HC Deb 28 November 1949 vol 470 cc905-16

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

9.59 p.m.

Mr. E. L. Gandar Dower (Caithness and Sutherland)

I had hoped that the Adjournment Debate of 1st July, 1946, would have finished the question of Dyce Airport, but I have since learned not to put my faith in princes nor in Ministers no matter how charming they appear. Members of this House are constantly engaged in looking after the affairs of their constituents but we are ourselves human.

It being Ten o' Clock the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

Mr. Gandar Dower

"If you prick us do we not bleed," and is not sufferance and neglect of our own affairs "the badge of all our tribe "? I should like to recall the history of Dyce. I commenced to build it in 1930 and it has been a 20 years' work. Four foundation companies took up 42 year leases. To back aviation 20 years ago meant incurring losses for many years before one's faith in flying could be justified. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation would follow the details of the companies. It is vital to distinguish between them.

Allied Airways were given the sole rights to run airlines, to control the aerodrome, to receive landing fees from commercial aircraft, to manufacture aircraft, to operate public restaurant services and indeed, to conduct an hotel. The second company, Aberdeen Flying School, were given the sole rights to teach flying, to fix and collect landing fees from private aircraft, to conduct and arrange air displays and to house and repair private aircraft. The third company, Aberdeen Flying Club, were entrusted with what one might call the social development of the aerodrome. This comprised the formation of clubs, the provision of food, the sale of drinks and catering for amenities such as lawn tennis, squash rackets, dances and cards. The fourth company, Aberdeen Aerodrome Fuel Supplies, were granted the sole rights to sell petrol, oil and electricity. At the time there was no local supply and therefore they laid down their own plant.

These companies made steady strides towards success between 1930 and 1939. In October, 1938, two very important agreements were entered into between Allied Airways and the Secretary of State for Air and between Aberdeen Aerodrome Fuel Supplies and the Secretary of State for Air. I should like to point out to the Parliamentary Secretary that these agreements were entered into one year before the outbreak of war. The first agreement with Allied Airways entitled the Ministry to station at Dyce Airport a minimum of 16 Royal Air Force machines and pay a minimum amount of £1,600 a year.

The agreement also permitted the Secretary of State to station additional machines there, but he was under the obligation to pay a further £100 per year per aircraft. He also undertook to pay for chance landings by the Royal Air Force at the rates laid down by the Aerodrome Owners' Association—the standardised charges operating throughout Great Britain. Saturation point was to be determined by Allied Airways. In the second agreement between the Secretary of State and Aberdeen Aerodrome Fuel Supplies the Minister undertook to pay 1d. per gallon on petrol consumed by the Royal Air Force and 6d. per gallon on oil.

One year after these leases were entered into, the aerodrome was requisitioned and compensation became payable under the Compensation (Defence) Act, 1939. It is fitting to draw attention to the atmosphere existing when this Act was passed. It was one in which every-one was willing to place his assets at the disposal of the country in the struggle for survival, and no one was more willing to do so than the owner of Dyce Airport and the limited companies who had the rights of trading thereon, but, when that Act was passed, the spirit of the discussions in this House and in Committee clearly showed that it was contemplated it would apply for the duration of the war or at most for a few months afterwards.

The matters with which I am dealing tonight are requisitions of 10 years and two months standing, and I feel sure that the House which passed this Act never contemplated requisitions lasting so long. This Act creates a mystical notional tenant to make an offer of a reasonable rent for the occupier's lands and buildings requisitioned, but no compensation appears to be payable for rights, no matter how valuable they are. What the rent is to be has to be settled by negotiation or by a general claims tribunal. Sacrifices during the war were accepted gladly, but, after four and a half years of peace, why are these undertakings still frustrated? Why are trading and normal profits denied? The compensation rent fixed under the general claims tribunal is very seldom more than 50 per cent. of the minimum profit envisaged, and the award makes no provision for depreciation or obsolescence of assets; and in fact, it does not cover the Company's static outgoings, in the case of Allied Airways and Aberdeen Flying School.

Shareholders in all the four companies have had no provision for dividends on their capital for more than 10 years. The House will remember that, when the present Government was elected, the right to continue requisitions was extended in one Measure for five years, whereas the right hon. Gentleman the present Leader of the Opposition under the strain of war came yearly to this House to ask for continuation. The Government will no doubt consider whether their action is more in tune with the British spirit than the action of the present Leader of the Opposition in war time.

It would appear to me that requisitions are now being continued in this country, not because of a State of Emergency, but for political purposes. I should like to emphasise to the Parliamentary Secretary that at Dyce, when the war was concluded, there was a fervent hope that the requisitions would be lifted and that the companies would resume trading. The Civil Aviation Act, 1946, laid down that regular air services must become a State monopoly, and that aerodromes to which regular air services operated, must be taken over by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. I spoke against those measures, but, unfortunately, unsuccessfully.

I regard cancer as destructive of the body, and nationalisation as destructive of the soul. But that battle is lost, and national airlines today are costing the country more than £10 million a year. I feel that the national ownership of aerodromes will cost as much. Prior to the war, Dyce Airport was run by four or six people. Today it requires a staff of 55, including 11 policemen. There were no police on Dyce Airport before the war, and we had no trouble throughout nine years of operation.

Allied Airways is under sale to British European Airways, the Government nationalised airline, but until compensation for 10 years' requisition of Dyce and the value of Allied Airways' lease can be determined, it is not possible to finalise the sale. In the meantime, a company which ceased operating in 1947—because had it run any more it would have been fined £5,000—is obliged to remain in existence, to keep directors and a secretary, until the question of compensation rent for the aerodrome is finally determined. Surely, the Minister must have decided a policy for the interests of Dyce after three and a half years from the passing of the Act.

Adjournment Debates are short, and I am anxious to give the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. Spence), in whose constituency this airport is situated, an opportunity to speak, and therefore I must shorten much of what I intended to say. But I must add a word or two about the existing background. With regard to this lease entered into in 1938, can the Minister by requisitioning a property set aside arrangements which he has already made for using that property? There was no suggestion for 10 years that this lease between Allied Airways and the Secretary of State had ceased to exist. It is only recently that such a rumour has been bruited and it would appear to have been introduced to make the company weaken in its demand for compensation.

The lease contains the normal clause for arbitration in the event of landlord and tenant being in disagreement. But when the company applied for the appointment of an arbitrator to settle whether the lease had ceased to exist or not, it found itself opposed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, or, perhaps, by the Under-Secretary of State for Air. The situation with regard to the lease of Aberdeen Aerodrome Fuel Supplies is similar. Does that lease exist or not? May I ask the cooperation of the Under-Secretary of State for Air and of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Civil Aviation to determine in concert and happy agreement whether these leases exist?

At a conference in the House of Lords on 10th May, 1946, between the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas), the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Sir Henry Self and the Directors of Allied Airways, it was arranged that a certain Mr. C. G. Caines, who had initiated these leases, should be empowered to come to a settlement. I should be very pleased to hand the Parliamentary Secretary a transcript of the verbatim report of that interview which I have here, and although Mr. Caines has retired, I understand that he would be willing to assist in these matters.

Finally, I would point out an amazing situation which has arisen at Dyce. The compensation suggested is to be £1,500 a year payable to Allied Airways, but let us look at the other facts. It is suggested that Allied Airways hand back £150 for the occupation of their own hangar, and £125 for the occupation of a block of offices which was erected by the Ministry of Civil Aviation during war and into which they were ordered to remove.

Finally—and here perhaps we reach Alice in Wonderland—they have been asked to pay for landing on an aerodrome which I own and on which they have a 42 years lease, £1,085 for 10 months, landings averaging two a day. For £1,500 a year the Parliamentary Secretary enjoys the full use of the aerodrome, landing as often as he likes. In fact, he told my hon. Friend the Member for Central Aberdeen and Kincardine (Mr. Spence) that there are 20 landings a day. I ask him to consider the morality of paying £1,500 for landing 20 times a day and charging £1,085 to a company for landing twice a day.

Now a brief word as to what it is like to be alone upon an airport which one once controlled but over which today one has no power. First of all one finds there is nothing to do whatever; one contrasts it with the busy wartime when one worked 10 or 12 hours a day. You see in the air your own aircraft operating airlines you ran for 14 years, and your own staff all round just as if you were still at work, but they are in fact working for another body. You have a feeling at best of being sent to "Coventry," at worst of being a leper. You see your own apprentice who joined 10 years ago now chief engineer to British European Airways, and indeed you wish him the best of luck, but feel yourself that one is back to the starting line. You are surrounded by barbed wire and through that you gaze at your aerodrome. You may take a walk round the buildings but you will find them dead and unused for years. You will hear the whirr of a petrol wagon refuelling aircraft, your rights handed to another company. You may watch General Smuts, General Eisenhower and even Her Majesty the Queen land, but you have no part whatever in the reception. In fact, your highest moment of the day is to take in the milk.

Shakespeare said, when contemplating self-destruction that: The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, The insolence of office.. might drive one to it. Shakespeare should have known the effect of nationalisation and requisition.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Spence (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Central)

I only wish to add a word or two to the case which my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Gandar Dower) has so ably put. Dyce is in my constituency. It is the airport of Aberdeen and we are greatly concerned about its future. We have heard in the Debate which took place in another place that Dyce was acquired. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to say what is to be the future of the flying school, the club and the other companies. Time is short; otherwise I would add to the arguments which have been adduced by my hon. Friend, for I know Dyce so well and what it used to be. I hope that the Minister will give a very adequate reply.

10.19 p.m.

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

The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Gandar Dower) was quite poetic. I am afraid that I am not qualified to follow him in that line, but I understand that poets are sometimes dilatory in their dealings in business matters and, if I may say so, all this delay really lies at the door of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland. In the Debate in 1946, which was taken by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air, because at that time the Air Ministry were responsible for the requisitioning, the hon. Member asked for the facility of arbitration. That was immediately offered and the whole time from 1946 until a few weeks ago the postponement of arbitration has, in fact, been at the request of the hon. Member for Caithness. There has been delay, and that is agreed; but there has been a complete willingness the whole time on the part of the Air Ministry Lands Branch to go to arbitration.

It is true that there was a considerable difference between the views of the Air Ministry, who were responsible for requisitioning, and the owner of this airport and the person granting the concessions to the various companies as to values. The proper course of action, therefore, was arbitration and the Air Ministry has the whole time been willing to go to arbitration. In fact, finally they themselves had to force arbitration by insisting that there should not be further delays in the hearing of the case.

If I might be more general, the hon. Member for Caithness referred to what happens at Dyce now. He referred to the fact that he is privileged to see Her Majesty the Queen and a number of other personages arrive at Dyce Airport but, after all, they could not arrive at Dyce Airport as it was.

Mr. Gandar Dower

I must challenge the Parliamentary Secretary on two points. When he suggests that I am personally reponsible for delay, that was a delay which it was hoped, would enable matters to be settled by negotiation. With regard to the second remark, I should be pleased to show the Parliamentary Secretary my visitors' book prior to the war. In fact, it included the name of the Duke of Windsor.

Mr. Lindgren

I agree, but there have been changes since before the war. The Duke of Windsor or Her Majesty the Queen would have travelled in an aircraft such as was available in those days, but those who are responsible for the safe conduct through the air of persons who are rated as V.I.P.s would not allow them to travel today under the conditions under which they were allowed to travel in 1939. Equally true, at Dyce in 1939, before requisitioning, there were no facilities for radio, radar or anything else, and the airport as it is today has been made at the expense of the British taxpayer.

Mr. Gandar Dower

As a fisherman the Parliamentary Secretary is an expert at dangling bait and I surrender to his fly. The airport at Dyce before the war was in full service. I was always cleared to Norway within two or three hours by the local Customs. Today, Customs do not exist. Aircraft have to go to Prest-wick. I have seen ponies loaded for Copenhagen and then flown to Prestwick for clearance. I have seen Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands land and, by grace, be allowed to disembark, but his aircraft was sent to Prestwick for clearance.

Mr. Lindgren

Changes have taken place since those days and they now have relation to the requirements of the present time. The hon. Member referred to the fact that he could see the staff he no longer employed, but earlier he twitted me with the fact that he ran the airport with four employees. All he can see are these four people out of 54, and I should have thought they would have been lost in that number. The area of the aerodrome, the character of the aerodrome, the facilities at the aerodrome, the services operated at the aerodrome, the fact that R.A.F. Squadrons and Auxiliary Squadrons are there are all factors which change the situation today by comparison with that of 1939.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

For the better?

Mr. Lindgren

For the better, I claim; and I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman with me.

Sir W. Darling

It was a question, not confirmation.

Mr. Lindgren

Now, so far as Allied Airways are concerned and the settlement with B.E.A. After all, the hon. Gentleman in 1938 was the owner and granted facilities to those companies. He made the rules. Now somebody else is making the rules, and there is not much good in his banging his head against a brick wall.

Mr. Gandar Dower

It is not a question of Allied Airways. Allied Airways are under sale to B.E.A. The only question is the question of compensation for their lease, which must also pass to B.E.A.

Mr. Lindgren

Yes, but the hon. Gentleman made the rules for himself in days past. Now somebody else is making the rules. The hon. Gentleman may not like the fact that we are to have nationalised airways, and that we are to have nationalised aerodromes, but in so far as those facts are generally operative one has to accept them, and make the best of the position. So far as the other companies are concerned, the facilities for operating those companies have been handed back to him ever since 1946. So far as the flying school is concerned, the hon. Gentleman could operate it. It is true that there are certain other facilities in question in regard to landing fees, but so far as the normal activities of the flying school are concerned, he could have operated the school on the same conditions as those on which any flying club is operating anywhere in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

Mr. Gandar Dower

I must point out that the requisitioning of the rights of those companies has not ceased. They have not been returned. If the Parliamentary Secretary is derequisitioning those rights tonight I shall indeed be delighted Will he say so?

Mr. Lindgren

It is not a question of derequisitioning rights. It is a question of giving facilities. After all, the land is now under requisition, so far as the aerodrome is concerned. The buildings have been handed back to the hon. Gentleman, and he could have operated a flying school and club on the same conditions as any other flying club is operated in any other part of Great Britain. The club house was derequisitioned and could have been operated as any other club house. It is true that there was a considerable number of offices associated with it which were used for bedrooms, and so on, before, but they were offered for derequisition provided that the hon. Gentleman would grant a lease upon part of the property derequisitioned to M.C.A. in order that we could have certain offices on the airport; but again we could not come to an agreement, and so we maintained the requisition.

Mr. Spence

Would the Parliamentary Secretary clear up one point about the question of rights? Does he mean to say that the Aberdeen Flying School could keep its hangar and fly aircraft off the grass, or would they have to be subject to landing charges, as in the case of other clubs elsewhere?

Mr. Lindgren

They would have to operate under the rules of air traffic control at the aerodrome. Where there are airport operations, and aircraft coming in carrying 10, 20, 30, 40 passengers, we cannot have aircraft hopping about like sparrows on a roadway, or they would jeopardise the lives of people who are in the charge of air traffic control. However, so far as the operations of the flying school are concerned, the school could have operated, the hangar could have been used, and on landings, of course, there would have had to be landing fees; but the facilities would have been there, and the club could have had the same facilities as any other club in any other part of the country, with £5 per annum payment per aircraft, they could have had any number of landings at any prescribed State aerodrome. The facilities would have been there. So far as the fuel supply companies are concerned—

The Question having been proposed at Ten o' clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half-past Ten o'Clock.