§ Mr. Speaker
Does the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) wish to move an Amendment? Once I have proposed the Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," no Amendment is possible, so if the hon. Gentleman wishes to move an Amendment he should do it now.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
I am pleased to see my successor as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation back in his place. I understand that he has been indisposed and I should like to take this opportunity of welcoming him back to the Front Bench and congratulating him on looking so fit. I am grateful both to the Parliamentary Secretary and to the Minister for being so courteous as to send to me this morning letters conveying information for which I had previously asked.
I hope we shall have a useful debate. What we want from the Minister this afternoon is a clear, straightforward account of the Government's civil aviation policy, and I hope that such a statement will prove useful to Parliament, to the publicly-owned Corporations and to the private operators, for there are very many things which have been left unexplained.
1742 During the course of questioning on some controversial points on 3rd February, the Minister said:The proper constitutional procedure, disclosed to Parliament in full detail, has been followed in this and every other case."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd February, 1954; Vol. 523; c. 355.]In the following week, however, he had apparently changed his mind, for on 10th February he said that if there were a debatethe more interesting and the more surprising it will be from all points of view."— [OFFICIAL REPORT. 10th February, 1954; Vol. 523; c. 1150.]We are therefore looking forward today to his describing the surprising things about which he has been hinting.
Another point arises out of the recent exchanges at Question time. In his replies the Minister has most vehemently maintained that my Questions have been based on completely inaccurate information. He has since been to a great deal of trouble to find out where my information came from, and perhaps I ought to say something more about that before we go further. I do not see the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) in his place, but on 10th February he made a quite uncalled-for intervention, insinuating that my hon. Friends and I had been briefed for our Questions by the British Overseas Airways Corporation.
I understand that this topic was subsequently touched on at a function which was attended by the Minister, the chairman of B.O.A.C. and the hon. Member for Hendon, North. I should like to say that neither before, during nor after those Questions have I even seen the chairman of B.O.A.C, nor have I directly or indirectly over this period asked him for any information bearing upon the Questions. It is, I think, only fair to the chairman that I should say this.
One thing in connection with civil aviation about which I thought we were all very happy was the way in which we had encouraged the greatest all-party interest. From the early days of the Labour Government, hon. Members on both sides of the House were encouraged to visit the Corporations and to see something of their activities, to hear of their difficulties and of their plans for the future. There was nothing secret about all this, nothing to hide; "fullest possible information" was, indeed, the slogan of the Corporations.
1743 Although I remember that when I was in office I once had occasion to complain about a remark by an hon. Member opposite on a purely administrative matter which could easily have been cleared up through our Departmental channels, nevertheless at no time did any Labour Minister of Civil Aviation try to curb the interest of Members of Parliament or to prevent them from getting information about the hopes, plans and problems of these publicly-owned air Corporations.
Moreover, one of the most interesting and, I think, enlightened features of the development of this industry has been the extent to which the workers have been brought into the picture and have been given information by the executives about the future development of the Corporations. It was for this reason that I wrote to the Minister, before I knew we were to have this debate, asking for an assurance that he would do nothing in the future which would restrict the proper freedom of the Corporations to discuss all appropriate problems and activities with their staffs and with the representatives of the public—that is to say, Members of Parliament. I was glad to find in my postbag this morning a letter from the Minister in which he gave me such an assurance, at any rate as far as Members of Parliament are concerned.
Of course, I agree that there may well be exchanges between the Minister and the chairmen of public boards which, by their nature, must be confidential, and we would not expect such information to be divulged, but there is nothing which I have used in the Chamber at Question time which has not been equally available to other interested hon. Members. If the hon. Member for Hendon, North and others had accepted the invitations which have readily been given by the public transport organisations, both surface and air, and had gone to see what these bodies were doing, they would have been as well informed upon these matters as we are.
It is about 20 months since I spoke from this Box in a general debate on civil aviation. I then said that the present Minister's plans were designed to hamstring the Corporations, and there was a good deal of indignation about this charge. But everything which has happened since then has borne out what I 1744 said. The Minister has deliberately restricted the area of their operation and, although this is an Administration whose members have boasted throughout various debates that they were going to get rid of restrictive planning, in this field they have deliberately planned restrictions for the Corporations. It has been done in the name of competition but, far from introducing that element of competition which we were told would do so much good, the right hon. Gentleman has put selected private operators under State protection.
In carrying this out the Minister has never kept us fully informed. On specific matters, as I shall hope to show, he has seriously misled the House and the Corporations and the trade unions. Moreover, what is probably more serious in our submission, he has broken not only the spirit but, there is good reason to think, the letter of the law. All this presents a quite intolerable situation, and, as I said earlier, we think it is in the best interests of the House that these matters should be dealt with in open debate.
If the right hon. Gentleman tries to make out that everything is going smoothly and fairly, perhaps he will explain to the House why it is that the T.U.C., a most responsible body, not given to over-hasty action in complaining to a Minister, has found it necessary to send a deputation to him, or even more unusual still—why, last week, the entire board of B.O.A.C. found it necessary to go to him to petition against the course of action that it was being called upon then to follow? The right hon. Gentleman need not consider that there is any question of leakage. It was impossible to have a deputation of this kind without arousing considerable interest.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
I have no objection to the hon. Gentleman drawing attention to the fact that at its request I saw the whole board of B.O.A.C. last week. So profitable was that talk both to me and to the board that I think it highly desirable to repeat it in the future as often as possible.
§ Mr. Beswick
I shall have some comments to make later on that kind of intervention. This was probably the first occasion in the history of any publicly-owned industry where it felt itself to be at such variance with the Minister, who is 1745 supposed to be protecting its interests, that it was found necessary to go along and state its case to him.
Let us examine in some detail the strange way in which the Minister has been helping the main instrument of British air transport. In the field of charter work and trooping, his passion for free enterprise—
§ Mr. Beswick
—which is supported by hon. Members opposite, and his faith in private capital has been so great that he has deliberately refused permission for the Corporations to try for this charter and trooping business. The argument he has used most often to support this policy has been that it was also the policy of previous Labour Governments. I say quite deliberately that that claim, which has been made on a number of occasions, is quite untrue, and it is important to get this matter settled first.
We made the position about charter work clear when the Civil Aviation Bill was first introduced. In the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), the then Lord President of the Council, charter work was to be afree for-all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 609.]It was intended to be a fair free-for-all, but it was to meet criticism which came from hon. Members opposite that the position was not fair that I remember giving, on behalf of the Labour Government, an assurance that the Corporations would not use Treasury subsidies to undercut independent tenders. Indeed, I actually said at the time that the Corporations would not engage in charter contracts the effect of which would be to increase the Treasury subsidy.
That, I thought, and still think, was a fair assurance. It enabled the independent operator who so desired to come in on a fair competitive basis. In many ways the independent companies would be at some advantage, for I readily recognise their flexibility in some of these matters and their capacity to go out and seek work in out-of-the-way places. But that position would not prevent the Corporations at least from being given the opportunity, if it showed initiative, of getting the maximum utilisation from its fleet by engaging in charter work. It 1746 would have carried out what the Minister says is a new instruction in his directive, it would have had the effect of reducing the cost of civil air transport to the taxpayer. With that we all agree.
In theory, that is the policy of the Minister, but, in practice, he is putting up the cost to the taxpayer by preventing the Corporation from trying to obtain this charter business. Of course, the Tories are now the masters, and there is nothing to prevent the Minister, if he so chooses, from giving the Corporations a directive requiring them not to engage in charter work. But I think the country has a right to hear the reasons for the Minister issuing such a directive and why he is giving up his previous enthusiasm for free competition.
It is our view that the policy of competition—the "free-for-all" as my hon. Friend put it—in this field of aviation at any rate should be maintained. Personally, I think that the charter operators have a good deal to contribute and I wish them well, but I would say this: let us see that the business finds its own level. That is what I should like the Minister to ponder over. I hope he will be good enough to reconsider this general aspect of his present policy. I hope he will also give us an immediate and specific assurance on some more particular aspects.
As he knows, and as I know, B.O.A.C. have already certain valuable lonGterm charter contracts. As he must also know, this was one item which was discussed in the famous, or notorious, "working arrangement" about which we were informed the other day. I think the House is entitled to some information about this working arrangement. After all, we have to study the Annual Reports of the Corporations and assess them. These contracts alone, over the next few years, could make all the difference to the financial results of the Corporations. At a conservative estimate—and I speak from memory— they must be worth about £3 million to £4 million and in two or three years probably twice that figure. The private firm concerned has said that this business should be reserved to it. I think we are entitled to ask the Minister to give us an unqualified assurance that this intolerable demand will be rejected.
Then there is the trooping work. Again, the Minister tried to justify his restrictive 1747 attitude by reference to Labour Government's policy. On 27th October, he said:… the reservation of trooping to the independents was first decided upon by the Socialist Party.That was completely and utterly untrue.
§ Mr. Beswick
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Lindgren) interjected with the word "No." Then, according to HANSARD, the Minister then said:Most certainly. There will be plenty of opportunities for the hon. Gentleman to challenge that later in the debate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1953; Vol. 518, c. 2742.]As my hon. Friend had already spoken and as the Minister was winding up the debate, I should have thought that the second part of the question was as inaccurate as the first.
§ Mr. Lindgren
To give the Minister credit, he afterwards said that he was wrong and most humbly apologised.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
May I add a word to that? I have not my correspondence here and I am recalling it to the best of my recollection. I think I told the hon. Gentleman that in all the talk about trooping contracts being available for the Corporation, not one: single contract went to the Corporation under the Socialist Government.
§ Mr. Beswick
This is most interesting. We have now established that in October the Minister made a quite inaccurate statement to the House. According to my hon. Friend, he later apologised.
§ Mr. Beswick
Humbly. If the Minister apologised humbly, then, quite clearly, the House, which is generous in these matters, would forgive him. One can always understand a slip, but the original statement was made in October of last year. The apology was given in November. In January this year the Minister deliberately repeated the statement in answer to representations made by the T.U.C. I understand that what he said this time was:It has been Government policy"—1748 I repeat that this was in January this year—since the Corporations were established to regard charter work as purely incidental to their primary function as scheduled operators.He went on:The expression 'charter work' naturally includes trooping contracts.I should hesitate to say that there was anything at all natural about that statement.
The fact is that previous policy has been to permit the independent companies to tender for trooping on an equal competitive basis with the Corporations. There are arguments, which I will not deploy now, suggesting that it would be in the best interests of the country as a whole, and taxpayers individually, if the Corporations were encouraged to retain special trooping fleets. Suffice it to say that the Corporations tendered in the past and should be allowed to tender in the future. It is true that the independents submitted lower tenders, but who is to guarantee that they will quote so keenly in the future if the publicly-owned Corporations are excluded? Surely, if on no other grounds, it ought to be Government policy to let the public Corporations come in as a yardstick against which to measure costs.
In any case, at this very moment B.O.A.C. has Hermes aircraft which could admirably be used for trooping in the best interests of the troops, the Corporation and the taxpayers. If it were allowed to come in, the servicing of its engines would be done down at Treforest. This has an important bearing on the Treforest establishment. I ask the Minister whether it is still Government policy to keep that efficient enterprise in South Wales working to maximum capacity. Will he assure us that it is still the Government's policy to try to ensure full employment in that part of South Wales? I know that a number of my hon. Friends wish to deal with that matter, but it is a most important question and it is bound up with the future plans of the Corporation.
I now wish to say a word about freight. I have no doubt that the Minister has some self-righteous words to utter about the North Atlantic. I have no doubt that he wants to say that he has been wickedly misjudged about the North Atlantic, ft he has, he has no one to blame but him- 1749 self, for it has taken me a very long time to extract the facts from him. What are the facts? Both B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. intended to go into the freight business. There was never any question about that until comparatively recently, when the Minister introduced his restrictive policy. B.E.A. already operate all-freight aircraft, and has done so for some time. B.O.A.C. intended to order completely new, specially designed, all-freighter versions of the Britannia aircraft. The chairman of the Corporation, in evidence before the Select Committee on Estimates, said that the machines were ordered.
It is also true that the Minister, as he has admitted, requested an assurance from the two Corporations that they would not apply for permission to operate new all-freight routes for 12 months. It was after they had given that assurance that the Minister published the terms of the new directive under which future applications would be considered. Under the new directive, the companies who got in first would, in effect, be given an assurance of protection extending beyond the 12 months, for the A.T.A.C. were directed not to grant fresh licences unless in the words of the directive:… the position of any previously authorised operator is not likely to be undermined.Whether B.O.A.C. then decided to make a virtue of necessity and give up the idea of operating over the North Atlantic, I do not know. In any case, as we are now given to understand, it cancelled its intention to purchase five freighters.
The Minister may very well make a great point about the decision being voluntary on the part of the Corporations. I am sure the House will accept that statement, in the light of previous similar statements. It seems to us that the Minister is able to extract voluntary concessions from the transport Corporations and Commissions, surface and air, under his responsibility in much the same way as the Soviet is able to get voluntary cooperation from its people's democracies in the satellite ring.
However, if the Minister makes a big point about the voluntary abstention of the Corporations, I shall have a further pertinent question to ask him about the working arrangement which he requested B.O.A.C. to make with a private company. In the meantime, I ask the Minister to reconsider the recent declaration of 1750 policy that freight is to be restricted primarily to the private companies.
I recognise the Minister's long interest in aviation, and I know that he is as keen as anyone to see that British aviation prospers. We may disagree as to the methods, but I still accept his enthusiasm for that objective. Recognising that, I ask the Minister to look again at the freight policy. Would it not be better for both public and private enterprise to display their competitive initiative for a time longer? I have said elsewhere that, in my view, private capital may well prove more successful. Certainly I have always thought that there was a tramp air freight business to be built up by the smaller private companies. But in the case of, say, the North Atlantic route, surely it is not in the best interests of civil aviation—ignoring for the time being the question of public as against private companies—for an organisation already operating aircraft along the route, with engineering bases along the route, with commercial offices on both this side of the Atlantic and that, and with connections across the continents, artificially to be prevented from building up its freight traffic.
Of course, the Corporation, exercising its proper commercial judgment, may well have thought that the time is not yet when it should undertake full-scale all-freight scheduled operations, but even if that be the case, I ask the Minister again to look at the arbitrary division which he is proposing to draw between passenger and freight business. Let us wish well to any private firm which feels that it has a contribution to make and is confident of making a living, but let us not deliberately prevent the publicly-owned enterprises, in which we have sunk so much money, from developing freight business which they have already done to some extent and which naturally fits into the business organisation which they have built up.
I now come to what I think is probably the most serious part of the Minister's activities. I refer to the scheme which is now officially graced by the title, "A three-tier policy." Others have termed it "a crude price-fixing agreement." The word "agreement" is probably inapposite, for again we have an instance of so-called voluntary agreement reached after the intervention of the Minister. There are two examples of such "agreements"—using the word in quotation 1751 marks—that I wish to quote. One concerns Cyprus, affecting B.E.A., and the other is on the East African routes, affecting B.O.A.C.
This is what has happened. The Corporations, with taxpayers' money, have developed the routes, having, maybe, first and second-class services. Then along come private companies, and, at a fare carefully calculated to undercut the second-class fare of the Corporation, ask permission to operate a parallel service. They have been given that permission. The theoretical justification is that it is generating an entirely new class of traffic and cannot compete against the second-class service of the Corporations because it has to observe certain lower standards; for example, in aircraft, passenger comfort and, I think, baggage allowance. But once the private companies have entered into this service, these safeguards have, in practice, been disregarded. The baggage allowance, I understand, is practically completely disregarded.
I saw a statement in the newspapers today which confirmed my previous opinion that completely new aircraft are to be operated on some of these services. That, again, is contrary to undertakings given. This is the point: I can see the need for two services—for a luxury service and a low-price service. I am all in favour of generating traffic by reducing fares, and I remember making a speech along those lines in 1947, after I bad had the privilege of seeing the coach services in the United States. But when the Corporation asks if it can reduce its fares, the Minister invokes this mumbo-jumbo about a three-tier policy and refuses it permission.
I remember that in a previous debate, when I made this charge, the Government evaded the question, but I say again, quite categorically, that the Corporations have applied, both of them, B.E.A. and B.O.A.C, to reduce their fares along these routes in order to meet this new competition and the Minister has refused them permission to reduce their fares—
§ Mr. Beswick
Exactly. This would appear to be the modern Tory version of free competition, but it goes beyond that.
1752 The Civil Aviation Act. 1946. and the Air Corporations Act reserved scheduled air passenger services to the public Corporations, and that is still the legal position. There was, however, a provision in the 1949 Act, Section 15, which empowers the Corporations to appoint associates to operate defined scheduled services. This Section was used during the time of the Labour Government to bring in operators, the smaller private firms, to provide services not otherwise given or which could more efficiently be provided by the private companies. The Minister has now permitted this Section to be used in so wide a manner that, in the view of some legal authorities, the law is broken.
Let us take the Cyprus service or the East Africa service. The Corporations have to sign an agreement with these different firms on the basis—and I use the actual terms of the law:that the agreement is calculated to further the efficient discharge of the function of the Corporations.Can the Minister really say that he believes that these two agreements do further the interests of the Corporations? They certainly do not think so and they are in the best position to judge. The Minister may well say that the traffic figures down to East Africa are now good for B.O.A.C. and the Hunting Airwork service.
§ Mr. Beswick
The Minister nods and I have no doubt that he could quote the figures. It is true that with the mess which the Government have made in East Africa the extra traffic is just now very considerable—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
One of the most notable things that the East Africa service has done is to bring back the people of the groundnut scheme of the last Government.
§ Mr. Beswick
I suppose that it was that example which has now stimulated the right hon. Gentleman to try to bring about the further destruction of other publicly-owned enterprises. In the case of Cyprus, for example, I think that the diversion is more serious.
1753 That is only a beginning. Other services are already being contemplated under the shelter of this price-fixing agreement. One firm has plans for Singapore and Hong Kong. There are also rumours about another undercutting service, under the protection of the Minister, over to Bermuda, and then with the present facilities of hopping from Bermuda to New York. If that happens the whole of the present B.O.A.C. tourist services across the North Atlantic which B.O.A.C. so magnificently built up would be vulnerable.
Then there is a report in the newspapers this morning of a statement by Mr. Hunting that, with the Minister's encouragement, Hunting's are extending the East Africa services through Rhodesia and down to South Africa. We have a right and, indeed, a duty to ask the Minister where all this is leading. If the Minister wants to denationalise air transport, let him say so and get proper legal authority for doing so.
It had been the general wish in the industry and outside that changes of Government would not mean changes of statutory policy in this developing air industry. It was recognised that the present Government had every right to make adjustments, but in the long run it would have been better for all concerned, the private companies and the public operator, if those adjustments could have been absorbed without damage to the present set-up. That there is some proper scope for the genuine, enterprising private firms, I have never denied. I have the privilege of knowing some of those connected with them. I like them immensely, and I say very sincerely that I think aviation would be the poorer if they could not find a place in it.
But what is happening now is a very different proposition altogether. There can be no objection if the Minister extends the time under which these independent firms operate genuine associate agreements which do not damage the Corporations and, indeed, permit the Corporations more efficiently to discharge their responsibilities. I think that there is scope for freight work by the independents. I envisage in the future a fleet of British air tramp freighters going round the airports of the world.
There may well be in the brain of some of these private independent execu- 1754 tives an idea which is as potentially fruitful, as that which led to the Silver City's cross-channel car ferry service. I think that it is the duty of any Minister to encourage such original projects. I remember that when I was at the Ministry I went out of my way to help the one operator who was using flying boats because I thought that it was a good thing to keep alive the technique, and that otherwise we would have lost business to other national competitors.
As I have already said, in my view and in the view of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, the independent operator should come in on an open competitive basis with the Corporations on commercial charter and air-trooping contracts. That, I should have thought, would have given sufficient ground for a common policy which could remain stable even though Governments change. But it seems now that the Minister is not content with that.
According to Mr. Hunting's statement this morning, the Minister has ambitious plans for bringing in large capital which the shipping companies are making available. He is apparently determined to make room for this capital, and all his talk about voluntary assurances given and tacit understandings reached with the Corporations is, in my judgment, so much double-talk for the compulsion which the Minister is exercising. It is no longer a matter of allowing scope to young, enterprising individualists and aviation enthusiasts. It is now a matter of giving State protection to big money.
The Government, who talk loudly of expansionist policies, are restricting the Corporations. In the name of competition they are giving State protection to private capital. The tragedy of all this is that no one so far, not even the Minister, has yet come forward and found fault with B.O.A.C. or B.E.A. Britain is, in fact, proud of these organisations. They have advanced the prestige of our people. The Minister may have read the recent report in "Flight" in which a Canadian said:The fact is that because your aircraft are so outstanding Canadians are ready to say that your other manufactures must be good value too.He said that the propaganda value of these air services was, in fact, a help to British exports in the Canadian market.
1755 I have no doubt that it was partly in recognition of this remarkable contribution which the British Airways Corporations have made in team work with the aircraft manufacturers, that the Minister so generously and readily made available our full national resources for the salvage work on the crashed Comet. I recognise the lead which he gave in that matter and I think that it is an extremely good thing to do in our national interest.
I hope that the Minister will have some encouraging words to say this afternoon about the Comet. I hope that he will also consider very carefully the criticisms which we have felt it our duty to make of his aviation policy. I particularly ask him to remember that it was a Tory Minister, one of the best administrators of the Tory Party, the late Sir Kingsley Wood who created B.O.A.C.
§ Mr. Beswick
I wish I had been able to be in the House at that time.
But Sir Kingsley created B.O.A.C, as he explained on behalf of the Tory Government, because, after trying private enterprise competition and subsidies, he was convinced that a publicly-owned and supported organisation was the best. If, after all this time, energy and public money that have been put in the air services the Tory Government intend to hand over to private capital, I am sure that the public will have something to say about it.
There is a great argument, which I have tried to advance on many occasions, for the Labour Government policy of planned development of aviation, using the publicly-owned Corporations as main instruments and bringing in the independent, privately-owned firms in certain sectors. On the other hand, there may well be an argument for the policy of denationalisation and a complete return to private enterprise, though I would not accept that argument myself. What we cannot see is an argument for the present policy of praising the Corporations publicly and restricting their activities privately. It is not fair to the executives of those Corporations, it is not fair to the general body of their highly skilled workers, and it is not fair to Parliament.
1756 I beg to move, to leave out "£898,037,000" and to insert instead thereof "£898,036,000."
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
In his concluding words the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) referred to the late Sir Kingsley Wood, but perhaps there are hon. Members in this House who do not altogether remember, and the hon. Member appears to be one of them, that Sir Kingsley was talking at that time about a monopoly of subsidy and not a monopoly of operation. Now we are engaged in attempting to see how the new carriers in the aviation field, along with the Corporations, Whose status must be maintained, can be so worked together as to serve the national advantage as a whole.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge started by referring to the difficulty in which we all find ourselves in Opposition and in Government with regard to confidential information that may reach us from the nationalised Corporations. I have certainly not suggested that the boards of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. have in any way improperly furnished hon. Members on either side of the House with any information. There must be, of course, matters between Ministers and Corporations which are entirely confidential, as indeed the hon. Member himself fully recognised. But over a wide field the utmost disclosure is desirable, and I think that we can safely leave this matter to the good sense of both parties.
I should like to thank the hon. Member for his very fair approach to the problems in which we are engaged. I know also—my Department often reminds me—of his passionate interest in civil aviation when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry and ever since. His speech today has been a very helpful introduction indeed to this debate.
I hope that the hon. Member will make his peace with those distinguished public servants whom he suggested were my satellites—Lord Douglas, Sir Miles Thomas and Sir Brian Robertson, to whom apparently I have only to send to get them to carry out my orders. That 1757 is an interesting new conception. The hon. Member spoke about double talk. I suppose that he had also double thought in mind, when I think of the candour with which my "satellites" speak to me from time to time and the candour with which I address them. It would be a curious way to treat so powerful a person as apparently I am to move to reduce his Vote by £1,000.
I am glad in this connection that the hon. Member did not regard as another satellite Lord Terrington, the chairman of the Air Transport Advisory Council. This very independent chairman of a very independent body has done extremely well in the last two years. I should like to congratulate him and the Council upon the work that they have done, which I know has won the respect of those who have been successful and unsuccessful when they have made their applications to the A.T.A.C.
The hon. Member asked whether I had any statement to make about the Comets. In view of the immense importance of this subject, I think that it is proper that I should begin my reply by making some comments on this most important issue. As the House will know, the Comets were not grounded by the Minister, but B.O.A.C. suspended the services. I said in the House at the time, however, that I recognise my very considerable responsibility in regard to the resumption of the services.
As I think hon. Members know, there are two expert bodies available to give me advice. One is the Air Registration Board. Under the Labour Government's Act of 1949, my functions as Minister in connection with the design, construction and maintenance of civil aircraft are delegated to the Air Registration Board. This Board consists of representatives of operators, constructors and insurers, members appointed by myself and also co-opted members. The chairman is Lord Brabazon, whose capacity for running a body of this kind is quite beyond praise.
The other body to which I look is the Air Safety Board, which is equally brilliantly led by its chairman, Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill. This Board also was set up by the previous Government, who, in doing this, as in other fields, considerably helped civil 1758 aviation. This body advises me, as Minister, on all matters pertaining to safety in British civil aviation. It keeps continually under review the needs of safety and recommends to me measures calculated to promote safety in the operation of our civil aircraft and the general efficiency of ground facilities for the aircraft of all nations using our airports. I have had the advice of both these boards.
I am glad to say that this afternoon, with my full approval, the chairman of B.O.A.C. is making an announcement. He is saying that the modifications which they are making to their Comet aircraft as a result of detailed inspections following upon the loss of the Comet near Elba, and as agreed with the Air Registration Board and manufacturers, are now approaching completion. Subject to the outcome of the necessary flight testing being satisfactory, the normal passenger services of the Comet will be resumed on the Johannesburg service on Tuesday, 23rd March, and other services will be announced to follow.
I am sure the whole House will join with me in wishing every success to the splendid Comet aircraft, and their successors of the same type, and all who fly in them, and in congratulating the men who have worked on the technical bodies which have carried out examinations, on the speed with which they have arrived at their recommendations.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I am sure we welcome this decision, but in it is there not an implied criticism in relation to the fact that in the first instance, after the first serious accident to the Comet, all the machines were not then grounded for this type of overhaul?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not think so at ail. I think B.O.A.C.—whose decision it was to suspend the service—acted in a very statesmanlike way, not only in the action which it took, but in the statements which it made to the public. I am sure that the good sense of the country as a whole supports the decision which was taken then, and will support the decision which I am announcing today.
There is one other general statement I wish to make which is rather outside the main theme of the debate, and is of nothing like the same importance as the statement which I have made on the Comet. I should like to make some 1759 reference to an important matter affecting the convenience of passengers—the passenger service charge. In July last I spoke of the irritation, which I think we all know at first hand, at the collection as people are leaving the country of a 5s. charge, and the maddening problem with which that confronts both British and foreign travellers, resulting in an accumulation of small change just as one is leaving for abroad. I said that most independent companies were prepared to collect the charge when the passengers bought tickets. I added that the Corporations and many foreign airlines, whose problems were admittedly different and much more complicated, and the travel agents themselves, were unwilling to do so.
So I announced in the House last July that, as the Government could not forgo the large revenue derived, I intended to raise compensating revenue by increasing the landing fees. It has turned out to be extremely difficult to find a fair way of increasing the landing fees. There is the virtual impossibility of deciding how adequately to reflect, in the landing fee based on an aircraft's all-up weight, the wide difference between operators in the number of passengers per aircraft taken up in this country, and thus their use of our passenger handling facilities. Moreover, the International Civil Aviation Organisation is expected soon to make general recommendations in regard to airport charges.
Therefore, this would not appear to be a very happy moment to carry out a complete change in the pattern of these charges. I am, however, still determined that the inconvenience to passengers of having this 5s. taken off them as they leave must be reduced as far as possible. I am glad to say that we have at last reached agreement with the principal airlines that, in return for a special rebate in the passenger service charge, they will undertake to do their utmost to collect the charge at the time when the passengers pay for tickets.
The new arrangements will start as soon as possible. I shall review the working of this system from time to time, and most certainly it will be reviewed in not later than 12 months' time. I shall not hesitate to cancel the special rebate of any air operator if I find that the rebate does not significantly cut down the 1760 collecting from passengers at the airport. I believe that this modest improvement will have results far beyond its apparently small scale by adding to the general convenience of air travel.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge referred in the course of his speech to a number of changes which he thought we had suddenly introduced into the civil aviation policy of the Government as time went on. Afraid to destroy the Corporations, and not anxious to have another very controversial Transport Bill and remove the monopoly, we were, he suggested, attempting to do by erosion what we were not brave enough to do by direction action. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That was not a very enthusiastic cheer for such a sinister campaign.
I hope that I shall be able to deal with all the various charges made by the hon. Member. I shall deal with them in as much detail as possible without detaining the House unduly. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, whose return in, I hope, full vigour, in which we all rejoice—as was handsomely indicated by hon. Members opposite—will deal with other points which I leave undiscussed.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge referred to the new interest shown by shipping interests in British civil aviation. May I say at once that I welcome that very much indeed. I think it is an excellent thing. The hon. Member said some very friendly things about the independent operators. In the letters which have appeared in "The Times" from him and the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) there was a spirit of general good will to the independents.
I could not help but feel, however, that the thought in the minds of hon. Members opposite ran rather like this: if only the openings to these independents could be limited, if only all their services could be at the discretion of the Corporations and could then be cancelled at the discretion of the Corporations. If the Corporations decided to take over routes which another company had pioneered, the independents would not be able to plan ahead. They would have no lonGterm financing and so would fall by the wayside.
By that means the hon. Member would get the moral satisfaction of having said nice things about the independents and at 1761 the same time achieving the strait-jacket monopoly for which I believe his heart really craves. He said that of course there might be some openings, such as the Silver City's and their brilliantly successful ferrying work, but otherwise there would only be the crumbs for the independents. As one correspondent to "The Times" said, the independents have disappointed the hon. Member by refusing to die.
Now something different has happened, and in a large measure shipping finance is coming into civil aviation. I welcome this very much. When the Coalition Government, in which the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) served in a leading capacity, produced a White Paper on civil aviation, it dealt with the merging of many transport interests in British civil aviation. The Corporations were to play a large part, and the shipping lines and the railways—then independently owned—were to do the same, with the independent air operators and the travel agencies. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South will remember that the White Paper said:The test which has been applied in evolving the plan set out in this Paper is: Where can the best contribution to British air transport be obtained, and how can it most effectively be used to build up an organisation which will fulfil our public, commercial and social needs?In that merging of many transport interests shipping was to play a large part and today sitting on the board of B.O.A.C. are Mr. Booth and Major Thornton, men who have given a great deal of service to shipping and to aviation. Unfortunately, the foundations which were laid for this effective partnership by the Coalition Government were abandoned by the Socialist Administration who, in a passion for tight monopoly of air transport, abandoned all the work that had gone before. We believe that there is great scope for this new shipping capital, in association with independent companies, in a host of air activities which as yet have not been fully opened up.
We believe that this shipping capital will find a most useful outlet in the large freight markets of the world. The Corporations have had their hands very full with a virtual monopoly of all the passenger services throughout the world, and large mail carryings as well. It has not 1762 been possible for them—I am not blaming them in the least—to develop the carrying of classes of freight which cannot be accommodated in the holds of passenger aircraft. Nor have they been able to consider the possibility of new freight by development of specialised handling and sales technique on which its promotion must largely depend.
Here we believe there is a great field for shipping interests in independent air companies, and so 1 extend the warmest welcome to three recent arrangements which have been made, the HuntinGClan Air Transport agreement; the Furness Withy and Airwork agreement and the purchase by the General Steam Navigation Company—an associate of P. and O.—of a majority shareholding in Britavia, who own, as the hon. Gentleman knows, Silver City and Aquila Airways. I believe that in this way we shall not undermine in any way the established network of the Corporations, but extend British civil aviation as a whole.
§ Mr. Beswick
When the Minister says he is hoping to extend civil aviation as a whole, does he mean that he is now going back on the policy which he stated in answer to a Question of mine some weeks ago as regards freight being primarily the responsibility of private operators?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I am coming to that.
I wish to deal with the three points which the hon. Member made in particular—freight, charter operations and colonial coach services. As he asked for a full statement of the Government's civil aviation policy, I know he will let me give it, and I must apologise to other hon. Members for the time that that will inevitably take.
Running through the hon. Gentleman's speech was the suggestion that we were progressively and deliberately hamstringing the Corporations, and he more or less harked back to the time of my first announcement of Government policy in May, 1952, as being an age of innocence compared with the present situation. I can assure the hon. Member that there has been no change whatever in our policy since I initiated it on 27th May, 1952. I said then that the Corporationsare up against intensive competition from foreign air lines, and we are determined that the competitive strength of the Corporations 1763 to operate both first and second or tourist class services on their present established networks will not be impaired.To that I stick absolutely, and the shipping money has come into civil aviation in the full knowledge that that is Government policy.
I added:On the other hand, we seek to improve the position of the independent companies, which with few exceptions lack lonGterm security and opportunities of expansion. They cannot establish their position if they cannot plan firmly ahead. We therefore intend to give them more scope and security, while, at the same time, not increasing the cost of civil aviation to the taxpayer. We have therefore decided that the development of new overseas scheduled services shall be open to the Corporations and independent companies alike.Then I returned to the question of freight and said what special openings there were in the field of freight.
I must remind the House of these matters, because the charge is made that we have changed from the position of two years ago. I said:In particular, we have hopes of independent companies developing the all-freight market, which is a growing field with great possibilities. There are also opportunities for special types of service such as seasonal inclusive tours and services at cheap fares not directly competitive with the Corporations to places within the Colonial Empire.Finally, I dealt with charter operations, and I said that in the main they are the domain of the independent operator.The Corporations will keep the right to engage in charter work in those cases where they have special facilities …"—where if they did not get the charter it might go to a foreign country.
They will not, however, maintain aircraft specifically for charter work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th May, 1952; Vol. 501, c. 1152–3.]I can assure the House sincerely that that remains our policy and nothing that has happened since—I will come to the various suggestions made by the hon. Gentleman—has altered that in the least degree. We continue to rely on the Corporations as the main instrument of national policy, but we believe that they and the independent companies have a role which is complementary and not destructively competitive.
If I may deal with some of the actual charges made by the hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
The right hon. Gentleman has now stated definitely what is Government policy. The Labour Party policy is quite plain as well, and it is exactly opposite. It is to maintain the public Corporations, as I hope will be made clear by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) when he speaks. It was decided in 1945 and carried out on the basis of the election programme in "Let us Face the Future."
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That, of course, is different from the speech made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge. It is much more indicative of all the moves behind the scenes in 1945, which I remember very well, when the first wise thoughts of the Socialist Government were thrown over by their own back benchers.
§ Mr. Bowles
It was in accordance with the policy on which we fought the General Election—that is the usual thing in our party.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That is what was suggested to the hon. Member's leaders at that time and did not represent what I think would have been their considered judgment.
In the field of charter work, the hon. Member for Uxbridge either suffers from misunderstanding or—I hope this is not offensive—is guilty of misrepresentation—
§ Mr. Beswick
—because, he has stated that the Government's policy is to allow private companies to come into the freight field, and with that we have never disagreed? In 1946, we said that they would be allowed to come into the freight field. The change in the Government's policy came about when they said the Corporations would not be allowed to tender in the freight field.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I interrupted the hon. Gentleman three times and so I am not resentful when he interrupts me. But if he will wait he will find that I shall deal with what I think worries him most, which is the Airwork story. I was coming to the particular point which he made in the concluding part of his speech.
1765 I made it clear in 1952 that the Corporations will not maintain aircraft specifically for charter work but they are free to take up charter work which only they can fulfil—[Laughter]—certainly—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The hon. Member knows what I have in mind. If there is a type of aircraft owned by the Corporations and capable of doing the work it would be foolish to say that they could not take on a particular charter operation. But they have given me an assurance, which has recently been repeated and has been frequently announced in this House, that they do not intend—it is not their policy—to maintain aircraft specifically for charter work.
I have said that in this there is nothing inconsistent with the policy of the Labour Government, and the hon. Member for Uxbridge is not in conflict with me here, because he quoted his right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) as saying that the charter field should be a "free-for-all." I think the more considered statement of what was the policy of the Socialist Government will be found in the Minister's own speech on Second Reading of the Civil Aviation Act in 1946. It was, after all, a careful statement of Government policy and the noble Lord, Lord Winster, was not talking about the charter field being a "free-for-all." He said: "The proper sphere of the Corporations is the sphere of scheduled air services. That will be their main preoccupation and they will not seek to 'muscle in' unfairly upon the field which is left open by the Bill to the charter operators."
The Corporation chairmen have said as recently as 10th February that they do not and did not understand that charter work included trooping. I told them, and I have told the House, that I see no reason whatever to modify the lonGestablished Government policy in this respect. I repeat again that though I may have been at fault in saying that they were not allowed to tender for lonGterm trooping contracts, to the best of my knowledge the Corporations never got any lonGterm trooping contracts under the Socialist Government, and indeed that would of course be wholly irreconcilable 1766 with their declared intention not to keep aircraft specifically for charter work.
If the hon. Gentleman says that the Corporations have no chance whatever of getting any trooping contracts unless they keep aircraft specifically for lonGterm trooping contracts, where on earth did all those trooping contracts of last year enjoyed by B.O.A.C. come from? They remain free to tender with the aircraft which they alone possess. They remain absolutely free to tender for ad hoc troop operations. But what they are not entitled to do—because it would involve getting aircraft specifically for the purpose—is to tender for lonGterm troop operations.
How little the restriction is upon them in practice can be shown by last year's figures. There were 19 trooping flights last year by B.O.A.C. to Singapore and Hong Kong, 12 flights to Africa and the Sudan, 21 to Canada and 29 to the Caribbean. All these flights meant a revenue of nearly £500,000 to the Corporation. It really is relying on people's inadequate information to suggest that the Corporation has been deprived of any chance of getting a fair share of this most important revenue.
The hon. Gentleman asked an important question about contract traffic by the Corporation. I have recently been told that B.O.A.C. is a little anxious lest its contract traffic carried on the normal scheduled services should in some way be regarded as charter operation for which it specially kept aircraft and that therefore it should be excluded from its right to operate. It has contracts, for example, for the carriage on its scheduled services of employees of certain firms and other similar groups of people.
I do not—and at no time did I intend to—suggest that this was a charter operation and, therefore, beyond the power of the Corporation, if it forms a component part of its scheduled operations and does not involve the holding of aircraft specifically for charter work. I understand that the Corporation was reassured by my statement. If that was the reason behind the deputation that I was delighted to meet last week then, in respect of that field anyhow, they went away reassured.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about colonial coach services. As he knows, 1767 the terms of reference to the Air Transport Advisory Council show that this must be limited to cabotage traffic and must provide for a class of service lower than tourist class for the same route, and there must be no material diversion from the standard or tourist class service. In some fields, notably in East Africa, the existence of these colonial coach services has generally encouraged air travel as a whole. I was most interested to read a letter in "The Times" last week which said that as a result of this it was now harder than ever to get a seat, even on B.O.A.C. It has helped to make people in East Africa air-minded. The Safari service is a brilliant example of what we had in mind.
The hon. Gentleman accused me of an improper interference in the cabotage rates. It has long been recognised, by a gentleman's agreement between the Corporations and Ministers, I understand right from the day when the Socialist Government set up the machinery under the Act of 1946, that because of their effect on international rates the cabotage fares would require the approval of the Minister. The Government are committed to the three-tier structure. When we had a case where the general level of European tourist fares was 20 per cent, to 25 per cent, below first-class rates, but where in Malta it was 32 per cent, below, then we were straining the use of words to describe that as if it were part of the three-tier structure.
In the case of Cyprus, the Corporation also proposed to two classes of tourist service. When this proposal came to me I recognised—I had no option whatever, and I should do the same tomorrow— that two classes of tourist service were in effect one tourist service and one colonial coach service. I had to insist that this could not be tolerated. I am equally anxious to be fair to the Corporations in this field. If at any time information is brought that a colonial coach service is not a genuine colonial coach service—if it is taken first to the A.T.A.C. at the time of the recommendation, or later, if any information is brought to me—I shall certainly look most carefully into the matter. However, I do not hold out any hope to hon. Gentlemen opposite that we propose to make any change in the three-tier structure or in the maintenance of the colonial coach principle.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is permitting the Corporations to go in for this service and to charge fares similar to those of the private operator, or is he stopping that?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The Corporations have the scheduled services and the tourist service. If the hon. Member for Uxbridge is genuine in his desire to see something left to the independents, it is not unreasonable to say that the colonial coach services should be operated by them. Incidentally, the argument so often used by hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Corporations have to compete with vigorous foreign competition does not apply on these cabotage routes, which are reserved for British operators.
I come to the question of freight. I made some preliminary observations about freight when I dealt with the question of shipping capital. I repeat that it is in the field of freight that, in the view of the Government, the best opportunity lies for the independent operator. This does not mean in any way that the whole field of freight is reserved for independent operators. When I made the announcement in May, 1952, I made it plain that the Corporations would be protected on their existing network. That covered all their passenger operations throughout the world, and it might have been thought at the time that it left precious little for the independents to do. It covered also the existing freight routes of the two Corporations.
In the case of B.E.A. there is a substantial amount of freight carriage, though I recognise that it is mostly to pick up freight that cannot be carried on its passenger aircraft. It would be misleading hon. Members to quote details because they vary almost from month to month. There was only one B.O.A.C. freight service, and that was to Singapore. The effect of my announcement meant that if the Corporations wanted to operate an all-freight service anywhere outside these groups, they would have to go to the A.T.A.C. like anybody else.
When I made that announcement in May the independent operators were at a very great disadvantage. They had been living on the good will of the Corporations up till then. They had had no protection, 1769 no security and they had very little equipment. In view of their very unfair position vis-à-vis the Corporations I asked the chairmen of the two Corporations to hold off from the freight market for one year.
I made this request to them on 15th July, 1952. They agreed, and so that I could not be accused of leaving the House of Commons uncertain about anything of this nature I came to the House on the next day, 16th July, and in c. 2184 of the OFFICIAL REPORT will be found the words which I used announcing that this was so. There was no question of any lack of candour. I want to get the dates across correctly to hon. Members opposite and to the country as a whole.
There has been much misrepresentation about the Airwork application. On 12th September, 1952, Airwork applied for the North Atlantic freight service. They applied to the A.T.A.C. This application was conditionally approved in February, 1953. Meanwhile—
§ Mr. Beswick
The Minister has left out a material date. Will he tell us the date of the new directive in which he changed the terms under which freight applications should be made?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
There has been no change whatever in the directive. The directive which, to the best of my recollection, was laid before the House at the time it was issued, and a copy of which I have in my hand, is the answer to that. I am assured that there have been no changes since the issue of the directive.
§ Mr. Beswick
I am asking for the date of the original directive which the Minister gave to the A.T.A.C.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I have not given any directive to the A.T.A.C. other than the main directive under which they operate.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I will arrange for the Parliamentary Secretary to give the precise date. It was announced about the same time as I announced the policy on 27th May. I am informed that the date was 30th July.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Yes, certainly. The assurance was given, I think, on the 15th. I have given the date already, and it was to apply for one year. The directive was given on 30th July, and it has remained unchanged. This was fully known to the House when I made the statement on 16th July.
§ Mr. Beswick
Were the terms of that directive known to the chairmen when they gave the Minister that assurance?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Yes. There was no question of anything being done behind the backs of either the chairmen of the Corporations or of the House. I came to the House the very next day and announced my agreement with the Corporations. The effect of the hon. Member's intervention—no doubt this may have been his purpose—is to try to throw out a little the story of the Airwork application, on which he has made a great deal of wholly inaccurate propaganda. Therefore, I return to the Airwork application.
Airwork applied for the North Atlantic freight service on 12th September, 1952. It was conditionally approved in February, 1953. Meanwhile, on 9th October, 1952, B.O.A.C. applied for a similar service. I pointed out to the Corporation that an application before the period of one year was over was contrary to its undertaking; and so the Corporation withdrew its application.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Yes, certainly. I do not deny that I should have seriously considered a direction otherwise, but I did not. The Corporation withdrew because it was in glaring conflict with the undertaking which had been so recently reached. The Corporation said, however, that it would re-submit its application on 16th July, 1953, when the year had elapsed.
In November, 1952, B.O.A.C. applied to buy five Britannia freighters and 1771 mentioned the possibility of the North Atlantic and the Far East freight services. Permission was given to the Corporation in February, 1953, to buy the aircraft on the condition that it was satisfied that there was a commercial market and that it realised that it had to apply to the A.T.A.C. for permission for freight services, and that Airwork had already been conditionally awarded the franchise and Hunting's had been refused. It was told that quite clearly.
On 2nd March, 1953, B.O.A.C. was told that if it could satisfy the A.T.A.C. of the validity of its claim that there was room for the two operators on the North Atlantic, there was nothing whatever in the terms of reference to the A.T.A.C. to prevent this being allowed, that Air-work had no exclusive rights and no monopoly, and that the criterion for the A.T.A.C. was that of the terms of reference; namely, that the service must not undermine the service of an existing operator. That is precisely the same criterion in the terms of reference that is always used if an independent operator applies to the A.T.A.C. for something which is within the field of operation of the Corporations.
On 24th March, B.O.A.C. again told the A.T.A.C. why it needed the extra service, and on 10th July the Corporation told the A.T.A.C. that it would defer its application for this service until after the I.A.T.A. conference in November. Since then, there has been no application.
I noticed in the letter from the hon. Member for Enfield, East in "The Times," a suggestion that I had some information as to why the Corporation had not resubmitted an application. I have taken some pains to find out from the Corporation what was the reason, because I did not know. I now understand that the Corporation has not applied for a North Atlantic all-freight service because it has been considering the possibilities of co-operation with selected independent companies in the development of all-freight services rather than operating competitive and independent services.
The Corporation has been exploring with Airwork, for example, the possibility of such a co-operative arrangement on the North Atlantic, and it is continuing to discuss this. That appears to be the reason—I was very interested to know it 1772 —why B.O.A.C. has not put forward any further application on its own.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he did not ask B.O.A.C. to confer with Airwork in order to reach an arrangement? Is it the case that he would, or would not, have granted to B.O.A.C. permission to go in for freight services? In the course of these discussions between B.O.A.C. and Airwork, which, I gather from the right hon. Gentleman, are now proceeding, can the right hon. Gentleman say what propositions Airwork has made to B.O.A.C, or vice versa, so that we may know how they are going on?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
First, let me put the right hon. Gentleman right on a fundamental matter. We all welcome his intervention in our air debates, but he ought to get his basic facts right. It is not for me to grant permission to Airwork. The application goes to the A.T.A.C. and it is for them to say whether there would be an undermining of an existing operator. What is fair to the independents must be fair also to the Corporations, and I intend to preserve the impartiality both of my role and that of the A.T.A.C.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked what conversations I had had with the chairman of B.O.A.C. in regard to talks with Airwork. I did not in any way say that if B.O.A.C. put in an application to the AT.A.C, I would use some backstairs influence to see that it was not granted I pointed out the desirability, in everybody's interest, of some co-operative agreement between the Corporation and a large private undertaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] This suggestion was taken up very readily by the Corporation and also by Airwork.
As to why the negotiations were temporarily suspended, that is a commercial matter for the parties themselves. I do not propose, even if I know everything between one commercial enterprise and another, to come to the House and to pass on publicly what is confidential between the two parties and in which I am not taking part. The right hon. Gentleman can ask either of the parties themselves. I think it is a little fruitless, however, because he will find that the discussions are now re-opening, which I think is a very good thing. I take it that no one would be so churlish as to resent any co-operative agreement which would 1773 strengthen the Corporation and still give a chance to a lively and enterprising private operator.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
What the right hon. Gentleman has just said confirms what I said in my letter to "The Times," to which he has referred. I was implying that the Minister must know that obviously B.O.A.C. were influenced in not applying for a freight operation service across the Atlantic because the Minister had held them off for a year and during that time Airwork had got the contract. That is the precise point that I made in my letter.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I had already dealt with that period. No doubt the hon. Member can write another letter to "The Times" and catch up with what I was saying 10 minutes ago.
There was some interruption while I was talking earlier about the all-freight service, and I was asked about the position of K.L.M. Of course, K.L.M. is in a very different position; it is the only Dutch operator. But are we to take it that that is what hon. and right hon. Members opposite want? All through their letters, both in "The Times" and elsewhere, there has been the plea that there is room for independents as well.
Then what becomes of the comparison between K.L.M. and ourselves? A much fairer comparison, surely, is between ourselves and America. While American operators, with passenger-cum- freight services, have the right to establish all-freight services on the same route, none the less it is interesting to see that a company, Seaboard and Western, has lately applied to the American Civil Aeronautics Board for all-freight services. It looks as if the tendency is going towards more than one service on this route of rapidly expanding potential.
I am drawing to an end of what I have to say, but I do not want to do so without making one very brief comment about Scotland. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will deal in detail with problems concerning Scotland that, no doubt, will arise during the debate. I am conscious that there are anxieties in Scotland, as, indeed, there are in Treforest, although I hope that the hon. Member for Uxbridge will not so mislead the people in Treforest as to think that the 18 Hermes aircraft in the possession of B.O.A.C, if they were not sold,
1774 could be all used for trooping. The potential for trooping is very small indeed, as the hon. Member ought to know from his past experience. In regard to Scotland, however, my hon. Friend will deal in detail with any questions which he is asked concerning Prestwick as our second international airport.
I am very glad indeed that the Prestwick arbitration claim has now been settled and that an end has been put to this old dispute between my Department and the most enterprising firm of Scottish Aviation. I think this is a happy augury for the success of Scottish Aviation's Twin Pioneer. The prototype will be flying, we all hope, towards the end of this year, and as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply said recently, because of its exceptional take-off and landing performances, Government assistance is being given. I should have thought that all Scottish Members and all United Kingdom Members would wish this brilliant enterprise every possible success.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Will not the right hon. Gentleman say something about this company, which put in claims for £2 million too much?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
It just shows what can be done by persuasion that that claim was withdrawn.
I understand from the last words of the speech of the hon. Member for Uxbridge that there is likely to be a Division tonight. I must say that I do not see the ranks of the Opposition galvanised into a fierce resentment against the Minister who has misled the House, and who is steadily breaking up two great national Corporations.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Perhaps that is due to the fact that they know that I am doing neither of those two things. I am sorry for this decision on the part of the Opposition, because we are all out for the same thing, to get the greatest possible advance in British civil aviation. Indeed, the hon. Member for Uxbridge said as much in the course of his speech.
The year that has closed saw great strides forward in the field of British civil aviation. It saw, of course, a number of setbacks as well, of which the greatest 1775 were the Comet tragedies. When I was in Elba I saw something of the magnitude of the problem of search and recovery confronting the Royal Navy, and I should like to say that the Mediterranean Fleet has done, and is doing, a wonderful job in the salvage operations in connection with the lost Comet. They are using most valuable and sometimes quite new methods of investigation. The imagination, vigour and enterprise shown by Her Majesty's Fleet is beyond praise. I should also like to thank the crews of the Italian trawlers for giving such useful assistance.
A fair amount of the aircraft's metal structure has now been recovered and has been flown back to the Royal Aircraft Establishment. My functions under the Act in regard to technical matters of this kind are exercised through the Ministry of Supply. That Ministry arranges for an investigation of the metal fatigue of the Comet in common with other civil aircraft. The test methods which are used should ensure that the fatigue life of various components of all aircraft is determined early in the aircraft's operating life. This will have the useful effect of guiding the Air Registration Board so that it can specify the flight time after which parts of all aircraft should be replaced.
There are still several contacts which have been established by radar off Elba which have to be identified. The efforts to recover the wreckage will continue with the utmost vigour so long as the search is likely to produce results of value in establishing the cause or causes of the accident. But, grave as were these setbacks, it has also been a year of great progress in British civil aviation as a whole. In the last year the traffic of the Corporations grew by 170 million passenger miles and of the private companies by 32 million passenger miles. For the blend of both, we believe, there is room in this expanding market, and in this lies the justification of the policy on which we are now engaged.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. I. Mikardo (Reading, South)
I am very grateful for the opportunity of speaking thus early in the debate, and I want, in advance, to apologise to those hon. Members who will later take part in the debate for the fact that I shall be compelled to leave the House for a short 1776 time. I am sure that hon. Members who speak later will acquit me of any discourtesy if I do not hear the speeches of all of them.
I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) raised the question, and on it elicited a reply from the Minister, of the dissemination of information to hon. Members of this House about the working of the civil aviation industry. It really would be quite silly if one took the view, which apparently is taken by one hon. Member opposite, who, after today, ought to leave civil aviation alone and stick to television, that hon. Members should be debarred from the widest possible discussion of matters on the basis of information which, I am happy to say, is made very freely available to the many thousands of employees in the industry.
The Minister will know that there is probably no industry in the world, either publicly or privately owned, in which there is such a free interchange of information and views between management and workers as is the case in British civil aviation, and especially within the two Corporations. It is a happy thing for this industry that its employees demand to be informed of what is going on, that that demand is freely acceded to by the managements of the Corporations and that at all levels there is a most lively discussion throughout the industry of what is going on concerning the present problems and the future prospects of the industry.
I will quote one example in this connection because it is so topical. Only this week-end my own union held the sixth of its series of week-end schools for its members in civil aviation. One session was taken up by the chief accountant of B.O.A.C. going to the school at Hastings and discussing with trade unionists employed by the Corporation the finances of civil air transport. He gave a very full and frank disclosure of the financial mechanisms and controls, and spoke about the present situation and the future prospects of the industry.
As I have said, it would be nonsensical if we took the view that where there is free disclosure in papers freely circulated among thousands of employees in the industry, there could possibly be, even if it were desirable, any inhibition of the passage to hon. Members of this House 1777 of any information other than, of course, confidential information, from those running the industry.
The Minister made, as always, an extremely ingenious speech, and, but for the fact that the word has a pejorative connotation, I would have said rather a "cunning" speech. I do not think it was a very convincing speech. Neither do I think that anybody coming fresh to these debates and not being familiar with the arguments that have gone on over the last two years regarding the relationship between the Corporations and the private companies would, listening to the Minister for the first time, have come to any conclusion other than that the Minister was cleverly covering up what was undoubtedly a large-scale wangle. I can say with some authority that that is certainly the view of the overwhelming majority of people who work in the industry, whether in the public or the private sector.
The right hon. Gentleman really should not treat hon. Members as though they were children. It is really too disingenuous for him to come along and say that he sometimes bullies Sir Miles Thomas, General Robertson and Lord Douglas, and that sometimes they bully him. That may be true, but he can "fire" them whereas they cannot "fire" him. Any voluntary agreements they entered into with him are no doubt entered into quite voluntarily with the quite voluntary recognition on their side of the quite voluntary fact that if they do not enter into agreements voluntarily they may voluntarily get the sack.
Let the right hon. Gentleman not try to "kid" us about this. We all know what power relationships are like in any system of organisation. I am not complaining about the existing situation. It is perfectly proper that it should be the Minister, even if it is the right hon. Gentleman who is the Minister, who has the last word in these matters and should carry that responsibility on the Floor of this House. It is proper that that should be so, but let him not try to pretend that there is some relation between himself and the chairmen of the Corporations, who are responsible to him, other than this, that he is, or ought to be if he is behaving properly, the boss, while they are not.
1778 It is quite clear, from what the Minister said, what the Minister's policy is in regard to this matter. His policy is that there should be a fair fight between the Corporations and the private companies so long as the Corporations fight with their fists and the private companies have knuckledusters. With that proviso he is completely in favour of there being an open and fair fight.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman's policy is the opposite of what he said. He accused my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge of paying lip-service in public to the private companies and then wishing in his heart to do them down. The right hon. Gentleman can reverse that and apply it to himself, and he will be accurate. He pays lip-service in public to the work of the Corporations and then, behind the scenes, in private voluntary discussions, he takes every means open to him to chisel bits off the edifice of the publicly-owned airways industry.
The Minister tries to persuade us that he is not changing his policy. My complaint is not that he has changed his policy. My complaint is against the interpretation of his policy. He has used the vague, generalised, semi-ambiguous phraseology of the policy he has announced to tighten the screw half-turn by half-turn, whether voluntarily or involuntarily does not matter for the purpose of this argument, on the work of the Corporations.
I am sorry to say—I deeply regret having to say this—that I have come to the conclusion, from what I have seen of his relationships with the Corporations and the private companies in the last year or two—and I shall try to adduce some evidence of this in a moment—that his primary object is not to secure the maximum health of the British aviation industry in general but to secure advantages to the private companies even when there is an overall disadvantage to the aviation industry. That is why I reject totally his suggestion that the same objects are being sought by both sides of the House in this matter.
We have always said, and we have meant it, that we want British civil aviation to continue to be a source of pride and prestige for this country all over the world, and that in considering the 1779 relations between the Government and the public sector and the private sector that must be the dominating factor. The right hon. Gentleman has equally said that in almost the same phraseology, but I do not believe that he is carrying out, in practice, what he has preached as a principle.
Let us have a look at the example on which he himself chose to argue his case, the colonial coach service about which we have heard so much. He can talk as much jargon and mumbo jumbo as he likes about the three-tier system and cabotage and the rest of it, but the plain fact is that the story of this colonial coach system is a story of his encouraging a private company to compete with a public corporation and then forcibly preventing the public Corporation from using its higher efficiency to compete fairly with the private company. That is the beginning and the end of the whole story.
The Minister's directive to the Air Transport Advisory Council that we have heard quoted several times today, is that an application for a colonial coach service by private firms would not be authorised… unless the proposed service is of such a nature as to generate a new class of traffic without material diversion of traffic from the normal scheduled service of any previously approved United Kingdom operator.It is true, as the Minister has said, that this colonial coach service has generated some new traffic. What is not true is the implication, though he did not say this in as many words, that the colonial coach traffic of the private company is new traffic generated. The traffic consists partly of new traffic and partly of traffic generated away from the British Overseas Airways Corporation.
He gave an assurance to the country through his directive to the Air Transport Advisory Council that this colonial coach service would not be used to divert traffic from B.O.A.C. Now that it has, in fact, diverted traffic from B.O.A.C. I ask the Minister, what is he doing about it? What is he doing about the fact that this coach service set-up is not operating according to the terms of the directive which he gave to the A.T.A.C? What happened? That traffic was diverted away from the Corporation's coach ser vice and the Corporation said, "Fair's fair "—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Which service is the hon. Gentleman talking about, where there has been a particular diversion?
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am talking about the East Africa service.
The Corporation said, "Fair's fair. These chaps have come along; they have beaten us at this game. We must gird up our loins and crack back." So it proposed investigating its costings to see whether it could have a cheap service as well. I should have thought that the Minister would have whooped with delight at this, that he would have said, "This is good Conservative policy by which we get free competition and consumer advantage with lower prices and lower fares because the competitors are competing with each other for the traffic."
But did he whoop with delight? Not a bit of it. He said to the Corporation, "No, you must not offer a cheaper service. We do not want a free-for-all for the most efficient. We do not want a real test, the acid test of the comparative efficiency of the British Overseas Airways Corporation and the private companies."
Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are people who, at election times, run around saying nationalisation means inefficiency, and that the only way to get efficiency is through free competition. Here was a golden opportunity. They are people who are always saying, "We need to have a public and a private sector in this industry so that each will test the other's efficiency." Why then was the Minister unwilling to allow the simple test of efficiency to be applied by com petition between the public and the private sector? I will answer the question, having asked it, because I am perfectly sure that the Minister will not—
§ Mr. Mikardo
I know perfectly well he will not answer it and that the Parliamentary Secretary will not either, so I will answer it myself, although I should be glad to give way, of course, to let either answer it. However, that cock will not fight. I will answer the question myself.
The answer is that if that acid test, that acid comparison, had been applied it would have been found that the private 1781 company, on grounds of efficiency, could not compete with the British Overseas Airways Corporation. Since the British Overseas Airways Corporation is the property of the whole nation, that is something the Minister ought to be as pleased about as I am, though I suspect that he is not.
One of the best yardsticks of efficiency in civil aviation is load factor. Here, if we compare load factors operated by the private companies and Corporations, all the advantages are on the side of the private company because they can throw into the calculation of load factor all the trooping contracts which are easy to fill to a high load factor, and also because they can choose their services and restrict them to the summer months when the peak load occurs. On the other side of the equation, the Corporations are greatly disadvantaged, as in the case of British European Airways, by the social services, as they are called, which are run to places like the Western Isles which, inevitably, have a low load factor for large parts of the year.
Yet, notwithstanding that, in this comparison of load factor between the public and private sectors of the industry all the advantages are with the private sector, the fact is that for the last year for which we have had figures—which is the year ended 31st March, 1953, for the Corporations and 30th June, 1953, for the private companies—the load factor achieved by the private operators was lower than that achieved by either British European Airways Corporation or by British Overseas Airways Corporation.
That is why the private companies could not have stood up to free competition from the Corporations if the Minister had allowed it, and this notwithstanding that they cut their costs by not giving their employees conditions of work as good as those of the Corporations, and notwithstanding the fact, also, that in not providing conditions for their employees as good as those of the Corporations, they are violating the Act which the Minister is supposed to be administering, and he has not uttered a bleat of protest about it.
§ Sir R. Perkins
If I may interrupt the hon. Gentleman, I do not know whether he is referring to the pilots, but there is agreement in the industry about the pilots.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I was not referring specifically to pilots, but to all the employees. However, it is equally true of the pilots in some companies. In a previous debate in this House I quoted the case of one of the private companies which provides a pensions scheme for its pilots. I pay full tribute to all the work which the hon. Gentleman has done for pilots, but that pension scheme provides for pilots from the age of 60, and I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he would be happy to go flying around with 59 year-old pilots. I am sure he would not.
§ Sir R. Perkins
If the hon. Gentleman will give way once more—and I apologise for interrupting him again—I do not know whether he is aware that complete agreement was arrived at three weeks ago as to a standard pensions scheme by the pilots' trade union and B.I.A.T.A. That agreement is being implemented and negotiations are going on with these private concerns which have agreed to come up to that standard.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am grateful for that intervention. It is true that the pilots' union, and all the other unions in the industry, have been fighting for a long time the people who have been breaking the law with the connivance of the Minister—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The hon. Member must give me the details of what firms have broken the agreements that have been reached, knowing as he does that, unless there is an agreement acceptable to the N.J.A.C, the conditions must be equal to those of the Corporations.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I accept the challenge and I will elaborate that point when I have disposed of the hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Mikardo
I shall not run away from it. The Minister need not be afraid. Let me dispose of one enemy at a time and, if I may, the more pleasant one first.
It is certainly true that the pilots' union and the other unions have been opposing the operation by the private companies of 1783 terms and conditions less favourable than those of the Corporations, and that, gradually, they have been winning them over, but it has taken a long time. Surely the hon. Gentleman is not proud of the fact that only three weeks ago some companies, not all, fell into line with the Corporations, and that in respect of other classes of workers we have not managed to get even that far.
It goes to show that, over the period in question, it is true as I said that the private companies were unable to compete with the Corporations notwithstanding that they were offering conditions to their workers which in many cases were less favourable, or at least in some cases.
Now I turn to the right hon. Gentle man. He knows the law as well as I do. The law is laid down in the various Acts from the first Civil Aviation Act, 1946. It is that private companies, except where an accepted agreement exists in some other way, shall not operate, unless they are offering wages and conditions to their workers not less favourable—
§ Mr. Mikardo
—than those paid for comparable work—that is where "comparable" comes in—by the Airways Corporations. I have lived with this thing for years and I know it. Therefore, it follows that anybody who is operating conditions less favourable than those of the Corporations for comparable work, without having an accepted alternative agreement, is violating the law.
§ Mr. Mikardo
Let me finish the sentence. I am happy that this point should be cleared up.
I repeat, anybody who is offering conditions less favourable than National Joint Advisory Council conditions is breaking the law, and when I said "with the connivance of the Minister"—or, at least, not under protest—I want to make this point. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this matter has been raised before and he has always taken the view in the past that, if there is some defect in conditions, then the N.J.A.C. and the unions can complain to the A.T.A.C. and protest 1784 against the company concerned being given a licence.
The point is that the Minister has no right to fob off on the trade unions his responsibility for ensuring that the law is adhered to. It is quite wrong of the right hon. Gentleman to take the view, "I will give a directive to the A.T.A.C. which can then issue a licence and, if conditions are unfair, someone will complain." The right hon. Gentleman is the custodian of the law, it is his responsibility, and he has no right to give it away.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That is rather a different thing from what the hon. Gentleman said a few minutes ago. He said that I was allowing—indeed, he almost hinted, closing an eye deliberately to—widespread connivance or evasion of the law.
As I have repeatedly pointed out to the hon. Gentleman, the terms of reference specified the conditions of employment and it is for the N.J.A.C. to go to the A.T.A.C. on that matter. If evasion were proved, it would then fall to me to withdraw the licence granted to any private operator.
I am glad to say that has not happened because, the procedure not having been violated, nothing has been proved to the contrary, and so I claim that the conditions satisfy the law. I am very glad indeed that agreement has been reached with the pilots. I have always been anxious to see the conditions of employment in the aircraft industry maintained at a level to attract the best type of men.
§ Mr. Mikardo
That was a very long second intervention but I think hon. Members who have heard it will come to the conclusion that it did not contra-vert by a single syllable anything which I said. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman has confirmed what I said. His attitude is that licences can be given and that it is up to the trade unions to complain that the law has been broken.
We take the attitude that this is wrong, that it is the responsibility of the Minister to see in advance, not ex post facto, that the law is adhered to, and his failure to take any action in protest is a connivance at a violation of the law. If the right hon. Gentleman says that he has had no complaints, the answer is that only a few months ago, reviewing the 1785 conditions of the directive which the right hon. Gentleman gave to the A.T.A.C., the unions and the industry gave notice that they did not consider any of the private companies in the industry to be fair employers within the terms of that directive. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman wants them to do beyond that. That, surely, is as much as anybody could have said on the subject.
Reference has been made to the way in which these trooping contracts have been dealt with; that because the Minister insisted on giving preference to the private companies Hermes aircraft have been tied up, so reducing the amount of work available at the Treforest repair establishment, with consequent redundancy. I at once take the Minister's point that even if all the trooping contracts possible went to the Hermes, the work on them would not be sufficient to fill the Treforest base; but that is not the only question.
A great deal of work has been unnecessarily diverted from the public Corporations to privately-owned companies. Having looked through all the technical documents which were submitted to the National Joint Advisory Council, I say unhesitatingly that if the Corporations were themselves permitted to do all the work they conceivably could—and they are as efficient as any private company —there would be no need for redundancy at the Treforest base, nor any need to talk of running down or shutting down the Renfrew works. The threat to Treforest and to Renfrew derives only from the diversion of work from the public sector of the industry to privately-owned companies.
At Treforest, we have a highly efficient factory—no one has impugned its efficiency. It was originally put in the South Wales valleys, on Government advice, for strategic reasons. At Renfrew, we have what is universally admitted to be an efficient base providing employment for a highly skilled team. They are both threatened now because of the policy of the Government, and the policy which the Corporations are carrying out voluntarily—because the right hon. Gentleman asked them to carry them out voluntarily, of course without putting any pressure on them at all. It is a great shame, and the people in South Wales and on Clyde- 1786 side should see quite clearly where the threat comes from.
I said before that the Minister really does not seem to care what happens to British aviation so long as the private companies do well. A particular point is that Airwork had maintenance and repair work on DC-6A aircraft on the North Atlantic freight service. Who did they go to for that? They went to K.L.M. I do not know whether the Minister has intervened—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
If I answer every misstatement of the hon. Gentleman this will become a running interchange. That, and the other outrageous charge in regard to B.E.A. at Renfrew, will be answered by the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. Mikardo
We shall learn what is and what is not a misstatement when all the facts are available. I say, and the Parliamentary Secretary cannot dispute it, that it was Airwork's original intention to put out this repair work to K.L.M. I do not know whether the Minister has intervened. He probably thought that if, in addition to the other funny features, that work was diverted to K.L.M., the "stink" would be too much. I repeat—and I am open to accept a challenge on this—that the patriotic Airwork Company was proposing to put out this work to K.L.M.
That is only one way in which it looks as though the Minister, in his feverish anxiety to advantage the private companies against the public Corporations, does not care if he damages the whole of British aviation. In the debate in October, 1952, I had the honour to wind up for this side. I was replying to the then Parliamentary Secretary, now the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. It was our first major discussion on the Government's new policy. I put it to that hon. Gentleman that no single Government spokesman during the whole debate had made any reference to the competition which British aviation had to face from other countries. The same applies today.
The Minister spoke of B.O.A.C. having a monopoly. What about Pan-American, K.L.M.—and what about Trans-Canada? Where is B.O.A.C.'s monopoly? I then said that if the right hon. Gentleman was not careful the effect of the Government's policy would be that, by their competition, the privately-owned companies and 1787 the Corporations would knock each other down and leave the foreign competitors to step in. The then Parliamentary Secretary gave an assurance that the Government would watch that, and that if it threatened to come about they would take steps to deal with it. That assurance has never been honoured at all.
In conclusion, I want to read from a letter written by a senior commercial officer whom I met on one of the trade union bodies of the industry. He is with British Overseas Airways Corporation. He is a man whose only plan in life is to sell as much B.O.A.C. capacity as he can, and does not care very much from which competitors he gets it. He is a real enthusiast for British civil aviation. His letter confirms what I have heard from others. He says:The present Government policy of hampering the Corporations is not even benefiting the British independents. It is resulting simply in a gradual leakage of business to our most dangerous competitors, who are K.L.M. In everything we touch now we find we are being forestalled by K.L.M. who, of course, have always enjoyed the enthusiastic support of the Dutch Government.He goes on:What the Minister cannot or will not understand is that most of our customers are foreigners, who do not give a damn for British Government policy. They want to deal with an airline that can help them with all their commitments, passenger, cargo and charter. If an organisation in, say. Siam, wants to move 50 people and decides that scheduled fares are too dear and therefore asks for a charter, it is no good B.O.A.C, saying ' Our Government will not let us keep aircraft for charter, so you must write to a firm called Airwork or Skyways or some one else in London.' The business goes to K.L.M., who have aircraft reserved for charter and next time the organisation have some passengers for whom they are prepared to pay normal scheduled fares that goes to K.L.M. as well.I have observed this to be the case in my own recent travels in Asia. There, when they think of British civil aviation, they mean B.O.A.C. It is all they know— they have never heard of Airwork or Skyways. If they want a job done which B.O.A.C. cannot do they say, "The British cannot do this job—let us go to K.L.M." In this civil war which the Minister has created between the two halves of the British civil aviation industry he has ensured that they shall knock each other down and leave more and more of our business to be taken from us.
1788 It is true that we had a good year last year. There was a substantial increase in which we all rejoice. But I believe that that increase fell considerably short of what we could have had if the industry had not been hamstrung by this nonsensical policy put upon the industry, and unfairly carried out by the Government. Those who have at heart the welfare of British Civil aviation will hold the right hon. Gentleman and the Government gravely responsible for the damage they are doing to a fine British industry in response to empty doctrinnaire considerations.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo), who has delivered himself with his usual gusto of the usual number of highly tendentious and inaccurate statements. I do not expect very much more of him because we know him well in this House.
The hon. Gentleman accused the Minister of working a large-scale wangle, and he went on to talk with great scorn about "voluntary" agreements. He seemed to assume—and it seems that we can only assume likewise—that any agreement or undertaking to allow any private operator into the industry has to be brought out with thumbscrews from the chairmen of the Corporations. That seems to be the only possible construction to put upon the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
He accused the independent operators of competing with knuckle dusters against the poor little Corporations who were fighting with bare fists and of chiselling bits off the edifice of civil aviation. He does not seem to consider that any bits of work which are chiselled off are not the possession of the public Corporations but that under the new dispensation, or the new understanding of the old dispensation, the Corporations and the independent operators are on exactly the same basis vis-à-vis the A.T.A.C., and that A.T.A.C. award the right to run services in accordance with values that they judge to be best in competition between the different operators.
We heard also about the colonial coach services. The hon. Gentleman made 1789 great play about that matter, and said that we were forcing the Corporations not to bring in their greater efficiency to compete with the independent operators already working on the East Africa safari service, I take it. He assumes one thing which cannot be granted, which is that they are actually competing. They are running an entirely different service, on lines differently laid down.
§ Mr. Mikardo
Of course, they are running a different service because the Corporations are not being allowed to run the same service.
§ Dr. Bennett
The Corporations were not expected to run a third service when they had an inalienable right to run the other two. The hon. Gentleman said that the independent operators were diverting work from them. That is proved to be manifestly untrue, in so far as it is now impossible, or at least difficult, to get seats on B.O.A.C. aircraft on their own services. How can the other operators be considered to be diverting work from B.O.A.C. if that is the case?
Then the hon. Gentleman complained bitterly that B.O.A.C. are prevented by the Minister from reducing their fares. In what capacity are they supposed to be reducing their fares. Will he tell us? Is it on the tourist class? If so, surely the differential between the tourist and the coach services has to be maintained by the Minister, because the Minister is responsible for keeping the differential on the cabotage routes just as he is responsible for keeping it on the international routes.
Furthermore, can it be true, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, that B.O.A.C. are trying to reduce their tourist fares on these routes when, in fact, they are putting them up from 1st April? I do not understand what he is getting at, unless he is referring to a certain document about rebates.
§ Dr. Bennett
Apparently he is not, so I will not go into that. He made another sweeping statement which has no relevance at all to the facts of civil aviation. He said that all advantages of load factors are with the private sector. That may be true. One cannot criticise that, but the private sector is an entirely different one and is not even serving the 1790 same services. If the private operators were working for first-class or tourist class services over the same routes, he might have something to complain about, but in fact they are picking up the crumbs from the rich Corporations' table in operating definitely third-class services. Why he should regard that as a sinister conspiracy to put the Corporations out of business passes my comprehension and that of everybody who is interested in civil aviation.
One of the things which is apparently giving rise to the apparent grievances of the Opposition is the fact that we are not allowing British operators to fight each other to the death on the routes and services after we have allotted them their licences. Surely that is the purpose of the A.T.A.C., without which there would be little point in having an Air Transport Advisory Committee. They say who may run on certain routes, and if somebody is allotted a licence it would be ridiculous for them to welcome other comers onto those routes. The hon. Gentleman forgets that it is accepted nowadays that if the first operator in a new service does well and is doing his job efficiently, it is open to any other operator—to a Corporation just the same as to an independent operator—to come in alongside if they can prove that the traffic on that route will bear the extra service. That seems to me to make complete nonsense once again of what the hon. Gentleman has said.
Furthermore, we had a Sweeping statement from the hon. Gentleman about the so-called civil war that the Minister has created in civil aviation, although last year we did a good year's work. That is a characteristic self-contradiction which make the hon. Gentleman's remarks tonight as unworthy as they are on other occasions.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I anticipated that point, and I replied to it in advance. The hon. Gentleman is being a little childish if he says that because we have made an increase we have done as much as we could have done. He must learn to distinguish between actual and potential.
§ Dr. Bennett
I accept the hon. Gentleman reproof with the respect that he generally inspires in me for his opinions. He did not answer me in advance. I gave way to him.
§ Dr. Bennett
Anyway, we have heard a most destructive and unhelpful series of remarks from the hon. Gentleman, ending up with the wonderful broadside that he fired at the Minister for having started a civil war in civil aviation. This time last year I gave it as my sincere belief that at last we were getting out of the murk that had existed, and that the Corporations and independent operators were going to make peace with each other and pull together to help in the joint increase of Britain's civil aviation traffic. If the situation has deteriorated since last year to bring us to the extraordinary unseemly scenes that we had on 10th February last at Question time in this House, it does not seem 10 me that the Minister or the Government have done anything to bring about those scenes. Any strife, trouble or civil war has been precipitated by the hon. Gentleman who made that accusation, and his hon. Friends.
It seems to me that there is a basic difference in attitude between our two sides. We on these benches regard all operators as having the same rights before the A.T.A.C., and hon. Members opposite do not. The fact that they do not is best illustrated by an interjection which was made on 10th February when I asked the Minister to what extent services by the Corporations and Airwork over the Atlantic would be competitive. I asked:Can my right hon. Friend tell me to what extent these two firms are likely to provide services …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February. 1954; Vol. 523, c. 1153.]I was then corrected—though it did not appear in HANSARD—by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) who said, "Not firms." In other words, I think it must be the belief of the Opposition that they are not firms, that they are not commercial concerns on a similar basis, but that one is the chosen instrument and the other is an interloper. That seems to be a division of opinion which can only be decided in the Lobbies and cannot be bridged, because we cannot persuade the Opposition of the equality of private and public operators before the A.T.A.C.
The essence of our policy is not to have favourites, but to allow everybody to have a fair chance. The only people who 1792 have any protected services are the Corporations, which have a complete and absolute right to first-class tourist services. Surely it is enough for them to be allowed to run those services and expect them to make a profit out of it? Nobody is competing against them in any way.
One matter which I consider needs attention soon, if not immediately, is the dilemma we have reached in training pilots and aircrew for civil aviation. Up till now pilots have been coming fairly easily to independent and public operators alike. They all come out of the Services, most of them being ex-war pilots. Although they have been plentiful and easy to get, we shall shortly be faced with a different situation. The ex-war pilots are now getting a little long in the tooth, and unless the Royal Air Force is going to train far more National Service men than it can use for aircrew and loose them on the public—which I trust it will not—there will be no further supplies, especially of young pilots, for any civilian operators.
Nobody would deny that civil training is necessary and will have to be instituted. Young men will have to come direct into civil aviation when the repercussions of the late war become more remote. The requirements of civil and military pilots are quite separate, and they diverge. The question we have to consider is, who should be expected to pay for the training of civil pilots? There is the pupil himself, his parents, the people who do the training, the operators, and the Government. Everybody seems to think that the Government should be the fairy godmother in this respect. That is not a very good idea, because it lets everybody else down much too lightly—except the poor taxpayer. The pupil and his parents will feel that they have nothing to lose if the Government stand all the cost, and we all know that the trainers will not consider their costings quite so carefully. The operator will get something for nothing. No one party can stand the whole cost, and I ask my right hon. Friend to try to work out some kind of scheme by which all the parties involved participate in the cost of training civilian pilots.
The Ministry would probably have to produce a syllabus of training, or lay down the standard required for its own 1793 courses, if it is to be in any way responsible, but the bulk of the money should come from the profits of the operators, thus conferring on them the right to select pupils for the training courses. This suggestion would require that the Government Corporations should make profits, and we must assume that they will do so in time to put in their own pupils. I suggest that scholarship schemes such as those of the A.T.C. should be included in this plan. I should like some assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary about what is likely to take place in future and, if he has nothing in prospect, an indication that there will be a further investigation into this matter.
Although the hon. Member for Reading, South made a rather militant speech, the tone of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) was very much more moderate and reasonable than a month ago. I welcome that, and I thank him for it. The fact that he has moderated his tone is a help to civil aviation. I hope that the differences which are apparent today, and which will undoubtedly be voted upon tonight, will sooner or later —I am afraid it will be later, but I should like to think it could be sooner—become reconciled so as to assist the much-needed expansion of civil aviation.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Group Captain C. A. B. Wilcock (Derby, North)
The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) emphasised the difference which has been expressed today between the two sides of the House. He did not seem to understand that there is really no difference between us about the need for civil aviation to prosper, although there will always be different shades of opinion, such as the question of the granting of a licence to Airwork for freight across the Atlantic, which was dealt with very well by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) and will doubtless be referred to again before the debate ends.
The hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham also mentioned the question of the training of pilots. I agree with him that it is a most important matter, which should receive the attention of the Ministry. Some years ago I had the honour to be the chairman of a committee which dealt 1794 with the question of the provision of pilots and aircrew. The hon. Member might find its report of interest, especially because of the very distinguished people—including Sir Miles Thomas—who sat on the committee at the time. If he reads that report he may be able to make a further contribution towards the solution of this problem.
It is good to see the Parliamentary Secretary back, and in health. However much we dislike some of the things he does, we all like him very much personally. I do not know whether he is in the cockpit as the pilot or the navigator.
§ Group Captain Wilcock
We were very glad to hear the Minister's remarks about the Comets. The chairman of B.O.A.C. did the right thing in temporarily taking them out of service, irrespective of the various criticisms which were made. Should there be any other incident or possibility of an incident, or something about the Comet with which B.O.A.C. captains are a little dissatisfied or worried, then they should be taken out of service again. B.O.A.C. should not bother two hoots should there be criticism. We want to build up a reputation for safety in the air and we should not worry about the repercussions arising from taking aircraft out of service.
We all know that every new aircraft has teething troubles, sometimes very serious ones. Some quite nonsensical comments have been made about the superiority of American aircraft. They have been in operation for 15 years or more, and they had their own most distressing incidents in the first few years. The Comet is a great aircraft, and we all have the fullest confidence in it.
It is not the policy of the Labour Party to discourage private operators, as has been suggested time and time again by hon. Members opposite. Indeed, it was the Labour Government who introduced associated agreements so that private concerns could operate scheduled services. The criticism today is that the Minister has shown a strong inclination to favour the private operator against the public Corporation. That case seems to have been made, and I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer to the criticisms which have been advanced. Obviously 1795 in the situation which exists the Minister must be a most "upright man" in that he must lean neither towards the Corporations nor towards the private operators. It will be difficult for a Conservative Minister, as it will be equally difficult for a Labour Minister, not to lean to one side or the other, but the Corporations are the state instrument which carries the British flag overseas and represents Great Britain internationally. As a matter of principle and policy we must protect them to the best of our ability.
I want to turn to a more modest phase in aviation than international and transcontinental freight services, important though they are. I want to come to the more parochial provincial services which we should think of starting and encouraging in this country. The time has come, I believe, when we must regard the carriage of freight within this country and within Europe as a subject which requires and deserves the support of the Ministry.
There are over 80 municipalities in this country—boroughs or towns of over 100,000 inhabitants. As I see the pattern of aviation and trade in this country in the future, every one: of those municipalities must have an airfield. It must have opportunities to carry freight from the town to other local and provincial centres, and possibly to Europe. I am not thinking of the lonGhaul services but of the ordinary day-to-day work which must be done in the future. By these means we shall improve trade relations between this and other countries and, incidentally, help our economic stability.
What will these airfields carry, and for what will they cater? They should receive freight aircraft, possibly one aircraft a day, and the manufacturers in the towns will send their goods to the airport to be carried to their destination at the first opportunity. There will thus be an inter-city organisation for carrying freight and, possibly, a certain number of passengers.
I have been into this matter very carefully, and it might interest the House to know that for certain commodities, such as fabrics, instruments, electrical goods, dress and clothing, light engineering products, foodstuffs, china, glass, printing and stationery, it is more economical for 1796 the goods to be put on an aircraft than to be very carefully and often elaborately packed for a journey by lorry, then, possibly, by train, and maybe even by both, across to the Continent. This is briefly the future pattern of trade as those of us concerned in aviation see it.
If we accept this position, then there must be an aerodrome associated with every town in the country. Its function will be to receive the helicopters which will be operating from the centre of the towns, because the helicopter has to go somewhere when it has finished its journey, and will require to be maintained at the provincial airport. Freight will be carried from these aerodromes and, as is happening at the airports with which I am personally interested, various large industrial concerns will have their own aircraft based on these airports to carry their executives about and, we hope in the future, a proportion of their finished products.
Next we must consider the aircraft itself. What should this general purpose aircraft be? I think it should be a plane costing no more than £10,000. Cost is most important. It must carry 1,000 lb. of freight and three or four passengers It must be a twin-engined aircraft for crossing the sea. It must be an austerity aircraft, and it does not matter whether its speed is 80 miles an hour, 100 miles an hour or 120 miles an hour. Speed is not the concern of this type of aircraft which is to be used for trade within this country and with other countries reasonably near.
I hope these remarks will come to the attention of the aircraft industry. I hope that the Minister and the Ministry will give a little consideration to how they can support such an idea. I can assure the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary that the British aircraft industry today has no aircraft which can fill this role. In this country we are very short of small and light aircraft. This is because the Government have given orders for large quantities of military aircraft and large commercial aircraft so that the aircraft industry has no need to turn attention to anything small and less profitable. If the Minister would give support to the production of such an aircraft, he would be really helping towards the development of internal freight services.
1797 I also ask the Government to give some assistance to these municipal airports and privately-owned airports throughout the country to which I have referred. If the Minister will see that they are loaned night flying equipment and navigational aids, fire tenders and other equipment of that description, and if at the same time he will issue some publicity from his Department urging the municipalities to develop their local aerodromes to the best possible advantage, he will again be doing a real service to British aviation.
Finally, I would comment on British aviation and the relationship between the Corporations and the private companies. I think it would be a bad thing if the impression were given or felt that we wished to see encouragement in one direction as against another direction, that we wished to encourage the Corporation at the expense of the private operator or the private operator at the expense of the Corporation. That is not so at all. The Corporations must have priority in all international contacts and all international contracts. It is in routes abroad that B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.C. must be given priority
At the same time I hope the Minister and the Ministry will make perfectly clear the zones of operation in which civil operators can safely develop, particularly now that shipping interests are bringing their money into aviation in a big way. It is essential that the Ministry should make a policy statement which is devoid of ambiguity, so that all private operators can see the best way in which they can expand their interests in harmony with the Corporations. The last thing we want is disharmony between the various civil operators and the public Corporations. At present there is esprit de corps between British crews, Corporation and private, vis-à-vis foreign competitors; and this we want to foster and not destroy.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
. I sympathise very much with the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) in respect of some of the views which he expressed. I think that there is a great chance to develop the carriage of freight to the Continent by air, and I hope that we shall have coming along in the years ahead some interesting developments in this respect.
1798 Nearly two years ago, I made a speech in the House on the subject of civil aviation, and I expressed some concern about the prospects for the future success of our civil aviation industry. One of the things which I pointed out, and I think that my views have been shown to be correct by events, was that we really needed to have a new development in air liners coming along some time this year. I feel some concern that there is no sign of that aeroplane arriving. At the same time, I said that I regretted that we had committed ourselves quite so fully as we had to the production of the Britannia.
I believe that our lead in commercial air transport and the manufacture of the best aeroplanes is in jeopardy because of the development going on in the United States, particularly in regard to the Boeing 707. That aeroplane is now getting very near to completion and will probably be flying in the autumn. If the American aircraft industry has even average luck in this development, we shall find that our lead is very seriously threatened. For instance, the speed which the Americans expect to get out of that aeroplane for a trans-Atlantic crossing is about 550 miles per hour, whereas we expect to get from the Comet III when in service, about 490 miles per hour, and from the Britannia approximately 350 miles per hour.
In addition, the Boeing will carry 80 first-class passengers and the Comet III, 48. That American aeroplane had its origin in the air transport of troops, and as a result it had considerable American Government support. It is not only, I think, its performance which is a threat to us. It has also great advantages structurally. I believe that there is a lot to be said for airliners of this nature having their engines carried in nacelles under the wings, as is the practice in that machine.
One of the things which we have to bear in mind in the rapid development of aviation is the possible change to engines of another type, which is rendered extremely simple when they are installed in that way. I believe that there is a higher factor of safety, that it is easier to change types, and that there are also great structural and aerodynamic advantages. At the same time, there is the advantage of greater space being available for the storage of fuel in the wings.
1799 I do not think that we should underestimate this threat in any way. The Boeing Company have great development and production experience, especially of large airliners and also of jet bombers. I think that there is no doubt whatever that the United States are going to make a very determined attack to wrest our lead from us.
The president of the Boeing Aircraft Company stated quite recently that neither danger nor expense has ever prevented the faster form of transport beating the slower in competition. That is an indication about which I get very nervous when I think of our present precarious lead in the world of air transport. I should like to give a few views of my own as to how this state of affairs has arisen. I think that it is extremely disappointing to many of us who have been involved in aviation for some years that the lead which this country has built up in this form of transport by means of jet-driven airliners should now be in jeopardy.
We have made many mistakes in the handling of the Comet's development and construction. One point which we should always bear in mind is that there is a tendency for B.O.A.C. to be looked upon as the only customer for airliners developed in this country. That has a very depressing effect on the production and development of new aeroplanes. One recommendation made to B.O.A.C, when this aeroplane was first being developed, was that it was such an important step forward that it should be recommended to the British Government that De Havilland's should be asked to go into production at a very early stage, and the Government should guarantee the necessary finance. That was in order to get the aeroplane into airlines as quickly as possible and at the same time to develop the aeroplane as rapidly as possible.
That suggestion was made, I understand, to the management of B.O.A.C. but it was not passed on to the Government of the day. That was not done because B.O.A.C. hoped to reap all the advantages of that particular aircraft development. As a result, development and production of the Comet have, in my view, been held back, and the Comet is now likely to be threatened by this new U.S.A. Boeing type.
Another criticism which I wish to make of the handling of the Comet is the idea 1800 which seems to be getting around that we can now pause to consolidate our position. This remark, or one similar to it, was made a short time ago by the chairman of the Corporation. When remarks like that are made, particularly by anyone involved in the aircraft business, that is a nasty sign of age; and when one is inclined to get ideas of that nature in the aircraft business, one had better get out of it and into some other business.
There is nothing more certain than that American airlines and other airlines throughout the world are not going to let up at all. There is not going to be a pause for consolidation, and they are going to get the best out of the rapid development that is taking place in aviation from month to month and year to year. If we in this country are not very careful, we shall have a poor set of airline operators and we shall also at the same time be entirely dependent on the United States for the production of suitable jet aircraft, an industry which we in this country founded.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Pearson (Pontypridd)
I am glad to have caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that the same good fortune will be available to every hon. Member who wishes to take part in the debate. I think that those who sit on this side of the House should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) for opening this debate in such an excellent manner. He touched on the main, broad problems on which the debate is expected to run, and he did so with force and candour and in a very clear way. My indebtedness goes also to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo), who dealt with the general issues of the debate in a very able manner.
On the broad issues, I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) when he said that there are basic differences between the two sides of the House. In the main, hon. and right hon. Members opposite believe in private enterprise and the private sector, as it is called, and, in the main, we on this side believe in developing the public Corporations, especially for the vital services that we must have in the nation.
1801 The Minister was noble in motives, but his speech was deficient in parts. It was clearly noticeable that he puts over his beliefs and thoughts even more flatly, firmly and confidently than hitherto. Any Conservative Minister who stands at the Box is likely to come down on the side of the private sector, and I would say that when there is a Labour Government in office the Minister will inevitably come down chiefly on the side of the public sector. That is the difference between us.
When we discuss the question of civil aviation, I always think that the world of flying is the heartland of the pioneer. Nothing can dismay him. His successes, his setbacks and opportunities have instilled a determination to win through. Everyone in the House would want to support the pioneer in that respect.
In the province of civil aviation, I hope that the House will pardon me for mentioning that Wales, like other areas, would like to have the best. It is heartening to have the civil airport of Rhoose established. The alterations that are being undertaken there show that the business is meant. We are very glad about this in Wales, but I trust that the fullest facilities for Customs and emigration, cargo handling and radio aids will soon be ready at this airport, so that that important area of South Wales can have a first-class international airport.
The hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North mentioned the importance of local authorities developing their airports. I am glad to notice throughout Wales that the local authorities are showing a willingness and foresight in establishing and preparing to maintain airfields. Swansea, Haverfordwest and Wrexham are to be commended for going ahead with getting their localities on the airline network. There is an enormous future in civil aviation for freight carrying and the like. My hope is that local authorities will be given every encouragement and assistance towards the fulfilment of their aims.
In Wales, it is mainly the private sector of the industry which operates. Nothing is lost by giving it credit for having pioneered in this way. The Cambrian Air Services are developing expanding routes and- they have some accomplishments to their credit. I trust that before long they will be able to link North and South Wales. Everyone knows 1802 of the geographical difficulties in the way of road and rail transport. I hope that the Cambrian Air Services will be able to link North and South Wales by arranging for a stop at Wrexham on the Liverpool, Cardiff and Channel Islands route.
Last year, Cambrian Air Services made a very welcome new development of another international air link between Cardiff and Paris, which has met with good support. Here is a gateway to Europe from the West which short-circuits all sorts of travelling irritations; and I hope it will not be long before a Cambrian service is plying between Haverfordwest and Dublin. I pay tribute also to Aer Lingus, with its Dublin-Cardiff service, which helps to develop an air travel consciousness in the Principality.
I should like to know what the British European Airways Corporation is doing to serve Wales. It has air services to all parts of Britain except the Principality. It is development that we require in Wales, and if the Ministry will take up sympathetically with the Welsh Advisory Council ways and means by which this may be achieved, I shall be very glad. Get us the helicopter and let it be developed. We think that in Wales the place for a helicopter is certain.
My colleagues in adjacent constituencies and I are under certain pressure about the present and future prospects of the British Overseas Airways factory at the Treforest Trading Estate which has already been referred to by the Minister and by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South. The Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be aware of the unpleasant circumstances that now darken the scene. During the current month, over 180 men and women in various grades will be under notice to terminate their employment. Later, another 56 must finish. Thus, 236 employees are about to lose their jobs and their emotions at losing these good quality jobs in a still difficult employment area can best be left to the imagination.
The Treforest factory has been performing a valuable service for civil aviation by magnificent work on the repair and overhaul of aero engines. This work, together with aero accessory manufacture and the manufacture of fuselage components in adjoining areas, has brought my constituents and the large 1803 populace very near to the world of aviation. The Treforest factory is splendidly laid out with valuable equipment, which some factories do not possess, and a fine team of key workpeople has been built up.
The grand thing about it all is how the miners, who were unemployed in the early days, fitted in to these jobs in such a remarkable manner and have become really skilled in their work. The productivity record of this factory has filled all of us with pride and its labour relations have been excellent. There has not been one single dispute the whole time the factory has been established there, and the Public Accounts Committee during the war paid a notable tribute to the work done at that time.
Modern test beds have been laid out for the testing of jet engines. A large capital sum must have been involved. I think there are two best beds there which are of the latest design. For some years the number of employees at this factory has been about 1,300, and the intake of engines from the Corporation and outside was sufficient to keep them fully employed.
It was a little over six months ago that the factory appeared to be engulfed in the consequences of the withdrawal of the Hermes aircraft, and there were also technical developments increasing efficiency which gave a longer life between overhauls to the engine. Further, there was the impact of policy changes at high levels. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South has referred to some of these policy changes. The Minister might not accept those charges, but I hope he will take it from me that they are believed by the whole of the employees of this B.O.A.C. factory.
Readjustments necessary because of the withdrawal of the Hermes and the slowing down of the intake through technical developments can be well understood. On the other hand, the policy stemming from the Government's desire to place all engine overhaul work to competitive tender when there is an adequate service at a publicly-owned factory cannot be fully comprehended. Quality and high standards of safety can be easily forsaken by a chase for low prices.
The Bristol Aeroplane Company and the Rolls Royce Company are filled up 1804 with work that tends to be drawn from Treforest. This factory has provided what South Wales needed—a healthy proportion of good quality jobs. It is a great disservice to limit the intake of available engines for overhaul to where there is the manpower and proved skill to do the job. I contend that it is a mistake to direct this engine overhaul work towards the already fully employed areas. I judge that they are fully employed areas from the number of advertisements we see in the technical journals. All the big firms are after good men. Why not leave the overhaul of these engines at Treforest? Why not make it the centre for the overhaul of all publicly-owned aircraft engines? Wisdom beckons us to place work where available labour exists.
I am afraid that the Development Areas will slide back again to what they were if, even in the slightest degree, work is turned to the busier factories and away from such places as Treforest as a matter of policy. The 236 men and women, mainly men, who are about to be put off are filled with anxiety, and the remaining 1,000 do not feel entirely secure. Naturally, they tell their Members of Parliament, like myself and my colleagues, that they have suffered enough unnecessary unemployment in the past, and they are not prepared quietly to grin and bear it again. There are exceedingly sharp edges of controversy about the work already going over to other factories.
I ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman: cannot the redundancy at Treforest be eased by placing there the overhaul of the Hercules 634 engines on the B.E.A. Viking aircraft? The Minister has informed me already that the factory is not equipped to undertake the overhaul of this type of engine. He has done this by correspondence, but it only requires some balancing up of short range spares, which can be got from over the Bristol Channel, and the work can be undertaken immediately. I appeal for this opportunity to be given to this factory.
We are all aware that British European Airways are withdrawing the Vikings from service, so that doing the work at Treforest would be a temporary "fill-in." I think that these temporary "fill-in" jobs are of very great importance. The unfortunate withdrawal of the Comet I has meant fewer "ghost" engines for 1805 Treforest. I understand that the first 200 of these engines are to be overhauled by de Havilland's. Could this number be reduced by agreement so as to give a lift to Treforest? After all, where there is a will there is a way. If it were gone into it could very well turn out to be of mutual benefit. In my enthusiasm to help these grand fellows, I exhort the Minister to "have a go."
Needless to say, it is of the greatest importance for British Overseas Airways to be placed on all the tendering lists for outside work and that their prices should be of the keenest. I ask that the temporary "fill-in" type of work be not shunned as it helps to tide over the near problem. In what I am saying I am speaking to British Overseas Airways Corporation through the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman.
What of the lonGterm position? The newer aircraft will have the Dart, Avon and Proteus engines. Have B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. made a decision whether these engines shall be overhauled at Treforest, say after an initial development period when they would go back to their respective manufacturers of the engines? I know these are very expensive engines and consequently one has to recognise that the overhauls must be of the highest technical standard. There are lessons to be learned and my plea is that Treforest has reached this standard measured by past achievement. Its delivery dates have been sound, too, in past contracts. There is an essentiality for British Overseas Airways Corporations aircraft engines being sent to Treforest. I am constrained to look for signs of things to come, and I suggest that the Corporation should give some indication to its employees about the future. Will a staff of 1,000 or 750 be a fair estimate of what will meet requirements for overhaul in the long term? Can a fair answer be given that the factory will be retained and no thought be given to its closure? Can that undertaking be given by the Parliamentary Secretary?
My questions are designed to open an understanding of the issues at stake. When people's livelihood is in the balance frankness is called for. What is on the other side of the present choppy waters of uncertainty should be told if the authorities have the information, or 1806 this ought to be forthcoming when policy is fully informed. By leaving the matter in doubt anxiety will certainly be sharpened.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)
The term "moderate" was applied to the speech of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), and I think that that is right. The same adjective could be applied to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) and also to the speech of the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Pearson). Unfortunately, that moderation was not observed by the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo). I will not criticise his speech any further lest, possibly, the Rules of Order might be applied to me.
But all these speeches seemed to concentrate or join together in a common charge against the Minister for his apparent bias against the Corporations. To my mind that is utter nonsense. I have listened to every speech that my right hon. Friend has made on civil aviation since he was appointed Minister and before that when he was in Opposition. In every way he has carried out the policy laid down for the Corporations vis-à-vis the private charter companies as announced by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) and by Lord Winster just after the 1946 Act was passed.
§ Mr. Beswick
The hon. Member is repeating this mistake. Will he tell us when the former Lord President of the Council, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), said that the private companies could not undertake charter work or trooping contracts?
§ Sir T. Moore
The hon. Member is misquoting both the speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South and also my right hon. Friend's quotation of that speech. In any event, if the hon. Member will forgive me, since the time is strictly limited and so that as many hon. Members as possible may take part in the debate, I will deliver my speech in my own way.
For some six years, during the unhappy period of the administration of the late Government, many of us on this side of 1807 the House who had the interests of Scotland at heart were constantly trying to divert the minds of Socialist Ministers to Scottish needs. But, as everyone who was in the House at the time recalls, they were so immersed in producing their ill-conceived, ill-balanced, feather-brained schemes of nationalisation—here I am more or less quoting the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who gained a certain notoriety by pointing out that although they had many ideas on nationalisation they had none about putting nationalisation into effect—
§ Sir T. Moore
—that, unfortunately, our appeal failed.
There were some well-meaning Ministers at that time. There was Mr. Ivor Thomas, who subsequently saw the error of his ways, Lord Winster, who has also, I think, began to see his error, and Lord Pakenham. They were all well-meaning but, unfortunately, their ostrich-like bosses could not get their heads dislodged from the sand in which they were immersed, and the Ministers could not make a success of the great job with which they had been entrusted. The Ministers of those days thought they had done all that was necessary by appointing an Advisory Committee for Scotland. The less I say about that the better. The Committee does not bear a very good name on either side of the House, and does not deserve a very good name.
Despite the lack of interest shown and of help given by the late Government, there were adventurous spirits, able and determined men, working away in Scotland to keep private enterprise alive in that very home of private enterprise—I refer, in particular, to the company which has been already mentioned by my right hon. Friend, Scottish Aviation, Limited, at Prestwick—though their hearts were nearly broken and their bank account emptied because of the unfair competition they had to meet from the nationalised Corporation.
I laughed to myself when I heard the hon. Member for Reading, South speak about the knuckle-dusters possessed by the private charter companies. What of the many million of subsidies that went 1808 to the Corporations on their formation in 1946? Those were a very powerful lot of knuckle-dusters. As I said, the private companies had very powerful and unfair competition from the nationalised industry and their efforts to run their own private operational companies were hamstrung in every direction. Finally, they were driven out of the very country where they had laid the foundations of their great enterprise in 1934.
Still undaunted, they turned their eager minds to the design and manufacture of aircraft. In this field, as the House will recall from statements which have already been made, they were so successful that last year they had their first venture in the design of aircraft, the Prestwick Pioneer, accepted by the R.A.F., and their machines are now being used in the jungles of Malaya. That is a tremendous achievement, bearing in mind that they have not yet received any assistance, technical or financial, from the Government. They were so encouraged by this development that, though still sadly lacking funds, they developed another aircraft to the extent that the design was accepted and passed on test of the first model.
It has been mentioned already from this side of the House, how eagerly the country was looking for a suitable machine to cover certain portions of our internal lines. We in Scotland have been eagerly looking for a machine for the Highlands and Islands.
§ Sir T. Moore
Now we have such a machine. Scottish Aviation Ltd. has produced a machine taking 16 pasengers, and costing £30,000, with a cruising speed of 135 to 150 m.p.h. While all this dramatic development was going on, another significant event took place in our island story, as the Prime Minister would call it. We had a General Election in 1951 and immediately the new Conservative Government, well aware of the importance of Scotland, determined to make full use of Scottish brains, ingenuity, skill and craftsmanship.
They did not enter into the matter haphazardly or unwisely. They made the most meticulous inquiry into the value of the new machine called the Twin Pioneer. They decided to support it. Once the 1809 decision was taken we had all the tremendous advantage of the powerful advocacy of my right hon. Friend the Minister. We had the useful and per suasive eloquence of the Secretary of State for Scotland—
§ Sir T. Moore
—and also the Minister of Supply, ever ready wherever good work had to be pushed forward. The heartbreaks and frustration are forgotten and the company look forward at last with new confidence, born of security and certainty, determined to fulfil the high hopes placed in them by the Government who promised a fortnight ago to give them technical backing and financial assistance to develop this admirable machine. [An HON. MEMBER: "Public assistance."] As I have said outside the House, but not had a full opportunity of saying inside the House, this Government deserve well of Scotland. Scotland will see to it that that gratitude is displayed when the next appeal to the country is made. All three of the Ministers I have mentioned have proved—if proof were necessary—that they are true friends to our country.
I wish to turn now to the operational side of Prestwick Airport. Here, too, the Government have done well and deserve our thanks. A new runway is on the way to being constructed and £5 million is to be spent to enable the airport to develop to that international status so often described by ray right hon. Friend. A question which I wish to ask my right hon. Friend is whether he really thinks it right, in view of the decision I have described, to maintain a subsidiary airfield at Renfrew? I apologise to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Renfrew, East (Sir G. Lloyd) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Maclay) for mentioning this—I notice they are not present—but I wish to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister and his colleague to consider the matter. Renfrew can never expand. It is "cabined, cribbed and confined" by the built-up area all around it and can never be completely safe for landing and taking off. In my opinion, it must inevitably close and come to an end as an airfield and the traffic, such as it is, be diverted back to Prestwick. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not stating 1810 what I hope will happen, but what I think will happen.
§ Sir T. Moore
The hon. Member will be able to speak later. I had no idea that he had an interest in Renfrew. I know the advantages of having an airfield close to Glasgow and the distance by rail to Glasgow from Prestwick, which is the only practical way of getting there, compared with the short distance by road from Renfrew.
I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport here, too, as he may be able to help us. Why not electrify the line from Ayr to Glasgow, or even run a diesel engine service? The terrain is perfect and entirely suitable for such a proposal to be carried out. By that means we could have a service running through Prestwick which could take passengers from Prestwick to the centre of Glasgow in exactly the time that it now takes to get by road from Renfrew to the centre of Glasgow; that is, provided capital expenditure could be provided, and no doubt my right hon. Friend will command that. As he has now found his way to the heart of the Treasury, he might try his hand at that as well.
Another question about which I have written to my right hon. Friend is the removal of the Redbrae establishment to Birdlip, which has caused great disquiet among the employees there. No doubt there is a good reason, but we have not had it yet and it would satisfy my constituents, who are sorely perturbed, if the reason could be given.
§ Sir T. Moore
I am beginning to see a danger and difficulty in coming to a decision between the conflicting claims of agriculture, national or private airfields, and housing. It must be very hard to decide when one claim is more important, more demanding and must be more quickly satisfied than another, but I should like my right hon. Friend to bear this question in mind.
As he knows, the soil of Ayrshire is probably the richest in Scotland, or in the United Kingdom. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Oh, yes. Therefore, when we take some of that rich fruitful soil away 1811 from its proper purpose of agriculture, a very strong argument is needed to convince the famer that it will serve a better purpose by use for housing or as an airfield.
I ask my right hon. Friend to look into these points. In the meantime, to encourage him to go forward on the lines he has set himself, I again tender him the warmest thanks of Scotland for his grand action in helping us in our hour of need.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. A. C. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I am very pleased indeed to have the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore). I hope he will forgive me if I do not deal at much length with the subject matter of his speech because I want to deal with the question of the staff at Redbrae, many of whom are constituents of mine, residing in Troon and that district.
In passing, I would say that the advocacy of Scottish Aviation by the hon. Member for Ayr appeared passing strange because he did not give the full picture. He knows as well as many of us on both sides of the House that at the beginning of the war Prestwick—about whose development no one has been more pleased than I—was a mere grass park with one hut. During the course of the war £2 million was spent from public funds in developing it, and, as the hon. Member indicated, £5 million or thereabouts is to be spent. We should always recognise what money has come from the people of this country to make Prestwick what it is—in my opinion the best airport in Britain.
§ Sir T. Moore
The hon. Member does not want me to anticipate the answer which will be given by the Parliamentary Secretary. I could answer all the points so far.
§ Mr. Manuel
Possibly we could have got to the heart of the problem more quickly if the hon. Member had declared his interest.
I want to talk on one subject which is of constituency interest, but I wish to preface my remarks by saying that many people in Scotland are apprehensive about the future of civil aviation in Scotland. The hope that the B.E.A.C. maintenance depot at Renfrew will be retained gives 1812 some satisfaction, but there are still great fears as to the future. I hope that after today's debate we can have a clearer picture of the future of Scottish civil aviation.
I wish to direct my remarks to the transfer of radio men from Redbrae, Prestwick, to Birdlip in Gloucestershire, and to give the background of this problem I will quote from a memorandum I have received from the men's union, which is a branch of the Civil Service Union.In the past, Birdlip and Redbrae had their own distinctive spheres. Birdlip had radio links with Europe, Asia, Africa and South America and British aircraft on those routes, wishing to keep their headquarters informed of their movements, sent their reports to this English station for relay to London. Red-brae's commitments were concentrated on the North Atlantic region. Radio links were maintained with all countries bordering the vitally important North Atlantic, and aircraft flying in the eastern half of this region came under its strict mandatory control. This control was necessary because of the congested traffic on this busy route, which is the most profitable of all the airline routes, but which is also one of the most dangerous in view of the treacherous weather conditions. It is also of strategic importance to the N.A.T.O. countries whose air forces further add to the traffic on the air lanes. This strict control is only possible through the efficiency of radio communications, and praise has been showered on Redbrae's efficient radio work during the postwar expansion period by airline companies and Air Traffic Control authorities. Redbrae is the only station in the U.K. which exercises mandatory control over an area which is outside British territorial waters. There is no control unit of any description at Birdlip; it is merely a radio station for relaying messages to other departments.I wish the House to keep that in mind. I think we should accept that during the post-war boom period in civil aviation it was reasonable for the staff to assume that both Redbrae and Birdlip would expand in their own field.
For a time Redbrae did prosper, but as time went on it appeared increasingly clear to the staff that the Ministerial policy was to expand Birdlip at Redbrae's expense. That conclusion is now firmly held by the staff. It culminated in the transfer to Birdlip of 23 men towards the end of 1952.
On 17th November, 1952, I wrote to the Ministry. I received a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary on 18th December. It included a very nice footnote about the delay, which I appreciated. In that reply I believe the position 1813 was played down. It was inferred that such matters were adequately handled at Whitley Council level. I wish to deal with that assertion and with other matters arising from the letter. I will read extracts from the letter as follows:Certain radio-telephone communication channels to transatlantic aircraft, and a point to point radio communication channel to Iceland, formerly operated from Prestwick has been closed down and are now operated from Birdlip. This was done principally to economise in staff and equipment …In my contact with the men concerned, I find that there is no economy in staff or equipment because of this move. It took eight men to man the channels at Prestwick and it takes the same number to man the channels at Birdlip. Equipment in use at Prestwick was war surplus of negligible cost. Where necessary the receiver racks and auxiliary fittings were improvised from scrap materials by Prestwick's own radio technicians. When the channels were moved this equipment lay idle, and it still lies idle. I understand that thousands of pounds have been lavishly spent at Birdlip on new American radio equipment mounted in a completely rebuilt part of the station. I understand that no limit has been placed on the money spent on furniture, carpets, acoustic walls, thermostatic heat control, air conditioning and things of that kind.
I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary where is the economy which he spoke of in his letter? May I have the total cost of the renovations and the new equipment at Birdlip? I am continually asked by constituents for that figure.
The second extract I wish to read from the Parliamentary Secretary's letter is as follows:Thus, the extent of transfers of communicators is 23 out of a strength of 101 which can scarcely be described as transportation of the Redbrae staff en masse."But it is nearly 25 per cent., and the radio men believe that the uprooting of 23 families out of a 101 is sufficient to cause alarm. They also believe that there would have been more but for the resentment aroused and the concern expressed in many quarters. I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what has been the expense on public funds in connection with these transfers, arising from the reimbursement of travel expenses, in subsistence allowances and in assisted rents etc.? This need not have occurred if North Atlantic commitments had been 1814 retained at their traditional home at Redbrae.
I also wish to quote this further extract from the letter:Apart from this, there is at present no intention of embarking on any further move of radio facilities from the Prestwick area to Birdlip.I understand that their radioteletype unit with Gander, Newfoundland, is being monitored by Birdlip with a view to removal at an early date. Could I have that either denied or confirmed? Is it true that Birdlip is waiting to take over with a brand new £3,000 teletype receiver and a massive transmitter to pump out 40 kilowatts, compared with the 1.5 kilowatt transmitter at present at Prestwick?
My next quotation from the letter is as follows. I think these things must be referred to because they all have to be substantiated, in view of what has happened.
All the evidence we have had so far from air line operators, air traffic control and meteorological staff directly concerned with Prestwick goes against the criticism that the move of these channels from Prestwick has been technically a mistake.I am informed from reliable and responsible people that the radio men say that the oceanic air traffic control remaining at Redbrae finds it more difficult to control half its aircraft through a station 300-mile distant than if all the aircraft remained in contact with Redbrae as only half of them do at present.
Control officers are constantly assuring radio men that they regret the removal of N.A.R.T.E.L. to Birdlip and are apprehensive of the results if the radio-teletype, their link with Gander, is also removed. My last quotation is important. It is:I am sure that you will be glad to know that under Whitley procedure, we have standing arrangements for taking the staff side into our confidence about projected changes in policy and organisation, particularly those likely to affect the home life of the Department's employees.I am sorry that Whitley Council consultation was not employed in connection with the transfer of the 23 radio men. It is a pity that there was no consultation. If there had been, what has happened might not have occurred.
What has happened to the 23 radio men transferred to Birdlip? Four have resigned to take up local work rather than disrupt their family life, two have emigrated, and five have resigned after 1815 giving Birdlip life a trial. Thus we have a further wastage of public money and the loss of highly trained communicators, paying gratuities to men who have cost many hundreds of pounds to train.
This has been a tragic mistake. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be prepared to answer the points I have put to him. I believe that this would have been prevented if the Ministry had pursued a really economical policy and retained the traditional North Atlantic channels at Redbrae., I call not only for a halt to this uneconomic policy but for its reversal. It is not in the interest of the country to concentrate all our resources in one location. This is especially true of radio communications. In the event of war it is an invitation to the enemy to wipe out aeronautical radio links at one blow.
I have put some definite questions; I hope that I shall get definite answers and that the Minister will realise that there is unrest and uncertainty at Redbrae and will reverse his policy. I am convinced that he has a good staff at Redbrae. He ought to treat them fairly and then I am sure that they would give abiding loyalty to the service and to whoever the Ministers may be.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Robson Brown (Esher)
My intervention will be brief. I do not want to discuss the many and varied aspects of civil aviation which have been dealt with by other hon. Members. I want to say a few words for the people who make the service pay—the airline passengers themselves. I am sure that hon. Members would agree that if only we could get the same efficient speed and service on the ground as we have in the air there would be a great deal more attraction to people to use air transport.
I will not go into the problem of the time it takes to get from London to the airports, but I hope that the Minister and all connected with him will keep that matter in mind. It is extraordinary that from the time one arrives at the depot in London to the time one gets to the airport is sometimes as long as is the time it takes to fly from the airport to a Continental city.
Another matter is the very unreasonable and annoying charge of 5s. which is 1816 made on every passenger as a separate payment outside the ticket he buys. It is an extraordinarily reactionary idea, and it alarms me. It is not a question of the value of the money but the attitude of mind of the people who thought of imposing it on this the most modern service in the world. It is exactly the same as if one went to a railway station and bought a ticket and then the ticket collector asked whether one had bought a platform ticket. It is as absurd as that.
I have seen foreign passengers who have been greatly inconvenienced, bewildered and mystified by the charge and the reasons for it.
§ Mr. Robson Brown
I hope that no one will ask me to explain it. I have never been able to understand why the charge is made. It causes great inconvenience especially to foreign passengers leaving the country. They have their currency restrictions just as we have. Frequently, they have finished with their British currency and then they suddenly find at the last moment that they have to go to a separate counter and pay English currency for a 5s. ticket. On more than one occasion I have seen foreign business men completely mystified and most embarrassed. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that there will be an end to this.
There are delays at the airports. I should like to see a considerable reduction in the time taken to bring luggage from the aircraft to the Customs sheds. Sometimes the time taken is far longer than is justified. I understand that the Corporation deals with the aircraft and a Government Department deals with the handling of luggage on the airport. The Minister shakes his head. That was the position, if it is not now.
Finally, I wish to say a few words on behalf of my constituents. It is not often that I have to speak on behalf of the constituents of Esher and district, which is on the direct line between London Airport and the Continent. The matter I wish to mention is one of great embarassment to them. I have received a series of complaints about low-flying aircraft which come over at a few hundred feet above the houses, thundering away in the early hours of the morning. This is a modern and progressive age and we must 1817 accept some inconvenience, but I understand from those who are qualified to advise that a good deal of this might be reduced without any difficulty or disadvantage to the service. I ask the Minister to give some thought to this matter.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I wanted to interrupt the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) to ask him to make clear what was the 5s. to which he referred. A 5s. charge is made on passengers who travel from the airport to the terminal or vice versa, and there is a charge imposed on those passengers who are leaving the country. That is also a charge of 5s. I wanted to know to which charge the hon. Gentleman referred. He may not be aware that there are two. Many people object to the payment of 5s. in the bus.
§ Mr. Rankin
No. I will not give way. I must treat the hon. Member with just the same courtesy as he showed to me.
§ Mr. Rankin
Depend upon it, my money is always right.
I disagree with what the hon. Gentleman said about service on the ground. I travel by air regularly through London Airport, Northolt, Renfrew and Prestwick, as the occasion demands. I put it on record that I have no complaint to make about the service which is rendered to me once I leave the aircraft. Occasionally one certainly takes up as much time on the ground as in the air, but that is not the fault of the staff who are serving us. It is due to the locus of the airports and also to the extreme congestion of the streets through which the buses have to travel.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) has now left the Chamber. He was to be my jumping off point in the debate. I trust that, although he has departed, the point from which I start will still be an appropriate one. Just a year ago the hon. Member asked the Minister… if he has yet decided how the civil aviation needs of Scotland are to be met; and, in particular, whether it will be met by public corporation or private enterprise."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 1286.]1818 Those of us who listened to the hon. Member will have no doubt about the direction in which his mind lay when he put the Question, and when we recollect the pedestal on which the Minister placed Scottish Aviation Ltd., the firm to which he paid such high tribute, we realise why the hon. Member is such a strong advocate of private enterprise.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) put certain questions to the Minister about the latest ventures of Scottish aviation. He asked the Minister how much Scottish Aviation Ltd. has claimed from the Treasury in respect of the compulsory purchase of Prestwick Airport, the airport to which my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) referred as being merely a grass park before the Government took it over during the war and spent over £2 million on its development.
It is extraordinary to realise that Scottish Aviation Ltd. submitted to arbitration a claim in respect of the compulsory purchase of Prestwick Airport totalling £2,688,523, made up of £523,080 for land and buildings and £2,165,443 for disturbance of the company's business, loss of profits, and so on. It valued at over £2 million a business which most people knew was, although not quite negligible, not far removed from being negligible. I am sure that even the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary could not have stood for that. The claim, of course, was submitted to arbitration.
On pursuing the matter further, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire received this reply last Wednesday:The sum proposed to the arbiter in respect of the land and buildings purchased from Scottish Aviation Ltd., was £180,650. No sum at all was paid in respect of the company's claim for business disturbance, loss of profits, etc., and this claim was never evaluated.That matter, then, was terminated, but here is an interesting point.
In fact these, together with other claims from both parties, were covered in the agreed settlement which resulted in the payment by Scottish Aviation Limited to my Department of £5,795."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1954; Vol. 524, c. 92.]No wonder the hon. Member for Ayr tonight told us the company was looking for money and was now completely out 1819 of pocket. What began as a claim for £2,600,000 against the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation finishes as a payment of £5,795 to the Ministry by Scottish Aviation Ltd.
Nevertheless, we wish them well. While we are, of course, pleased to note that the Government are doing their best, by way of subsidy I presume, to help them in the technical and financial development of the twin-engined Pioneer, it is only fair to point out that that was the policy of the Labour Government. We are glad once again to see that in these matters the Tory Government are following the admirable example set them by their predecessors. We hope that they will continue to do so, especially in matters with which I shall deal in a moment.
I now wish to give the Minister's reply to the Question which was asked by the hon. Member for Ayr. It should be remembered that it is a year since the Question was put. This was the reply:The air Corporations will continue to be responsible for meeting the air transport needs of Scotland, but I should certainly examine with all the interests concerned any proposal from independent operators to provide the internal services of Scotland with equal efficiency and without cost to the taxpayer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th March, 1953; Vol. 512, c. 1286.]The answer is good in parts. It is the qualification towards the end which discourages. It impels me to ask another question. The Minister has said that he is perfectly prepared to examine with all the interests concerned any proposals from independent operators to provide the internal services of Scotland with an efficiency equal to that given by B.E.A.
Within the year which has elapsed since he gave that reply, how many offers has he received from independent operators in Scotland to provide those services? Has he any reason not to be confident in the ability of B.E.A. to continue to provide those services? Does the Minister not realise that that type of half-and-half answer does not show the confidence in B.E.A. which B.E.A. is entitled to expect the Minister to have in it; and which it deserves?
Let us look very briefly at the passenger side of B.E.A.'s record in Scotland over the past year. In 1953, the number of passengers passing through the 13 airports of Scotland was 598,987. That is 1820 the first time in the history of aviation in Scotland that we have exceeded the half million mark. The greatest number of passengers ever carried in the history of aviation was carried in the year 1953.
Every airport—Renfrew, Edinburgh, Prestwick, Lerwick—shows an increase in the number of passengers passing through the airport during 1953. Last year, Renfrew handled 210,000 passengers as against 156,000 in the previous year. I have the figures for all the other airports here and, although I shall not quote them, they show that on the passenger side there is no reason for the Minister to look for any other type of operator than B.E.A.
§ Mr. Profumo
I am trying to follow the argument because the hon. Gentleman is making an important point, but I do not quite follow his line of thought. Is he suggesting—hypothetically—that, if the Minister found an independent company which was prepared to run all the Scottish so-called social services without any subsidy, he would be right in still employing B.E.A. to do that at the cost of the taxpayer?
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. Gentleman is introducing another point on which I have not touched. I am willing to discuss the Scottish social services, but I feel that the points I want to cover will occupy sufficient time without going into that question. I am dealing with all the services which are carried out by B.E.A., including the social services which, apart from the money aspect, which is large, on the numerical side are only a small part of the numbers I have given.
I have shown that the increase in the number of passengers carried last year has been remarkable. The same applies to freight. The amount of freight carried by B.E.A. has also increased significantly. These are reasons why the Minister ought to be giving the public Corporations far more assurance than he would appear to be giving them at present. In Scotland, not only is the operational side improving, not only is it breaking records, but we are developing a fine industry on the constructional side. In the manufacture of aero engines, in the aircraft and air transport industries there are 20,000 people engaged and the wages bill is running at about £8 million a year.
That is a considerable industry. It supports many other developments. The 1821 two Corporations, B.E.A. and B.O.A.C, are themselves carrying a personnel of 2,500 employees. All the contracting firms who supply parts and so on, Ferranti, Blackburn, the King Aircraft Company, Scottish Aviation itself, are all admittedly doing well, and they could take in more because the industry is expanding on the constructional side as well. More and more people are coming into it; and while 20,000 are employed now, within this year we could take another 2,000 people into employment on the constructional side if we could get the individuals with the necessary technical qualifications, but that is our difficulty.
I have tried to present the picture of Scottish aviation as it has been developing since the time when the Labour Government nationalised the airfields and created the Corporations. In the year before the Act became effective the number of passengers carried by private enterprise in Scotland was 40,000. Today, it is almost 600,000. That gives an idea of the tremendous expansion which has taken place under the public Corporations, and in view of that it is a pity that we should still have the Minister, with an archaic nostalgia, looking back to what are called the good old days of private enterprise.
If anything disproves that attitude it is the progress which has been made in Scotland. It is all the more unfortunate that, in the midst of it, the B.E.A. should be flinging a spanner into the works, because its experts have advised that it would be an economy to transfer the maintenance base and station at Renfrew from that airport down to London Airport. It is most unfortunate that at this time when things are going so well in Scotland we should have had this retrograde step even suggested. It has upset everybody connected with the industry and the men are worrying about their jobs.
When the experts of B.E.A. sought to substantiate their case by producing figures to prove it, those figures were smashed to smithereens by the figures produced by the representatives of the staff at the maintenance base in Renfrew. And as a result of the criticism received from the representatives of the men, the B.E.A. experts had to withdraw their first set of figures. They substituted another set, and those also were shown by the 1822 representatives of the men not to substantiate the case that was being made out for the transfer of those men from Renfrew to London Airport.
Now I understand that B.E.A. are engaged on a third set of figures to try to prove that it will save the Corporation money to transfer those 450 or 500 men from Renfrew to London. The Minister can confirm this or deny it when he replies to the debate. They can produce figures until they are blue in the face, but I am quite certain that the men's representatives will show they cannot prove the case.
The Minister is familiar with most of them. He has seen the figures which I have here. There is no purpose in quoting them, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not in any way spoil the beautiful picture of development in Scotland which I have given. I hope he will not spoil it when he replies by putting a smear across it and saying that he supports the other view—or would, if necessary; the point has not yet been reached. When it is reached I trust he will say that there will be no change in the position of the maintenance staff and the work they are at present doing at Renfrew.
There are two very sound reasons for not taking that work away. First, it will produce no economic gain whatsoever—and the Minister knows it. The second, and a very important reason, is that it will be an offence to the pride of the Scottish people. That is an aspect to which attention must be paid. The hon. Member for Ayr is not here, but I am sure that he will support us in this because he has been urging that we should have an aircraft industry in Scotland with the aid of the Government. We do not quarrel with that but we are surprised to see how eagerly private enterprise runs to the Government for sustenance whenever it thinks anything should be done.
Of course we support Scottish Aviation in its venture. We hope that it will succeed. But the hon. Gentleman appealed to the spirit of independence which is part of the make-up of every people, and I, too, am appealing to it. We like to nourish that feeling and I am sure that the Government want to nourish it. I hope that they will do nothing to hurt it, 1823 and will remember that one way of doing so would be to transfer the Renfrew maintenance base, to London.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)
I am very glad to have this opportunity to intervene now, because I want to give yet a third reason why this maintenance base should not be shifted from Renfrew. It is that we have quite enough noise and disturbance from London Airport already without the addition of another 450 men and another workshop. I do not know whether the Scots are more silent than the English when at work, but I fear that if we have another maintenance base we shall have much more noise, and it is about noise that I want to speak.
There is a Motion to reduce the Minister's salary by some trivial sum. There are some people in my constituency who would like not just to reduce his salary but to cut his throat. I do not, of course, identify myself with such feelings—I am against the assassination of Ministers on principle—but I feel it my duty to say that when night-time comes many of my constituents get very angry with my right hon. Friend. The reason is that just about midnight when they are thinking of sleep, from London Airport there starts the noise of one or more four-engined aeroplanes, which is apt to last until two, three or four o'clock in the morning. They are being serviced or maintained, I suppose, in readiness for the morning flight.
I would not have intervened had it not been that this nuisance has become much worse in the last few weeks. During the last 10 days I have received letters signed by many constituents, all on one piece of paper saying,Can you please do something about this?Those letters contain a lot of strong words, such as,The Government wants us to work harder. How the hell can we if we do not get the sleep?
Yes—I am giving the actual words.
I have lived with the problem ever since I was elected four years ago. I have led at least four deputations to 1824 successive Ministers of Civil Aviation— both Labour and Conservative. On every occasion we have been received with the greatest courtesy; there has been, I believe, the greatest sympathy on the part of the Ministry, but also a very genuine ignorance of what to do about this terrible problem.
This vast airport was put right on the edges of very large built-up areas—and here I am looking for great support from the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), whose constituency is even closer to the airport than is mine. The airport was put there without any town planning considerations or anything of that sort. I am not asking, of course, that it should now be moved—that would be impossible—but that the major nuisances should be either removed or alleviated as much as possible.
A number of steps have been taken in this direction. Certain runways which run close to the houses have been restricted to certain hours of the day. We are grateful for that, and for the efforts which the Ministry has made by experimenting with an acoustic wall, which has already cost, I believe, at least £40,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "It does not work."] I believe that it has proved successful when used, but my constituents are under the impression that it is not being used at present. I am told that there are difficulties. If an aeroplane with the engines running is placed right up to the acoustic wall the air cannot get to the engines and they become overheated. To overcome that the machine is moved from the wall, and the benefit of the wall is lost. Our impression is that there is a £40,000 wall which cannot be used.
In the last few weeks the noise has been quite intolerable. I ask the Minister to take particular note of this and once again to do anything he can to have it abated at night. We could make all sorts of suggestions. I suppose that it would be impracticable to run in the engine underground, or on the other side of the airport where there are not so many houses? Or to do it at some other airport in the country and have the plane flown in in the morning to take the passengers? It is all very well to say "Oh, it is impossible," but I am elected by the people of Heston and Isleworth, and in the last few days they have written asking "What are we to do in the summer? In the hot weather we will 1825 want to sleep with the windows open, but then the noise will be even worse."
This is not a small matter. This is a noise which affects literally hundreds of thousands of people in Uxbridge, and in Heston and Isleworth; indeed, when there is not much wind blowing it goes over Hounslow and Twickenham, and possibly to Southall as well. I am not asking that the airport be closed down. I am saying nothing about the noise of aerodromes flying low over Hounslow by day as they come in to land—after all, that only stops all conversation for a mere two minutes or so. The sort of noise to which I am referring goes on for three or four hours in the middle of the night, and if the Minister can do anything about this we shall be very grateful.
I now want to say a word about damage caused by aircraft. The Minister has been very kind in coming to Cranford and visiting some of the houses in company with myself and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington). He has seen the damage. The problem is very difficult indeed. The contention of the local residents is that the vibration of aeroplanes going over their houses has caused the ceilings to crack, the plaster to fall down, the windows to break and electric light bulbs to break in a matter of hours or weeks instead of months. All these things are very difficult to prove.
There have been investigations by the Building Research Station under the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and within the last few weeks the Minister said that he cannot admit any sort of liability. I am not going to say that he is wrong. I am not a building or aeronautics expert. I think that probably the truth is that these houses around the airport were built about 20 years ago and, although they were very good for the price at which they were built, they are not expensive houses and deterioration would have set in in any case. The likelihood is that aeroplanes going over the top may have added to some of the deterioration.
The residents have come to me and have said, "What can we do? The Minister has turned us down. He is not going to grant any compensation at all." I do not blame the Minister. Once he admitted liability of that sort, there is 1826 no telling where the liability would end. This sort of nuisance is not confined to London Airport. There are houses surrounding airports all over the country, which are in some cases made unusable because aeroplanes pass right over the top.
I want to tell the Minister that on this occasion my constituents having come to me and asked "Where do we go from here?" I have told them that the only thing they can do is to test this matter in the courts. That is the proper way of going about it. The Air Navigation Act, 1947, says that airline operators can make as much noise as they like and that nothing can be done about it. It says that any claim for damage must be made against the owner of the aircraft. If a window happens to break because an aeroplane passes over the top of a house, it is difficult for the owner to rush out of the house as it is going over and find out who has done the damage. Therefore, this is an unworkable provision.
I have therefore advised by constituents that if they think that damage has been done by aircraft passing overhead, all they can do is to bring an action in the courts against B.O.A.C. and, if they can afford it, to join all the other operators at the airport. Of course, if they lose in the courts, the matter is finished there and then. I see no other solution. It is the only course that they can follow, and it is the legal and proper course. I should like to thank the Minister for all that he has done in coming to my constituency and seeing the damage for himself. If he ever gives the matter further consideration, I hope that he will do so as sympathetically as possible.
§ 7.53 p.m.
Mr. G. A. Paigher (Southall)
Perhaps I may deal for a minute with what has been said by the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) about the noise from stationary aircraft. This is infinitely more troublesome than the noise of aircraft flying overhead. I am satisfied that if there were a war and it were necessary to test engines on the ground and to soundproof them, it could be done. It is not done because it involves the expenditure of a very considerable sum of money. We have to balance the effect on people's nerves with 1827 the cost involved in providing a remedy. I am quite sure that it is not an impossible technical problem, but that it may involve considerable expense.
I should now like to come to what the Minister said this afternoon. It seems to me that nothing that he has said has alleviated by one iota the fears which have been expressed on these benches from time to time about the intention of the Tory Party with regard to the public Corporations. We on this side of the House have said consistently and continually that it is the Government's intention to hamstring the public Corporations and give all the advantages to the private companies, and what the Minister said has confirmed that view.
The Minister referred to the question of the associated companies and the agreements which the Corporations could enter into with them. It was implied that once a company was operating on a route parallel with the Corporations, the Minister could bring pressure, directly or indirectly, upon the Corporations to enter into an agreement with those companies.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
There can be no question of an operator operating on a parallel route with the Corporations' scheduled passenger services. Those are absolutely reserved for the Corporations. In the case of freight services, it is up to the A.T.A.C. to make its own recommendations to me as to who should have the franchise. Once somebody has the franchise, whether it is the Corporation or an independent operator, any future applicant must prove that he would not undermine the existing holder of that franchise.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I am referring to the provisions of the Act which permit the Corporations to enter into agreements with associated companies in connection with the allocation of traffic in certain areas. It seems to me that the Minister requires the Corporations, wherever possible, not to enter into competition with the associated companies but to enter into agreements with them. That may or may not be desirable, but it does not bear out the Tory Party policy that competition is the life-blood of the industry.
Neither would Conservative policy appear to be followed in the matter of 1828 the provision of capital. The Minister says that he welcomes shipping companies providing capital for the private air companies. The way in which this is done is rather interesting. The arrangement appears to be that the private companies themselves are dividing the various operating concerns into spheres of interest. No one is to be allowed to compete with anyone else, and the shipping companies are providing capital to one or other of the companies and there is no competition at all. Presumably, arrangements are being made between them at a high level.
This makes nonsense of the claim that competition is being aimed at. It is certainly not competition. What is aimed at is possibly co-operation between the public Corporations and the private companies. One wonders what is the advantage in that co-operation if the Corporations could extend their activities and do the work just as well themselves.
Let me deal with another aspect of the matter. Take the question of the liberty of charter to which the Minister referred. He referred to certain trooping contracts which the Corporations have been carrying out, and commented on the liberty which they enjoyed in that respect. I gathered that it is implicit that they have a liberty to carry out trooping contracts or other types of charter work, provided the charter companies cannot do it or have not the aircraft to do it. That is the only liberty which the Corporations have. Once it is shown that private companies can do it and that they have suitable aircraft, the Corporations are prevented from doing the work.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
They are at full liberty to tender for ad hoc charter. The only limitation is that they cannot keep aircraft specifically for charter. So valuable is this full liberty that, last year, they drew £500,000 from their charter operations.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I quite agree, but they could only do that with the aircraft they had, and the work would not have been available if the private companies had had suitable aircraft to do those jobs. It is wrong to keep 15 Hermes on the ground when they could very well be used for trooping contracts and other types of charter work. It is a crying 1829 shame that these thoroughly airworthy aircraft should be kept out of service so that private companies may have a clear field.
The question has also been raised of the North Atlantic freight service and the proposal of Airwork Ltd. to operate it. We recognise that the Minister has asked the Corporations not to apply for a year, because he wants the private companies to have a chance to get in on this work, but not only has Airwork Ltd. applied for and received permission to operate the service; it does not propose to buy British aircraft to do so. It proposes to spend dollars on American aircraft.
The responsibility of the Corporations has been to build up civil aviation and to expand civil aircraft production. They have done that, very often at very great cost to themselves or to the taxpayers, and the position held by British civil aviation today is solely due to the activities of the Corporations and to orders which they have placed.
If B.O.A.C. had the freight service for the North Atlantic it is to be presumed that it would not be seeking to purchase American aircraft. I assume that the Britannia aircraft which it has ordered for large-scale passenger operation are also available for freight work, and if they were used on this service they would provide another fillip to our civil production. The fact that Airwork Ltd. is to operate this service with American aircraft reflects very little credit on the Minister. It shows that he prefers to see a private company spending dollars on American aircraft to operate a freight service which B.O.A.C. could easily operate with British aircraft in the very near future.
None of the private companies could afford to bear the cost involved in the proving flights for new routes and the proving of new aircraft. They are being allowed to muscle in after the Corporations have done the work, and the Corporations are then prevented from competing with them in many classes of service. This confirms the claim we make that the whole weight of the Department and the Government is being thrown on to the side of private operators, and is certainly not in the interests of the Corporations. We had no reason to anticipate that it would be otherwise, because the 1830 history of this Government has shown quite clearly that they favour private and not public interests.
Another matter which has been referred to previously, and which involves some technical problems, is the future of Treforest. It is obvious that with the increasing use of jet aircraft the piston types will go out of production or be very considerably reduced in number, and that that class of work at Treforest will be very considerably reduced. Reference has already been made to the redundancy of between 20 per cent, and 25 per cent., which now exists there, which is a very considerable proportion, in view of the non-availability of suitable alternative employment for the men concerned. I understand that representations were recently made to the Minister, and that he referred to the possibility of some of the new road schemes in South Wales absorbing this labour. The people concerned took a very dim view of that suggestion.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not know where the hon. Member got that information. I made no such suggestion. I have always been at pains to say that road construction is no answer to the unemployment problem, except for small numbers of people in various pockets of unemployment.
It may be that it is a misunderstanding, but this information was given to me by a person who was present at the interview, and it seems clear that the question of roads must have been mentioned in some connection. It could not have come out of the blue. Whether or not there has been a misunderstanding I do not know.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The misunderstanding may have arisen from the fact that I said that as a result of certain changes in the tinplate industry in west South Wales the Government were anxious to create possibilities of further employment there by a lively road programme for Wales; but I never suggested that the people displaced from Treforest could be absorbed in this programme, or that that would provide alternative employment for them.
§ Mr. Beswick
Did not the right hon. Gentleman say that local employment 1831 exchanges could cater for these people? Did he inquire what those exchanges had in mind?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That is another matter, which is the concern of the Minister of Labour. I never suggested that road making was an alternative form of employment for those working at Treforest.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I am very glad to hear that. I should also like to know what other alternative forms of employment were put forward as being work, which would make a proper use of the skill of these men.
§ Mr. Pargiter
It is not usual to dispense with an efficient unit when there are changes in the design of an industry. The normal solution is to change the user of that unit and gradually break the men in to the changes in techniques of production as soon as possible. The obvious thing to do in Treforest is to bring into gradual operation the jet testing beds which are already placed there.
The Minister is very concerned about monopolies. Treforest was brought into being to prevent the possibility of a monopoly arising in the repair and reconstruction of aircraft engines. What is to be the position if Treforest goes? Rolls-Royce—an excellent undertaking—will undertake to do all the repairs to Rolls-Royce engines. At first it may offer very attractive terms to the Corporations, but what yardstick will the Minister have in future? How will he be able to tell whether the charges are reasonable or costly? Even in the First World War the National Aero Engine Factory had to be set up because of the excessive cost of air engines made by private enterprise. We have no reason to think that the same sort of thing will not happen again, and that we shall not need such an establishment as Treforest in future.
I quite appreciate that Rolls-Royce technicians and others who are used to the basic designs of these engines will have to train these men in the changed conditions under which they will have to work, but those men have acquired a high degree of skill and they could quite easily be taught. Many of them are fully 1832 skilled men, and could easily be transferred to jet engine work, which would provide a useful alternative employment in the Treforest area. It will be a disgrace if the skill of these men is thrown on to the scrapheap because the Minister and his friends are not sufficiently imaginative to see the possibilities of such labour being used on other types of engine.
If the Hermes were brought into use they would help the position. It would be better than leaving them on the ground. But in order that this may be done—since nobody will buy them—the Minister must give the Corporation a very much freer hand in the type of work for which the Hermes can be profitably and properly used.
There are other things which the Minister might consider in connection with the further use of Treforest. There is a propellor section doing propellor repair work. A good deal more might be done in that direction. It is true that there might be some transport difficulties, but there is no reason why that department should not be brought into fuller use and possibly extended in order to employ the men who otherwise will be out of work.
It is obvious that as time goes on there will be changes in piston-engined aircraft, but there is undoubtedly a good deal of work going outside which could go to Treforest. It would be in the public interest if it went there. The same applies to some extent to Renfrew, although I understand that B.E.A.C. are considering undertaking more work internally rather than transferring so much of it outside. One of the great difficulties in South Wales has been to get enough variety of industry to keep people more fully employed, and if the efforts break down at Treforest that failure will spread throughout the whole of the area.
I want, in conclusion, to say a few words about the Corporations themselves. In recent years they have been operating more and more successfully, in spite of the limitations which the Minister has imposed upon them. He ought to reconsider the whole question of his policy towards private companies. If they are to exist in competition, let it be real competition as between private and public companies so that the public may have the benefit of the best possible service and not of that service which happens to be the interest of the Tory Party. That is the claim we 1833 have made: that the Minister has clearly established this afternoon that he has every intention of giving further encouragement to the private companies at the expense of the public Corporations, so that those who live by profit may have further advantages.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
I know very little about the Treforest problem, but I should like to ask this question of the Minister: Is it not a fact that money is still being spent by the Corporation at Treforest for new testing beds? If money is being spent there, it seems unlikely that there will be all this redundancy in Treforest about which we have heard so much from hon. Members opposite.
Since the war I have made roughly 40 trips by aircraft every year to most parts of the world, and I claim therefore to have a not inconsiderable experience of the quality both of British airlines and of the airlines of other countries. I say without hesitation that the standard, quality and efficiency of British airlines far exceed those of any other airline in the world. If any further evidence is required, one has only to travel to Europe and see how difficult it is to get a seat on a British plane flying to other parts of the world. It is relatively easy to get a passage on a foreign aircraft but on most occasions it is very difficult to get one on a British plane. We are very proud that, notwithstanding all the difficulties we have had to face in the last six years, we have been able to do so much which has added to the prestige of this country and which undoubtedly has helped us in selling other goods in other markets of the world.
I have some comments to make which, at the same time, I am very reluctant to make. There is an essential difference in outlook between B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.C., and I believe that difference is the result of the personalities of the men at the top. The reason I am reluctant to say this is that it is very unfair to criticise anybody who is not in a position to answer back in this House. What I have to say will, therefore, be played down to the mildest possible terms.
In Sir Miles Thomas, at B.O.A.C, we have a business man of undoubted genius, a man with a flair for publicity and with imagination and drive; and there are very 1834 few like him in the country. This is important to the country: whenever we open a new service, he is there. He usually goes out with the first flight and there is an exchange of cables between him, from wherever he goes, and this country. All the newspapers of the world herald the new flight being undertaken by B.O.A.C, which is a good thing; and the uplift in morale which this gives to the personnel of B.O.A.C. is undoubtedly very great. Unfortunately, the top executives of B.E.A. are not of that quality. I think it is very unfortunate that that should be so, and I believe that by some means we must infuse this sense of enterprise and imagination into the top executives of B.E.A. if we are to live in the era of severe competition with our foreign rivals. That is all I want to say on that point.
I turn, next, to the operation of the passenger services. In recent months we have introduced the Viscount aircraft into the near European services, and this has cut the times of flight between this country and other airports, in some cases by as much as half. Between Copenhagen and London we used to travel by Viking, and the flying time was roughly 3¾ hours. Today, we go by Viscount and the flying time is roughly 2¼ hours.
In the Viscount are carried 50 passengers or so, and such is the competition that B.E.A. deem it necessary to try to serve a hot meal between Copenhagen and London. That is a very difficult operation for the girl to perform. She runs about the aircraft like a scalded cat and, by the time it reaches London, she is completely tired out. I do not think it is necessary for B.E.A. to provide a meal of that description in so short a distance. It is certainly not provided by any other airline that I know. Perhaps we are trying to do too much in the air for the creature comfort of passengers—much of which is not done by many other airlines.
§ Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)
May not that be the reason why British airlines are so popular and other airlines are so unpopular? The hon. Member made that comparison earlier in his speech.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I do not think the fact that he can get a cold meat lunch on Sabena and a hot chicken lunch 1835 on B.E.A. determines whether a passenger goes by one aircraft or another. If any evidence is required of that it is to be seen in the poor support for Air France, which claims; to be the only airline providing a champagne lunch between London and Paris.
The point I wish now to make is not strictly within the responsibility of the Minister of Civil Aviation but is more a matter for the Foreign Office. The airport facilities in many European countries differ very widely. In some they are quite superb, and from the time the aircraft lands until the passengers passed through the Customs, immigration and currency inquiries is a matter only of minutes. Consider, for example, Brussels, Zurich, Geneva or any of the Scandinavian countries. But once one gets down to Spain or Italy, then anything can happen. Particularly is that true of Spain. I am sorry for anyone who has to change aircrafts at Madrid, because not only will he be very unlikely to get the correct plane, but he will be very likely to lose his luggage in the process. So I should like my right hon. Friend to see if he can make representations, through the Foreign Office, for some code to be set up whereby facilities at these foreign airports can be made uniform to help the passage of travellers who have to use them.
I should like to say one word about the new tourist services which are operated by both lines. It is obviously necessary to have two services—a luxury service and a tourist service—but I do not think that it is necessary to have a tourist service so austere as it is at the present time. I do not think that it is necessary for there to be an absence of interest on the part of the personnel of the aircraft in the passengers in the plane simply because they happen to be flying tourists.
I make that criticism deliberately because some-months ago, during the oil strike in America, I bad to travel to New York by tourist service. We were put down at Gander at about 4 o'clock in the morning and no one at Gander knew that we were going to arrive; there were no facilities at all.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I am talking about the refreshment facilities, because hon. Members opposite should know that on the tourist air services no meals are provided except at one's own cost and no one who is civilised, unless he is a Member of Parliament on an all-night sitting, bothers to eat at 2 o'clock or 3 o'clock in the morning. At any rate, we touched down at 4 o'clock in the morning at Gander and no arrangements had been made whatsoever. I had to appeal to the controller of the airport and use such influence as I had to get the passengers on the plane a meal. That should not be so. I hope we shall see that the tourist services are operated in a manner which will give proper service to the passengers.
There is one point which I want to make about the internal services in Europe. I should like to ask the Minister if we have any rights to put a local service into operation between two foreign airports, that is to say, a service not having any origin in this country.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
The Minister tells me that the answer is "No." I would draw this to his attention. We really ought to try to route some service whereby we can take some of the traffic which is available between Zurich and Brussels. There is a very bad service there, and British airlines do nothing about it. We cannot operate, as the Minister says, a service direct from Zurich to Brussels, but we can route a service from London to some other point, calling at these two airports on the way.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
It is no use the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. I do these stop-over trips regularly.
§ Mr. Lindgren
The hon. Member knows enough to appreciate that there are bilateral agreements between nations, and they determine not only the points of call but the frequency of services, and they have to be agreed internationally.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
If there is no service there I do not see how it arises on this Vote.
§ Squadron Leader Cooper
I hope that you are wrong, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. In 1837 discussing the Corporations we are not only congratulating them on what they have done in the past, but we are trying to find new avenues which they can exploit for the future. I hope that the points which I have raised, which may be small in themselves but which are very important to travellers when they are abroad, will be borne in mind. I conclude, as I began, by congratulating British airways which, I know, do a wonderful job and which are a great credit to this country.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) expressed the opinion that no one but a Member of Parliament wants to eat at 2 o'clock in the morning. I suggest that he goes into a signal box at 10 p.m. and sees whether he can last till 6 a.m. without eating.
I was interested to hear the speeches of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock), the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) and the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Pearson), who, incidentally, happens to be my Member of Parliament, because, in their speeches, they referred to the necessity for encouraging municipalities to provide airports. The speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Derby, North emphasised the fact that it was in that direction that development would take place. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd drew attention to the new airport now established at Rhoose and to the other three airports in Wales.
But what is one to say when a municipality spends about £46,000 on the provision of an airport, succeeds in persuading a charter company to run scheduled services from that airport during the summer months in particular, and then the charter company finds itself unable to run one of its services to a foreign country because the Customs refuse to grant Custom facilities?
The Minister talked a good deal today about the charter companies—the independents, as he described them— and the part they ought to play in the development of air services. But the right hon. Gentleman seems to be under a misapprehension that he and his Air Transport Advisory Council determine 1838 the pattern of services. Nothing is further from the truth.
After the right hon. Gentleman has received an application, as he has done in this case, and the matter has been submitted to, and argued before, the Air Transport Advisory Council and the licence is granted, we discover that because the Customs take the view that there is not sufficient traffic at the airport to warrant the granting of Customs facilities, they then proceed to indicate that under no circumstances do they propose to grant Customs facilities.
I should like to relate the story of the Tees-side Airport, which was begun in 1937 by the West Hartlepool Town Council. At the outbreak of war they had spent £30,000 on developing the airport, and it was taken over by the Royal Air Force until 1946. It did very useful work between 1939 and 1945 in attempting to defend our shores and our shipping in the North Sea. In 1946, the airport was released to the local authority, and a further £9,000 has since been spent on its development. Every penny that has been spent on the airport has been provided by the ratepayers of the West Hartlepool county borough.
Each year since 1946 there has been a loss on the revenue account, but the local authority has carried on. The airport has been recognised by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, and an airfield protection order is in existence. The presence of this order has compelled the local authority and industrialists in the locality, obviously, to develop the area with the order in mind, and certain types of development have not been permitted. Indeed, the local authority has had to recast its housing plans so as to leave the funnels prescribed by the airfield protection order free for incoming and outgoing aircraft.
The airport was visited in 1953 by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I met the hon. Gentleman at the airfield and he expressed considerable delight and appreciation of the development that had taken place. In 1950, the local authority succeeded in persuading a charter company to operate from the airport, and it began to run services. Earlier, there had been some charter flights to and from the airport. In 1950, in connection with a tanker that had been built on the Tees, it became necessary for a charter aircraft to 1839 arrive from Norway. So that this aircraft could be cleared of Customs, however, it had to proceed to Ringway and then to travel back across the country to Greatham to land its passengers at the airport.
In 1952, an independent operator began to operate from Greatham Airport and to run scheduled services during the summer months to various places in this country. After a good deal of trouble, we succeeded in persuading the Customs authorities to provide on-call Customs. There are three Customs offices within six miles of the airport, all of them able at some time or other in the 24 hours of the day, every day of the week, to provide a Customs officer, if necessary, to clear aircraft arriving at or departing from the airport.
The River Tees is noted for its shipping, and the port of West Hartlepool, the Tees at Stockton and the docks at Middlesbrough are all scheduled to receive cargo vessels from foreign ports. Because of the possibility of ships arriving at each of these ports simultaneously, it is necessary for the Customs to keep sufficient officers at each of them to clear these vessels. It is very improbable that such an emergency would be necessary. I suggest, therefore, that the problem of providing Customs officers to clear the airport is a perfectly simple one.
In 1953, after a good deal of negotiation, we succeeded in persuading the Customs authorities, through the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, to agree to on-call Customs being provided at Greatham for a series of scheduled flights to Jersey. In addition, flights were run to Ronalds-way, in the Isle of Man, and to Northolt. It is true that at that time the Financial Secretary intimated that the traffic would, of necessity, have to increase substantially if it was to be continued.
I should like to point out in that connection that, although application to the Customs for facilities at Greatham was made very early in 1953, it was only after a deputation comprising hon. Members from Teesside from both sides of the House and myself met the right hon. Gentleman that we succeeded in persuading him to reverse the previous decision not to agree to Customs facilities. Indeed, the letter was dated 1st June.
1840 By that time about 10 Jersey flights had had to be diverted from Greatham to other airports in the North, notably Woolsington. The result was that about 200 passengers were lost to Greatham Airport, 160 of whom had to travel from Newcastle or Woolsington, the remainder declining to travel because they would not undertake the journey from the Tees to the Tyne. I would remind the House that there is within a reasonable distance of the Teesside Airport a population of approximately 1 million people. It has been estimated in a survey that within 15 miles of the airport, on both banks of the Tees, there is a population of well over 1 million.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd was making a case for Rhoose. I know South Wales fairly well, but the population there is not very much greater. Here we are not asking for any financial assistance to develop the airport. The local authority is willing to do it. All we seek is a reasonable chance to permit this airport to develop by getting the good will and co-operation of the Customs and Excise as well as of the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. I have received nothing but help from the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation over Greatham.
The position is that in October, 1953, the Town Clerk of the West Hartlepool Town Council sent a communication to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation seeking facilities for the coming summer season for a double flight each day from Greatham to Northolt, a service from Greatham to the Isle of Man for the weekend, a service weekly from Greatham to Jersey and a service of a shorter duration for the pilgrims from Teesside to Lourdes. It was not until 26th February, and after I had had correspondence with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, that a decision was reached not to grant facilities this year for the Jersey flight from Greatham.
The charter company which proposed to operate these flights recognises that if it is to make an economic proposition of this job it has to use their aircraft economically. It proposes to use the aircraft on each of the route days from Monday to Friday running a service to London and vice versa for business people from Teesside, and to use the aircraft at the 1841 weekend to carry tourist passengers from Teesside to Jersey or the Isle of Man. Customs are not necessary in the case of the Isle of Man.
When the Financial Secretary to the Treasury wrote to me on 26th February he concluded with the following amazing statement:As you know, foreign going aircraft would still be able to operate from Greatham provided that they obtain Customs clearance at an authorised airport en route, e.g., Woolsington.One would think that Woolsington is merely a 2d. bus ride from Teesside. Apparently somebody at the Customs believes that Middlesbrough is a suburb of Newcastle. Actually, it is 35 miles away. We have the astonishing suggestion that an aircraft should take off from Great-ham, fly 35 miles to the north, come down for Customs clearance and waste half an hour in the process, and then fly back over the same 35 miles and proceed on its way to Jersey. Then some people who have taken part in this debate believe that we shall develop internal services and services between this country and Europe. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation that if we are to develop that kind of service we had better get some new ideas at the Customs first of all.
The charter company, with whose officers I have been in communication this afternoon, informs me that unless it can do a double journey from Teesside to Jersey at the week-end the service will not be an economic proposition. If one of its planes has to come down for Customs clearance at some point en route it is bound to lose 60 or 90 minutes flying time. That will mean that it will be physically impossible to do two flights in one day and, therefore, it will be economically impossible to do the flights at all. The company informs me further that if it is to be debarred from flying to other countries for which Customs clearance is necessary and thus is to be debarred from the economical use of its aircraft, it will have seriously to consider withdrawing from Greatham altogether.
Does anyone believe that if this charter company is forced, by circumstances of this kind, to withdraw from Greatham because of inability to obtain Customs clearance for flying a foreign service it 1842 will be possible to get any other charter company to come to the airport? If that is impossible, then obviously the airport must close down and roughly £60,000 of ratepayers' money in West Hartlepools will be poured down the drain. Does the Parliamentary Secretary really believe that he will encourage other municipalities in this country to spend ratepayers' money in developing airports when that development depends upon the Customs?
The belief of the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister that they control the pattern of air services in this country is a complete fallacy unless they can persuade the Customs to modernise their ideas. If the Air Transport Advisory Council is to determine the pattern of air transport in this country and the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation is to be the responsible authority, I suggest that the Treasury and the Customs officers ought to be the servants in this matter and not the masters. I invite the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend to intimate to the Treasury, and through the Treasury to the Customs, that it would be in the interests of civil aviation to encourage municipalities to develop airports by being reasonable with their Customs provisions.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
I have listened with close attention to the majority of speeches in the debate. On the whole, they have followed the trend which those of us who take more than a passing interest in civil aviation have grown to expect. The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) has broadly followed the accepted pattern.
I wish first to say a word about the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper). He said some rather unkind things about the top executives of B.E.A. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but my experience of the top executives of B.E.A. is that they do a very good job. Although I know that Lord Douglas holds political views quite contrary to mine, I personally believe him to be a good administrator and a most capable man. I had the honour to serve on his staff for nearly a year during the war and every day I saw him at work. I know that it is easy to argue 1843 that a senior Service officer is not necessarily a good chairman of a Corporation of this kind, but in my belief Lord Douglas does a fine job as head of B.E.A., and I am glad to say so.
The difficulty in a debate of this character, particularly when one knows that there is to be a Division at the end of it, is to maintain an impartial outlook, but it is important to try to look impartially at the marry complexities which face us today in the field of civil aviation. We should try to look at those things with as little bias as possible. This is a sphere above others—I do not say above all others—in which it is necessary to regard our problems in a practical light.
In the years immediately following the war, there have been one or two significant occurrences which must affect the course and progress of civil aviation. The first is the mounting tendency of the fare-paying public to transfer their custom from the sea to the air. This, of course, is more true on some routes than others; but, over all, there has been a great swing of passenger traffic from the sea to the air. That, I believe, will continue as the means are found to reduce still further the present high rate of fares. The cost of flying the Atlantic, for instance, is still far in excess of what the ordinary man and woman can afford. It would be interesting to consider statistics showing the percentage of passengers using B.O.A.C. on business as opposed to those who cross the Atlantic without seeking any help from the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
There is no doubt that the habit of flying is growing quickly in this country as the nation's confidence in aviation and the operation of aircraft increases. In my case there was a time, only four or five years ago, when, except in special circumstances, I certainly would not have crossed the Atlantic by any other means than a boat. The security of those short and engaging voyages in one of the great Cunard liners, or the pre-war German ships—for they were very good— was to my mind infinitely more attractive than the alternative of hours of suspense sitting inside an aircraft listening for some momentary interruption in the rhythmic throb of the engines. No one has yet satisfactorily explained to me why it is that aeroplane engines seem to run rough over water. I must confess that 1844 it was not until 1949 that I felt inclined to trouble B.O.A.C. with a trans-Atlantic reservation. But having done so, I must also confess that I can now hardly contemplate the alternative of lurching about the ocean for four or five days on end in the height of what we know to be a customary Atlantic storm.
The possibility of transacting a morning's business in, say, Montreal, and then being able to continue the same process in London on the afternoon of the following day, still remains to me one of the smaller wonders of the world, and here I should like to pay my tribute to the operational efficiency of B.O.A.C.'s Atlantic service. In recent months we have heard a great deal of B.O.A.C.'s Comet service, but I would say a word about this fine Atlantic service. Obviously, one hears of exceptions from time to time, which, in a sense, prove the rule. But day in and day out the precision, safety and efficiency which these crews show on this difficult and, until only fairly recently, hazardous route is one of the great factors of post-war world aviation. I think we should be careful not to take these things too much for granted.
There is no doubt that these factors, allied with the notable record of safety which B.O.A.C. has built up on the Atlantic run, have contributed immeasurably to the confidence established in this country in air travel. Whatever ideological prejudices one may hold regarding a particular system of operating civil air transport, there is no harm at all in expressing acknowledgement of an achievement which has already won for itself a place in British history.
The other development is of a narrower but, I think, of a significant kind, and I suggest that it is the natural complement to the trend in world travel which is now apparent. Those of us who watch these things agreed some time ago that it was only a matter of time before the shipping companies would start to take an interest in the operation of civil air transport. Indeed, I remember my hon. Friend, now the Under-Secretary of State for Air, referring to this very matter when we occupied the Opposition benches three years ago. Now that this development has come about, few will deny—whatever political view one may take of it—that this will prove to be a great accession of strength for those independent operators 1845 whose need for capital to finance the purchase of new aircraft may now more easily be met.
I must express the hope on this score that, with the recent arrival of these three particular shipping companies into the field of civil aviation, a new day will dawn for the flying boat. The arguments for and against the operation of flying boats have been deployed so often in this House that it would not be right for me to reiterate them again tonight. It is sufficient to say that there are still a good many hon. Members on both sides of the House who remain convinced that the flying boat still has a use and a place in the commercial field. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, whom we are all glad to see back with us today, may be able to say a word about the future of the Princess, because that is an aircraft for which all of us hold high hopes. We trust that some method will be found to operate it.
With the activities of the shipping companies in air transport, one can understand the apprehension of the Corporations as they view the prospect of this infinitely stronger competition. In place of competitors who were largely compelled to operate obsolete and often uneconomic aircraft there looms this new possibility of more vigorous opposition. In such circumstances it is hardly surprising that B.O.A.C. should now be seeking some means of expressing their fears.
It would seem to me that at this stage we are in danger of becoming slaves to the conception that in air transport there is only a limited amount of trade, and that if competition is increased there will be insufficient business to go round. That seems to be a very dangerous conception indeed. My belief is that in passenger and freight traffic the potential of the aeroplane as a means of transport has only partially been realised. I do not believe that up till now we have done much more than to skim off the cream. Civil aviation has expanded since the war in a way which few, if they were honest, would say they thought possible 10 years ago.
That expansion will go on for so long as the markets remain open, but in my submission what we want as a nation is to put our aircraft operators, no matter 1846 whether they be independent or nationalised, in a position where they can attack those markets and win for Britain the obvious rewards which are there. I believe that there is enough trade for everyone and that there is room for more than one British operator in the sphere of freight traffic on the Atlantic run. The danger is that we may miss or lose the glittering opportunities which are offered by over-legislating for the fears which some are now quite naturally expressing.
B.O.A.C, whatever may be the criticism of that Corporation in the commercial field, has established itself as a British asset, but I cannot see that with the world's markets open to us there is not room now for a strong and enterprising group of independent operators to work parallel with the Corporation and to gain fresh rewards for themselves and for their country.
British aviation needs today reasonable freedom and room to manoeuvre. Above all, it needs the security and stability which will come from knowing that all operators, independent and nationalised alike, are now to be left alone, within the safeguards which my right hon. Friend has properly laid down, to do their job and to establish a new prestige for Britain.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
We listened with interest to the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas). While some of his arguments are not acceptable to us and, indeed, he probably did not mean all of them to be acceptable to the Opposition, he made some points which I hope the Minister, who belongs to the same party, will think about. For example, he argued that in principle there is no need for the exclusion of B.O.A.C. from freight traffic on the trans-Atlantic route. Similarly, he would argue that there is no need to exclude private enterprise; but B.O.A.C. is, in effect, being excluded from that traffic.
From our point of view there were a number of good points in the hon. Gentleman's speech, and there were some others with which we do not agree. I am glad that he paid tribute to Lord Douglas, the chairman of B.E.A. I gather that the hon. and gallant Member for Ilford, South (Squadron Leader Cooper) appeared to make an invidious 1847 comparison between the abilities of Sir Miles Thomas, chairman of B.O.A.C., and those of Lord Douglas, chairman of B.E.A. I know both very well. I had a lot to do with them when I was in the Labour Government.
I had a lot to do with Lord Douglas when he was commander-in-chief of Fighter Command when I was in the Government of the Prime Minister during the war. Lord Douglas was a gallant commander-in-chief of Fighter Command, and a very able officer. I have a great respect for both these gentlemen. They are both exceedingly able. Any distinction, I should say in relation to the facts, is not justified. I am glad that the Minister indicates his agreement.
We are full of apprehension about the handling of civil aviation by Her Majesty's Government. Frankly, we are exceedingly apprehensive about the state of mind of the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation in this matter. His various statements sometimes appear to us to be inconsistent with one another, and he sometimes makes statements which appear to us to have a clear meaning and then, later, he appears to think that they have a different meaning. From the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman, we find it difficult to be sure where he is.
Following upon the Minister's adventures in the field of surface transport under his Transport Act, last year, if we approach him with a good deal of apprehension, even suspicion, and perhaps a little bias he must not be surprised, for we know at any rate that he is a bitter, persistent opponent of public enterprise as far as he can carry the war into the sphere of public enterprise. He hates it. He thoroughly dislikes it, and he is doing his best to destroy it wherever he can, in bits and pieces.
If the right hon. Gentleman ever finds himself Postmaster-General, I do not know what he will do with himself. There are, however, enough people in private enterprise who are enjoying themselves at the expense of the Royal Mails now without any addition. Where he would get to in relation to the Post Office, I do not know, but I suppose he could still bring in a third private enterprise public corporation for television.
It also appears to us that the right hon. Gentleman, by one means or another, is 1848 doing all he can to limit and confine the public corporations and to expand, whenever he can, private operation in civil aviation. It appears to us that in the case of road and rail transport there is a lot to be said for consolidation, combination and co-ordination on the basis of some form of common ownership. If that is true of railways and road commercial transport, there is a great deal to be said for it in the field of civil aviation.
When one considers the services attached to civil aviation—the aircraft themselves, the airfields, the various methods of control such as radar, research, and the renewals required at a fairly early time in the life of aircraft— all these things point to the consideration that the amount of capital expenditure and the amount of minimum fixed maintenance expenditure are bound to be high in relation to the total number of passengers carried. It is, so to speak, the problem of railway economics over again.
Aircraft avoid the necessity of having a permanent track on the ground, but the expenditure involved in the acquisition of the aircraft, the maintenance of the airfields and all the complicated and expensive services associated with the management and operation of aircraft is substantial. If these overheads are to be duplicated by providing an unnecessary number of separate services, that would appear to us to be as wasteful in this sphere as it is in inland surface transport.
It was, therefore, accepted, under the Bill of the Labour Government, that public enterprise on the scheduled groups should be protected except insofar as the Corporations entered into agreements freely and with the approval of the Minister to work in co-operation with certain associates or private companies. But the situation was within their control, and to that I will return because it was, and still remains, our view that the right principle is that these substantially permanent routes, which are to render a public service, ought to be conducted by a public corporation other than in cases where it is convenient for them, and with the approval of the Minister, to enter into an arrangement with associated companies.
That is the principle upon which we stand. The interesting thing is that I find here I am strongly supported by words uttered in this House on 10th July, 1939, by the late Sir Kingsley Wood. He was 1849 a man for whom I had a respect. He was no joke to fight in an Election and, as one who resided in West Woolwich when he was the Member of Parliament for that division, I know of his electoral capacity, which could be very annoying from time to time; indeed, when he was alive, we described it in still stronger language, but I would not do that now. There was no doubt that he was a Conservative. I think everybody would agree that it would be unjust and wrong to question his Conservative principles and Tory beliefs.
In bringing forward the British Over seas Airways Bill, which merged Imperial Airways and British Airways for precisely the reasons that I am now arguing—
§ Mr. Morrison
We voted for an extension of public ownership beyond the point mentioned in the Bill.
§ Sir R. Perkins
Excuse me, the right hon. Gentleman and all his party voted against the Second Reading of that Bill.
§ Sir R. Perkins
On 10th July, 1939, the right hon. Gentleman voted for a reasoned Amendment moved by Mr. Lees-Smith, which started:this House cannot assent to the Second Reading of a Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1939; Vol. 349, c. 1847.]Then they gave their reasons.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am surprised at the remarkable shyness of the hon. Gentleman in not telling me what he is reading
§ Mr. Morrison
We voted against the Second Reading on a reasoned Amendment because, in our judgment, the finances were too generous to the companies, and because the Bill did not carry State ownership or operation far enough. To say that we voted against the principle of the Bill and public ownership is not true and Mr. Lees-Smith made it clear in his speech.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
If that argument is to hold water, will the right hon. Gentleman also accept the fact that when the Conservative Opposition voted for a reasoned Amendment on the National Health Service Bill, they were not voting against that Bill?
§ Mr. Morrison
The right hon. Gentleman really must not get outside his sphere. He may now be Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, but we have not added "and Health" yet. He had better wait until he has accumulated another Department before he barges into another Minister's affairs.
This is what the late Sir Kingsley Wood said, and it is really very good:… I believe that in the proposals contained in the Bill we have not only a sound plan, but greater possibilities of progress, and particularly what I think is so much needed, the development of a far sighted, long range policy in British aircraft production. I am satisfied that this cannot be attained in face of the development of the heavily subsidised competition of today by private companies, which must quite properly have regard to the primary interests of the shareholders who own such companies.I submit that under the new corporation national interests and national advance will come first. There are also great advantages in the unification of the two companies, such as the pooling of experience, equipment, ground organisation and technical resources. Again, I would say that much also can undoubtedly be accomplished and achieved by the centralised control of the fleet, the training of personnel and the concentration of management and forward planning."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July, 1939; Vol. 349, c. 1831.]That is a very good statement, in principle, of the Labour Party case with regard to civil aviation.
Sir Kingsley Wood went on to make the point that it would be argued that this doctrine did not leave sufficient room for competition. He quickly met that point by showing that there was plenty of competition in the world from a number of countries, many of them subsidising their aircraft in one form or another. That is the basis upon which the Labour Party starts—that is to say, a combination of what I said and what Sir Kingsley Wood said in that speech. The new civil aviation policy of the Government appears to us to be not good.
It has been argued by the Minister that in the course of the proceedings of our own Civil Aviation Bill that there was 1851 some contradiction in the statements of Ministers as to where we stood on certain matters of principle with regard to freedom of competition between the public Corporations and private enterprise. What I said when I introduced the Second Reading of the Bill has been quoted. I said that the public Corporations:… will have the exclusive privilege of operating scheduled air transport services within the United Kingdom and to and from the United Kingdom."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th May, 1946; Vol. 422, c. 608.]I added that charter work would be free for all. But when I said that it would be free for all I meant not only for private capitalist investment, but for the public Corporations as well. This was confirmed by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation who, in Committee, said that the Government's policy was that regular scheduled air services; should be reserved to the three public Corporations. They have since been reduced to two. He added that the three public Corporations would also have right to undertake charter work and that the Corporations must be free to undertake charter work for anybody who wishes to use them for that purpose.
That seems to us to be fair, right and reasonable. Our complaint is that the Minister is now doing everything he can to prevent the Corporations going in for some of the things which we adumbrated they should and, on the whole to give preferential treatment to private capital and private enterprise in this matter.
There is the incidental effect on Treforest, where British Overseas Airways have a repair and maintenance works. Treforest v/as one of the depressed areas before the war, and I believe that I am right in saying that there has been established at Treforest a quite important trading estate which is rather famous. It was established there for the very purpose of dealing with the depression which existed in certain parts of Wales before the Second World War. I am reminded that the factory is part of that estate. If that is so—and I believe it to be the case—it is surely a most extraordinary thing that now we shall be doing things which will injure the activities and the work of the B.O.A.C. factory in that place. I hope that further thought will be given to that matter.
1852 Moreover, if we are to develop excessive competition from unsatisfactory private organisation, it is almost certain that, sooner or later, we shall endanger labour conditions. In fact, I think it is admitted by the Minister that the labour conditions at some of the private enterprise undertakings are inferior to those which obtain in the public Corporations. We could easily endanger safety if we are not careful in this field. I do not say that we have done so, but I say that we could—and I understand that after the two Airwork Hermes aircraft crashed in the Mediterranean, in 1952, the court of inquiry on 25th August, 1952, was seriously critical of the company. Therefore, safety is a factor which we have to keep in mind.
As I have indicated, it is perfectly true that under the Labour Government's Act of 1946 and its administration, it was contemplated that private operators could be participants in scheduled air services; but that could only be done by agreement with the public Corporations and they could be associates to the public Corporations. It had to be done by an agreement with the Corporations, and that was subject to the approval of the Minister at the time.
Later, as has been pointed out by the Minister, in 1949 that power of approval was transferred to the Air Transport Advisory Council. But even so, their decisions were subject to the Minister's confirmation, so that the Minister still has the ultimate responsibility for these matters. We were rather led to believe this afternoon that the entire responsibility was on the Air Transport Advisory Council. Clearly, if that was so, it would not be an advisory council. That is where we get misled.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not think so. I think everybody has followed it, and many hon. Members have lived with these problems for years. It is an advisory council, but the Minister would not disregard that advice except in the most extreme circumstances. I have to pay attention to the views of colonial and foreign Governments. Over the vast field of their recommendations, I would act straight away on their recommendations.
§ Mr. Morrison
Well, maybe that is right, but I have a feeling that if the 1853 Advisory Council gave the Minister advice not in accordance with Conservative beliefs—
§ Mr. Morrison
—he would reject its advice before we knew where we were. At any rate, we have established this evening, if we did not quite do so this afternoon, that this is an advisory council, that it is subject to the Minister's confirmation and, therefore, the Minister is directly responsible to this House for everything that the Advisory Council does and recommends. The safeguards to the Corporations which I have indicated have been whittled down by the Conservative Government, certainly as from 1952. For example, if we take certain services, the private companies were given powers for certain routes with first and second-class accommodation—on new routes in some places. In that case, the Corporations appear to have been barred, under a direction.
There are other services—for example, what is known as the colonial coach services—on which the private undertakers, if sanctioned, can operate on any route on equal terms with the Corporations. But whereas the Corporations can run first-class and second-class or tourist fares, the private operators on those routes are able to charge a special fare in competition with the Corporations. They can charge a sub-second-class fare or third-class fare, and this competes with the Corporations.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
No. This class was deliberately created to develop a new type of traffic, which could be tapped without diverting traffic from the other two classes. It is the function of A.T.A.C. to satisfy itself that any such application would create a new type of traffic by providing services on the same routes but with fewer amenities.
§ Mr. Morrison
This will not do. This is where we begin to lose patience with the Minister. He is not playing ball in relation to the facts, and he ought to be. It is clear that if the private operator comes in with a lower fare—although the amenities may not be quite so good—he is a competitor with the Corporations. The purpose of the lower fare is to attract traffic from the Corporations. It does not manufacture such a high amount of new traffic that it does not compete.
1854 I now come to my second charge. When the Corporations desired to run services on a similar basis, namely, the so-called colonial coach services, with a lower fare, the Minister said. "I am not going to have a three4dered system of fare charges." It almost sounds like local government. Having admitted the power of the private operator to charge a third-class fare in direct competition with the Corporations he flatly refused to let the Corporations run a third-Class fare in competition with private enterprise.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Or to allow private enterprise to enter into the first-class or second-class traffic, of which the Corporations have an absolute monopoly.
§ Mr. Morrison
The House is not improving its impression of the Minister. I like Ministers to be clever, but I remember somebody saying to me, "The trouble with So-and-So is that he is too clever by half," and he went on to say, "I emphasise 'by half'."
§ Mr. Morrison
I forget who it was. It is clear that this new facility has been sanctioned to allow private enterprise to provide more effective competition with the Corporations. If the Government believe in competition, let it be competition, and let it be fair and equal between the parties.
It is said that the traffic load of B.O.A.C. in British East Africa has not gone down. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] I gather that that is understood by at least one hon. Member opposite. But that is not conclusive evidence. Owing to the difficulties and disturbances of one sort and another in East Africa, and the visits of various people, including hon. Members of this House—for reasons about which we are all very sorry—the traffic has been increasing. In the circumstances, the argument that the traffic has not gone down is not conclusive.
The associate or independent company is forced on to the routes of the public Corporation, or the public Corporation, under Ministerial pressure, is forced to make an agreement with the independent company. That may be a marriage, but in private life I have heard such marriages described, I believe in certain parts of the United States or South 1855 America, not as free marriages but as shotgun marriages; and I do not like them.
Would the Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether inquiry is now being made, or whether inquiry has been made recently, as to the diversion of B.E.A. internal services to private operators? If any such discussions are going on, will he tell us what the result is? I think it is desirable that that should be done. If not, grave uncertainty will result.
In what I thought was an excellent opening speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) dealt with the scheduled freight service. This service is important. I do not know whether I carry the Minister with me, but I am inclined to think not only that it is important but also that it may well be a developing service which will increase as the months and years pass. Nowhere is it more likely to increase than on the trans-Atlantic routes.
On 16th July, 1953, the Minister stated that he had secured assurances from the Chairmen that they would not apply on any new route for one year. I am bound to say that I think it is a great pity that the Chairmen gave any such assurances, but they did. I do not know how the Minister got the assurances—whether the Chairmen came along bursting to give them or whether he was particularly persuasive.
While I am all in favour of good, close, co-operative and often informal relations between the Ministers, chairmen of the boards and members of the boards, I would add a word of caution. Incidentally, I am glad that the Minister saw all the members of the boards the other day; I think that should be done from time to time by all Ministers. But these discussions must be free. It must be remembered that the Minister appoints the members of the boards, reappoints them or declines to do so. He must be free to appoint them or not to appoint them.
I do not want to run this argument too far, but if the persuasive powers of the Minister go beyond representations and the submitting or arguing of a case and go to the point of pressure, that could be very dangerous indeed because, in view 1856 of the dependence of the members of the board on the Minister—he can dismiss them if he wishes; I am not saying he would dismiss them, but he has the legal power to do so—there is a risk of undue pressure being brought to bear.
It was said that the Corporations gave an undertaking not to apply. Whether they gave it freely or not, I do not know. But what happened next? Very soon afterwards, Airwork, a private company, applied and was given consent. The position, then, as I understand it is that it is highly improbable that one of the public Corporations will now be given permission, at any rate at this juncture, because permission has already been given to private enterprise.
First of all, the Corporations are persuaded not to apply for 12 months. Next, within 12 months, permission is given to private enterprise. Next, after 12 months, the ground is already covered and we cannot have competition. Competition against private enterprise is dangerous; competition against a public Corporation is strictly in accordance with Conservative policy. I would say this not only to the Minister—because correct relations between him and the chairmen are important—but also to the chairmen: they have a duty certainly to co-operate with the Minister of the day, whatever his politics may be, but both the Minister and the chairmen have a duty to uphold their statutory, independent rights while living with each other as best they can.
Finally—I am sorry if I am a minute over my time, but I have had to make up a little time—there is the question of air trooping. Here, as I understand it, in effect, the Corporations are not really permitted to tender. Nevertheless, this is a growing business. I do not agree with the Minister that it is a tailing off business, because my information is that it is likely to grow.
They were allowed to tender under the Labour Government. It was implied in earlier discussion that they were not. If they were not successful, it was because they did not achieve success. No one can grumble about that except themselves, and they must try to do better next time. But they were allowed to compete and it really is important that they should be allowed to do so—it is economic that they should be allowed to do so.
1857 Look at the position now? There are now a number of Hermes aircraft, each of which cost £250,000, lying idle and which could be used in such affairs. We take the view that public enterprise in civil aviation has been remarkably successful. As a whole, the load factor compares not unfavourably with that of private enterprise. I was in this from the beginning as a Member of the Government, with my colleagues in the Departments concerned. I anticipated that it would be quite a long time before the Corporations paid their way or made an operating surplus. I am sure that before the average hon. Member believed it, they got very near to paying their way, and in some years they have actually made an operating surplus, although they are bound to carry traffic all the year round.
I think that, as a whole, they provide a great public service, a safe service and a creditable service to our country, which has a good name in the world of civil aviation. It is, therefore, a great pity that the Minister in command of this great modern method of transport should be handling it in a way which causes us to believe that he has a bias against the public Corporations; that he is deliberately—in this as he did road commercial transport—regarding it as his primary duty to promote and to further the interests of private capital. It is for that reason that we shall divide the House tonight, because we have no confidence at all in the Minister or his public bona fides in the conduct of these undertakings.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Profumo)
It is a fairly well established custom for those who have the dubious privilege of winding up our discussions to start by remarking that we have had a useful debate. Certainly, I do not think that today's debate can be regarded as any exception. My right hon. Friend is indeed indebted to the Opposition for giving him an opportunity of re-stating and clarifying the policy of Her Majesty's Government in this important sphere of national endeavour.
My right hon. Friend recognises that as the development of British air transport progresses and expands there will from 1858 time to time be genuine misgivings, misunderstandings and even suspicions on the part of the various agencies who operate our air transport services, and also on the part of those who outside the industry itself have the interests of British civil aviation at heart. If our air transport is to continue to flourish as it is now, then each section of the industry must be free to play its part unimpaired by a lack of understanding or suspicion of political prejudice. Those who seek to promote its well-being must understand each other and employ their ideas and enthusiasm in the common cause.
I am sure the House will agree that the comprehensive and forthcoming speech of my right hon. Friend has clarified the major issues of concern.
§ Mr. Profumo
I, for my part, will try to deal with some of the other problems which have been raised by hon. Members during the debate. If I leave the speech of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) to the end, I ask him to acquit me of any discourtesy because, first, my right hon. Friend answered in advance all the points which the right hon. Gentleman made and, second, I should like to embody them in what I say at the end of my speech.
But I cannot allow to go without a mention the reference which the right hon. Gentleman made to the bias of my right hon. Friend. I have worked under him now for only a year, but I assure the House—and I hope every hon. Member will take this assurance—that if ever anyone had less bias—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If hon. Members do not like to hear that, I challenge them to go to any of the board members of either of the Corporations and see whether they do not agree that my right hon. Friend's courtesy and readiness to help them has been effective and frequent
I should like, on behalf of my right hon. Friend to pay a very warm tribute, not only to the chairmen of both Corporations. I agree entirely with what the right hon. Gentleman said in his speech. I also have worked under Lord Douglas, and I know him only too well as a leader in war and regard him very highly as a leader in civil aviation. In the same way, of course, I regard Sir Miles Thomas, who has done magnificent work for B.O.A.C. I was 1859 glad to see on television last night that not many questions passed before the panel guessed who he was. That tribute goes not only for the Chairmen and boards of of the Corporations, but extends the whole way down through managerial and all the various sections of people who work both in the field of the Corporations, the chosen instruments, and for the independent operators also.
Various members, including the hon. Members for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo) and Ponty-pridd (Mr. Pearson), raised the vexed question of redundancy at Treforest. No one regrets this situation more than my right hon. Friend, but we have got to face facts as they are. The underlying causes of this redundancy are the falling off of outside work, including Ministry of Supply contracts, and also the increased efficiency of modern aero engines, which result in longer periods between overhauls.
The question of the Hermes was raised in this context. There is, however, very little new trooping work on which the Hermes could be employed, and any work which could be done by the Hermes would not make any significant difference to the problem which exists at Treforest. The hon. Member for Pontypridd, who made a poignant plea, suggested that the Hercules 634 engines might be overhauled there, but B.E.A. is due to dispose of the remainder of its Vikings in October, and its current contract for their overhaul is with the Bristol Aircraft Corporation and does not expire until June, when the Corporations expect that by that time they will have sufficient spare engine flying hours in hand to avoid any renewal of contract.
§ Mr. Beswick
The Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister keep making the point that trooping contracts would not employ many of these Hermes aircraft. If the work involved is so small, why does the Minister prevent the Corporations from tendering for trooping contracts?
§ Mr. Profumo
It is large in proportion to the work of the independent operators, but it is small, as has been said by Labour Ministers, and only incidental to the work of the Corporations.
§ Mr. Profumo
If the hon. Member thinks I come here not knowing what I am talking about, he had better think again. On 6th December, 1950, Lord Pakenham, then Minister of Civil Aviation, said in another place about air trooping:the activities of the Corporations will be incidental to their main business.
§ Mr. Profumo
I have made my point. This is a very serious matter, and I want, if I can, to impress the House with the difficulties with which we are concerned.
B.O.A.C. has told the unions that when its fleet is re-equipped with aircraft powered by turbo-prop and jet engines, if it finds it economic, it will place contracts with the manufacturers for the overhaul of these engines and for repair work. Some hon. Members argued that the Corporation ought not to put its repair work to private enterprise tender, but surely these boards must be left to carry out their day-to-day work as matters of management without Government interference.
I would remind the House that in 1950 when the unions objected to the action of B.E.A. in giving a contract for the overhaul of the Hercules engines the Labour Government policy was that the Corporations should, as far as possible, conduct their activities in accordance with commercial principles. There can be no question of the Government insisting that the Corporation should try to make itself as self-contained as possible.
§ Mr. Profumo
I think the right hon. Gentleman has already made in his speech those points which he wanted to make.
My right hon. Friend wishes to assure the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Pearson) that he will with the chairman of B.O.A.C. give personal consideration to the very sympathetic speech which the hon. Gentleman made this afternoon to see if there is anything which so far has not been looked at either by himself or the Corporation.
The hon. Member for Reading, South and the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) talked about the B.E.A. Renfrew 1861 maintenance base. This again is due to the fact that changes are bound to come about as B.E.A. plans progress. They plan progressively to replace the obsolete Viking and Pionair aeroplanes which are maintained at Renfrew, with modern Viscount and Elizabethan aircraft. These aircraft are used primarily on the B.E.A. international network based on London, and it would be impracticable and uneconomic to divide the maintenance between London and Renfrew.
The management of B.E.A. is in consultation through the machinery of the National Joint Council for Civil Aviation with the trade unions concerned, and hon. Members will agree that while that goes on it would be wholly wrong for the Government to interfere. It would be far better if I did not refer any further at this stage to the problem, but my right hon. Friend has informed the Scottish Advisory Council for Civil Aviation that he would welcome discussion of the problem with it before any final decision is taken.
Then there was the very difficult problem which was raised about the moving of some of the communicators from Redbrae to Birdlip. This was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel). I wonder if I could be relieved of going into the details of this matter, because it is highly technical. I should like briefly to explain the general difficulty in which we found ourselves. First of all, there were these two main communicating bases, one in Scotland and one at Birdlip. We had concentrated at Birdlip a certain amount of high frequency radio telephony known as N.A.R.T.E.L.
The main decision to concentrate the Chief circuits at Birdlip was taken over two years ago. Our circuits had proved to be less efficient than those operated by the Irish from Shannon. Apart from safety, therefore, we did not want to lose commercial progress with the airline companies. For that reason, at considerable expense very high powered transmitters were put up at Birdlip and we got much better communication. In the course of the arrangement of the high frequency radio telephony a great deal of expenditure was incurred in putting in soundproof transmitters and so on, and if we moved everything from Birdlip up again to Redbrae it would mean wasting all 1862 that expenditure and incurring very considerable extra expenditure up in Redbrae. Nor, indeed, would we have been certain that the communications would be worked satisfactorily from there. Therefore, the economy to which I refer in a letter that I have written will come in the long run, though not altogether, from economy on spare parts and on extra radio standby sets, and eventually also in manpower.
But I assure hon. Members who are particularly interested in this that this is not a matter which has arisen from any muddle in my Department. It is a decision dependent entirely upon signals policy for the safety of aircraft. It is in the contracts of our communicators that they must be prepared to move from time to time as the circumstances of the services require. We shall do our very best in moving such people as are necessary to see that the best accommodation possible is found for them in Birdlip. We have made arrangements with the Cheltenham Rural District Council for 20 permanent houses and 10 flats, and as time goes on we hope to provide further accommodation. I have written to the hon. Member for Uxbridge and, if my hon. Friends who are interested would like me to do so, I will certainly send copies of that letter to them. I should be only too pleased also to discuss the matter in further detail with them at a later stage.
The hon. Member for Reading, South told the House that he thought my right hon. Friend was conniving at law-breaking with regard to the conditions of service of people who work in the independent companies. It is, of course, entirely untrue. My right hon. Friend is not constitutionally responsible for interpreting the National Joint Council conditions. He requires, through the Air Transport Advisory Council, assurances that applicants will observe N.J.C. terms and conditions of service as a condition of the grant of an associate agreement. This condition is embodied in the associate agreement if the service is approved.
In accordance with past practices and associate agreements and general industrial practice, it is up to the National Joint Council to draw attention to any prima facie case of a breach of condition of an associate agreement. Any reported breach would be referred by the Minister to the Minister of Labour who would 1863 endeavour to dispose of it and, failing that, it would have to go to the Industrial Court. It is entirely erroneous, therefore, to say that my right hon. Friend was conniving at law-breaking; and at present there is no dispute in existence.
The hon. Member for Reading, South also remarked that we were losing business to K.L.M. and other companies in the field of charter. B.O.A.C. last year carried £833,000 worth of charter business. If we may be losing a little here and there, I think that the House will agree that that is a very considerable sum indeed for B.O.A.C. in what is, after all, called incidental to its normal business.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) made an extremely helpful speech. I should like to refer to his remarks about pilot recruitment. I am well aware that there has been in the technical Press and in other sections of thought the idea that something should be done to recruit civilian pilots in a different way from that which has been followed up to now. While the Royal Air Force is able to give the kind of pilots who are acceptable in civil aviation, however, we should have to think very carefully before incurring further public expenditure on an alternative way. I know that my hon. Friend already realises that my right hon. Friend is constantly considering this problem. Indeed, this whole matter is now under consideration with my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air, but for the time being we believe that the present system is the best.
The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) raised a problem, which I knew he was going to raise, about Customs facilities at Greatham. This, again, is a very difficult problem. My right hon. Friend would like to see Customs facilities given where they are wanted, but we have to pay due regard to national economy. Customs facilities can only be granted where there is a reasonable volume of foreign-going traffic, or to meet the needs of a large area in which there are no other Customs facilities.
§ Mr. D. Jones
The hon. Gentleman recognises, of course, that it does not cost the Customs anything to provide this and that every moment of time in which the Customs officers were engaged in clearing aircraft was paid for by the travel 1864 agency? No additional staff has been provided at any customs office to deal with Customs last year.
§ Mr. Profumo
I understand that, but one cannot go by the criteria that if one happens to be close to any Customs official one may take him away for a time. We must have a policy on this. But my right hon. Friend is studying the whole question of Customs facilities in the light of various representations which have been made to him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) made a rather bloodthirsty speech in which he said that his constituents would like to cut the throat of my right hon. Friend because of the noise at London Airport. I think we should be rather careful when next we go to London Airport. My right hon. Friend has been there and investigated the complaint made by the constituents of my hon. Friend. At that time he was unaware that his life was in danger. He made an investigation of the use of the acoustic wall which will soon be in operation, in fact as soon as the new B.O.A.C. hangar is able to be occupied. I was very grateful for his generous reference and the understanding way in which my hon. Friend realised the problems of my right hon. Friend in dealing with the question of aircraft damage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) spoke of flying boats, and I want to assure him and the House that the mind of my right hon. Friend is certainly not closed to the question of flying boats, far from it. B.O.A.C. and one independent company have expressed an interest in the possible use for the Princess and this is welcomed by my right hon. Friend. The possible return of flying boats is occupying his continuous interest. For the benefit of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South, I would say that at least here there are more suitors for the hand of the Princess than when his Government were in power.
When I heard that the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South was to wind up the debate for the Opposition tonight I naturally wondered what reason lay behind this unusual, but certainly not unwelcome, appearance by him at the Box in a field which, recently at any rate, has not occupied his special interest. I 1865 wondered whether if we ever do have another Labour Government the portfolios of the Foreign Office and Civil Aviation were to be amalgamated and whether the views of the hon. Member for WellinGborough (Mr. Lindgren) and the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) were not sufficiently in line with current majority feeling. I wondered whether this was to be made the occasion for a party demonstration. I found that it is certainly not the latter, for, having listened to speeches of hon. Members opposite, I found there was not enough cohesion for a party demonstration.
With the greatest respect, I found the general tenor of the remarks of the right hon. Member seemed more concerned with doctrinaire disagreement than with the direct factors with which my right hon. Friend is dealing in his administration of current civil aviation. The suggestion that my right hon. Friend only took the advice of the A.T.A.C. when it suited his own political interests is something which I believe the right hon. Member will not wish to pursue when he reads what he said in HANSARD, and certainly it is entirely and absolutely untrue.
The right hon. Gentleman must remember that we won the last Election on Conservative principles—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I know hon. Members opposite do not like to be reminded about that. Therefore they must not fret unduly when we put those principles into practice, especially when they prove themselves well justified by events. In the last Election, in our statement, "Britain Strong and Free," we said that our civil aviation policy would be a combination of public and private enterprise, and that is what I want to get over.
There has been a lot of talk about competition, that we should have free competition on all the routes. We said we wanted aviation to be both public and private enterprise, and that is exactly what has been introduced by my right hon. Friend. We have gone no further. We believe there is room for the chosen
§ instrument, but we do not want to undermine, and we have not undermined, the independent operators for whom there is adequate room. We are certainly strengthened in our belief by the magnificent work done by those independent operators.
§ Of course there will be differences of opinion and problems of interpretation from time to time. There is no difficulty in surmounting those problems provided we have good will on all sides. Today that exists, much more than one might think from listening to some of the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ The policy of the former Government was far too rigid for a changing and expanding industry such as this. We are conscious of the need to make changes and to adapt our policies to the ever-altering circumstances, without being wedded to a rigid and sealed pattern and a strait-jacket outlook. We wish to see a broad framework created during the time in which we hold office, a framework which will be generally agreeable and agreed to by all political shades of opinion. If we are successful in achieving this, and I believe we can be, there is something else which I believe would be of immense usefulness in the sphere of air transport. It is that operators themselves might consider the forming of a Chamber of Air Transport similar to the existing Chamber of Shipping.
§ Were that possible—and I believe the time will come when operators will feel they would like to do this—then, under the guidance of my right hon. Friend and successive Ministers, we shall be able to go ahead with the certainty that the general framework within which these operators would function was something agreed to on all sides. If we can reach that situation, we shall give the operators the lonGterm security they must have if they are to retain a leading role in world civil aviation.
§ Question put, "That £898,037,000 stand part of the Resolution."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 263; Noes, 239.1869
|Division No. 47.]||AYES||[9.58 p.m.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn,W.)||Baxter, A. B.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Baldock, Lt. Cmdr. J M.||Beach, Maj. Hicks|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Baldwin, A. E.||Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)|
|Amory, Rt. Hon. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Banks, Col. C.||Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major W. J.||Barber, Anthony||Bennett, F M. (Reading, N.)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Barlow, Sir John||Bennett, Or. Reginald (Gosport)|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Higgs, J.M. C||Page, R. G|
|Birch, Nigel||Hill, Or. Charles (Luton)||Peak", Rt. Hon. 0.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hill, Mrs. E (Wythemshawe)||Perkins, Sir Robert|
|Black C. W.||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Peto, Brig. C. H. M|
|Bossom, Sir A. C||Hirst, Geoffrey||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Bowen, E. R.||Holland-Martin, C. J||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon J A||Hollis, M. C.||Pilkington, Capt. R. A.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hope, Lord John||Pitman, I J.|
|Brains, B. R.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Braithwaite, Sir Gurney||Horobin, I. M.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W- H||Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Florence||Prior-Palmer, Brig. 0. L|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Profumo, J. D.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Raikes, Sir Victor|
|Browne, Jack (Govan)||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Buchan-Hepburn. Rt. Hon. P G T||Hulbert, Wing Cdr. N. J.||Redmayne, M.|
|Bullard, D. G.||Hurd, A. R.||Rees-Davies, W. R|
|Bui his, Wing Commander E. E||Hutchison, Sir Ian Clark (E'b'rgh, W.)||Remnant, Hon. P|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Butcher. Sir Herbert||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Iremonger, T. L.||Roberts, Peter (Hooley)|
|Campbell, Sir David||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Robinson, Round (Blackpool, S)|
|Carr, Robert||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Robson-Brown, W.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Johnson, Howard (Kemptown)||Todgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Channon, H.||Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Sir Winston||Johnson-Hicks, Hon. L. W||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Clarke COI Ralph (East Grinstead)||Kaberry, D.||Russell, R. S.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Kerr, H. W.||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Cote Norman||Lambert, Hon. G.||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Colegate, W. A.||Lambton, Viscount||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr Albert||Lancaster, Cot. C. G||Scott, R. Donald|
|Craddock, Beresfored (Spelthorn)||Leather, E. H. C.||Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H.F.C||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Shephard, William|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Crouch R. F||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Lindsay, Martin||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)|
|Crowder, Petre (Ruislip-Northwood)||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (King's Norton)||Smyth, Brig. J. G. (Norwood)|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Soames, Capt. C.|
|Davidson Viscountess||Lock wood, Lt.-Col. J. C.||Spearman, A. C. M.|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montegemery)||Longden Gilbert||Spens, Rt. Hon. Sir P. (Kensington, S.)|
|Deedes, W. F.||Low, A. R. W.||Stanley, Capt. Hon. Richard|
|Digby, S. Wingfield||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Stevens, G. P|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Steward, W A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Donaldson, Cm dr. C E. MoA.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.|
|Donner, Sir P. W.||McCorquodale, Rt. Hon. M. S||Storey, S.|
|Doughty C J A.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||McKibbin, A. J.||Summers, G. S.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)||Sutcliffe, Sir Harold|
|Duncan, Capt. J. A. L,||Maclean, Fitzroy||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Eccles., Rt. Hon Sir D. M.||Macleod, Rt. Hon. lain (Enfield, W.)||Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||MacLeod John (Ross and Cromarty)||Teeling, W.|
|Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastlc)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Erroll, F. J.||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)|
|Fell, A.||Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter (Menmouth)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Tilney, John|
|Fleetwood-Hesketh, R.F.||Marples, A. E.||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)||Turner, H. F. L|
|Ford, Mrs. Patricia||Maude, Angus||Turton, R. H.|
|Faster, John||Maudling, R.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||Medlicott, Brig. F.||Vosper, Q. F.|
|Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Poolok)||Mellor, Sir John||Wade, D. W.|
|Galbraith, T. G. D. (Hillhead)||Molson, A. H. E.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Gammans, L. D.||Moore, Sir Thomas||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. Marylebone)|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|George, Rt. Hon. Maj. G. Lloyd||Mott-Radclyffe, G. E.||Wall, P. H. B.|
|Glover, D.||Nabarro, G. D. N||Ward, Hon. George (Worcester)|
|Godber, J. B||Neave, Airey||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A||Nicholls, Harmer||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C|
|Gough, C. F. H.||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Webbe, Sir H. (London & Westminster)|
|Gower, H. R.||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E.)||Wellwood, W.|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Grimond, J.||Nugent, G. R. H.||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Nutting, Anthony||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Oakshott, H. D.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Harden, J. R. E.||Odey, G. W.||Wills, G.|
|Hare, Hon. J. A.||O'Neill, Hon. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hay, John||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)||Mr. Studholme and Major Conant.|
|Heath, Edward||Osborne, C.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Hargreaves, A.||Parkin, B. T|
|Adams, Richard||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)||Peart, T. F|
|Albu, A. H.||Hastings, S.||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hayman, F. H.||Popplewell, E|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon C. R||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Rowley Regis)||Porter, G.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Bacon. Miss Alice||Hobson, C. R.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire. W)|
|Balfour, A.||Holman, P.||Proctor, W. T|
|Barnes, Rt Hon. A. J||Holmes, Horace||Pryde, D. J.|
|Bartley, P||Houghlon, Douglas||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J||Hoy, J. H.||Rankin, John|
|Bonn, Hon. Wedgwood||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Reeves, J,|
|Benson, G.||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)|
|Beswick, F.||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Reid, William (Camlachie)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon A (Ebbw Vain)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Rhodes, H|
|Blackburn, F.||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Blenkinsop, A||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Boardman, H.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||RobertS, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G||Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Robinson, Kenneth St. Pancras, N)|
|Bowden, H. W||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N)|
|Bowles, F. G.||Janner, B.||Ross, William|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T||Royle, C.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Jeger, George (Goole)||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Brook, Dry den (Halifax)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D||Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)||Short, E W.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Jones, David (Hartlepool)||Shurmer, P. L. E.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill|
|Burke, W. A.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Keenan, W.||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Kenyon, C||Slater, J. (Durham, Sedgefield)|
|Callaghan, L. J||Key, Rt. Hon. C W||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A||King, Dr. H. M||Snow, J. W.|
|Champion, A. J.||Kindley, J.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Chapman, W. D||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Chetwynd G. R||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Steele, T.|
|Clunk, J.||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Coldrick W||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Collick, P. H.||Lewis Arthur||Stross, Dr. Barnett|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Lindgren G.S.||Summerskill, Rt. Han. E|
|Cove, w. G.||Lipton, Lt.-Col. M||Sylvester, G. 0|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Logan, D. G.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Crosland, C A. R.||MacColl, J. E||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Crossman, R H S.||McGhee, H. G.||Taylor, Rt. Hon. Robert (Morpeth)|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||McInnes, J.||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Davies, Stephen (Merthyr)||McLeavy, F||Thornton, E|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Tomney, F.|
|Deer, G.||Mainwaring, w. H.||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigs)||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Dodds, N. N||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Usborne, H. C.|
|Driberg, T. E. N.||Mann, Mrs. Joan||Viant, S. P.|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John (W. Bromwich||Manuel, A. C.||Wallace, H W.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A||Warbey, W. N.|
|Edelman, M.||Mason, Roy||Watkins, T. c.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon John (Brighouse)||Mayhew, C. P||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Messer, Sir F||Weitzman, D.|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Mikardo, Ian||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Evans. Albert (Islington. S.W)||Mitchison G R||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Monslow, W.||West, D. G.|
|Evans, Stanley (Wednesbury)||Moody, A. S.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Morgan, Or. H. B. W.||White, Henry (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Frenburgh, W.||Morley, R.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon W.|
|Finch, H. J.||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)||Wigg, George|
|Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H (Lewisham, S.)||Wilcock, Group Capt. C A. B|
|Follick, M.||Mort, D. L.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Foot, M. M.||Moyle, A.||Willey, F. T|
|Forman, J. C||Murray, J. D.||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Neal, Harold (Bolsover)||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Abertillery)|
|Freeman, John (Watford)||O'Brien, T.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Gibson, C. W||Old field, W. H||Williams, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Don V'll'y'|
|Gooch, E. G.||Oliver, G. H||William, W. R. (Dreylsden)|
|Gordon-Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C||Orbach, M.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Grey, C. F.||Oswald, T.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Padley, W. E||Winterbottom, Ian (Nottingham, C.)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Paget, R. T.||Winterbottom, Richard (Brightside)|
|Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)||Yates, V. F.|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Younger, Rt. Hon. K|
|Had, John T. (Gausead, W.)||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Hamilton, W W||Panneil, Charles||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hannan, W.||Pargiter, G. A||Mr. Pearson and Mr. Arthur Allen.|
|Hardy, E. A.||Parker, J|
Resolution agreed to.