HC Deb 05 November 1947 vol 443 cc1810-2
15. Mr. Shepherd

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation why an aircraft was specially chartered to take the Minister of Civil Aviation to the South Pacific Air Transport Conference; and which members of the Minister's family travelled with him; and what was the total cost of the flight at public expense.

16. Mr. Cooper

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation what was the total mileage and cost involved and the quantity of petrol used for the special aircraft which the Minister chartered for his trip to Australia recently; how many accompanied him on this trip and for what purpose was each passenger included; what would have been the cost if the Minister and the essential minimum number of officials had booked their passages on scheduled airline planes.

Mr. Lindgren

My noble Friend and Lady Nathan were invited by the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, China and Siam, to visit those countries as their guests, and my noble Friend led the United Kingdom delegation at the South Pacific Air Transport Council, after which he had important civil aviation discussions in Hong Kong, Singapore, Ceylon and Karachi. He was accompanied by two officials from the Department, and by his son; in respect of the latter no charge to public funds arises. These visits could not have been undertaken except by special aircraft. The total mileage flown was 32,178, the amount of petrol used 31,600 gallons, and the cost to public funds £20,116.

Mr. Sheppard

Is is not a fact that, in the interests of public economy and prestige, the Minister should travel by B.O.A.C? Why is it that Socialist Ministers are such gluttons for privilege?

Mr. Lindgren

The last part of the question is unworthy of the hon. Member. In reply to the first part of the question, the Far Eastern section of the route, in particular, could not have been undertaken taken except by charter aircraft, for there are no scheduled air services there. One of the reasons for the tour was to undertake discussions with the Governments concerned, and to create an atmosphere in which further negotiations for the establishment of services could start on sympathetic grounds.

Mr. Cooper

Does the Parliamentary Secretary's noble Friend realise that foreign airlines of some countries, which have taken only two years since the war to reorganise, have by now succeeded in becoming one of their own country's invisible exports, and are now on a paying basis? Does he not think that this example of extravagance exposed by the instance of the Minister's tour is not a good example to set to our nationalised airlines if they are quickly to attain the same happy position as foreign airlines?

Mr. Lindgren

I should think that even my hon. Friend would have realised that the cementing of Commonwealth and international friendship could not be measured by £ s. d.

Mr. Oliver Stanley

Do I understand that the trip was not for the purpose of undertaking negotiations, but to create an atmosphere for negotiations?

Mr. Lindgren

No, Sir. If the right hon. Gentleman will read my answer, he will see that, as the South Pacific Conference was being held, opportunity was taken by the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, China and other countries to invite my noble Friend to visit them. When in those countries, he undertook civil aviation discussions, but the purpose of the journey was to undertake the conference, and to get personal relationships with the various Governments and persons concerned with civil aviation in those Governments.

Mr. Stanley

Did the Minister undertake or conclude any negotiations whatever?

Mr. Lindgren

Discussions were undertaken at each place the tour touched.

Mr. Stokes

Am I right or am I not in understanding that on every possible occasion vacant seats were taken up by a useful pay load?

Mr. Lindgren

No, Sir, it was a charter aircraft, and was used for the purpose of the flight.

Sir W. Wakefield

Could not the Minister have flown out to Australia on the scheduled air line and there chartered a special aircraft for short special journeys? Surely, it would have been a great saving of public funds if that had been done?

Mr. Lindgren

The journey to Australia could have been undertaken by the scheduled service but the route already has a serious backlog of waiting passengers and to have taken that course would have worsened that backlog. Charter journeys from Australia to the Far East would, according to the information I have, cost a considerable sum of money and the total saving would not have been appreciable.

Mr. Jennings

Is not the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied now that a perfect case has been made out for a surcharge on this Minister?

Mr. Shepherd

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.