsible.

I think everyone will agree that the success of civil aviation, and the success of air line operators, will depend on ground organization—telecommunications, navigational aids, and the general ground organisation for aerodromes for which my noble Friend is responsible. If that is to be effective, there must be confidence, especially as regards the user of the facilities for which the Minister of Civil Aviation is responsible. If we are to have that absolute confidence, I do not think that there should be any one line of recruitment for promotion within the service of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield meant it. I am not so sure about the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Cooper), but I do not, perhaps, think that either hon. Member meant that the Royal Air Force was to be excluded. I think that men who join the Royal Air Force ought to have a guarantee that there is an avenue for their activities after their period of service with the Royal Air Force. My noble Friend's desire is to have a ministerial service to provide an avenue for promotion for men within the service, and that there should be promotions in addition to civilian recruitment; that there should be assistance also from the charter companies, to establish a service for the full benefit and confidence of persons using aircraft.

Mr. Cooper

Does that mean that there are to be opportunities for these men after they have retired?

Mr. Lind—ren

No, one does not assume that in any shape or form. Those looking for appointments are usually those short- serviced in the Royal Air Force, and my scheme is directed to short-service men in the Royal Air Force. It must be remembered that there has been no civil aviation since 1939. Admittedly, we had B.O.A.C., and Imperial Airways in the first part of the war, but even the facilities available to B.O.A.C. were provided by the Royal Air Force. The only people to have any experience whatever of large-scale air operation, and control of aerodromes and operations, and who have the knowledge of up-to-date navigational aids, and other things which have developed very considerably during the war, are those who have had service with the Royal Air Force. Therefore, we start off—

Mr. Brendan Bracken (Bournemouth)

What about the Fleet Air Arm?

Mr. Lindgren

I would cast no reflection on the Fleet Air Arm, but, so far as the Royal Air Force is concerned, it is true that their operational experience was greater than that of the Fleet Air Arm in relation to civil aviation. But these three appointments were made of officers over retirement age, and they are short-term appointments for three years. I can only speak from this Box on the information which is placed at my disposal and on that information which is placed at the disposal of my noble Friend within my own Ministry and my information is that within my own Ministry and among those who were in the Corporation's service in civil flying, there was not the experience which is required for these highly responsible jobs as commandants for Northolt, the London Airport, and these other specialised posts.

Air-Commodore Harvey

Will the Parliamentary Secretary explain why these commandants are to have assistants who have a wide experience in civil aviation to see them through the job?

Mr. Lindgren

The reason is that the first appointments made are of men who, I am informed, were recommended to my noble Friend by the Air Member for Personnel at the Air Ministry, and he, after all, should know.

Wing-Commander Hulbert (Stockport)

Is not the Air Member for Personnel one of the officers the hon. Gentleman has now appointed?

Mr. Lindgren

No. Years ago—in the years before the war. Since then, he has been in Transport Command and quite a number of positions in the Air Ministry, and finally he has come, with a very creditable record, to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. These appointments were recommended; selections were made by the Ministry of Civil Aviation from among names recommended to us by the Air Member for Personnel, the reason being that we had not the experienced personnel within the Ministry of Civil Aviation at present.

Air-Commodore Harvey

Why was the pledge given by Lord Winster broken, and the Guild and the British Air Line Pilots' Association not approached, as was promised?

Mr. Lindgren

This is the only instance in which that has not been done.

Wing-Commander Hulbert

Surely all the plums have gone. Why were not these jobs advertised, instead of these hole-in-the-corner appointments being made?

Mr. Lindgren

I must ask the hon. and gallant Member to withdraw that remark. It is not fair. After all, an Air Vice-Marshal is not a complete nitwit. should never have thought that I should have to stand at this Box and defend high-ranking officers of H.M. Services. These are men of fine record who have justified themselves in the service of their country. If it is to be assumed by hon. Members opposite that because a man has reached high rank in the Services, he is not going to fit into civilian life, it is a surprise to me.

Mr. Bracken

The Parliamentary Secretary must not assume that. The complaint is that the Minister gave an undertaking that appointments would be advertised. In a democratic community great appointments, or any appointments, should be advertised in the Press. Why did not the Ministry keep that promise?

Mr. Lindgren

These are very specialised posts which few men are qualified to hold.

Mr. Bracken

Could not they answer an advertisement?

Mr. Lindgren

They could, of course, have answered an advertisement, but these were three specialised posts, short-term posts, and we want later to develop within our own service men to fill these posts. Such men will be coming out in three years' time, when we shall have developed them in our own service—

Mr. Bracken

Will the Parliamentary Secretary answer whether or not the Ministry advertised these appointments, and if not, will he say why the promise was broken?

Mr. Lindgren

The previous Minister of Civil Aviation gave a promise, which my noble Friend will honour, to B.A.L.P.A. and G.A.P.A.N., that they will be notified when any posts are available.

Mr. Beswick (Uxbridge)

Will the Parliamentary Secretary make it clear when these three men were appointed? Were they appointed before the present Minister held office?

Mr. Lindgren

No, they were not. It makes no difference. In every instance, except these three, they have been notified and given an opportunity to advertise the vacancies among their membership. In these three instances the promise was not kept, for the reason that they were very specialised posts, temporary posts for three-year appointments, and the appointments were made from among men in a very restricted field. To have advertised would have been foolhardy, because it would have raised hopes perhaps in the breasts of hundreds of people, and caused a considerable amount of work, when in fact there would have been no hope for them. The men appointed have been provided through the R.A.F. with the strongest recommendations of their ability to do the job. They are temporary appointments and later, we shall provide openings for recruitment—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Order made upon 13th November.

Adjourned at Four Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.