HC Deb 29 June 1949 vol 466 cc1405-8

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84.—[King's Recommendation signified.]

[MAJOR MILNER in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to provide for the merger of the British South American Airways Corporation with the British Overseas Airways Corporation; to authorise the appointment of an additional deputy chairman of the British Overseas Airways Corporation; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid, it is expedient to authorise—

  1. (a) any increase in the amounts chargeable on the Consolidated Fund under section sixteen of the British Overseas Airways Act, 1939, which may be attributable to provisions of the said Act of the present Session extending the borrowing powers of the British Overseas Airways Corporation;
  2. (b) any increase in the amounts payable out of moneys provided by Parliament under section twelve of the Civil Aviation Act, 1946, which may be attributable to provisions of the said Act of the present Session authorising the appointment of an additional deputy chairman of the British Overseas Airways Corporation;
  3. (c) any increase attributable to any provision of the said Act of the present Session in the amounts payable into the Exchequer under section eighteen of the said Act of 1946."—[Mr. Glenvil Hall.]

9.14 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I feel sure that the Financial Secretary, after the warnings we have had from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the position of the country, will not wish that a Financial Resolution of this kind should go through Committee without, at any rate, having a chance of explaining, as clearly as he possibly can, what sums may fall to be paid by the Treasury and, of course, the taxpayers under this Resolution. By paragraph (b) of this Financial Resolution a certain amount of money has to be found for the deputy chairman. Perhaps the Financial Secretary will be able to tell me approximately what that official's salary will be, and also what allowance is likely to be made to him for the cost he may incur in the performance of his duty. I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that there were some very strong speeches at a place called Blackpool the other day by working men, most of whom, of course, support the Conservative Party these days, on the subject of high salaries. Naturally, knowing that there is in the country today that feeling about salaries it would be grossly improper on the part of the Committee were it to pass blindly a Financial Resolution without even asking what the salary is to be in this case. I hold the view that if we are to get a good man we must pay him a good salary, and I shall not depart from that point of view. But there are hon. Members opposite, many of whom I am no doubt looking at at the present moment, who in their time have proclaimed vividly that £1,000 a year was too much for anyone.

My second question is on paragraph (a), which concerns any increase in the amounts chargeable, and ends by referring to the borrowing powers of the British Overseas Airways Corporation. I should like some idea of the limits which there are likely to be on borrowing, because here again we are up against the Chancellor's problem of getting enough money, and I feel it my duty to try to protect him against any demand from the Minister of Civil Aviation which may upset his Budget balance—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am indeed glad to hear my remarks received with such appreciation by Members of the Government back benches. I only hope that as it is now fairly late they will not take up a lot of time by making speeches from a sitting position, which seem to be the only speeches which usually come from them at this time of the evening.

Paragraph (b) increases the amounts payable out of moneys provided by Parliament authorising the appointment of the additional deputy chairman. I do not know that I am right, but I imagine that means the people who are on his staff and assisting him in various ways. There is a third sum in connection with which I am sure the Financial Secretary, following the new position taken up by his leader the Chancellor—to whom he is so loyal although I would not say subservient after the things he has done in the last two or three days—will undoubtedly do his best to let the country know what costs will be incurred.

Paragraph (c) is almost the most interesting part of this Financial Resolution, because as I understand it this lays down that any profit that is made will be paid to the Exchequer. I do not anticipate very large profits, but quite obviously some estimate must have been made of the likelihood of making a profit. Perhaps we may be given an idea what it is estimated to be. The Chancellor himself, if he had the time among his numerous foreign visits, would have looked into this, as Chancellors of old would have done, and would have been hunting up any possible chance of a profit.

I have made those four points very shortly, because I know that there are other things the House wishes to do, and as I am somewhat exhausted after having had to work so much in the last two days. Nevertheless, I did feel that we ought to be given those elementary figures. Looking at the strong array on the Treasury Bench, and at the obviously worn-out appearance of the Home Secretary—who now seems to be in conversation with his colleagues as to who shall answer these questions—I am sure that some help will be given, not to me, for I do not ask for myself, but to the whole body of taxpayers, who are naturally interested to know where we stand.

9.19 p.m.

Mr. Lindgren

This Bill does not provide for any additional finance. All this Resolution does is to bring together the powers of the Civil Aviation Act, 1946, as applied to B.S.A.A. and B.O.A.C., in order to apply them to the new Corporation. The salary of the deputy-chairman does not concern this Resolution at all. He is an employee of the board; he receives his salary from the Corporation, and is not affected in any way by this Resolution. This Resolution brings together the borrowing powers of B.S.A.A. and B.O.A.C., which become £60 million. Paragraph (c) applies Section 18 of the Civil Aviation Act, 1946. It lays down that any profits made by B.S.A.A. between now and the time when they go out of existence shall be included in the moneys of B.O.A.C. and shall be payable to the Exchequer.

Mr. C. Williams

How much?

Mr. Lindgren

The whole of the profits. The Civil Aviation Act, 1946, lays down that the difference between the revenue and the cost of operating shall be made up by subsidy. Any profit being taken back by the Treasury, up to the extent of previously made subsidies, but that is likely to be a long time.

Mr. Williams

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been trying to reduce the expenditure of Departments, and the Parliamentary Secretary has not given a single figure or attempted to answer one of the questions I have put to him on this matter. Anyone who had been in the House for a short time could have given an answer. This Resolution does not begin to do what the Chancellor of the Exchequer is asking Departments to do. I regret that the Chancellor's wishes have so soon been thrown over by a Department which is making such a hopeless muddle of things as the Department of the Parliamentary Secretary.

Resolution to be reported Tomorrow