§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedfordshire)
This is the first general Debate that we have had for over a year on the problems of Civil Aviation. We have had a number of smaller Debates on a wide variety of subjects including, for example, the merger of B.S.A.A. and B.O.A.C. and the consequent Air Corporation Bill; on accidents, particularly the accident at Prestwick; on Supplementary Estimates; on charter companies in the Colonies and other encroachments by the Corporations on the charter companies' guaranteed rights. But we have not had a general Debate for over a year. Unfortunately, this will be a short Debate and I shall set a good example by making a short speech.
I shall do that to enable some of the large number of new Members who have strong views on this subject to express them in a Committee where their expert knowledge is greatly welcomed. I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary to 729 the Ministry of Civil Aviation, with our complete approval, will not answer my speech now, but will answer the general Debate at the end, in order to allow a still longer time for other Members to take part. I hope that we shall have another Debate soon, for the short time we are taking tonight is certainly no indication of the importance of the subject.
There are many grave issues upon which I hope some hon. Members will be able to touch but with which they cannot possibly deal fully. There are the problems of aerodromes and their ownership and purchase. We must consider the position of the great cities which many of us feel are qualified to run their own aerodromes. We must also consider the position of private companies who have built up aerodromes in the past and run them well. These are important subjects which justify the whole of one day in this Committee. There are also the many problems concerned with those charter companies which are blazing a trail for Britain in all corners of the world.
We welcome the recent announcement that some concessions are to be granted to charter companies, in particular the fact that they will now be allowed to deal direct with the Ministry and not through the Corporations and that the payment of commission to the Corporations will now cease. This is an improvement for which the Conservative Opposition have pressed for a long time, and we welcome it very much indeed. It is a step towards those happier days when the spirit and the words of the Civil Aviation Act will, we hope, be fully and honourably observed. But there are many other problems concerned with charter companies which deserve ventilation in this House, not least among them the strange refusal of various applications for licences and associate agreements, and I hope that a chance will arise, either tonight or later, to have this subject more adequately explored.
There is the question of air accident procedure in which our national honour is so much involved. I do not intend to devote much time to it tonight; it is a subject which needs a Debate by itself. As the House will know, the Minister of Civil Aviation has the judicial function to inquire into an accident and the administrative function of of setting what he is 730 going to do with the findings of an inquiry. This is a delicate duality at any time, but in a largely nationalised industry, where the Minister is responsible for so much of our internal and international flying, it makes him the judge in his own case, and this is clearly wrong. Whatever solution may be found for this problem, the Minister must be bound by the findings of fact of an independent tribunal.
As I said, this raises great issues. The Government have made approaches to us. Members of the Government have made approaches to Members of the Opposition to see whether we have profitable suggestions to make on this question and we are working closely on it. We are grateful to the Government for having brought us into the picture. I shall not deal further with that subject tonight, but it is one which must eventually be ventilated in this House.
While I have been dealing with one judicial matter, I should like, if I may, to deal with another matter involving elementary principles of justice. This afternoon we have had a long Debate on a trade union problem which, I understand, has excited very strong feeling. I want to refer briefly to the position of the Aeronautical Engineers Association whose plight has been increased through the amalgamation of British South American Airways and British Overseas Airways Corporation. I see on the Order Paper of another place that there is to be a Motion for Papers next Thursday on this subject. That will probably be a better opportunity for the whole matter to be fully ventilated, but I should like the Parliamentary Secretary, if he will, to assure some of us on one or two points in his concluding speech.
On the plea of redundancy many former members of British South American Airways who belong to the Aeronautical Engineers Association are now being offered jobs which are far less-well paid, in some cases £2 a week less than they received before, as an alternative to dismissal. A few weeks ago when 13 inspectors of the former South American Airways were offered, instead, hourly rated mechanics jobs, it was a curious fact that none of these men belonged to A.S.S.E.T., the majority union, and that nine of the 13 belonged to the Aeronautical Engineers Association, the existence of which we know is deeply resented by 731 the majority union, which alone has the right of membership of the National Joint Panel.
Only a few days ago, on 29th June, there was a meeting of the National Joint Council. I understand that the trade union representatives stated straight away that they would not in any circumstances consider the redeployment of any workers in British Overseas Airways Corporation who were not members of an affiliated union. They said that if the Corporation refused to comply with this request they would call a strike and that, in that event, the strike would not be limited to any one base. When one unfortunate man asked for help of the National Joint Panel employees' side, he was told by the chairman that he was only interested in helping through the National Joint Council those people who helped the National Joint Council's affiliated unions financially by belonging to them.
I do not want to be drawn into this internecine issue between the trade unions, but this situation makes nonsense of the solemn assurances given in this House and in another place. For instance, there was the recent assurance of the noble Lord the Minister, that he could give an absolute assurance—and he told the other place this in the previous Session—that individual members of the A.E.A. will be treated in the matter of redundancy on a precisely equal footing with members of the staff of the Corporation who are not members of the A.E.A. There will be no discrimination whatever either in theory or in fact.There appears, in fact, to be the grossest discrimination and we should like tonight to have some assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary as to how far the Minister, who made this pledge, is in a position to see that his pledge is carried out.
I should like next to make some comments on those two Corporations which, of course, occupy the attention of most people when they are dealing with problems of civil aviation. I imagine that nearly everybody in this House has travelled on one or either, or both, of these Corporations, and nothing can exceed the courtesy and efficiency of the staff of both Corporations. If courtesy and efficiency were all that were needed, 732 Great Britain would be leading the world in civil aviation. There is, however, a further partnership; there is the Ministry of Civil Aviation and there is Government policy as a whole. There is also the fact that perhaps the whole structure of the Corporations was wrongly conceived and that the efforts of many people are sterilised by this original error.
I do not think it can be denied that the constant changes in the high command of the Corporations, and particularly of B.O.A.C., have led to lack of confidence throughout these Corporations; and what many people regret in the case of B.O.A.C. is that self-aggrandisement at the top of the Corporation has led to disillusion and distress in the other ranks. The necessary economies of staff which have to be made to run these bodies like commercial operators have often been conducted in such a way as to leave in the minds of those people who still hold jobs no feeling of security of tenure. I know myself of a small travel agency in London which, a few months ago, wanted a booking clerk and advertised for one. They had 71 replies and, of those 71 replies, 38 came from clerical employees of B.O.A.C. alone.
No one can suggest that that argues confidence in the future. As to the late British South American Airways Corporation, the South American Division of B.O.A.C. as it later became, the strange disappearance of Mr. Booth from his executive position has obviously increased the disquietude there. He is known to many hon. Members as the only man at the top of B.O.A.C. whose whole life has been spent in actual commercial transport and who, in particular, knows the problems of South America, the Caribbean and their transport problems better, probably, than any other person in Great Britain.
We were told by the hon. Member's predecessor that the amalgamation of these two Corporations would not mean that the smaller Corporation would simply be swallowed up by the larger. But that appears to be what is happening. It is, I think, no secret that Mr. Booth applied business methods in his day-to-day administration in the Corporation. Was he allowed to go, or rather encouraged to go, because his departure would create fewer political 733 complications than any other administrative change? There is a strong reason to believe that that is so.
I asked the Parliamentary Secretary whether he would give us the travel figures for the last six months on the South America and mid-Atlantic routes. He told me a moment or two ago that although he could do so later, he would not be in a position to give the figures tonight. It is my belief that the figures may well show a significant drop in the percentage of that trade enjoyed by the British Corporation. These are matters deeply affecting the prestige and prosperity of Britain and they also affect very considerably the taxpayers of the country.
In the last five years up to the end of the present financial year, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has cost the taxpayer £124 million. As to the Corporations, they have lost in the same period £44 million. Though there are many excuses and many explanations—and some of them are well justified—a loss of this kind cannot possibly be allowed to pass uncommented on in the House of Commons. It is argued that much of the loss is due to the fact that B.O.A.C., in particular, has far too many aircraft, as one man said, eating their heads off in the various aerodromes of the world. Those hon. Members interested in these things could well profit by looking at the intended timetable of the Hermes and the Canadairs when in service, and will find from that, I think, that the lesson has not yet been well learned.
I see the hon. Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) opposite, and I should like to refer to the stopping of the Solent flying-boat service, which has been flying almost to full capacity for the last six to nine months. Many of us have the strongest possible confidence in flying-boats. We believe that for an island Empire like ours, flying-boats should have a particular appeal, not based on sentiment alone, but on commercial considerations—flyingboats with which the name of Air-Commodore Brackley will be for all time associated. It now means that no Corporation from Britain will have any flying-boats whatever operating for some years in any corner of the world. This in a country like ours—a manufacturing country—seems quite deplorable, and a very bad preparation indeed for the Princess flying-boat, when she comes along.
734 With the closing of the Southampton base and the intended closing of Augusta in Sicily by October this year, which has only recently been completed at great expense, there will be no more flying-boats flying from Great Britain for years to come. When we consider that the cost of the Southampton base was under £200,000, what a trifling economy it seems to make for such disastrous results. Thereafter the only flying-boats operating from Britain will be those of a private charter line, Aquila Airways, to which we wish every success. They have a domestic service from Southampton to Glasgow and Edinburgh, and an overseas service from Southampton to Madeira. When the Johannesburg service was cancelled, they asked to take it over with flying-boats, but were refused.
In dealing with the Corporations, I wish to make a brief reference to British European Airways. They have undoubtedly made strenuous efforts to turn themselves into a commercial structure, but it may be that the whole composition of their Corporation, as, indeed, of the larger one, was faulty from the start. It might, perhaps, interest the House to hear this brief comparison of their operating costs with what would be the operating costs of charter companies using the same aircraft on the same routes. In 1949, which is the last full year for which we have information—though we have not yet had the full account—we are told that B.E.A. flew 15,500,000 miles, and that their revenue was £6,400,000. This shows that the revenue per aircraft mile was 8s. 3d. They flew Vikings, Dakotas and Rapides. All three types of aircraft may be hired from the charter industry for less than 8s. 3d. a mile, so it is safe to say that if the whole business had been contracted out there would have been a profit.
We have not had the accounts for this year, but we have them for last year, and with the same aircraft and with the same mileage, private operators claim that they could have made a profit of £472,000 instead of a loss of £2,500,000. Therefore the Exchequer would have had £3 million more, quite apart from the ordinary taxes from the private operators profits. I hope that when the Minister has had time to study this calculation he will later give us his comment on it, either tonight, if possible, or later on.
735 I do not claim that a single private operator could have achieved that successful result, but a series of small manageable units of some 15 to 25 aircraft could achieve results of that kind. The taxpayers of Great Britain, sorely tried now, and to be still more sorely tried by the inescapable obligations of the British Empire throughout the world, cannot afford to reject any chance of economy, coupled as it would be with highly efficient management.
§ Mr. Mikardo (Reading, South)
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether his calculation was based on the same rates of wages and on the same working conditions?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It was the very first question we applied, because, although it may surprise hon. Members opposite to know this, we also believe in the principle of model employment. The wages and pension rights would be exactly the same as those guaranteed under any Government Corporation.
That is really all I want to say, but I would not like to close on what might otherwise appear to be a largely gloomy note. This has not been an unsuccessful year in aviation. It has seen some splendid enterprises and magnificent achievements. For example, it has seen the first flight of the Brabazon I, and I personally, and, I am sure, many of my hon. Friends on both sides would like to wish to the Brabazon I, its pilot, Captain Pegg, and its crew, every possible success, and to pay a tribute to all those in the Bristol Aircraft Company and elsewhere whose courage have made her flights possible.
In paying tribute of that kind, we must not forget the taxpayers whose large bill will have to be paid in the future. To them I should like to say this—and I hope it does not lead to an indignant denial from the Cunard Company—that if the Queen Elizabeth had to be built today it would cost £12 million, and that even though she was built at less than half that cost before the war she could not be built without subsidy.
We have the Brabazon I, and a few weeks ago the Gloster Meteor recovered for Britain the prize in the 1,000-kilometre closed circuit race held for the last four years by the United States of America. The year has seen the highly successful 736 trips abroad of the Vickers Company and other great companies, and it has seen, perhaps, above all, the record flights of the Comet to Rome and back in four hours, to Cairo in five hours, and to Copenhagen in 78 minutes.
Our aircraftsmen, mechanics, engineers, and directors are the best in the world, and they can take genuine pride in what has happened. I hope they know that this House shares that pride and realises the sacrifices involved. While we are rejoicing in the record achievements of, for example, the Comet, many of us know that she would not be flying as she is today but for the work of the D.H. Flying Wings, the last of which crashed very recently, with their brave pilots from the family firm who have done so much to maintain our honour in the world.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton, Itchen)
I must apologise to the Committee for again referring to a subject which I discussed when we were last debating civil aviation in this Committee and which has already been referred to by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) in his eloquent and interesting speech, that is, the decision of B.O.A.C. to cease operating the Solent flying-boats from Southampton to South Africa, and to substitute instead the land plane Hermes.
I feel, in the first place, that this change will mean a loss of passengers to this particular service. There is a specialist type of passenger who has always preferred the flying-boat. That type, of course, is the elderly passenger and the invalid. They have preferred the flying-boat on account of the greater comfort of travel as compared with the land plane. I fear, also, that perhaps when this change is made we shall lose some of the South Africans of Boer origin who used to travel from Southampton to South Africa by means of the Solent flying-boats. They travelled in these boats because of greater comfort and convenience. If the Hermes is substituted for the flying-boats, then I think that their patriotism or racial feelings will induce them to travel by K.L.M., or perhaps even by Sabena, rather than by Hermes.
I am also instructed by people who know something about aviation that both K.L.M. and South African Airways will 737 have Constellation planes in the near future in their services. I am informed that the Constellation plane is a very efficient and attractive plane indeed, and is likely to prove more attractive to passengers than the Hermes. I am not an expert and cannot say that with certainty, but those are the instructions I have received from people who claim to be experts in this matter. This change will mean a loss to this country of passengers flying from England to South Africa.
The change has been made, apparently, on the ground that it will effect a very considerable economy, but it is true that the operational cost of the Solents has been reduced fairly considerably in recent months. The present operational cost is £118 per flying hour. I imagine that cost will compare fairly favourably with the operational cost of most land planes in the service of B.O.A.C. The load factor of the Solents is quite good. I think it is quite as good as the load factor of the Argonauts, which were substituted for the flying-boat service in the Far East. The executives and workers in the flying-boat base at Hythe believe that, with a proper streamlined organisation, Solent flying-boats could be made to pay their way fully. Even supposing that they cannot be made to pay their way fully in the next two or three years and there is a loss, I do not think that loss would be more than £100,000 a year. That would mean that in the next three years, by the time the Princess boats are in operation, the total loss on the Solent planes would have been £300,000.
We have to offset that probable loss against the certain loss that would accrue because this change is being made to land planes. First, we would have the loss of the cost of construction of the airport at Berth 50, Hythe. As the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire said, that airport cost £150,000 to construct, and if it is no longer in use, that is the loss. Then large sums of money have been lavished in past years upon the maintenance base at Hythe, which would be lost if the Solents no longer flew from the airport.
Then there is the cost of training the navigators, the pilots and the technicians to work the flying-boats. That cost has been very considerable during the past years. If flying-boats no longer run, either those men will be lost entirely to the service of civil aviation and will transfer 738 their abilities and acquired skill to other industries and occupations, or else they will have to be trained in the service of land planes. Then there is the cost of the Solents themselves. They cost something like £ million to the taxpayer of this country—indeed more than £2 million when alterations made to them are taken into consideration; and I do not think any hon. Member believes that we are going to get anything like £2 million from selling them
. Adding these things together, it does not seem to me that the plea of economies to be effected by changing from flying-boats to land planes is a very valid one to advance. I know that, in all probability, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation will tell me that there is considerable cost in maintaining the air bases of all the flying-boats. I believe, however, that if offers from other countries had been taken up, it would have been found that the cost of maintaining the flying-boats would have been shared by those countries.
Last December, for example, Mr. Halstead, a leading statesman from Southern Rhodesia, was speaking in this country. He said that Southern Rhodesia would be quite willing to share in the expense of maintaining the flying-boat base at Victoria Falls. He regretted the fact that B.O.A.C. had decided to discontinue running flying-boats. On behalf of Southern Rhodesia he offered to share in the expense of maintaining the base at Lake Victoria, because that would have enabled Southern Rhodesia to avoid very heavy charges for making a land-plane base.
More recently, Mr. Walinsky of Northern Rhodesia, who I believe is Prime Minister of the Northern Rhodesian State—I do not quite understand the constitutional position there—said to Sir Miles Thomas that the two Rhodesias, together with Nyasaland, would be willing to share in the expense of maintaining flying-boat bases, so as to avoid the expense on their part of constructing bases for land planes. As far as I can make out, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has taken no notice of what I should have thought were the very acceptable offers of those two gentlemen.
The nigger in the woodpile, as far as I can see, is a gentleman called Mr. Whitney Straight, Deputy-Chairman of 739 British Overseas Airways Corporation. Apparently, Mr. Whitney Straight does not like flying-boats. He does not like them, apparently, because flying-boats are not manufactured in the United States of America; and Mr. Whitney Straight has a preference for articles which are manufactured in those States. I hope that is not ungenerous, but I am just repeating the opinions of my own constituents and what is current gossip amongst the people employed in the airport base at Hythe. Southampton.
The trade unionists employed there are especially annoyed with Mr. Whitney Straight because, apparently, he told a deputation he interviewed in 1947 that he was going to give Solent flying-boats another three years in which it could be seen if they could show a profit. Almost immediately after giving them another three years to make a profit, the fleet of flying-boats was cut down from 18 to 12, thus increasing their overhead charges, and lessening their opportunities of making a profit. And the decision to discontinue the Solent flying-boats was taken long before the 1950 datum line announced by Mr. Whitney Straight.
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what is the position of the Princess flying-boat. It is a magnificent job of work. I am informed that Mr. Whitney Straight is also opposed to the Princess flying-boats, and that in February of this year he inspired an article in the"Daily Express" which condemned the Princess flying-boats. If the Solent flying-boats are to be discontinued, if Southampton airport is to be continued upon a repair and maintenance basis only, and if all the trained technicians, navigators and pilots go into other occupations, in three years' time, when the Princess flying-boats are ready, are we going to be told by Mr. Whitney Straight or by B.O.A.C. that it is impossible to run them because the personnel, skilled staff and technicians are not available at Southampton airport for those aircraft to be properly run? These flying-boats have cost the taxpayer £9 million and probably they are the finest achievement in the whole realm of civil aviation. I sincerely hope that they will be running in a year or so from Southampton airport.
I should like to know whether my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has consulted the Defence Ministers in this 740 matters of the abandonment of flying-boats. Have not flying-boats a considerable and almost indispensable part to play in the proper defence of this Realm? Is it not a fact that flying-boats can operate in places and under conditions where land-planes cannot operate? As the science of aviation progresses, aircraft get bigger and speedier year by year and require bigger and bigger landing grounds upon which to land. The Brabazon is an example of that fact. The biggest landing ground in the world is the ocean, and it is also the cheapest landing ground. I know that to describe the ocean as a landing ground is something approaching a "bull," but the Committee will understand what I mean.
It seems rather foolish that this country, an island with great overseas connections, should abandon the use of the flying-boat in civil aviation. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will try to persuade B.O.A.C. to change their minds in this matter of discontinuing the Solent flying-boat. Perhaps he will be able also to persuade them to find another sphere of employment for Mr. Whitney Straight where his great abilities would be employed more to the advantage of the country as a whole.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Perkins (Stroud and Thornbury)
The Committee will remember that in 1937 the House asked for an inquiry into civil aviation. The inquiry was granted and the committee reported in the spring of 1938. The committee used these words about the state of British air transport at that time:We view with extreme disquiet the position disclosed by our inquiry.The Government of the day put down a whitewashing Motion to which an Amendment was moved by the Opposition. It was moved by no less a person than the present Prime Minister who was then Leader of the Opposition. The Amendment read as follows:In view of the disclosures of long-standing ministerial neglect and of gross inefficiency in the management of a heavily subsidised company, the explanations and proposals of His Majesty's Government cannot be regarded as adequate to allay public concern.My only regret is that the Prime Minister is not here today on the Front Opposition Bench to move a similar Amendment, because what was true then is equally true today.
741 I believe that and grave public concern in this country about this nationalised industry with its ever mounting losses. The general public believe that there has been gross mismanagement in these Corporations. I believe the general public today would welcome some kind of inquiry into the whole business in order to clear the air. If some such inquiry took place the result would be very similar to the result of the last inquiry, and the committee's report would contain the same words:we view with extreme disquiet the position disclosed by our inquiry.The need today is greater than it was at that time. At that time the operating organisation, the chosen instrument, was Imperial Airways with two Government directors on the board. It was possible to raise the question of their conduct on the Floor of the House every day at Question Time, but that is not possible today. Hon. Members in all quarters know that owing to the rules of this House it is almost impossible to raise any matter connected with B.O.A.C. or the other chosen instruments. These Corporations today work in secrecy behind closed doors and very little information is available for any Member of Parliament. Sometimes a little titbit escapes the censor and something slips out. Only a few weeks ago a little bit of information got out and it was very satisfactory information, which I am sure will bring joy in all quarters of the Committee.
I should like to make my position clear, as I have been rather critical of these Corporations. I voted in the House for setting up B.O.A.C. I want B.O.A.C. to continue. I want it to be a success, but I want to see an end to these ever-recurring losses. I want to see B.O.A.C. run as a business concern. These little bits of information that have come out have shown us that in the last two years the administrative costs of B.O.A.C. have been reduced by £ a month. They have also shown us that since April, 1948, 47 employees who were receiving salaries of from £1,000 up to £3,500 a year have been dismissed, and they have also shown us that within the last three years the number of people employed by B.O.A.C., after allowance has been made for taking over the South American run, has dropped from 26,000 to 17,000—a drop of 9,000, or pretty well one-third of the 742 whole staff. The same is true to a lesser extent of British European Airways.
I am sure the Committee are very glad to know that this organisation is being streamlined and that these lampreys—for that is what they are—are being swept away. That is indeed good news. But I want to ask the Minister—and I should like to put it before some committee of inquiry: why were these 9,000 people ever taken on? During the time that they were employed by B.O.A.C. what were they doing? Were they playing cards? I suggest that here is something which might usefully be put to some impartial committee charged with the duty of investigating the whole operation of B.O.A.C.
Then there is the question of the charter companies. The hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) raised a very important point, whether the charter companies paid the same scale of salaries as the Corporation.
§ Mr. Mikardo
No, I did not ask that as a question about present payments. They are paid at present because there is an obligation under Section 41 of the Act. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) gave particulars of a hypothetic calculation which he said had been made against certain conditions, and I merely asked whether those conditions enabled the payment of the regular wage.
§ Mr. Perkins
I am connected with the trade union that makes this arrangement with the employers, and I rang up the trade union this morning to make quite certain that they were completely satisfied and they gave me the assurance which the hon. Gentleman has repeated, namely, that old-established, recognised charter companies are in fact paying approximately the same type of salaries as those paid by B.O.A.C.
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire put forward certain figures which suggest that these private enterprise charter companies can operate far cheaper than B.O.A.C. I do not know the rights or wrongs of it, but I think that probably what the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire has said is perfectly true. I think that these charter companies could undersell B.O.A.C., but I should like this referred to some impartial tribunal in order to see whether it is true or not, and 743 whether in fact the overheads of B.O.A.C. are not far too high. That is not quite all.
I want the inquiry to go farther afield than merely these two Corporations. I want it to take up the whole question of accident procedure and the present position of municipal airports and to make suggestions as to who should own and run them. I want it also to look at the position of the aero clubs and the charter companies and the desirability of having some kind of Port of London Authority to take over all flying control and all the "met" services in this country. I should also like it to look into this new trade union which has been formed—A.E.A. I want them to have a roving commission right through the whole of British aviation, to look at what is going wrong, to improve it for the future and to make suggestions in order that our civil aviation may be the best in the world.
I have three minutes left of the time allotted me, and I want to ask the Secretary of State two questions. First, as to flying clubs. He knows, as well as I do, that the Air Training Corps subsidy for flying clubs will only go to certain flying clubs, only to the oldest flying clubs, in fact only to the rich flying clubs. The poor flying clubs out in the country will get nothing out of this scheme from the Air Training Corps. What does he propose to do to save these flying clubs from extinction?
I understand—I hope I am right—that certain negotiations have been going on. There are rumours that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to pay back to all these flying clubs 9d. a gallon on all petrol they use in their club aeroplanes. I hope that is true. I hope that the Minister can tell us today something about that. I warned him not to make the mistake of giving this grant only to the clubs' aircraft, because, if he does, he will create a black market. The answer to that problem is to give this rebate to all civil aircraft flying internally in this country.
Lastly, can the Minister tell us how Green Airway I is progressing. I raised this matter three months ago. I was then told that a committee was going into the whole matter, and that negotiations were going on with the Air Ministry. Has any progress been made in those negotiations, or must we await until the inevitable 744 accident happens and public opinion demands an inquiry?
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Pargiter (Southall)
There are one or two points raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) with which I should like to deal, but before doing so I cannot help commenting upon the speech that has just been made by the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins), who referred to the mounting losses of B.O.A.C. I should have thought that the efforts made by B.E.A. during the last year were deserving of the highest commendation, and that the efforts being made by B.O.A.C. to make their organisation fit the job also deserve commendation. If they are doing a good job in bringing their administrative staff into line with their requirements, it would be much better if, instead of telling them that there is to be an inquiry, we said, "You are doing the job very well, so keep on doing it." We should give them credit for the things they are doing.
I was very glad to note the tributes that were paid to those on the manufacturing side for the very splendid achievements that have been made as a result of cooperation between the designers, management and workers in the industry. They all share equally the praise in this matter. With all respect, I do not think A.E.A. is very much concerned on that particular side; in fact, I do not think they are to be found there.
I should also like to say a word about the charter companies. I think there is a parallel here which Members, particularly those connected with London, will recall. The London General Omnibus Company used to run the buses in the London streets. They had a very heavy responsibility administratively, having to charter routes, arrange services and provide buses on unremunerative routes, which any company giving a general service has to do. A few people muscled in, seeing a chance to make a profit, and put buses on the most profitable routes, saying how much cheaper they could do the job. The position got so bad that the House had to take definite steps to remedy the situation.
This analogy may not be complete, but there is an analogy here in the case of the charter companies operating on our main line routes. It should not go out 745 that a charter company can do this work so much better and so much cheaper. That would not be the case if they had the overall responsibility to run scheduled services, charter new routes and try out aircraft, which is a very long and costly process before they can be put into operation. We must have regard to these factors. It is not a fair comparison to suggest that the charter companies can run so much per mile cheaper than B.O.A.C.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
The hon. Member has made this assertion, but does he realise that many charter companies have offered to take over the unprofitable routes of B.E.A.?
§ Mr. Pargiter
It is the conditions under which they will take them over which very much concern us. In any case, there is no guarantee that they will have stability. They may be able to do certain things for a certain time, but I am not satisfied that they have the stability required to provide the services now being provided by B.E.A.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that when the transport authority is granting the licence they take up all the points about finance and maintenance about which he is talking?
§ Mr. Pargiter
They do not grant the licence unless they are satisfied about the matter. He would be a bold man who would say that the council would grant a licence for a company to run on a particular route. That is in the lap of the gods, and I imagine that some of the companies put forward their applications with their tongues in their cheeks, knowing what the result will be.
I should like to say a word about the Aeronautical Engineers Association, and particularly its relationship to the joint panels within the industry. The joint panels were established from the recognised bona fide trade unions which had membership within the organisation of the general airways structure. It was a satisfactory organisation, co-operating as it did with the management in many branches. It should also be borne in mind that the trade unions, from which 746 this panel was drawn, in the early days of the war took a very grave step when they agreed to the relaxation agreement permitting people from outside into the industry. I do not think any one could minimise the gravity of that step from the trade union point of view.
They were giving something away, but they required certain specific safeguards, and the safeguards they wanted covered the event of redundancy in the industry. Never mind who these men were. They came into the industry as a result of that agreement, and should there be redundancy they should be the first to go out. I invite the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) to see what the standing of these people was.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I tried to limit what I said strictly to the undertaking given by the Minister, who made no reference to any considerations of that kind, but said that in the matter of redundancy or reemployment, membership of the A.E.A. would not penalise any man. That undertaking has not been kept. I do not doubt but that the Minister would like to honour it, and I am waiting to hear why it cannot be honoured.
§ Mr. Pargiter
The Minister is bound, in spite of what he would like to do for the A.E.A., by the agreement arrived at by recognised trade unions, by which they arranged redundancy arrangements in the industry. It was not what the Minister wants or would like to do; it is what certain cast iron agreements provide and that is what he must do. Hon. Gentlemen ought not at this stage to be putting it in such a way that it would appear that they would be anxious or at least happy to break the agreements, which were solemnly arrived at in 1939.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously contending that nobody should be admitted to this industry in full status since the time when these relaxation agreements were agreed to, because that is the assumption which one must make from his argument?
§ Mr. Pargiter
No. I would invite hon. Members to have a look at these agreements and understand them before speaking about them. I have not the time to explain the whole ramifications of the relaxation agreements, nor would it be 747 proper for me to do so. Anyone can apply to a recognised trade union who will advise them. They do not operate to prevent people coming into the industry. The question of redundancy must be dealt with in accordance with the agreements arrived at, and I do not think that anybody would like to break them.
The A.E.A is an organisation which has no background, and no capacity in the engineering industry as a whole. It should be borne in mind that workers in the engineering industry are not peculiar to one part of it, like the people who are in this splinter section which is called the A.E.A. The men who work in this industry generally can work in other sections of the engineering industry as well as the aircraft section. The arrangement by which a union is recognised as serving, by and large, the whole requirements of men skilled in an engineering capacity, be they engaged in aircraft or general engineering, has long been accepted and recognised generally, as well as by employers' federations in this country.
We must be clear about this. There is no question of somebody being bludgeoned, hut of the way the system shall operate. The panels say quite rightly, "We consist of representatives of recognised and bona fide trade unions, and we are not interested in splinter organizations" As an engineer I am not interested in splinter organisations, either. It is quite easy in any set—up to get a dissident body. You find somebody who is not quite satisfied and build round him. One can build up some sort of an organisation. One can say to a man: "You are not really as other men are. You are a little bit better. Let us make an organisation and see whether we can get recognition and so get a bit more pay for ourselves."
There is a good deal of that sort of thing done, but it should not be countenanced on any side of this House. I hope that hon. Members opposite will take note of that. I hope that they will go into questions of the origin and structure of the A.E.A. and I am sure they will come back to the position that it does not speak as a representative body with a background but as a body trying to dodge an agreement that was arrived at between trade unions and employers generally. As such it ought not to be 748 countenanced. These things ought to be said so that hon. Members do not get a wrong impression of how trade unions behave in these matters, that they are out to crush this, that or the other body.
I view with alarm the coming into being of splinter bodies. I do not think that they make for good co-operation between employees and managements because they are an irritating sore on the body of the trade union movement. If they are encouraged, the general effect is not towards good work in industry or good relationships between the different sides of industry. I would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite not to pursue this matter without closer investigation. The main union concerned is the Amalgamated Engineering Union, which has a very fine record of co-operation and war effort. It was the leader in the suggestion that there should be relaxation, and it is determined that there shall not now be an attempt, in spite of what any Minister or anybody else says, to get round an agreement already arrived at.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not propose to deal in detail with what the hon. Gentleman has just said. Other hon. Members can make their speeches, but there will be a Debate next week in another place on this subject. If I do not reply to the hon. Gentleman, it does not mean that I accept the accuracy of what he says.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has said that. I would ask him not to accept what I say but to go into the matter a little more thoroughly. If he wants information from this side, where we are in possession of the facts, we shall be very glad to see that he is properly briefed on the matter. We can see that there is not much need to go further at this stage if there is to be a Debate in another place. We must really establish, on behalf of bona fide trade unions, that we do not intend to encourage the formation of such organisations as the A.E.A. and that we shall do our best to see that they go out of existence.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles (Down, North)
I want to call attention to two subjects which have scarcely been discussed tonight. I shall hardly touch upon the disagreement between the 749 A.E.U. and the other smaller unions. When I was in the Ministry of Aircraft Production during the war I saw the formation of the little union in Northern Ireland—it has grown bigger since then—and it was of great use in the middle of the war. I have been principally concerned with the A.E.U. during my life, and I have no intention of interfering in this internal disagreement.
I want to raise with the Parliamentary Secretary the question of the accident to the Dakota flying from Belfast to Manchester on 19th August last. There was a very full investigation under the chairmanship of Mr. Cohen, and I think that all of us who had relations or friends killed in that disaster welcomed the thorough investigation made by the Court of Inquiry.
I wish to speak about Part 6 of the Report of the Court of Inquiry which deals with the recommendations which were made after the accident had been investigated. One of the first recommendations was that a standard procedure should be introduced for landing in bad visibility and bad weather. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will answer that when he replies. Captain Sherwood, who was a pilot of the B.O.A.C., disagreed with the majority findings and wanted even more particular arrangements and a safety height maintained for longer than did the two other members of the court.
The next recommendation was that there should be an approach chart for all aerodromes showing the height of all the hills and mountains surrounding the aerodromes. It was suggested it would be a simple and comparatively inexpensive matter to see that these approach charts were printed and in the hands of any pilot approaching an aerodrome at which B.E.A.C. and B.O.A.C. land. I should also like the Parliamentary Secretary's report on this.
Another suggestion was that when pilots have a complaint to make about the controls given to them as they approach an aerodrome, they should report the faults in writing. Is that being done now? Another matter was that some degree of responsibility for safe navigation should be placed on the control officers. The court could not come to an agreement on that and said that it was a matter for further investigation. 750 Has it been investigated or is it being investigated? It is an important matter.
There is no doubt that a bad accident like this one, or like the one which happened in Wales to the Tudor, is no advertisement at all for civil aviation. After the accident I made some inquiries into the ground and airborne equipment, and I understand that in April, 1945—more than five years ago—contracts were placed with three firms—G.E.C., Marconi and Pye—relating to some of the installations which were required on the ground for aircraft approaching aerodromes in bad weather.
At the moment some of those items of equipment have been made and two are working in South Africa, one in Pretoria and one somewhere else in the Union of South Africa, but I understand that not one of those modern equipments is working in the United Kingdom today. I am told that seven stations are ready to be equipped, but they have not been inspected by the Aeronautical Inspection Department, nobody knows that they are going to be used, and no buildings or even foundations have been provided for the purpose of establishing the modern equipment at those stations. I should like to have some information on that point from the Parliamentary Secretary.
I am not sure if it has been decided yet whether the Manchester Corporation or the Ministry of Civil Aviation will own the aerodrome at Ringway, Manchester. At any rate, to make that small aerodrome safe it will probably have to be extended. The pilots to whom I have spoken are not yet satisfied with it, and if a machine like the Brabazon is ever used to fly over from America for the Manchester November Handicap, no one on board, whether pilot or passenger, will care when he looks down through fog whether the Manchester Corporation or the Ministry own the aerodrome. All they will care about is whether it is a safe aerodrome to land on. That is the first matter which the Parliamentary Secretary should think about.
Flying-boats have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley), especially the 10 remaining Solents that are to be discontinued in the near future. I have interviewed technical experts on this subject and am told that with similar engine 751 capacity a flying-boat will take 45 people and a land aircraft only 44, so the advantage is slightly in favour of the flying-boat. Section 14 of the Civil Aviation Act deals with Charter aircraft. If B.O.A.C. are giving up all flying-boats they should give an opportunity either to shipping companies or charter companies to use them.
There should be a five-year plan. Time must be made available for the charter companies. It is no use playing cat-and-mouse with them, letting them start a service, finding it pays well, taking it away again. That is the way the charter companies have been treated in the last few years. For instance, there was an efficient charter company running between Basra and England, carrying the employees from the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. That service has been taken away from the charter companies and put under the auspices of B.O.A.C.
The quarrels between the charter companies and B.O.A.C. resemble a couple of little girls wanting to carry each other's dolls in their own prams. For instance, on the West African route, when some of the charter companies offered to take B.O.A.C. passengers in their planes, B.O.A.C. refused. They also refused to allow wives of civilians in West Africa to go on charter planes, and thereby separated wives from husbands for two or three months and gave them the extra expense of running another home. That is a petty thing for a Government institution to do, and if the Parliamentary Secretary has never heard about it I can name him the book in which this was mentioned
The people of South Africa do not like the service of flying-boats to Southampton being discontinued. The people in Durban at one time used to come right through on a comfortable trip. I know, for I have flown that way myself from Cairo to Khartoum, to Uganda, and on to Nyasaland. If ever I made that journey again, I should like to do it by flying-boat, which is certainly far more comfortable than was the trip out to India in a York. I am told by technicians that flying-boats would be just as fast, as comfortable and as safe as any land aeroplane, and I think that if the Corporations do not intend to make use of them the charter companies should have the chance of doing so.
752 Then there is the question of the cost of bases. The total cost of flying-boat bases last year amounted only to £158,000. Southern Rhodesia are building a big irrigation dam at a cost of £1 million. They thought that they would support two birds with one dam, that they would have their water for irrigation and at the same time provide a landing area for flying-boats. Mr. Halstead, the Southern Rhodesian Minister of Commerce, has already commented on the fact that his country could embark upon an expenditure of millions of pounds on the construction of land aerodromes for the use of somebody else's Constellations.
Look at the fares. What is the cheapest flying fare in the whole of the world? It is 4½d. a mile, which is even cheaper than a London taxi driver can do, and is on the return route from Sydney to Auckland, which is a flying-boat service. Then there is the question of costs and the amounts already spent on the great new aircraft which are coming along. On the Brabazon, £11 million has been spent, and on the Princess, £7 million. On the Princess it is expected to get back £1 million in the first year, but I hesitate to say that we will get back £500,000 in a year on the Brabazon.
I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will have read the recent Keith-Lucas lecture, in which confidence is expressed that in the future the larger flying-boat will win. The London Airport is to cost £40 million. In this country, that is chicken-feed, but in smaller countries like Denmark or Norway, for instance, £40 million is as much as their total expenditure for a whole year. Water is available for flying-boats, but aerodromes may be too expensive. In the recent war flying-boats were not used so very much on this side of the Atlantic, but America used them in the war against Japan. There was the very famous "Horseshoe" route, and when the Japanese bombs fell the aerodromes were not ruined. The aircraft were refuelled under makeshift arrangements from tiny little boats.
It would be a very dangerous thing for this country if we did not keep an insurance company of pilots and engineers to maintain a fleet of flying-boats. In the old days people used to sneer at these things. When the projected service between the U.S.A. and Bermuda was 753 mentioned in 1936, all the shipping magnates laughed, but today more passengers are carried between Bermuda and the U.S.A. in the air than in any steamboat. Naturalists have pointed out why the great dinosaurs of thousands of centuries ago became extinct. It was because there were no "aerodromes" big enough for these heavy creatures to land upon.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I want to deal as briefly and concisely as I can with certain aspects of the Scottish air services, but I feel impelled to say that I thought the hon. and gallant Member for Down, North (Sir W. Smiles) was not quite fair in saying that the Brabazon had cost £11 million. He must know that in the capital cost of that aircraft, even admitting that it is large, there is embodied the cost of runways, hangars, and all the research which will enable us to produce any type of aircraft up to £300,000 without the least difficulty. I think it only fair that that point should be kept in mind in dealing with the cost of the Brabazon.
Unlike the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins), I want to pay a tribute to the work of B.E.A., particularly in Scotland. They are providing us with a very fine service which from the point of view of sufficiency, of range, and of frequency is meeting the demand placed upon it. Practically every major town in Scotland now has an ample service—
§ Mr. Rankin
—and B.E.A. have even gone out of their way to encourage the development of air services and the development of air-mindedness among certain sections of the population who, when a service was first given them did not show a great deal of enthusiasm in supporting it. We had to withdraw the service from Edinburgh and because of demand, a demand which as far as I know, is met wherever it is made, we restored the service to Edinburgh. Perhaps my hon. Friend may be able to say tonight how far we were justified in doing that.
But while I pay tribute to the general efficiency of the services in Scotland, there are certain problems which are still not 754 being met. There is the problem of comfort. Comfort is always an asset in travel, and especially in aircraft. In Glasgow we still have an air terminal which is not merely insufficient to meet the demand but insufficient to give that comfort which we want to give to people who are waiting. During July and August air passengers find themselves crowded out of that tiny little waiting room, and when it is too full they have a converted stable into which they may go until the time of departure. That terminal is not a credit to Glasgow nor to B.E.A. and I hope my hon. Friend will note that.
The second point with regard to comfort is the condition of the aircraft. The Dakota which carries on the service from Renfrew to London is a fine utility plane but unfortunately, Dakotas are of various vintage and some of the vintages are perhaps a trifle more obscure than others. I do not know how far they date into the past but I have had the experience of sitting in the rear seats of Dakotas, from Renfrew to London, and once enjoyed, the motto is, "Never again." It is impossible in the winter months to travel in the rear seats of these older machines unless one covers head and ears with a coat. I have had that experience and so have other hon. Members. That is due to the fact that the airframe is completely done and has to be—
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
The hon. Member is making a most serious allegation because, as he knows, all aircraft have their certificates of airworthiness renewed annually by a Government Department. If the hon. Member insists on making a statement like that, the Government Department concerned ought to be overhauled.
§ Mr. Rankin
In stating that it is not very comfortable to travel in one of the older Dakotas, I do not think I am in any way suggesting that the aircraft is not airworthy. That aspect does not enter into it in the least.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am always grateful for the assistance of my right hon. Friend, and I thank him very much. He has just taken the words out of my mouth. I am not alone in saying that the airframes of the 755 older Dakotas are out-of-date and ought to be rehabilitated at once in the interests of the comfort of the travelling public.
But there is a more serious aspect of this question of comfort because from time to time there are passengers who find themselves compelled to go beyond the rear seats to another place, and to visit that other place is to approach as near the conditions of the Arctic as one possibly could. I have heard tales that would freeze one's blood but to visit the tail of the Dakota is to freeze, or to run the risk of freezing, far more than one's blood, and sometimes to give the passenger the feeling that his best endeavours are quite fruitless. That is a very important point with which I hope my hon. Friend will deal urgently.
There is a further point which concerns safety. I promise Members who have heard me speak before on this topic that I shall not mention crash survivability. I return to the point which I raised concerning the accident over Coventry between an Anson and a Dakota. The Parliamentary Secretary will remember that I then raised the question of creating air corridors for our internal services so that civil aircraft would fly between certain fixed minimum and maximum altitudes in complete safety. That suggestion was resisted by the Air Ministry, but one or two of us have been fighting the matter by way of Question and answer in the House. I am beginning now to hope that the Air Ministry have withdrawn their opposition, and that perhaps my hon. Friend may have something further to say in regard to this question of creating air corridors for civil aircraft, in the interests of passenger safety.
I wish to submit to my hon. Friend a further point which may not come exactly within his purview but which nevertheless is bound to affect the work of civil aviation. We are seeking to develop the Western Isles services, which have for so long and so honourably been carried out by the D.H. Rapide. We have, I believe, got the Marathon. Whether the transaction is completed or not, I do not know, but I believe that the Miles Marathon, which is the best aircraft ever produced by Handley Page, is being considered. I should like to know what will be the effect of that machine on the economy of that particular service. 756 Has any other machine of a cheaper kind, such as the Merchantman, which I believe costs about £25,000 and would be more effective and useful on that service, been considered instead of the Marathon, which costs nearly double and might have an adverse effect so far as the cost of that service is concerned.
My final point concerns the development of Renfrew airport. I know there are serious problems involved, because there is the danger that the development of Renfrew airport may come into conflict with the general development of the Clyde. The Clyde is the lifeline of the City of Glasgow, and if there is to be any conflict between the development of the airport and of the Clyde then, although I have always claimed that Renfrew airport ought to be the main internal airport for our air services, I think it may be necessary to reconsider the whole problem. There was one further point I should like to have developed, the aviation industry at Prestwick, but other hon. Members who are more closely interested in that subject, wish to speak, and I shall leave that point for them to develop.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Tradeston (Mr. Rankin), with a few remarks on Scottish aviation before turning to another point. The first thing that strikes me about Scottish aviation is that in spite of the fact that it is claimed that the whole of the planning of the services is concentrated in Scotland, yet we have this difficulty, that there is in Scotland the Advisory Council which has as its Chairman a member of the Corporation of B.E.A.
I submit that sooner or later we must realise that that is entirely a wrong set up. We cannot have a man performing two functions. Either he must be a member of the board and accept the advice of the Advisory Committee, or he must be the Chairman of the Advisory Committee and organise the advice which is to be given. He cannot be in both positions at the same time, and I do not think we shall have a satisfactory position with regard to aviation in Scotland until we get away from that. I am not dealing with personalities in this case but the system which must be put right in that regard.
757 The second point I wish to make concerns the smaller airfields in Scotland. One of the improvements which I understand has been made is a certain relaxation in the conditions of the use of airfields. This is a matter on which I speak entirely as a layman. I feel that the technicians in these cases are a little too exacting. So long as there are means on an airfield of giving some kind of "met" advice, and of being able to communicate to the local authority the news when an aircraft is about to land, so that the necessary fire and ambulance services will be there when the aircraft does land, it is not necessary to be exacting in the amount of personnel on the airfield. The future of aviation, like any other form of transport, must depend in the long run on its being made cheaper for the travelling public. Undoubtedly, safety must be a prime consideration. But I wonder whether we are going quite fast enough in finding out just which of the conditions of perfection can be relaxed with safety.
The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) dealt with the question of internal services. We must face the fact that unless something in the form of internal feeder services are organised, Prestwick will lose all its international services one by one. K.L.M., Sabena and the others will fall off one by one, unless something is done in that way. I know that 80,000 passengers pass through Prestwick in a year and that 10,000 land there, but that is really a drop in the bucket when we consider the capacity of the airport and the fact that the cost of services between Prestwick and New York is £14 less than the cost of services between London and New York. For the people of two-thirds of the British Isles it is cheaper to go from Prestwick. It is time that due cognisance was taken of that.
I wish to refer to a question first mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) and then replied to at some length from the opposite side of the Committee. It will be within the recollection of hon. Members that, at about this time last year, we were dealing with the absorption of British South American Airways by B.O.A.C. The most specific assurances were then given on two points. First, it was said that there would be no discrimination against B.S.A.A. personnel in comparison with B.O.A.C. personnel and, 758 secondly, that there would be no discrimination between one worker and another within those units. That was the pledge. It is absolutely immaterial to us on this side of the Committee to which union any of the people belong.
The hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) said that it was the intention of the union, to which I presume he belongs, to crush another union out of existence. He said that that union had its origin in the dilutees. That may be so but, if it is, he cannot also say that it is a splinter union. He cannot have it both ways. In civil aviation this dilutee business does not apply very much, especially in B.S.A.A. because that was only set up long after the 1939 dilutee agreement was arrived at. One of the special problems is that the No. 5 line of B.O.A.C., which was the South American line and more or less covers the B.S.A.A. personnel, is being closed down. That is something which was not envisaged, at any rate from this side of the Committee, at this time last year.
We thought that we had sufficient assurances that British South American Airways would be kept as an entity even though they were to be absorbed into B.O.A.C. That has not been done. There may be good economic reasons, but it puts a greater onus on B.O.A.C. to make absolutely sure that there is no discrimination whatsoever against British South American Airways personnel. There was a time, not long ago, when it looked probable that all the No. 5 Line personnel would be made redundant. Fortunately there was some happy intervention from some quarter and that idea was scotched, but what is happening now is that some postings are being made to other lines in the same grade and some employees are being offered lower grades. If they do not accept them they might as well go out altogether.
It looks as though there will be a complete re-organisation and settlement of this matter in the autumn, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether it is the understanding that all British South American Airways personnel will receive consideration for posting, for absorption into B.O.A.C., and as far as possible in their own grades. We do not want to see a situation in which B.O.A.C. say, "We will transfer away as many of those people as we can"; and the remainder are left behind and made redundant.
759 One of the difficulties is, of course, that which has already been referred to today—that the established unions, which the hon. Member for Southall is pleased to call bona fide unions, whatever he may mean by that, are virtually declining to agree to the transfer of any of the Aeronautical Engineers Association or of nonunion personnel until all the personnel of the unions which they represent have been transferred.
§ Mr. Mikardo
The hon. Gentleman is repeating the statement made earlier by his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd). As a member of the trade union side of the National Joint Council for air transport, I can tell them both that there is absolutely no truth whatever in that statement, and that no such demand has been made by the trade union side of the National Joint Council.
§ Mr. Macpherson
The last time the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) intervened during one of my speeches on this subject he had the advantage of having been present at the meeting. On this occasion he has not the advantage of having been present at that particular meeting and I claim that my information is quite as good as his.
§ Mr. Mikardo rose—
§ Mr. Macpherson
I shall not give way again. I hope the unions will not continue in that attitude because, if they do, they will make it completely impossible for their own Minister to carry out his pledge. I am sure they would not wish their Minister to be placed in a position in which he has to break his word. They cannot have it both ways. Either they claim to represent all the workers or they do not. If they claim to represent them all, then they must treat them all alike. If they do not claim to represent them all, then they must make way on the National Joint Council for somebody who will represent them and speak for them.
In effect, in this question of redundancy, the National Joint Council is being placed in a managerial capacity and, as such, it is under an obligation to be absolutely impartial as between worker and worker. In this case they must be determined to place justice before 760 loyalty to their own organisation. We always know that an organisation is prone to give preference to its own members. We knew that in our regiments during the war. Only yesterday I was complaining of a case in which commandos are being given second place to the Army which happens to administer them.
That is always liable to happen unless there is somebody right at the top to see that it does not. That was one of the great advantages of having somebody like General Eisenhower in charge of S.H.A.E.F. I want the Minister to do just that—to make quite certain that the members of this National Joint Councils are fully conscious of their responsibility vis-à-visthe employees. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary has this in mind and that that is his intention.
I am well aware of the difficulty of the job that B.O.A.C. has to face. The whole Committee, of course, insists that the services should be run as economicaliy as possible and wishes to give the fullest assistance to the Parliamentary Secretary in that regard. But there is evidence that there has been discrimination. I am passing on that evidence to the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend, and I hope that he will examine it fully. I may say that I have made repeated attempts to get Questions accepted by the Table on this matter, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman's predecessor, having said quite specifically that if there were any complaints to be made about the running of this scheme they should be raised on the Floor of this House, would have made provision for the Questions to be accepted at the Table. Unfortunately, that is not so, and I have failed to get the Questions accepted. I feel that if a Parliamentary Secretary takes responsibility for seeing that a thing is done, then he is also responsible for seeing that he can be questioned in this House as to how it is done.
The main point for the future—and I close on this—is that the assurances that have been given in another place will be adhered to, that is, that in this re-deployment and re-organisation there will be no discrimination between former B.O.A.C. and ex-B.S.A.A. personnel, or between representatives of unions represented on the National Joint Council and others. Secondly, that if any man can show that 761 he has longer service and higher qualifications than another who has been preferred to him, he should at least have the right to be heard.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Mikardo (Reading, South)
I had not intended intervening in this Debate, and it was for that reason that I did not seek to catch your eye, Mr. Mathers, but I have been challenged on a matter which involves me personally, and I am therefore grateful that you should have given me the opportunity of replying to the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) who found discretion the better part of valour in not giving way a second time for fear that I might then, as I now propose to do, correct the wrong information which he gave to the House.
Both the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) and the hon. Member for Dumfries referred to the Aeronautical Engineers' Association, a subject to which they and other hon. Members have directed their attention from time to time. In the course of their remarks, they made quite unjustified aspersions upon the outlook and the conduct of the trade unions which constitute the workers' side of the National Joint Council for Civil Air Transport. I do not altogether blame these hon. Gentlemen; they are in a difficult position. The proceedings of the National Joint Council, for reasons which I think are very good, and which all hon. Members will approve, are necessarily confidential, except in so far as there is agreement on both sides of the Council from time to time to release information on certain points to the public. If that were not so, it would be quite impossible for a negotiating body so constituted ever to do its work at all.
The consequence is that a good deal of the information which reaches hon. Gentlemen opposite—and none of it comes from people who are parties to and members of the National Joint Council—comes from totally unreliable sources, which are equally unreliable—
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
How does the hon. Gentleman know that it comes from unreliable sources? Will he substantiate that statement?
§ Mr. Mikardo
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not interrupt, he will get 762 his answer in 20 seconds. I was just about to come to it.
I have already explained that the proceedings of this body are confidential. Consequently, anybody who is not there cannot possibly know what has transpired. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to know the sort of source from which this information comes to Members of the Opposition, he should ask the hon. Member for Dumfries. The sources from which hon. Members opposite get their information are equally unreliable whether they are outside this House or somewhere in the vicinity. They are bound to be not at first-hand, because they come from people who are not present at these meetings. One of the principal sources of information, a principal officer of A.E.A., is one of the most notorious "snappers-up of unconsidered trifles" and listeners at metaphorical keyholes and peepers under metaphorical skirts, that this country has come across.
I will give three examples of the way in which hon. Gentlemen opposite have been misled in this matter, and I give them full credit for having said what they have said in the utmost good faith. In the first place, it was almost implied—though I do not think he intended it—by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire that redundancy in British Overseas Airways Corporation was being applied only to members of A.E.A.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not think the hon. Member was here when I delivered that part of my speech—certainly he was not in his usual place. I said that when 13 inspectors were offered alternative employment as mechanics, none belonged to the majority union and nine belonged to A.E.A.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I was referring to a previous passage which seemed to suggest, though I do not think the hon. Gentleman intended it, the redundancy in toto was being confined to members of A.E.A. The hon. Member for Dumfries suggested that in some way or another, there was deliberate disadvantaging of members of A.E.A. When redundancy is operated in the Corporation, it is operated under the terms of an agreement entered into by the two sides of the National Joint Council some time ago. That agreement, broadly, is based upon the principle for which the 763 hon. Member for Dumfries asked, and which has become to be known as "first in, last out." There are exceptions of a very minor nature. The only one of any significance, and to which I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not object, is that where a person has some special irreplaceable skill, that should be taken into account in considering his redundancy.
There is nothing in this agreement which specifies that members of one organisation should have an advantage over members of any other organisation, or that members of any organisation should have preference over those who are not members of an organisation. So far as the trade union side are concerned, they have not in any way instructed, asked or empowered the Corporation to exercise any discretion in any respect in favour of their members and against any other group. If, in fact, the Corporation were exercising such discretion, that would not be in accordance with the terms of the agreement of the trade union side, and would not be at all on the basis of any replacement from the trade union side.
I do not know whether the two hon. Members opposite were suggesting that when the Corporation were considering redundancy they got out a list of people who had to be considered and made lists of those who were members of A.E.U. and A.E.A. and other organisations. The Corporation, like other employers, have no right to ask any employee to what organisation he belongs. In the case of most of the unions I have ever been associated with, if members were asked to what organisation they belonged they would quite properly refuse to say.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson rose—
§ Mr. Mikardo
No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, he would not give way to me. He will get some information in a moment.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that when redundancy arises, men are told, "You belong to A.E.A., go; you belong to A.E.U., don't go" Nothing of that sort took place, or possibly could take place. I only reiterate this point so that it may be perfectly clear beyond all doubt that people are not selected for redundancy arbitrarily. Selection for redundancy is covered by a very close, detailed agree- 764 ment which operates, except for some minor internal reservations, absolutely automatically, and even if one wanted to discriminate against members of one organisation in favour of those of another, it would be impossible to do so under the terms of the agreement. Perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite have not been told about that.
As to the special case which the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire quoted of 13 inspectors, he spoke—and he was corrected by one of my hon. Friends—as though it was A.S.S.E.T. which was the main rival to A.E.A. It is the Amalgamated Engineering Union which caters for most members of A.E.A. I can say as a member of A.S.S.E.T. that at no time whatever, directly or indirectly, formally or informally, or in any way have we asked the Corporation to discriminate in favour of our members. If a selection has been made, under the terms of the redundancy agreement it could only take into account length of service and a marginal degree of skill, and this will have been only in marginal cases.
If it has come out that, in fact, all these persons are not members of one organisation and that nine are members of another, this can only be coincidental or because the Corporation are leaning over backwards to do on behalf of the union something which the union has never asked them to do. I cannot believe that. It is not my business to defend the Corporation. That is for the Minister to do. When I have defended the Corporation in the past, I have not always been thanked for it. I am giving the point of view of the trade union side on the National Joint Council, and I repeat that they have never made a request to the Corporation to favour their members against other persons.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
In view of the absolute contradiction of evidence on this matter, will the hon. Gentleman use his influence with the National Joint Council to have the minutes of the particular meeting on 29th June published as this is genuinely believed, and, quite frankly, I do not believe the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am bound to say that the last few words of the hon. Gentleman will not encourage me or anyone else to give way to him in the future. I will 765 come in a moment or two to the so-called meeting of 29th June and deal with it in the most specific terms. [Interruption.] If I may be allowed to make my speech, I shall probably get through more quickly. This meeting of the National Joint Council on 29th June has been referred to on more than one occasion. The last meeting of the National Joint Council was on 26th June. No meeting of the National Joint Council has taken place since 26th June.
I was present at the meeting on 26th June from the moment the chairman opened the meeting to the moment he closed it. The hon. Member for Dumfries will be able to say next time that I had the advantage of being at the meeting and hearing what was said, instead of mishearing all the other back-stairs tittle-tattle. At the meeting on 26th June nothing of what the hon. Member for Mid—Bedfordshire described as having happened there took place—not one single thing. The hon. Member went into a great deal of detail about what happened, ending up with a threat of a strike. No such thing took place.
I want to ask him—I will not ask him, because he might be tempted to answer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] He can answer on some other occasion. It would be interesting to know where he gets his information of what took place at a meeting of the National Joint Council, at which no one was present except members of the Council, and in respect of which no statement has been issued by the Council. It would be very interesting to know that, because not even the omniscient Mr. Stephenson was present and knows what took place. The hon. Gentleman can say what he likes about not believing what took place, but I was there, and it so happens that in the middle of it I looked out of the door and did not even see any Member peeping through the keyhole. I merely say that all these detailed, lurid accounts which Members opposite have given of what took place at the last meeting of the National Joint Council, the date of which they even got wrong, did not take place—not even the strike threat.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
On a point of order. Can you, Sir Charles, give me a little guidance? Is it your intention to follow the example of your predecessor and allow anyone 766 who interrupts a speech to speak for a quarter of an hour in regard to that interruption? Perhaps you are not aware of what happened a few minutes ago. The hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson), and my hon. Friend gave an answer. Whereupon, the hon. Member for Reading, South, apparently, went to your predecessor—he told us that he had no intention to enter this Debate —to insist on having an opportunity to justify his interruption. The result is that he has now spoken for a quarter of an hour, going into a lot of irrelevances which have nothing to do with the original interruption. May I ask for your protection for those on both sides who want to participate in this Debate?
§ Mr. Mikardo
Further to that point of order. May I submit, with the utmost respect, that the suggestion that your predecessor, Sir Charles, was, so to speak, bullied by me seems to be a gross reflection on that extremely worthy gentleman? For the benefit of Members opposite, may I say that it is, of course, not true?
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I am afraid that I did not hear the first point of order.
§ Sir T. Moore
It was whether you intended to follow the example of your predecessor and allow an interrupter to speak for a quarter of an hour to justify his interruption, going into a lot of irrelevances which have nothing to do with the original interruption.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I was saying that that is not, in fact what took place, and that to suggest that it took place is a grave aspersion on your predecessor which ought not to be tolerated.
If I have taken a quarter of an hour, it is because I have been subjected to constant interruptions not by the courteous method of Members opposite geting on their feet, but by the discourteous method of keeping up a constant fluttering in their places. I merely reiterate the two salient points I have been making: first, that hon. Members opposite should beware of accepting as an account of what took place at a meeting of the 767 National Joint Council, versions given to them by persons who have not been there and had access to the proceedings; second, that redundancy in the Corporations is governed by an agreement, which would not allow the Corporations, even if they were so minded, to discriminate as between members of one organisation and another.
Hon. Members opposite, instead of being annoyed at my making these two points, should welcome the first-hand information which I give them. I hope that on reflection, when they think about it, they will welcome it. I know that they have as great a desire as we on this side have to see a successful British aviation industry, and they will be glad to be reassured that the fears they have of unfair discrimination have no foundation in fact.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman two questions before he sits down. First, does he think it is worth while every time, after I have spoken on this subject, to get up and sully a reputation, which he does regularly; and secondly, is he aware that almost everything he has said is completely irrelevant and beside the mark? He has not dealt with the meetings which we have been dealing with, nor the dates.
§ Mr. Mikardo
Since I am asked to answer these two questions, I must say that I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means when he talks about sullying a reputation. If he thinks my remarks were irrelevant, that seems to me to be a grave reflection on you, Sir Charles, and not on me.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas - Hamilton (Inverness)
I shall not keep the Committee long putting two points in connection with the aircraft industry in Scotland. In speaking about the industry in Scotland I do not want to speak from any partisan Scottish point of view, but I want to stress this aspect of its vital importance to the whole country. Prestwick Airport has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson). I feel that the importance of Prestwick goes far beyond Scotland itself. We have here the possibility of the development of a great trans-Atlantic airport with its immense encouragement to the Indus- 768 try in the district. It has to be remembered that Prestwick is near to the great engineering centres on the Clyde, and as well it could give an encouragement to the tourist trade. It is in the heart of the Burns country and a beautiful tourist country, while it is also on the threshold of the Highlands.
I also want to emphasise the position in which the Scottish aircraft industry finds itself, not simply because it is the Scottish aircraft industry but because Glasgow is the second city of the Empire and the area shall play its part in this great industry. Decentralisation of air potential is one of the most important aspects which we should bear in mind today, important, both strategically and also in the matter of the re-distribution of the industry.
This aircraft industry at Prestwick has not been handled well by the Government. It has got hanging over its head like the sword of Damocles the threat of expropriation ever since December, 1945. It never had a chance to get into its stride, and its case has never been heard in public. It has been heard always in private and the objectors have twice had put their case without publicity. At the present time the case of the Prestwick aircraft industry is in the hands of the Air Minister, and has been there since 25th April. It was last heard on 25th April, but the objectors wanted to postpone the hearing because their counsel could not attend on that date. The Minister would not allow this, presumably because there was not time enough. That was April, and this is July; still we have not heard the result.
The aircraft industry is a potentially great one. During the war it employed a full designing staff of 5,000 technicians and workers. It could still be great, if the Government would make up their minds. No industry can survive in such a period of uncertainty. Aircraft development in Scotland is hampered and crabbed by an unimaginative outlook. Even such industry as exists in the country has not been fairly handled. The White Paper on Industry and Employment in Scotland has only one entry about the aircraft industry, in Table 5, Appendix 1 (Aircraft). It is:There is no output of new aircraft from Scotland.It is terrible and disgraceful that that should be the case.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
Private enterprise is not allowed to. It has turned out one aircraft actually of its own design which could be suitable to use in taxi and ambulance work in the Western Isles. That is all that it has been able to do. Even the industry of the maintenance of old aircraft, in Scotland, has not been fairly treated. The B.E.A. at Renfrew send their engines away for overhaul instead of using the facilities that exist at Prestwick. Of the £92 million given by the Government in contracts to the British aircraft industry, apart from the —4 million to Rolls-Royce, the Scottish aircraft industry received 1/40th of 1 per cent.
I stress these matters, not from the narrow viewpoint of Scotland but because they are bad for the United Kingdom as a whole. We want to see the industry better distributed as between Scotland and England. I ask the Minister what he proposes to do with Prestwick. Are we to have it brought up to date so that it can be used as a trans-Atlantic airport for modern planes? What does he intend to do in regard to the aircraft industry in Scotland?
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Edgar Granville (Eye)
No one doubts the ability of the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) to make an explanation on the subjects on which he speaks, but he does also defend the Government, although he is not yet upon the Government Front Bench. I want to hear a categorical statement from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The long explanation given by the hon. Member for Reading, South, does not interest the Committee. An undertaking was given on behalf of the Government by a Minister that there would be no discrimination whatever, and those who take even a layman's interest in this question want to hear tonight a clear statement that there has been in fact no discrimination in this matter.
Those of the public who take an interest in our civil aviation will note the speeches made by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) and the hon. Member for Stroud and Thorn-bury (Mr. Perkins). The figures which 770 were given by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire about the expenditure upon civil aviation on behalf of the taxpayers will require some explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary.
The hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury had some influence many years ago upon the setting up of a committee of inquiry into civil aviation. He has again asked for an inquiry, and I believe that the public want to know if they are getting some value for the astronomical figures which are being spent upon this form of transport, however it is run, whether it is nationalised or under a monopoly. In spite of the Debate which we have had on this subject and the expressions of dissatisfaction by hon. Members, no one can yet see the effect of this enormous expenditure. In spite of the continual changes which have been made in the holders of the office of the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, no one can say that we have yet a satisfactory internal form of civil aviation.
As for overseas, look at the money we are spending on the building up of our overseas airlines. I wonder what members of the public do when they want to buy a ticket from here to somewhere else. I imagine that they buy the cheapest ticket for what they think is the best form of transport. Before the war the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) was in favour of an international set-up for civil aviation; but the Government appear to have lost their Socialism and their internationalism, and it now seems almost irrelevant to suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite that there should be something in the nature of an international set-up for civil aviation.
Look where it is getting hon. Members opposite, because they are in charge of it and they are responsible. We go round the West End of London and elsewhere and we see dozens of offices set up by various airlines. They are all fighting for trade and they are all taking the best places they can get. They are all trying to raise the national prestige in civil aviation. I wonder how much duplication there is between our airlines and those of the Commonwealth in services, in expenditure on those services and in the training of crews and in other ways. Many of the services use the same aircraft and the same engines but they have different colours and different flags are 771 flying. The same thing applies to ground transport.
How long is this to go on? An enormous amount of money has been spent by the present Government and by successive Ministers in an attempt to build up a national prestige in civil aviation. A fantastic and fabulous expenditure has been undertaken in an attempt to give the public a satisfactory form of civil aviation. If the inquiry suggested by one hon. Member were set up I believe that one of its recommendations would be the abolition of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. It ought to go. It ought to go into the Ministry of Transport where it belongs, and hon. Gentlemen opposite have advocated this for years. I believe also that a full inquiry into this enormous expenditure would show that the Ministry of Supply should hand over all questions of design, technical development and research.
If the Government are not prepared to advocate a greater measure of internationalism in civil aviation, why is it that we are not able to make a better arrangement with T.C.A., with Canada, Australia, and other members of the Commonwealth in the setting up of a Commonwealth Council for civil aviation, in this country? If we did that, we should avoid this enormous expenditure, a great deal of duplication, and some other problems such as whether we should see the end of the flying-boats and Southampton as a base.
I believe that if we set up a Commonwealth Council, if we had a Commonwealth air line, we would not lose Southampton and the flying-boats. The question of defence would come into it amongst other questions. Here we are asking the taxpayer of this island to foot a bill in order to build up national prestige in civil aviation. Instead of holding meetings of I.A.T.A. at Montreal, we should get together a Commonwealth Council here to deal with the matters I have mentioned. In addition to the saving, we would no longer carry on the Civil Service policy, completely lacking in imagination, which is being carried on at present. We would be aiming at turning the Commonwealth into a continent and building up a network of international aviation within the Commonwealth which would give its peoples an opportunity to travel at reasonable rates.
772 I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary, who is relatively new to this office and has taken a great deal of interest in these questions since he has been in the House, to do something bold and visionary. If he is not prepared to adopt a bold policy of internationalism—which will have to be done in the end—he should advocate the abolition of his own Department and the transfer of civil aviation to the Ministry of Transport where it belongs, with the building up of an effective Commonwealth Council which will turn the Commonwealth into a great continent.
§ 10.9 p.m.
§ Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)
The scope of the Debate has been extraordinarily wide and is clear evidence that in half a day we are far from able to cover the complete range of this vital subject. We have covered every kind of facet of civil aviation and our discussion has been much enlivened by the description by the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) of his travel in the nether regions of an older-vintage Dakota. I rise with some trepidation because until this morning my instrument rating, which is permission to fly an aeroplane in bad weather, was in the nature of an awaited gift from the Parliamentary Secretary. It arrived by post this morning, however, so I feel that I have a clear conscience and may, therefore, be rather tougher than I might otherwise have been.
The hon. Member for lichen (Mr. Morley) spoke at some length on the future of the flying-boat. In the course of what he said—it may have been because of the effect of the problem on his constituency—he made some most ungenerous remarks about Mr. Whitney Straight, from which I should certainly like to dissociate myself and my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee. It is perfectly possible to object to the flying-boat on purely technical and objective grounds, and I rather count myself amongst those who feel that for long-range work, the flying-boat has a great deal against it.
I have no very fixed views, however, and I think it is most unwise for any hon. Member to have them, but when the hon. Member rather implied that because oceans covered the world, they were all landing grounds for flying-boats, he somewhat under-estimated the fact 773 that for most of the time in most of the oceans there are waves which are considerably higher than this Chamber, and that if anyone flies into them at 100 miles an hour, it does the flying-boat no more good than it would do a landplane; and one might just as well do it in a landplane if one wants to do it at all.
The discontinuation of flying the Solents from Southampton raises a most important question, which I hope to underline and to which my hon. Friend for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) referred; that is, what is the future of the Princess flying-boat, and of the Duchess if it comes along? For the sake of carrying on some flying-boat experience for a year or so, are we to lose much of the ground and air skill which is necessary for operating these machines? A flying-boat pilot acquires his experience over an extraordinarily long time and takes longer to train, as I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree, than does a comparably skilled land-plane pilot, because he has in addition to contend with all the problems associated with manoeuvre on the sea. If we lose this skill, we shall find ourselves unable to put these new boats into efficient and quick service if we continue with their construction. I ask, therefore, for a clear answer on the future of these boats, and also on the future crossings of the Tasman Sea, which, as other hon. Members have said, is at present done largely by flying-boats.
Another question which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins), and also by the hon. Member for Tradeston, is the future of air corridors. One hon. Member said that the Air Ministry have withdrawn their insistence on having the right to fly jet and fighter aircraft in these corridors. I think that they must withdraw sooner or later, but it is news to me that they have already done so and I should like to have a clear assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that this is so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury also raised the question of accident investigation. This is an extremely debatable point. One thing which appears very clear to us on this side is that it must seem wrong to foreigners£unfortunately, as aviation is international, foreign aircraft from time 774 to time are involved in accidents here—that the Minister of Civil Aviation is not only a judge but an advocate in his own case. We in this country know that he would behave with the most scrupulous regard for propriety of every kind, but we, as the authority of this country, surely have a duty to make it perfectly clear to anyone who comes from abroad and is involved in an accident, that the Minister is absolutely impartial in regard to whatever findings are come to by a committee of investigation.
A question which could take a whole day's Debate is that of bad weather aids in relation to the Ringway accident, which was referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, North (Sir W. Smiles). Surely the day has come when very much greater powers have to be put into the hands of ground controllers than they have at the moment. One facet of that accident was that an aeroplane came down below the safety height and informed the ground controller that it was doing so. I know that at the moment flying control have no power to order such an aeroplane to another height, but, to my way of thinking that is clearly a necessary power for them to have.
There is another side to this question. In London, complete congestion of traffic is certain to take place in the next few years if the one-way traffic routing through the area is not used. In answer to a Question which I asked some weeks ago I was told that the I.L.S. system in B.E.A. for landing aircraft in this country has been adopted. I ask whether this is a final decision, because it seems clear that unless one positions an aircraft by some form of ground radar, such as the G.C.A. operated at London Airport, one will not be able to achieve the high rate of landings we must have if we are to operate our aerodromes economically.
To give an example, the Minister may know that in one period of 51 minutes at Northolt 17 aircraft were landed by the radar system and the next aircraft which came in, using another system of its own, took eight minutes. That kind of thing going on throughout the day must hold up the whole of our airline schedules and lead to more congestion, unless the Minister is prepared to see that the most efficient system is used from the point of view of time.
775 A considerable amount has been said about the future of charter companies. I will not weary the Committee by reading out the assurances that have been given by successive Ministers as to their wish that charter companies should have a fair deal, but at the moment charter companies are finding themselves in increasing competition in charter work with the Corporation. A particular case, about which I asked a Question only the other week, has now arisen in West Africa in the charter-flying of troops to and from West Africa. Will the Minister make the position absolutely and abundantly clear? Either the charter companies are to be left free in the charter field or the charter companies are going to find themselves squeezed out by subsidised competition, because we cannot dissociate entirely the revenue flying-time of the Corporation from any time they put in on charter work.
Another complaint they have is the condition of their airfields. No doubt the Minister will counter this by saying that he must keep down the costs of airfields. I quite often fly into one of the smaller Customs airfields of this country. I will not tell him which one, because I do not want him to go there and make a lot of trouble. Every time one hits the ground there is costs 50s. because one has to hit the runway and cannot use the grass field adjoining, which would seem a simple thing to do. Then one is met by one or two men who show the position of the aircraft, three porters to take the luggage out, a Customs officer to check it, a doctor who asks where one has been for the last 14 nights—as if it were any business of his—and two landing officers and another man to collect the 50 shillings. Is it not absolutely clear that all these people are in addition to the essential parts of that business namely, the flying controllers, the wireless operators and the weather people? Surely some "concertina-ing" of function, if that is the phrase, would be possible, to the great benefit of the Department's Vote.
Much has been said by a number of hon. Members about A.E.A. The hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), who was the first Member on the other side of the Committee to speak of it, made one or two assertions which although they were made in a moderate way, ought to be corrected. He said that we should 776 keep out these—[Interruption]—I am doing my best to meet the wishes of the Minister to finish in time. It is extremely difficult when hon. Members opposite behave like that.
The hon. Member for Southall tried to imply that we on this side of the Committee are encouraging splinter unions. That is not at all the position. I have probably as much experience as any hon Member of persuading people to go into the proper union, when they want to go into what hon. Members would call a dissident union. I am not in favour of having to negotiate with a whole range of unions it makes matters difficult. But if there is a genuine grievance, and there usually is an underlying one in such cases, although it is not always apparent, leadership on both sides is needed to meet the legitimate grievances and encourage the people concerned to come back again under the umbrella of a single union. That requires magnanimity of a kind of which I could find no trace in the speech of the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo).
In the case of this particular union it seems that certain specific pledges were given in another place by the Minister. If the Minister who is to reply to the Debate finds himself unable to comply with those specific assurances, I should like him to say so, because we shall then know where he stands. If he says that he is complying with them, I would ask him to look into this matter and see whether or not the figures quoted by my lion. Friends as to how redundancy has operated have not a great deal of substance in them. I am convinced that there would not be the strong agitation there is without some solid basis of fact behind it. The speech of the hon. Member for Reading, South, does lead one to wonder whether his membership of the J.I.C. is best calculated to forward the smoothness and harmony with which this great British undertaking must function.
The hon. Member for Tradeston spoke at some length of types of aircraft. That subject will clearly need a whole day's debate, and I have little time to comment on what he said. I should like, in the greatest friendliness towards the Corporations, to put a point to the Minister. All of us want to see those Corporations successful, and my hon. Friends on this 777 side of the Committee are at least as anxious as any other hon. Members to see the name of British aviation stand high in the world. Will the Minister examine a problem common today to the whole of industry? I refer to the question of the optimum size for efficiency. Because something is big, it is not necessarily efficient. I hold very strongly the theory that everything in this world should be done by the smallest unit that can possibly do it efficiently.
Operating aircraft is not really of itself a very big business. The essential units of a crew are three—pilot, navigator and the second pilot or radio operator. Units of three flying about are probably best operated when the total number in any one management is 15, 20 or 25. I cannot see that the service from London to Paris necessarily operates more effectively because the service from, shall we say. Southampton to Jersey, is operated by the same management and the same undertaking.
Let us examine these Corporations. We started with three, we have now got down to two. Surely, between the two there is room for doubt as to which is the proper number. I would suggest that a much larger number than two is probably the right one for the whole of the services operated by this country from this country. An argument which appeals to me in favour of bigness is the opportunity it gives for experimentation. I shall judge the future of the Ministry and the Corporations by the dynamic use that they make of the British genius for design and construction of modern aircraft.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Mr. Beswick)
We have had a very interesting Debate and, with one brief interlude, a very agreeable Debate. If some of the old world courtesy shown to me on my first appearance at this Box has been missing this evening, I do not complain.
There have been a number of points put to me which I shall endeavour to answer, but those to which I cannot give a reply this evening I will look at and send a reply by letter to the individual questioner. I was asked about the system of airways we propose to set up in this country. As the House will know, we had agreed in principle a system of 778 national airways along which, for a width of 10 miles between the heights of 5,000 and 11,000 feet aircraft would be controlled in the interests of safety.
The implementation of this principle obviously presented considerable difficulties. I would say that the mischievous comments made by the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins) some months ago in this respect were quite uncalled for; because we have had the utmost co-operation between the military and the civil side in a determination to achieve the reconciliation of two apparently conflicting interests. I pay my tribute to all those who have taken part in quite difficult and complicated negotiations, and I am happy to say that an agreement has now been reached which is acceptable to both sides.
Broadly, it means that jet fighter aircraft which cross the airway will normally do so under control based on radar surveillance, whilst all other military aircraft will normally obtain clearance either before take-off or when airborne prior to crossing the airway. The full details, however, will be published in an appropriate form within the next few days; and it is expected that the Green Airways I, which will serve the main trunk air routes from the Atlantic and, stretching from the Pembroke coast to the Metropolitan Control Zone, will come into operation at the beginning of next month.
This will be a great step forward towards air safety. It will not be perfect, but we shall gain valuable experience and I have no doubt that we shall improve upon it, given the good will already displayed. It is hoped that the remaining airways south of Birmingham will come into operation by November, and the target date for the remainder is the end of this year.
I was also asked about charter companies. The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. J. Grimston), whose speech we all welcomed and listened to with great interest—I expected a very relevant speech from him in view of the many questions I have already had to answer—asked me to state our attitude to charter companies. From what has been said from time to time in this House and in the Press outside, one would imagine that we in the Ministry of Civil Aviation 779 regard these charter operators as our mortal enemies, but I am bound to say that has not been the impression I have received since I have been in my present office.
I have no doubt some companies would have made a good deal of money if they had been allowed to skim off the cream of the scheduled services. It is true that it has been the policy of the Government to reserve the majority of scheduled services starting from Great Britain to those corporations to whom public funds are granted. Nevertheless, there is a field for the private enterprise operator and within the limits set out in the Act, my noble Friend has been determined that these companies should get fair treatment and all appropriate help.
Earlier, tribute was paid to the changes which have already been made. Reference was made to the changes in the placing of charter contracts on behalf of the civil departments of the Government and these changes were not laughed at as they are now being laughed at by the hon. Gentlemen.
§ Mr. Beswick
The milk throughout the world has been pretty thin since the war. It has been because the airways under public ownership have been subsidised that we have gradually been able to build up a system because of which Britain is properly regarded as being a foremost airline operator.
I was asked if I could say something more about charter companies and the position with regard to air trooping. I cannot say anything definite about that this evening. It is not a simple or easy problem, and the economics of air trooping are complicated, apart from the question of which company should be given any particular contract. We now have a good deal of information on this problem and there is an inter-departmental committee working on it. That is as much as I can say at this moment, excepting that when a decision is made it will be based on the real interests of the nation and not on any alleged prejudice.
There is another field in which private operators have a part to play and which 780 my Department have encouraged under the system of associate agreements between the corporations and private companies. We have had some experience of this over the past few years. There have been various criticisms against these associate agreements and in particular against the period for which the agreements have hitherto been granted.
Here again the viewpoint of the private companies has been listened to sympathetically and my noble Friend has decided to amend the directive to the Air Transport Advisory Council in one important respect. There are various details still to be settled. The general terms of the directive will be the same, but I can say that it will be possible to extend the period of the agreements in suitable cases up to a maximum of five years, which should make it a much more realistic proposition, especially for those companies which may have to contemplate the purchase of new aircraft.
I was also asked to say something about the Brabazon aircraft, that controversial giant the specifications for which were first drawn up by a committee under a predominantly Conservative Government. The original idea was that this first prototype would not be flown on commercial operations, and many people doubted whether that, or any subsequent model of the same machine, would ever fly at all. However, there is no doubt, as stated by the hon. Gentleman opposite, that since the display of the Brabazon at London Airport the stock of the Brabazon has risen sharply. There are now two proposals for using the aircraft on a limited number of commercial services. If it is to be practicable, it will need a good deal of technical development at a much more rapid rate than the first prototype has enjoyed. The second prototype, with the Proteus propellor engine, should make its first flight in September, 1952, and no decision will be made about the three further aircraft until we have had a good deal more experience with the first prototype.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley) made a most formidable case for the flying boat. If I may say so, each time he puts this case he makes it better. All I can say to him is that the case has been studied already with great care, and it was with the greatest of expert opinion, 781 and after the most careful consideration, that the decision was made to take the Solent off the South African route. I think, however, that my hon. Friend spoiled what was otherwise a good case by his references to the Deputy-Chairman of British Overseas Airways Corporation, Mr. Whitney Straight. I think his remarks about Mr. Straight were uncalled for. Mr. Straight has the complete confidence of the Minister of Civil Aviation, and any decision made about flying-boats, land-planes, or British aircraft is made on the basis of the best possible information and without any of that prejudice which my hon. Friend suggested Mr. Straight had.
§ Mr. Beswick
I have been in the aviation world for several years, and I have still to find a man who has not a prejudice for or against the flying-boat.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the Minister of Defence has been consulted in this matter of flying-boats, for there is a strategic consideration in this? Can we have it that the Minister of Defence has been consulted?
§ Mr. Beswick
This question has been considered from more than one angle. There are all kinds of people putting forward theories about the Princess flying-boats and the Brabazon I. Every hon. Member must have read interesting papers submitted to various societies on this subject, but the hon. Gentleman can rest assured that that aspect has not been overlooked.
I was also asked a good many questions about the Scottish services. It is my view that the interests of aviation in Scotland are well served by the Scottish Advisory Council. I think, too, the criticism made about the Chairman of the Council being on the Board of British European Airways Corporation was out of place. He sits on the Board of that Corporation as Chairman of the Advisory Council in order to be in a position to give full weight to the views of the Council. I think that that set-up is most satisfactory, and it has been developed in the same way as some of the area boards of the Gas Council.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
I do not consider that Scottish air services can be in any way satisfactory while there still exists that enormous number of communities completely uncovered by any air services.
§ Mr. Beswick
I have recently had an opportunity of going to Scotland and taking part in the most violent discussions that go on there about these matters. If time permitted I could give some conclusive statistics which show that Scotland gets its fair share of what is going so far as aviation is concerned. I do not think that I ought to go into any more details about that this evening. I should like to see a full day's Debate. Although I confess my ignorance on this point, if it were possible to discuss these matters in the Scottish Grand Committee, I should be most happy to present myself for slaughter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) raised the question of the airport at Renfrew. I agree that this airport is not what we should like it to be. I do not accept his criticism that it is a discredit. On the contrary, I think that it is the greatest credit to Scotland and the people working there that they get so much traffic through it, with what I agree are not the very best terminal facilities. We are proposing to spend some money at Renfrew now that we can see a further period of use for the airport. I hope that will meet the approval of my hon. Friend when he has time to return from the cold quarters where he has had such unfortunate experiences.
I was asked about this imaginary sword of Damocles hanging over Prestwick. This is a complete figment of the hon. Member's imagination. There is no such sword. There is no reason why Scottish Aviation, Ltd., should feel that there is any insecurity of tenure as far as the accommodation at Prestwick is concerned. There was some delay in getting that matter settled, as far as the acquisition of the airport is concerned. The delay is not due to my Ministry. We should have been very glad to have got it cleared up years ago, but we have been subjected to what I would describe as delaying tactics I hope that the report of the Commission of Inquiry will be published very shortly, and then possibly the hon. Member can pursue his inquiries 783 on the basis of the decision to be made by my noble Friend in regard to the acquisition of that airport.
May I say a word about the accident investigation procedure, about which a number of hon. Members have asked me questions? In regard to the specific points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Down, North (Sir W. Smiles), perhaps I might be allowed to reply to him in detail by letter. I think that would probably be the best way of dealing with them. On the question of the procedure for investigating air accidents, I have listened very carefully to what has been said. I was very pleased with the spirit in which the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) approached the problem. The matter is one which, I hope, we can look at outside the scope of party controversy. It is a matter of constitutional importance, and we are looking forward to the proposals which Members opposite say they are going to submit to us.
For our part, since we last discussed this matter we have had the advantage of two public inquiries. We have gained a certain amount of experience from these inquiries. We should like to await the Report of the Llandow inquiry. It may be that the president of the court, having had experience of two inquiries, will be able to give the benefit of his experience. Shortly after that, we should be very pleased to meet informally those Members of the Opposition interested in this problem.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Will the hon. Gentleman undertake to study the recent Dutch report on the accident at Prestwick, in comparison with the British report, and see how they can be married together?
§ Mr. Beswick
Yes, I have already got a note of that. I would like to see that, for I am certain that the abbreviated reports in the British Press about the Dutch inquiry did not give the full information which we would like to have if we are to benefit by that comparison.
May I turn for a moment to the rather vexed question of the Aeronautical Engineers' Association and the general question of the labour relations within the Corporation, and whether or not there has been breaking of pledges, as has been alleged this evening. But let me first 784 make one correction about the Prestwick Report. It is not true to say that the Report will be published, but the Minister's decision on that report will be published within the next few weeks.
The first point I would like to make regarding the Aeronautical Engineers' Association is that responsibility for these matters, and for relationships between the management and the men is not a direct one for my Ministry. There is an appropriate machinery set up to deal with these matters. It is laid down in the Act that all matters affecting rates of pay, conditions of employment, and anything affecting the efficiency of the industry can be discussed through this machinery of consultation. I think it is a very good machinery. As I have stated before, I look to the National Joint Council to become the parliament of this industry and within that parliament and its local constituent bodies those employed can be properly consulted on any relevant matter, including the method of allocating redundancies.
I think that the hon. and gallant Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) approached this problem in a moderate fashion, and I should like to see our continued discussion and examination of this admittedly difficult problem carried on in the same way. It is alleged that there were specific pledges given by my predecessor at the time of the merger of B.O.A.C. and B.S.A.A., and that they have not all been honoured. As the Committee will appreciate, this allegation has concerned my noble Friend, and he has caused this matter to be carefully investigated. He has charged me particularly to investigate specific cases where it is alleged that these pledges have been broken.
First of all, I have obtained from B.O.A.C. comparative totals of men recently discharged through redundancy and have compared them with similar totals for the old B.S.A.A. Previously I have given figures in an Adjournment Debate. The present figures are 677 for B.O.A.C. and 33 for B.S.A.A. redundancies. There is no suggestion in these figures that B.S.A.A. men have been treated with anything but the utmost fairness. Indeed, I think it can be claimed with justification that the Corporation has leaned over backwards to carry out the letter and spirit of the undertaking given 785 at the time of the merger, Now we have had these details of 14 cases—
§ Mr. Beswick
These figures apply from the time of the announcement of the merger to the present day. Now we have had details of 14 cases in this circular letter which has gone round to hon. Members, where it is said that there has been downgrading from the rank of inspector among ex-B.S.A.A. personnel, and in the selection of which it has been alleged that there has been prejudice and discrimination against men of a particular organisation.
The first thing I ought to make clear is that this question of downgrading is not a matter related to the merger. For various reasons B.S.A.A. had a disproportionate number of inspectors as against hourly-rated staff; that fact, when new machines came along, would have needed attention in any case, quite apart from the question of the merger. The charge here is that the individual inspectors were downgraded after being selected on a prejudiced basis according to their union affiliation; but I have myself seen this original list of ex-B.S.A.A. inspectors from which the selection for redundancy was made. The original selection was actually made by the management, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) has said, on the basis of an agreed formula which took into account, among other things, particularly the fact of seniority and the technical experience of the men and the technical requirements of the administration. I am assured, as apparently my hon. Friend is assured, that the management did not know whether these men belonged to one organisation or another, or whether they belonged to no organisation at all when they made the selection for redundancy.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not want to delay the hon. Gentleman, but earlier this evening his hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) queried what I had said by a deliberate confusion of the word "council" or the word "panel." Will the Parliamentary Secretary say whether it is not a fact that at the panel meeting at London Airport on 29th June the management were informed 786 by some unions that they would not retain any members of A.E.A. if any of their people were stood off?
I should like to deal with one thing at a time; I am dealing with cases of alleged discrimination, and the only ones brought to my notice are those of the cases of the 14 former inspectors. I am dealing with that point. I was saying that these 14 were selected by the management on the basis agreed with the Joint Council. It is true that this list, in accordance with agreed procedure, was then submitted to the local panel and it would then have been open to that panel, in the light of local knowledge, to submit their observations and to suggest possible amendments on grounds of hardship, or for compassionate reasons. But, from the very full information given to me, I am convinced, having seen all the relevant papers, that no adjustment was, in fact, made. The men eventually downgraded were those same men who were selected on the basis of the agreed procedure.
It does seem, therefore, that this charge of broken pledges or injustice so far as these, the only concrete examples submitted to date, are concerned, falls to the ground completely. I cannot understand how the men can have persuaded themselves that they should have maintained their status on the basis of seniority or experience while others were downgraded. However, it is still open to any of these individuals who feels aggrieved to seek details or reconsideration through the usual channels provided by the Corporation and, in the last resort, they have access to the Deputy-Chairman. I should have thought that that would have been the better way to have had the matter investigated rather than that it should have been brought on to the Floor of the House, stimulating ill-will as between one employee and another, which does no benefit to the Corporation at all.
I was asked a number of questions about the state of the two Corporations; I am afraid it is not possible for me to go into details in the time available to me tonight, but the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire said that it was significant that the figures for the South American routes had dropped. It is suggested that the traffic there is now 787 lower, and I am going to provide him with the figures when I get them. I think they will certainly show that the traffic has dropped but that was only to be expected in view of the fact that for a long time after the Tudors were taken off we were flying down there a rather unsatisfactory aircraft. Now that the newer aircraft are being put on, it is hoped the traffic will build up again, although it is a difficult job to recover business once it is lost.
I was grateful to the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury for exposing so completely the unhappy state into which civil aviation in this country had fallen before the war. I thought his contribution to that extent was extremely useful. I am pleased to think more and more people are beginning to appreciate some of the difficulties the Corporations have had to contend with since they took up the threads again after the end of the last world war. I was reading the other day a most interesting comment in that lively and well-informed magazine of the Air League of the British Empire and I recommend the hon. Member to read it. He will probably see the passage in the July edition where it says:There is no evidence available which would enable anyone to prove that had the two British Corporations not been nationalised their financial results would have been remarkably different.I do not want to bring that magazine into a political controversy but it does say that:British European Airways in particular operates over a continental area which has just been ravaged by war, the routes cross numberless boundaries, meteorological and navigational facilities still vary enormously"—and so on. When hon. Members, as they sometimes are tempted to do, compare conditions here and the achievements of the British Corporations with those of some of the air-line operations in the United States of America, it would be as well to remember some of the difficulties they have had to contend with. The magazine of the Air League of the British Empire says this of the facts I have just detailed: 788All this is now an old story but it is too frequently forgotten.In some quarters, at any rate, there is not a very great effort made to remember it at all.
I am not going to hazard any prophesies into the future because, after all, this aviation field is a most speculative field of human endeavour. There have been several Continental countries recently which, although for some years they have shown nominal profits themselves last year suddenly reported a substantial loss. The difficulties they have had to contend with are by no means peculiar to those countries. They are difficulties that we are coming up against along many of the routes in the international field. All I would say to the hon. Member opposite who asked for some figures, and who tried to say that we are not so efficient as some of the other countries, is that if he took such indices of efficiency as the capacity ton miles per employee, he would see each year a progressive improvement both in the case of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. I hope that improvement will be continued.
We are going to have some difficulties and no doubt some setbacks. The hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury, whose contribution I must say irritated me in several respects, was, I think, talking utter nonsense when he said the activities were shrouded in mystery. I invite him to go round the bases. Some of us who went round last year were greatly impressed by the keenness and efficiency of those men and women whom we saw at work. I would be very happy to answer any questions he may raise and I invite him to ask for information, and I am sure he would get a much more optimistic view of the Corporation than he now enjoys.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.