§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. George Ward (Worcester)
It is now over eight months since we had a general debate in the House on Civil Aviation, and even then it was for only half a day. I have no doubt, therefore, that hon. Members on both sides will welcome this opportunity of discussing a subject which affects those many hundreds of men and women who derive their livelihood from the manufacture or operation of aircraft, which affects all those long-suffering taxpayers who have to meet the cost of the Corporations' losses, and which affects also that large section of the public which uses the air as a means of travel.
We have not even discussed the accounts of the two Corporations for the year ending March, 1950, which were published last autumn, and I do not think that we should allow a year to go by without providing an opportunity for full discussion of these accounts in the House. I should have thought it was the responsibility and the duty of the Government to provide such an opportunity, but they have shown themselves unwilling to do so and it is doubtful whether these accounts would ever be discussed at all but for the fact that the Opposition have set aside year by year for the discussion of these accounts, one of the days allotted to them.
Besides the accounts, there are many other important aspects of civil aviation to be discussed, not the least of which is the position of the independent operators. I admit that this matter was raised by Lord Swinton—again, it will be noticed, by the Opposition—in another place at the end of last year, but the importance of the issues which he raised at that time, and the highly unsatisfactory answers which he received from the Minister of Civil Aviation, increases rather than diminishes the necessity for a similar debate in this House. It emphasises also the duty of hon. Members to insist on a full and up-to-date statement from the Parliamentary Secretary clarifying the 2113 attitude of the Government towards the charter companies and also towards the private flyer.
Finally, there is the whole field of equipment, both in the air and on the ground. This has been made particularly topical by the recent announcements concerning the Brabazon and the Princess flying boat and by the publication of the Report of Lord Brabazon's Committee which examined the operation of aircraft in bad weather conditions. This field of equipment I leave entirely to my hon. Friends, many of whom have specialist knowledge and experience, and in particular to my right hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd), who, I understand, wishes to speak later and who probably knows more about fog dispersal equipment than anybody in the House.
I begin with the Corporations' accounts. I do not want to go into too great detail, but there are one or two points, and one or two general criticisms and suggestions, which I wish to make. Before doing so, however, I think it only fair to give praise where praise is due. Whatever one may say about the administration or the economics of the two State-owned Corporations, there is no doubt that their standards of skill and safety in the air are unrivalled by any of their competitors and are well worthy of the proud traditions of this country, whether on land or sea, or in the air. It would be a very great pity indeed if anything were said in this House which could be construed as reflecting in any way on the excellence of this standard.
Secondly, I think a study of the Corporations' accounts for the year ending March, 1950, leaves one in no doubt that both Corporations have made real efforts to effect economies and increase their efficiency. Certainly it is a matter for congratulation that B.E.A. started their economy drive by reducing the salary of their chief executive from £4,500 a year to £3,200. It is disappointing, therefore, that while B.E.A. have halved their losses as compared with the previous year, B.O.A.C.'s total deficit shows very little improvement. I agree that their operating account shows a reduction in deficit of £673,000, but this was almost entirely due to the improvement in the Eastern Division after their Yorks had been replaced by Argonauts—a satisfactory 2114 justification for those of us who advocated the purchase of these Canadian aircraft at that time.
While it is encouraging that both airlines show a reduction in their operating costs, it would appear that there is room for still further improvement. B.O.A.C.'s operating costs were 54.4d. per capacity ton mile while those of Pan-American were only 30.7d. at the old rate of exchange, or 44.1d. at the new rate, although we know that American costs of labour are very much higher than ours. Again, Pan-American produced 19,500 capacity ton miles per employee, which was nearly three times the productivity of B.O.A.C. It would appear that B.O.A.C.'s administrative costs are still too high. General administration was 13.1 per cent. of their total costs as compared with 8.1 per cent. shown by Pan-American.
One is obliged to speak in these matters largely at second hand, but those of us who take an interest in these matters from time to time still receive reports of apparently unnecessary overstaffing at the various stations in B.O.A.C.'s network. I feel that more could be done in the way of putting out to private tender many of the services, such as catering, which are at present operated by the Corporation. There also appears to be considerable overlapping both of administration at all levels and of labour with the employees of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. For example, airports in this country have at present an airport manager and an airport commandant, both under the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and a station superintendent under the airline concerned; and the handling of passengers and baggage also seems to be duplicated in many unnecessary ways.
Turning to B.E.A., a comparison of their operating costs with those of other airlines is rather more difficult and, therefore, likely to be less accurate, but Aer Lingus, KLM, Air France and Swissair all showed in 1949 lower costs per capacity ton mile than B.E.A. Of course, B.E.A.'s main handicap is the internal services. The low average flight stage of only 113 miles is bound to affect utilisation rates and send up costs; and things are made no easier for them by the absurdly high landing fees chargeable at home aerodromes. For every £100 earned by internal services in the year under review £9 was spent on landing fees in this country,
2115 while on Continental services the figure was only £3.
Then there is the fuel tax chargeable only on the internal services. In the year under review fuel tax cost them £85,000 and this year it is estimated that the increased fuel tax will cost well over £200,000. Continental services are exempt from this tax; why should not internal services also be exempt? I do not think it over-simplification to say that if these services were made to pay it would be unnecessary to collect so much taxation from the public in order to meet their losses. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say something about that and also tell us why landing fees in this country have to be so much higher than abroad.
As regards the administration of the Corporation, I hope that the move of B.E.A. from Northolt to Heath Row will enable them to make further economies. For example, it will surely no longer be necessary for each airline to run a separate 'bus service between London and Heath Row, while, of course, when they were operating from Northolt it was necessary to duplicate that service. There should also be a reduction in administrative and other airport costs as a result of the removal.
Before leaving the Corporations there is another matter which I would like to mention. Mr. Masefield, the chief executive of B.E.A., to whom that Corporation owes so much of its increased efficiency, said in a recent lecture to the Institute of Transport that the optimum size of any airline was probably reached when that airline was able to provide 120 million capacity ton miles a year. If the airline was bigger than that, he said, its efficiency, particularly as measured in costs, would begin to decrease. According to B.O.A.C.'s accounts for the year ending March, 1950, their total of available capacity ton miles amounted to 122 million.
Ever since the amalgamation of B.O.A.C. with British South America Airlines, and even before that, I have strongly held the opinion that B.O.A.C. is too big and unwieldy ever to be really efficient. Their own network spans the world and they have in addition five subsidiary and nine associated companies. During the Second Reading of the Air 2116 Corporations Bill in June, 1949, I ventured to put forward a suggestion that there should be an Atlantic Corporation, an Empire Corporation, and a European Corporation. I pointed out that the advantages of such an arrangement would be to make possible the concentration of very long-range aircraft in one Corporation, fairly long and medium-range aircraft in another and short-range aircraft in a third. We on this side of the House have always maintained that no State monopoly deprived of the fresh invigorating air of even a limited amount of competition could ever be as efficient as we would wish. But while these monopolies exist they can at least be kept, and in my submission should be kept, to a size at which they are most likely to achieve the maximum efficiency. I venture once again to commend that thought to His Majesty's Government.
I now turn to the independent operators, and here we find a very serious situation indeed. The Civil Aviation Act, 1946 reserved to the State Corporations a monopoly of all scheduled journeys between two places of which one at least is in the United Kingdom: but it also allowed the Corporations to engage in charter operations. In other words, except for scheduled journeys, charter work would be free for all. Naturally two important questions at once arose. The first was, what exactly was a scheduled journey? The second was, would the Corporations not be in a position to compete unfairly with the charter companies by using the resources of the State to the disadvantage of the independent operators?
The first point was met by defining in the Act a regular scheduled journey, thus by implication leaving all other services open to private operators. With the permission of the House, I should like to read that definition in the Act. It is stated, in Section 23 (2):In this Act the expression 'Scheduled journey' means one of a series of journeys which are undertaken between the same two places and which together amount to a systematic service operated in such a manner that the benefits thereof are available to members of the public from time to time seeking to take advantage of it.I ask the House to note particularly that availability to the public is a condition for a scheduled journey; and, therefore, any journey, however repetitive, which is 2117 not available to the public is not a scheduled journey under the Act.
If there is any doubt on this point the proper place to have it decided and to have that definition interpreted is in the courts of law. But without reference to the courts, the Minister of Civil Aviation, speaking in another place, declared that the State Corporations regard any repetitive service, whether readily available to the public or not, as their lawful entitlement, and that with his support and encouragement they would use their resources to compete for them. He went on to say that if the intention of the Act were persistently thwarted, it would create a position which the Government could not accept. I maintain, as do independent operators, that the intention of the Act is perfectly clear and is not being thwarted; and that to throw doubt upon that definition without having it decided in the courts is to put the charter companies into a hopeless position.
My second point—would the Corporations be in a position to compete unfairly?—was met during the passage of the Act by a definite assurance by the then Minister, Lord Winster, that the Corporations would not be allowed to use the resources of the State to the disadvantage of the private operator. But there is today abundant evidence that the Corporations are in fact using their subsidy and their privileged position under the Act of 1946 to try to drive the independent operators out of business.
Let me first deal with the question of the subsidy. On page 43 of the accounts of B.O.A.C. for the year ended March, 1950, the House will see that no operating overheads have been charged to "other than Scheduled Services"—that is, charter work. But how is it possible to undertake six million capacity ton miles of charter work without incurring any overhead expenses? Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can explain it, but I am bound to say that it looks very much as though the overhead expenses incurred in competing in charter work against the independent operators have been charged up to the regular scheduled airlines. In that case the subsidy has been used to finance charter work and give a wholly unfair advantage to the State monopoly Corporations. I understand also that certain York aircraft have been set aside by B.O.A.C. for charter 2118 work. As the cost of operating Yorks for passenger transport is known to be not less than 12s. 6d. per mile, it is very difficult to see how the Corporation could possibly compete against charter companies without using their subsidy.
Regarding my charge that they are using their privileged position unfairly, we have the example of the contract recently awarded to B.O.A.C. for carrying families of Service personnel to Egypt. The Corporation is carrying out that contract using Stratocruisers, which the House will recall were bought for dollars for use on the Atlantic routes. The operating costs of these very large aircraft are so high-that it would be impossible for the Corporation to have submitted the lowest tender on the same terms as the charter companies. But the point is that the independent operators are not allowed by law to advertise for fare-paying passengers for the return journey. They have to be lucky enough to find someone who will charter the whole aircraft. The Corporation can, on the other hand, under the terms of the Act, advertise for passengers-and sell tickets seat by seat to any fare-paying passengers just as though it were a regular scheduled service. That naturally gives them a tremendous advantage.
There are several other examples of preference given to B.O.A.C. by Government Departments and other public-bodies, such as the Overseas Food Corporation, although private operators have often been able to submit the lowest tenders. All this is entirely contrary to the pledges given during the passage of the Act by Lord Winster.
Then there are the associate agreements with B.E.A.C. This scheme was announced with a tremendous fanfare of trumpets-as though the Crown jewels were being bestowed by the Corporation upon the charter companies. But when it came to the point, all the five-year agreements—the only ones which made it possible economically to buy new aircraft—were in respect of those routes on which there was very little chance indeed of getting: enough traffic to make the service pay.
For the past four years, Airwork, Limited, one of our largest and most reputable private operators, have tried to get an associate agreement with the Corporation to run a service to Basle at fares well below the cost of second-class rail travel. Although B.E.A.C. do not 2119 themselves run a regular service to Basle, and although this application offers unprecedented opportunities for travel at very cheap rates, the application of Air-Work, Limited, has been consistently turned down year after year. For several years B.O.A.C. have been passing on to foreign air lines, rather than to British independent operators, the surplus passengers or freight which they themselves could not carry on their own services. Why not give our own people a chance to carry this traffic, unless it is that the Corporations deliberately want to drive the British private operators out of business?
There are one or two examples, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friends will produce more. But there is no doubt whatever in my mind that the charter companies are getting a very raw deal indeed, and it is remarkable that so many of them have been able to survive. It is also very fortunate that they have, because they have a vitally important part to play in our defence arrangements. Should an emergency come, it is mainly the charter companies who will step into the gap left by the Transport Command of the R.A.F.; and if the Minister persists in his present policy of what amounts almost to the persecution of independent operators, he will be doing his best to destroy an invaluable strategic asset. Many of these points have already been raised in another place by Lord Swinton. The Minister has, therefore, had plenty of time fully to consider them, and I do not think it unfair to ask that we should receive from the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon a full and satisfactory statement covering the independent air operators.
I will touch briefly on private flying, that is, club pilots and private owners. They, too, are slowly being squeezed out of the air, as the following figures will show. In the first nine months of 1939, the Royal Aero Club issued 3,287 private pilots' licences; in 1946, the number issued was 1,688; in 1947, it was 1,763, and in 1948, 1,784. So far, it will be noted, the number has been gradually increasing since the end of the war. In the last nine months of 1949, however, only 470 were issued, and in the first six months of 1950 the figure had dropped as low as 128. There is clearly a variety of 2120 reasons for this alarming drop in the number of private flyers, but I think it significant that the first really big drop took place in 1949; because that was the year when the Air Navigation Order, of 1949, came into force. This order really does make the lives of private flyers almost impossible by producing a mass of rules, regulations and restrictions. I beg the Minister to look at this Order again and see whether it cannot be simplified.
We were discussing Amendments to the Order one night last week when hon. Members opposite were conspicuous by their absence. I felt it was a most important Order, and I thought at that time that the Parliamentary Secretary was, in the main, sympathetic to our arguments. I am all for safety regulations, as the House well knows, but what I maintain is that if there are too many complicated rules and regulations for the pilot to remember, instead of becoming safer, flying becomes more dangerous—and in any case the whole thing becomes so difficult that people prefer to stay on the ground.
I have tried to show that, although the skill of our pilots and crews remains unchallenged, the public are still being asked to pay far too much for the privilege of having a State monopoly in the air; that they are being deprived of their freedom of choice by the policy of the Government towards independent operators, and that individual men and women are being deprived of the right to earn their living by flying in fair competition one with the other. If His Majesty's Government persist in this present policy, the great spirit which called into the air so many of our finest young men before the war will surely wither and die, and we shall be the poorer for it. But let them spread their wings if they will; let them make their way in a fair field; and then, once again, there will come to British civil aviation new hope, new vigour and new progress.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Mr. Beswick)
First, may I say how much I appreciate this opportunity of discussing at greater length the subject of civil aviation. I am grateful to the Opposition for putting down this subject for discussion. As the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) has said, it is some time since we 2121 had a full day's debate on civil aviation, although we had a preliminary limbering up last week, during which I gather that some hon. Members opposite were rather disappointed that I did not follow them round the whole course that they mapped out in the early hours of the morning.
§ Mr. Beswick
I appreciate the way in which the hon. Member for Worcester opened our discussion, and I will endeavour to follow him, both in the remarks which I now propose to make and in the remarks which, with your permission, Sir, and with the leave of the House, I shall make later, in winding up the debate.
I repudiate immediately the suggestion that the air Corporations about which the hon. Member for Worcester spoke are not subject to any competition. It seems to me that air transport is one of the industries subject at this moment to the keenest competition. I spent some part of the Parliamentary Recess last year in going round the South American continents and I was amazed at some of the cut-throat tactics employed by the competing air lines in that part of the world. It just is not true that our airline Corporations are not subject to competition; and I would suggest that against that competition they have been making considerable progress in the last 12 months.
I am in a somewhat fortunate position this afternoon compared with some of my predecessors at this Box. Hitherto they have had to confine themselves to making excuses or explanations of why financial results have not come up to expectations, whereas I am able to give a few reasons why financial results lately have exceeded the figures for which we had budgeted. I think all of us will be gracious enough, like the hon. Member for Worcester already, to draw satisfaction from this without presuming to take any credit for it.
Within about a week of my taking office, I gave an explanation of the higher than estimated deficit of B.O.A.C. by detailing the unfortunate experiences with the Tudor; the effect of devaluation; the delays with new aircraft, and the difficult trading position in South America. I also said, however, that the 2122 Corporation—we are now dealing with the British Overseas Airways Corporation—were determined to do everything in their power to keep down costs and to increase business. I am glad to say that the efforts of all in the Corporation, from the chairman and the chief executive to everyone on the ground and in the air, had resulted in a radically changed financial picture by the end of 1950.
As the hon. Member gave some figures, possibly I might, without wearying the House, also indicate some of the available figures to bring his information a little more up to date than the accounts terminating in March of last year. The passenger miles flown by B.O.A.C. in the 12 months ending January, 1951, totalled 555 million, compared with 410 million for the previous 12 months. In the year up to January, 1951, the output per employee, in capacity ton miles, was 9,250, against 6,750, which I think was the figure which the hon. Gentleman had to quote. The number of employees has been falling steadily. In April, 1948, it was 23,600 and in January, 1951, it was 15,600. The revenue earned per employee for the year ended January, 1951, was £1,350, compared with £900 for the previous 12 months.
§ Mr. G. Ward
The hon. Gentleman said that the recent figure of productivity for B.O.A.C. was 9,250 capacity ton miles per employee. That is still 10,000 capacity ton miles behind Pan-American.
§ Mr. Beswick
I will deal later with the difficulty of comparing figures for this Corporation with those of corporations in other parts of the world. The importance of the comparison which I am making is that it shows the trend within our own Corporation. That is a fair comparison to make. The operating deficit—with which we are vitally concerned in this House—for the 12 months ending January, 1951, was just under £5 million, compared with just under £8 million for the previous 12 months. That is the over-all deficit. The operating revenue has gone up from £19 million for the year ending January, 1950, to £23 million for the year ending January, 1951.
As an indication of the effect upon the economics of this Corporation, I would point out that they now break even at a load factor, in January, 1951, of 75 per cent., compared with a load factor of 92 per cent. in January, 1950; that is 2123 to say, if they could get all their aircraft three-quarters full, with operating costs as at January, 1951, they would break even. I did not catch the figure which the hon. Gentleman gave for operating costs per capacity ton mile, which is probably one of the most significant costs; but I give my figure for comparison, whether it compares favourably or otherwise. For B.O.A.C., in the period ending December, 1951, operating costs per capacity ton mile were 44.2d. I do not know how that compares with the figure which the hon. Gentleman gave, but I know that, compared with previous years, the figure shows a marked decline. In the year 1946–47 the figure was 70.9d. In any case, I think we can claim that the trend is a sharp one, and that it is in the right direction.
In the sister Corporation, British European Airways, progress has, if anything, been even more spectacular. I have followed the development of this Corporation with special interest, because a number of my constituents work in it and the headquarters are on my doorstep. As hon. Members know, this Corporation started with a skeleton of R.A.F. Transport Command routes after the war. They operated from an improvised military airport at Northolt, without any adequate accommodation for engineering. There was a complete absence of amenities for the staff, and a school building was the administrative headquarters.
From this austere beginning, they have built up a network of services over the entire Continent of Europe and their operational and technical progress has been outstanding. Their operational results tell the same tale of increased revenue, increased output, lower costs and lower deficits. In the year 1948–49, the output in capacity ton miles per employee per month was 307. In 1949–50 it had increased by 55 per cent. to 477. In the calendar year 1950, the improvement continued and the figure will be about 570 capacity ton miles per employee.
To get these figures in proper perspective and to make a fair comparison with B.O.A.C, it should be remembered that operating on a short-haul system is much more expensive than operating on a long-haul system. In 1946–47 the operating cost for British European Airways Corporation per capacity ton mile was 142.6d.
2124 In 1940–50 this had been reduced to 52.5d., and for the 12 months ending December, 1950, the figure should work out at about 48d. per capacity ton mile. In 1949–50 they reduced their deficit from £2,763,000 to £1,364,000 and, judging by the results for the 12 calendar months ending in December, 1950, the figure ought to be down to the level £1 million, if not a little under, for the year ending March, 1951.
It is extremely difficult to compare the operating costs of airlines in different countries. I have taken a special interest in this subject, and I have been able to call upon one of the most experienced bodies of experts for statistics. I have gone into the figures with care, but the more one sees of airline economics and comparative statistics, the more one realises that great care must be exercised in making comparisons. All kinds of factors must be taken into account. For example, one Corporation may have contracted out a good many services, and reduced its pay roll considerably without cutting down its actual costs; but that Corporation would be able to show a lower cost per employee than another Corporation.
The hon. Gentleman said that a number of services of the two British Corporations might be contracted out to private firms. One effect of that would be to bring down the cost per employee, but that would not bring down the real operating costs. I fancy that the hon. Gentleman, who gave figures for some companies overseas, will realise that this is a matter which requires a great deal of careful attention before one draws conclusions such as he would have us draw. People who are expert on this subject have advised me that, expressed in terms of sterling, the operating costs of the two British Corporations are as low as those for any other companies in the world, and lower than the majority.
Some hon. Members may say that the deficit and the subsidies are still high, and I think that, when one accepts, as we all do, that we are still paying out a substantial amount of money in subsidies, there are a number of things to be taken into account. Although we give our subsidies very clearly and openly, easily recognised and easily criticised, it must not be taken that other countries are not subsidising their airlines to an equal, if not a greater extent, and if I am pressed 2125 duing this debate today, I can quote some very interesting figures in that connection.
Let it suffice for this purpose today to quote some interesting figures given by Sir George Cribbett in his Sixth British Commonwealth and Empire Lecture. He pointed out that in 1929–30 Imperial Airways were subsidised to the extent of 84d. per load ton mile, while in 1949–50, B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., although of course receiving a much greater amount in total because their field of operations was much wider, received a subsidy which, nevertheless, worked out at only 20d. per load ton mile; and I have no doubt that, as a result of last year's operatons, that figure will be reduced still further. I can say—not as a party point, but simply as a statement of fact—that the intense and ever-present aim of these two Corporations is that they should whittle down this figure of subsidies still further until, in a comparatively short time, they hope to be able to get rid of it altogether.
All this represents very real progress, which we must acknowledge, and I think we are entitled to ask what the reasons are. Some of them are fairly obvious. We have been able to replace a number of the old war-time or converted war-time aircraft, and the Corporations are now flying newer and fewer types of machines. That is what the hon. Member for Worcester and myself were demanding for many years—that the Corporations should reduce the number of types they had to fly. Now, they have not only newer machines but fewer types, thus reducing the costs of maintenance and so on. The administrative machine, too, is in much better shape now than it was. The accumulation of staff, which was originally intended to cope with the colossal expansion of traffic which every one of us expected would follow in' peace-time, has now been reduced, as the figures which I have given already show.
§ Air Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
The hon. Gentleman refers to the size of the staff in relation to the expected expansion of traffic. Surely there has been quite a steady and appreciable expansion, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can get away with it by saying that the Corporations were over-staffed in the early years of nationalisation.
§ Mr. Beswick
I am not getting away with anything. I am stating the facts. 2126 The fact is that, during the war years, everyone in this country and elsewhere expected a colossal expansion of air transport and the fact is that, in this country and in other countries, that expansion has not been as great as was expected. The organisation that was built up in the immediate post-war years was justified, though not by me, on the grounds that it would be required for this great expansion which it was expected would take place. That accumulation of staff has now been reduced. I think that another factor on the credit side is that the feeling of uncertainty which resulted from the expansion and subsequent contraction of staff has now been remedied, and there is a greater feeling of security today than at any previous time.
I think the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Mr. Perkins) will agree that there has been a long history in this industry of change, of inquiry, of changes in policy and of changes in direction at the top. That was the situation that was found a long way back, before I came into this House, but I claim—and I should be interested to hear if the hon. Member agrees with me—that there is today a greater degree of stability, certainty and continuity than at any other time in the history of this industry.
There is also another reason for the encouraging results which I have been able to detail. In these two British Airways Corporations, we now have a fund of experience, enthusiasm and administrative and technical ability which is equalled by few companies and possibly excelled by none. Nearly all the people are young and in the prime of their lives, and, given this security and continuity, and with all this chopping and changing about left behind us, we can expect ever-improving results.
While mentioning the importance of the human factor, I should also mention the National Joint Council for the Air Transport Industry, at whose meeting today, but for this debate, I should have been present. Through this Joint Council, it is possible for those employed in the industry, not only to discuss wages and conditions of service, but any matters affecting the efficiency of the industry, and the two Corporations are anxious to use the methods and practices of joint consultation to the utmost. Last autumn, we had a short but costly dispute in 2127 B.O.A.C, but, in spite of that, the fact is that relations between management and men in this industry have been extremely good and, through the local joint panels, we are receiving most valuable benefits in consultation, to which I think both sides of the industry will pay tribute.
The Chairman of B.O.A.C. usually discusses with representatives of the men all the items on the agenda before the board meeting, and in B.E.A., the same spirit and intention are, if anything, carried into practice even further. No doubt a good deal of that, as the hon. Member for Worcester quite rightly said, is due to the attitude and outlook of the present chief executive of that Corporation, and I see that, in his message to the staff, Mr. Peter Masefield detailed five points that would motivate the Corporation in the forthcoming years. They were, first, a real sense of security and "fair do's"; second, good working conditions and a job worth doing; third, fair wages; fourth, full information and consultation; and fifth, good fellowship. I believe that that policy, backed up by the ability which the Corporation has in the highest degree, cannot fail to achieve good results.
Probably, I ought to end this part of my remarks, in case they may be thought to be over-optimistic, by one word of warning. All this progress and the improvements in financial results have been achieved in the teeth of higher working costs, and within the next few months, when even newer and more advanced types of aircraft are to be introduced into service, the costs of such introductions will inevitably be high and, in the short term, may affect the present favourable financial trend; but I feel that we shall all agree that the money invested in the introduction of jet turbine and jet aircraft, like the Viscount and the Comet, will not only prove a good investment for the Corporation itself but for aviation as a whole.
As the hon. Member asked me some questions about equipment and control, and on the complexity of our Navigation Order, perhaps I should also refer to another important subject for which my Department are responsible—the field of air traffic control and the facilities at airports. After all, I would remind the House we now have 7,000 out of a total 2128 of 7,600 of the staff of the Ministry engaged in this side of the air transport business.
Scheduled traffic in the London area at the moment is almost wholly confined to London Airport and Northolt. This year, the B.E.A. will begin to use London Airport for their Ambassador services, and gradually their services will be transferred from Northolt, either to London Airport or to an alternative airport, and the transfer will be completed, probably, by the end of 1955. Meanwhile, the work of developing London Airport proceeds, and the magnitude of that work can be gathered from the amount of £8,500,000 which we have spent to date on building and civil engineering works there.
I was asked about the economies that will result from this concentration of activities. We do not propose to over-concentrate, and, in fact, in some cases there may be advantages in having separate organisations for certain services; but at the moment work is proceeding on hangars, workshops, and so on, which will enable a greater degree of concentration for the servicing and maintenance work of both Corporations. This year we shall be experimenting at London Airport with the dual system of runways, the two east-west runways. I am sorry that they are east-west, but I am quite sure that if the hon. and gallant Member for Gosport and Fareham (Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett) would care to go into this question at greater length with me, he would agree that the only possible direction for them is east-west.
This year, for a time, we shall have both runways and shall be using them simultaneously, one for the aircraft from the Ministry flight and the other for the regular services, and we hope to get a good deal of experience of modern technique and air traffic control. Perhaps I might just amplify a little what is involved in this business and what we have been doing in air-traffic control. The hon. Gentleman was complaining—I am not sure whether it was today or on another occasion—about the complexity of navigation around the skies. He had, in fact, considerable difficulty himself in navigating through the various orders on Thursday night, and I gather that he is now claiming that the private aircraft owner experiences similar difficulty in getting from one part of the London area to another.
2129 When he said that, I was rather reminded of the complaint of Stanley Baldwin when he said that it took him longer to get from Downing Street to Oxford Circus in a motor car than it used to take him in a hansom cab. I think it quite likely that the hon. Gentleman would now take longer to get from Croydone to Bovingdon in a private aircraft than he did in the days when the only type of control available was for the pilot to wet his finger and put it out to see which way the wind was blowing.
§ Mr. G. Ward
May I remind the hon. Gentleman that he can now also get from Downing Street to Oxford Circus by tube?
§ Mr. Beswick
I hope that in this debate on aviation the hon. Gentleman is not going to put forward theories on subterranean transport.
Anyhow, I agree that it is getting a very complicated business. Nowadays, anyone looking up at the sky and thinking what a peaceful place it is and then putting on a pair of headphones would get the shock of his life. There is more talk in the ether today than there was on the Tower of Babel. The only difference is that the talk on the frequencies in the ether is disciplined. Although the volume is great, the purpose is very clear. It would be quite an experience for many hon. Members who have not had the opportunity of going up to do so in order to see how detailed, how close and how clever is the direction now given to pilots in and on the approaches to the London zone.
I announced a year ago the agreement with the Air Ministry for a national system of control, and we now have functioning satisfactorily controlled routes from the Atlantic seaboard through London, on to the Continent and down to Paris. During the next few weeks this system will be extended from Birmingham up to Prestwick, and this route pattern will be controlled by centres at London, Preston and Prestwick, and, when the Scottish section is completed, it will be possible for aircraft at any point over the British Isles, provided, of course, that they are not too high, to communicate direct with these centres by radiotelephone.
The multi-carrier system of very high frequency communication which has been 2130 installed will provide us with the most modern air-ground telephone service in the world. Then, within the Metropolitan traffic zone itself, we now have a new traffic pattern, the first in the world to make use of the system of the short-range approach control radar. All aircraft now using London Airport in bad weather are given the fullest radar directions, which ensure not only that they land safely, but that the intervals between landing are reduced to the lowest possible minimum.
I think most people who have had experience of the matter would agree that, considering the increase of traffic in this area, the way in which delays have been reduced is most remarkable. Experience has already shown that in bad weather we can safely achieve a landing interval of the order of three to four minutes, and this interval will be progressively reduced as improved technique and equipment come into operation. We have already applied this technique to the jet aircraft Viscount, and during the course of the next few months the Comet will also be tried out in the same conditions. These inventions, the Metropolitan zone of control, the system of radio-telephone communications throughout the British Isles, together with the long-range radar unit sited at London Airport—which can keep careful watch on the movement of aircraft on the runways in the dirtiest of weather-put us, I think, in the foregound of this science of air-traffic control.
I was asked one or two other questions about the private operator. I am inclined to think it would be better if I were to wait until I am allowed to reply to the debate this evening, but I will just make one or two points. First of all, I want to say that it was never said at any time that the Corporations would not enter into non-scheduled service business.
§ Mr. Beswick
Yes, it would be incidental; it would not be their main business, and if they entered into such business they would not employ their subsidy unfairly to compete against private operators. I think that is common ground. But there are occasions, of course, when it is in the interests of the Corporation, in order to keep down its overheads, to employ in the off-season aircraft needed for seasonal traffic, and which, if not employed on non-scheduled business, would be wasted 2131 at some periods of the year. I rather think it was such an occasion about which the hon. Gentleman was talking when he said that the Stratocruisers were going down to the Mediterranean to pick up traffic. I have no doubt that the explanation of that is that they are required for the busy season over the Atlantic and it is possible to utilise them more fully by taking on contracts of that kind for what is, I agree, charter business.
§ Mr. G. Ward
I am afraid that I cannot understand that argument. Although the spirit of the Act is to the contrary, as agreed by the Minister of Civil Aviation of the day, and although specific assurances were given that the Corporations would not use their subsidy to compete against independent operators and would not use their position under the Act to do so, the hon. Gentleman submits now that they are perfectly justified in doing that. The principle is either right or wrong. If it is wrong, then they should not be doing it by using their Stratocruisers as far as Egypt and then advertising seats on the way back to capture traffic from private owners.
§ Mr. Beswick
The hon. Member cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, he is trying to complain that a Corporation or a company is receiving a subsidy from the taxpayer, which is quite right; but if he wishes that liability to the taxpayer to be reduced, surely he must also agree that it is economically justifiable that they should be allowed to compete in this field.
§ Mr. Ward
I must make this perfectly clear. It is most important, and we on this side of the House cannot agree. It is perfectly clear that if the subsidy is to be used to compete against the private independent operators, the Corporation is going to have an unfair advantage. The hon. Gentleman says, "But you are complaining that the subsidy is necessary." Well, let the Government get rid of the subsidy in other ways, even if it means handing the whole thing over to private enterprise.
§ Mr. Beswick
I can see the argument the hon. Member has at the back of his mind, although I do not think it is the argument he is actually putting forward. I think that the test would be in this matter that if a particular charter opera- 2132 tion resulted in an additional liability upon the taxpayer, then in that case I would agree that the Corporations were embarking on business contrary both to the letter and to the spirit of the Act; but if the Corporations take on a contract which has the result of reducing their subsidy, and which therefore is not utilising the subsidy to enable them to compete with other operators, then I would say that such an operation was not contrary either to the letter or to the spirit of the Act.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that every charter operation carried out by the Corporations has been carried out at a profit?
§ Mr. Beswick
Obviously I cannot, at this moment in this place, give an undertaking of that kind in respect of every individual case. I should have to look into them. I can give an undertaking that that is the principle behind the operations of the Corporations. If there is any particular case into which we can go in greater detail, I should be happy to examine it with any hon. Member opposite.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
In the light of the arguments put forward in another place and in this House previously, and in view of the undertaking given by the Minister, does the hon. Gentleman consider that fair competition in opposition to private operators? Does the hon. Gentleman consider any transaction, such as the Middle East one which he mentioned, where the overheads are not included in the cost of operation, is fair competition with what the private operator would have to undertake?
§ Mr. Beswick
I do not think the hon. Member is justified in saying that the overhead costs did not enter into the cost of operating that particular charter contract. I do not think he is entitled to say that.
§ Mr. Beswick
If it be a fact that certain overhead costs were incurred anyhow, whether an aircraft remained on the ground for a couple of months in the year or was employed on these charter operations, then I think the Corporations are entitled to go out and try to get additional business to reduce the burden of those 2133 overheads. I should have thought that that would have been reasonable and that an undertaking of that kind would satisfy hon. Members opposite.
§ Surgeon Lieut.-Commander Bennett rose——
§ Mr. Beswick
I think I have taken rather a long time, and I am anxious to hear what hon. Members have to say. I must thank them for listening so far and I will take careful note of what is said in the debate.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lieut-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
As the House will guess, I propose to speak about Prestwick. Just a year ago, as the House will recall, a Committee was set up by the Scottish Council, under Lord Clydesmuir, to consider the future of Prestwick Airport and, with commendable speed, their report has just lately been produced. In speaking on this subject, I should like to avoid any party bias or any party consideration, for I believe, quite frankly, that every Member of Parliament representing a constituency in Scotland is in broad agreement about the future of Prestwick.
As the House knows, the airport at Prestwick is the concrete result of the dream of two young Scots who electrified the world some 20 years ago by flying over Mount Everest. Prestwick, this lovely spot, as those who have visited it will agree it is, was a flyer's dream. It was fog-free, lying low by the sea with the hills of Ayrshire rising softly behind. It seemed idea to all those who sought a suitable site for an airport.
As, no doubt, those who have travelled in the air and used Prestwick in the course of their travels will remember, it is the nearest point from this side of the world to the North Americas. It offers every facility for keeping contact between the old world and the new and for providing a link between the East and the West. By intensive effort, by organising genius and by characteristic determination these young men made that dream of theirs come true and so we have Prestwick as we see it today, though, I admit, after a considerable sum of money had been spent on it by the Government.
Then came the war, and naturally Prestwick became a cog, though a very vital cog, in the whole machine waging that war. There were trained the few 2134 who won so much for so many, the pilots of the Battle of Britain. There touched down the first Liberators, the advanced guard of that mighty aid that came from America. Then came 1945 and victory, and in that victory Prestwick had played a notable part. The next date of consequence was 1946, when this practical case of private enterprise co-operating in our national need was taken over by the State.
I am not going to argue or discuss the rights or wrongs of nationalisation. That has been argued out. The Government, with their huge, sledge-hammer majority, forced it through the House, in the last Parliament, against the protests of those who knew exactly to what it was going to lead—higher cost and without the efficiency that we were all led to expect. But the result was a clash between the publicly owned airport and the private enterprise company. It is a strange situation, and a very difficult one, especially if they are to work in harmony and with satisfaction to both. Certainly, it was not an easy situation for Scottish Aviation Ltd.—the private enterprise company, to which I have referred—because they were always aware, as Scotland is aware, that it was by that private enterprise company that the great publicly owned airport—that international airport as it is called—at Prestwick was built. They have every right to believe or hope that they will get the benefits which are due to the imagination and courage which initiated this venture.
There are certain psychological factors about this question, too; and they involve Scottish opinion. Scottish opinion has never been more united on any one topic than on the future of Prestwick. It has become to Scotland a symbol of their sentiment and of the part which they are to be called to play in the future development of civil aviation. They feel that two things are needed: first of all, that the promise of the Minister shall be implemented and that Prestwick will be, in fact as well as in word, an international airport.
§ Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred to Prestwick as an international airport. If he cares to consult the proper authorities he will find that the promise was that the airport would be not an international but a transatlantic airport.
§ Sir T. Moore
No, that is not true. It was stated by the Parliamentary Secretary, in answer to a Question of mine two years ago, that Prestwick would be an international airport, that it would rank as such and would be termed as such.
That is one thing that Scotland wants. Here, I speak with great temerity, but I think I am representing the view of Scotland; they also want to make sure that this private enterprise company shall not be completely absorbed, dominated and pressed out of existence through the State having taken over its land and property. It was this conflict which developed between the policy of the Socialist Government and the policy which Scotland believed should be adopted that finally led to the Scottish Council setting up the Clydesmuir Committee. I think we should all pay a tribute to the impartiality, wisdom and sound judgment which animated the recommendations of that Committee. I think we should also pay a tribute to the statesmanlike judgment of the Minister in wholeheartedly accepting so many of its recommendations—but not all.
Now, having studied this Report, we come to a cleavage of opinion, because the issue, as far as the recommendations of the Report go, is between the future of this nationally controlled international airport and the well-being of the purely private enterprise company which is operating and living on the land leased to it by the State and on which the future of so many hundreds of skilled craftsmen depend. How can those two aims be reconciled? The Clydesmuir Report has made many admirable recommendations, and on technical grounds I do not think there is very much between Lord Clydesmuir and the Minister, except that the Minister seems to visualise his whole policy in regard to this development as a purely short-term policy, whereas Lord Clydesmuir's Committee looks ahead and visualises the immense development to which we in Scotland think Prestwick is entitled.
There is one serious feature about the Minister's acceptance of these recommendations, and that is in regard to the feeder services. As we all know, there must be feeder services in connection with an international airport; indeed, any international airport must largely depend upon adequate feeder services. This is the position. 2136 On 16th January the Scottish Advisory Council announced that this private company, Scottish Aviation Ltd., had been authorised to operate feeder services from Prestwick to Blackpool, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Hull, Exeter and the Isle of Man. This sounded and sounds a lot, but the facts are that Exeter and the Isle of Man are purely seasonal work and the others are all inoperative for economic and technical reasons.
I could give the Minister all those reasons in detail, but I know there are many others who will be dealing with this more localised subject. There are also others who will want to deal with the broader issues involved in the debate, so I will not develop the reasons now, but if the Minister wants to know why these feeder services are useless I will give him the reasons. I concede another point to the Minister, and it is this: I understand that the Chief Executive Officer of B.E.A. and a representative of Scottish Aviation Ltd. are shortly having a meeting, which has the blessing of the Minister, to see how this rather ridiculous situation can be cleared up—for it must be cleared up if Scottish opinion is to be satisfied.
I come now to the final and almost most important point, and that is the whole administration and control of Scottish civil aviation with, of course, special reference to the theme of Prestwick. I am sorry if I hurt some personal feelings about this, but the Scottish Advisory Council has not been a success. It does not today command the confidence of the Scottish people. Too often has it misled both Scotland and, in my opinion, the Minister by giving wrong or misleading information. That being so, why not terminate it? Once a body, no matter how estimable may have been its intentions or purpose, has lost the confidence of those who have set it up and of those to whom it issues advice, the sooner it is removed or re-organised the better.
In the Clydesmuir recommendations there is a way out. They suggest—and it is a suggestion which has very often been advanced in Scotland in the last few years—that a Scottish public utilities corporation should be set up. Of course, it would be agreed that under the present Government's policy of nationalisation 2137 this corporation would ultimately be responsible to the Minister in London. I do not say that that is good, but we are prepared to accept that fact. There is no intention—let us get this clear—of handing it back, so to speak, to purely restrictive private enterprise, but we believe, and the Clydesmuir Committee believe, that this corporation, if set up, could then be placed in complete control administratively and technically of Prestwick Airport, and as such would be able to co-ordinate its efforts and its future with the general interests of Scottish trade and industry.
My final point concerns how the productive side of Prestwick Airport—that is, the private enterprise side, Scottish Aviation, Ltd.—is to be assisted to maintain itself as a living, useful entity in our economy. The other day the Minister of Supply told me, in what I think was a slightly misleading reply, that £150,000 was to be, or had been—I did not quite gather which—allocated for this company for the reconstruction of Dakotas. That gave a totally wrong impression. So far there has been only one Dakota under reconstruction and there is a loss to the company, I understand, as a result of the specification which was required not being fully appreciated at the beginning. To talk about £150,000 worth of business, of production, being put in the way of that company is to create a wrong impression; it is just not true.
What can be done? When the matter was raised four or five years ago we were told quite definitely that the nationalisation of Prestwick Airport would not in any way interfere with the development of civil aviation, on the production side, in Scotland, and we believed that. Great visions appeared to those who represent Scottish productive aviation. Dreams were dreamed. Scotland saw Prestwick not simply as a link between the North Americas and the Scandinavian countries, not simply as a port of call or transfer for visitors from East and West; Scotland saw Prestwick, with all the facilities provided there by nature, as the centre of a great new constructive industry.
Scotland knows that the Minister has, at that place, unmatched facilities by comparison with any other airport in the country, with an eager, competent and enterprising management and with craftsmen unmatched in skill anywhere. All 2138 these things are at the Minister's disposal and yet, day after day, week after week, and month after month we have waited for some indication from the Government that production will be stimulated in that airport. I believe that, just as formerly and today Scotland has sent out ships to conquer the seven seas, so she is capable of sending out aircraft which will conquer the air. But she must be given the opportunity. So far we have felt that design and craftsmanship and manufacture are all deliberately being diverted to England. So far we have felt that the Government have little interest in developing a productive aircraft industry in Scotland.
All our repeated calls to the Government have fallen on deaf ears. Something has gone wrong with the original conception. Someone has lost interest. We believe it is the Ministry and the Government as a whole, and I think I am right in including in that the Minister of Supply and the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Minister of Civil Aviation, the Minister of Supply and the Secretary of State for Scotland must co-operate if that which has gone wrong in the past is to be put right in the future. If the Government will take this lesson to heart and will fulfil the hopes and intentions which Scotland has for this great airport, then they might—although I doubt it—recover some of the confidence in Scotland which they have at present so hopelessly lost.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I think we were all pleased to hear the progress report which the Parliamentary Secretary gave us, especially that in connection with B.E.A.C. I believe he will agree, however, that the progress has not been uniform. I thought that he might have a little trouble over Prestwick, and we have already heard some criticisms on that subject from the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore). I believe the hon. Gentleman has also been' in touch with the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and we all know what formidable gentlemen Lords Provost are. There has been considerable dismay in Scotland over the decision to cut out this winter— I hope and believe only temporarily—the London-Edinburgh, Aberdeen; link and the connection on to Orkney and Shetland. We realise that there have 2139 been difficulties, but that has constituted a setback to civil aviation in Scotland.
It is to the subject of B.E.A.C. and civil aviation in Scotland to which I intend to address my remarks, as the Parliamentary Secretary may not be surprised to hear. I consider that I am one of the most lucrative, if not most valuable, pieces of freight which B.E.A.C. carry, usually, I may add, at the taxpayers' expense. May I say a word of praise of the pilots who run these services and may I thank them and the ground staff for the courtesy which they invariably show to all travellers on Scottish routes?
The only point I have to raise about the staff is to ask again a question which I think was asked by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward) in opening the debate. It is not a question of the quality of the staff but it concerns the quantity of the ground staff. In some airports there seem to be a great many. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary, who has been good enough to visit Scottish airports, has two answers to this question. One is that many services are provided at airports today which were not provided previously, particularly such as safety and fire services—and that is perfectly clear; and the other answer is often to say that staffs are not the responsibility of his Ministry or of B.E.A.C. but of the R.A.F. I must say that that has at any rate a slight colour of the old game of "passing the buck." Some of the newer Government Departments have become very adept at this game which has been so long played by their predecessors.
All I ask is that the Parliamentary Secretary should look into this question of ground staffs to see whether there is not some overlap between B.E.A.C. and his own Ministry, because on some airports where there are few services in use I believe some economies between his Ministry and B.E.A.C. might be carried out. No one except the Ministry and B.E.A.C. can tell whether staffs are inflated, but there certainly seem to be a great many people employed on the ground.
I want once again to put on record how important are the air services to Scotland, and in particular to the Highlands and Islands. Fond as one may be of the sea in an Orkney blast or a Shetland gale 2140 there is a great deal to be said for the inside of a Dakota. I want also to stress how great an opportunity exists there for B.E.A.C. I am not sure that the high officials in London all recognise this, although I think Mr. Peter Masefield does and that the point is coming home today. Sometimes we feel that we are regarded as the Cinderella of B.E.A.C. whereas we should at least be looked upon as the Sleeping Beauty, for I am perfectly certain that throughout Scotland there exists great potential traffic.
In a previous debate I drew attention, as an example, to the types of advertisement which B.E.A.C. put up and which seemed to me to be aimed almost exclusively at the very biggest of big business men. I am glad to say that there has been some change, although I am not certain that the new figures which are up on the posters now and who look like the gentlemen who do the shorter book reviews in the "New Statesman" are much better. The sort of people we want to see catered for are men in the Merchant Marine or one of the Services coming back on leave, the crofters or the farmers who want to go to a sale or a show, the ordinary people going on holiday and the business men who have regular trips to make between Edinburgh and Aberdeen, or between Lerwick and Kirkwall and Glasgow or Edinburgh and London.
What sort of service do these people want? They want first of all, of course, as reliable a service as possible. I stress that, because it is very important, if we are to get a big traffic in Scotland, that people should come to know that the service, as a whole, gets through and that it runs to certain times, so that they can plan their appointments accordingly. It is not easy to do that. It is very far from easy to run a really reliable service in Scottish weather, and we know that the Corporation have had to contend with many difficulties, many of which this winter have not been their fault; but I hope that when the summer comes it will make a real effort—as I think it will—to increase the reliability of this service.
I should like to make two suggestions. The first is that as much use as possible should be made of the Rapides, which, I think, can fit in with, and carry some part of, this service. The second is that as much discretion as possible should be given to the local officials in Scotland. I 2141 should like to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say something about the new types of aircraft. I mean, what is going to take the place of the Rapides? We know that there have been difficulties there, too, and that the Marathon is too big, I believe, for many Scottish airports, and I hope that some plan is being worked out for supplying us with good, small aircraft suitable for our airports.
The second thing everyone wants is cheap fares. That is, no doubt, asking a great deal in these days. I do not know how much can be done about it with rising costs and other difficulties, but we do see planes very often flying fairly empty on some parts of the route—between Glasgow and Aberdeen, and Orkney-Shetland, for instance, even London and Edinburgh sometimes. I have myself seen this—not often, but sometimes; and I wonder if there is not some adjustment which could be made in these fares. To build up traffic, would it not be worth while lowering fares on some of these routes?
The next thing is—and I know that on this matter the Corporation and the Minister are certainly sympathetic—it is very important to get basic regular schedules so that travellers can be pretty certain that a plane always leaves such a place at such a time, so that air travel may become a habit, as it would once we had regular schedules, and when people knew, for instance, in the Orkneys or the Shetlands that a plane always left, say, at 10 a.m. Once regular schedules are arranged the services can be built up and increased, as we hope they will be this summer.
Another most important thing is, when there is an alteration in a service, can it be advertised widely? It is sometimes difficult to know what is happening. At every railway inquiry office it should be possible to learn what the air services are all over Great Britain. Talking about the railways: of course, there does seem to be a lack of liaison in many places between the rail services and the air services, and in an integrated, nationalised transport system I cannot help feeling that should not be.
What about the future? When, in the Orkneys and Shetlands, are we going to get an air link with the more remote islands, and when in the Highlands will 2142 the people be linked up in the more remote places? This is a question which will be familiar to the Parliamentary Secretary, but it is really important. It takes me longer to get away from Westray to Kirkwall than from Kirkwall to London. The hon. Gentleman has seen for himself that the people of those islands are very air minded and air trained. We should like to know also when the people in the North are going to be able to use helicopters. Moreover, what hope is there of two-engined helicopters? That is a very important point. Incidentally, when we do get two-engined helicopters, will they be available for agricultural purposes? No doubt the hon. Gentleman has heard of the experiments in spreading lime by air. That may be an important new development.
The same questions apply to flying boat services. There is a view, I know, that they are uneconomical and unsuitable, but my point is that I feel we must all the time press for experiments to be carried on—for initiative—in all these matters. There is nothing new in what I am saying; but, on the other hand. I do want to impress upon the Government that the people in the North, certainly in my constituency, genuinely want to cooperate with B.E.A., and that they want to feel that air services are a part of their lives, for they rely on them to a great extent, and they want to make constructive proposals for the future.
On the other side, they also want to feel that there is experiment being carried out, and that this monopoly does not rest on its laurels. I do not think it does, but one does feel that it is only by continually pressing these matters that we shall get the full advantage of this undertaking. To use a colloquialism, we refuse to be "blinded by science" on this subject. We have had air travel for some time, and we want to see it increased. It may be in some parts of the world a luxury, but I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that it is not a luxury in the part of the world I am speaking of, but a matter of the greatest importance in our everyday lives. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to give an even more encouraging picture next year than he has done this year.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton, Itchen)
I shall not detain the House more than a few minutes and indeed 2143 I have no intention of making what might reasonably be called a speech; but I am very anxious to obtain some information on certain topics, and I want to address some questions to the Parliamentary Secretary in the hope that, in his usual courteous manner, he will deal with them when he replies to the debate.
It was stated last year, when the decision was taken to drop the Solent flying boats and to substitute the Hermes, that that decision was taken for reasons of economy. It was stated that the Solents were making a loss and that the Hermes would be more economical to operate. The question I should like to ask is this. Is it not a fact that during the last month of their operation, although there was not a whole fleet of them, the Solents on the South and East African passages were actually making a profit? Is it not a fact also that the serviceability of the Hermes has not been quite so satisfactory as was anticipated? Is it not a fact also that the operating costs of the Hermes are actually greater than were the operating costs of the Solent?
I should also like to ask my hon. Friend what he is doing to dispose of the Solents. It is pretty freely rumoured in Southampton that the Solents are being sold, and that they are being sold for much less than their original cost to the nation. Their original cost to the nation was something like £2,500,000, and it is rumoured that they are being sold at individual rates which will, when they have been disposed of by sale, amount to a total of very much less than £2,500,000.
I should like to ask my hon. Friend this question. If it is a fact that the Solents were making a profit in the last month of their operation, and that the operating costs of the Hermes are greater than the operating costs of the Solent, and that also very considerable loss on the original outlay is being incurred in the sale of the Solents, is the argument that it was for the sake of economy that the change was made from the Solents to the Hermes still a valid one in the opinion of my hon. Friend?
I should also like my hon. Friend, if he can, to say something definite about the future of Southampton Marine Airport. In the answer he gave to a Question of mine last week he said that the passenger handling buildings were to be 2144 disposed of to the best advantage. That seems to me to indicate that in as short a space of time as that in which it is possible to dispose of those buildings to the best advantage there will cease to be any marine airport on Southampton Water.
At the present time the Aquila flying boats are using Southampton Marine Airport, and the Aquila flying boats are the last civilian flying boats remaining in this country. They have been receiving, I understand, some encouragement in their operations from the Portuguese Government—probably more in the interests of the Portuguese Government than in the interests of the Aquila flying boat company. I understand that in their operations they are receiving more encouragement from the Portuguese Government than from my hon. Friend. Does he not think that he should encourage the continuance of these last civilian flying boats in this country?
As my hon. Friend said, Imperial Airways were heavily subsidised from Government funds, but during their existence they did some very valuable work indeed, and had the foresight and wisdom to develop flying boats, which were found to be extremely useful during the war. It will be within my hon. Friend's recollection that those flying boats were very useful in the evacuation of Crete; and I believe they were the instrument by which the Kangaroo route from South Africa to Australia was able to be maintained.
Whatever influences there may be at the top level in B.O.A.C. which are discouraging flying boats, I hope that my hon. Friend will at least see that Southampton Marine Airport is kept open, and that he will give some encouragement to the use of Aquila flying boats to be used there.
§ Mr. Profumo (Stratford)
Did I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that at the top level in B.O.A.C. there is discouragement of the use of flying boats? If so, could he tell the House how he comes to that conclusion?
§ Mr. Morley
I come to the conclusion from information I have received from a large variety of sources, and from remarks made by hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite, that there is a personage at a very high level of B.O.A.C. who is not in favour of flying boats, and his 2145 policy is to discourage them as much as possible. I am afraid that I cannot be more explicit than that. I know the name of the gentleman, but I think it would be unwise of me to mention his name in the House in this debate.
Finally, I should like to ask my hon. Friend some questions about the future of the Princess flying-boat. I am sorry to introduce this topic again, but it is one of considerable interest indeed to my constituents. We have been assured on a number of occasions that the Princess flying-boat—and I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) that it is one of the finest achievements of British engineering skill—would be operated by B.O.A.C. and used for passenger services. In the Annual Report and Statement of Accounts of B.O.A.C. for the year ended 31st March, 1950, it is said:The Corporation continued to render all possible assistance in connection with the Government's SR45 project and to that end has recently installed a full-time resident representive at the manufacturer's works. The most suitable and most economic method of operating these aircraft in conjunction with the other aircraft of the Corporation's fleet is constantly under investigation in the light of engine development programme and traffic trends.That was as late as 27th July, 1950.
In reply to a debate in the House on 23rd March, the Parliamentary Secretary said: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 … I personally look forward to … a flight in one of these big flying-boats."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 2275.]I presume he does not look forward to such a flight now with the same pleasurable anticipation, as I understand the purpose for which they are now being used is to carry people to some distant scene of warlike operations. On 29th November my hon. Friend said:Present indications are that the Princess flying-boat should be ready for service in 1953. Southampton Marine Airport … is being kept by my Department on a care and maintenance basis, whilst such existing marine equipment and facilities as are considered suitable for the Princess are being preserved. The British Overseas Airways Corporation are similarly maintaining their Hythe base, and are retaining a nucleus of staff with experience of flying-boat operations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1950; Vol. 481, c. 1132.]2146 We have therefore definitely been led to believe that Princess flying-boats will, when completed, operate from Southampton Marine Airport. Now I understand they are to be used as R.A.F. transport. Circumstances have changed, and under the changed circumstances it may be wise to make a different decision as to the final use of these flying-boats. I understand that they will not be used as transports except in case of war. We all hope that war will never happen. In any case, the best informed opinion is that war is not likely to happen for several years yet. These flying-boats will be finished and ready to operate in 1953.
Supposing, as we all hope, and as it is reasonable to suppose, war will not have started by 1953 and that there will be no need to use these flying-boats as troop transports, to what use will these Princess flying-boats be put when completed? Will they be chartered? What will be done with them? Will they fly, as I hope, from the Southampton Marine Airport, which is being kept on a care and maintenance basis? That is all I wish to say, and I apologise for repeating things I have said in previous debates. I hope that my hon. Friend will, with his customary courtesy, be able to give us some answers to these questions when he replies.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Profumo (Stratford)
I was most interested to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley), with much of which, if I may say so, I am in almost complete agreement. My hon. Friends who have much more knowledge than I have on these topics will, I am sure, deal with the matters he raised in their speeches later on. I will say only this about his speech. I should have thought this was a problem better directed to a recalcitrant Government than to a reluctant Corporation. I believe the basis of this problem lies with the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. colleagues. I was most interested to hear the Parliamentary Secretary's encouraging speech, and if I take up only one of his points, it is because I want to make some of my own which I am hopeful will perhaps be answered when he asks leave of the House to speak again.
I should like to join with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward) in paying what I consider to be a 2147 well warranted tribute to all levels and all sections of the British air Corporations. When B.O.A.C. say in their report,The part played by the Corporation's personnel in adding to the prestige of Britain should not be under-estimated,that is a very worthy tribute which applies to both Corporations. The reports of both Corporations stress, quite rightly, the importance of safety, and it is that with which I want to deal first. One should not let this matter pass without paying a tribute to the ground crews, to the prowess of the pilots and air crews of both Corporations, all of whom deserve the commendation and congratulation of this House for the part they have played.
I believe, however, that competition between airlines from the point of view of comfort and what might be called "gadgetry" is very nearly saturated, and the choice of passengers as to what airlines they choose to travel on really depends on two things: safety and price. Hon. Members know that in most cases the charges are fixed by international agreement, but I respectfully suggest that there is some difference between being confident in this country that our own civil airways are the safest in the world and being able to put that over to the potential international travellers.
Therefore, I welcome very much the decision of the Government to make experiments in changing the seating of civil aircraft from facing for'ard to facing aft. When I asked the Parliamentary Secretary a Question on this matter on the 7th March, he replied:British civil airworthiness requirements, just issued, include a recommendation that where practicable, passenger seats should face aft."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 433.]I did not take that matter further at the time because I knew that we were going to have this debate in the near future. I should like, however, to ask the hon. Gentleman one or two questions.
If the Minister of Civil Aviation is sufficiently convinced by the technical advice which he has that there is evidence that there will be increased safety in changing the position of the seats, and if he is prepared to take this matter up with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, then would it not be wise for us to make these conversions for increased 2148 safety without delay? Then may I ask what is meant by "where practicable"? What are the limitations? Could not we start straight away? Is the present limitation capital expenditure? Shall we need a new type of seat? Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us something more about this. It seems to me that this sort of development could have a dual achievement. First, by securing greater safety for passengers, and, secondly, if this change is accompanied by suitable propaganda, by encouraging the potential international traveller to use British aircraft instead of foreign airlines.
I want to say a word about staff. I was interested to see in both reports that the Corporations naturally take pride in having been able to effect a further reduction in manpower, and I think that B.E.A.C. has done well to be able to eradicate autumn redundency for the first time. I would be among the first to encourage even further economy in manpower. I think, however, that we have to consider another factor, and that is the outlook of existing and potential employees. In B.O.A.C.'s report it is stated on page 21:… our employees now enjoy a far greater sense of continuity of employment than has heretofore been the case.I think that the Parliamentary Secretary also laid stress on that problem when he was speaking. But is that strictly true? I wonder whether they do feel a real sense of continuity of employment, and if so, does it mean that we can expect little further reduction in manpower? Continuity of employment is certainly one of the most important factors in maintaining and recruiting a really high standard of employees. Would the Parliamentary Secretary assure us that this salutary trend in economy is not having an adverse effect on the personnel of the Corporation?
One other matter about which I feel strongly in this: Can he assure us that there is no employee in either of the Government's Corporations who, if there is redundency, will be frightened that he will be one of the first to go because he does not belong to a particular trade union? Can we be assured that there is no fear of any sort on the grounds of what one might call trade union victimisation if redundancy does occur? I think that a statement by the hon. Gentleman 2149 on that matter would have a helpful effect, as we know that much controversy has occurred in this respect in the past.
My next question is this: What about the Brabazon? This is a subject which has caused the Government and, I think, B.O.A.C. a great deal of embarrassment. It is a subject on which the public are widely concerned, and it is one on which I am myself, in a humble way, by no means satisfied. This great achievement of aircraft design, construction and engineering, as hon. Members know, had its inception in 1943 under the auspices of that great pioneer of civil aviation Lord Brabazon of Tara and at the instigation of the Coalition Government. I think that it would indeed be tragic if all the money and initiative which has been expended on this great venture ended in a stalemate.
I have listened to an argument in this House by hon. Gentlemen opposite fairly frequently of late, and it is an argument which comes out when they think that they are up against failure. Are we to be told that a great deal of technical information has been acquired by the aircraft industry in the production of the Brabazon which will be of immense use in the future? I do not believe that that is strictly correct, and I am getting rather tired of that argument. I am aware that there have been all sorts of changes of priorities since its inception, but have the Government a policy with regard to the Brabazon? If they have a policy, what is it?
The figure of £14 million has been mentioned as the cost up-to-date. Is that money to be written-off? How much of this venture is covered by that £14 million. Does it cover everything up-to-date—the construction of the Brabazon I and the construction of the Brabazon II as well? In what stage is the Brabazon II? I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I appear to be ignorant on these matters but I am really seeking information. Can we be assured that the Brabazon II will be completed? What about the other Brabazon II, which I call the Brabazon III, and which, I think, has been started? How far has it gone? Will the £14 million cover all that, including the Brabazon III?
§ Mr. Beswick
I do not want to appear to be "passing the buck," but I think that 2150 I should say that the responsibility for the development of the Brabazon belongs to the Ministry of Supply, and it would be very much better if the hon. Gentleman addressed his questions to the Minister of Supply.
§ Mr. Profumo
I was keeping one eye on you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and the other on the Parliamentary Secretary, in case you might call me to order. I am not able to ask the Minister of Supply these questions today, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be able to consult with him and then give me an answer.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
When one puts a question to the Minister of Supply it is transferred to the Minister of Civil Aviation.
§ Mr. Profumo
I was going to ask: What are the plans which the Government have for this Colossus? There seems to be a lot of passing of the buck, or should one say "Brab"; our Parliamentary questions go backwards and forwards from one Department to the other. We are lead to believe that B.O.A.C. do not relish the idea of operating this aircraft. I think that it is up to the Government to produce a plan by which the operation of this aircraft could be made to work. It must not, at all costs, become a dead loss. I feel that if it is in service even as a phenomenon of its type it will earn increased prestige for this country. It seems that, whatever happens, the poor old taxpayer must bear the severe cost of its production.
I do not think that it would be equitable to insist that one of the Corporations should take over that commitment themselves, but has B.O.A.C. put forward any plan on which they would be prepared to operate the Brabazon? I may be wrong, but I understand that if they did they would wish to do so under a separate account. What are the Minister's views in that respect? Has he had something put up to him, and what are his reactions? I have read in the newspapers that there is some talk of B.E.A. operating the Brabazon for what one might call hedge-hopping between this country and Paris. What are the economics of that suggestion? Would it not be better that this aeroplane should go further afield where it can operate more economically? Has the Minister 2151 considered tendering this aircraft out to B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. and the charter companies as well—to see if anyone is prepared to operate it?
Finally, has any consideration been given by the Government to the use of the Brabazon during war-time? This is perhaps the most important question of all. Some study should be given to this at once. What are the intentions of the Government in regard to the role of the Corporations in the unhappy event of war? I should be out of order if I started to discuss the Royal Air Force now, but perhaps I may be permitted to comment that as it would be patently uneconomic to maintain a large transport command in peace-time the Government should have a clear-cut plan as to how to expand this essential service, making use of the resources of the civil airlines. Would B.O.A.C. continue to operate commercially? What role would B.E.A. have, and how far have any plans gone to making speedy conversions?
We are obviously all agreed on one thing, and that is that the charter companies would be switched over immediately to military transport duties. Therefore, if only for the reason of our re-armament programme, it seems essential that we should have a thriving group of charter concerns, which should be encouraged and fostered by the Government. These operators should be assured of a normal development of their legitimate commercial activities and should not be hampered by the Minister of Civil Aviation, as I believe they are being at the moment.
During the passage of the Civil Aviation Bill repeated assurances were given that there would be complete fairness as between the corporations and the private companies. We are all very familiar now with the policy of the Government, to squeeze out the small man, stopping him wherever he can show a profit. I believe this to be one- of the most damnable features of nationalisation, that it seems incapable of competing with any private enterprise firms. The Minister of Supply, who is now in his place, will agree that the more we have nationalisation the more we have to extend its sphere for fear that it will be conquered by private enterprise concerns. That is at the rock bottom of what Members on this side 2152 keep pointing out is going on in the Civil Aviation world today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester has been told that he cannot have it both ways, but the Government seem to be trying to disprove that theory. We are not trying to have it both ways, but the Government are. The two solemn assurances that were given during the passage of the Civil Aviation Bill were that the air transport corporations would not be permitted to compete unfairly in the air charter field, and that subsidies from the taxpayers' pocket would not be used to finance or pay for charter work by the corporations. It really does make one sick to see promise after promise of the Government broken like a lot of old crockery.
It is patently obvious that these two promises have not been kept. We have only to look at the B.O.A.C. report of last year to see that 6 million odd capacity ton miles were flown on charter work, which is an increase of 3 million over the previous year. There is a note on the report to say that this is largely due to the Berlin Airlift. But can that be so with 3 million capacity ton miles? This seems to me to be a further encroachment into the charter field. It is somewhat natural that the Government should give priority to their own air Corporations when they want charter work done, but an analysis of the report shows that, far from making a profit, a loss was made on the charter work by B.O.A.C.
The Government say, "We want to reduce the amount of subsidy," and instead of allowing aircraft to lie idle during the off season they should be used on charter work to "reduce the amount of the subsidy." But if this charter work is costing the corporations money, it seems to me that this work is only increasing the burden of the subsidy.
§ Group Captain Wilcock (Derby, North)
If the hon. Member had been in the House during the passage of the Bill, he would have found Members opposite were pressing all the time for a profit to be made by the Corporations. Many of us feel that it is quite wrong for the Corporations to do charter work, but, as my hon. Friend has said, Members opposite cannot have it both ways. If they are continually pressing for a profit to be made, then the people at the head of 2153 these Corporations will go out for business. Therefore, the result is due to Members opposite.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Does not my hon. Friend agree that B.O.A.C. have added seven Yorks to their fleet for charter work?
§ Mr. Profumo
I am not sure who is against me in this because the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) has really stressed the point I was making. He has agreed that a great deal of charter work is being done by the public Corporations. He then says that we cannot have it both ways, because if we want to reduce costs they must go out and get business. The point I am making is that although they have gone out to get the business they are not making a profit but a loss.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester referred to page 43 of the B.O.A.C. report. He pointed out that although the report showed that during the period under review there was a surplus or profit on charter or "Other Than Schedule Services" of £260,272, there was, in fact, no charge shown under the heading of "Operating Overheads." In the report operating overheads are divided into "Sales Publicity, Technical Training and Development, Central Supplies and Organisation and Administration." I cannot believe that this 6 million-odd capacity ton miles of charter flying could have been negotiated and flown without any expenses under these headings.
It is quite cleat to anyone who really studies the report that there must have been overheads incurred in this charter flying. If we look elsewhere in the annual report we find that it states that the operating overheads of the Corporation as a whole during that period were 12.9d. per capacity ton mile. If we divide the total capacity ton miles flown, exclusive of charter work, into the total cost of the operating overheads, it will be found that the figure comes to 14.4d. per capacity ton mile.
It is only by adding in the mileage flown on charter flights that we come anywhere near the figure given in paragraph 72, estimating that charter flights have no higher and no lower overhead costs than direct route flights. If one works on that basis we get a figure of something like £32,000, which ought to be added to this 2154 report. That makes it quite a different state of affairs, because instead of a financial profit of approximately £260,000, we find there is a loss. Once more that horrible word crops up, as it has continually done in the British vocabulary since Socialism came into power. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members opposite are fond of the loss motive, while we support the profit motive. At any rate, losses are more frequent than they were before Socialism, and here it has cropped up again to something like £71,000.
I am forced to the conclusion that the accounts have been so arranged in order to show a profit merely to safeguard the Minister's undertaking that the subsidy would not be used to finance charter work, while patiently it has been used. The charter companies, of course, have no subsidies whatever, and in spite of the pressure put upon them, they have valiantly kept their heads above water and have been able to operate and make a profit. They go out of business if they do not. Why do the Government not persist with their policy of fair shares for all when it comes to a question of businesses operating in competition against nationalised concerns? The country should not be robbed of, and cannot afford to lose, these independent industries, particularly this one of air charter services.
The country requires certain things from the Minister of Civil Aviation. First, it requires him to abandon his parochial policy of thinking only of the interests of the Corporations; secondly, it requires him to appreciate that he has a duty to the air industry as a whole; and, thirdly, it requires him to adopt the policy which will assist and not damage the policies put forward by his right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Group Captain Wilcock (Derby, North)
I should like first of all to congratulate the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward) on the speech which he made in opening this debate. I sensed in that speech a different spirit from that which we have had in the past from the Opposition. In the past it has been a continual policy of criticising the Corporations about the losses that have been made and this has not assisted those who have the responsibility of running these Corporations. The criticisms may have been made 2155 with the best intentions, and may not have been just a party matter. Nevertheless, they have hardly encouraged those charged with the success of the Corporations.
The Parliamentary Secretary was quite right in saying that tremendous progress had been made in the last year or two. I myself have noticed it in my travels, and today British aviation is really feared in a commercial sense by competitors overseas. Great strides have been made and much credit is due to those at the head of the Corporations and right down to the air crews and the passenger-handling staff. That improvement is recognised in all parts of the world.
I must turn now to a subject which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Profumo)—the private operator. I find myself embarrassingly in the same camp as he is on this subject, with hon. Members opposite. I think the Government have made a mistake in their policy. I have consistently said that charter work should not be done by the Corporations. I am personally connected in business with charter operators, and, as is the custom of this House, I declare my interest. During the Committee stage of the Civil Aviation Bill and right through the last Parliament I felt that it was unnecessary for the Corporations to enter into this field, because it would not be in the interests of the private operators, and it is definitely in the national interest that the private operators should be kept in good condition. I was allowed, in the interjection that I made, to place the responsibility for this position on hon. Members opposite, because they have pressed all the time for one thing, and that is that there should be economy in the operations of the British Corporations irrespective of how that economy was to be effected.
§ Group Captain Wilcock
Oh, yes, because it must have been known that if business people are at the head of these Corporations, they will obviously use their aircraft and staff to the best possible advantage. Hon. Members who are also connected with aviation would have done precisely the same. If there is one job to 2156 be done, and that is to make the Corporations pay, it is done irrespective of outside interests altogether.
The hon. Member for Stratford was adrift in one thing, when he said that if we put the overheads of some of these charter flights that the Corporations are doing against the ordinary flying of the Corporations, then the Corporations would not have made a profit on them. What they would have made is less of a loss than if the Corporations had not been doing charter flying. I have contended that in these Corporations in the post-war years we must expect losses for some time while the Corporations are getting on their feet.
§ Mr. Profumo
I do not think the hon. and gallant Member has got me right. If the Corporations are making a loss and it is the charter work which is making a loss, how does it mean that there is less loss at the end of the year as a result of charter flying? It does not appear to make sense?
§ Group Captain Wilcock
I think we are in agreement about this.
I want to come to another point which was raised by the hon. Member. He spoke about the future of civil aviation in the unfortunate event of hostilities. It is a very important matter in my view, because civil aviation, including the charter companies, are the first reserve of the Royal Air Force. There is the reserve of aircraft and air crews, and therefore plans can be made for it now. It is not a question of calling up reserves, and I want to underline what has been said in this matter about planning being done now. In this respect we must look to the Dominions and to the Colonial Governments to see that there is a plan which takes into consideration the possibility of reinforcing this country. That can be done by our Corporations, the charter companies and by the Dominion and colonial air concerns. But whether anything will be done, about this, I am doubtful.
My criticism arises from the fact that I had the honour to be the chairman of a committee two years ago, with a very distinguished list of members. They were so distinguished that I felt in a very privileged position as their chairman. We made what we thought was a very good 2157 report. It took us a year to make it. I feel that sufficient consideration has not been given by His Majesty's Government to that report. We stressed that there should be very close liaison with the Royal Air Force and that there should be a standing committee to consider matters such as the pre-selection of R.A.F. aircrew for civil aviation, and other matters of common interest between the Air Ministry and Ministry of Civil Aviation.
I am disappointed to have to say to the House that to the best of my knowledge very little has been done with that, report, or with another report compiled at the same time by Air Commodore Helmore, who is a very distinguished scientist and aviator, the only thing against him being that he once sat on the benches opposite. That also was a very full and comprehensive report. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he will have these two reports dug out and will look at the recommendations that we made. I have not given to the Minister a warning about these questions, so I shall not expect a reply now.
I consider that very great progress has been made by our Corporations, but I am sorry that I cannot report the same thing right through civil aviation, so far as private operators, flying clubs and other flying organisations are concerned. We want a healthy civil aviation in this country not only in the Corporations but every where else. In time of need we shall be very glad to have the whole field of aviation in a healthy and thriving condition, and the Minister as the Minister of Civil Aviation and not solely the Minister for the Corporations.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Air Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
I must refute what the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) said about the Opposition. During the past two years we have had most agreeable debates on this subject, and I know that the previous Parliamentary Secretary has often said so from the Treasury Bench. In the main, in what we have said, we have tried to be constructive, but when there are losses amounting to something like £10 million a year, naturally we have been critical. We should not be carrying out our duties as Members of Parliament taking care of the country's finances unless we were. I 2158 can assure the hon. and gallant Member that we shall not be deterred from our criticism. We shall be constructive and, where necessary, we shall criticise.
When the Parliamentary Secretary spoke, he seemed to be so cheerful that I fully expected him to declare an interim dividend. He seemed to ignore the fact that these Corporations have been losing more than £9 million during the year. There may be adequate reasons for part of the loss, but not for the whole amount. The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the controllers and the difficulties in the London zone. I would ask him to consider trying to do something to improve the position of these men, who take greater and greater responsibility as time goes on, while they are grossly underpaid for the responsibility they have to accept. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do something more about it.
The losses of the two Corporations combined are £9.2 million, as against £9.7 for the previous year. That is not a very big reduction, considering the new types of aircraft that have been brought into use. I fully realise that there are other factors such as increased cost of materials, higher wages and so on. The Corporations are not alone in that respect. Every business in the country has to face the same problems and difficulties. The Parliamentary Secretary has my sympathy in one respect, in that the Corporations have to accept a lower rate for the carriage of mail than do foreign airlines. The maximum rate is six gold francs per ton-kilometre. That is the rate allowed in the Postal Convention, but the B.O.A.C. and the B.E.A. have had nothing like that at all. The Americans get considerably higher rates. The Postmaster-General and his staff drove a very hard bargain with the Corporations in this matter. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us whether he and his noble Friend have put up a case for the proper rate to be paid for the carriage of these mails.
No doubt B.E.A. have made the better showing of the two. I can quite see that their task is in some ways not so difficult. They certainly have the plum routes of the world. If they cannot pay on the routes to Paris and other parts of the Continent, the Channel Islands and Scandinavia, they never will. I should like to congratulate Lord Douglas and 2159 Mr. Peter Masefield, his very able lieutenant in B.E.A., on what they have done.
In a short speech it is not possible to go into all the problems that one would like to, but it seems to me that B.O.A.C. have not a clear policy. They have never had one. They have drifted from one type of aircraft to another. I could quite understand that in the post-war period they had to get on as best they could. Otherwise, it would have meant no operation and no aircraft at all. Mistakes were made.
I am going to confine my remarks on the subject to the Princess flying boats. On 7th March, the Parliamentary Secretary said, in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. J. Grimston):Owing to the rapid progress which has been made in the development of the Comet it is now thought likely that the Comet will be better adapted for the needs of civil aviation than the larger flying boats, and accordingly it has been decided that British Overseas Airways Corporation shall not introduce these boats into service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1951; Vol. 485, c. 434.]The Parliamentary Secretary went on to talk about their being transferred to the Royal Air Force, but surely the Corporations and the Minister knew a year ago how good the Comet was. It has been flying for two years and has done something like 500 hours. Why has this matter been left for two years? I am not at all satisfied with the explanation; this matter goes much deeper than that. I know what one hears in aviation gossip: that B.O.A.C. have had their doubts all along about the operation of flying boats.
I do not want to go into this matter except to say that B.S.A.A. gave an undertaking, through Air Commodore Brackley, that the boats would be operated by the Corporation. B.O.A.C. were fully committed, and took them over under the Air Corporations Act, on 30th July, 1949. B.O.A.C, if they had any doubts about the flying boats, should have had the matter out with the Minister of Civil Aviation at that time. When they were asked to take over the commitments of B.S.A.A. they should have made it clear that they had no intention of operating these boats unless they were given certain financial facilities. I 2160 suspect that they were not big enough to do that, and that they were instructed by the Minister of Civil Aviation and the Minister of Supply that these boats were a commitment and had to be operated. Pressure must have been brought to bear from both Ministries.
On 23rd July, 1950, when a delegation of Members of Parliament went down to the flying-boat base at Hythe, the Chairman of B.O.A.C. said:B.O.A.C. is flying-boat-minded. I believe that Britain has a definite lead in flying-boat manufacture and operation. We want to see the passenger attraction of this type of aircraft upheld.On 13th October, 1950, only five months ago, B.O.A.C. gave a handout to the Press. I will not weary the House by reading all of it, but it is headed:Formation of B.O.A.C. 'Princess' Unit. Preparing the way for Britain's great new flying-boat.A B.O.A.C. 'Princess' unit is being formed to prepare for the introduction into the service by the Corporation of the 105-seater 'Princess' flying-boat, at present being built at the Saunders-Roe Works at Cowes, Isle of Wight.It went on to speak about the manager in charge, and so on. It is a most extraordinary thing to make these public statements one after the other if there was a disagreement or lack of confidence in the Corporation. It goes even further than that. The mayor of Southampton received a letter from the Chairman dated 20th December, 1950, in which he said:No one regrets the necessity to interrupt our flying-boat activities more than I do. I have always had a devotion to flying-boats, but as new types of land-planes came along, and the economics became more difficult, we have been forced, by the pressure of events, to abandon, at least temporarily, the operations we have so pleasantly conducted from Southampton for so long … We have the warmest regard for your area and I am looking forward to the day when we can recommence our activities at full strength.Why have the House and the public been misled on this important matter, which involves several million pounds? Assurances were given earlier on when the Corporations were nationalised that no pressure would be put on the higher executives of the Corporations, that they would be allowed to run their business as a leader of industry would in one of the larger industries in free enterprise, and that there would be no interference. But it is clear that there has been interference and pressure.
§ Mr. Beswick
I cannot quite get the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point. I am not quite sure what he is getting at. Is he suggesting that we ought to be operating these flying-boats, or is he suggesting that we ought not to be operating them?
§ Air Commodore Harvey
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I will try to make it clear to him. I really have in mind the financial background here and that B.O.A.C. can slide out of the financial responsibility because of a decision which has been taken. I will come to the point about the boats later on. Assurances have been given that the Corporation would be allowed to operate them, and yet we see that the executives who today want one thing are being compelled to do another. The most alarming thing about these nationalised industries is that we see men with great experience, men for whom we have great respect, being put under pressure for some reason or another to hide a muddle, or whatever it may be. If the executives disagreed with the Minister, a course was open to them—a course which we rarely see taken these days—and that is resignation, with a strong letter to "The Times" and other newspapers to say why. That is the proper thing to do if there is a disagreement.
During the last few years vast sums of money have been spent on these flying-boats and there has been preparation to operate the boats commercially. I can well see that there has been a fortunate let-out for the Corporation—good luck to them—in the transfer of the boats to Transport Command. I am sure that the flying-boats will render great service. I hope it will not be just in case there is a war, for in peace time they can be used for transport in the place of ships. If those boats have been prepared in the works to operate commercially, certain large sums of money have been spent on modifications for passenger comfort and so on, and if that is not all to be utilised in the final project, will B.O.A.C. bear the cost? I should like to have an assurance on that point.
§ Mr. Beswick
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman has left the previous point, but I should like to be clear about this. I am not sure whether he is complaining that the pressure was brought to bear on the Chairman 2162 of the Corporation to make the Corporation use these boats or whether he is complaining that we are not now going to use them.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
What I am saying—I thought I made myself fairly clear—is that public statements have been made over the last two years that the Corporation had every intention of operating the boats. Yet we were told last week that they will not be operated. It is well known that the higher executives of the Corporation never wanted to operate the boats, and I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman can deny it. I want to be fair about this, if possible. What I am pointing out is that these statements have been made, although the Corporation did not want to operate the boats. It would have been far better if they had come to a decision a year or two ago and saved the taxpayers' money. As mistakes have been made, I want to know if B.O.A.C. will be compelled to bear some of the cost for preparing the boats for commercial operation.
I now turn to the subsidiary companies. I recognise the necessity at present, certainly under this Government, for B.O.A.C. to operate the world trunk routes—I should not expect them to alter that—but if they confined their efforts to that instead of operating, or having investments in, so many other companies, I am sure everybody would be better off. The loss in that direction, after deducting what few profits there were, was £287,490. That is a lot of money—not in relation to the £9 million, but it is a lot of money all the same. Aden Airways, with great credit, made a small profit on the first six months. Bahama Airways lost £17,549. British West Indian Airways lost £218,425. International Aeradio made a small profit. I should like to congratulate that organisation because I believe that it renders a great service to civil aviation.
Then there were the associated companies in which B.O.A.C. has a financial interest. Aer Lingus made a reduced loss. If ever this country struck a bad agreement, it was with Aer Lingus, for the route between London and Dublin should have been a gold mine instead of one that made a loss. We are told in the report that Hong Kong Airways were sold out, but we are not told how much money it cost the Government. What is the financial position? Enormous sums of money were 2163 spent out there. The people on the spot should have been left to operate with their own money.
The same applies to the subsidiary companies of British European Airways. Gibraltar Airways lost £11,660. Aer Lingus, in which B.E.A.C. also have an interest, provided a loss of £6,400. The sum of £93,000 was provided for losses by an Italian airline whose name I cannot pronounce. Cyprus Airways made a profit. The Government should look into this matter to see if there is some way of shedding their responsibilities for these subsidiary companies. Most of the money is held by the governments and business people in the Colonies, and I suggest that nothing would be lost on the feeder lines serving the main trunk route. I should like an assurance that that will be gone into.
The Corporations are bound by international agreements regarding the prices for freight—except for air mail—and passengers, but they are unable, like other nationalised industries when they are making losses, to pass them on to the consumer. They are bound by international agreement to keep to the rates. It is a good example of a nationalised industry having a yardstick by operating in competition with the other air lines.
As has been said, all of us in this House wish the Corporations well. Their safety record is magnificent. Of course, there is the odd accident, just as there is at sea, and just as there was on the railways only last week, unfortunately. There is no doubt, however, that further economies have to be made. I am not at all satisfied by the explanation of the Parliamentary Secretary of why we had that vast organisation set up three years ago. More use could be made of agents overseas working on commission instead of having permanent staff belonging to the Corporation.
I am sure all of us hope that the Government, in the short time they may be in power, will apply themselves to the problem of reducing overhead costs. They should get the chief executives of the Corporations busy with a blue pencil. They will have to be quite ruthless. These things cannot be done lightly when there is a loss of £9 million a year. I am sure that economies can be made, and I hope 2164 very much that efforts will be made in that direction.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Cooper (Middlesbrough. West)
I want to comment on two points made by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey). He referred first to controllers, saying that they should be better paid. I could not but agree with him on that point, but also I think they should be expected to take a little more responsibility than they do at the present moment, when the safety of aircraft is involved.
I believe that the Brabazon Committee did not consult with any controllers in making its recent report on the safety of aircraft operation. That tends to put the controllers in a false position. Also a recent investigation conducted by the Attorney-General into the crash of a B.E.A. aircraft, with the loss of 27 lives, indicated that the minimum operating conditions laid down by B.E.A. were not complied with. If the airline operators lay down minimum operating requirements, these should be observed by the pilots, under the instructions, if need be, of the controllers or of the airline operation directors. Therefore, I think that the question of their functions should be reviewed.
I would comment also on the remark of the hon. and gallant Gentleman about International Aerradio Ltd. They certainly made a profit but I believe that profit was taken from the Corporations because I.A.L. had been taking on the work for the Corporations. To begin with they did the same work the Corporations had been doing and charged 10 or 15 per cent. extra to cover the costs of administrative expenses.
The first concept of I.A.L. was a good one. It was thought that it should be a truly international undertaking with shares contributed by all the countries running airlines and making use of the services provided by I.A.L. But what has happened is that we are really running I.A.L. largely for the benefit of other countries whose contribution, in terms of the shares they have taken up, is not proportional to the services rendered to them. I believe I.A.L. could have become a truly international company. This is borne out by the fact that the Dutch, finding that it was not truly international, decided to 2165 set up their own undertaking which they hope to make more international in its activities than we have done.
It was obvious that after the war there would be an extended period of difficulty confronting the civil airline operators, but it was hoped sincerely by all of us that the majority of these difficulties would be overcome within six years of the termination of hostilities. Indeed, the situation was steadily improving until recently, when there were a number of set backs which seem a little disheartening. Perhaps I may refer to one or two of these incidents which have dashed our hopes.
First of all. London Airport, which is costing us between £25 million and £30 million, was steadily developing. It was certainly well ahead of any similar aerodrome in New York because neither Idlewild nor La Guardia is considered to be good. It was catching up with Schipol aerodrome at Amsterdam, which forged ahead after the war although it had been badly damaged by bombs during the war. The Dutch took the opportunity of purchasing some old R.A.F. hangars—which would have done for our own London Airport. The Dutch are to be congratulated on that, because they showed a greater initiative than was shown by the Ministry of Civil Aviation and those responsible for providing the buildings on London Airport. Now we are confronted with a shortage of steel, which will hold up some of the hangars required by the Corporations to start their operations from there.
The second misfortune applies to the Brabazon, to which reference was made by the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Profumo). When my hon. Friend replies to this debate, I hope he will tell us something about the Brabazon I. Is it that the engines being developed are not altogether suitable for civil operation, thus making the aircraft uneconomic when it goes into commercial service? Or is it perhaps a question of suitable aerodromes being provided for this large aircraft? We ought to know the answers to these questions because the matter was considered thoroughly by the Estimates Committee, and their report Number 2, of 1947–48, showed that a number of questions were asked from various people who gave evidence. The British Overseas Airways Corporation representatives 2166 came before that Committee. I thought their answers were pathetically unknowledgeable and indicated that the matter had not been thought out in 1942 by the Corporation with the thoroughness required when the Brabazon Committee went into the question of suitable aircraft for airline operation which would be developed within a few years after the war for use on the air routes by our British Corporations.
It is an indication of weakness on the part of British Overseas Airway Corporation that they have failed to study their requirements clearly in regard to the aircraft needed to operate their routes. If it were any other undertaking operating transport, such as a bus company, a railway company or a shipping company, it would state to the manufacturers clearly what was required. It would lay down a specification covering the requirements of the route which it was operating and would obtain what was necessary for the economic operation of its routes.
The third disappointment is the handing over of the Princess flying boats to R.A.F. Transport Command. Essential difficulties arise in providing suitable aerodromes for large aircraft such as the Brabazon, but ostensibly there are aerodromes capable of taking large flying boats in all parts of the world. It may be that land planes are capable of being developed up to such a size that runways will otherwise need to be strengthened at too great cost, but aircraft in excess of a maximum size will have to be developed as flying boats if we want to go to larger proportions.
The fourth disappointment is the De Havilland Comet to which the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield referred. I am not quite so optimistic as the hon. and gallant Member appeared to be in suggesting that here was the sort of great white hope of our civil aviation. I think that this aircraft has been grabbed at by B.O.A.C. as a drowning man grasps at a straw. I am not yet convinced that a jet aircraft can be operated sufficiently economically over sufficiently long stages to ensure the operating company making a profit from its operation.
I want my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, if he is not able to reply to this point in the debate—he will have many questions to answer considering the number of points already put to 2167 him—to consider this very carefully and to obtain from the Corporation at a very early date some operating statistics to indicate quite conclusively whether or not this aircraft, when it is put on the routes where the Corporation propose to use it between this country and Australia and also on the route to South Africa, will be capable of being operated economically and successfully when introduced to these routes.
Since the Brabazon Committee sat, only one aircraft has been designed for post-war use—that is, the Hermes. Apart from this, in the eight years since the Brabazon Committee made their review, no long-distance aircraft has been developed which is suitable for introduction on service at an early date by the Corporations. This is extremely disappointing, and by way of emphasis I repeat my earlier comment that had the Corporations put out their requirements clearly, I think they would have had avialable to them by now, or would have had very shortly, a really suitable aircraft.
I should like to refer to the improvements that have been made in the Corporations' operations in the last few years. It has been said that since 1938 the British Corporations have increased their passenger miles 11 times, which sounds a formidable increase in their activities, but as an indication that other countries are forging ahead more rapidly, it is worth noting the results which are being achieved in some of those other countries. Norway, for example, starting, perhaps, from a point lower down the scale than we were at in 1938, has increased 56 times in a similar period, Canada 41 times, Ireland 34, India 25, Australia 19, the U.S.A. 16, South Africa 15, France 13, New Zealand 12. Then comes the United Kingdom, tenth down the list, with 11 times. Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland have each increased 10 times. Although we are pleased to note the progress made by our Corporations, the rapidity of increase which these other countries have set us is a real challenge, and we must accept it.
I should like to refer now to the reports which are available on the operations of the Corporations. To me the significant thing is that British European Airways' Report is so very much better set out than is that of British Overseas Airways. 2168 That in itself signifies an attitude of mind of that Corporation compared with B.O.A.C, and shows an aliveness, an alertness and an imaginativeness which are essential for the job of running airlines successfully.
This debate is, in effect, the annual shareholders' meeting and as such it is appropriate, since so much public money is involved, that we should focus our attention rather on the critical things—in other words, the things which require to be put right. Whilst giving full credit for the progress that has been made, we need on these occasions rather to emphasise the things we should still like to see being done, so that we may get even better results. The public are having to foot far too heavy a bill.
Since 1945 B.O.A.C. alone, up to the most recent accounts we have had, have lost a total of over £32 million. Last year the figure was nearly £8 million, but it is now down, as my hon. Friend has told us, to £5 million. These amounts have had to be made up by Exchequer grants. Over a similar period, B.E.A. have lost something not far short of £10 million. If we add to these losses the expenses incurred in running the Ministry of Civil Aviation—some £15 million a year, apart from these Exchequer grants—we begin to see that the cost of nearly £24 million is something which is pretty heavy for the public purse to have to meet each year. All this is to all intents and purposes for the operation of some 200 or so aircraft which are owned and operated by the two Corporations.
I know that the Ministry of Civil Aviation help the charter companies to some extent, but in the main their expenses are directed towards the operation of our own civil air Corporations' aircraft. If we add also the cost of experimental work in developing new aircraft such as the Brabazon, the Comet, the Princess flying boat and so forth, we begin to feel that the bill is a pretty hefty one to meet. We therefore have the job of seeing that the money is being spent in the wisest possible way. I should like, therefore, to focus now a little attention on the Corporations separately.
I am told that B.E.A. would have made a profit had they received similar air mail subsidies as are given to United States operators. This is a very hopeful sign, for if we were to compare B.E.A. on a level with the American operators they 2169 would be showing results which were satisfactory even at this time. At the same time, we should not overlook, however, that some of those United States operators who are operating at a profit are doing so without any air mail subsidies at all. I congratulate B.E.A. on the progress they are making, especially compared with B.O.A.C.
One of the most important things is the greatly improved staff relations which now exist. I believe from my contacts with people employed in B.E.A. that morale is at present extremely high. The Corporation's employees look forward at an early date to the time when the Corporations will be showing a profit irrespective of any increase in air mail subsidies. They are showing an efficiency which is very gratifying to those of us who have watched carefully the type of organisation that is being built up by these nationalised undertakings. This is one of the first examples of a really high morale being developed due to the fact that a high standard of efficiency is being achieved.
One is reminded of the wartime film of Noel Coward's "In Which We Serve," the theme of which was that the efficient ship was the happy ship. I believe that the B.E.A. has become a happy ship, especially since the appointment of Mr. Peter Masefield. Mr. Masefield introduced a new policy, which was very refreshing. His idea was to hide nothing and both to invite criticism from inside the Corporation—criticism was encouraged from those employed by the Corporation without any fear of victimisation or of earning bad marks from those in control—and also to obtain criticism from the outside. This is a healthy state of mind, and is the sort of thing which we on this side particularly would like to see being manifested in all the nationalised undertakings.
Following almost automatically from this policy are the very full statistical checks which are maintained continuously by B.E.A., which give the management an accurate day-to-day picture of the operation and development of the airline. The management can see immediately when they are going in the right direction of improving their standards of efficiency and working towards the day when they will show a profit. On the other hand, they can see where they are 2170 going wrong, even before the trouble arises. The immediate effect of their policy at any time is shown up and is known to all members of the staff. It is highly probable that this same procedure applies also to B.O.A.C, but so far as I am aware—I have made inquiries to find out whether my information was wrong—B.O.A.C. do not go to the same trouble to ensure that their day-to-day operational results are known both to those inside the Corporation and to those outside the Corporation, as is done by B.E.A.
These two Corporations are operating on rather different kinds of policies for their management. It is worth looking at this aspect for a moment, for not only does it apply to these airways Corporations but has the wider significance of being appropriate to the whole field of nationalisation. There are two ways in which these public Corporations can operate. The first is by a policy board of governors rather similar to that of B.O.A.C. Under that there is the chief executive with his board of administrative and technical officers. I believe that in the case of B.O.A.C, and certainly some of the other Corporations, far too much is referred to the centre, which prevents immediate decisions and imaginative work from being done by those lower down in the organisation.
These boards have tended in the past to be made up of what I might term "safe men" who are not likely to cause too much trouble to the officials in the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Sometimes they are ex-civil servants or ex-Royal Air Force men who are rather too old to grasp the new problems of a technical and commercial nature thrown up by civil aviation. Unfortunately, there has been too little experience of commerce and civil aviation shown by these boards. We have gone far too readily for people with titles rather than people with talents. I think that if perhaps my hon. Friend is able to look into this question on some occasion, he will find it is of great significance in the question of whether the Corporations will operate successfully or otherwise in the future.
In regard to the boards of governors which have been appointed, I suggest that they are inclined to be far too remote from the people inside the undertakings. That has applied, for instance, in the case 2171 of the B.B.C., where I suppose hardly any of those working for the Corporation know even the names of the members of the board of governors, as has been shown by the Beveridge Report. I suggest that all these boards of governors should be dissolved and that it is necessary to have the small technical board under a knowledgeable chief executive working alongside an elected body. In that way only would it be possible to have a really democratic influence coming into these nationalised and public undertakings. This elected board, or national council, for each nationalised undertaking would have on it trade union representatives and those with technical and professional experience from professional bodies and also consumers' representatives instead of having the sort of thing which we have in civil aviation, the Civil Aviation Consultative Council, which seems to have very little work to do and which, in its own report, complains of the fact that so few problems are brought to its attention. That is an indication of its ineffectiveness.
This proposal is not a new suggestion from one or two of us, but is something which has been thought out and advocated by such Socialists as G. D. H. Cole.
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)
Will my hon. Friend indicate which body he suggests should make decisions, the technical body or the council composed of various interests?
§ Mr. Cooper
The technical body, I suggest, would be responsible for all executive decisions. The council would be there as a public forum and in a discursive capacity to influence the executive but not to undermine its authority. The effect in industry where this type of organisation has been set up has been for the council to strengthen and increase the reputation and status of the executive board.
§ Mr. Wallace
I am not arguing, but I want to understand my hon. Friend's suggestion. Who makes decisions on policy?
§ Mr. Cooper
The policy proposals would be discussed first in the council, but the final decisions would be taken by the executive board, which would then have the responsibility of carrying out that policy and, in due time, of showing the 2172 results of its decision. If it were found to be wrong, it would know that it would have to change its policy and if it were successful it would receive accordingly the commendation of the council.
B.O.A.C. has tended to set up a rather over-centralised, and therefore top-heavy, organisation of the inverted pyramid type, but this new proposal would give a much more flexible, democratic, and lively type of organisation than the kind into which we have seen in some nationalised undertakings developing so far. British European Airways are working away from this top-heavy conception and have a smaller body of people in control, with functional directors in charge of departmental responsibilities. It would be a good thing, perhaps, to bring one or two part-time directors on to the kind of board I have described. Full statistical information which B.E.A. are already providing is required by a small executive type of board such as I have indicated, because they are then kept fully knowledgeable, without a large staff to tell them all that is happening from the statistics which are readily available to them for daily consideration.
It must become a vital principle to these big organisations to centralise their policy making and de-centralise executive responsibility. Therefore, I suggest that both Corporations should give to their line or division managers full responsibility to produce the maximum results on their own initiative. Give them autonomy and give them the job of making their own profits. Under a system of budgetary control, give them the opportunity of knowing what the results are. After they have carried out the policy of the Corporation, let them work towards a profit, even, for their separate departments. They should become cost-conscious and, if not profit-seeking, let them consider the need to make a profit as an indication of a standard of success.
My hon. Friend may be considering this suggestion, but I do not see why line managers could not be on the boards of control. If the boards of governors are to continue to be made up as they are now, I do not think they can give a great deal of confidence, as there has been too much of a tendency for people to bounce in at the top instead of working their way through from the bottom. B.O.A.C. are 2173 lagging far behind B.E.A. and they would do well to consider the principles of management towards which B.E.A. are developing.
I hope I am wrong, but I think this is so—I would be the first to recognise early examples of B.O.A.C. making a success— I do not believe that the present management, judging by mistakes still being made, is really competent in its work. I think there is too great disparity between the two Corporations. When Ralph Damon joined Trans-World Airlines, within a year he turned an eight million dollar loss into a profit. With other men at the top of B.O.A.C, something similar would be possible in a short space of time. I do not think we have to work gradually to an elimination of the losses, but that can be done quickly if the right methods are employed.
We have the right type of aircraft and the staff of the Corporations has been cut some 4,000 employees—which is some indication that the criticisms levelled in the early years of the last Parliament from this side of the House, and possibly from the other side as well, have been justified. We have advocated many things in the past. Earlier criticism was levelled at the retention of the United States and Canadian bases which we said should be closed down. That was not done anything like quickly enough or we would have saved a lot of dollars. We advised cutting out the deadwood in the organisation, but I think there is more deadwood still to be cut out. We have suggested for a long time—and I think it extremely important—that the technical competence of B.O.A.C. should be greatly improved.
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was with me on a visit to Hum when we saw what was being done by B.O.A.C. when they were introducing into service the new Hermes aircraft. The complaint generally from the staff was that they had not had any of these aircraft soon enough "to get the bugs out of them" and then to go straight into the service with every confidence that there would be no breakdown due to early technical failures. Instead of that, all the aircraft were bought together and the whole fleet was put into service with insufficient time having been allowed for the elimination of the snags which were bound to occur. If they had first procured two aircraft and tried them out on 2174 the routes, they could have eliminated the technical snags, and then ensured that those technical details were put right in the whole fleet before all the machines were put into service.
I had some personal contact with the results of this unfortunate policy when returning from Nigeria. I was due to come back on a certain date and had to transfer from a B.O.A.C. to a K.L.M. aircraft. The Hermes was still encountering difficulties and delays on the route. It may be all right now but at that time the position was most unfortunate. The methods B.O.A.C. employ at present for ordering new aircraft are unfortunate. They have a technical director who was in the R.A.F., where he was mainly concerned with signals, a deputy-chairman and an assistant technical director. I do not think any of them have the exhaustive technical requirements that civil airline operation requires to ensure that these blunders do not continue.
With regard to the Comet, it is a pity that B.O.A.C. have ordered 12 of these new aircraft without first trying them out on the routes. It is so vastly different from the way in which B.E.A.C. are introducing their Viscounts. B.E.A.C. first had two, and when they found that the Viscount 630 was not just what they required, they were able, after trying it out on various routes, to order 28 Viscount 700s with confidence because they knew that they had done the necessary tests and that most of the snags would be eliminated before the full fleet was put on to the routes.
I would ask the Corporations to consider these annual debates as a kind of shareholders' meeting; and that if criticisms are made they should take full and fair notice of them, with the feeling that such criticisms are put forward with a constructive intention and not merely to cause difficulties for the Corporations. I would ask B.O.A.C, in particular, to try and adopt this attitude because their present attitude is so different from that of B.E.A.C. I put forward what I hoped were useful suggestions to the Chairman of B.O.A.C. towards the end of last year. He was good enough to write back and say:I much appreciate your interest in B.O.A.C, but I would respectfully suggest that you could far better exercise your concern by addressing yourself to what I would regard as current problems, rather than raking up matters that are so many years old.2175 I did not believe, when I was referring to appointments, that if those appointments were still having an unfortunate effect because of unsuitability they could be considered to be outdated matters. When the Chairman of B.O.A.C. was with Morris Motors, he adopted a similar attitude. When the policy of one of the motoring journals in regard to petrol tax policy was different from his own, he requested them to look at things from his point of view. He is doing the same now in regard to the aviation journals. It is not a helpful attitude if an attempt is made to try to curb public criticism. Let us be frank and face up to the problems on a factual basis. If we do that and then try to solve those problems, I am sure that the future of our civil aviation will be really something worth looking forward to.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
On a point of order. May I offer my apologies to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and to the House. I had every intention of declaring my small interest in civil aviation but in following the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock), I forgot. I wish humbly to apologise.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton (Inverness)
I think that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. G. Cooper) has made an excellent and interesting speech. If he will forgive me I do not intend to follow him in all the points he made, but he did at one time refer to the necessity of cutting out dead wood, namely running our Corporations as efficiently as possible, and I have here some rather interesting comparisons. The American airlines consider that an annual utilisation of their aircraft of about 3,000 hours is necessary. I find that in B.E.A.C. the annual utilisation is only 1,320 hours. That is one element that can quite clearly be improved. Looking at the figures of staff in comparison with those of Trans-Canada Air Lines, for example, B.E.A.C, flying rather less than twice the mileage of Trans-Canada Air Lines, who fly 16,364,000 miles whereas B.E.A.C. average about 30 million miles, have rather more than four times the staff of Trans-Canada Air Lines. That is a point which should be looked into.
We all agree that we want to see the British Corporations doing as well as they 2176 possibly can. A number of Members on both sides of the House have said that, and I also wish to emphasise the point. Those Corporations are, after all, part of British aviation—not the only part but a very essential one—and we all want to see them doing well. That does not mean to say that we on this side of the House think that the arrangement that has been made is necessarily the best one, or that when we get into power, which I hope will not be very long from now, we may not take measures to alter it.
The Foreign Secretary took a great interest in the introduction of the Civil Aviation Act. I find that he was Minister of Transport in the 1929–31 Government, and he wrote a book entitled "Socialisation and Transport." I was rather interested in it, and I have had the book for a long time. I found in it the following paragraph, which is of particular interest:Transport is or ought to be a very live and adaptable industry. It has intimate contact with the public. It is important that it should be quick to respond wherever possible to public wishes and desires; nay more, that it should anticipate them before they become vocal.I was interested to find that the right hon. Gentleman had written that because when I read very carefully through his speech on the Second Reading of the Civil Aviation Act, 1946, I found that he scarcely mentioned the public at all. The main tenor of his speech was directed towards proving the case for nationalising airlines. He did quote a speech that he made in Canada when he said:It is up to the nationalisers to prove their case that there will be public advantage by nationalisation. It is no less up to the anti-nationalisers to prove their case, that the public interest can best be served by private ownership.We on this side of the House really approach the matter from an entirely different standpoint. The first task of British civil aviation is to serve the public, and to that end it must be safe, efficient and cheap. It is far too expensive today for the ordinary man in the street. Furthermore, it must look after its employees and treat them well. Apart from those considerations I do not think it matters whether it is publicly or privately owned; whichever does that job best is the most important consideration.
The Government, however, set up by that Act two great monopolies—or rather 2177 three at that time. At the time when the Act was being considered, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) gave a warning drawn from the time of Ancient Rome, about which Gibbon wrote these words of the giant Corporations which grew up at the time when Rome was becoming decadent:The improvements so easily grasped by the competition of freedom are admitted with slow and sullen reluctance in these proud corporations above the fear of a rival and below the confession of an error.I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary has heard that phrase before, but it is a fact that that danger is always inherent in a monopoly, especially a monopoly backed by a Government. Monopolies tend to become—they do not necessarily become—complacent and in-tolerant of criticism. They do not easily allow improvement. They tend to maintain inefficiency in that way, and they also tend to give more costly service to the consumer. I quite agree that there are sometimes some reasons for setting up monopolies in transport, particularly on routes which are likely to be uneconomic and in respect of which it may be necessary to pay a subsidy.
There is some mitigation in respect of these air monopolies that we have undertaken. As several hon. Members have said, there is a good deal of competition from foreigners which B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. have to face. Moreover there is a very good executive staff, and I think that B.E.A. are particularly lucky in Mr. Peter Masefield. He does a great deal to keep that Corporation efficient. But even with efficiency and cheapness one cannot get away from the fact that competition is the best spur, the best possible way to keep down prices. I submit that in aviation we cannot neglect any spur to efficiency or any new development where there is still so much to learn, and so far to go.
I personally have been more or less brought up with aviation. The first flight in Great Britain was made in the year I was born, and I have held a flying licence for something like 24 years. I have seen some fairly big changes in aircraft, one way and another. The general lesson I have learned, is that one must not be dogmatic in one's approach to aviation. Above all one must never say, "We know all there is to know," or that 2178 a group of people know all there is to know. You may remember, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that there was a book written between the wars, called, "The Great Delusion." The tenor of this book was that flying never could be made economical; it never could be made to pay; and I must say that for a long time it looked to me as if that was true.
But there was one very enterprising aircraft company, which is still flourishing today, the De Havilland Aircraft Company, who built what was really the first economical aircraft, the De Havilland Fox-Moth. It carried four passengers and a pilot and had an engine of 120 horse power. Still better, they built a double aircraft of that kind, the De Havilland Dragon. That was ordered by a man who understood competition in transport, Mr. Hillman, who used to run buses. He drew a picture on a bit of paper and said, "I want an aircraft like this." The De Havilland Aircraft Company developed and improved it—this was in 1933—and the De Havilland Rapide came into being. This aircraft was so good that it is still in use today on some internal air lines. I submit that that aircraft would never have been produced if we had depended on a State Corporation for development.
Before the war I did not much like the monopoly which Imperial Airways presented. It showed a reluctance to advance, for one reason or another. But in those days it was still possible to run an airline without incurring the penalty of a £5,000 fine, or two years in prison. After all, Imperial Airways was successfully challenged by British Airways and eventually British Airways had to be given a subsidy. During the war, as we know, they were amalgamated. Now we have a monopoly which is firmer than ever. The spokesmen of the Government say they want to encourage, and even to help our charter services. But in reality the Minister of Civil Aviation seems to be more intent on making the Corporations unassailable and to be helping them virtually to wreck their potential rivals.
I would give one example of that. In January, 1949, the Minister issued a directive which did a lot to torpedo the future of independent operators. There were about six provisions in this directive which really were wrecking provisions. 2179 First of all, scheduled services were normally to be undertaken by the Corporations. Second, independent operators should be counted only as associates to the Corporations as an interim measure. If they undertook services they would receive no subsidies. Third, fares should not be less than those charged by the Corporations. Fourth, the associated agreement would not normally exceed two years. Fifth, in general it was only in respect of internal journeys and cross-country services and internal seasonal services.
§ Mr. Beswick
The noble Lord has accused my noble Friend of wrecking the charter industry by issuing this directive in 1949. Would the hon. Member say in what way private charter operators were penalised after that directive more than they were penalised before?
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
Take one thing alone, that fares should not be less than those charged by the Corporations. In this matter alone, they could not undercut the Corporations.
§ Mr. Beswick
Would it surprise the noble Lord to know that before that directive was issued it was not possible for the private operators to engage in scheduled operations at all? It was in fact an entirely new field of operations which was opened up to them as a result of this directive.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
It was even worse if they could not do it before. That simply confirms it.
Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamikon
The sixth condition was the putting of power into the hands of the Minister that these conditions might be varied by the Minister from time to time.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
The Minister indicated the other day that he was a "watch dog" for the taxpayer, he looked after the taxpayer's money. I would give one example of what happened when the Nigerian Government wanted a service between this country and the Colony. Lord Milverton, the Governor, wanted an adequate service to Kano. A charter company was approached 2180 which had suitable aircraft to run a service. There was no expense involved to the taxpayer on either side. However, this was not allowed, and one of the Corporations, I think it was B.O.A.C., put on aircraft obviously unsuitable. It has been alleged that each flight cost the taxpayer £10,000. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would confirm that, but I think the Minister is some "watch dog," if that is the type of thing he is doing. That is a waste of public money to the benefit of no one.
Surely there are plenty of services which could be usefully done by independent operators, like a service in the summer to Corsica, where there is a season of three or four weeks, or to Majorca, where the Corporation do not necessarily want to operate. And why should not they charge cheap fares and thereby allow people to fly who are not quite so wealthy instead of having to charge fares not less than those charged by the Corporations? I think the Corporation rates are too high anyway. When he was Minister, Lord Swinton implied in several statements that the nationalised Corporations would undertake charter work only if it was outside the capacity of charter companies. We know the story—it has already been quoted by several hon. Members—of the Food Corporation, and how by the intervention of B.O.A.C. they got the charter at approximately 10 per cent. more than Huntings, an independent operator, were prepared to quote.
The fact remains that today civil aviation companies see so little future ahead of them that they are selling aircraft abroad, and at very good prices, because there is a high demand. I want to know whether the Parliamentary Secretary can tell me how many aircraft from charter companies have been sold abroad during the last year, and whether the President of the Board of Trade is keeping an eye on it? At this stage it is very important that we should not allow transport aircraf to go abroad.
The importance of charter companies is immense. Several hon. Members have drawn attention to this. I do not think, however, that anyone has mentioned the Berlin airlift, where charter companies provided no fewer than 42 four-engined aircraft, and received great praise from the commodore in charge. Charter aircraft are also important in other things; for 2181 defence, co-operation with searchlights and anti-aircraft.
I should like to know if B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. are serious about not wanting to enter the charter trade. They have representatives now at the Baltic Exchange and, through that exchange, the independent charter companies have built up a considerable business. In another place the other day Lord Douglas indicated that these agents were there only to obtain freights for the Corporations. I have the greatest respect for Lord Douglas as an Air Force Officer. He was once my commander-in-chief. I should not like to contradict him, but if he examines the amount of business that these agents have got for the Corporations, he might give a different answer.
Above all, the Corporations must not be considered sacrosanct. They must not be protected from competition. We want the most efficient aviation that we can get. Ultimately, what we want is controlled competition. I agree that there should be an element of Government control in aviation. We want something like the Civil Aeronautics Board in America. It is tragic that aviation should become the plaything of party politics. Everyone interested in civil aviation should try to ensure that at all costs we get the best kind of aviation that we can achieve.
The Corporations have been most unfortunate with the British aircraft they have selected. First, there was the Tudor and then the Brabazon and the Princess flying boat. I should like to ask whether the Parliamentary Secretary or his noble Friend has considered offering the Brabazon to independent operators to see if they would take on trans-Atlantic services. I know that the Corporation will not do that; but it is a tragedy, when we have spent so much money and effort on these great aeroplanes, that the world should not see them and have an opportunity of flying in them.
The hon. Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) spoke for a long time about flying boats. I heartily agree with him. I am very much in favour of flying boats. Again, it is tragic that we have, for the time being, let our flying boats go. Fortunately, the Air Force have been able to take over the Princess flying boats. It is most important to this country that we 2182 should not lose the "know-how" of building and operating flying boats commercially. Those who have flown in them know that one can experience comfort and security as well as speed in transport.
Now we have our "white hope," the Comet. I believe that there may be some difficulties With the Comet. In the high altitude flying which it will undertake there is a danger that we may find that the engines will ice up in certain conditions, and there may be difficulty in getting down to base. The Comet normally flies above the weather, but the pilot has to come through it eventually to get down to base. Research may be necessary to overcome the icing danger. We all hope that the Comet will be thoroughly successful.
The Parliamentary Secretary did not say very much about Scotland: in fact, I do not think that he said anything at all. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) said quite a lot about Prestwick. I was rather surprised to find from the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Second Reading of the Civil Aviation Bill that the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Alex. Anderson) who is not in the House tonight, made a statement about Prestwick which he might correct in his own mind now. I always regarded him as a rather good Scotsman, but he defended Whitehall on this occasion. I do not want to make an issue of this between Whitehall and Scotland. He said:In spite of the sneers against Whitehall, we must remember that we have in Prestwick an aerodrome which was but a small private flying club when war broke out, with a small amount of capital invested in it, and it has now been built up to international proportions by Whitehall, by community effort and by public funds. It would be a shame if any Government in this country were to return such a magnificent aerodrome to private enterprise."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 705.]I should like to correct him. First, Prestwick was never a small private flying club. From the beginning it was an aerodrome which was training air crew for the Royal Air Force and which trained many hundred before the war started. Such a question as handing it back to private enterprise never arose, because at the end of the war the then owners of Prestwick offered it to a public corporation in Scotland. The impression the Government have given is that they just decided that they would take over Prestwick— 2183 they have not done that even yet, but they merely decided to take it over—with scant recognition of the pioneer services rendered there.
That would not be quite so bad, but the Government still do not show a will to develop Prestwick as the national asset which it should be. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr spoke at length about Prestwick. I shall not weary the House by saying much more except that in the Clydesmuir Report there were two specific recommendations. One was that the Government should get on with the job of improving the runways and the aerodrome instead of waiting until 1953. The other was that they should encourage feeder services now. It said that it was in the interests of British aviation that they should do that.
The former Parliamentary Secretary, Mr. Ivor Thomas, who some time ago saw sense and joined another party, said during the Committee stage of the Civil Aviation Bill that he was sure that the Minister for Civil Aviation, who was then Lord Winster, did not get up in the morning and say, "Now, let me see, what can we do to annoy Scotland?" He assured us that when he died, which he hoped would be a long way off, the word "Prestwick" would be engraved on his heart. I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that he may not have done everything he could to annoy Scotland, but that the delay over Prestwick has done much to exacerbate national feeling in a way which was unnecessary.
Prestwick is important throughout Great Britain. I am not speaking in a narrow Scottish sense. Naturally, I want to see a national asset developed but Prestwick is important from the British national as well as from the Scottish point of view.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
The noble Lord mentioned two specific points. The first was about improving the runways. Has he been round Prestwick recently?
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
I am very glad to hear it, but the last report was that they were doing nothing to enable really large aircraft to land until 1953.
§ Mr. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I should like to clear up one point. The noble Lord mentioned feeder services. I agree that there ought to be feeder services. As far as I am aware, feeder services have been offered. Not one, but nine feeder services have been offered and they simply will not operate them.
§ Mr. Manuel
Too many strings. We have a right to say that there should be good conditions for people who fly. The other point I should like to make, if I could have less interruption from the Front Bench, is about the question of taking over. I think that there should be some consideration of the amount of invested capital in Prestwick. Does the noble Lord know what the figure is against the total outlay which was necessary to bring Prestwick up to its present standard?
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
I would point out that the owners of Prestwick offered to hand the whole thing over to a public utility corporation, and I submit that that is the correct thing to do with Prestwick.
I want now to say a word or two about Scottish services. The Foreign Secretary made some very specific promises in regard to Scotland. He said this:Civil aviation cannot exclusively be organised on a needlessly restricted basis, for, far from being local in character, it is international and worldwide in its operations. Clearly, therefore, it would be unwise to establish a separate autonomous airways corporation for Scotland with its own external services, and to establish one confined to Scotland would be to give Scotland a less complete and less efficient service, and would, in addition, inevitably be uneconomical in management and operation. Having said that, in 2185 which I think I shall carry the general assent of the House, I would add that, nevertheless, my noble Friend, the Minister of Civil Aviation is not only willing, he is indeed most anxious, to make special provision for Scottish needs and requirements, and to take the fullest account of Scottish sentiment and feeling, for which His Majesty's Government have always the highest regard and respect."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 610–11.]What happened? The first thing that happened was the Scottish pioneer who built up the services in the North of Scotland was sacked, and a protest meeting which was held in Inverness was simply ignored. The next thing that happened was that the services became worse than they were before the war. The fares were raised, and Scottish personnel were actually driven abroad to run air services in Greece. The Corporation failed to develop the new services which were required, and yet now we are told that, before the war, the whole of the internal air services of Great Britain took a subsidy of £100,000, when Scotland had better services then than it has today. Now we are told that, in 1948–49, the loss on these services was £2,763,000, and that Scotland's services were responsible for a third of that loss; in other words, for a loss of £921,000. It would have paid the Government if they had paid a Scottish Corporation £500,000 a year and allowed Scotland to run its own air services.
Here is the quotation, for which I was asked a few minutes ago, from the Clydesmuir Report. It is in chapter 9, paragraph 66 (a):The criticisms which in the main come into that category are as follows. It is part of the Ministry's policy that this plan for the development of the airport should not be put in hand before 1953 at the earliest.Surely, as far as Scotland is concerned, this again is a case of public money being wasted and no one benefiting, particularly in Scotland.
§ Mr. Beswick
Surely, if the noble Lord takes the interest in such matters which I expect he does, he will know that we made a statement subsequent to the publication of that Report, and that in that statement we said that we were proposing to make this runway long enough for modern aircraft?
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
I have not got that statement with me. This Report has only been published this year; in fact, it is only just published.
§ Mr. Beswick
This is a Report from a committee which made certain recommendations. Since they were published, I have made a statement in this House, and my noble Friend has made a statement in another place, and, in that statement, we did say which of these runways we proposed to extend. If the noble Lord follows these matters with the care that I imagine he would take, he would see that there will be a runway sufficiently long to take the heaviest aircraft before 1953.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
I am very glad to hear that, but it is only one runway at Prestwick, and I believe I am also right in saying that one Corporation—B.O.A.C.—made repeated representations for Prestwick to be improved. I am very glad to hear that things are being done, and I hope it will be completed in 1953. It is certainly high time it was done.
Returning to the subject of the Scottish services, with which I was dealing, we have the greatest confidence in the crews, who are excellent, as they are throughout the whole of the Corporations, although the northern part of the organisation is getting a bit thin. I have heard of passengers being brought out of an aircraft at a northern aerodrome in order to lift the tail of the aircraft on a trestle, because there were not enough ground crew available. At another time, one hears the story of there being far too many ground crew, and not enough work for them to do. I am not exactly complaining of these matters, but one of the more pleasant features of flying today is provided by the very smart young ladies who attend to one's every need while on board the aircraft. They are extremely efficient young women, and it may be that it is thought that we do not appreciate them fully in Scotland, but the fact is that these young ladies get out when the aircraft lands at Edinburgh and are never seen any further north. It may be that that is due to reasons of economy, but it is the case.
What we need in developing aviation in Scotland is the provision of air lines to areas on the west coast, which is not completely depopulated yet. There are still quite a lot of people who can virtually only be reached by one of three methods—by helicopter, by flying boat or by means of the tremendous cost of 2187 making new airstrips. The obvious way would be to develop flying boat services, but it may be many years before that comes about, although I hope it will be possible. We could have flying boat services from Ullapool to Skye, from Tobermory to Oban, and another along the Caledonian Canal.
Furthermore, a little imagination could be used to develop an airmail service on the west coast, in which helicopters would be very helpful. One way of running the airmail service would be by using a similar device to that used during the war and consisting of a kind of football post to which the mailbags are attached and from which they can be picked up by the aircraft. However, these things are not likely to be undertaken for the time being. But I think that we would get far better results from a policy of decentralisation. If we can decentralise control to Scotland, we should enjoy much better results north of the Border. We have an advisory committee whose chairman never ceases in his eulogies of the Corporation, on which he also has a seat, but we do not think that that is really very satisfactory. We want actual control in Scotland, not general advice.
I now want to say a word about the pilots and those engaged in private flying. To a nation's aviation, small plane flying is in the same relationship as small boat sailing is to a navy, and I think it is just as important. It is very important that we should have as many people as possible who know what it is like to fly an aeroplane. People who are flying today fly rather like sheep, herded from one point to another and finally into an aircraft, and then, at the other end, being herded again out of the aircraft through the immigration, Customs and so on, eventually to the bus which takes them home. There is nothing like actually flying an aeroplane on one's own. We have not, so far, been very successful in this country in encouraging that.
The Petrol Duty was mentioned by another hon. Member. I can see no real justification for charging that duty on petrol used in a private aircraft when it is not charged on the fuel used in flying club aircraft. A man can hire an aeroplane from a flying club without having to pay the duty, but he has to pay if he 2188 uses his own machine. That, to my mind, is a quite untenable position. The result is—and I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to bear this point in mind—that, compared with America, we lag far behind. After all, aviation, both to us and America, is one of the most important things today.
In America there are 550,000 flying licences, private or commercial, held by people actually practising flying. In this country, the number is something just over 7,000. This means that in America, with its enormous population, one person in every 320 is a pilot, whereas in this country the ratio is only one in every 6,200. That is a point we ought earnestly to consider with a view to giving every possible encouragement to aviation. There is no doubt that people in this country would fly if they could do so at reasonably cheap rates.
Hon. Members may remember that before the war there was a scheme called the Civil Air Guards Scheme, under which a person could fly for half a crown an hour. It only operated for one year, but during that time there were 10,600 effective members who had some kind of flying training. Of that number, no fewer than 7,030 served during the war as air crews in the Royal Air Force or in the Fleet Air Arm, and 2,000 on ground duties. I think that was a good investment and a cheap way of getting a reserve of pilots. We know that in this country we have the best designers of aircraft in the world if they are given the chance, and that we have the best workmen and the best air crews. It should be the greatest endeavour of all of us, on whichever side of the House we sit, to do our utmost to see that we in this country are always in the vanguard of air development.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Pargiter (Southall)
I trust that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not follow him in the ramifications of the Scottish air services. The only comment I would make is that while he appears to be regretting the amount of the subsidies paid to the Corporation, we should need, practically, to double them if we were to do all that he wants done for Scotland. He suggested the use of helicopters for picking up a few letters from an island here or there, and said that that was 2189 something for the future. I should imagine it would be some time in the very far distant future before that sort of thing was possible.
The noble Lord also referred to the great "monopolies" and to competition. I think it is entirely wrong to refer to the two Corporations as monopolies in the normal sense of the word. It is true that with regard to internal lines they may have some monopolistic power, but there is certainly nothing monopolistic about them with regard to the international lines. In fact, it seems to me that they get all the competition they want from virtually every other country in the world, and that there is adequate incentive to keep the Corporations doing their job. Generally speaking, I think that the Corporations are to be congratulated upon the progress they have made.
We all agree that there are a good many things that need to be done, but, in the main, the Corporations are moving along the right lines, and I am very much in favour of the system of budgetary control which B.E.A. have introduced. I believe that such control enables an undertaking to keep a check on its costs from time to time. It means that no particular department or section can spend money for which it has not budgeted without some central authorisation for so doing. By that means, it tends to keep the machines under some measure of proper control. Indeed, budgetary control is something which commends itself in many directions, quite apart from civil aviation. I think it is a system which should be widely adopted. It is, in fact, already being used in some businesses.
In dealing with the question of charter companies, one hon. Member complained that B.O.A.C. did not debit themselves with the overhead costs of business transacted on their behalf by charter companies. I do not see why they should. I understand that the position of B.O.A.C. in regard to those matters is that they actually make a handling charge of 2½ per cent. There are very few organisations which work on only a 2½ per cent. handling charge. Such a charge seems to me to be entirely reasonable, and one which could not possibly be reduced, and charter companies ought not to feel that they are being badly treated when charged that very small amount.
§ Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)
The complaint was that when B.O.A.C. themselves undertook charter work they did not, in quoting the price, charge themselves with overheads.
§ Mr. Pargiter
It seems to me that if they are taking on charter work, or work which is comparable to charter work and which is outside what they perhaps regard as their normal function, they are entitled to operate on the same basis as a charter company. In other words, they charter to themselves. That seems to me to be perfectly fair and proper. To do it the other way round would mean that the overheads elsewhere would be less if they charged more in another place. In order to work under conditions comparable to the charter companies, the Corporation ought to make charges for purposes of book-keeping which are comparable to those of the charter companies. That appears to be what they do, and to be perfectly fair.
A good deal of opposition was expressed some time ago by hon. Members opposite to the merging of British South American Airways with B.O.A.C. There certainly does not appear to be any continuing criticism of that, and, on the whole, it appears that the Government did the right thing, because that merging has reduced the general overheads of the Corporation to the benefit of civil aviation and to the Corporation as a whole.
I could not quite follow the reference made by one hon. Member to the question of the use of the Comet. Quite frankly, I am in favour of the most rapid development possible of the Comet, because it seems to me that this is the one aircraft of ours which is so far ahead of any of our competitors that it gives us a real fighting chance to get on top of the world so far as civil aviation is concerned. A reference was made to the icing-up of engines at high altitudes. I should have thought that with the intense heat which a jet engine develops and with its special system of circulation, there was very little likelihood of its icing-up under any conditions one could possibly visualise. I should certainly have thought that that would be a matter the designers would be taking care of, and probably they have taken care of it. I do not think we need worry very much about jet engines icing-up at high altitude.
2191 I believe that the Comet is still the best answer for the future of our civil aviation. In the meantime I hope we shall not have too many changes of aircraft. It is obvious that we have suffered very considerably in the past from the changes that have been made in aircraft. I understand that when we change over from one type of aircraft to another it costs on an average about £10,000 to train a single crew in the use of a new machine. This is a staggering figure, but it is an ascertainable figure. Therefore, it seems that the fewer changes we have between now and the time when the Comet comes into service the better; and the sooner we have the Comet in circulation the less will be the ultimate cost of such change-over as will have to take place.
I should like to have some information about development at London Airport in connection with the transfer of the Northolt services there. I believe that at one period last year Northolt was handling more aircraft than London Airport, although London Airport was then pretty busy. If the change-over from Northolt to London Airport is made, will it be possible for London Airport to take over all the Northolt services on the basis of the present site, or is it visualised that it will not be possible to take over all these services until development on the north side of the Bath-road is completed? This is important as it has a bearing on the future plans of local authorities in the area. I believe that the change-over is to take place within a very limited time, and we should like some assurance that the airport as now planned will be sufficient for that purpose without any extension.
I should also like my hon. Friend to give attention to the problem of minimising the considerable noise made by low flying aircraft in the vicinity of London Airport. Throughout the area adjoining the airport there are constant complaints from people about their sleep being disturbed and their children upset. I know that it does not seem that very much can be done about it at the moment, but that is not much comfort to those who live in the vicinity and who suffer badly from the noise of aircraft taking off and landing. I hope the Minister is giving constant attention to this problem of the elimination of noise. It is a problem worthy of the highest possible scientific investigation.
2192 Reference has been made in the debate to Post Office rates far carrying mail. It has been alleged that the Post Office authorities are grasping people with a mailed fist who say "We pay this," whether or not that payment represents a fair rate. Presumably the Post Office pays a fair economic rate. The Post Office rate certainly cannot be compared with the American rate which is a hidden subsidy to aircraft. As far as Britain is concerned the question is whether we pay a subsidy openly or pay it secretly by paying high rates for carrying Government traffic. It seems to me much better that the Corporation should do the job at an economic rate and then if we had to pay a subsidy on top of that, it would be within the control of the House and we would know what we are doing. The American method of concealing the subsidy by paying high rates for Government traffic is the wrong method. I very much prefer that it should be done in a way which would show how we are spending the taxpayers' money.
It would be a thousand pities if the rearmament programme were allowed to interfere in any way with the development of civil aviation and of civil aircraft. That kind of thing can well happen. When we appreciate the extent to which the civil aircraft industry in this country suffered as a result of the change-over to war types during the war it is vitally important that we should not allow that kind of thing to happen again. If we do we shall have to go through precisely the same phase after re-armament is completed as we have been going through during the last five or six years, a phase from which we have only just emerged. The Minister should stand firm on the requirements of civil aviation and see that those requirements are not submerged in the needs of defence. There must be a balance between the two needs so that the development of civil aviation is not stifled.
I believe the Corporations have made good progress. Although they have not done all that we would have liked them to have done they deserve the general congratulations of the House upon their very sincere efforts to reduce the cost of civil aviation to the nation during the last year. It is to their credit that they have partly succeeded and I wish them luck in the future.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. W. T. Aitken (Suffolk, Bury St. Edmunds)
I have a personal interest in the debate to which the Minister would do well to listen very carefully because I represent the ordinary fare-paying passenger whom I have not heard mentioned this afternoon. During the last five years I think I have travelled over 300,000 miles by air in various parts of the world in the aircraft of about 20 different airlines, so I am a connoisseur of the services that airlines provide for their passengers.
I should like to refer briefly to comfort, which affects the passenger very much indeed. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford (Mr. Profumo) referred to safety and price as important factors affecting airlines. I would put comfort very high on the list, and particularly comfort on the ground. It is perfectly obvious that a good deal of thought and attention are paid to comfort in the air. As one changes from Yorks to Constellations, the first thing one notices is the enormous increase in comfort, but I am concerned with what happens when one lands at the airport.
A few weeks ago I flew from London to Nigeria. The first stop is Tripoli either very early in the morning or late in the afternoon. It is a very important airport and I believe that the comfort of passengers arriving there is the responsibility of the Minister. The first thing that strikes one is the dirt and squalid discomfort of that very important airport. They are something which have to be seen to be believed. Comparing Castel Benito with a place like Trinidad, the most impressive thing I have seen in all my hours of flying has been the rest house which is provided at Trinidad.
Another impressive place is in Fiji which is the responsibility primarily of Commonwealth Pacific Airlines. In Fiji the first thing that strikes one is the coolness and spaciousness of the lounge to which passengers are taken. Every passenger is very curious about the country in which he arrives. One gets a great sense of relief and pleasure on getting out of an aircraft in a strange country. It is an impressive thing to get out of an arero-plane and go to a clean and comfortable place where a good deal of imagination and thought has gone into the décor and 2194 the provision of comfort and food—perhaps indigenous food of the country in question.
The African Continent is unquestionably a flying area which one day will bring great profits to the successful airlines operating there. There is no doubt that when one travels in Africa one realises most of all what little thought, energy and imagination have gone into these places where passengers have to stop and rest while the aircraft refuels. I do not think it would be a good thing to advocate any vast, increased expenditure until the airlines are paying their way, but I do feel that it is practicable, with very little expenditure of money but a great expenditure of imagination and energy, to put some of these places into a condition so that passengers are delighted to land there and will remember those places as being connected with, say, B.O.A.C. or B.E.A.C.
Kano is an interesting place at which to land. It is a most dramatic part of Africa; it is a beautiful African city, but the airport, for a great international airport, is very much below the standard which we would like to see in B.O.A.C. operations. I call the Minister's attention to this fact because it gives one the impression of having been neglected. A good deal of thought and imagination have gone into the provision of comfort in the air, but in most parts of the world the dreariness and discomfort of landing places has gone on for several years.
I can see no great change in the conditions in a place like Khartoum in the last four or five years. It has rather dirty sanitary arrangements, the chairs are not particularly comfortable, and on one occasion I thought I detected the same broken down arm chair with the same beer stains which I knew in my R.A.F. mess during the war. It is evident that a lot of the furnishings and equipment of these places are left-overs from the Air Force or some other military installation in the area during the war.
It is high time that the Minister gave a good deal more thought and energy to these problems, because there is no doubt that the passengers are very much concerned. They remember with a good deal of pleasure any comfort which is provided when they alight from aircraft. Therefore, I hope the Minister will give some 2195 indication that he intends to consider these matters and will stimulate a good deal more enterprise and imagination among the airlines concerned.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader Kinghorn (Yarmouth)
I am sorry I have had to leave the Chamber on several occasions since this debate started, but I have had a number of committees to attend. I was a little chary about opening my mouth until I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton). He said a number of things which rather tickled my palate, either because I did not agree with them or because I did agree with them. There fore, it may be that my remarks will bear close relation to the course of his speech.
I should like to say how much I agree with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Aitken) in the topic which he chose. I hope next week to be arriving at the airport which he mentioned. I am fortunate enough to be going on the Gold Coast expedition, and I am sure that I shall carry throughout my life the memory of landing in a strange country. My own experience tells me that it is rather depressing to find oneself landing for the first time in a country where the aerodrome facilities are not all they should be.
§ Squadron Leader Kinghorn
That is so. I must confess that I had the same experience at Castel Benito as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. The armchairs which one saw were rather like cast-offs from an R.A.F. mess. They certainly could have been cleaned up a bit more. When we were taken out to the hotel in Tripoli, there was the general air of grubbiness which we left behind in this country several years ago.
We ought to give a warning from this House that we are not going to allow these great airports fall to the level of our railway stations in this country, which were so bad before we nationalised them. One of our biggest jobs is to raise them to the level of the railway stations in places like Cologne, and indeed all the great railway stations in Germany, and France. Our railway stations have always 2196 appeared to be parts of the machinery instead of lovely buildings such as we see so often in various parts of the Continent. I have not been to America, but I believe the American railway stations are better even than the German and the Swiss. I hope the railway companies will take note of these remarks. I certainly hope the airway Corporations will not let their airports become like our railway stations.
The debate started with a shower of congratulations to the two Corporations, and I thought those congratulations were deserved. The great efforts that both Corporations have made in the last few years to try to reach that level of efficiency where their outgoings approach their incomings have been a great achievement. It seems to me that with a bit of juggling which would be permissible in a private company, B.E.A. would now have been breaking even. When I say "juggling," I do not mean financial juggling of an embezzling kind. I refer to the adjustment of things like mail freights. If B.E.A.C. had the same international air freight rates from the G.P.O. as the American airlines get, a great part of their deficit would be wiped out without any great effort on their part. I believe the figure would be about 20 per cent. If the English taxpayers, especially in my part of the world which is not fed by an airline service, did not have to pay for the Scottish airlines, there would be another 20 per cent. saving in the finances of the Corporation. That makes a saving of 40 per cent.
The next question concerns petrol. It is true that some of us were keen to get a saving in tax for the private flier, and the flying clubs have already benefited; but if that saving were also allowed to the Corporations, it seems from the figures which we have heard tonight that B.E.A.C. would save another 20 per cent. on their deficit and would be getting near the breaking-even point. I think that the feeling of the House is that these matters should be considered. It seems to me that the G.P.O. could well stand paying the proper internationally recognised rate for mail freight. The Corporations should benefit from it. In any case, the loss which the Corporations make by not receiving that payment has to be borne by the general body of the taxpayers, so that this is really one of those accounting procedures which should be examined. The Parliamentary Secretary 2197 should have the full support of the House in any arguments which he may have with the Post Office authorities. The same argument applies in the case of petrol.
Again, the question of the Scottish airlines should be examined more closely. If the same service could be given by private charter companies, then that proposition should be examined if it would mean that taxpayers in my part of the world would save money. In fact, I doubt whether any charter companies could do the job because, as I see it, the charter companies are rather like the private hauliers in the road transport industry, who are quite prepared to use the roads for which the general taxpayer pays so long as they make a profit and deny it to the nationalised undertaking. In the same way, we have expensive aerodromes and all the landing facilities paid for by the general taxpayer, so that this question does not provide a fair basis of competition between the nationalised undertaking and the charter companies.
§ Mr. John Grimston
It is, of course, part of the case of the charter company flyers that they are ready to pay exactly the same landing fees as the Corporations.
§ Squadron Leader Kinghorn
There is something more than landing fees involved, as the hon. Gentleman knows. There is the whole organisation for air transport, just as the upkeep of the Great North Road makes that road available for any transport which goes on it. There is no special payment taken from a man on the Great North Road because he happens to have a licence or from another man because he is running long-distance transport from Newcastle to London. Nevertheless, we are shareholders of this undertaking and we should know the full facts.
§ Squadron Leader Kinghorn
No; of course, I cannot think of any company which would do that. In my view the claims for the charter companies are just as "phoney" as are those for the hauliers against the nationalised road 2198 undertaking. Nevertheless, it is a little unfair on the taxpayers of Norfolk, who have no airlines to serve them, to have to pay subsidies for airlines to the West of Scotland, and I hope the position can be examined. I hope that by the time we have the next General Election I shall be able to deal with the argument of any man who comes to me and says, "I am a taxpayer. I know that whether airlines are publicly or privately owned there must be a subsidy in one way or another to keep them going in places like the Western Isles, but I am not interested in the prestige of these airlines. We know that airlines to those areas cannot be run at a profit whether they are publicly owned or privately owned, but the point is that I just do not want them to be run if it has to be done at my expense."
§ Mr. Rankin
I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for giving way. I forgive him for using a good, old-fashioned Tory argument, but I should like him to make this clear: is he in favour of withdrawing the ambulance services which are run to the Western Isles of Scotland?
§ Squadron Leader Kinghorn
No; I am not in favour of withdrawing them. I am simply throwing into the pool of argument the ideas which these people are expressing. I am merely putting forward the case which these taxpayers will make and allowing hon. Members to deal with the argument, even, if necessary, by sitting down and allowing one of my Scottish hon. Friends to put his argument, as he has done.
I will leave that point and turn to another. I have a feeling about air travel that it is all first-class and that there is no second or third-class. I have the feeling that the general masses of the community do not use air travel at all, and I should like to see a more democratic use of our airlines. It may be that schemes could be worked out even in present circumstances, where we know that airlines are making a loss, so that people who normally cannot afford the ordinary rates could be given an opportunity of becoming accustomed to air travel.
For instance, we have heard this afternoon that if B.E.A.C. used 75 per cent. of their capacity the whole time with the aircraft and the crews they have at present, they would break even. I hope I am correct in this figure; I am quoting 2199 from memory what has been said. In those circumstances they would neither lose nor gain. That means that 25 per cent. of their seating is left. I should like to see some of it used to make our people air-minded and I should be more than pleased to see that done with the adults in the industrial areas. If it cannot be done with the adults, let us do it with some of the younger people who will live in a more air-minded age. I want to see the benefits of air travel spread more and more among those people with the smaller purses.
Of course, we on this side of the House have that as our aim, but I want to see some practical steps taken to bring it about in the near future, if possible. If there were a war, for instance, and flying boats were used to carry troops, then these people would be using air travel for the first time. They have not been able to afford air travel but in such a national emergency they would fly quite willingly to do their jobs. I hope that the Corporations and the Ministry will consider this problem.
We could help to make people more air-minded by sending those who work in the Corporations to speak in our towns and villages and tell others about their work. I should like to see some of the nice girls from the Scottish air routes, about whom we have heard, speaking to arts councils, in their uniforms, and telling people about their life, because at the moment their life is remote from the ordinary every-day existence of people in the great industrial areas. I want to see the ordinary people who make the engines meet and talk with the pilots; I want to see the ordinary people given a chance to meet the men who fly the machines, those who make the engines and, of course, these lovely hostesses.
I turn now to the question of the flying boats. This is no easy problem. We now know that the Princess flying boats are to be taken over by the R.A.F., yet we have this evening heard my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley) quite rightly putting the point of view of his constituents and bemoaning the fact that one of the activities of his port will be lost if the flying boats do not continue in the sphere of civil aviation. It seems to me that this is one of those long arguments 2200 such as we so often have, especially in the military sphere—aircraft carriers or battleships or smaller craft or antisubmarine craft and so on.
There are pros and cons, but in this debate we have not had the whole case put before us so that we could know whether we are doing the right thing by the workers in Southampton and by the general community by permitting the flying-boats, which were such a wonderful idea when they were on the drawing board, to be lost altogether to the world of civil aviation. I believe one of the great difficulties was that they were over-taken by the Comet. They were not considered suitable for jet engines and it was felt, therefore, that they would be left behind in the world of modern aircraft. That was one of the arguments in the case against them. If that was a fact, we should be told about it. We ought to be able to give a reasonable answer to our constituents when they bring up this question of the great flying-boats.
One point I have to make is in connection with the statement made by a previous speaker and relating to my point about airmindedness. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), one of the Government Whips and I are members of the Minister's Permanent Committee on Private Flying. We produced a report in the middle of 1947. Since we produced that report, the Committee has not met. It is about time that the Committee was summoned by the Minister. Conditions are different from what they were in 1947, when we produced our report. It seemed hopeless in that year when we were faced with a dollar shortage and a world situation of some gravity to procure any money for private flying. Part of the case which we put up for the revival of private flying in peace-time was that so many pilots and ground staff were produced who were able to do the job because they learned flying in the flying clubs before the war.
In 1947 there were still some flying clubs in existence which were not for the rich and one was the London Passenger Transport club. We met representatives from that club in order to make investigations about it. We found that the members paid 6d. per week and were able to learn to fly. Certain people were keen to fly and did fly, and that was one of 2201 the objects of these clubs. There are other flying clubs which were not as lucky as the London Passenger Transport club. They had not got the membership and gradually they were being squeezed out.
In view of re-armament and the sums of money which have to be spent, we think that one of the best ways to spend a small portion of this money would be to help in the revival of the democratic flying clubs, so that ordinary working men and women throughout the country will learn to fly. I know that the R.A.F. at one time were against this. They held that high-speed aircraft could not be piloted by people who had been trained in that way or by gliding. We persuaded them to try gliding. In fact, some of their members in Germany got hold of German gliders and began to glide. In a year the R.A.F. found that they were getting better candidates from people who had done a bit of flying. The same could be said about those who had done a bit of dual control in Tiger Moths. We want people to learn in easy stages.
It would be worth while for the Ministry of Civil Aviation to have another go at the Air Ministry, who I am told are more amenable to persuasion in this matter of the flying clubs. We should have another go at the Chancellor now that we have a new one, and see whether we cannot get some of that money to keep our flying clubs going and encourage some of our younger people to go in for flying. The future is in the air, and our young people should be in the forefront, as were their fathers, who were amongst the first people to fly, and who even in our day have produced the Brabazon, the Comet, and jet aircraft. We want our young people to be ready to take their places when the time comes.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I personally welcome the opportunity to point out to the House that we are very fortunate in that this is very largely a Scottish debate. I see opposite me the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin), the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Gilzean) and the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton). This shows you, 2202 Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that as a Scotsman you need not feel alone or solitary in the Chair tonight. Their presence shows that Scotland understands how important is the air to Scotland. When the war finished we had very high hopes of civil aviation. We saw many war aerodromes and the whole of Scotland covered with gentlemen and ladies in sky-blue. We thought that this was something that would be with us when the war was over.
We are a country with backward roads and a railway system relatively undeveloped, and we could see great opportunities in the air, which we looked upon as a blessing to Scotland. There was great disappointment in store for us. These hopes have not been realised. We have been told during the last six years that the State would do it for us. We regret to say that in Scotland we find the State cannot do it. We are of the opinion that if the aircraft industry had been left to private enterprise in Scotland, it might have done for us what was done for us in ship-building, textiles——
§ Sir W. Darling
—whisky and engineering. It has been a prime disaster that at this stage of development Scotland was not permitted to develop the aircraft industry. It might have happened had the State in 1945 not elected to take over the industry, that a flourishing aircraft industry under private enterprise might have developed in Scotland. If the State had stepped in when the first ship was built on the Clyde, there would have been no ship-building industry there today. Had the State stepped in when James Watt noticed that the kettle lid rattled when the steam came through, there would have been no steamship invention in Scotland. If there is any hon. Member who can upset that argument or give me fresh encouragement to believe something different, I shall be happy.
No aircraft are built in Scotland today. They build them in Belfast, in Southampton, in London, and indeed anywhere but in Scotland. We can have a repair and maintenance depot at Turnhouse, but Prestwick we pass idly by. I should like to have an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that we shall have an aircraft industry in Scotland. 2203 Free enterprise might have done it but is not permitted to do it. Whether we like it or not, we have pinned our colours to this somewhat doubtful nag, State Enterprise, and she is hopping very heavily along the road. We know Prestwick. What Ford's did to Dagenham, Scottish aviation might have done to Prestwick. Ford's were relatively free to develop their engineering enterprise, but Scottish Aviation, even with all the backing of public opinion, was never allowed to do it. I submit that the comparison is a valid one. Ford's have never come to Scotland, but I invite them to do so and if the hon. and learned Member who is showing such an interest in my speech has the key to the managing director's door, let him invite them to come to Scotland.
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
What the hon. Gentleman is now saying defeats the whole argument that he is putting to the House.
§ Sir W. Darling
I do not see that it defeats my argument. I submit that Dagenham would not have been what it is today if Ford's had not gone there to develop it. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that there is no great difference between an engineering enterprise that manufactures motor cars and one that manufactures aircraft. Scottish Aviation had the genius, the capacity, the ability and the finance to develop Prestwick.
§ Sir W. Darling
In my submission, they had. The State stepped in at Prestwick, but did not step in at Dagenham, where there is prosperity and free enterprise unbounded. At Prestwick there is decay.
§ Sir W. Darling
It is disappointing that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) is so ill-informed. At one time the whole of Prestwick was controlled by Scottish Aviation. Today it is not all controlled by Scottish Aviation. I said that the State had stepped in. I will withdraw that, and say that the State bungled 2204 in, blundered in, muddled in, stumbled in, at Prestwick.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Gentleman must make up his mind whether he is going to lead or mislead the House. First he is talking about aircraft construction and then about civil aviation. Let me remind him that before the war Scottish Aviation did not exist except as a weekend school. There was not even a runway at Prestwick; nothing at all. Everything that was built up at Prestwick was built with the taxpayers' money.
§ Sir W. Darling
I will leave the House to judge the value of that interruption. I will content myself by repeating the well-known fact—perhaps not as well known to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, as to the common folk of Scotland—that Prestwick was a national asset. In Edinburgh we had a few years ago the Scottish Council for Industry and Development, in which we agreed to concentrate on Prestwick as our national airport—not Turnhouse and not Renfrew but Prestwick for Scotland and Scotland for Prestwick. That was the view that we held, and the view that I would still hold.
I have come to the conclusion—the debate has not changed my view—that if it had not been for the intervention of the State in 1945 in Scottish Aviation we should have been entitled to expect the same development in aircraft manufacture in Scotland as we have seen in the motor car industry at Dagenham, shipbuilding on the Clyde and industrial progress in other fields of industry. It is a conjecture that the balance of advantage lies with me, because the fact is that the intervention of the State in the aircraft business in Scotland has sterilised it and reduced it to zero. Civil aviation in Scotland has been brought to a standstill under the operations of the State.
§ Squadron Leader Kinghorn
This is all very interesting and sounds very romantic, but I speak as a mere Englishman. Why does not the hon. Gentleman get hold of a company like de Havilland's to float another company and set up a factory in Scotland, as they are doing in Australia and elsewhere?
§ Sir W. Darling
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Perhaps he would do something practical by undertaking to persuade the de Havilland or 2205 any other company to go to Scotland knowing that in Scotland the State controls all civil aviation. He would at any rate gain the approbation of Scotsmen even if he lost favour on his Front Bench. I would draw to the attention of the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that she has a colleague who says that he can persuade de Havillands to go to Scotland.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Miss Herbison)
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Squadron Leader Kinghorn) was trying to tell the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), that the making of aircraft is not nationalised and is still under private enterprise and cannot be forced to go wherever one would want it to go.
§ Sir W. Darling
I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Yarmouth welcomes the assistance of the hon. Lady. I hope that the hon. Lady, in consultation, not too intimately, with her hon. and gallant Friend will find the answer to this question: why do aircraft manufacturers not come to Scotland? If Scotland is so attractive, what makes them so un-attracted? The answer is that the monopoly of civil aviation by His Majesty's Government makes it unattractive. If the hon. Lady, in consultation with her hon. and gallant Friend, can think of a better answer, they had better tell the people of Scotland. The fact remains that there is no aircraft industry in Scotland, and I give as the reason the fact that the Ministry of Civil Aviation has sterilised Prestwick.
The Scots are particularly air-minded, much more so than the people of England and Wales, and I have proof of that in the attendance tonight, for it is predominantly Scottish. It is because the Scots know that it is important for them that this new form of transport should be developed in Scotland. We set up the Scottish Tourist Board to attract tourists and the Scottish Development Council to attract traffic to Scotland and to make Scotland a venue and an attraction to His Majesty's Government and their civil aviation activities. We set up those organisations before the Lord President decided to have his Festival. We showed the Lord President that 2206 we have a better way than the one he is following; we are not putting the cost of the Edinburgh Festival on English, Scottish and Welsh ratepayers but are paying our own losses.
The report of the British European Airways Corporation is a very well printed document; it is better printed than that of B.O.A.C. I do not know why the standardisation which exists elsewhere should have been departed from in this case. The report is typographically very attractive. I hoped to find that it was printed in Scotland, but I see that it was printed in Great Britain. May I ask, in passing, why we should not have the form of this report and accounts printed in the same way for both the Corporations? The facts are different, but I see no reason why, for ease of comparison, we should not have the two reports presented in the same fashion.
What is the outstanding fact of this report? [An HON. MEMBER: "Read it."] In spite of all the persiflage we have heard, all the discussion for and against, what is the fact? We have lost £1¼ million. That is the only salient fact. It would be more impressive if this House were not stunned—"deaved"as we call it in Scotland—with reports of losses in many Government undertakings. Only this afternoon we heard the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs telling us that his estimates of the Festival losses were out by nearly three-quarters of a million. An hour or two later we hear we have lost £1¼ million on British European Airways. Is there no end to this long tale, especially when we consider it in relation to industry? The Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us to restrain our dividends because we are so prosperous, to curtail our profits because we are doing so well. Side by side we have this remarkable feature, that anything the State touches does nothing but lose millions. Is this one of those simple expressions that the ordinary businessman, come too late to politics, cannot comprehend?
But do not think, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that British European Airways are disappointed. If you will turn to page 34 of the report, you will find they say, although they have lost £1¼ million, "Fortified by a year of progress." Supposing, after I reported such a loss to my shareholders, I said, "In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I am fortified by a year of progress." That is the report presented to 2207 this House. Let public enterprise look to its laurels.
We have been told by hon. Gentlemen opposite, as we were told by their predecessors in the last 50 years that we have only to collectivise society, to remove the private interests, and everything in the garden would be lovely. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who said it?"] It was said 30 years ago by the late James Maxton, who was deserted by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) for the Labour Party. It was said by Robert Blatchford, by Philip Snowden, by James Ramsay Macdonald. All these men said it, and now we are told tonight, although none are here except the last of the Independent Labour Party, who has now joined the Labour Party and is now its faithful servant——
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
The hon. Gentleman is chiding us for having enunciated these things, but is it not the fact that he himself enunciated them? Was he not a Labour condidate for a considerable time, athough he has since joined the Tory Party?
§ Sir W. Darling
I think that observation is slightly out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but if the hon. Member for Shettleston desires to add to the somewhat full account I give of myself in "Who's Who," who am I to object? It is true that I, like the hon. Member for Shettleston, and the men I have mentioned, shared these ideals 25 years ago, but, I saw the light. I learned by experience. If a loss of £1¼ million on British Overseas Airways, coming on the top of losses of millions and millions in every part of the world, does not convince even the hon. Member for Shettleston, I give up any hope of his conversion, even if one came from Heaven.
I say that public enterprise must look to its laurels. Half the population of this country at the election before last was told that if we would change the basis of society into a Marxist conception, all would be well and that profits, ease, comfort would be our good fortune. All of us hoped that that would be true, but we have to admit that it has not come out as we expected. Even the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations finds that it is not now as easy to talk about the brotherhood of man in South Africa as it was to talk about it 25 years ago. We 2208 are all disillusioned by the difference between those on this side, who are disillusioned, and those on the opposite side. Those on that side have no alternative. We have an alternative; we have a better way. But I must not be thought to be ungrateful for what civil aviation has done for Scotland.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I gather that the hon. Member takes the view that the deciding factor as to whether nationalised industry is efficient is whether it makes a profit. Would he say that the Post Office, for instance, is efficient just because it makes a profit? If the Post Office reduced its rates, allowed the people to have its services cheaper, and did not make a profit, would that make a difference to its efficiency?
§ Sir W. Darling
I do not know whether the House would bear with me but I could speak for three-quarters of an hour or more on Post Office mismanagement. Would it not be more proper for me to tell the right hon. Gentleman that he had better ask that question of his right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General? Even a fairly unpropitious, answer is that the Post Office is an extortionate profiteer and is charging 2½d. for what my father got for 1d. I am not sure that I do not prefer the loss of £1¼ million on British Overseas Airways to the fantastic profits obtained by the Post Office by overcharging people. I do not, however, Wish to be diverted to this issue, although I am quite willing to make a speech on it on any other occasion, with, or without excuse.
We recognise in Scotland the value of the ambulance services, which have been spoken of so critically by the hon. Member opposite. The carrying of 271 patients from outlying parts of the Islands and Highlands was a remarkable achievement. That those 271 patients are charged as being responsible for the loss of British Overseas Airways is not quite fair. Putting the cost even at £20 apiece, the total is under £6,000. There is a long way to go before we can charge against the loss of £1¼ million this £5,000 or £6,000 which has been spent on sick and dying Highlanders.
I notice with regret that there are now only 13 aerodromes in Scotland. There were something like 40 when I was a district commissioner for civil defence. This 2209 decrease in numbers is disappointing, especially as it has not been accompanied by increasing efficiency. I was interested in the statement about costs on page 10 of the report. Questions of costs rarely interest Members of the Government, but it is an item to which businessmen have to direct their attention. Page 10 of the report informs us thatCosts for the operation of British Internal Services are inevitabily higher than those of Continental Services. …Why is that? Since when were our costs higher universally in Great Britain than on the Continent, and why? This, after all, is a model industry, backed by all the weight of the State and all the genius which the State can command at any salary which the State is prepared to pay. Yet we are solemnly told that the costs of the operation of British internal services are higher than those of Continental services. Was there ever such defeatism? What do the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Productivity Committee say to this defeatist theme?
Let me give the reasons for all this. The reasons, say British European Airways, are that these higher internal costs than on the Continent are due, first, toThe comparatively short stages flown, especially on social services. (The average distance is 113 miles.)I am not in the transport business to any great extent although I am slightly connected with it, but I put it to the well-informed and highly-competent directors of this organisation that this is a new theme, and that in transport generally, the shorter the distance, the more lucrative is the trade. I wonder whether the auditors of that statement would look at the figures for London Transport, who will say that they do much better by taking passengers from Charing Cross to the Temple than even from Charing Cross to the Bank? It would seem to me that where there is an intensification of trade with many short spells, the argument which is true of transport generally cannot be denied as applied to this form of transport in particular.
§ Mr. Beswick
Probably it has not escaped the notice of the hon. Gentleman that a tube train does not have to take off and land again.
§ Sir W. Darling
That had not escaped me, but it has also not avoided my notice that a train stops at the Temple, 2210 disgorges its passengers, and goes on again. In the language which the hon. Gentleman understands, it lands at the Temple "aerodrome" and takes off at the Temple "aerodrome."
I think the real reason is that the landing fees are high. At a railway station, whether it be a tube railway or a long-distance railway, the fees are less expensive. Here we read that the landing fees are 8 per cent. in the United Kingdom and the figure on the Continent is 3 per cent. What is the reason for that? Is this again a case of British ineptitude under State management? Are the Continental people quicker than us in taking off and landing? These questions have to be answered. On page 10 it is stated:The landing fees paid by B.E.A. on internal operations were 8.66 per cent. of revenue compared with 2.96 per cent. on Continental operations.Is this another example of the decline of Britain and of inferiority? We have had one example and if Britain is inferior in both spheres, what has the Minister to say about it?
I turn to the third reason, which is a remarkable one, that the levy of a heavy petrol tax makes the industry unprofitable. But it is within the knowledge of this House that other industries have to pay a heavy petrol tax; I do in a business with which I am connected, and so does everyone. But I am not allowed to show a loss or someone wants to know what I have been doing. This great organisation puts forward that it has to pay the same tax as others as a reason it is not successful. I am not a member of the Advisory Committee, but what is wrong with B.E.A.C. buying its petrol direct?—[An HON. MEMBER: "From where?"]—direct from where petrol comes. I know that hon. Members are passionately devoted to bulk buying. Let the B.E.A.C. do a little bulk buying. They have a good deal of communication with these overseas places; why not buy it direct and save the tax? I think that a very sensible suggestion.
On page 16 I see there is a reference to the cost of operation being up 3 per cent. Why is the cost of operation up 3 per cent.? The answers are all in the book, but I know it is easier for hon. Members to get the answers from me than from the book. The reason given is a very interesting one and it is of general interest. 2211 It is that something called devaluation has occurred. Devaluation has increased the costs of the Corporation by £180,000 in six months. Shades of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. I know he is far off in Switzerland, and I hope he hears my good wishes for his welfare and not my anathema for this policy. We were told that devaluation would not matter much, but now we are told that it is a cause of this loss. This is not the ex parte argument of a thick-headed Tory recently converted from the Socialist Party, but it is stated by the Corporation. Devaluation was hailed as a boon. I wonder where hon. Members would say the boon is now?
The cost of aviation fuel is also blamed. I wonder what hon. Members would say if I said that in this House. Where is this nonsense to end of Government Departments being taxed in order that the Chancellor of the Exchequer may take that tax from them? Is there not a better plan of democratic Socialism than this taxation of Government Departments by Government Departments? This Report which we are considering complains; it wants to be rid of this jungle of taxation; it wants to be free of these ridiculous encumbrances. I am not in favour of State enterprise. In know of none that has been well conducted——
§ Sir W. Darling
The hon. Gentleman is too late. The Post Office has already been mentioned, and I have answered that point. From experience and knowledge of what I have read and seen, my view is that State enterprise is not successful in any field in which it operates; but State enterprise is established, and all of us are engaged in it, and we wish it well. But when I read a report of this kind it makes me wish to ask whether the Government want to prove that collectivism is practicable. This Report says that it moves from mess to muddle, from one despair to another.
Is it not time the Government set up a Royal Commission or had a private inquiry into how to make State enterprise pay? It does not pay in the Civil Aviation service. Scotland is dissatisfied. It does not pay in dividends for there are none—there is a loss of £1,250,000. Is Socialism a success or a 2212 failure? If Socialism is to be judged on this document, then Socialism is a failure. If that is so, it will break the heart of millions, and I do not want this enterprise to fail. I want it to suceed, and I ask the Minister to try to see that it does better.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
We realise that during a Second Reading debate a wide latitude is allowed to speakers but one has only to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) to realise how wide that latitude is. Naturally I do not propose to follow him in some of the extraordinary excursions which he made tonight, but I am sure that he will not be offended with me if I point out to him, arising from what he has said, that the only section of civil aviation which is nationalised is the airport section. There are three different set-ups. There are the aerodromes, which are nationalised. There is the operating side, which is under the two Corporations. There is the manufacturing side, which is still under private enterprise, and I gathered from the tenor of the hon. Member's remarks that it is that section against which he has the greatest complaint.
It is interesting to note that the manufacturing side of the industry was located by private enterprise in London and the Home Counties. Why that was done is not for me to examine. That industry was largely localised in the Home Counties under the control of certain great monopolies. When the Labour Government came into power they urged, they used every pressure that they could possibly bring to bear on, the aircraft industry to spread itself from the environs of London into other parts of the country.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am sorry, I cannot give way at this stage and I am sure that the hon. Member realises that. Today we have actually encouraged the industry, by Ministerial pressure, to expand as far as Lancashire. I should be glad of the attention of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, because he took a great deal of time to make a few accusations. One of them concerned the treatment meted out to the aircraft industry by the Government, which has no control over the industry. I believe the Government should have had more control and one of 2213 the primary mistakes which has been made was that the industry was not nationalised. If it had been, the Minister of Supply might have been able to place part of it at Prestwick and do what private enterprise so far has been unable effectively to do. This quotation may interest the hon. Gentleman because his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) who dealt earlier this evening with Prestwick, attacked the Government on exactly the same score. Yet in his speech to the Scottish Unionist Conference at Edinburgh he did not deny, he admitted, that B.E.A. were willing to lease part of the airport to the company:If that lease has not been signed and stamped for the aircraft industry and services by the company, then the officials of the latter are not without blame.If the industry has not been able to go ahead it is due to no lack of support from the Government, but to the fact that they themselves have not been willing to come to terms, have not been able to get round the table and negotiate on a matter upon which the Government is prepared to negotiate with them.
Perhaps I should point out to the hon. Member—and I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr is no longer in his place—that we should realise that the construction, development and maintenance of Prestwick Airport has absorbed no less than £2,788,000 of public money. I think that even the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South in spite of all he has said tonight, would not be prepared to see that airport revert to the hands of a small group of people. It is public property. The amount of public money invested in it is 25 times the amount invested by the small group of people who originally started the airport.
I consider the hon. Member advances a very poor claim on behalf of Scottish aviation, either as manufacturers or operators, when he suggests that they should be given a further chance to develop that airport. I am glad to see that the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr is now present. The challenge being made with regard to Prestwick involved not merely its operational and constructional facilities, but also its status as an airport. They were challenging the position of Renfrew. Renfrew is the airport for Glasgow. In addition it is recognised as the chief airport for internal and for European services.
§ Mr. Rankin
I recognise it, and so do my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench. That is part of our policy. It is the airport for Glasgow and the chief airport for internal services as well as European services. That is the position which Prestwick challenged. It wanted to be more than the transatlantic airport. It wanted to grab the whole show. That would have been unfair to the City of Glasgow which is really the reservoir for air traffic. Anyone who takes even a passing interest in the subject realises that, although the hon. Gentleman does not.
§ Sir W. Darling rose——
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. Gentleman reminded me more of the barber's cat tonight than of any person in any argument. He knows about the barber's cat. I do not want to degenerate to his language, but——
§ Brigadier Thorp (Berwick -upon-Tweed)
On a point of order. Could we know what the barber's cat is?
§ Mr. Rankin
Having dealt with Prestwick, I want to say something about what has been done for aircraft services in Scotland as a whole. During the period between 1945 and 1950, £1,428,000 has been spent on the maintenance and development of aerodromes. A sum of £1,050,000 has been spent on navigational services. On research, £375,000 has been spent in establishing the "G" chain which we hope will lead to a reduction in aircraft accidents. In the five years since 1945, £2,560,000 has been spent in construction, navigational and research services in Scotland.
Some return is now evident, because increasing air-consciousness is shown in Scotland today. In 1938, 27,000 passengers used the Civil Aviation services. In 1947, the number was 107,320, and last year it had risen to 145,200. That is a 2215 significant and welcome development, lie interesting point is that, while the number of passengers has been increasing, the number of aircraft miles flown has diminished. That indicates that, while we are expanding the services, the organisational aspect is being carefully considered. The number of miles flown in 1947 was 2,481,524. Last year that had fallen by 10,000. Although we had a very considerable increase in the number of passengers carried, the number of aircraft miles had fallen a good deal.
There is this further point, which we have to notice and which should be of interest to Scottish hon. Members. The deficit in the Scottish services for last year was £492,000. That is a serious figure, from the Scottish point of view, because the overall deficit of B.E.A. was something less than £1 million. Fifty per cent. of that deficit was incurred in Scotland, and it was incurred because, as a whole, the range of services in Scotland is uneconomic. It is nice for the Opposition to come along and ask for services here and services there, without realising that already we are incurring nearly 50 per cent. of the total loss in Scotland, due, not merely to the ambulance service provided to the Western Isles, but to the fact that the Scottish services as a whole are largely uneconomic. There is a further explanation which I think is valid. We are using aircraft that now ought to be replaced. The D.H. Rapide and the Dakota have served their day, and I think that, if times were better so far as building new aircraft is concerned, we might be able to reduce this deficit.
I should have liked to refer to the question of accidents in civil aviation, because we have always pledged ourselves in this House to safety first, safety second, and safety all the time. Hon. Members on both sides who have not yet studied the "Survey of accidents to aircraft in the United Kingdom" for last year would find it very profitable indeed to do so, and they would realise, that, in spite of the efficiency of the mechanism of an aircraft and the efficiency of our research in providing navigational aids, the majority of accidents are still due to human failure in one direction or another. Last year, 40 per cent. of all aircraft accidents were due to failures on the human side.
2216 Before I sit down, I want to put one or two questions to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. There has been a good deal of talk about the effect of ice dropping from aircraft. I do not know whether there is anything substantial in that, but I wonder if my hon. Friend would say whether or not there is any danger due to that fact. Could he also say what is happening to the Comet? We heard a great deal a year ago about the performance of that machine. Has it proved too costly to operate, and will he say a word about its future?
My last point is with regard to reports on accidents. It is now nearly eight months since the accident at Mill Hill, and we are still awaiting the report of the committee. I know that we must give these people their time, but we must also maintain public confidence in airline efficiency. I think that seven months is far too long a period to elapse between the actual happening of a disaster and the report on it. The public, I believe, begin to get a little worried when that happens, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell us that the report in question will soon be forthcoming, and that he will try to get down to methods which will enable such reports to be produced more speedily in the future than they have been in the past.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd (Birmingham, King's Norton)
The last two speeches were both delivered in delicious Scottish accents, and both had a strong Scottish flavour. I propose, if I may, as coming from the South, to bring the debate back to the main question of civil aviation without touching, for once, on the question of Prestwick.
Earlier today, the Parliamentary Secretary gave us some account of the progress of the Corporations in the last year or so, and I think we were all encouraged by what he had to tell us. We are very glad to hear that they have made an improvement in their operating procedures and also in their financial circumstances, and that their flying operations have increased in scale. But I suggest to the House that in a subject like civil aviation, which deals with one of these specific and most modern activities of the time, it is a good thing to take a somewhat longer perspective. Therefore, with the per- 2217 mission of the House, I shall do that for a minute or two.
We know, of course, that we have been flying in the world for about 50 years. It happens that some 25 years ago—that is just mid-way in this period—the British Government published a survey of the development of civil aviation up to that time, of its then present position, of its prospects in the future, and of British policy towards it. This document was presented by the then Secretary of State for Air, Sir Samuel Hoare, now Lord Templewood, to the Imperial Conference of 1926, and it was called" The Approach Towards a System of Imperial Air Communications." I happen to know that document quite well because, as a matter of fact—and I do not think there is any harm in saying it now—I drafted the memorandum, it being the first important piece of official work I did.
All those connected with civil aviation in those days, including myself in a very humble, voluntary capacity at the Air Ministry, were filled with enthusiasm for what we hoped could be done in the future. Incidentally, that was a faith not shared in all quarters at that time, and it is, I believe, rather instructive to make a few comparisons with those days. Those were the days when what we proudly called the modern three-engined commercial aeroplane, the Argosy, was the latest type. It had a horsepower of just over 1,000, as against the 10,000 to 15,000 of today. It carried 248 gallons of petrol against the 5,000 or 6,000 carried today, and had a range, with full load, of 400 miles against the 2,600 or 2,700 miles of the present time.
The memorandum also greatly exulted that the mileage flown by aircraft throughout the world on regular air routes had increased from just over one million miles in 1919 to 12,500,000 miles in 1925. The latest annual figure in 1949 was 870 million aircraft miles flown. I point that out because it is rather interesting and instructive in comparison with the past. I would add that I still have the faith which I had 25 years ago, and that I agree with Mr. Peter Masefield, the chief executive of British European Airways, that civil aviation has as yet hardly begun.
I turn lastly to the question of safety, which everybody will agree is always vital in civil aviation, and I cannot resist quot- 2218 ing one sentence from the Memorandum of that time. It is:British aeroplane services have always paid great attention to the technical points upon which the safety of aircraft depend.I am happy to say I believe that always has been the case and still is the case, and I hope it always will be the case. Then the Memorandum pointed out that in 1920 there were 168,000 miles flown for every fatal accident and that the figure had gone up satisfactorily year by year until it reached just over one million miles per fatal accident in 1945. In 1950 the comparable figure was just over 25 million miles per fatal accident for British civil scheduled air route flying. There were two fatal accidents in 1950, both in B.E.A. One was an accident in fog which, of course, we cannot discuss in detail tonight. If that accident in fog had been avoided the figure I have mentioned would have been raised to 50 million miles flown per fatal accident.
That brings me to safety in relation to navigation and, of course, to landing in foggy conditions. That raises the question of F.I.D.O. which has been discussed at Question Time and occasionally in short debate, but it has not been fully debated. F.I.D.O., if I may describe it succinctly and I hope accurately, is the physical dispersal of fog on, over and surrounding a runway so that an aircraft can make a visual landing in a clear space over the runway even though the surrounding country is shrouded in fog.
The civil story of F.I.D.O. starts when Heathrow Airport, London, was under construction towards the end of the war and F.I.D.O. was included in its apparatus. This was done by an act of the National Coalition Government. Almost at once the Socialist Government when they came into office cancelled the whole project which by then was already nearly two-thirds completed. I should like to examine for a moment the reasons which led the National Coalition Government to decide on installing the system at Heathrow and the reasons which may have led the present Government to cancel it, and what we ought to do with regard to the future. Throughout the argument I shall pay special attention to the question of finance.
F.I.D.O., of course, was born of dire operational necessity to save the lives of pilots and to save exceedingly costly and scarce machines. In 1942 there were very 2219 heavy bomber casualties as a result of accidents due to pilots crashing when the fog closed in over their airfields when they came back from bombing raids. Many pilots told me that they feared fog over their own airfields more than flak over Germany. My right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) took a keen interest in this subject and, advised by Lord Cherwell, he remitted to the Ministry for Aircraft Production, which was the appropriate Department, the problem of the physical dispersal of fog over airfields.
The Ministry reported against this possibility. That would have been enough for most Prime Ministers but not for my right hon. Friend. Those were days when we had real administrative virility at No. 10, Downing Street. He decided to give the Petroleum Department the chance to see whether they could solve the problem on any unorthodox line. That was on 26th September, 1942. It was a tremendous challenge and we put everything we had into it. By November we had made experiments in clearing fog and by the next spring we had experimental apparatus installed at the airfield at Graveley in the Eastern counties. We had to wait until July for a fog there, and the first operational landing was made at Graveley by four Halifaxes in November.
After that there were 2,500 aeroplanes landing by this means of the physical dispersal of fog during the war, many of them in conditions of fog so dense that, although it may hardly be believed, after the F.I.D.O. apparatus was turned off the pilots in some cases took two hours to find the control tower from the position of their aircraft on the field, and in other cases they had to remain in the mess instead of going by car to their dispersed sleeping huts.
Hon. Members will understand that with all this going on and with the construction of the new airport at Heathrow, which we were told was to be the finest airfield in the world, we all knew that it must suffer from one great defect, namely the undue prevalence of fog to a degree which no other great airport suffers. We felt that we had the cure in F.I.D.O., and it was for that reason, after careful consultation, that it was decided to instal F.I.D.O. at Heathrow 2220 and thus, we felt, put Heathrow right ahead of all the other great airports in the world from the point of view of this extremely dangerous hazard of the air.
It is quite wrong to say, as I know has been said by one Government spokesman in the past, that this was all done by the Ministry, that it was an Air Ministry idea and had nothing to do with civil aviation. That is not correct. It is true that the airport at Heathrow was still in the care of the Air Ministry, because the Ministry of Civil Aviation had not at that time really come into being. But the consultations between the Petrol Warfare Department, the Air Ministry and the civil aviation officials were carried out specifically from the point of view of the post-war civil use of F.I.D.O. at Heathrow as a civil airport. About £400,000 had been spent on this project and it remained to spend £200,000 to complete it.
What were the real motives of the Government in cancelling this project at such a late stage when so much had been spent and so comparatively little remained to be spent? Might it have been the question of the radio aids? There has always been talk of blind landing in fog being achieved completely by radio and electronic methods. As a matter of fact, even during the war there were some who opposed the F.I.D.O. project, and said "Do not bother with this. We are going to be able to do it electrically in a short time. All this will be a waste of effort." They said that electrical means were just around the corner. They are still just around the corner, and, according to the official expectations, they are rather further round the corner than they were some years ago. I feel there is no doubt that one day it will be done electrically, but I think it is bound to take some time.
Let no one depreciate the wonderful results obtained from electrical aids to navigation. It is true that with a shallow radiation fog F.I.D.O. will punch a hole right through it, and one is able to make a completely visual landing, but when the fog is several hundreds of feet or a thousand feet deep, one can make an approach by radio aids to bring one over the runway, and then it is possible to make the visual approach and effect the actual touch-down on the runway in the cleared area. F.I.D.O. and radio aids are complementary and not antagonistic, and 2221 that is the doctrine to which Lord Brabazon's Report has given its authority quite recently. That may be one reason. I have heard it suggested that the Ministry of Civil Aviation at a rather late stage changed the layout of the runways at Heath Row and that they then found that the pipes that had already been installed for the F.I.D.O. apparatus were not in a convenient position. That may have been the dominant reason for cancelling the installation. Certainly that would be consistent with cancelling it at such a very late stage.
Whatever the real motive may have been, once the decision was taken it was justified by the Government on the ground of the high cost of the F.I.D.O. apparatus. Such an argument was fairly easy to make because it should be remembered that F.I.D.O. was developed on a war-time basis when money was not the primary factor, when the need to save the lives of the pilots and to save the machines was the thing which mattered. Who, for example, could put a price on the ability to keep up the anti-submarine patrol by take-off under F.I.D.O. or on the bombing of the supply lines of Von Runstedt under conditions of fog?
I should like to give the House three reasons why it was easy to make out a case of extravagance of fuel against F.I.D.O. It is a rectangular apparatus with a burner right round—a burner down each side of the runway and across it. We can burn all those burners; in fact, we need to do so in certain weather conditions, such as where there is no wind or where there is a parallel wind. Where there is a wind across the runway, we need to burn only that one side. That immediately reduces the fuel consumption by one-half.
During the war, when pilots were tired and some were coming home wounded, the station commanders took the view that they should always have F.I.D.O. burning 100 per cent., irrespective of the fact that it was rather wasteful. Who would blame them? Secondly, pilots very much liked to see F.I.D.O. in the distance. They could see it from over the coast of Holland. F.I.D.O. was burning, therefore, all the time and away into the night. But who would blame the men who did that? Certainly I should not, and I had the responsibility of providing the fuel.
2222 Thirdly, there was a certain class of large rescue runway provided by the R.A.F. to take the lame ducks who came home wounded and had great difficulty in landing. They were exceptionally large and wide runways—Manston and Woodbridge are the two chief examples—and they presented a great problem to F.I.D.O, for, in order to achieve the results, we had to install a specially powerful installation with a double fuel consumption, which was very extravagant.
By slurring over points of this kind it was easy to build up a great case against the F.I.D.O. fog dispersal apparatus on the grounds of its extravagance, and Lord Nathan in another place took the figure up to £3,650 an hour. I have explained that that was by using the Manston example. I have explained that an ordinary airfield used only half that used by the Manston airfield and that sometimes it used only one line, thus halving consumption again. We can therefore bring the figure down to one-quarter of the high total quoted in another place.
I would add one further point to that. The second time that F.I.D.O. was used operationally at Fiskerton 11 Lancasters came in together. They had never used F.I.D.O. before and had never seen it, but they all landed safely and at a speed of one aircraft every three minutes. The point is that we do not need to consider this apparatus as being on for hours on end. We are entitled to calculate its cost in terms of minutes for bringing in an aircraft. Remember that its operation in clearing fog can be practically instantaneous.
In order to correct the high estimates which we have had from Government spokesmen in the past, I should like to quote an estimate from a scientist engaged in developing this apparatus during the war. I freely admit that this goes rather to the other extreme. Taking two minutes for landing on a 1,500-yard runway and using one-third of a gallon per minute, then in conditions in which there was no wind or a parallel wind and we had two lines burning, it would cost £100, whereas for a cross-wind and only one line it would cost £50. Cross-wind conditions occur three times more frequently than the conditions of no wind or a parallel wind, which demand two burners, so that the average cost of the operation, on these calculations, would be £62 10s. for land- 2223 ing an aircraft. I do not know whether that would be considered as too high a figure for saving lives and perhaps for saving an aircraft like the Comet, which is worth £500,000.
Although fog seems pretty frequent to us and is dreadful when it comes, as far as the air is concerned, taking the whole flying year, it is comparatively infrequent. Let us take an example. It is only an assumption, because I do not know the real, figure. Let us say that one in 100 landings is made in fog conditions. Probably the number would be less. I believe that the cost of fog dispersal apparatus ought not to be debited against particular aircraft using it any more than the cost of a particular lighthouse is debited against the steamer which it saves from the rocks. The cost ought to be spread over the whole of the aircraft using the landings, much as Trinity House dues are spread over the whole of shipping. We might then be able to bring down the cost of F.I.D.O. to 10s. or 15s. per aircraft landing.
The system could be used also for take-off as well as for landing. I will leave hon. Members to calculate exactly the loss involved when a large number of aircraft are delayed and prevented from taking off for one, two or even more days. They would find that because of the delay to the next lot of passengers, it is a loss which is never made good. In a big airport the loss runs up to thousands of pounds a day. In that way, F.I.D.O. could make an actual contribution to the saving of its own cost in landing operations.
I have developed this theme at some length because it has never been developed in the House before by someone who was connected with the subject. I think the House will agree now that there is another side to the argument on finance than that to which the House has listened on and off for five years in this House and in another place, sustained by Government spokesmen. My argument has all led, not towards the installation of F.I.D.O. at some inconvenient standby airfield which people have to go a long way to reach, but to a proper, absolutely modern, F.I.D.O. installation at London Airport itself. The installation can also be used for take-off. This argument has also depended upon instantaneous lighting and putting out. This could not have 2224 been done by the cheap idling process experimented with by us at the end of the war. We were trying to get F.I.D.O. on to a cheap basis for the future. We experimented with diesel. I am glad that the Ministry of Supply have developed the high-pressure diesel which is almost the only system that gives instantaneous light-up and extinction.
I welcome that development, and I appeal to the Government, without bringing in any controversial feeling—I have felt strongly that the decision was wrong in the past—to reconsider this matter very carefully—I would not want it done in any other way—and to consult some of the scientific and engineering experts who helped to bring this apparatus to such a very high point during the war.
British Civil Aviation seems to be something different from and bigger than any company or corporation in existence at any particular time. It is really a kind of movement. A very large number of enthusiasts are in civil aviation, Which is almost a vocation. They have to endure the changing régimes imposed by this House and by various Governments. They are entitled to our sympathy. Quite a lot of experienced men are now serving the Corporation, doing the practical job, and they really want a period of stability in their operations. We ought to do our best to help them by conducting our discussion on civil aviation with the minimum amount of controversial element that we can, consistent with the proper discharge of our duties. I should have preferred the system brought forward by the National Coalition Government whereby the Corporations had the existing scheduled routes and the new scheduled routes were then opened to anybody who could prove that they were best fitted to run them.
I welcome very much the progress that the Corporations have made. We must recognise that they have at the head of them men of the highest ability and of varying types of experience. We know that they are passionately trying to do their best to bring the Corporations more and more on to an economic basis. I often wonder whether the Ministry is helping them as much as it might. We know that this Ministry is quite a large overhead on what is still a comparatively small industry, and I am afraid that there must be a bit of a danger of minutes passing in the Department, which result in a 2225 positive spate of inquiries and advice, and, in general, what I might call backseat driving of the Corporations by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. It is difficult to find specific instances, but my suspicion is that there may be too much of that.
While they may be interfering and doing positive harm in this matter, are they giving the Corporations the help that they really deserve? Today we have heard questions from one or two hon. Members about the Post Office contract. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us a little more information on that. As I understand the position, at the present time the Post Office pays the Argentine Air Lines for carrying the British mails to the Argentine at the rate of 245d. per short ton mile, whereas it pays the British Overseas Airways Corporation 142d. per short ton mile for carrying the British mails over exactly the same distance from this country to the Argentine. There may be an explanation. We shall hear no doubt about the Postal Convention and a great many other things of that kind, and we have been informed by the Assistant Postmaster-General that this was settled on a purely commercial basis. Hon. Members on this side of the House have asked how a purely commercial basis was arrived at between two Government monopolies, and we should rather like to know the answer to that.
I have the uneasy feeling that the Post Office imposed its will upon the Air Corporations, and that they did not get the support which they really deserved from their own Ministry of Civil Aviation. I wonder whether this was really fought out, because, after all it would make a very considerable difference in the reduction of the deficit and help them very much indeed. We all want to see these Corporations paying as soon as they possibly can, because when they are making a deficit they always have an inferiority complex and are nervous about carrying on their business. Once they get on to a profitable basis, it will be a new era.
We must remember that the Corporations are not what they ought to be to our British civil aviation. As in shipping there are liner companies and tramps, so there should be in the air. The present state of the charter industry is unhappy and unsatisfactory. The number of aircraft and pilots is declining, and from a national point of view this is thoroughly 2226 bad. A great deal of responsibility rests with the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward), expressed our anxiety about the unfair competition between the Corporations and the independent operators. I know that this is a complicated and financial subject, but the Government, in view of their pledges, have an obligation to the House to help us to come to a true appreciation of whether or not the Government's pledges given at the time of the passing of the Act are really being fulfilled. It would be as well just to remind the House and the present Parliamentary Secretary, who may not remember, of the words of his predecessor, who said:I think it would be very wrong in the light of this policy that the whole power of State finance should be used against private operators. It would be wrong to use the power of finance to crush them, and we have no desire to do that. … I give the assurance, however, that Exchequer grants will not be used for the purpose of under-cutting private operators."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 23rd May, 1946; c. 459–60.]In response to my hon. Friend who was anxious about the question of overheads, the Parliamentary Secretary earlier said that it was a question of whether or not a profit was made by the Corporations on the particular charter operation. If I misunderstood him, I apologise.
§ Mr. Beswick
I said that the test would be whether entering into such an operation would increase the deficit.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I am afraid that I cannot accept that. What I said I thought the hon. Gentleman said would have been a very much better test. Is it really to be supposed that these Corporations, supporting themselves upon their vast public subsidies, are to be allowed to go into operation in competition with the charter companies which might not yield a profit if the proper proportion of the overheads were included in the transaction? Is that to be the proposition? I suggest that each charter operation carried out by the national Corporations should, in addition to its prime cost, carry its proper proportion of the whole overheads of the Corporation. That would be a reasonable test of the fairness of competition with an independent operator. The Government should look into the matter to see if they can give us some figures to satisfy the genuine anxieties on this side of the House about this matter, anxieties which were shared on the opposite benches by 2227 the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock).
I am afraid that I must also press the Minister on another aspect of the charter business. Earlier he was telling the House that there was a great increase in the sense of security and stability in British civil aviation. I am afraid that that is not the case in charter operation. While these people have built up a very considerable business—for example, like the leave schemes from Benina, Malta and Cairo—by fitting in with the requirements of the local troops and by carrying full cargoes and so on, and have been able to carry out those operations at about half the fare charged by the regular airlines, yet the Minister in another place, has now started to threaten the independent operators. He started off by saying:My feelings towards the independent operators are Christian and humane.That was rather like the schoolmaster saying, "It hurts me more than it hurts you." He went on to say:These services are not charter operations as envisaged in the Act"—although later on he said that he would not interpret the law. He said:I can only say—and I want this to be clearly understood"—mark the threatening tone—that if the intention of the Act were persistently thwarted in this way, it would create a position which the Government could not accept indefinitely.That is a threat to the independent operators. How can they experience this feeling of security and general stability about which the Parliamentary Secretary spoke when the responsible Minister has given notice that if the courts do not support him, he intends to change the law? I suggest that he think it over carefully. Indeed, I must admit that he offered to do so after the very hot reception he received in another place after making those remarks. If he introduces amending legislation further to restrict the operations of the independent operators, I can promise him that we shall oppose it in this House.
Can anyone suppose that British shipping could have reached its present stage if it had been confined to a couple of Government-sponsored Corporations? We want to create conditions under which the independent operators can develop to the full this relatively new field of air 2228 traffic. I began by looking backward for half a century, but if we look forward the same period, may it not well be that there will be a great development in this business which will, incidentally, throw up operators who may have a chance with regard to new scheduled lines in the future?
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Beswick
With the leave of the. House I should like to answer some of the many points raised during this discussion. I only hope I can steer my way through my rather copious notes more successfully than the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Ward) was able to steer his way through the Amendment to the Air Navigation Order. We have had a most useful discussion on a number of points and, if I am not able to deal with them all, I hope it will not be thought that it is through discourtesy. I should be glad to clear up any matter with which I am not able to deal now.
I ought first to refer to the entertaining contribution made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling), although I am sorry to see that not only was he not here when I spoke earlier but, having made his powerful contribution, he has not stopped to hear the reply.
§ Mr. Beswick
As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, was walking into the Chamber I was about to say that, having devoted one half of his speech to criticising centralised bureaucracy and over-standardisation, he then went on to demand that we rivet upon the necks of one of the Corporations that standard of accounts which the other Corporation has devised. I assure him that we have no intention or desire to see this overall standardisation. We shall give the fullest possible liberty to these two Corporations to develop their own style in their own way. The only thing we ask is that they shall not contravene the standards of safety that we lay down.
§ Sir W. Darling
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to interrupt, may I ask is he not aware that the Companies Act provides that subsidiary and associated companies shall submit accounts in a similar form? That was all I asked the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Beswick
It does not go as far as to say where the accounts shall be printed and the type that shall be used. I think also the hon. Gentleman might have referred to that part of the loss, which he spent so much time discussing, resulting from the services provided to his home country. It is of the order of £462,000, by far the greatest single item in the loss, and it results from the services provided to his people in Scotland.
Whilst I am on the subject of Scotland, I might mention the points raised by the —I was about to say the hon. and gallant Member for Prestwick, but I mean, of course, the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore). I am very pleased indeed that the hon. and gallant Member has left the position which he adopted at Question Time last Wednesday and that he no longer seriously criticises the action of my noble Friend on the development of, or the proposals to develop, Prestwick Airport. I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member should agree that we have gone a long way to meet the proposals of the Clydesmuir Committee, and I only hope that he will have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton), who seemed to think that we had not read that Report and were not paying any attention to it.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? I have his full statement after reading the Clydesmuir Report. If I understand him aright, he is going to make it possible for Stratocruisers to land on one runway at Prestwick on 85 per cent. of occasions with a full load, and that, from the earlier statement of the hon. Gentleman, which is not in the statement given on 15th February last, this will be possible by the end of the year. Is this correct?
§ Mr. Beswick
I hope that I now have agreement between the two hon. Gentlemen that we have gone a long way to meet the recommendation of the Clydesmuir Committee as far as the development of the airport is concerned.
The only criticism that remains, apparently, as far as Prestwick is concerned relates to the provision of feeder services. As the hon. Member for Inverness knows, there has been a certain amount of discussion on this point. My noble Friend said in the other place that a number of feeder services had been approved for 2230 Prestwick and that so far, unfortunately, it had not been possible to reach agreement with the company concerned on the terms of operation. Since that time, there have been meetings and discussions with the managing director of that concern, and I hope it will be possible to run, at any rate, some of the services from Prestwick under conditions approved by the Air Transport Advisory Council.
Another point was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr. He said, I thought rather unfairly, that the announcement made by, I think, the Minister of Supply that about £150,000 of business was to be given to this company operating at Prestwick was quite untrue; he said that only one aircraft had been sent there for conversion. I am not quite sure how and from where the hon. Member gets his information, but my information is that B.E.A. have already sent nine Dakotas to Scottish Aviation and have already received three back converted.
§ Mr. Beswick
I got this information this evening. They have agreed that the whole 36 conversions will be completed at Prestwick.
§ Sir T. Moore
Good. I am glad to accept the hon. Gentleman's correction. His information is up to date but mine is two weeks old.
§ Mr. Beswick
We then had another plea from another most deserving part of Scotland, for an increase and an improvement of services to the Orkneys and Shetlands. Having myself been there, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) knows, having landed on some of these islands not as yet provided with a service, and having seen the real air-mindedness of these people, whom, one would have thought had never had any dealings with air transport, I was most impressed; and I hope it will be possible before very long to provide them with an adequate service.
I was asked also about the type of aircraft that would be used. To some of those islands, at any rate, it is very unlikely that any adequate or proper service can be given until we have a helicopter; and we cannot operate there with helicopters until we have a multi-engined machine. There should be a 10–12 seater twin-engined machine available in, probably, three to five years for operational 2231 service, and in another 8–10 years we would hope that there would be a large machine, probably a 20–30 seater, that would be able to operate quite economically. The hon. Member made one or two criticisms about the over staffing of the stations in the Orkney and Shetlands. I am inclined to think that I must refer him to the hon. Member for Inverness who made the opposite criticism, that we were under-staffed there and had to resort to some austere improvisations.
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) accused me of over cheerfulness and pointed out that the deficit, although reduced, was nevertheless quite large. I ought to emphasise that the results of which I was speaking related to the period ending January, 1951. They were, of course, much more recent than the results dealt with in the report for the year ended March, 1950, and I should have thought that on the basis of the figures I gave there was some reason for cheerfulness.
I was asked by the hon. and gallant Gentleman as to the sort of fight we had put up over the mail rates. I was asked about mail rates by several hon. Members and I think they wanted me to describe some violent civil war within the Government on this question. This is a matter we have not overlooked. I am inclined to accept the very powerful argument put forward by the right hon. Member for King's Norton. I can only say that discussions on the point are going on and I hope they may result in some agreement.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Does that mean there has been disagreement in the past and that the Minister is not satisfied with the rates?
§ Mr. Beswick
It means that we hope that discussion on the matter will lead to some agreement. It does not mean disagreement but means what I have said, that there is ground for discussion. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. G. Cooper), had some interesting points to make about the structure of the industry. I do not propose to follow him in his comments this evening. I ought to say to him that I thought it unfair to quote that part of the letter from the Chairman of the British Overseas Airways Corporation which he quoted. 2232 The Chairman of the Corporation had said to my hon. Friend that he was very ready to discuss with him any criticism he had to make. He had in fact suggested to my hon. Friend that they meet here to discuss it, but unfortunately my hon. Friend was away in another part of the world at the time.
§ Mr. G. Cooper
The point I was making was that I thought it unfortunate that the Chairman took up an attitude which would tend to deter what I thought constructive criticism.
§ Mr. Beswick
The Chairman thought it more useful to discuss matters over which he had control, than matters for which he had no responsibility as Chairman, three or four years earlier.
Several hon. Members asked about the S.R.45. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley), and the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield also questioned me closely about the attitude of the Government and of the Corporations to this project of the S.R.45. Possibly it would be as well if I gave a brief history of this project and dealt with some of the arguments that lead the Government to make a decision about it.
Work on the design of the S.R.45 started in December, 1945. The need for a very large flying boat for commercial operations between the United Kingdom and New York was visualised. It was considered that a very large machine was required and that a flying boat of the size contemplated would be structurally more efficient than a very large land plane. Saunders-Roe Ltd. were charged with the preparation of a design study. The proposals of this company were accepted by a meeting held by the Minister of Civil Aviation in February, 1946, at which the Chairman of B.O.A.C. was present. In April, 1946, the design had been developed and it was estimated that boats constructed to this design would have a cruising speed of 370 m.p.h. at 37,000 ft. for a range of 5,000 still air statute miles with a payload of 25,000 lb. Instructions to proceed to this specification were given in May, 1946.
During the next 18 months the design was revised on two occasions principally because of the change of engines to be installed. At each change the weight and cost grew without a corresponding payload increase. Also fuel consumption was increased, causing a further rise in 2233 the estimated gross weight. A little later doubts grew as to the feasibility of providing on the same route facilities for large flying boats as well as land planes. Other nations had meanwhile abandoned the flying boat. That meant that the full cost of the marine airport organisation would be borne by the single United Kingdom operator.
It was at this point some two or more years ago that it was almost decided to cancel the project. The reason it was not cancelled was that British South American Airways put forward a proposal to use this machine on their South American routes. It was thought that bases could be provided at somewhat less cost than on the North Atlantic service. The House will remember that the chief executive of B.S.A.A. was a flying boat enthusiast. Though there were some doubts about the detailed proposals that were submitted, principally on the point of traffic potential on that route, it was nevertheless agreed that work should proceed.
There were advantages in this design apart from the commercial prospects. As I have said, it was expected that we should gain greater aeronautical knowledge from the project. There was also the aspect of the defence potential as far as the particular manufacturing firm was concerned. A number of these factors have changed in the last months. Moreover the construction cost had continued to mount. Last year, the three machines that had previously been calculated to cost £2,800,000, were then seen to be reaching above the £10 million mark. At the same time the Comet aircraft was coming along much faster than had been planned, and its calculated operating costs were far below the figures for the flying boat. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield said that we ought to have known about the Comet two or three years ago.
§ Mr. Beswick
Even 18 months ago it was not known that the Comet could operate with the Avon engine on the North Atlantic. Until comparatively recently it had been fitted with a Ghost engine. With that engine it would not have been possible to have operated over the North Atlantic.
2234 There was another factor which led us to make this decision. That was that the total traffic from the South American Continent to Europe has not grown anything like as much as was expected. I know that it might be suggested that with these flying boats we might have scooped almost the entire traffic between the South American Continent and Europe, but in air transport these matters do not work out that way. Restrictions springing from national pride and national prestige are even more important than service in the air. I do not think it is appreciated how important a part international agreements play in air transport business. It is almost certain that the different countries down the route would simply not have allowed a British Corporation to take up that amount of traffic even though our service would have been as good as I agree it might have been with these flying boats. Therefore, we had to make a hard decision and cancel these machines for commercial use.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I appreciate the difficulties that the Parliamentary Secretary has outlined but perhaps he will say why the Chairman of B.O.A.C. throughout the last 18 months up to a very few weeks ago has made statements to the public and the Press which have led everybody to believe that they were all for these flying boats—right up to 20th December last? Why has that been done if there were all these doubts over that period?
§ Mr. Beswick
Because until I announced a change the policy was to operate these flying boats. [Interruption.] Certainly. There comes a point when a decision has to be made. Up to that time various considerations had been evenly balanced. We reached a decision and the result of that decision is as I have expressed.
I am not sure what is the criticism of hon. Members opposite. Do they think we ought not to have started building these flying-boats? Time and again on Wednesday afternoons I am asked what we are doing to encourage these flying-boat manufacturers. We have been asked today that everything possible should be done to keep up the know-how, the technique, of operating these flying-boats, and I am pleased to think that they will now be put into useful service. I hope and 2235 believe that we shall obtain a lot of useful operational data from the R.A.F. when these boats go into service. I am Still sufficiently keen about the future of the flying-boat to believe that in future we shall see them, either the Princess or a successor to the Princess, operating on the commercial routes.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Gentleman asked if we were in favour of flying-boats. We have consistently been in favour of flying-boats. The fact is that the Corporation pretend they want to do one thing but they have done another under pressure from the Minister.
§ Mr. Beswick
Do I gather that the hon. and gallant Member thinks we should have maintained sufficient pressure to compel them to use these boats? If so, he is going against his previous argument that the Corporation should be entirely free of pressure from the Minister.
I was asked one or two specific questions, both by the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield and by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen, about the costs on the South African routes with the Hermes as against previous costs with the Solent. I would say that it is perfectly true that towards the end of their operation on these routes the Solents were coming nearer to making a profit, but the explanation of that was that as they came to the end of their time on that route we did not spend upon them the maintenance that otherwise would have been necessary. Moreover, I have here some figures which reveal a very interesting comparison with the Hermes on the Nairobi sector of the South African route. In May, June and July of last year, the direct route operational costs of the Solent worked out at 36d. per c.t.m. In December, 1950, and January of this year the comparable cost of the Hermes was 31d. per c.t.m., an improvement of 14 per cent.
As my hon. Friend has said, he did not think land planes would prove as attractive as flying-boats, perhaps I might tell him that during the last four months of the Solent operations the six Solent flying-boats carried 3,900 passengers, while in a similar time the four Hermes have carried 4,317 passengers and proved so encouraging and successful, and bookings are so heavy, that we are having to increase the service to Nairobi.
2236 I was also asked a list of questions by the hon. Member for Stratford (Mr. Profumo), and I doubt whether I can get through them all, but perhaps I may be able to refer to some of them. He said that we ought to operate both the Brabazon and the Princess for reasons of prestige. Either he or some other hon. Member was criticising the explanation or the excuse given for some of these projects on the ground that we have obtained operational knowledge from them. I think that if we were to press too far this question of British prestige, that reason, too, would have worn pretty thin. But I do agree with him about the part being played, especially in some of the smaller countries and Colonies, by the employees of British Corporations. They are in every sense of the term real ambassadors for this country and I have been greatly impressed by the important part they have played in the social life of some of these outlying territories.
The hon. Member asked about the policy of requiring rearward facing seats and suggested that as we had supported this at the international conference, we should be introducing this policy in our domestic sphere. In point of fact, we did not make a demand to the international organisation: we only put forward a tentative recommendation. I suggest that this problem is not so simple as the hon. Gentleman appeared to suggest. It is not merely a matter of turning round the seats. It is not possible yet to have a reversible seat. Some of the most important aspects are the strength of the floor and the design and strength of the actual seat. Until these problems have been studied with great care and until a certain amount of experience has been gathered, I do not think that it would be reasonable to make a definite order affecting British aircraft. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are considering the matter very carefully.
§ Mr. Profumo
Would the hon. Gentleman tell us more about the Brabazon? He merely referred to the remarks I made. He has not gone into any question about the future of the Brabazon, about which I think the whole House wants to hear.
§ Mr. Beswick
As I indicated earlier, the Brabazon is the responsibility of the Minister of Supply. It was never at any time ordered by B.O.A.C. The future use of that aircraft is a matter about which the 2237 hon. Gentleman should address Questions to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply.
I have been asked by several hon. Members about our attitude to the charter companies. My noble Friend has been quoted, and I should like to quote what he actually said. He said:As I have said earlier, and as Government spokesmen have always asserted, our policy recognises that there is a place in our air transport development for the independent private company.That is what we have said, that is what we have preached and in fact, that is what we have practised.
I thought that it was most unfair of the hon. Member for Inverness (Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton) to quote the directive on associate agreements as an instance of a punitive attitude on the part of my noble Friend towards the charter companies. In fact, he was opening up to the charter companies an entirely new field of operation. Up to that time they had been expressly prevented from entering into the sphere of scheduled operations. We devised this scheme of associate agreements to permit them to come in.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
What is the use of allowing them to enter into a sphere of operations completely hobbled?
§ Mr. Beswick
I do not think that it can be said that they are hobbled when we see how many of them are now operating. In the last year we had applications for 131 different services, of which something like 71 per cent. were granted. I do not think that that is hobbling——
§ Mr. Beswick
I can only say that they have the sort of future that they carve out for themselves. The one condition laid down by the directive of two years ago, which I agree that it was possible to criticise, was the paragraph which restricted the term of operation to two 2238 years. I agree that there was something in the objections to that. The question was looked at again, and that period has now been increased to five years.
§ Mr. Beswick
May I give to hon. Gentlemen opposite some indication of the fact that my noble Friend has been anxious to see that these companies were kept in existence, and that, through Government Departments, contracts were made available to them amounting to no less than £900,000 worth of business in one year. That would scarcely bear out the charge that has been made that we have been hobbling them, and I should have thought that it would have been equally possible to make out a case that we were spoon-feeding them.
I was asked questions about the Corporations competing in this field of charter operations, with a consequent increase of the deficit to the taxpayer, and I was also asked whether there was included, in the case of the Corporations, when tendering for these charter operations, an element for overheads. The overheads not included—and I should have thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite with any knowledge of business on these matters would not have expected them to be included—were those such as technical training, the development of a central supplies organisation and administration. It is certainly true that there is no element in the case of the Corporations' charter activities covering that kind of overhead, but the £260,000 surplus which has resulted from the operations will go towards the reduction of the overheads I have mentioned. I should have thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite would have agreed with that.
§ Mr. Beswick
I am not saying that there were no administrative expenses. So 2239 far as the route expenses were concerned, there were administrative expenses, but not of head office administration. Nevertheless, I also say that there was this surplus of £260,000 towards a reduction of these overheads, and I should have thought that that would have been accepted as being of assistance to the taxpayer in reducing the burden of the subsidy to that extent. I would also say that the Chairman of the Corporation tells me that he personally examines each tender to ensure that direct operating expenses are covered, and that a contribution is made to a reduction of the. Corporations' losses, and hence to the requirement of the subsidy, before they tender for any of these charter operations.
I will now deal with the question of F.I.D.O. which was raised by the right hon. Member for King's Norton, and which I expected him to raise. I am grateful to him for raising the matter in this debate, because I think it is much more satisfactory to deal with the policy of F.I.D.O. operation in a debate like this rather than by Question and answer, which we have had hitherto. I want to emphasise most strongly that there has been no question of reducing the margin of safety because of any reluctance to install F.I.D.O. apparatus at some airports. Perhaps I ought to explain at some little length what is our policy in regard to F.I.D.O.
If the weather was bad, the policy was either to cancel a flight or divert the flight to fog-free airports. The safety was ensured by this policy. If an aircraft set out for this country and in the course of flying the weather blotted out all the available airports, it was possible to resort to one airport at least with F.I.D.O. apparatus. We had at one time Blackbushe and Manston; latterly, only Mans-ton. During the time these two airports were available, it was not a matter of aircraft coming in in foggy weather in flocks as we had in war-time. During the whole time these airports were available there was only one request for the use of F.I.D.O. and that for an aircraft taking off.
If we had installed F.I.D.O. at either London Airport or Northolt, we would not have secured additional safety; we would have bought additional regularity, additional punctuality. The question then 2240 arose: What price could be paid for these two essential factors in air transport operations? This is a commercial consideration, not a matter of safety. With the cost of landing one aircraft varying from £625 to £1,500, the cost of the old system was clearly prohibitive.
As I have explained, and as the right hon. Gentleman has explained, there has been a good deal of research into this question and there is now practically developed a high-pressure oil-burning system which would disperse fog almost immediately. We calculate that the probable annual cost of a system of this kind at London Airport would be about £85,000 and the average cost of fuel for one landing would be £170. This seems a much more feasible proposition, and the question was put to the operators: were they prepared to pay this amount for this additional facility? The preliminary replies were encouraging, and in February, 1951, we convened a meeting with the representatives of the operators to discuss this matter. No firm decisions were taken. We discussed the scale of landing fees; how much for long haul operators, and how much for short haul. These detailed facts are being considered and I hope some firm decision will be taken in the very near future. I think I have dealt with pretty nearly all the points raised.
§ Mr. Ward
The hon. Gentleman has not answered a most important point. The charter companies have been put in a difficult position because the Minister, in another place, cast doubt on a decision of the courts in a civil aviation case in 1946. The House is entitled to know something more about that.
§ Mr. Beswick
What my noble Friend said was that he could not supersede the court so far as the interpretation of the law was concerned. It would be quite wrong for him to do that.
§ Mr. Beswick
We shall have to reserve our right to go to the courts if the case arises.
I think I have dealt with most of the points that have been raised. I should have liked to have spoken at greater length on some of the points raised by the noble Lord the Member for Inverness, but possibly I can reserve that for another occasion.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House for Tomorrow.