§ 7.7 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Mr. Beswick)
Hitherto when I have ventured to say a few words on the subject of civil aviation in this Committee it has been from the more bracing atmosphere above the Gangway, and I feel, therefore, on this occasion that I might properly expect some indulgence from the Committee.
The money sought under this Supplementary Estimate is a token amount only. My noble Friend is placing no additional burden on the taxpayer. Savings in 2244 various directions have been made, which will enable him to meet an additional grant to help cover an increased deficit on the working of B.O.A.C. However, this transfer is a substantial one, and the Committee is entitled to ask for an explanation. I shall, if the Committee wish it, give that explanation under the various heads, and if anyone would like me to answer points later on I shall be glad to try to do so.
The original estimated grant to B.O.A.C. was £3,500,000 and the additional requirement is for £3,057,000. I must say frankly that this will not be the total amount of the Corporation's deficit for the financial year, which has not ended, though it is the maximum which the Exchequer can be asked to meet. An amount of £250,000 of this £3,057,000 is simply a book transfer. It was spent on that purpose for which it was originally voted but under the name of B.O.A.C. instead of B.S.A.C.
There is another item, which though comparatively small, is still most irritating. It is for £207,000 and is an adjustment of the 1946–47 deficiency grant to B.O.A.C. It is largely made up of delayed bills from Government Departments for spares, and other charges by B.O.A.C., carriage of goods and personnel in the early post-war period when immediate accounting was reckoned of less importance than expeditious transport. It is only recently that the need for this adjustment has been brought to light.
The first item in the unforeseen expenditure that has resulted in this deficit is the result of devaluation. I am afraid that devaluation hit the Corporation very sharply. There were immediate increases in overseas station costs, in American type spares, and in fuel taken up in dollar countries. These costs were partially offset by increased earnings, but the net additional increase to the current financial year's deficit is put at £650,000. The biggest and unhappiest item with which we have to deal is the £1¾ million consequent upon the decision to withdraw Tudor aircraft from South American services. This decision, with which no one in the House disagrees was financially calamitous for the Corporation. All the plans had been made for extended services and increased traffic. Ground staffs had been augmented and additional expenditure properly and inevitably in- 2245 curred. Then followed the accident to the "Star Ariel" and the whole pro gramme had to be tom up.
For a time it was contemplated cutting losses and pulling out of the South American area until new machines were available. I am sure it was right not to accept defeat in that way, but the alternative was very costly. Most of the charges on the proposed expanded services still persisted. The obsolescence and insurance costs on the remaining Tudors, for example, still carried on. The expensive crew training had already been carried out, although now completely wasted. To fit out and bring in the old Yorks meant more expense, and although a gallant fight was put up by these machines they could not compete commercially with other modern aircraft against which they flew. Revenue dropped by something round £1,900,000 below the original estimate, a drop of more than 60 per cent. It is easy to lay the blame for this unfortunate business, but I cannot see that anyone can fairly criticise the B.O.A.C. on this Vote for this particular item. I only wish I could say that this Vote represents the end of the bills which will come in on account of Tudor aircraft.
The other major cause for this additional deficit is delay over delivery of new aircraft. It is not only disappointment over new British machines with which the Corporation has had to contend. Of the original six Boeing Stratocruisers due for delivery by March, 1948, only one had been received by November, 1949. In original estimates agreed with the Corporation, it was expected that these machines would be earning money by July of last year. In fact, they completely missed the lucrative traffic of the peak period, and indeed it was the machines that were subsequently bought from Scandinavia for sterling that were put into service in the winter. I suppose I might also mention that fact that the Hermes, the first of which had been promised for July, 1948, is still not operating.
All these delays have not only meant lower revenue than calculated but additional preparatory and planning costs. It is an expensive business to convert air crew to these new types. The Stratocruiser, for example, I am told, costs something like £120 a hour to fly on circuits and bumps, a figure greatly in excess 2246 of what it was in the days when some hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite were taking their ticket on new types of aircraft. These costs, resulting from delays in delivery in new aircraft types, more than account for the remaining sum which the Department propose to transfer.
All I would say now is that this year, 1949–50, has been a difficult one and, I am bound to say, that the financial results, at any rate, are most disappointing. It would be silly to deny it. Although there are explanations and excuses in abundance, neither my noble Friend nor B.O.A.C. under its present Chairman, Sir Miles Thomas, have for one moment relied on those explanations to secure confidence from Parliament or from the taxpayer. I suppose that I ought to refer to some of the measures that have been taken to keep this figure down to the amount I now bring before the Committee.
There has been during the current year a most determined effort to get the Corporation into proper shape. I believe that the spade work which has been done this year will yield results in the next. There has been a re-organisation designed to give greater decentralisation, and the elimination of one tier of administrative officials. At the instigation of my noble Friend there has been an additional economy campaign which has brought down the staff employed by a substantial figure at a time when output has been going up.
After the first flush of post-war optimism, B.O.A.C. expanded to a peak of 24,624 employees, in 1947. This was reduced by 1st April, 1949, to 18,920. As a result of these further measures, the full results of which are still not to hand, the figure has now been reduced to 16,477. I speak only of B.O.A.C. figures as they are comparable with the original ones I quoted. Let me emphasise that these fewer men are putting out greater work. Probably the greatest cause for hope is the fact that at last we are getting modern aircraft into service. Given the proper tools, the Corporation can, I am sure, do the job. There are already hard figures which support that claim. If questions are asked during subsequent contributions I shall be glad to give the sort of figure which I have in mind.
Some hon. Members opposite will agree that in the past I have myself not been 2247 uncritical of the Corporation. I do not propose to forego that right now. I am sure that my noble Friend will welcome constructive criticism from both sides of the House. Nevertheless, I think I can claim that the Corporation is in better shape and is fitter now than before. It has sweated off a good deal of administrative fat. The Chairman in recent months has not had an easy task, nor a pleasant one, and I hope that we are now near a period when every member of the Corporation can feel a better sense of security, with every prospect of getting on rather than getting out. It is dangerous to prophesy in this field of aviation, but, if we pass this Supplementary Estimate, I think there is every reason for guarded optimism for the future. I think we can now claim that we have got over the financial hump. I hope that the Committee will be able to pass this Estimate.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
I should like to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary upon his appointment. I am sure that with his knowledge of aviation he will be a great success there. I only hope that he will continue to take the same line of approach to these matters as he took when he was critical of the Corporations as a back bench Member of the House. I should like to apologise for my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), who is unable to reply. He is suffering from throat trouble, and I am deputising for him. I apologise for any shortcomings that I may display.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to avoiding placing a burden on the taxpayer. I am not quite clear what he means by that, because the money that has been saved has been spent in another direction. He said that this is a token sum of £10, but I feel that the money allocated by Parliament should have been spent on items like airfields. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, North (Sir W. Smiles) had a question for the Parliamentary Secretary about flying aids purchased at an airport at Manchester. He did not get a very satisfactory reply. I do not think that the Parliamentary Secretary had been adequately briefed on that subject.
Safety must be the first essential. If money has not been spent on proper aids 2248 for that airport it should have been spent. To my way of thinking that is bad planning. Only last summer, in the Pennines, a number of people were lost when a Dakota crashed. The facts about that matter have not yet been published. Surely money voted by Parliament should be spent in that way, and I do not think that the Committee will be satisfied that there should be a saving of money in that direction.
I should like to know about airports in the provinces. Are they to remain the property of the municipalities or are they to be taken over by the Ministry of Civil Aviation? The Committee would welcome a list of the airports actually taken over and of the others that are not going to be taken over, so that we might be clear on the point. Some play was made about the nationalising of airports. Cities like Manchester have been very desirous of keeping their airports. I only hope that these cities will be allowed to continue to operate their airports.
Since the end of the war the export of British aeroplanes has steadily risen. The aircraft industry, in aircraft engines and accessories, has made a great contribution to our exports, particularly to the hard currency areas. In 1949 the figure rose to £34,250,000, which was tremendous. However, I am alarmed now at the rate at which imports are rising. Up to 1949 it amounted to £17,250,000, practically all of it in hard currency. That is alarming and is offsetting the contribution which is being made by the industry. I can understand the difficulties of the Minister regarding late deliveries of aircraft. The four Stratocruisers to which he referred were bought from Scandinavia in sterling, but the other six were bought in the United States at a cost of over £6 million, and the Opposition regretted that contract from the very beginning.
At the time I said it was a great mistake to purchase these Stratocruisers at enormous sums, because it would saddle the country with having to purchase spares, spare engines, propellers and accessories in hard currency for years to come; and this was an aircraft which had not really been proved. I do not want to create alarm about these aeroplanes, but I have read quite recently that on two occasions the engine mountings have fallen out, not in this country but 2249 on American airlines. Is the Minister of Civil Aviation quite satisfied about the performance of the Stratocruiser and its reliability? We should like some information on that subject.
We purchased the 11 Constellations for nearly £3 million. It would have been far better to have continued with the Constellations until the time when the Comet and the other aircraft were in service rather than to have branched out into a new type for which the air crews and engineers had to be trained. Also, 22 Canadairs have been purchased for £4,500,000, a total of £13,500,000 upon American aeroplanes.
The hon. Gentleman referred to devaluation. Of course it has hit the aviation industry. It has hit many other industries, such as the British shipping industry. I should like to know whether his Ministry was consulted by the Treasury about devaluation before it took place to see what the effect might be. It is no good the Parliamentary Secretary coming to this House complaining that his Department is hit by devaluation. Many other firms are in a similar position, and they have to make the best of it and increase their turnover.
As has been explained, the American aircraft were bought primarily to fill the gap created by the most unfortunate accidents and grounding of the Tudors. I do not want to go into great detail about the Tudor. It is a long story. I should however like to make one reference to the Report of the Tudor Inquiry, Command Paper 7478, which says:The operators put forward requirements for alterations and modifications without apparently paying much regard to their effect on the design of the aircraft and its performance, and the designers accepted these requirements too readily, without first insisting on agreement to the penalties involved.It goes on to say:While the primary responsibility for failure to state requirements must rest on B.O.A.C., the ultimate responsibility rested on the Government Departments concerned to ensure that performance requirements were drawn up and transmitted to the constructors. There was a failure to discharge this responsibility.I do not want to go into that in too great detail, although I think it is in Order because we are discussing why the losses were brought about. It should be remembered that the constructors were placed at a great disadvantage in this matter.
2250 In many cases these expenditures of millions of dollars have been brought about by delayed action and its consequences. There has been far too much centralised control and there has not been very much clear thinking on some of the subjects. In another place the noble Lord the Minister of Civil Aviation made a statement on 2nd February of last year in columns 492 to 495 of the OFFICIAL REPORT. He said that B.O.A.C. had been set a target of £5,500,000 for their deficit in 1949–50, but the noble Lord had announced in another place on 19th January, some two weeks earlier, the withdrawal of the Tudor. If he knew two weeks before that the Tudors were going to be withdrawn, surely he ought to have anticipated the estimated loss or his advisors should have informed him of it.
Now we are being asked to supply another £1,750,000 because of that. These are very large figures. I know that £1,750,000 these days is not much compared with some of the figures which we discuss, but it has to be paid by the taxpayer and we ought not to lose sight of that fact. I do not for one moment think that the noble Lord deliberately misled Parliament. I am sure that he is not the type of man who would do that. I think he was wrongly advised, and he ought to set about his staff for giving him incorrect information.
I want now to refer to the Solent flying-boats which were brought into service in April, 1948, the Corporation knowing perfectly well the relative economics of the landplane and the flying-boat. I know that they changed their minds quite often on that subject, but they ought to have known that. The service was opened with full ceremony and a tremendous Press, and we were led to believe that an era of civil aviation had come to stay. However, in less than two years the service is closed down. It is bad business to inaugurate an expensive service which will have to be closed down in less than two years. The aircraft are left with four-fifths of their life unused. Why was the service ever set up at all? Can we be told the answer to that?
There is also the Princess flying-boat which is being constructed at the Saunders-Roe factory at Cowes. This is a great engineering project in which Britain can and will lead the world, but we are hearing the most dreadful 2251 rumours that the flying-boats may be cancelled and that the construction may not be completed. We should like some assurance that these flying-boats will really be used for the purpose for which they were built. After the merger of British South American Airways with B.O.A.C. we asked for assurances and were given them, but it is very disturbing to the workmen, designers and others in the factory if they are continually to be uncertain because of rumours in the industry. The Minister will be doing a great service to the industry if once and for all he stops these rumours and makes it quite clear that the flying-boats are to be operated. We do not necessarily want to know where, because economics may enter into it.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the Hermes. I agree that it is unfortunate that the Hermes airliner is late in being delivered. I have taken the trouble, as no doubt the Parliamentary Secretary has, to check on the point, and I am assured that it is not altogether the fault of the constructors. The hon. Gentleman's predecessor is pulling a face, but I have gone into it. Had the ancillary equipment which was available some three years ago been accepted the aeroplane could have been ready not on time but earlier than it has been. It was agreed to delay it for some time to bring about a better aeroplane. That is my information. It is the first British airliner to have a self-steering nosewheel. I am told that five of these aeroplanes have already been delivered and that their performance exceeds that laid down in the requirements.
I am concerned about this continual placing of orders with the United States, not only from the point of view of expenditure, but because we shall lose a great deal of knowledge of this industry. Americans are clever people. During the war they built transports and we built fighters. It was expedient and had to be done, but at the end of the war they were in a much better position than we were to build air liners.
§ Dr. Morgan (Warrington) indicated dissent.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
The hon. Member shakes his head. Would he like to interrupt and contradict me on this 2252 point? If he knows otherwise, the Committee would like to hear it. The hon. Member knows medicine very well, but I did not know he was interested in aircraft.
The Comet I believe, will be the great saviour of British civil aviation. Its flights are world news almost daily and the Americans are shaken by its performance. Had we struggled along and accepted reduced earnings until it was in service, that would have been the right policy instead of buying Stratocruisers. In 1945, when the Labour Party wrote "Let Us Face the Future," they thought that nationalising civil aviation and having under 200 aeroplanes flying round the world would be a good advertisement for the Labour Government. I do not think any of them really knew the difficulties of operating modern aircraft and they are only now beginning to learn the difficulties involved. We are told every year that the position will get better but it has become only a little better in each succeeding year and we on this side of the Committee are much concerned about the industry.
If we are to have economies in B.O.A.C., why should it be for the Minister of Civil Aviation to bring about an additional economy? Surely that is the job of the Chairman and Managing Director of the Corporation? If they are not up to the job, change them and put in others, but do not bring in piecemeal economies two, three or four times a year. That is unsettling for air crews and everyone else. I ask the Government to give this subject serious consideration in the next few months and see that any cleaning up that has to be done, is done, so that the industry is given a chance to settle down and prove itself, as I am sure it can.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I desire to join with the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) in offering a welcome to my hon. Friend on his appointment as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. I am sure that I speak not only for this side of the Committee but for all hon. Members when I say that we wish him well and hope that all his landings will be happy. I noticed with interest that my hon. Friend is still prepared to be a little critical of the Corporation and is not to depart entirely from his former rôle. 2253 Consequently, I am sure that he will not be too deeply disappointed if his former mantle, however ill it may fit, falls on other shoulders. While I shall not seek to be unduly critical tonight, I want to offer a word of criticism on one aspect of the problem before us.
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield that one of our great problems today is to ensure safety in civil aviation. I would not go so far as to place the solution where he placed it, but would rather take the sentence which my hon. Friend employed when he referred to the cost of modern aircraft as being in the region of £120 per flying hour. In making that statement, my hon. Friend put his finger on the big problem confronting this Committee and himself. We are still faced with the fact that, in spite of all we have done on the mechanical and navigational sides, tragedy occurs from time to time in the air. And now we possess the drastic knowledge that the greatest and most tragic occurrence in the history of civil aviation lies to our credit—or to our discredit.
As far as I recollect, the last time we debated civil aviation we prided ourselves that our record in the air as a nation was better than the record of most nations. We cannot say that tonight because of the tragedy which befell us recently. I think this is due to the fact that our approach has not been the proper one. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, when occupying the office of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, gave me figures time and again pointing out that the accidents per million passenger miles for this nation were smaller than for any nation in the world today. That may be true, but the basis of approach is completely false.
I am not interested in the number of casualties per million passenger miles; I am interested in the fate of the individual passengers travelling in a given aircraft. What is the accident rate there? In almost every case it is 100 per cent. Invariably there are no survivors. If that happened when a railway passenger train is involved in an accident—every passenger killed, or nearly all, and perhaps a few survivors maimed for life—if it happened every time two motor buses came into collision, the conscience of this 2254 country would be so profoundly shocked that there would be no peace until that state of affairs was remedied. What happened when we sent ships to sea loaded in such a way that every individual was carried to his death? It was left to Samuel Plimsoll so to arouse the House of Commons that steps had to be taken to end that state of affairs. We want to see similar action in regard to safety in civil aviation.
Because of the fact that we are aiming at greater and greater speed in the air—which we are bound to do, because civil aviation is still dependent on military aviation—I hope that my hon. Friend will press for freedom to develop this service from the point of view of ensuring the complete safety of passengers. It is nice to know that the Comet can go to Rome in two hours and two minutes—why the two minutes was flung in, I do not know—
§ Mr. Rankin
—but just as top speed has become greater and greater, so the landing and takeoff speeds have become higher and higher. Because of that, these great new modern machines are controllable only at top speed; they are not controllable when they come down to the lower speeds. While we are able to say that on the navigational side, so far as aids are concerned, and on the power side, we have made wonderful progress, when it comes to the problem of human judgment we slide into the old excuse that it is the fault of the pilot. That covers the multitude of sins arising from our own wrong attitude.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
The hon. Member referred to the Comet and then proceeded to speak about safety. I hope he is not inferring that these fast aeroplanes are not safe, because the fact that an aeroplane like the Comet operates in the sub-stratosphere makes it very safe indeed. It would be a disservice to this country if the hon. Member were to give the reverse impression. The Comet has a remarkable record in the short time it has been flying.
§ Mr. Rankin
I think I made it perfectly clear that, as far as top speed was concerned, there is no danger. It is when these high-powered machines come to the 2255 lower landing speeds that the danger that they are uncontrollable develops, and anything may happen, as has been shown time and time again. We cover that up by the expression "human error of judgment." It is in that factor that the greater percentage of accidents today is located.
It is for those reasons that I suggest to my hon. Friend that an aircraft should be designed—for after all, the Corporations must have some say in the type of machine they are to fly—which would ensure safety in the air by having lower landing and take-off speeds. That would certainly affect the top flying speed of the machine, but it would mean that the passengers are given a safety which is at present lacking. I suggest also that the machine to be built with these characteristics should carry in its airframe built-in crash survivability, which, again, would add to the safety of passengers in the event of an unhappy landing.
Now to my final point. It may be suggested that in matters of development we are bound to the speed of development in other countries. There exists, however, an international civil air organisation, and surely, if we can divorce, as I think we can, the development of civil aviation, which must be bound by considerations of safety, from the development of military aviation, then it ought to be possible to secure agreement amongst the other nations in the civil air organisation to ensure that these characteristics of safety are embodied in every new machine which is used for civil aviation. If my hon. Friend, in company with his noble Friend the Minister, can seek to develop civil aviation in this country along the lines I have suggested, I am certain that in the annals of this House he will win for himself a measure of lasting fame.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas - Hamilton (Inverness)
I should like to start by congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on his very sincere and honest statement. I do not think he is in any way blinking at the facts. One thing which we on this side have in common with him is that we all want to see British airways operating efficiently and leading the world. The only difference is in our method of approach. In civil aviation generally the first things which should be 2256 considered are the needs of the country and the people, and that regulations should cover first and foremost, as the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) has said, safety in operation; and secondly, they should guard against injurious competition. Within those bounds, however, civil aviation should be left as free as possible to the men who know how to run it.
I think that the history of the Tudor—I do not want to labour this point; the history is an old one now—shows really that we are suffering from the delayed consequences of over-centralised bureaucratic control in civil aviation. The same may be said of the suggestion which has been made of the consequences of the decisions on the Solent flying boat, in connection with whose disposal I want to make a constructive suggestion. We now have these boats on our hands, and it is important that they should be used. Three years ago the then Parliamentary Secretary said that British European Airways were obliged to undertake services of public utility which were unprofitable. He was challenged to allow charter companies to run these services without subsidy, but at that time he did not agree.
There is today a crying need for a service which could be operated and which would be of immense value to the country as well as being, I am convinced, a profitable concern: that is, a service which would serve the West Coast of Scotland, where there are no landing grounds but where there are ample and good flying boat bases. The Parliamentary Secretary said the other day of the dismantling of the flying boat base at Southampton that as most of it was water anyway, it could not be dismantled. He was quite right, because water forms the greater portion of a flying boat base, and on the West Coast of Scotland we have some excellent ones.
All these possibilities of flying boat services illustrate my case for disposing profitably of the Solent aircraft. The service I have suggested would be of immense social value to the West Coast of Scotland and of immense value in earning foreign currency from the tourist trade in that area. By this means we could link the area, which is now without an air service of any kind, from Sutherland, Ross-shire, the Isle of Skye and Argyllshire to the Clyde. It would 2257 be of tremendous benefit to the whole country and, more than anything else, it would enable the Highlands in time to play their full share in economic welfare. I suggest that the Minister should consider seriously disposing of the Solent flying boats either to B.E.A. for this purpose or to a private operator who is prepared to put these services into effect.
To return to the main point of running nationalised airlines, I am convinced that everybody wants to see the airlines in this country a success, but we on this side are nevertheless convinced that, given freedom, independent operators could revolutionise air transport in the United Kingdom.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton, Itchen)
I would like to develop, of course not at any length, two points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey), in the eloquent and very interesting speech with which he opened the Debate from the benches opposite, and by the noble Lord the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton). The first point is the decision of B.O.A.C. to close down the flying boat base at Southampton or temporarily to suspend the activities of that base and to sell the Solents. My remedy for that is not the remedy proposed by the noble Lord. I do not want the Solents to go to Scotland, but to stay in full operation in Southampton.
I also ask the Parliamentary Secretary if the defence position of the country was fully considered when the decision to sell the Solents was arrived at. It will be generally agreed that flying boats can perform a more flexible and a more varied service, perhaps, in times of emergency than land planes are able to perform. If an enemy Power were to occupy the Persian Gulf, we would have to go to the East by way of Mauritius and the Seychelles Islands, and in those conditions it would be necessary to operate a flying boat service which could not be done by a land plane service.
It was shown quite clearly in the last war that flying boats were of great advantage in military operations. I think it is true that flying boats raised the Japanese air blockage on Australia and I think it equally true that flying boats rendered very meritorious service in the Mediter- 2258 ranean and for a time kept the Atlantic route open. If the Solent boats are sold, the only boats which the Royal Air Force have left are the Sunderlands and they are somewhat out of date. From that point of view I think it might be worth while the Ministry reconsidering their decision to sell the Solent boats.
Many passengers prefer flying boats to land planes. They find them more comfortable and, rightly or wrongly, they believe them more safe. I have just been informed by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. J. Paton) that he thinks flying by flying boats is the most luxurious and magnificent form of travel. I understand the excuse for the decision to sell the Solents is on the grounds of economy, but, when first delivered, the Solents were not in a perfect condition for flying and a good deal of alteration and improvement had to be made to them. The total cost of the Solents to the taxpayer has been in the region of £4,500,000. In addition, about £153,000 was spent upon a berth at the flying boat base at Southampton. I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary was altogether correct when, in reply to the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) at Question Time yesterday, he said that flying boat bases did not cost anything because they were entirely composed of water. That is not altogether the case—
§ Mr. Beswick
I did not say that they did not cost anything, but I said it would be difficult to destroy the water element of the flying boat base.
§ Mr. Morley
I would point out that at Southampton £153,000 has been spent on the berth and £4,500,000 was spent on the Solents. They are to be sold and I do not suppose for a moment that the sale will realise anything like £4,500,000. I do not know to whom we are going to sell the Solents but, seeing that this country is abandoning these flying boats, people in Southampton are wondering where the economy comes in under these conditions. The Solent flying boat has never had a really fair chance to operate at the most economical cost. It has only been operating with 10 boats out of a possible 20. If the whole 20 boats had been operated, there would have been 2259 a considerable spreading of overhead charges which would have made the running of these boats more economical than it has been in the past. At the same time the running costs of the Solents have been gradually reduced during the past few years, until now it is claimed that the Solents can be run at £100 per flying hour.
As a matter of fact, the operational costs of the Solent are less than those of the Hermes, with which it is proposed to be replaced. The Hermes has no commercial record at all and no one knows what its performance would be under commercial conditions. It is not a very fast plane and not altogether up to date. If the Hermes is run instead of the Solent on the route to South Africa, the Hermes will be in competition with Sabena and K.L.M., both of which are faster than the Hermes. South Africans, who form a large proportion of the passengers flying to South Africa, have no very patriotic leanings towards this country and are not likely to prefer a plane because it is British. They will prefer a faster plane, and it is the K.L.M.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
The hon. Member is not being fair to this aircraft. Unless he can give the performance, I do not think he is quite playing fair with the British aircraft.
§ Mr. Morley
I am sorry if I have made a mistake, but my instructions are that the K.L.M. is faster than the Hermes and, from the point of view of speed, passengers would prefer K.L.M. to the Hermes. From another point of view South African passengers, who are mainly of Dutch origin or descent, might have a sentimental reason for preferring K.L.M. planes.
§ Mr. Morley
I am in this position; the Solent is to be displaced by the Hermes. The reason given for substituting the Hermes for the Solent is that the Hermes 2260 is more economical and likely to be more successful from the commercial point of view. I am trying to adduce reasons why it is not likely to prove more successful from a commercial point of view.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he can give any definite assurance in regard to the future of the Princess flying boats, which are a magnificent job. They are one of the best-ever achievements of British engineering, but we have not had anything definite as to what is to be done with them, on what routes they are to be flown and when they are to be flown. I believe that when they are put into operation they will make history in civil aviation owing to their speed and the large number of passengers they can carry.
I wish to refer to the unemployment position which will arise in Southampton from the decision to sell the Solents and close down the Southampton airbase. We are somewhat apprehensive as to the future of employment in Southampton because there is a threatened redundancy in Southampton Docks when the summer is reached. We do not at all like the prospects of having another 1,000 or so men added to the number of unemployed ill Southampton through the closing down of Southampton Airport. Of course, I know that some alternative employment is likely to be offered to some of these men, but it will be offered in other towns and the housing difficulty will arise. Very few of them will be able to take the alternative employment offered because of the lack of housing accommodation, and my fear is that these men will drift into other trades, that their skill and experience in this very specialised occupation will be lost to the nation and will not easily be regained should a time of emergency arise.
The opinion is freely expressed by those who are employed at the Southampton Marine Airport that there is prejudice against flying boats in some high quarters in B.O.A.C., and a tendency to put land planes before flying boats. It is suggested that both land planes and flying boats are required in B.O.A.C., that it might be well to have a flying boat of intermediate size compared with the Princess and the Solent and to put the flying boats under a separate executive committee with a chief who is really interested and enthusiastic about flying boats and their development. I hope that even at 2261 this late hour the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give me some reassurance on these points.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles (Down, North)
I should like to take up the question of flying boats which my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) mentioned in a very good speech. That speech aroused in me the hope of flying boat excursions up the West Coast of Scotland, when I might hope, at last, to be able to visit Staffa and Iona, which I have never yet been able to do.
The first question I wish to raise concerns staff reductions. About two years ago I asked the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation about some of the women and girls employed on the staff and urged that they should be made established civil servants with a pension. He said that he was not able to do that at that time. Some of those girls have since had reason to be grateful to the hon. Gentleman because they have left the Ministry of Civil Aviation. They took examinations to enter the Civil Service—one whom I know passed out top—and due to the hon. Gentleman's refusal to make them established civil servants in his Ministry, they have done much better for themselves.
The question of the number of staff to be affected by reduction may create a dangerous position. The numbers had to be reduced, of course. We could not have the money of the Ministry and the tax-prayers being wasted all the time, but I hope that this process is nearing its end. I know personally many of the staff concerned, and I hope that these men and women, who have served the Ministry very well, can now took upon their job as a permanency.
The question has been raised of excursion fares. Whether we are considering flying boats or land planes, the objective is to fill the planes for each trip. It has been suggested to me that the Corporations do not make sufficient reductions in their fares either in the slack season or midweek. Such a reduction might be possible on some services which operate on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday each week. If the Parliamentary Secretary will analyse the position, I believe he will find that seats are often vacant on those services, and it might be pos- 2262 sible to make a small reduction in fare and fill the plane.
The inability of the British aircraft manufacturers as yet to produce, in commercial quantities, a first-class aeroplane since the war has been very disappointing to every member of the Committee. The first name that comes into my mind is that of Short and Harland of Belfast, who last year produced four seaplanes with which a service is being operated at present between Australia and New Zealand. I understand that these seaplanes are operating most effectively and efficiently. I believe that this type is called the Pegasus. We all realise that the Tudors had to go, in view of their record. I hope the time is coming when we shall have a British aircraft produced in the same numbers as the Dakota which, whether known as the Dakota or the Douglas or the D.C., has been a wonderful "bus" in its time. I hope the time is coming when either the Hermes or the Comet will succeed it with a similar record.
Mention has been made of the question of accidents. I was surprised that, in connection with the accident that took place near Ringway Aerodrome, Manchester, in August, 1949, the report and the finding upon it, are only now in print. All of us would be interested to know the reason for that accident. I have spoken to pilots who have to fly by beam in bad weather and they tell me that these beams are not yet technically perfect, that in some places even the fact of a wrought-iron gate being open or closed would make a difference to the beam. I hope with the publication of that report all of us will learn more about that subject. In the case of one report, the Minister disagreed with it after it was published. It might be advisable for the Minister—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
The hon. and gallant Member's remarks are very wide of what is contained in this Supplementary Estimate.
§ Sir W. Smiles
The question of accidents has been raised by two previous speakers, but I will leave that subject, expressing the hope that these approaches, especially at Ringway Aerodrome, Manchester, will be perfected as soon as possible.
2263 During the past five years no one has been very critical in civil aviation Debates. Members have felt that the Ministry and the aeroplane manufacturers had not had a fair chance since the war to catch up with the Americans. I believe that in future the House will be critical, and I hope that the Ministry and manufacturers will do so well that they will deserve no criticism.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I feel that if civil aviation is to pay and become a really prosperous and soundly based industry it must make itself more popular and break down the feeling that air travel is a matter only for the very rich and is really a luxury form of travel. We must create a habit of air travel which has perhaps been lacking in this country up to now. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, North (Sir W. Smiles) referred to the possibility of cutting mid-week fares, which would do something to encourage travel at that time. Now that transport is largely under State control of one form or another we should also be able to make sure that railway and air services, for example, are closely integrated. We must get rid of the feeling that one has to go to London to start one's air journey. The question of aerodromes enters into that aspect of the matter.
I feel that a great deal of attention should be paid to the improvement of aerodromes all over the country, and that this should not merely be done at one or two main centres. In my constituency, an island constituency, there grew up a great habit of air travel among ordinary people through the improving of the services and the spreading of landing grounds throughout the islands. Some of the services have had to be withdrawn and I would ask my hon. Friend to consider whether he cannot do something to improve and extend the services—
§ Mr. Beswick
I should like to give the information to the hon. Gentleman but am I not right, Sir Charles, in thinking that this Debate should really be confined to matters appertaining to the British Overseas Airways Corporation?
§ Mr. Grimond
I was merely trying to make the point, as an example, that the public would respond to better services by this Corporation.
I feel that the air services of this country are still largely in the pioneer stage, and we should like some assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that every encouragement will be given to pioneers who have new ideas, both in the Corporation and in industries concerned with the design of aircraft. We have had suggestions today about the use of flying boats which I feel are very valuable. We know that in the past, perhaps we have not been very generous to pioneers who have done a great deal to build up the air services of this country, both as servants of the Corporation, or as independent people running charter flights or in other ways. We are still in the pioneer stage and we must give as much help as possible to people who have such ideas to put before us.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock (Derby, North)
I also wish to offer my congratulations to the Parliamentary Secretary who is not only a personal friend, but a pilot. His experience will I am sure help him tremendously in the problems he will meet in his new office.
I have always had great sympathy with the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Parliamentary Secretary and the boards of the Corporations. If they make a loss, there is a heap of criticism from hon. and right hon. Members opposite. If they endeavour to prevent a loss by making economies, getting rid of staffs and shutting down bases, again there is plenty of criticism from hon. Members opposite. It must be quite a difficult life which they have to lead. I want to add to their difficulties tonight by endeavouring to persuade them not to make any economies of a transport nature on the South American route. If they are looking for places to make economies, there may be something there to attract them, but I believe that in the long view it would be a great mistake.
There has been built up on that route and in that community of South America a very high reputation for British organisation. The fact that it was British South American Airways does not matter; it was British Airways. There 2265 are many people in the Caribbean and in South America whom we, as a trading nation, would be very short-sighted to lose as customers. I was over that route in the last few weeks and I was astonished to find the warm feeling towards British aviation in that area. I hope that the Minister or the board of British Overseas Airways will not think that it would be an economy to close any part of this route or to withdraw the organisation. I feel sure that it would be far from an economy and that it would be extremely short-sighted.
The noble Lord the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) spoke about operating flying boats to Scotland, and I think that that is an excellent suggestion. But will hon. and right hon. Members opposite mind if that adds a million or two to the deficiency of B.O.A.C. operations? It is the right thing to do, and in the same way, it is the right thing to continue our efforts in the South American sphere, although it will cost money. We shall lose money by so doing.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
May I say that the point I wanted to make was that the suggestion be investigated, not that we should rush into it with the object of making a loss.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock
The noble Lord knows as well as I do that it would be very difficult economically to operate flying boats in this country, although it might be a good thing to do so from the point of view of the industry. I believe that there is a future in flying boats, but it will cost money. Are we prepared to accept the fact that it will cost money? Flying boat bases are very expensive, even though they consist largely of water. There is the question of transportation and lighters and so on and it is a costly business, but I should be extremely sorry to see them go.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
Is not it equally costly to build 3,000-yard runways of concrete, which cost millions of pounds? With a flying boat base we have a base laid down for us by nature.
§ Group-Captain Wilcock
I do not think that there is any comparison. A flying boat base must be in an area where it is out of the way of shipping and so on, and it must be in sheltered waters.
2266 All these things must be considered in connection with a flying boat base; whereas a land base, once it is put down, is fit for operation probably for 300 or more days out of the 365. I do not think that the two things can be compared. I would support the suggestion with regard to flying boats, but will hon. and right hon. Members opposite accept the cost of these uneconomical aircraft without offering criticisms—from their very high knowledge of operating aircraft—every time a public corporation loses money?
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey), who has a wide experience of operating aircraft, made one remark upon which I must comment. He talked about the Labour Government losing money operating aircraft. The Labour Government do not operate aircraft; it is the public corporations, including men with flying experience, who operate the aircraft. If they cannot operate them economically, we in the House must take the responsibility for the loss. We cannot have it both ways.
I said that I was going to make it more difficult for the Ministry. I ask them to go on operating on the South American route and to keep the passenger handling facilities open, although it will cost us money, because I am sure that in the long run it will be worth while. In the Same way, I support flying boats being operated to Scotland; but that will cost money, and we must realise it and give the Corporation support in this matter,
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Mikardo (Reading, South)
I think it would be generally agreed that we have had a thoughtful non-partisan and serious Debate. Perhaps the atmosphere in which we have debated this difficult subject, the consciousness which both sides of the Committee clearly have of the difficulties facing the Corporation and the desire of both sides of the Committee to assist in overcoming them, are due to the thoughtful and equitable speeches with which this Debate was opened; both by the Parliamentary Secretary for this side of the Committee and the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) for the other side. Indeed, if I may say so without offence to the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) 2267 I thought, while listening to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield, that the Committee had not been robbed by the accident which temporarily made silent the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire and projected the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield on to his own Front Bench.
There was perhaps one exception to the atmosphere of non-partisan helpfulness in which the Debate has been conducted, and that was contained in the earlier part of the third successive maiden speech of the hon. Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) who clearly has not totally recovered from the hurly-burly of the election contest. He allowed himself one or two of the standard platitudes which he no doubt used with great effect upon his electors in Inverness about bureaucratic over-centralisation and all the standard jargon of the anti-Socialist doctrinaires. He was very vehement about these things, and I hope that I am not being impertinent if I suggest in all friendliness to the hon. Member, that he will enrich our Debates on Civil Aviation even further when he allies knowledge to his vehemence. I hope that I may remind him without offence that this nationalisation of the British Overseas Airways Corporation which he so wholeheartedly condemns, was not carried out by any Labour Government. It was carried out before the war.
§ Mr. Mikardo
With the very deepest respect, which anyone must have who has sat under your guidance, Sir Charles, I suggest that the hon. Member has said that the loss—and hence this Vote—was due to nationalisation. I am merely pointing out that, if that were so, he must make his case against the wicked gentlemen on his side of the Committee who were guilty of this vile act of nationalisation in 1939.
There are two points upon which I should like to comment. My hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin), and some succeeding speakers, referred to the question of accidents. On this point I think that my hon. Friend was wrong. He said that in previous Debates we had discussed the accident rate of 2268 British aircraft and that we had then said that the accident rate of this nation was the lowest in the world. He regretted that we could not now say that, because of the regrettable accident which was costly in lives which took place a week or two ago.
It is not sensible to talk about the accident rate of the nation. We are discussing the British Overseas Airways Corporation, and the magnificent record of comparative freedom from accidents which the Corporation has, cannot be blotted out by the fact that a private enterprise company, which may not measure up in its work to the standards of the Corporation, has been so unfortunate as to have a grave accident. I think that it is right to say—and if I am wrong I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will correct me—that it is still as true now as it was when it was said by his predecessor some time ago, that there is no large airline anywhere in the world—
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
On a point of Order. The question is sub judice, with a public inquiry to be held and it is most unfortunate that these remarks should be made when everybody else has avoided the subject.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am referring to the freedom from accidents of the British Overseas Airways Corporation.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
This is a matter which touches some people's personal happiness very deeply. There have been three fatal Tudor crashes. Two have happened under a Government Corporation and one under a charter company. It is undesirable to refer to them at all, but it is most ungenerous and inaccurate for the hon. Gentleman to attempt to suggest that this happens exclusively in charter concerns.
§ Mr. Mikardo
If I had suggested that, that would be so; but the hon. Gentleman really must not be so touchy in refinding his voice. If he is anxious that one should not cause unhappiness, he ought not to have interrupted me when I was about to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to confirm the fact, which I believe is still true, that no other major airline in the world has a freedom from accidents as good as the British Overseas Airways Corporation. I should have 2269 thought that even hon. Gentlemen opposite would have found some consolation in that and that they would not get "het up" about it. I was in the middle of that very sentence—as the hon. Member will confirm if he looks at HANSARD tomorrow— when he interrupted.
The point I want to make is that this very high record of freedom from accidents in B.O.A.C. is a costly business. I beg hon. Gentlemen to realise what is the connection in the terms of the economics of aircraft operation, between the freedom from accidents and the deficit, the bill for which we are being asked to approve now. No one in this Committee would advocate skimping the safety, the repair and maintenance and the overhaul services of our airways Corporations, and hence endangering lives, in order to save money. I am sure we shall all be agreed that the best salesman for any airways corporation is a good safety record. We should all be agreed, too, that there is no price which one can pay for lives. But let us bear in mind that there is another side to the matter and that we get this magnificent record of freedom from accidents by a standard of servicing, maintenance, repair and overhaul which is unequalled anywhere in the world and which really does cost a great deal of money.
I have the opportunity of seeing some of this work at first hand. I am sure that hon. Members would be most impressed at the thoroughness, the Meticulous care, and the sparing of no trouble and expense which is involved to ensure that the aircraft of the Corporation fly with the greatest freedom from the risk of accident. I say at once that we ought to bear in mind that some of this Vote—it is impossible to say how much—is for the cost of additional safety in British aircraft. Therefore, we ought not to begrudge it for a moment.
The only other point upon which I wish to comment has also been raised by a number of hon. Members. It will be clear to anyone who has listened to the Debate that the connection between the welfare of British aviation and the welfare and efficiency of the British aircraft manufacturing industry is very close indeed. If we are to fly British, as we are all anxious to do at the earliest possible moment, and if at the same time we are 2270 to put the Corporations on a paying basis, it is necessary that the British aircraft manufacturing industry, which stands behind both the R.A.F. and the civil flying services, should be at a very high peak of efficiency.
I doubt whether anybody, even the most ardent defender of that industry, would say that it is at present running at a very high peak of efficiency. I de not want to be controversial about this. The industry has had to face very grave difficulties. The change-over from manufacturing under war-time conditions to manufacturing under peace-time conditions was very difficult. It had to be made by the British manufacturers at a time when manufacturers in some other countries were not facing anything like the same difficulties, because even during the war they manufactured civil types, or so-called military types which were very little different from civil types.
Nevertheless, I think it is not being ungenerous to say that in some respects the British aviation industry has been badly let down by the British aircraft manufacturing industry. I tremble to think what would have happened if the story of the Hermes had been the story of a publicly-owned rather than of a privately-owned enterprise. If indeed the continual promises which were made, broken, made again, broken, remade and rebroken; if this sad story of a continued failure to carry out promises, a continued failure to take into account even the most readily forseeable contingencies in the development of these aircraft, had been the story of a publicly-owned industry, the amount of scream that would have gone up from hon. Gentlemen opposite, through the Press of the country, would have been most formidable.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Why does the hon. Member refer only to the Handley Page Company's Hermes and say nothing about the Stratocruisers, which are a year late in being delivered?
§ Mr. Mikardo
I do not say anything about that. I do think that two blacks do not make a white, however.
§ Mr. Mikardo
Perhaps I may first reply to the hon. and gallant Member for 2271 Macclesfield. The hon. and gallant Member must not let himself down by the "I am bigger than you or you are bigger than me" type of argument. If we are let down by the American aircraft manufacturers in what everybody agrees is a temporary phase in America, that is no reason why we should not all hope that the British manufacturers will stop letting down the British aviation industry. Let us not fool ourselves about this. Looking after British airlines is not a high priority with American aircraft manufacturers. It ought to be a high priority with British aircraft manufacturers, but it does not seem to be a high priority with them. There are some firms in the industry doing magnificent work. De Havilland and the Comet have already been referred to and I am sure we have all been thrilled by the excellent work they have done.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
Before the hon. Member goes on about one particular company and one particular type of aircraft, will he tell the Committee how many modifications were imposed upon this firm and that particular type of aircraft by the Government and by the Ministry of Supply in the course of its construction?
§ Mr. Mikardo
As always, Sir Charles, I bow to your Ruling. I am not trying to slit anyone's throat. I do appreciate the difficulties which they and other firms have had. What I am trying to point out is that a large part of this Vote which we are discussing today is in the nature of a disguised subsidy to the British aircraft manufacturing industry. Perhaps it is inevitable that that should be so. Under modern conditions, in which aircraft become obsolescent and even obsolete very quickly indeed, and when numbers of aircraft are required, it is very difficult to run an aircraft manufacturing industry at all without having a subsidy from somewhere, and all over the world both aviation and aircraft manufacture are being heavily subsidised and are making losses.
Let us be clear about this. We may criticise as much as we like the British Airways Corporations. If any of them had been listening to us today they would have come to the conclusion that they are nobody's sweethearts. Hon. Members 2272 opposite have criticised them. Hon. Members on this side of the House have criticised them. Even the Parliamentary Secretary does not altogether break a lance in their defence. But when we criticise them, let us bear in mind that the bill they have presented is partly a bill for themselves and partly a bill for other people. The price we are being called upon to pay today is to some extent the price of maintaining in the British aircraft manufacturing industry a potential which can be rapidly expanded for war purposes if, unhappily, that should ever be necessary—a potential which to some extent uses civil aviation as its test tube, its place for trying out these ideas. In many ways these losses represent money paid by way of a subsidy to the manufacturing industry.
As I have already said, there are many difficult problems about this industry and, as I have also said, it is a realisation of these problems which has prompted the constructive tone of this Debate. It is my earnest desire that this industry in the future, as at present, will continue to give the maximum help, without any undue spirit of partisanship, to the Parliamentary Secretary and even to the boards of the corporations in the very difficult task they have of ensuring that the British aircraft industry is an expanding one, a safe one and a successful one.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Beswick
I should like, first, to thank those hon. Members who gave me their good wishes. I am sure they will join with me in paying tribute to my predecessor in this office whose helpfulness we all greatly appreciated. I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) about the way in which this Debate has been conducted. I am grateful to those hon. Members who have made so many interesting suggestions, and I would also agree that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) opened the Debate in a very reasonable way. I should like, however, to take up one or two points which he made.
First, there was the suggestion that he made that some of these savings that my noble Friend has been able to make in the past year have been at the expense of safety. It would be out of order for me to go into details of how these savings 2273 have been made, but I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that they have not been made at the expense of safety, and that it is quite wrong to suggest that it is only on the ground of expense that we have not as yet replaced the S.B.A. system at Ringway. I would say also to the hon. and gallant Member for Down, North (Sir W. Smiles) that it is a little unfortunate to talk about that accident at Ringway before the findings of the court have been published.
Now I should also like to mention one other thing about which the hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke, the question of the Tudors. I refuse to be drawn on this matter of the history of the Tudors, but I cannot allow this myth of governmental interference to develop. It was not because of governmental interference that there were all those difficulties over the. Tudor aircraft. I know very well what the hon. and gallant Gentleman read out, but there were many other remarks that were made by those two reports, and I think it is wrong to emphasise the one which the hon. and gallant Gentleman read out. In any case, those items to which he made reference were very minor, interior items and did not relate to the fundamental change in design, which was the real cause of the difficulty.
I was asked about the Stratocruisers and the service they were giving to B.O.A.C. There have been teething troubles with the machines, but I can say that the Corporation has been able to identify the cause of those troubles, and we have not had the same difficulties with them as, the hon. and gallant Gentleman apparently heard, the American companies have experienced. I should like to say another thing about the Stratocruisers. If I say much about them I shall have quoted against me something I said two years ago when I suggested we ought to have Constellations instead of Stratocruisers. However, it is a fact that the people who are now operating them, who have brought them over and put them into service, have all the facts and operating data at their disposal, and they are confident that with these machines they can do better on the North Atlantic route than they could have done with Constellations. I emphasise the fact that we shall be competing against American companies using this particular machine; and, after all, in other 2274 contexts we are told that American air line companies have a commercial instinct that we should follow.
With regard to the deficit of the Corporation, I think that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield was right when he said that my noble Friend had no wish to mislead Parliament when he presented last year's figures. He had no wish to do so, and he did not in fact mislead Parliament. He made it quite clear, with his characteristic frankness, when he produced those targets on 2nd February last year, that they were likely to be upset by the accident—or the consequences of the accident—that had taken place only a few days earlier. Again, in this Chamber my predecessor referred to the operational changes which would result from this Tudor disaster. If anyone wishes to suggest that there have been any other attempts to mislead the country or Parliament about the way things were going with B.O.A.C., I would refer them to the very frank statement made at the beginning of this year, before the election, by the Chairman of the British Overseas Airways Corporation.
Many hon. Members in various parts of the Committee have asked me about policy with regard to flying boats. It seems an extraordinary thing that when any opinion is expressed or a decision is made either way about flying boats, almost by convention we say "It is due to prejudice." I have looked at the figures in relation to the Solents, and there is no prejudice about this matter at all. If these machines were to operate profitably, even so far as the operation was concerned, on the figures supplied to me they would have to be full every time they flew, and three people would have to be sitting on the wings and paying full fares. It would only be on this basis that we could break even on the overall operating costs of these flying boats. I have something to say later about the savings which have resulted from the substitution of more modern machines along the Far Eastern routes.
I might mention—if I can do so and still remain in Order—that some of the savings which have enabled us to offset this deficit, did in fact flow to the Department as a result of the closing down of the marine bases on the Far Eastern routes. May I answer a further question? If these machines were not 2275 economic, why were they put into operation comparatively recently? I think that is a fair question, but then we should also ask ourselves: If the Solents were not used along these routes at that time, what other aircraft were available? The answer is, None at all.
Tudors have been mentioned. Does anyone say that we should have put Tudors along these routes? We could have gone to the Americans and tried to buy some aircraft with dollars, but we have been criticised today already for buying too many American aircraft. The fact of the matter was that if these routes were to be maintained it was essential to use the only machines available, and they were flying boats. They served us well. They are most acceptable to the travelling public, but they are not economic to use. May I say about flying boats generally that I agree with the statement made that so far the flying boat, as a flying boat, has not been given a fair chance. It is not until we get something over 200,000 1b. all-up weight that we can get to an economic stage for flying boats. The Princess flying boat has I think, something in the order of 300,000 lb. all-up weight, and it is a very different proposition.
As the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald) knows, I have been down to his constituency once or twice, and I agree with what has been said from behind me about these really beautiful ships that are being built in the yards of the Isle of Wight. I can say that these new flying boats are going to be put into operation, but exactly on what routes we cannot say at the moment. It is the intention, however, when they come along, and after they have been tried, tested and proven, that they shall be put into operation, and I personally look forward to the day when I shall be given a flight in one of these big flying boats. The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) made some very interesting observations about safety, but I do not think I should be in order if I were to follow him in his line of thought.
May I say, in relation to the possibility of using Solents along the West Coast of Scotland, that it is a most attractive proposition? I do not think that we can rightly complain of the deficits of these Corporations and expect them to take 2276 on this particular task, but I would suggest to the hon. Member that if there is anyone who would like to put up a proposition to the Air Transport Advisory Council I am sure that it would be considered, and we would be very glad to find purchasers for these flying boats. As far as our case is concerned, it would tend to be in support of the application, although with that support there would be no undertaking to provide bases round the West coast of Scotland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley), also had something to say about these flying boats, and I am sure we all admire the persistence with which he presses the claims of his constituents in this matter. I must repeat, however, that we are asked to reduce the deficit of these Corporations, and that we are doing that, but it is impossible to bring down this deficit if we have to fly these uneconomic machines. As for the possible redundancy, already the appropriate trade unions have been consulted, and whatever is done will be done in conjunction with and in agreement with the appropriate bodies.
I now wish to say a few words about the prospects of new machines, and to refer to the change that has taken place along some of the routes, giving a further reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen. These figures which I now give support the claim I made that the Corporation can do an economic job if it is given the proper tools. On the Kangaroo route to Australia, for example, the substitution of Constellations for Hythes was estimated to yield a saving of £1 million a year, and expectations so far have been more than realised. On the Far East route, where Argonauts have replaced the Plymouth flying boats, a saving at the rate of £750,000 a year is already being shown. A big operational deficit is again turned into a substantial surplus. I would mention in relation to the Argonauts that I think it is wrong simply to describe them as "dollar aircraft." They have got British Rolls-Royce engines, and I can say that all the way down the route these Argonauts are making friends, and the British engines are giving excellent service.
Altogether, on four principal routes on which the Argonauts and Constellations have been introduced, an operating 2277 deficiency of £149,000 in the last quarter of 1948 has been turned into a very useful surplus of £340,000 in the same quarter of 1949. I would stress, too, the nature of the Kangaroo route, because I think it is especially encouraging. Along that route we are now flying the same aircraft type as our Australian comrades in Qantas, and we share the same ground facilities. This was the ideal Commonwealth co-operation at which we originally aimed. It is a good thing financially and politically. I hope that the day is not too far distant when this same sensible co-operation will extend not only on that Commonwealth route but along all other Commonwealth routes. I join my voice with those of other hon. Members in saying that I also should like to see these routes flying, not only the British flag but the flag flown by British aircraft, and I can say that the encouraging progress of the Comet, so far does much to sustain that hope.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1950, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, including certain grants and subsidies.