§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Profumo)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Reports and Accounts of the British Overseas Airways Corporation and the British European Airways Corporation for the year ended 31st March, 1954.It is eight months since we last discussed civil aviation, and although today, more than ever, the struggle for Parliamentary time grows keener, the House never fails to find opportunities of discussing matters which arouse real controversy or general public concern.
The problems of the civil air transport industry are many and complex, but, broadly speaking, I think that the industry is settling down to a pattern of orderly development, and I believe it is the general desire of hon. Members on both sides of the House, as, indeed, it is of those who are actually engaged in the industry, that civil aviation should, as far as possible, be kept well away from the cauldron of party political strife.
I do not suggest for a moment that there is not wide variety of topics for discussion and if, therefore, I make what I might call a rather tight circuit myself, it is to facilitate the general traffic and certainly not because of any shortage of fuel. In the general field of policy which affects the operations of the airways corporations, the Pacific agreements to which I referred last year have now been endorsed by all the Governments concerned.
British Commonwealth Pacific Airways has been wound up and Quantas is already operating the Pacific routes with Super-Constellations. B.O.A.C. intends to extend its services to San Francisco as soon as the aircraft programme allows. Then the round-the-world partnership of these two great Commonwealth airlines will be complete.
Another event of importance has been the conference which was held at Strasbourg, last April, on air transport development within Europe. The United Kingdom succeeded on that occasion in persuading the conference to adopt two important resolutions. One of these offers 39 greater freedom for the development of air freight enabling air freighters, in effect, to engage on regular tramping operations and the other is designed partially to free the field of charter operations from impediments which, up to now, have prevented its full development. These are important landmarks in air transport progress, a field in which one must be constantly alert to make adjustments to meet changing situations.
The overall expansion of air transport is, I think, clearly reflected in the results of the work of the Air Transport Advisory Council. During the year under review this council dealt with 118 applications, 13 from the corporations and 104 from independent operators. It recommended 75 to my right hon. Friend for approval. I think that this represents an accomplishment of no mean task, and I believe the House will want to join me in a warm expression of tribute and congratulation to Lord Terrington and his colleagues.
Turning to the reports of the corporations themselves, perhaps the most encouraging common feature is the reduction in operating costs, by 6.1 per cent. in the case of B.E.A. and 2.9 per cent. in the case of B.O.A.C. In both cases these reductions reflect increased efficiency and improving productivity.
One further point of considerable interest in connection with the independent operators is mentioned in the penultimate paragraph of the B.O.A.C. report, and also on page 19, which records the collaboration between the corporation and two independent companies and the willingness to pursue such a policy in future in suitable circumstances. My right hon. Friend warmly welcomes every indication of a genuine desire for co-operation between the two sections of the industry. This will surely be in the best interests of the development of British civil aviation as a whole. It may even be that such a policy will prove worthy of consideration by B.E.A. in solving some of the problems inherent in its particular type of operations.
The measure of the financial success of B.O.A.C. is well illustrated by the fact that in spite of problems resulting from the withdrawal of Comets from service, it has not asked for any Exchequer grant, and this is for the third year running. All, I know, will wish the Corporation 40 well as the leading British operator on the great routes that link the Continents. On the other hand, the continuing deficit of B.E.A. and the future prospects of that corporation are the subject of constant consideration by Lord Douglas of Kirtleside, and by my right hon. Friend, who is confident that the efforts of the board, and the sustained energy of everyone within that organisation, will go a long way to reducing the present deficit.
It may at first sight appear to some paradoxical that with the introduction of the Viscount and the Elizabethan, and a general expansion of traffic, overall losses have not diminished. There is no doubt, however, that the effect of the indiscriminate introduction of tourist fares, for which the International Air Transport Association and not B.E.A. was responsible, was misjudged, at any rate as far as Europe was concerned. At I.A.T.A.'s last conference some of these fares were increased, and it estimated that this will produce for B.E.A. an annual increase in revenue of about £400,000.
Then, again, this corporation has to face the special problems of all short-haul operators. Although I do not think that we should regard the distance of 260 miles mentioned on page 13 of the report as having any magical significance, the costs of short-haul operations are certainly higher, and the sectors of less than that distance, on all of which B.E.A. lose money, are in the majority. The internal routes, north of London, account for much of this loss. Because my right hon. Friend has a clear duty to use his best endeavours to relieve the taxpayer at the earliest possible moment of this substantial burden, he will, of course, continue to examine most carefully any practicable plans to this end.
On page 14 of the B.E.A. report the Corporation claims that the Government do not do all they might to help the Corporation to eliminate its deficit. This complaint stems from dislike of Exchequer assistance by means of a grant related to its estimates of overall loss. The corporation regards the subsidy of losses in this way as damaging to its prestige with the public and with other operators and, particularly, to staff morale. I understand this feeling, which, I know, is held very strongly by Lord Douglas and his board. However, to minimise such effects, if possible, let it be clearly known again that Parliament 41 deliberately chose, when passing the 1946 Act, to finance the airways corporations by direct Exchequer grants related to their whole activities, in preference to special subsidies, concealed or otherwise.
British European Airways have a right to be proud of, and congratulated on, two special scores. As is pointed out in the report, it has never yet bought a new aeroplane from other than the British aircraft industry; secondly, having flown 161,290 revenue hours throughout the year under review, during which 214,488 take-offs and landings were made in the course of flying about 24 million aircraft miles, it achieved a 100 per cent. safety record.
The long-term future of B.E.A., and, indeed, of all short-haul air traffic, is closely connected with the development of the helicopter. This presents a highly complicated problem and I have tried, at the request of my right hon. Friend, to make a special study of this problem. It divides into two fundamental problems: the production of the right type of commercial machines and the development of the best landing spaces to serve our great cities.
In my opinion, the most important use of these machines in the civil field will be as inter-city hoppers or as "air buses" operating direct from one centre of population to the centre of another. I was supported in this idea by a recent visit which I paid in the company of Lord Douglas to Belgium. There, we studied the Sabena network and their techniques, and we got considerable benefit from full and frank discussions with their senior executives. The development of the helicopter itself is, of course, a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Supply, but I can assure the House that there is the closest co-ordination between all interested Departments.
Now may I say one word about this from the point of view of the operators. The introduction of this new means of transport depends primarily on the good will of the city dwellers themselves. Ultimately, it must rely on whether or not the general public are prepared to support it. Therefore I regard the major problem of reducing the noise in these machines as of an importance equal to their performance. Much effort and research is going into this problem, but it is one which cannot I think, figure too prominently in the minds and plans of 42 manufacturers, especially with the approach of the twin-engine helicopter and, indeed, the use of the jet engine in helicopters.
Although a most careful study is being made of the characteristics and requirements of permanent air stops to serve our cities and, in particular, London, no final decision can be made until we have more information of the behaviour and landing and take-off characteristics of twin-engine machines. One thing we do know is that these installations will be exceedingly costly. While, therefore, we have to be sure of what will finally be required, my right hon. Friend will see that the eventual introduction of scheduled services is not delayed for the want of landing areas.
Meanwhile, progress has been made. My right hon. Friend who is now the Colonial Secretary considerably relaxed the former regulations and restrictions governing helicopter flights over and into the centre of London and, in co-operation with the London County Council, a temporary air stop on the South Bank is now available for any helicopter wishing to come into the centre of London. It is from there that B.E.A. will start in the spring of next year to operate experimental scheduled services to and from London Airport. The S.55 single-engine helicopter will be used, and the first of these machines was delivered recently. They will be fitted with floats.
This service, which will, of course, be subsidised, is not as is widely believed simply intended to speed passengers to and from London Airport. This route has been chosen so that we can gain important information with respect to operations into and out of both city centres and busy international airports. I believe that this will be the biggest single step forward so far taken in the development of United Kingdom helicopter operations.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how many passengers will be carried in each machine?
§ Mr. Profumo
The question of the fare and the number of passengers carried is a matter for the operators and it would be wrong for me to prejudge their final 43 decision in this matter. However, I can say that the fare will be roughly 30s., the same as from London to Eastleigh, and four passengers will be carried. There will be a weight penalty with regard to the carrying of floats, which Lord Douglas thinks is important in case helicopters should have to come down in the River Thames.
Of even greater importance than the linking by air of our own great cities is the development of our air links within the Empire. This is proceeding apace. Year by year the Commonwealth family is brought a little closer together in time. The majority of the Colonies, Protectorates and British Protected States are linked with the United Kingdom, either directly or indirectly, by trunk route air services operated by the United Kingdom air corporations. In so far as the over-sea administrations may be unable for economic reasons to embark on the necessary scale of development to meet United Kingdom trunk route aviation requirements, the United Kingdom Government make financial contributions to the construction or development of aerodromes and associated facilities in these oversea territories where such development is judged to be entirely beyond local or regional requirements.
All this expansion in aviation makes it imperative to ensure a steady flow of young men of the highest calibre who are prepared to make careers as pilots in civil air transport both in the corporations and also in the independent companies. At this stage, I simply want to reassure the House that my right hon. Friend has the matter very much in mind and is engaged in a close and detailed study of the problem with the Departments concerned. The matter is not easy to resolve, but as soon as it becomes possible my right hon. Friend will announce to the House his conclusions.
No survey of our air transport industry today would be complete without reference to the great national disaster which we have suffered as a result of the Comet tragedies. From time to time in the glorious pioneering history of our island similar catastrophies have smitten us but never, I venture to say, with greater force or with wider repercussions. Nevertheless, calamity has never before shattered our spirit of enterprise. B.O.A.C., which, in 44 pursuance of one of its chief responsibilities, has done a great national service in pioneering the world's first civil jet airlines—an all-British production—has suffered a serious set-back and now faces big problems. Grave indeed are the problems which face the British aircraft industry.
After years of research, invention, and craftsmanship, the products of the British aircraft industry are now on the threshold of world supremacy, both in the hands of our national flag-carriers and, indeed, in the export markets. Naturally enough, there are—scattered around all over the world—those who, for commercial reasons cannot be expected to view these prospects with relish. It seems, therefore, immensely important that we here at home must at all costs avoid even inadvertently—to use a colloquialism—giving a dog a bad name ourselves.
I venture to remind the House that this is not a matter which touches only those who travel by air. On the success of the British aircraft industry depends to a very considerable degree national prestige, employment, foreign currency and with that, of course, our whole standard of living. Her Majesty's Government have a fundamental faith in the future of this great industry and believe that with the resolution and determination of all concerned we shall emerge from these present threatening clouds and reap the rewards of our pioneering effort and enterprise.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
I should like to thank the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the very great economy of time which he has shown in making his speech today. Although we rather regret that he has not given a little more information about the future, we thank him for what he has told us about the past. I recognise that it is the past which we are discussing on the Annual Reports of the corporations but there are certain important question of the future about which we would have appreciated more detailed information.
My only other qualification to the pleasure which I should like to express to the hon. Gentleman is that the fact that he has spoken first has deprived me of the privilege of congratulating the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation on his first speech in a debate on civil aviation. I have no doubt that, as the 45 right hon. Gentleman has turned from the Treasury and taxation to surface transport matters so ably, he will show himself just as much at home in the air when, as I presume he will, he winds up the debate this evening.
The reports of the two socially owned air transport organisations of the country show, as the Parliamentary Secretary has said, a record of enterprise and achievement of which the nation can be proud. No other industry excels this for enthusiasm and, equally, no other encounters greater problems. Nowhere in the last year has there been shown, in any field of British endeavour, greater courage and ability in meeting problems than has been displayed by those who are responsible for the two corporations. One also ought to say that nowhere else is greater competition met than by these two British nationally-owned corporations, a fact which, as is pointed out in the B.O.A.C. report, marks the industry out from the rest of Britain's nationalised undertakings.
In these reports there is a wealth of information for students of affairs on all manner of detailed items. For example, I see that last year the average distance flown by each B.O.A.C. passenger was 3,143 miles. That in itself is an indication not only of the world-wide nature of our Commonwealth and colonial affairs but, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, of our ability to link them up.
I also note that B.E.A., a modern airline, covers 1,415,000 bus miles in London's streets. I am sure that a lesson is to be learned from that, especially with regard to the development of helicopters. There is also some information in one of the reports about providing a suitable all-the-year-round airport within the Sheikhdom of Kuwait. We all see the necessity for unrestricted air communication with that area, but I should like to have information, either in the debate or later, about the responsibility which the Minister has for the provision of that airport. Bearing in mind the vast sums of money which are extracted in oil from that part of the world, the financing of this project is a matter about which we should be told.
While I am on the subject of airfields I should like to say something about Gatwick, as I was quoted in an earlier debate as supporting the project. The 46 fact is that I was never enthusiastic about that site. My doubts were based upon the close limitations on the development of an airport there. If we could not expand there and it would not be possible to use the proposed facilities to the maximum, it seemed to me very doubtful whether we should spend big sums of public money on the initial development—if this could be avoided. But this is the whole point.
I have read some criticism of the allegedly bureaucratic civil servants planning this airport oblivious both to local feeling and to the possibility of alternative sites. As one who took a very close interest in this matter, I must say that those criticisms are absolutely unfounded. There was a most painstaking and careful search for alternatives. I remember one meeting when the floor of my office was covered with large-scale maps and how I was told that the possible sites had been covered by car and on foot and surveys had been made by air in search of a possible alternative. It seems to me that those who still object to the Gatwick proposals ought to be told that there is still to be shown an alternative site within acceptable radius of London which will meet all the requirements and will not cause as much or more local disturbance.
Turning to the individual reports and taking B.E.A. first, I should like to join immediately with the Parliamentary Secretary in paying tribute to the 100 per cent. safety record of that corporation. Its record for safety, plus its year's achievements in regularity and punctuality does set a seal upon its overall operational and technical achievement. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that all concerned are entitled to the greatest credit.
B.E.A., on the basis of this report, is beyond criticism in all respects save one and that seems to me possibly the most important. I refer, of course, to the financial position. Financially, the position is disturbing. Not only is a deficit of £1,773,000 high, but it is higher than the £1,400,000 of last year and very much higher than three or four years ago. We are entitled to ask the Government what they propose to do about it. The report itself, despite the facts put forward and the interpretation given by the Parliamentary Secretary, is not convincing on this point. One explanation offered is that 47 amortisation charges are so much heavier. Of course, if one buys so many new aircraft with which to provide more capacity, more efficiently, amortisation services are bound to go up.
Another proffered explanation is that revenue rates are down. But if one reduces fares and thus secures an increased number of passengers—a fact which is pointed out in the first paragraph of the report—one cannot easily complain. I know it is said—the Parliamentary Secretary repeated it—that the reduction of fares is the result of an I.A.T.A. decision, but B.E.A. is an influential member of I.A.T.A. In any case, I.A.T.A. decisions do not affect the domestic fares structure and we are told elsewhere that it is in that field that the greatest losses are made.
The point is later painfully laboured about the essential high cost of short-haul operations, but if such a service is so much more costly to provide, people should pay more for it. If the short-haul passenger will not pay anything approaching an economic price for the advantage of flying, we must consider carefully whether it is right to lure him away from trains and buses by a subsidised air ticket. That seems to me a point which can best be examined by a Ministry with responsibility for both surface and air transport.
When we consider these matters we come back to the proposition that the most comprehensive and, in the last resort, conclusive measurement of airline efficiency must be the financial result at the end of the year. Many other indices and formulae have been devised. There are capacity ton miles offered—a figure comparatively easily improved simply by putting new aircraft on the routes. There is the figure of passengers carried, but, as we have seen, that can be boosted by reducing the fares below economic levels. Output per ton mile per person employed is a favourite formula but can be rendered quite irrelevant by contracting work out and enjoying the result of labour not on one's work lists.
Costs per load ton mile is generally regarded as the best test. Here, B.E.A. is able to show a commendable reduction of 6.1 per cent. down to 63.8 pence. But that cannot be the whole story, for if an operator brings in the most efficient 48 machines, irrespective of mounting amortisation charges, and puts more passengers in them through reduced fares—which inevitably reduces revenue rates—then certainly cost per passenger or ton mile will come down, but the financial deficit will possibly go up. That, apparently, has happened in this case. Therefore, I say that the financial yardstick is ultimately more important than the others and no amount of figure juggling should deceive us.
Of course, some services never make any profit but can be both efficient and essential. Hon. Members behind me might well point to the National Health Service as an example. We should make up our minds whether we mean our air services to be primarily commercial or social services. If we say, as we did in the Civil Aviation Act, that after 10 years they should be financially self-supporting taking one year with another, we must apply the most reliable commercial tests. But in that case, to be fair to B.E.A., it has an unanswerable case for some special revenue payments for uneconomic services provided for social reasons. I am thinking in particular of some of the Scottish services.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I agree with the solution of the hon. Member if those services are uneconomic, but I do not want it to be permanently on the record that they are all necessarily uneconomic now, or always will be so. I think that in the Orkney and Shetland services there has been a great increase in traffic and there is a good chance of their paying.
§ Mr. Beswick
The opinion of the hon. Member is of great interest, but my point is that the decision should be made by the Minister as to whether these services are supposedly commercial and economic or whether they are social services. If they are the latter, I think that a special deficiency payment should be made if that is the conclusion arrived at. We have had no enlightenment on this matter from the Parliamentary Secretary.
There is one other financial point I wish to make. When we last had a discussion about the borrowing powers of B.E.A. I asked some questions about the relation of loan capital to turnover. We see in the B.E.A. report that the loan 49 capital stood at £18,650,000 on 31st March and revenue for the year ending on that date was less than £15 million. That seems to be quite out of proportion. I do not know how many hon. Members having anything to do with business would be satisfied with a ratio of that kind. It compares very unfavourably with all the figures I have been able to get for other airlines. Maybe the Minister has been able to satisfy himself that the potential traffic expansion is so great that the new fleet now operating or already bought, plus the huge new engineering facilities, can be economically justified, but if he is so satisfied we should be told. We have had no guidance as to the thinking of the Minister on this point either.
If the traffic potential within the allotted responsibility of B.E.A. is not there, what is the Minister doing about it? Is he proposing to extend the area over which these new aircraft and engineering facilities can be used? If not, what kind of solution has he in mind? After all, by the end of 1956 a decision has to be made because the provision of subsidies comes to an end then. By now there ought to be some kind of solution forming in the mind of the Minister. Although, in my view, he is not fitted by his political philosophy for leading social enterprise, nevertheless this kind of problem, after his Treasury training, is one which he ought to enjoy.
If the financial yardstick is applied to the B.O.A.C. report, all that is left to us is to congratulate the corporation on the results it has been able to show. Not only has it not asked for a subsidy, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, but it has actually turned out a really handsome profit. Whether judged against the background of the position four years ago, or in the light of the extreme setback which the Comet accidents have meant during the year under review, the final figures reflect spendidly on the corporation and all who worked for it. I agree that the courage and resource shown in redeploying available aircraft have absorbed the shock of the first year and have been magnificent. I understand that this year it is fighting back and not only retaining traffic but even winning additional traffic. Nevertheless, I am bound to say that the prospects for the future of the corporation seem very uncertain indeed, through 50 no fault at all of those responsible for the direction of its affairs.
Before going on to deal with the future, I wish to ask one or two questions about aspects of present policy. Undoubtedly, both B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. could have done better had they been permitted by the Minister to tender for long-term trooping contracts. Representations were made by both corporations against this unjustifiable, and indeed wasteful, prohibition. In paragraph 68 of the B.O.A.C. report we find that it was told by the Minister that it was "politically impossible" for the Government to grant them long-term trooping contracts. We should have an explanation of that.
A statement that it was "technically impossible," or "economically undesirable" might be accepted, but not "politically impossible." Why should it be "politically impossible" to use national assets to the best advantage? Why should it be "politically impossible" to allow the corporation to bid for these contracts if it can offer a better and a safer ride than its competitors?
Then there is the question of freighting——
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
The hon. Gentleman referred to B.O.A.C. and trooping contracts. One understands that B.O.A.C. is already short of aircrew. Would it have been even possible for the corporation to have done trooping work——
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I am talking about the facts as I know them. If there is a shortage of aircrew to carry out the existing work, how could the corporation carry out additional freighting?
§ Mr. Beswick
Had it been said that B.O.A.C. was unable to accept long-term trooping contracts because of a shortage of aircrew we could have accepted the position. But the corporation says that it was not because of any shortage of aircrew. This is the actual report of the corporation, and it says that the corporation was told by the Minister that it was "politically impossible."
§ Mr. Beswick
Then there is the question of freighting. The former Minister said that he considered freight to be primarily a matter for the private operator. We would like to know from the present Minister whether he proposes to keep up this quite arbitrary and economically indefensible division between private and public enterprise. Reference was made to the agreements which B.O.A.C. had concluded with some of these private companies within the framework of the former Minister's policy—or perhaps I ought to say the former Minister's instructions. The Parliamentary Secretary said that he warmly welcomed——
I understood the hon. Gentleman to refer to the "instructions" of the former Minister. I must make it quite clear that it was a commercial decision taken by the two companies concerned and not on the instructions of the former Minister. We must get these things clear.
§ Mr. Beswick
If we are to get this absolutely accurately in detail, the undertakings given by the chairmen were given after they had been summoned to the Minister's office and after the matter had been discussed with him. Whether they can change their minds completely in the course of a day I do not know, but I doubt it.
§ Mr. Beswick
I was talking about the agreements which the Parliamentary Secretary said he warmly welcomed. I wish to ask the Minister whether we can be told a little more about those agreements? What is their duration? What other services are the corporations providing for their competitors, other than that of collecting business on an agency basis? I believe that we should be given more information about the precise nature of these agreements which the Parliamentary Secretary has said he warmly welcomes.
It is when we consider these complications in the affairs of the corporations—I have not the time to go into the theory about the three-tier structure which prevents B.O.A.C. from reducing the 52 fares on its tourist service to compete with the colonial coach services—that we realise that there are great difficulties in the forward planning of the corporations. We have to bear this in mind when considering their obligations in the matter of the purchase of aircraft.
The Comet inquiry is still proceeding, and it is not for me to say anything about it, except that I agree with what Lord Brabazon said the other day in his evidence. There was a supreme effort made by brilliant men to provide Britain and the world with an aircraft years ahead of its competitors. The initial bid has not succeeded, but I do not think it is up to any of us to criticise those who made that bid. However, there are some obvious consequential questions which need to be answered.
B.O.A.C. has put £5 million into the Comet I. It still has over £4 million worth of Comet aircraft, which, we understand, it cannot now use. Who is to bear that loss? I will say nothing at all about the £4½ million which is locked up as progress payments on the Comet II. We must bear in mind that about 20 per cent. of the planned capacity of the corporation was bound up with the Comet orders.
It is clearly against this background that the corporation has to look at its other British purchase, the Bristol Britannia. If anything went wrong with that machine the competitive position of the corporations would be hopeless. If anyone doubts that statement he has only to look at the way in which it was possible to attract traffic by the use of the Viscount aircraft against competitors using older machines.
I do not consider that this House is a suitable place in which to discuss the technical merits of individual aircraft, but there are some very important questions of general policy which I think we must consider. For years everyone has been talking of Britain's lead in civil aircraft, and now we have our biggest national airline operator considering the purchase of American machines, or, at any rate. American airframes. This proposal has undoubtedly come as a great shock. Until recently B.O.A.C. was planning to move over entirely to the British product. I speak with no close knowledge but I think that its commitments, even now, must be about £50 million. The Chairman of B.O.A.C. 53 was widely hailed as Britain's best salesman for British aircraft.
The very fact that the corporation has felt it necessary to turn to America must cause the British public to ask some very pertinent questions. Why has B.O.A.C. changed? Is the corporation justified in having any doubts at all about the capacity of the British aircraft industry to deliver the goods? I do not say this with any great relish, but I think we should be foolish not to recognise that there are some reasons for doubt.
For example, there are the disappointments and delays over helicopter development which were well ventilated in another place only two weeks ago. There have been serious delays in the delivery of military aircraft. I understand that a visiting Congressional committee even went so far as to say that certain of our latest swept-back fighters would be obsolescent by the time they reached the squadrons. A Select Committee of this House was expressing anxieties well over a year ago. When they asked why it took us so much longer than the Russians to get our prototypes into production, the reply from Air Marshal Sir John Boothman, Controller of Supplies (Air) was:I think you can quote this: that if I had a few million slave labourers I might do quite a bit.That reply is not good enough. We are entitled to a much more serious explanation of the present position.
If we look at the civil aircraft record it is difficult to claim an uninterrupted line of successes. The Tudor ended in tragedy. The Hermes was uneconomic. The Princesses, because of the failure of the early Proteus engines, are now cocooned. The Ambassador, for some reason, was not developed by the manufacturers. The Brabazons were sold for scrap. And the Comet is now the subject of an inquiry.
Against that, we have had the triumph of the Vickers Company, and there have been successes like the Bristol Freighter and the de Havilland Dove.
I understand that Handley Page, with which the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) is connected, has started selling a private venture replacement for the DC 3, and we all wish that well. But even with those successes in mind I think there is room 54 for doubt whether everything is as it should be in the aircraft manufacturing industry.
It is not easy to criticise the products of one's own country, and I hope that no one will suggest that I get any pleasure from it, but we have a duty to ask some questions in view of the enormous sums of public money which have been sunk in this industry. I doubt very much whether the public fully appreciates the magnitude of some of the expenditure involved in capital assistance, research and test facilities, development contracts and prototype orders.
Are we getting the best possible return for money spent? Are our total national resources deployed to the best advantage? Is the highly trained personnel spread to thinly over the good firms and the not so good? Is Government assistance, either because of its volume or the manner in which it is given, shielding the less efficient from some of the winds of competition?
It will be for the Minister to give the final word about the possible purchase of some American machines for B.O.A.C., and it will be a very serious decision indeed. No one could expect the British manufacturers to go out into the world markets and sell their products to foreign buyers if our own corporations do not buy them. We must recognise that.
The Minister will have to give his decision on these matters, but I ask him to go even further. I ask him whether he will suggest to his colleagues that what we need now is a high-level, independent and thorough inquiry into the whole setup of our manufacturing industry and of the Governmental structure that surrounds it. We ought to know how much we are spending, and we ought to have an answer to some of the questions which I have tried to pose to the Minister.
As for the particular problem which immediately stimulates all this questioning, namely, the alleged doubts about the Bristol Britannia, I would put this to the Minister. Would it not be possible to do more to bring forward this machine in delivery time and to get its performances proven as quickly as possible? I see that the Bristol Company has said that intensive development is now proceeding, but I noticed that in another place Lord Brabazon said that even its best friends would not accuse that company of being in a hurry.
55 I wonder whether the effort it is making is as intensive as the effort with which Lord Mountbatten conducted the salvage operations of the Comet in the Mediterranean, when 68 per cent. of one of those aircraft was collected from the sea bed. I wonder whether the present work on the Britannia is as intensive as the effort which Sir Arnold Hall put into the Comet tests and the examination of the Comet at Farnborough.
What I have in mind is the possibility of testing more of these engines for more hours a day and of a flying development programme much more ambitious than anything so far contemplated. If the national resources were put behind that as behind the Comet, I think we could catch up with a few months of delay on the Bristol Britannia, and could possibly avoid this rather unpleasant controversy. I must say that if we put that additional national money behind this private venture, then there are some other consequential questions that arise, namely, the relationship as between the private firms and the State.
I have only this to add. I have no doubt at all that in this manufacturing industry of ours there is great ability. Equally, from these two reports, there can be no doubt that we have great ability within our two national airline operators. Some very interesting possibilities lie ahead. There is the possibility of civil developments of the three great V bombers, and I wonder what has been done in the consideration of them. But, after all, they are all some years ahead, and we have to think about the next few years as far as B.O.A.C. is concerned.
We have to ask and the corporation has the right to ask whether it is to be considered as a corporation for the development of British machines irrespective of commercial possibilities, or whether it is expected to turn out each year a financial result as a competitive commercial airline. It is only fair that the Minister should give a clear lead on these points. I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary has not been able to give us the kind of information on the matter which the House and the country need, and I hope that when the Minister himself winds up the debate he will give us some information on these most important points.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Perkins (Stroud and Thornbury)
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) has spoken today with very great moderation. He has spoken in general terms, and I must say that I find myself in almost complete agreement with him, though there is one matter on which, perhaps, there is room for disagreement. However, when he knows the facts, I am sure that we shall be in complete agreement.
The only point at issue is whether B.O.A.C. should be allowed by the Minister to order now, for delivery in four years' time, either the American-made DC-7D with a Rolls Royce engine, or whether it should buy the English-made Britannia with a Bristol engine. In the past, B.O.A.C. has bought a large number of American machines. It was right to do so at that time because no British machine was available. At the end of the war the corporation had almost entirely to buy American machines. I think it was right to do so then, and I think it is right today, because we all know the tragedy of the Comet. The corporation has had to replace it by buying American machines. Again, I think it is right, because there is no comparable British machine available.
But this proposition is a very different one from that in the past. The proposition now is to order within the next month or two American machines to be delivered in about four years' time, when there will be a comparable British machine available which in every respect promises to be at least equal, and probably superior, to the American product.
There is, I know, some doubt as to when the American machine can be delivered. I have heard it said that it might even be delivered in two years' time. I do not know about that, but I do know, and I accept this, that on 13th October the following statement by B.O.A.C. about the Douglas appeared in the "Financial Times":This type might be available by 1958 or 1959.Therefore, as far as we know, both the British and the American machines will be available some time in 1958. At the moment, they are largely hypothetical aircraft. The airframes have not been built and the engines have not been run. They are paper aircraft at the moment, 57 but, as far as we can tell, both will be good machines.
So confident am I that this Britannia aircraft is a world beater that I would gladly welcome an impartial inquiry into the merits of these two aircraft by the technical experts in the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation and in the Ministry of Supply. I urge the Government, before they allow this order to be placed, to set up some such inquiry so that the facts can be ascertained. I am quite confident that if such an inquiry took place, we should find that the Britannia outclasses the Douglas in payload, range, speed and price, and is approximately equal on delivery dates.
We all know why B.O.A.C. has felt impelled to look at this American machine. It is an insurance policy in case Britannia fails. I see no reason why either the Britannia or this American machine should fail. There is a risk either way, but I should have thought that the risk was very much greater with the Douglas than with the Britannia. The Britannia will have a standard fuselage with new engines, but the American Douglas will be a virtually new aircraft because it will have a lengthened fuselage and longer wings as well as new engines. Whether one is a greater risk than the other, surely our policy should not he to insure in America but to insure in this country.
I agree with the hon. Member for Uxbridge. Why not look at the V.C.1000, the civil version of the Vulcan or the Comet III? Surely, the wise thing to do is to develop these and spend money on these machines instead of flirting with the American proposal.
§ Group Captain C. A. B. Wilcock (Derby, North)
I think that in fairness to B.O.A.C. the hon. Member will agree that the corporation has not cancelled its orders for Britannias, but it is making sure that it will have aircraft available in 1956, 1957 or 1958.
§ Sir R. Perkins
It might be 1958 or 1959 or 1960; I cannot say when. At the best it will be 1958.
There is just one other point I want to make and that is about the effect of the proposal on our export trade. This proposal to buy this American aircraft when a comparable British machine is 58 available for the principal State airline in this country is in fact and in effect a vote of no confidence in the British aircraft industry. It will have a tragic effect on our export trade. Last year, the industry had over £60 million of exports. It has had a bitter blow with the Comet and if it is now to suffer another blow that will be the death knell of civil aircraft exports for a long time.
I asked the Bristol Aeroplane Company if it had any evidence about losing markets over this story of B.O.A.C.'s flirting with American aircraft. The company received on 17th October a telegram which it passed on to me. It was from its agent in a country where the company had good hopes of selling up to 10 Britannias to one of the world's major airlines. The telegram said:Let me make one thing clear from the very start. If B.O.A.C., at this stage, decide to order or even continue negotiations for the DC-7D there is no idea whatsoever to try to sell the Britannia in any shape to our airline and as far as they go we might as well close shop.How can we expect a foreign airline to buy British aircraft when our premier British airline, which is State-controlled, deliberately by-passes the British product and goes to the United States?This England never did, nor never shall, Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror, But when it first did help to wound itself.I cannot believe that the Government will allow this to happen. I cannot believe that a Conservative Government, or any Government in this country, would allow public money to be used to advertise a foreign turbo-propeller inter-continental airline when it is in direct competition with a British machine which is bound to be available at the same time. I am informed that if this order is not placed with the Douglas Aircraft Company the DC-7D will not be built.
I beg the Government, therefore, before they let this order be placed, to have a full inquiry by all the technical experts in this country—and we know that our technical experts are as good as any. I am equally confident that if an inquiry were to take place, the highest hopes of this great aeroplane, the Britannia, would be fulfilled. I believe that the Britannia, like the Vulcan, is a world beater. I believe that a technical inquiry with the experts of the Ministry of Supply and the 59 Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation would prove that to be true. The way would then be clear for B.O.A.C. to go nap on the Britannia.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Group Captain C. A. B. Wilcock (Derby, North)
The question of the purchase of the Britannia as opposed to American aircraft is one which all of us who are interested in civil aviation feel to be a major issue. On the face of it, it must be a major issue. The hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Sir R. Perkins) has put the side of the British aircraft manufacturer as opposed to the British aircraft operator. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) very clearly made the point that in this House we have looked upon B.O.A.C. as an operator of aircraft who must be financially successful.
Right hon. and hon. Members opposite have a responsibility in this matter. I have said before that over the years they have always looked for a profit irrespective of anything else. Now they must face up to the fact that if they still expect the corporation to make a profit then they must allow it freedom of choice in purchasing its aircraft to make that profit. The alternative is to agree to B.O.A.C. acting as a testing operator for British aircraft and to accept losses without question.
Like my hon. Friends on this side of the House, I want to see the British first in aircraft construction. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge said, we have had some very serious setbacks. We do not want to harp on this, but so far as the Britannia is concerned is there the energy and the forcefulness in that particular company to meet anything like the programme required? This morning I was reading a periodical in which the Bristol Aircraft Company was advertising. It is fair to quote this advertisement, which is about the Britannia. It says that the first production machine is moving steadily through final assembly at Filton and at Short Brothers and Harland Limited and that themanufacture of 'Bristol' Britannia aircraft is assuming a rising momentum appropriate to its super priority rating.That was last April. I believe that only three have been in the air and their total flying time has been 500 hours. I 60 do not think that is super-priority rating. I go further than my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge. I believe that if there were not so much Government finance behind it, there would be an acceleration in the development of this aircraft.
Turning to the general reports of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.C., they are highly satisfactory, and we welcome them. There is one thing that no report can show, but which is of the greatest importance—that the prestige of these great corporations—and we can now say great—has risen enormously in the last year. It is not a question only of aircraft. It is a question of the name that B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.C. have won throughout the world. It is an intangible but invaluable asset achieved by the courtesy, efficiency and reliability of their operations, and they merit our congratulations.
I am sorry that, in regard to freight services and trooping, I must disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge. I appear to disagree with most people on this matter. I still believe that there is a commonsense solution. There should be a clear definition between the functions of the corporations and of the independent operators. What better definition could there be than that the corporations should perform all scheduled services, the carriage of mail and packages, and that the independent operators should have the freight and charter services?
There may be a loss to the corporations, and in particular to the B.E.A., because of the social services. If those services are necessary they should be shown on the balance sheets as subsidised services, and B.E.A. should not be discouraged by having to show a picture which is really quite untrue. I believe that definition between the two types of operators is worthy of consideration by the Minister today. There is a very much more harmonious feeling between the independent operators and the corporations. That should be encouraged. They are both British aviation.
I turn next to helicopters and their development. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows that I am interested in this subject. Though he and his Department have been most sympathetic, energy 61 is not being displayed by the aircraft industry, with regard to helicopter development. Lord Brabazon, of course, has drawn attention to that. How far the Ministry and the Government can assist, I am not able to say. The Government have assisted financially in the production of every large aircraft that has been produced by the industry during the past 15 years. Whether or not they propose to give that assistance to helicopter development I do not know, but this is a development of aviation that we must closely watch. On the Continent, and in the United States, helicopter development is going ahead very fast. Here it is not, and aircraft manufacturers should, from their own resources, enter this field.
The question of the progress of the Britannia and the tragedy of the Comet are, of course, matters which are very close to us all. It would be fatal were it to be thought that we have not confidence in the development of the Britannia. For various reasons it looks as if the Comet may not be developed in service as a passenger aircraft, and we now have all our eggs in the one basket.
Is the Minister satisfied that it is politic to leave the development of this aircraft, upon which our aviation prestige may depend, in the hands of one company, however good that company may be? I say nothing against the Bristol Aeroplane Company, but is not this the moment when consideration should be given to the sub-contracting to other aircraft manufacturers, to spreading the effort and ensuring that there is super-priority action. It is of such importance to us that I commend this consideration to the Minister and his Department.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
After listening to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock), and from a consideration of the report of the British Overseas Airways Corporation, one fact seems to emerge this year, and that is the improved and improving relationship which is developing between the corporation and the independent operators. During the debate on civil aviation earlier in the year I expressed the view that in the world of air transport we had only just begun to skim off the cream, and that there was business enough for everyone—for independent operators and the corporation alike.
62 What I then feared was a tendency so to hedge British civil aviation about with myriad restrictions and regulations that we might find ourselves unable, or prevented from being able, to grasp the immense and glittering opportunities which now appeared. I felt that the responsibility of any Administration—left or right—was to provide conditions in which the public corporations and the private companies could go out and win business and prestige for Britain abroad.
I deplored the possibility of a long, ideological battle being waged between the two types of operators—to the detriment of both. A continuation, or an enlarging, of those political differences would, I thought, be both unhelpful and unfortunate. It is, therefore, particularly gratifying to find, at paragraphs 61, 62 and 63, of the report, agreements being mutually entered into between the corporation and the independent operators for the execution and discharge of portions and parts of the corporation's business.
I am specially glad to learn of this latest agreement between Skyways and the corporation for the operation of the corporation's regular freight service between this country and Singapore. That is a good step. I am pleased to see this, if only because it serves to show that these two operators can live together in harmony and peace, as it were parallel to one another, rather than in a foment and turmoil of political strife. To me this trend towards greater co-operation is significant. I am sure that if it is allowed to continue and expand it will prove helpful to Britain and to British aviation.
I wish now to turn for a moment to the possible purchase by the corporation of the DC-7 airframe, a matter to which the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North, has just referred. In this I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Sir R. Perkins). I want to see the British corporation flying British aircraft. It seems to me that, unless it is prepared to do this, it will be hard indeed for the civil manufacturing side of the industry to be sustained.
Take, for example, the case of the Vickers Viscount. Had not B.E.A. pioneered the early use of this aircraft on its European air routes it is quite possible that the orders which we have seen coming from the North American continent 63 and elsewhere, and which gladden our hearts, might not have materialised. Let us not forget that the British aircraft industry earned £64 million of exports last year. We should be foolish to disregard the great potential in this field.
The operation of British aircraft by the two corporations is the best advertisement which the industry can have. If those corporations are not prepared to pioneer the commercial flying of modern types of British aircraft it is improbable that anyone else will. It is certainly doubtful whether the independent operators, in spite of the financial backing which they are now getting, could ever do so. On this basis, therefore, I should, myself, regret the ordering—at this stage—of these United States airframes, powered though they may be by Rolls-Royce engines.
§ Mr. Beswick
The hon. Member has spent a good deal of time supporting the independent operator. Would he show an equal concern if any of the private firms bought American aircraft at this stage?
§ Mr. Lucas
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, I hope that my subsequent remarks will have a bearing on that point.
I was saying that, with my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury, I should deplore at this stage the ordering of these United States aircraft DC-7D as a supplement to the Britannia, or indeed as a form of insurance against things going wrong. That is my personal view.
On the other hand I have a high regard for the commercial ability of the Chairman of B.O.A.C., Sir Miles Thomas, though sometimes I think he says some silly things. Nevertheless, he undoubtedly has commercial ability, and it would be wrong if we were to disregard it. Certainly no one knows the value of publicity better than does Sir Miles Thomas, and I find it difficult to believe that he would really stick his neck out and court inevitable unpopularity in ordering these aircraft unless he felt, on the evidence before him, that it was commercially prudent and necessary to do so. Therefore, for the moment, I preserve an open mind.
It seems to me—and this has some bearing on what the hon. and gallant 64 Member for Derby, North has said—that either we say to B.O.A.C. "You are a British airline and you are to fly British aircraft," or else "You are a commercial airline; your job is to make profits and win business for Britain, and you are to make the best commercial arrangements you can for the re-equipment of your fleet." That, to my mind, is the only fair way of looking at the matter, and I do not think that we can necessarily have it both ways at the same time.
I hope that the problem of the DC-7D will be approached, as I am sure it will be, by my right hon. Friend with care, reason, and, above all, deliberation. I do not believe that it would be wise to hurry a decision now. I think that would be a mistake which we might later come to regret. At the same time, we must be fair to the corporation if we are to place the making of profits and the commercial aspects of the business above the prosperity and success of the British aircraft industry. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend, in his judgment, will exert his influence to see that all the factors are most carefully weighed and considered before a decision is finally and irrevocably taken.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
On the question of B.O.A.C. using American aircraft, there is one point upon which many of us who are not technicians on this subject feel disturbed, and that is the criticism which has been made in the Press, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas), about the delays caused by the modifications which are specified from time to time by the corporation.
It may well be that modifications are necessary. It may well be that the manufacturers of aircraft has forgotten to develop production speed technique to the degree which modern traffic demands. It seems to me to be wrong to make criticisms of the type which has appeared in a national newspaper and which appears to blame the corporation for demanding modifications during the development stage, when the whole of the traffic and the type of traffic changes continually. It seems to me that the aircraft industry itself has some responsibility for not taking into account sufficiently 65 these changes which result in modifications being demanded.
There is another point which disturbs a great many of us who are not professional in the game, but who view the aircraft industry from the sideline, and it is that this easy access to Ministers, this rather privileged position of the aircraft industry, is a rather unhealthy aftermath of the war, when such access to Ministers and such privileged positions were a necessity to maintain the war effort. In the post-war period, some of us are not at all sure that the industry is as healthy as it should be.
Farnborough, to which many of us go as interested amateurs looking on at the scene, appears to be something of a glamour show, where, side by side with the creditable achievements of the industry, we can see waste which must be obvious to anybody who knows anything about national finance. We hear that the great companies manufacturing aircraft are short of capital. We are now suffering under a Conservative Government, which believes in private enterprise. Is it not time that a proper investigation was made into the capital structure of the aircraft industry so that we may be able to see whether it is proved that the aircraft industry is relying, far too much on Government aid and assistance?
I want to come now to a rather mundane and possibly small matter which has come to my attention because I am a fairly frequent user of B.E.A. Continental services. I think I shall have difficulty in keeping in order, because to some extent the responsibility is that of the Ministry as opposed to the corporation. May I ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that there is adequate consultation between his Ministry and the board and technicians of B.E.A. on the subject of the handling of passenger traffic at London Airport? If we compare the handling of passengers at Orly or Le Bourget with that at Heath Row, the last named does not come out of the comparison very well. I am well aware that at Heath Row the position is changing, and that we shall soon be moving into new permanent airport buildings, but, at the same time, there are certain activities at Heath Row which result in unnecessary frustration and irritating delays which I should have thought 66 might be dealt with very easily by administrative action.
May I give an example? The departure of buses from Heath Row for Waterloo is slow. Nobody seems to have any idea of urgency, and so much time is wasted in waiting for passengers from other services, who have to join a single bus. Further, why is it that tickets for seats in the buses cannot be sold at the little office which one reaches after finishing with the Customs, as is the case with the French aerodromes? Why does the bus have to wait until all the tickets are sold?
Secondly, I wish to refer to the handling of luggage from the aircraft to the Customs office, which is a very slow process. because at Heath Row the aircraft is brought to a position on the apron so far away from the passenger waiting rooms that one needs a bus to get there. Why is it that the Atlantic aircraft are brought up to a position close to the waiting rooms, while cross-Channel aircraft are left about a quarter of a mile away, necessitating a bus to bring passengers to the airport buildings? It is a fact that one is brought by a bus to the airport buildings, and that the luggage comes along later in a miniature train. I know that the Minister will disagree with me, but it seems to me to be quite unnecessary that there should be these delays.
§ Mr. Profumo
There is one basic difference. In France, there is one airport handling long-haul traffic and one airport handling short-haul traffic. At London Airport both long- and short-haul aircraft are accepted, and one or other has to be a certain distance away from the passenger accommodation, but I have never known it to be a quarter of a mile away. The difference is that Orly deals only with long hauls, and Le Bourget deals only with short hauls.
§ Mr. Snow
I hesitate to disagree with the Minister, but he is, I think, misinformed. Both long- and short-hauls are dealt with at Orly.
I can also assure the Minister that the distance from the Customs inspection rooms at Heath Row to the cross-Channel aircraft is a quarter of a mile at least, and that one has to take a bus to get to the aircraft. It is very frustrating.
67 There is also the question of the lethargic attitude of the bus operators from the airport to Waterloo. I wonder whether some better liaison could be arranged with the Green Line service operating between points west of London to the airport until such time as improvements have been made at the air terminal. We are told that the air terminal is to be moved to the west of London. At present, Green Line buses will transport passengers extremely quickly from points west of London, such as Knightsbridge and Kensington, to Heath Row. But these buses are not so marked.
Furthermore, when the buses arrive in the vicinity of Heath Row they dump the passengers about 300 yards away from the Continental departure point, and sometimes passengers are heavily laden. I saw a woman struggling along with a heavy suitcase the other day, and I assisted her. This walk of 300 yards could be eliminated by altering the stopping point of the Green Line buses.
These are all small, mundane points, but in a journey with a flying time of one hour, to spend an hour travelling from Waterloo to the take-off point seems most unnecessary.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
May I at the outset declare my interest in the aircraft industry, and say that quite recently I have taken the opportunity of flying to America, Australia and New Zealand and have travelled on many different airlines, including American; and I have no hesitation in saying that, in my opinion, B.O.A.C. came out on top for its general running and service?
The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow), with most of whose speech I agreed, referred to the Farnborough show and waste there. As many as 6,000 overseas visitors come to Farnborough, and if we assume that they spend £100 each, they bring quite a lot of foreign currency to this country to see this shop window. If they are entertained, I would say that it is perhaps a good investment.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), who was the opening speaker for the Opposition, was more moderate than he usually is. He was very kind in letting us have a preview of his speech in yesterday's Sunday "Observer." He referred to helicopters and the lack of development. Of course, he and his party must bear some responsibility, because had more money been spent on helicopters five or six years ago, when we were all pressing for that to be done, better results might have been shown today.
The hon. Gentleman referred to Russian aircraft. Unfortunately, most of us know very little about Russian aircraft. I tried to get information from America and Australia, and I was informed that the Russians cut down on weight wherever they can. They cut down on safety devices so much so that they may get a 10 per cent. saving in weight. I mention that because that is what I was told.
As for the Brabazon, here again the hon. Gentleman has a great deal of responsibility, because many of us on these benches, when we were in opposition, asked the Socialist Government to come to a decision on whether it was worth while continuing to spend large sums of money, amounting to £12 million, on that aircraft. I frequently said that development should come to an end. We were always told that the home aircraft industry got benefits from the development of the Brabazon, but very little information has resulted for other manufacturers from that great project which has cost the country so much.
§ Mr. Beswick
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes to be fair, he must admit that the decisions made about the Brabazon and the helicopter were not made by any Member of the Cabinet under the Labour Government, but they accepted the advice of the technical people at that time. It is precisely because the advice of some of those technical people has occasionally led us along false paths that I feel I am entitled to be concerned about the present position.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I am finding it difficult to convince the technical people under a Conservative Government.
I have been trying for 2½ years to get some assistance towards the cost of 69 developing a DC-3 replacement, but not a penny has been forthcoming. We have had to develop on our own. I am not complaining; it may be a good thing. I have always said that the Labour Party did great justice to military and civil aviation, and if anything, they were over-lavish as a Government in this matter, as they were in so many other things.
Reference was made to the V bombers—the Valiant, the Victor and the Vulcan. The chairman of B.O.A.C. refers to these in the B.O.A.C. report in page 33. He says:Meanwhile, the Corporation has continued to be in close and constant touch with manufacturers in order to assess the probable capabilities of such aircraft as the proposed civil versions of the three types of V-class jet bombers in 'super-priority' production for the R.A.F. It is also collaborating with aeroplane and engine manufacturers …My own firm, which is making the Victor bomber, has had the greatest difficulty in persuading the chairman or his technical assistants to come and see the Victor and discuss the civil version. I am astonished that he dare put those words into a public report. I cannot get him to come along. I have asked him and his technical advisers to come. They ought to look into these things in much greater detail, because public money is invested in them—many millions of pounds. It is very wrong to ignore these projects when they are considering buying foreign types of aircraft.
I want to pay my tribute to B.E.A.C., to which reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas). I agree that had it not been for the development flying put in by B.E.A.C. on Viscount aircraft, many of the foreign orders which we have had would not have been forthcoming. I am prepared to admit that we do look for profits in the public corporations, but nevertheless there is taxpayers' money invested in the corporations, and we are all entitled to the best results when taxpayers' money is invested. If that is so, we should be a shop window for British products, and although B.E.A.C. has had a large loss, that point must be borne in mind because money has been spent in that direction.
It is said that B.E.A.C. is losing money on the home services—what the hon. Member for Uxbridge referred to as the domestic services. The hon. Gentleman 70 asked, if it is losing money and the public will not pay, why lure them away from the railways and road transport? He omitted to mention that the independent operators might be willing to undertake those services without a subsidy.
§ Mr. Beswick indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Beswick
All I am expressing a certain amount of dubiety about is the ability of these private operators to undertake these services.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
One private operator is operating to Singapore, and another to Scandinavia, and I am sure that, given the opportunity and the available aircraft, they could well undertake these domestic services in the United Kingdom. I should like to know from the Minister whether this matter is being examined.
B.E.A.C. complains that it loses money on all routes under, I think, 260 miles. If it loses money on a journey of 260 miles, the best thing is for it to get rid of it and let somebody else take over if they are willing. I do not know if they are, but the possibility should be looked into.
§ Mr. Rankin
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman, as a private operator, be willing to undertake to operate a West Highlands service in Scotland?
§ Air Commodore Harvey
All companies which are prepared to take on the United Kingdom services should take in the smaller services as well as the plums, such as Glasgow and Northern Ireland. They cannot have all the jam.
I now come to the great problem of whether B.O.A.C. is correct in considering the purchase of United States aircraft four or five years hence. I am utterly astonished that it should even be under consideration. I have had the good fortune of having discussions with the chairman of that great corporation, and I pay my respects to him as an operator. I have also had discussions with the managing director of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, and I have endeavoured to get both sides of the story. We must remember that whether or not aircraft are ultimately ordered from the United 71 States, tremendous damage is being done to Britain.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Sir R. Perkins) made a powerful speech on this point. I have no axe to grind either in respect of the corporation or the Bristol Aeroplane Company, but I have looked at the facts as I see them, and I think that Sir Miles Thomas is completely wrong in considering the ordering of 10 or 15 DC-7Ds at 2½ million dollars each to fill a possible gap in 1958 or 1959. We must remember that not all deliveries are up to date, so they might even be later than that. I cannot see any cause for alarm about a possible future gap. It is quite right that B.O.A.C. should be as certain as it can be about these matters, but I cannot see present cause for alarm.
Let us consider the sequence of events. The Britannia was expressly designed to meet B.O.A.C. requirements. In 1947, B.O.A.C. called for a piston-engined airliner, of 90,000 lb. gross weight, carrying 32–38 passengers, to operate on medium range Empire routes. We all know that as an aircraft is developed specifications are stretched to give more economic performances. The current Britannia Mark 100 is a turbo-prop aircraft of 150,000 lb. gross weight, capable of carrying 90 passengers on long and medium routes, but not over the Atlantic. B.O.A.C. has also ordered the Mark 300, of 155,000 lb. gross weight, carrying 100 passengers, and also the Mark 300 L.R., of 165,000 lb. gross weight with the range increased to 6,100 miles.
Much of the existing doubt hinges upon engine development. The BE 25 engine, which is under development, increases the range of the Mark 300 LR to 6,600 miles, the weight by 5,000 lb., and the speed from 370 to 400 miles per hour. Those figures are far better than any which are offered by the Douglas Company. Progress, with development and production, has to be measured against the dates upon which B.O.A.C. specification requirements are settled. Looking at the Mark 100, the Mark 300, the Mark 300 LR and the BE 25 LR, so far as I can see, the certification target dates are respectively four years, three years, three years, and four and a half years after the dates of settlement of specification.
72 Those figures were given to me by the managing director of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, and I attach as much importance to them as to anything given by the corporation. The Mark 100 is six to eight months late. That is regrettable, but it is not an excessive delay, taking into account the accidental loss of the second prototype. Things are always liable to go wrong with an aircraft, especially the prototypes. Apart from that, the dates have been unaltered for two years.
The B.O.A.C. says that it cannot put the Mark 100 into operation until the spring of 1956. The Proteus engine was completely redesigned in 1951 for the Britannia, and had its first run in 1952. In August this year it received a full Air Registration Board clearance for carrying fare-paying passengers.
The fact is that the Americans have just wakened up to the possibilities of turbo-prop aircraft. Rolls-Royce has an engine which is not yet running, and, quite rightly, as a commercial firm it is going all over the world trying to sell it. It fits the proposed new wing of the DC-7D exactly, and the Douglas Company says, "If you can get B.O.A.C. to hallmark this and order it, we can sell others." Lord Hives is going all out to sell British engines.
We should not interfere with the production of the Britannia until we know that the airframe or the engines have fallen down. In pay load and range the BE25 compares favourably with the DC-7D in delivery and price, but according to my information B.O.A.C. has made 12 changes in the specification since 1947—changes in numbers ordered, length of fuselage and so on. The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth referred to changes. The moment changes are made delay is caused.
In this case the whole story resembles what happened with the Tudors a few years ago. We all know what a disastrous result constant changes had for everybody concerned in that case.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
They are probably quite reasonable and inevitable, but they take time. Nothing delays a drawing office or a production line more than changes in specification. If there is 73 delay, the purchaser must know what it entails.
The relations between B.O.A.C. and the Bristol Aeroplane Company appeared to be perfectly all right when the report was written. It was published on 29th July this year, and I notice that it is addressed to my right hon. Friend, who took over the Ministry four weeks ago. In the report, B.O.A.C. refers to the Britannia aircraft in the following words:Delivery of these aircraft, with their promise of outstanding performance and economy of operation, is eagerly awaited by the Corporation. They will be used for first class and tourist traffic and on certain routes they may be equipped to carry both classes of passenger in. the same aircraft. The nucleus of a Britannia Fleet organisation was formed during the year and technical courses on the air frame and engines were undertaken. Moreover, during the flight tests and development flying of the Britannia by the manufacturer, the Corporation's representatives obtained experience of the flying characteristics of the aircraft.There is no word of doubt in that report in relation to the Britannia. If the corporation was really up to the mark we should have been told that such doubts existed.
I am told that relations between the corporation and the Bristol Aeroplane Company were excellent until the late summer. My suspicion is that something happened at Farnborough, when a Douglas representative was at the show. They probably got together, and I think that something happened then which altered the turn of events.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
Would the hon. and gallant Member explain that point further? That is a very serious imputation.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
It all happened after the report was printed on 29th July. The report does not mention any doubts. We know that the Douglas people were over here negotiating at the time. Undoubtedly they saw the corporation. There is no slur in what I am saying, except in the hon. Gentleman's imagination. There was a firm trying to sell aeroplanes, and I imagine that negotiations on the subject commenced at about the time of the Farnborough display.
§ Mr. Beswick
Really, the hon. and gallant Gentleman ought not to make these remarks. In the first place, as has been previously said, the whole proposition hinged on British Rolls-Royce engines. It has been suggested today that the initiative came from the British Rolls-Royce Company. It was not a matter of waiting for Farnborough before B.O.A.C. could commence negotiations.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Anybody is entitled to see anybody else where and when he likes, but we in this House have a duty to take care of the taxpayers' money. I have said nothing against B.O.A.C. I have stated what I think was the time when the negotiations commenced. I still think it was September this year.
B.O.A.C. did a tremendous job of work in getting the Comets into the air. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) doubted whether the Comets would ever fly again. I hope that that doubt will not spread, because we all hope that the Comet II will be in the air when it has been suitably modified, and that it will regain the Comet's former prestige. When B.O.A.C. got the Comet into the air there was a great deal of publicity, and I am not certain that there was not too much publicity. The Chairman of B.O.A.C. is a great publicist. I do not blame him. He is selling tickets to make his airline pay. However, I think it would be a good thing if his fellow executives also came into the picture and did some of the advertising.
I do not think there is very much wrong with the Britannia, and perhaps this debate may even be a jerk for the Bristol Company, and I hope it will get down to the job, helped by the Air Registration Board and B.O.A.C. and other companies manufacturing aircraft which would be prepared to lend assistance, either with drawing office work or with the wind tunnel work—with anything that would speed up the delivery of these aircraft and with the main project.
My hon. Friend said that if the Britannia fails Britain's civil aviation prospects will be impaired for a number of years. I go so far as to say that it will be impaired for 10 or 20 years, so far as the selling of British aircraft of that size abroad is concerned. Let us take 75 care of the situation. We still have a lead over the Americans. They are very jealous of what we have in this country. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We have had one only real setback, and we are rapidly overcoming that. Let us hold our heads high and make aircraft to sell abroad.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)
I do not wish to enter into the controversy whether B.O.A.C. should buy the DC-7–6 planes or not, but it appears to me that the hon. Members who have spoken from the other side today have been far better briefed by the Bristol Aeroplane Company than they have been by B.O.A.C. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) spoke in rather dubious terms about the negotiations which took place, but it seems to me that we have no reason to assume or impute that there has been anything but direct, normal business negotiations on this matter. I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member, when he reads them in HANSARD, will regret the words with which he expressed himself.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I have no regret at all for what I said. I was trying to pinpoint the time when negotiations started. I said that B.O.A.C.'s annual report of 29th July made no reference to any doubt that may have been in the corporation's mind about the Britannia, and that, therefore, it was subsequent to July that the negotiations commenced, and, leaving out the August holidays, that they probably commenced at or about the time of Farnborough. The hon. Gentleman should not be so sensitive.
§ Mr. Davies
It is not a question of being sensitive, but the hon. and gallant Member suggested that something was wrong, and that was why the whole of this side of this House reacted against the statement he made. I do not wish to enter into this controversy, although it has a direct bearing on the main question that has emerged from the debate and emerges from the reports we are considering.
That is the question: are these public corporations to be operated as business concerns and to be judged entirely by commercial standards or are they to be 76 operated as public services, which means that other considerations have to be taken into account? Up to the present we have endeavoured to combine public and commercial services; we have endeavoured to operate them commercially and yet to provide a public service. We expect them, on the one hand, to operate commercially and, on the other, to serve the British aircraft industry, and to establish British civil aviation services throughout the world.
In trying to run the organisations commercially those responsible have been handicapped by obligations which have been imposed upon them, and the time has now come when this question has to be re-examined. We have now to make up our minds whether it will any longer be possible for these public corporations to combine the operation of public services with commercial success. One reason this question has now come up is that the position has been affected by the change in civil aviation policy, which has introduced new factors into the operations of the public corporations and has made their position to some extent more difficult.
There are two arguments that are deployed why these public corporations should essentially operate a public service. The first is the one that led to the original establishment of Imperial Airways, which led later to B.O.A.C., and which was the desire to assist in the establishment of a network of British civil aviation services linking various parts of the Commonwealth and Empire and giving a comprehensive worldwide service. That entailed, particularly in the initial stages, the operation purely for prestige reasons of external routes which could not pay their way, and similarly, to the establishment of certain internal services which were equally unprofitable.
Both corporations have succeeded in that object. I note, for instance, in the report of B.E.A. that today over 50 per cent. of the passengers who travel by air from the United Kingdom to Europe and vice versa travel B.E.A. That is a very great achievement, that a single corporation should succeed in carrying half the traffic. One of B.O.A.C's. equally great achievements is to attract to itself over 40 per cent. of the traffic cross the North Atlantic between Canada, the United 77 States of America and the United Kingdom. That is a very fine achievement for which considerable credit is due to the past development of the Corporation.
Although it has succeeded on its European routes, however, B.E.A.C., as has already been pointed out, has not succeeded in making its internal routes profitable, and the loss on those operations alone is in excess of £1 million. I would very much question whether the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield is right in speaking of the willingness of private operators to take over these unprofitable routes. They have had opportunity to make application to the Air Transport Advisory Council, but in very few cases have applications been made, and it has been made clear on several occasions, particularly so far as the Scottish services are concerned, that no offers have been forthcoming. That is one argument put forward for considering the corporations on the basis of their providing a public service.
The second argument was put forcibly, though indirectly, by the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Sir R. Perkins), who made a strong plea for priority to be given to the British aircraft manufacturers in the purchase of British planes. In effect, he placed the welfare of the British aircraft manufacturers above the commercial success of the B.O.A.C., and that is a factor which must be taken into account.
It has never been the policy of the previous Government or of this Government, as far as I am aware, to insist that these corporations should fly British entirely, but that has always been the hope of both Governments and of hon. Members. As we have been told, there has been considerable success in this direction, with the Viscount as an outstanding example. If it were not for B.E.A., the Viscount would not exist today. If it were not for B.E.A. spending such large sums on its development there would not have been the export orders for that plane which have been so valuable to the country and to British manufacturers.
Unfortunately, there have been the failures, which have already been mentioned. I should have thought that there was reason for B.O.A.C. to have some doubt as to whether it is following the 78 right and prudent course in putting all its eggs in the Britannia basket. In view of its most unfortunate and, indeed, tragic experience with the Comet, it is understandable that the corporation should be adopting this attitude.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Member should bear in mind that, whereas the Cornet operated over 40,000 feet, the Britannia, a turbo-prop, will operate at 15,000 feet or lower altitudes.
§ Mr. Davies
I was not comparing the two planes; technically, they are entirely different propositions. I was saying that, because B.O.A.C. has had a bad experience with the Comet, it is understandable that it should make this reinsurance in connection with the Britannia. It has to look ahead. I am not saying which is the correct decision, because I do not think many hon. Members are in a position to judge on that issue, which will have to be decided by the technicians, and, ultimately, by the Minister. It will be a difficult decision for him to make.
The amount of money which has been poured into the British aircraft industry, both by the Government through the Ministry of Supply and by the corporations through their assistance in the development of aircraft, requires some consideration. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), in his admirable speech, suggested that there should be an inquiry into the whole of the aircraft manufacturing industry in view of the very large sums of public money which have gone into it.
It is not going too far to suggest that to some extent the industry has been feather-bedded, and I was shocked to find an instance of this recently, for I saw that large payments had been made to some companies for the production of planes by other firms, during the war, for the development of which they were responsible. It seems deplorable that war-time production of types developed for one firm by another should lead ultimately to Government payments to the original company. During the war all aircraft manufacturers did well enough, for their own factories were in full production and they made substantial profits. This payment may be in accordance with the contracts which were made for the prototypes, which had been 79 produced with Government assistance, but I believe that these contracts were found to be undesirable and changed in 1941.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I am sorry to interrupt, as I know the hon. Member is trying to be brief. He is suggesting that there was a certain amount of feather-bedding for the aircraft industry. He should bear in mind that, in the case of the Comet, de Havilland has taken a fearful sock in the jaw, to the tune of many million pounds, with complete disruption of design, development and production. The company is bearing that itself and is not pleading for tremendous Government assistance, although the experience has affected the company adversely. This is a strange form of feather-bedding.
§ Mr. Davies
That has no relevance to what I was saying. As a matter of fact, it is doubtful whether de Havilland will he able to stand the loss which appears to be inevitable in the development of the Comet. Suggestions have already been made that de Havilland is appealing for assistance from both the Government and the corporations. I suggest that the hon. Member should wait awhile before he is certain that the company will itself bear all this loss.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
On a point of order. The Comet inquiry is still pro-ceding. Is it not quite wrong at this stage to discuss the merits of the firm's financial stability and whether it will meet its obligations or not?
§ Mr. Davies
I had not de Havilland in mind at that moment. There are certain companies, of which de Havilland is not one, which completely waived their rights to collect in accordance with contracts entered into. They were so public-spirited because of the war and the profits which they made. They waived their rights entirely. I was referring to another company. It is stated in its report by Fairey Aviation Company that it received, during the last financial year, £100,000, which enabled the company to pay out to its shareholders a bonus of 9d. per share, and I suggest that, 15 years after the event, it is undesirable for shareholders to be receiving a bonus in respect 80 of money paid by the Government for manufacture during the war.
If the corporations are to continue as public services and are at the same time to be commercially successful, I think it is necessary for them to have certain exclusive operational rights, just as they had them until the change of policy introduced by this Government. This is necessary, first, to ensure that Government assistance is kept down to the absolute minimum and, secondly, to enable an optimum use to be made of their aircraft.
There is adequate competition in the international sphere. There is very acute competition on the main continental routes, as well as on other international routes. It is pointed out in the B.O.A.C. report that encroachment upon its services by the change of policy led it to make approaches to the Minister. We do not know the result of those approaches, but the corporations were so concerned about the position that the chairmen of both corporations made their joint representations. Government policy has permitted a dangerous encroachment upon this exclusiveness even in the main scheduled services let alone on the other services of the corporations. This encroachment has been especially in regard to three matters to which reference has already been made. There is, of course, the operations of the freight services by the independents, in respect of which it appears that B.O.A.C. has largely become an agent, being forced to enter into these agreements with the independents and accept the role of agent, except in some minor cases.
The second is the institution of the colonial coach services, which are having considerable repercussions upon the fare structure of B.O.A.C. because of their agreement about fares and which are also encroaching upon their load factor. That is a known fact. In view of the restrictions on B.O.A.C. in that respect, it is not a form of fair competition. We cannot have competition unless it is on equal terms. It is not a question of competition but of straightforward encroachment on the services of one by the other. The third is the withholding from B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. of the right to tender for trooping.
In my view, this policy which the Government are pursuing is hampering the development of the public corporations, 81 whether they are regarded as a public service or not. If they are to be considered purely from the commercial standpoint, then these corporations must be permitted to operate fairly and unfettered. That is to say, that they must be free to buy what planes they want and where they wish. That would be essential if they are to operate on a commercial basis, and it would be for them to decide on that issue.
They would have to be free to compete for all work that was offered and without any restriction in regard to trooping, charter work and freight operations, and they would have to be free to drop the unremunerative routes, if they so desired. If we are to regard these public corporations purely from the point of view of a commercial proposition, they have to be as free as their competitors, both at home and in the international field.
If, on the other hand, we are to consider them as a public service, then I think the Government should go out of their way to give them greater assistance than they are giving at the present time. They could make considerable concessions in regard, for instance, to the fuel tax which has to be borne by the corporations on the internal services. They could make concessions with regard to landing charges, which are higher in this country than in many other countries, and which are a considerable burden, as is pointed out in the B.E.A. report.
I think that the Parliamentary Secretary has brushed aside too easily the suggestion in the B.E.A. report that the deficiency payments should be supplanted by payment for services rendered. That is to say, that there should be payments made to the corporations for strategic or national services which are not required for commercial reasons and which have to be operated in the national interest. It is not necessary to wait until 1956 when changes, in any case, can be made because under the Act the subsidies come to an end at that time. It could be worked within the terms of the present Act.
I think that all of us who speak this afternoon wish to pay our tribute to the work which has been done by the two corporations during the past year. They deserve credit for their great achievements, and any criticisms which are made in regard to policy or to certain aspects 82 of their operations are not criticisms of the corporations as such. They are succeeding and will continue to succeed. I fear that as the effects of the present Government civil aviation policy are increasingly felt difficulties will develop, and they may have unfortunate repercussions on the public corporations, which will affect perhaps the quality of the services which they will provide and also their profitability.
I would suggest that if the Parliamentary Secretary, who made such a reasonable speech and clearly revealed the interest which we know he has in civil aviation, desires these corporations to succeed, and if he holds that view sincerely, he must agree that there should be a review of the present policy in order to prevent any further encroachment upon the public corporations.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
I shall not keep the House for more than a few minutes, but I should like to have the opportunity of intervening in this debate in order to deal with some of the important things that have been happening to British aviation over the last 12 months.
I want to make passing reference to the Comet. This is, of course, still subject to an inquiry, and I cannot say very much about it. But, when considering the question both of the Comet and of the Britannia, one must bear in mind that both these aeroplanes received very considerable backing from the B.O.A.C. when they were first designed and laid down, and all through their development. It is unfortunate that at this stage in the development of the Britannia, in particular, we find the principal corporation concerned in the operation of this airline taking a critical line, and at this rather late stage. I was surprised to see in the Press last Saturday a statement put out by the Chairman of British Overseas Airways Corporation, Sir Miles Thomas. I think that it was unfortunate that that statement was made, especially a that time. He must have known that there was to be a debate in this House today, and I think that it is discourteous to this House to try and jump the gun in that way.
The point which stuck in my mind and to which I wish to draw the attention of the House is the statement in the 83 second paragraph, that no order for the Britannia in any of its various forms had ever been cancelled or refused. The statement goes on to say that no changes had been made in the aircraft specification requested by B.O.A.C. That statement, according to the information which I have, is quite incorrect. Although my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) has already referred to certain changes made in the specification in the ordering of the Britannia aircraft from the Bristol Aeroplane Company, I wish to draw the attention of the House to certain differences of orders and changes of specification actually made in the course of the production of this aircraft.
In July, 1949, the company received an order from the British Overseas Airways Corporation for 25 production aircraft with six Centaurus piston engines, and the corporation retained the right under the order to install Proteus engines later if these engines were found suitable. That took place in July, 1949. In February, 1950, the order was limited to 15. I should have thought that that could have been interpreted as a change of order and a reduction in the order. In December, 1950, there was another change. The order was increased again to 25. The Centaurus engines were wiped out and the Proteus engines put in their place. This particular change caused quite a lot of alterations to be made to the wing design of the Britannia.
During 1951, the corporation agreed the final specification for the aeroplane: namely, that there would be two Proteus-powered prototypes and 25 production aircraft. But this order was changed again in September of the same year, when only one prototype was to be manufactured and the remainder of the order were to be Mark 100 types. That is not the end of the story. That state of affairs lasted, if my information is correct, until May, 1953, when the 25 production aircraft were changed to 15 as Mark 100 and 10 as Mark 300. These are all considerable changes, and not slight modifications.
The original aeroplane was envisaged with a total gross weight of 90,000 lb. and 11,000 lb. payload, and was to carry 32 to 38 passengers. The Mark 100 Britannia has a gross weight of 150,000 lb., with a payload of 25,000 lb., 84 and is intended to carry 90 passengers. The order in 1953, referring to Mark 300's, required 5,000 lb. extra payload and accommodation for 10 extra passengers, making 100 passengers altogether. There are other changes which have taken place also. Cargo versions of the machine have been ordered. On one occasion three were ordered, but the number was subsequently reduced to two. Mixed cargo and passenger types were ordered, but the numbers of these also were changed at a later date.
I do not think it is fair for a statement like this to be put out about a private company shortly before an important debate of this nature, unless the statement is absolutely correct. There is no doubt that there have been drastic changes in the orders placed with the Bristol Aeroplane Company by B.O.A.C. There may have been good reason for the changes, but it is not fair then to turn round and say that the company is responsible for the delay in the production of these aircraft. I believe that the company has done extremely well.
Many hon. Members have great experience of the aircraft industry. We all know the difficulties which that industry has to face with a rapidly developing new type of engine or aeroplane. Those difficulties are made still greater if the customer who purchases the aircraft constantly changes his mind. In such circumstances, any company which was not further behind than the Bristol Company is with the Britannia today would be doing very well indeed.
My plea to the Minister this afternoon is that an examination should be made as to why there have been these constant changes in the specifications and orders for the Britannias. It is a fairly common trait in the aircraft industry for this to happen. This is a particularly bad example, and I think that something could be done in the future to improve the freezing of designs at an early date to allow the makers to get ahead with manufacturing an aeroplane and to get it into service. I ask my right hon. Friend to institute an inquiry in this direction.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
It is unfortunate that this discussion on the future prospects of the British Overseas Airways Corporation should have taken the form, particularly in the speech of 85 the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), of attempting to find out who is to blame for the fact that the Britannia aircraft is not in the air on time. In a copy of the Press statement issued by B.O.A.C., which I have with me, the corporation says:Since the Britannia contract was placed five-and-a-half years ago, no material changes in the airframe specification have been requested by B.O.A.C.The corporation points out thatThe Bristol Company has progressively offered alternative engines …and I believe that one or two of those engines have not been very successful since they were first offered. I do not know who is right or wrong, but I have no reason to believe that the B.O.A.C., which has done an excellent job in trying to pioneer revolutionary types of British aircraft, would try to deceive either the public or this House. We have no right to assume that the corporation is any more in the wrong than is the Bristol Aeroplane Company. I for one would hate to try to decide who was right by debate across the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
The hon. Member states that there has been no airframe change with the Britannia, yet it is acknowledged that the original aircraft was designed for 38 passengers whereas the existing version is to take 100. A modification of that kind is hardly possible without material change.
§ Mr. Albu
I was quoting from the Press statement of B.O.A.C. and saying that I had no reason to believe that the corporation would try to deceive the public any more than would the aircraft company. We must assume, therefore, that the question of who is to blame is not proven.
All of us in the House are very anxious indeed about the future of the British aircraft industry. I have nothing to be ashamed of; I have spoken many times about the importance of developing exports like aircraft; I have broadcast about it, and last year I spent seven weeks in the United States giving lectures, mostly about developments in British industry. I think that in every town which I left, the local newspaper carried a headline, "Britain five years ahead in jets." Therefore, it was with some reluctance that I tabled an Amendment to the Motion of the hon. Member for 86 Stroud and Thornbury (Sir R. Perkins) about B.O.A.C.'s proposal to buy American aircraft.
The question that the House has to face in discussing our airlines is what aircraft the B.O.A.C. will be flying in 1958–59. As I understand it, there is no question of cancelling the orders for the Britannias; that has never even been suggested by B.O.A.C. But we must face the fact that these aircraft so far have very little flying time—and, incidentally, practically no flying time pressurised. The Britannia is a completely new aircraft, with a completely new type of airframe. It is very unlikely that we would receive overseas orders for these machines until the Britannia begins to fly in this country, or from this country, with B.O.A.C.
Therefore, I cannot see that the decisions taken by B.O.A.C. about the aircraft it will buy, providing that the corporation does not cancel its contracts for the Britannia, will in any way affect orders which the Bristol Aeroplane Company might expect to receive for this aircraft. It seems to me that the company will begin to get the orders as the aircraft begin to fly, as de Havillands began to get orders for the Comet and as Vickers are getting orders for the Viscount, after they have been flown, and successfully flown, by British operators.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
No. Canadian Pacific Airlines ordered its Comets when the machine was in prototype form, long before it was ever operated.
§ Mr. Albu
That is the exception which proves what seems to me to be the fairly general rule.
I shall not go into great detail, because I do not pretend to be an expert, but it seems clear that the Douglas DC-7D, which B.O.A.C. proposes to buy as an insurance for the years 1958 and 1959, is not really a revolutionary aircraft. It is an evolution from existing types, although it may be larger, with wider wings, and so on. It is an evolution from an airframe that is already 90 per cent. proven in use.
If by 1958–59 B.O.A.C.'s competitors in international airlines start using this aircraft, and the enlarged Bristol aircraft, which it is proposed that B.O.A.C. should use, has not come along in production and has not been flying long enough for it to be used extensively, the corporation 87 will be in a very weak position indeed in international competition. If by any chance the Bristol aircraft is not flying—and, after all, it is a revolutionary aircraft—the corporation would be practically out of business. No one can argue against that. I am not saying that the DC-7D will be a successful aircraft, but it would not be a bad idea to have some of these aircraft on order, at any rate as an insurance.
May I suggest that we ought to consider in a broader and more general manner British aircraft exports and their relation to the British economy? The buying of these aircraft may also be something of an insurance for the British aircraft industry itself, because they are going to use British engines. It may well be that the future of the British industry lies in a greater expansion of engine production, on which we are undoubtedly ahead of the world, rather than of aircraft frames, on which we are not so far ahead. It would be very foolish to throw away the possibility of an insurance by getting a large number of new Rolls-Royce engines in aircraft flying all round the world, which would be of substantial assistance for the aircraft engine industry.
I must support my hon. Friends on this side of the House in expressing some doubt about the way in which the aircraft industry in this country operates, particularly in the way it gets its orders and its finance and whether this is conducive to manufacturing efficiency. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) talked about feather-bedding the industry, and there is no shadow of doubt about it being feather-bedded.
There is a strong feeling amongst a large number of people that the industry is much too slow in getting its aircraft into production and much too slow in producing them when it has. There are very disturbing stories about the failure of ancillary equipment, and some of the aircraft which have now been taken out of service in our civil air lines have been particularly bad in this respect. The cost of keeping aircraft on the ground through maintenance alone is very substantial. The loss to operators through failure in ancillary equipment may not of itself be very expensive, but the time taken in replacement or repair can be extremely 88 harmful to the profitability of the airline. One hears far too many stories of the failure of ancillary equipment in British aircraft.
In the early part of the year at a conference on engineering production, I think it was the chief engineer of B.E.A. who had some harsh words to say about the finish of some British aircraft, and particularly the finish and quality of ancillary equipment. He was much attacked then for what he said, but those hon. Members who keep their ears to the ground on this matter consider that he had a great deal of right on his side. These matters are very important, and there is some reason for believing that failure of ancillary equipment is what is holding up the bringing into production of the Britannia itself.
One has also heard disturbing stories about inadequate inspection. I think this all adds up to the fact that the industry pays far too little attention to its methods of production and its production management. If only a little of the brilliance that undoubtedly exists in the research and development side were put into the manufacturing side some of these doubts might not arise. We might get aircraft into production quicker and have less failures in ancillary equipment. Anyone who knows the aircraft industry knows that the quality of those responsible for manufacturing is much less than the quality of those responsible for development and research. All the brains are concentrated on research and development, and, on the whole, it seems that the attitude is that it does not matter much how the aircraft is produced. That was the attitude we had to face during the war, and there is no doubt—I am not saying it is universal—that it is still the case now, and that it affects the development of our civil aircraft.
In view of the enormous amount of public money that goes to support the industry, this is something we cannot leave uninvestigated. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), in what I thought was a most admirable speech, as I thought also was his letter in the "Observer" yesterday, referred to this very important aspect of the matter. He dealt with the amount of public money that is involved, and he also mentioned something else—the question whether the resources and the public money are 89 not too thinly spread, and whether there would not be a more efficient industry if the resources were more concentrated. For the reasons that he gave, I support his demand for an inquiry.
Finally, I should like to ask the Minister what is going to happen to B.O.A.C. losses over the Comet. Is it to be relieved of the losses? It will, of course, be relieved if it makes a loss, because the taxpayer will have to pay; and, at any rate until a few weeks ago, the right hon. Gentleman was very interested in the taxpayer. If B.O.A.C. is relieved of the loss, it is an indirect subsidy to de Havillands, because, under ordinary commercial conditions, if that sort of thing arose, then the chances are that no further order would be placed with the company. I am not suggesting that for a moment. I hope no one will misunderstand what I am saying, because we all support the close relationship between the manufacturing industry and the operators, but this raises a very important question. If this is done, the industry will be still further feather-bedded and further protected from risks which, in normal conditions of private enterprise, the shareholders and the management undertake. We cannot be unaware of this.
The truth is that the whole position of the aircraft industry's relations as between the shareholder, the customer, the Government and the taxpayer is so absolutely out of this world compared with anything else we know, either in public or in private industry, that we cannot use any ordinary standard by which to judge it. I agree that what we really need is a thorough re-examination of the way the industry is financed to insure that public money is not wasted and that the industry keeps on its feet not only in research and development but equally in production.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Major D. McCallum (Argyll)
I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not enter into the controversy of the Britannia versus the Douglas and B.O.A.C. and the manufacturers. I want to take the House for a moment north of here and ask it to consider some points affecting civil aviation in Scotland. Let me say at once that though I am a 90 member of the Scottish Advisory Council on Civil Aviation, I am expressing my own personal views and in no way the views of the Council.
I want to deal with what some hon. Members have said, including the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) and the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), who referred to the question of whether or not B.E.A. was right, as a public corporation, in providing what they called social services in civil aviation in Scotland. I query very much the title of a social service in Scotland, because it is nothing of the kind. The services provided are paid for by the users, more especially in the Highlands and Islands.
I have on occasions suggested to B.E.A. that it should put on a second aircraft, particularly from one of the islands to Renfrew to take some of the additional traffic, but I have always been told something like this by the corporation, "I am sorry we cannot do it, because the traffic does not warrant it." There is one full machine and the corporation is not prepared to put on another because there is not quite sufficient extra traffic for it, but it seems to me that it does not do badly with the one machine which is being used. In no way can it be called a social service.
It is said in this House and in the Press that B.E.A. ought to be provided with a subsidy for the Scottish internal services in the same way as the MacBrayne Company is provided with a subsidy for its shipping services on the west coast of Scotland. The two services are entirely different because MacBraynes have to undertake the maintenance of piers and stores up and down the west coast of Scotland in addition to steamers, whereas the airfields that B.E.A. land at are maintained by the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. I have pointed out before that a steamer service and an air service is entirely different from the point of view of maintenance costs.
I want to raise with the Minister the question of the closing down of the maintenance workshops at the Renfrew base and their transfer to London Airport. I am sure my right hon. Friend knows that this has caused much indignation throughout Scotland. It is a great strategic mistake to transfer practically all the skilled 91 aviation maintenance staff in this way. It is putting all our eggs in one basket. Think what would be the position in an emergency if London Airport were put out of action and the base at Renfrew had become non-existent. I think I am speaking for hon. Members on both sides who represent Scotland when I say that we hope a Cabinet decision will be taken on this matter on the recommendation of the Minister, bearing in mind not only employment and the future of the aviation industry but the strategic position as well.
Many hon. Members have referred to helicopters. I agree with one or two hon. Members who feel that in this country there is not as much drive in the development of the helicopter as there is in other countries. I do not know whether the fault lies with the manufacturing side of the industry or with the operating side, but I do know that America has been supplying the helicopters for our Navy, Army and Air Force. It is true that the United States has had a long start, but helicopters are also being used on the Continent. Surely our aviation industry could have produced a British helicopter by this time.
It was in 1946, I think, that several hon. Members and myself were taken on demonstration flights by one of the aviation companies, and we were told then that great developments were expected. That was eight years ago and still we are waiting for a British helicopter. Each time we have a debate on civil aviation more and more hon. Members refer to the helicopter. Several years ago these machines were mentioned only by one or two of us, but now almost every hon. Member is interested; and yet we seem as far away as ever from satisfactory developments.
It is stated that a helicopter service is to be established between the South Bank and London Airport, to obviate the bus journey. Is there no means of persuading either the corporation or the Ministry to get an American-built or -licensed helicopter for experiment in Scotland? I know that this would entail extra expense because of the technical staff needed to maintain such a helicopter at Renfrew or elsewhere, but it is in the remote areas, in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, that the future of 92 these machines lies. In some of those remote areas there is no alternative form of transport and the helicopter would mean that the inhabitants could count on this form of transport for their lawful occasions.
In the north-west of Scotland nobody need worry about the noise; indeed, we would put up with four times the amount of noise if necessary because only the sheep on the hills would be annoyed by it. It is wrong that we in the far North should have to wait until urban development of the helicopter service has proved a commercial success, with machines carrying 40 or 50 passengers. We do not want large machines. We want helicopters carrying 12 passengers at the most between the remote areas, which today cannot be reached even by steamer, and the centre of business or government.
I expect I shall be told by my right hon. Friend that the Twin Pioneer is the answer to the problem, but there are certain places in Scotland where even a Twin Pioneer could not land. During the last few weeks we have been reading of rescues at sea carried out by helicopter and it is to these machines that Scotland looks, because there are some rocky areas where only they can land. It is, therefore, to the helicopter that we are looking for the solution of some of our transport problems and we would like to see more drive towards an experimental service in the North-West of Scotland.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)
I hope that, in entering the debate, I shall find myself under no handicap, because I have no aircraft to sell. For that reason, I shall not venture to embark into the discussion or argument which has taken place about the Britannia and the DC-7D, except to observe that I am sure that hon. and right hon. Members will agree that an aircraft ought to sell on its merits, whether at home or abroad. If an aircraft fails to sell abroad for some reason or other, that is not the type of aircraft we ought to seek to impose on our operators at home.
I find myself more in agreement than usual with my hon. opponent, the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum). While I hope to support him on some of the topics which he raised, I utter a word of caution about the helicopter. I know the impatience which 93 hon. Members on both sides of the House feel about the need for a machine that can hop from here to there in a very short time, but one must realise that those who travel in the helicopter are sitting under the engine and that this Government and the previous Government pledged themselves to follow as their policy in civil aviation safety first, second and all the time. If passengers are sitting in a machine which carries its engine above them, then those passengers cannot be said to be in a position which fulfils the safety provisions upon which any Government must insist.
The Parliamentary Secretary has said that, as a matter of safety in the experiments which are to be undertaken by B.E.A. during the next year, floats will be attached to the helicopter, but the rotor is the weak point always. If the rotor fails, the machine will plummet to earth, and no passenger has the slightest chance of escaping.
§ Major McCallum
The present single-rotor helicopter has the engine behind the passenger. It has only the rotor above.
§ Mr. Rankin
That may be so, but it is not true in every case, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, and it is still the case that the engine is at a higher level than the passenger.
§ Mr. Rankin
Yes, I have flown in helicopters. There is no such element of safety built into the helicopter as should prompt us to ask any Government to take too hasty steps in using it for civil aviation. We must be cautious in our approach to its use.
I should like to support the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll in his attitude towards what has been called the social services in Scotland, though I support him for reasons which are different from those that he gave. "Social services" is the wrong description. Every one of us wants to see more timber growing in Scotland and more food coming from the land and the sea. If we are to achieve that, it is necessary to enable people to go on living in those parts of Scotland where those occupations of national importance are pursued. If we are to keep them there, it is imperative that we should provide them 94 with transport services. Those services should be as speedy as possible, so that the people who live on the perimeter should feel as much a part of the general population as those who live in the great industrial cities. That is why it is necessary to maintain these services, whether they are run at a loss or not.
I interrupted the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), who is not now in the Chamber, to ask whether, as a private operator, he would be willing to undertake the West Highlands services. He replied that they would require to be undertaken within the framework of the national service. I agree. B.E.A. should be responsible for carrying out what is, in essence, part of national Government policy. That is a point which might be explored, but I do not think that it is fair to put the onus entirely on B.E.A. If we do so and say that B.E.A. should maintain those services, why stop there? Why should B.O.A.C. escape their obligation? That corporation is a British airline just like B.E.A., started and encouraged by the Government. It has been helped in many ways and, to a large extent, has consumed taxpayers' money in the past. Why should the social services not be debited to both airlines?
It is my firm belief that in the long run we shall be compelled to integrate these two services at some level. B.O.A.C. made a clear profit of over £2 million and B.E.A. declared a loss of £1,750,000. The Scottish social services are supposed to be largely responsible for that loss. Therefore, if one takes the loss on the Scottish social services and adds it to the loss sustained by B.E.A. one finds that civil aviation is doing very well. It is "washing its face." Revenue and expenditure are balanced. There is a profit on B.O.A.C. despite the loss created by B.E.A. We must work the two together somehow. It is not fair to bring them into competition. That is what happens when we deal with the two reports together.
Most people have been complimenting B.O.A.C., and most people have been critical of B.E.A. Every one of us knows that B.E.A. has the harder job. In view of the fact that the intromissions of both corporations show, on the whole, that revenue and expenditure balance, we can get a better appreciation of the state of British airline operations if we view the 95 two reports as one. We shall reach, ultimately, a position where we require to integrate the two corporations into one corporation dealing with the whole of our aircraft services.
I want to support the hon. and gallant Member for Argyll in his plea that the maintenance base at Renfrew ought to remain as it is. When Lord Douglas, Chairman of British European Airways, introduced the report that is now before us at a Press conference in London in September, he stated that the deficit which faced B.E.A. was not in any way contributed to by the maintenance base at Renfrew. He made that perfectly clear. He pointed out that when the Viking fleet ceased to operate, as it has now ceased, Renfrew would become uneconomic.
That exactly is the case that has been put forward for keeping the maintenance base at Renfrew. The corporation says that it has created a loss, but those figures are disputed. An assessor has been appointed, and I understand he reported two weeks ago. I believe he has earned his money so far as B.E.A. is concerned. He supports entirely the case presented by the corporation. We do not quarrel with that, but we ask the Minister that, before he comes to a decision on the point, he will very carefully consider appointing an independent assessor who will examine the case presented by both bodies.
In the past year Pionair maintenance has been costing £250,000 at Renfrew. Viking output on the maintenance side was also £250,000, and from sundry other jobs another £30,000 came in, making a total income for the base of £530,000. B.E.A., in detailing the costs of running the base, say that they are £440,000. If we take the B.E.A. figures of costs against the income derived from the base, we are left with a profit of £90,000 for running the base. Those figures cannot be disregarded. We ask the Minister to examine them very seriously before coming to any decision to transfer those employed there—not all of them, because out of the 600 employed now 250 will lose their jobs altogether. From the human aspect, that is a serious problem.
The matter is now in the hands of the Minister, and I hope that before he comes to a final decision he will very closely 96 examine the figures I have put forward and which have been substantiated in detail by the people at Renfrew. They have been accepted by the National Joint Council for Civil Aviation Transport, which has inquired very closely into the matter. We want to help B.E.A. and do not want to see it shouldering any burdens it ought not to shoulder, but the claim of the Renfrew people is that it is not being asked to shoulder a burden, as there is a profit in running the base. I submit that these figures have to be examined very closely before a final decision is arrived at by the Minister. I ask him tonight to see that that close examination is given before his final conclusion is reached.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril W. Black (Wimbledon)
I hope that the hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) will excuse me if I do not follow him in the subject matter of his speech as I want to address the House—very briefly because I realise that time is short and other hon. Members wish to speak—on the proposals for the expansion and future use of Gatwick Airport. Those proposals are a great concern to the nation in general and, in particular, to the people of Surrey, especially those who live in the immediate neighbourhood of the airport.
Perhaps it is right for me at this stage to declare an interest—not a financial interest—in this matter as a member of the County Council of Surrey, which is the town planning authority for the area in which Gatwick Airport is situated. It will be within the knowledge of the House that the proposals of the Government for the expansion and future of the airport have been a matter of prolonged and sometimes heated controversy.
I do not want to spend more than a moment or two in considering that controversy, but I must say that the weight of expert evidence against the proposals of the Government is at least as strong as the weight of evidence in favour. The proposals which the Government now have for the use of this airport are in violation of pledges given on no fewer than three occasions by previous Governments.
There was a lamentable failure to consult the local authorities at a sufficiently early stage when the proposals were under consideration. The terms of reference to 97 Sir Colin Campbell, who conducted the inquiry, prevented the consideration of alternative sites to that of Gatwick and, on the whole, the Press has been overwhelmingly against the proposals of the Government on this matter.
Having said that, I think we must now accept the fact that with the publication of the White Paper it was made clear that the Government have decided, for better or worse, to proceed with these proposals. There are one or two matters which arise out of these proposals on which I hope it may be possible for the Minister to give some satisfactory assurances when he replies to the debate.
It is quite clear that these proposals will involve a great deal of hardship on people living in the immediate vicinity and in the neighbourhood of this airport. It is important, particularly in view of the present state of public opinion, and the great concern felt throughout the nation at the hardship which has arisen in recent cases of compulsory purchase, that everything possible should be done to minimise the loss and hardship and the diminution of amenities which will fall on people who are vitally affected in their homes and businesses by reason of their proximity to the airport.
I hope that the properties to be acquired in connection with the extension of the airport will be dealt with expeditiously; that there will be no delay in informing persons whose properties are to be acquired about what is their fate and that the compensation which will be paid to them may be on as generous a scale as the law makes possible in existing conditions.
There is also the problem that arises in connection with properties on the fringe of the development area which may lie just outside the present limits of the land proposed to be acquired for the development and expansion of the airport. Many of those properties will become quite impossible of continued occupation for their present purposes, and it would seem to be right and proper that these houses and businesses should be acquired, and that the owners should be compensated as fairly as the present state of the law permits.
There is one final point to which I wish to refer in this connection, and that is the silence, as I understand it, of the White 98 Paper about the most important references in the report and recommendations of Sir Colin Campbell, who conducted the public inquiry into the Government's proposals regarding this airport. In paragraph 285, Sir Colin Campbell says:If on this basis the compensation proves to be inadequate, the payment of an ex gratia sum should be considered.In the following paragraph he refers to the same theme, when he says again:I suggest that in proper cases the hardship should be minimised by ex gratia payments.I can find no reference to this recommendation in the White Paper, and I hope that the Minister will tell us whether it is proposed, in suitable cases of hardship, to make these ex gratia payments as recommended by the very eminent gentleman who conducted the inquiry.
In conclusion, I wish to say a word about the present attitude of the Surrey County Council as the town planning authority, as the proposals must now be accepted as having been adopted by the Government for implementation. I cannot do better than refer to the concluding phrase used by counsel for the county council in his speech at the end of the inquiry. He said:If, at the end of all things, contrary to our view, we should fail, and the decision was taken to put this airport here, the county council, for whom I have the honour to appear, would loyally co-operate in that decision and do their best to make it work.We have in no way altered our view of the objections to this proposal, but I have much pleasure in repeating tonight the undertaking given by learned counsel. I assure the Minister that any help which can be given in making these proposals a success, whereby they may contribute to the future prosperity of civil aviation in this country, will be gladly and willingly forthcoming from the local authorities concerned.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
I hope that the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) will forgive me if I do not follow him into the ramifications of Gatwick Airport, because I wish to direct the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to some other airports.
I was particularly interested when the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the Air Transport Advisory Council. He said that it had done a splendid job during 99 the year; and that it had made recommendations in 118 cases, of which 75 had been agreed. I was interested when he spoke about the major loss of B.E.A, being sustained on the internal routes north of London, and I have listened to the references which have been made to helicopter development.
I suppose that the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary, and, indeed, the Air Transport Advisory Council, feel that, having secured these 75 recommendations, they can now preen themselves that they determine the pattern of air services in this country, and between this country and the Continent. But they do not, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows perfectly well. Having gone to the Air Transport Advisory Council; having secured the blessing of the Minister, applicants then have to run the gauntlet of the Treasury. Unless the Treasury decides that airports are to have Customs facilities, all the work of the Air Transport Advisory Council and the right hon. Gentleman goes by the board. So does some part of the work of B.E.A., because on page 43 of its report B.E.A. states:A number of domestic and internal services for independent operators has been approved, in some instances with the support of B.E.A., such as those to the Channel Islands on the peak summer week-ends when there is room for more capacity than B.E.A. can offer.I wish to mention one airport where, in 1953, three separate licences were granted for a period of seven years to run one internal service and two to places over the water. Again, in 1954, two further licences were issued for one year each for two services across the English Channel. After the 1953 licences had been granted, the Town Clerk of the County Borough of West Hartlepool, the owners of the aerodrome at Greatham, made an application for "on call" Customs, which was turned down early in May, 1953. The right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for the Colonies, and the present Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation saw a deputation, and Customs were eventually sanctioned on 1st June, 1953.
Half the season had gone, but in spite of that there were 160 flights from that aerodrome that summer not requiring Customs clearance and 46 requiring Customs clearance; as against only 80 flights in 1952 and 30 in 1951. Towards 100 the end of 1953 the town clerk made an application for the renewal of "on call" Customs for the 1954 season. Because no reply had been received by the beginning of February, I was asked by the council to intervene. I wrote to the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and he replied on 26th February:The special privilege which Greatham has enjoyed during the past few years is quite out of keeping with the practice in the rest of the country and while it lasts there is a discrimination against other airports to which similar privileges have been denied.He then said:As you know, foreign-going aircraft would still be able to operate from Greatham provided that they obtained Customs clearance at an authorised airport en route, e.g., at Woolsington.I do not know how conversant the present Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation is with the geography of this country, but he ought to know that Woolsington is 40 miles north of Greatham and that the flights were to take place in a southerly direction. That means that he was asking the aircraft to travel approximately a further 80 miles to get Customs clearance. It was stated that this would have involved an extra 1¼ hours on each trip with the aircraft which they were proposing to operate, and, consequently, an additional cost for each trip of from £75 to £80.
The deputation saw the Financial Secretary to the Treasury again on 18th March, and on 15th April he replied as follows:As I understand, there were in all 48 aircraft cleared by Customs at Greatham last year and the total revenue collected was, as I told you, in round figures £30.Apparently, therefore, the needs of an area—there are nearly 750,000 people living within 20 miles of Greatham Airport—and the development of air services in this country, and from this country to the Continent, are, in future, to be determined by the amount of revenue collected by Customs officers from people who attempt to bring contraband into the country. I shall show in a moment that that small figure showed a profit on the 1953 operation.
On 1st June, another deputation from the industrial and commercial interests on Tees-side met the present Colonial Secretary. On 21st July, I asked the 101 Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation—now the Colonial Secretary—when the deputation from the Tees-side organisations which had met him on 1st June in connection with Greatham Airport could expect a reply to their representation. I want the House to note the Minister's reply, because I think it is important. He said:My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I have been fully into the representations made to me on 1st June, and I regret to say that the Government must now reaffirm that they cannot see their way to altering their decision that Customs facilities at Greatham Aerodrome cannot be renewed. We have only just reached this conclusion, after giving every consideration to the weighty arguments advanced by the important delegation that came to see me, and I am replying in these terms to the letter from the Tees-side Development Board.My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) then asked the right hon. Gentleman a supplementary question. He said:Is the right hon. Gentleman now announcing a new Government policy—that the question of whether or not there are to be overseas services from an important industrial area is to be determined by the convenience of the Board of Customs and Excise and not by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation?The Minister replied:No, Sir. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there have been Customs facilities for some experimental years. Had the traffic offering been such as to justify the full-time employment of Customs officers a very different decision would have been arrived at. The traffic offering has not justified it, and in view of the need for strict scrutiny of all public expenditure the Government have arrived at this decision."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1954; Vol. 530, c. 1342–43.]On 29th July last, I asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury what wasthe total cost to the Customs Department in overtime and additional payments for the provision of officers at Greatham Airport to clear arriving and departing aircraft in the year 1953; and what proportion of such sum was recovered by the Customs Department from the aircraft operators.I hope that the Minister will listen to the answer I received, because I think it important. The reply was given by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and it was:£76 12s, 5d. and £72 9s. 0d. respectively."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July, 1954; Vol. 531, c. 81–2.]In other words, the cost to the Treasury of providing Customs facilities at Greatham in 1953 amounted to a total 102 of £4 3s. 5d. On this basis, even the £30 collected from people attempting to bring contraband into the country gives the Government a substantial profit.
The present Colonial Secretary said that it was necessary to consider strict economy in public expenditure. I would tell the right hon. Gentleman tonight that from figures which I have obtained from the treasurer of the local authority responsible, it is costing that authority £3,000 a year to keep this airport on a care and maintenance basis. In other words, to avoid an approximate expenditure of £5 in overtime and additional payments to Customs officers at Middlesbrough, Stockton and West Hartlepool the right hon. Gentleman is now imposing a cost of £3,000 a year on this local authority to keep this airfield idle.
On 19th October, I asked the Financial Secretary to the TreasuryHow many of the Customs staff at Middlesbrough, Stockton and West Hartlepool have been displaced in consequence of the withdrawal of on-call Customs from the Greatham Aerodrome.He replied:The withdrawal of the on-call facilities from Greatham Aerodrome has not led to the displacement of any Customs staff at the places named, but has eliminated the disturbance of the normal Customs work at these ports which the temporary and experimental provision of the facilities at Greatham entails."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th October, 1954; 531, c. 150.]In spite of all that is being done, we have now, apparently, to determine the pattern of the air services from this country and any attempt to expand the civil aviation industry by the inconvenience which is caused to Customs officers. I have every reason to believe that the local people on the job would welcome the disturbance, and that it is somewhere very much higher in the hierarchy that this question of disturbance arises.
Much has been said in this debate about the development of the helicopter. Quite recently, Sir Miles Thomas wrote an article in which he called attention to the development of aeroplane and helicopter design, and suggested that small landing places at or near the centre of large towns would be the necessary landing grounds of the future. I was interested to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say, about helicopter development, that he could give an assurance on behalf of his right hon. Friend that when 103 helicopter development had gone sufficiently far there would be no hindrance to the provision of the necessary landing facilities at or near the large towns.
Is this the way in which the Government intend to treat local authorities which attempt to establish airfields? The West Hartlepool Town Council has spent more than £50,000 to date in capital expenditure on this aerodrome, and is now having to pay £3,000 a year to keep the aerodrome in idleness merely because to do otherwise would inconvenience somebody at the Treasury. The Government cannot argue that it is not a profitable venture. Last year the income was six times as great as the expenditure. I hope that we shall get an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman tonight that if, as the Parliamentary Secretary says, it is the Government's desire to develop the pattern of air services in this country, they will do something to break down this antiquated attitude of the Customs.
In conclusion, I wish to call attention to an article which appeared last week in "Modern Transport." The article deals with the whole problem of Customs and freight transport by air. The Customs authorities are asked to modernise their attitude so far as the provision of facilities for air transport is concerned and the article concluded with these words:A cogent point concerns the unwillingness to provide Customs facilities at additional airports whereas preventive officers are still scattered around the coasts in a most liberal manner. Air freight grows steadily in importance and it is essential that it should not be hampered by inflexible requirements. The Air League has done well to call attention to that danger.In conclusion, if the Minister wants to encourage local authorities in this country to develop airfields, then he had better make quite certain that the attitude of Customs and Excise is brought up to modern standards and that it improves the antiquated attitude which it is now adopting and which should immediately be supplanted by more modern methods. Otherwise, whatever the Air Transport Advisory Council or the Minister think should be the pattern of air travel to the Continent, Customs and Excise will decide it.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I gather that there are just 10 minutes before the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) wants to start his winding-up speech, and I should like briefly to refer to a few points. I wish to associate myself with the praise that has been expressed for the cabin services offered by the corporations. Like other Members, I have had the opportunity from time to time of travelling by other airlines, and I can truthfully say I have never had a standard of service comparable with that given by B.O.A.C. or B.E.A. They are very wise to keep up this standard, because there are large numbers of passengers to whom service is of paramount importance and travel by our national airlines for that very reason.
That leads me to wonder if the Minister is not very wise in making a difference between the independent operators and the national corporations. Government policy decided freight and trooping for the independents and regular scheduled passenger traffic for the corporations. The treatments of these three different types of load are absolutely different. I wonder whether, if the corporations started to handle these trooping contracts and the freight, they might not, as it were, lower the standard and depreciate the courtesy and politeness which at present their cabin staff is giving to all passengers on these services.
At this late hour I do not want to join to any great extent in this controversy about the future of the Britannia and the DC-7D. I do not question—I am not in a position to question—the wisdom of the corporations, but I do question the timing. It does seem to me that the year forecast for the delivery of this aircraft, 1958 or 1959, is optimistic. I see that "Aviation Week," which is a very well informed American journal, suggests that 1960 will be the earliest possible delivery date. If that is so, it would seem an extraordinary moment to make this decision. "Aviation Week" of 18th October makes this observation:A B.O.A.C. deal with Douglas will require the official approval of the British government and is certain to raise a political storm in Parliament as it would deal a heavy blow to the already battered hopes of British aircraft manufacturers in the international market.105 This is an extraordinary forecast of a debate which took place four weeks later in this House of Commons. I am not asking for any clear statement about the position this evening, but I ask whether we ought not to delay the decision, at least until the new engine, the Rolls-Royce RB 109, has had an opportunity of flying. At the moment, it is only being assembled on the test bed and is unlikely to fly before the 1955 Farnborough Display at the earliest. That would be an appropriate moment to see if we should agree to this insurance policy of allowing B.O.A.C. to order 10 of these aircraft which will cost a total of about 25 million dollars.
It is very difficult indeed for the aircraft industry of this country to be successful in the export markets if the corporations lose faith in their aircraft. Everyone who tries to sell overseas knows that if one is dealing in military equipment the first question one is asked is, "Does the R.A.F. use it?" If one says that the R.A.F. does not use it, one is asked, "Why not?" It is difficult to laugh that off and explain why. Exactly the same question is put in the civil aviation market. One is asked, "Do B.O.A.C. or B.E.A. use it?" If one replies, "Well, they do, but they have ordered other aircraft," then one is told, "Surely they must have had good reason," and one's chance of doing business with the export of aircraft is greatly lessened.
To some extent, the British aircraft industry has been put in the dock in this debate. The industry is in no way in a comparable position with the United States aircraft industry. Firstly, in the United States there is a tremendous internal demand which we do not have here. Secondly, every single successful series of United States civil aircraft is supported with a very substantial military order. Take the DC series from DC-4 to DC-7. That was underwritten by tremendous military orders. Constellation series had exactly the same treatment. The Boeing 707, a new jet transport, is rumoured to have military orders between 40 to 80 aircraft. Therefore, if we are going to compare the merits of the two aircraft industries, I hope that those two factors will be taken into consideration. I wonder whether 106 the Minister and his advisers will not have to think out a policy again, if we are to compete with the Americans with these dice loaded against us.
I want to say a word about B.E.A. which has not been mentioned to the same extent as B.O.A.C. We have had some argument as to whether they are public services or whether they are purely commercial services. I would suggest that the economic factors alone should not be the only consideration. If the public are to get what they want in air transport, they want to be able to have frequent services at different times of the day in comparatively small aircraft. It may be more economical to operate aircraft which have 100 seats, but if one has to wait five or six hours before one can get the aircraft to keep a business appointment, the value to the public is greatly lessened.
On Wednesday next I want to travel to Zurich on business. There is no Zurich service other than once a day by Viscount, which is a very comfortable service, but which is too late for my business appointment. I would have to take an aircraft travelling on the previous day, which is impossible as there is an important debate in this House which I have to attend. That must happen times without number, and I hope that B.E.A. will remember that the bus is a better example of public service than the train. Frequent aircraft of small capacity are far more valuable to people trying to keep business appointments.
I want to make one last point. I would urge a little more co-operation between B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. In the past that may have been difficult, because the two had different terminal airports. But, now that B.E.A. has moved into London Airport, there could be more co-operation in things like aircraft meal and restaurant services, and perhaps in medical services and in freight handling and bus transport from London. Surely there is room for co-operation in these fields. Perhaps, also, B.E.A. could lend some of its Viscounts in the off-season—the winter season—to some of B.O.A.C.'s subsidiaries operating in warm climates, like the Aden airways or the British West Indian airways, where these aircraft could add to the prestige of and earn valuable money for both B.E.A. and B.O.A.C.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
After all that has been said in this debate, I think that my principal function will be to supply the Minister with an aidemémoire so that some of the more awkward questions shall not escape his notice. I must congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his opening speech. It was a model of complacency. I only hope that the Government's complacency will have disappeared before the Minister replies to the debate. It would seem that the Government have been under fire from both sides, although from rather differing points of view.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) referred to the greater degree of co-operation which there now is between the two corporations. I made some inquiries about that some time ago, as I thought that they were rather far apart. I understand that there is constant and regular consultation between the corporations, and that it takes place at a very high level.
§ Mr. Pargiter
It seems that steps have been taken which will make for closer co-operation there.
The Parliamentary Secretary's complacency was badly shaken by the reference which my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) made to the very heavy cost to the public purse in supplying aircraft either directly through the Ministry of Supply or indirectly through the corporations. Those are matters to which we must ask the Minister to direct attention. Compared with the American aircraft industry ours is relatively small, but we have almost as many private companies engaged in manufacture as they have in America. From that we can see just how thinly our design staff must be spread, as compared with the concentration of effort there is in the United States. In spite of what may be said of America one must admire the way in which the Americans put everything they have into solving a problem. For that purpose they have huge pools of highly-skilled design staff. They take each their own little corner of the problem and concentrate on it.
That is something to which the Minister could turn his attention, probably in conjunction with the Minister of Supply—because it is a joint problem. After all, 108 public money is expended and something should be done. I should be very glad to support a proposal for an inquiry into the general structure of the aircraft industry; not critical in the destructive, but in the constructive, sense that we really ought to use our technical staff to the best possible advantage. The only way our industry will survive is to attend to that and not to spread itself as it does at present.
The discussion, inevitably, has got rather away from the ostensible cause for the debate—the accounts of the two corporations. I think that we can say to B.E.A. that, while appreciating its difficulties we ask it not to be too complacent. With the new types of aircraft B.E.A. is now operating we expect better results. I gather that one of the major causes of its losses has been the rapid introduction of almost indiscriminate tourist rates, which meant a reduction of about 8½ per cent. in its revenue.
We do not know how many passengers it carried as a result of the cheaper fares, so it is difficult to marry it up. Nevertheless, I think that B.E.A. may be congratulated because, while it has had to face this new feature and has had an increasing flow of passengers, it has, according to the report, managed to reduce operating costs by 6 per cent. That is a fairly good achievement, but it might well imply that it could still further study the problem with a view to making further reductions.
Another factor of importance to B.E.A. is that it carries mail at a rate much lower than that of B.O.A.C. I do not know why that should be—unless it has something to do with the distance which B.E.A. has to carry the mail—but I should have thought that it might be possible for it to have an equal rate. The result would possibly be considerably to minimise its losses. What we do recognise is it its very great safety record—over 1,600,000 passengers carried without a single accident. That is a very high tribute to the corporation in this past year.
The introduction of new aircraft is expensive, and B.E.A., during the past year or so, has had its share of that. I understand—though this, of course, will be subject to confirmation—that its present position is much more promising than it was at this time last year. In the first six months of this year it has made 109 a net profit approximately three times that made in the similar period last year. That is all very encouraging, but the trouble with B.E.A. is that it loses rather more in the winter than it makes in the summer. We must ask the Minister, with the corporation, to see how far that winter loss may be minimised.
In passing, it is interesting to note that B.E.A. anticipates that its losses next year will be not much more than the Treasury collects in fuel tax, so the question of the cost of fuel tax to the internal airlines might well be examined. It is a matter to which we have constantly drawn attention. It seems to bear very unfairly on the internal, as against the external, operator, who is, of course, not subject to the same cost.
There is a reference in the report to the type of vehicles now being used for carrying passengers by road. Were the vehicles only able to get along as rapidly as would be the case on clear roads we should not hear so much about the time taken in the journey to the airport. Nevertheless, the vehicles are a very good advertisement for B.E.A.—one of the best it has—going through the streets of London. I do not think they are quite so good an advertisement when held up by traffic blocks—a matter which we might ask the Minister, in his other capacity, to investigate.
A good deal has been said about a possible order for American aircraft for B.O.A.C., but that must be looked at in perspective. B.O.A.C. is to be congratulated on not having materially lost passenger traffic because of the grounding of the Comet, but it has had to switch aircraft.
§ Mr. Pargiter
It had to divert aircraft from the British South-American route. It is a fact that it cost approximately £600,000 a year to keep going its establishments in South-America — with nothing coming back. No organisation can view that sort of thing with indifference, and if the Corporation has to wait another two, three or four years for Britannia aircraft it will surely not be blamed if it looks round for other types. Quite apart from its long-term plan, the corporation's urgent need is for more aircraft now.
110 I thought that the telegram which was read out by the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury (Sir R. Perkins) was rather extraordinary. It was to the effect that if B.O.A.C. go on with these negotiations now it is as good as closing the shop as far as the Britannia is concerned. Good heavens, what a record! A company with the proud name of the Bristol Aeroplane Company Limited is so afraid, even of negotiations, that it says that if they go on it is tantamount, so far as that company is concerned, to shutting the shop.
I should hardly have thought that, however bad its straits, the company could scarcely claim that negotiations with America would have that effect. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. It must be borne in mind that, even if B.O.A.C. buy American aircraft, not a single order for the Britannia is likely to be reduced. If the argument is to be that there will be fewer overseas orders, the reply is that, in the long run, overseas people will buy the aircraft that is best for the job. It will not be a question of how or where they are operating; it will only be a question that they will buy the best and safest aircraft with which they can do the job, irrespective of what B.O.A.C. may think.
So we should not be too alarmed by some of these alarmist telegrams from certain quarters. It seems to me that the hon. Member for Stroud and Thornbury and the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) were engaging in some special pleading, because, when we consider the arguments upon which their case was based, we find that they are fallacious. We have been talking about all the changes in the Britannia, but the changes were made necessary because of the delay in introducing the Britannia, and because other aircraft were ahead of it. The first Britannia would not do the job for which B.O.A.C. wanted it—the trans-continental services. Therefore it had to be modified.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. As I said in my speech, the original aircraft ordered was to carry from 32 to 38 passengers, powered with piston engines to B.O.A.C. specification.
§ Mr. Pargiter
That was not the argument. The argument was that, whether it was the type of aircraft which 111 B.O.A.C. wanted or not, it did not conform to the minimum requirements for trans-continental planes. Therefore, changes had to be made, and it was not a question of pressure by B.O.A.C. The aircraft was already out of date, and it had to be altered. There have been subsequent modifications because the aircraft was out of date, and, if they do not get something into the air very soon, it will be still further out of date, and that is the challenge to the Bristol Aeroplane Company.
When we consider the BE 25 against the DC-7D with the RB 109 engine, the BE 25 will in any case be a much later production. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] These are the facts of the case. I am sorry that I cannot give way any more, because I want to leave time for the Minister to reply to the debate.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Gentleman is making wild statements which may do great damage to British industry. He should support his statements with specific facts.
§ Mr. Pargiter
My facts are probably as good as those of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The House itself will decide. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, anyway.
I now want to turn to one or two particular factors regarding the operations of the companies. It might be interesting, in passing, to refer to the fact that the company which was encouraged and pushed into applying for the freight service over the North Atlantic—I say pushed into it advisedly, because it was a very long time applying, and did not apply until B.O.A.C. said that it could not wait any longer—found that it was easily possible to find the necessary dollars to enable it to buy American aircraft to operate the freight service. I wonder that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not get up in righteous indignation on finding out that this private company wanted to buy American aircraft——
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing rose——
§ Mr. Pargiter
I cannot give way. I am speaking of what I understand to be the facts; and dollars are not readily available for B.O.A.C.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Surely the hon. Gentleman will recollect that B.O.A.C. bought very large numbers of American aircraft, and has done so even this year. Throughout almost every year since the war, it has bought both aircraft and spares.
§ Mr. Pargiter
It had to buy the aircraft to keep the routes going. It was a case of force majeure. It had no opportunity to do otherwise, and it bought second-hand aircraft which were to compete with new aircraft which the Americans were operating. The fact that they did it so successfully reflects very great credit upon the corporation.
Incidentally, were the dollars made so readily available to the corporation? As a matter of fact, it had to go to its associated companies in order to use their dollar availability, so that it does not look as if there was very much readiness on the part of the Treasury to offer dollars as far as B.O.A.C. were concerned. If the corporation now has again to purchase American aircraft, which is something in which none of us takes any delight but which is necessary to retain the international traffic which is has won, at least it should be able to say that there are no British aircraft capable of helping it.
There is another point at which I would like to ask the Minister to look. I understand that there are some difficulties in Bermuda in connection with an associated company of B.O.A.C.—British West Indian Airways—which is now operating old aircraft. The proposal is that it should be allowed to use Viscounts, but I understand that the Bermuda people are not taking very kindly to this proposal but are creating some obstruction, because B.O.A.C. wants these aircraft to enable it to get into the profitable American traffic, which it cannot do with its existing aircraft. Will the Minister look into this and, through other channels, smooth out the way for the use of better and more modern aircraft? If so, it will be to the great advantage of British prestige and the corporation's dollar-earning capacity.
I now wish to refer to trooping contracts. We are not asking for first-class Stratocruiser services for troops and their families; we are not even asking for tourist services. What we are asking for is that good aircraft now standing at 113 London Airport, which will provide far more comfortable journeys for our troops and their families, should be used in preference to the continued use of the York aircraft. I am not decrying the York aircraft, but, in comparing the unpressurised York with the Hermes, and even allowing for the higher cost of operation, I cannot see that there is any reason at all why the Services should continue to place orders for trooping with York aircraft when there are Hermes aircraft which could be used.
I think that the present position is disgraceful. If private companies are not prepared to buy the Hermes aircraft and use them, surely, B.O.A.C. ought to be allowed to enter the field and use these planes for this work? Many times in this House we say that only the best is good enough for our troops, and this is a time when we can ask, not for the best or even the second best, but for the third best to be made available for the carriage of our troops and their families overseas.
I therefore ask the Minister seriously to consider this problem. The aircraft are still there, and yet the Service Departments are still placing their contracts while the Hermes aircraft are not being used. As it is obvious that private companies are not going to buy the Hermes aircraft, surely, we must allow the corporation to enter into the trooping contracts field; in fact, it is of vital importance that it should be allowed to do so.
May I now refer to a question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) about Renfrew Airport. This airport is a valuable base, where a very fine maintenance depot with an efficient staff has been built up. We should not regard with any pleasure the prospect of it being closed down. I understand that the private companies are about to form an engineering company to take over the facilities which B.E.A. have established there. This may only be a rumour, but it is certainly in the minds of the men who are working there, because they are saying, "Having built up this organisation here, why get rid of it? Why not let it continue to operate and allow private companies to take their planes there to be serviced, and allow B.E.A. to do the servicing, rather than set up a separate company?"
114 This separate company may be outside the general agreement covering employment in the civil aviation industry, and there could be some difficulty there. It would be an act of bad faith towards the people employed there if the present set-up were abolished and their conditions were thereby worsened. I would ask the Minister to consider this, because it may be a matter of some importance.
We have congratulated the corporations. I hope that those congratulations extend to the whole of the staffs. I am sure they are intended to, but I think it should be made perfectly clear that they are, because the corporations could not have maintained the positions that they have had it not been for the loyal co-operation they have had from their staffs. From what I have seen of members of the staffs I should say that they are all keen on the job, keen to make British civil aviation the best in the world. That they are succeeding so well is indicated by the fact that, notwithstanding our unfortunate experience with the Comet, there has been virtually no falling off in the amount of the trans-Continental traffic that our services carry. That is a matter for congratulation, and I am sure that the Minister will want to pay tribute to the staffs for what they have done.
It is time that we had from the Government a statement on whether the internal air services are to be regarded as a social service, qualifying for subsidy; or whether, alternatively, they are to pay their way. We have had this question of the cost of internal air route operation so long before us that we are entitled now to obtain from the Government a statement of their intentions.
The debate has served a most useful purpose. It has drawn attention to the fact that we have in these two nationalised bodies two of which the country may well be proud. In spite of the attempts that have been made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to whittle away some of the benefits of these nationalised bodies, so that private companies may make profits, it still remains true that the basis of British civil aviation is the two corporations. The attempts made from time to time to take away some part of their profitability are not in their best interests or in the best interests of British civil aviation, and I 115 hope that we may see a reversal of that process. I am one of those who firmly believe in the future of the two nationalised corporations, and I am sure that, irrespective of party, we wish them continued success.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
I agree with the concluding words of the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), that this has been a useful and helpful debate; and one useful not only to the House but to those outside it who are concerned in the very responsible work of managing the corporations, and, indeed, in the wider sphere of British aviation. As I said a fortnight ago in opening a debate of somewhat similar character, I often think that these "take note" debates are among the most useful we have in this House, because they seem to succeed in eliciting a wide variety of useful experience and opinion from both sides of the House which is of very real practical value.
The House may not be aware that this debate has had the rather unusual feature of having been opened by a Member, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who is himself mentioned in one of the reports of which we are asked to take note. Reference is made in the B.E.A.C's. Report of the Viscount flight to New Zealand, in which my hon. Friend participated. He, therefore, had the somewhat unusual experience of asking the House to take note of a report which referred to himself. It is characteristic of his modesty that he did not mention it.
I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) for his very agreeable personal references, and I agree with him and with the hon. Member for Southall that it is proper to pay a very high tribute to the management and staffs of all grades and levels of the corporations in respect of the work of the year to which these reports relate. It is perfectly true, as the hon. Member for Southall said, that the not inconsiderable achievements of both the corporations could not have been made had they not been loyally served from top to bottom by extremely keen and efficient staffs. We are conscious of the fact that (as the hon. Member for Uxbridge himself said, these corporations are exposed to very direct and intense commercial competition.
116 I was grateful to the hon. Member for Uxbridge for his reference to the Gatwick project, and because he was good enough to make it clear that, though the matter was considered for a very considerable length of time, it was wholly unfair to suggest that anybody concerned in it was acting in a prejudiced or obscurantist way, or indeed had any other concern than to do the right thing in what was a rather difficult situation. I realise that a Surrey Member can be acquitted of any particular prejudice in the matter, at any rate in the direction in which it fell to me finally to take the decision.
I was grateful in this context to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black), whose speech I missed, but which was reported to me, with his usual accuracy, by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I very much appreciate, and I think the House appreciates, the attitude he indicated was being taken by the Surrey County Council in most properly, and in the exercise of its undoubted rights, expressing its views at the formative stage, and I think the attitude which, as my hon. Friend indicated, it is now adopting is exactly what one would expect of a local authority of its very high standing and repute.
As I have mentioned Gatwick, let me now deal with my hon. Friend's reference to the difficulties of the people living near the proposed airport. In particular, he asked us to proceed expeditiously with the proposals outlined in the White Paper. Now that the decision has been taken, we shall certainly do our best to proceed as speedily as possible. I fully appreciate the uncertainty, which he voiced, which must hang over the people immediately concerned until precise and detailed proposals are known to them.
I propose to deal as speedily as I can with a number of the very large number of individual points which have been put before I return to one or two of what, I hope without discourtesy to the others, I can describe as the major issues arising in this debate. I ought, however, at this stage to make it clear that, as the House will appreciate, the considerable number of questions which have been raised with respect to the production of aircraft and the activities of the British aircraft industry, and the encouragement to be given to various types of aircraft, are, of course, matters within the responsibility of the Minister of Supply.
117 As the House will have seen, my right hon. and learned Friend has been present throughout the greater part of the debate, and all who know him will also know that, with his usual keenness of mind, he has taken note of the points that have been made. I say this only because it may otherwise seem discourteous if I do not deal with some of the points that have been put; but, as they fall in my right hon. and learned Friend's responsibility, I think it would be better if I left it in this way, that my right hon. and learned Friend has paid attention to what has been said and, I have no doubt, has been suitably impressed.
Let me deal with some of the individual issues. I take first the point which was raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge about the aerodrome at Kuwait. The hon. Member asked what was the position about the maintenance of that airport. Kuwait being a protected territory under the Chicago Convention, the maintenance of the airport is the responsibility of this country. It costs, by way of maintenance, £25,000 a year, £15,000 of which is reimbursed in landing fees.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I have not those figures with me, but, if they are available, I will see that they are furnished to the hon. Gentleman. I understood that he was inquiring about the present costs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) referred to the better relations which, as indeed appears from the reports, now exist between the corporations and the independent operators. Whatever view hon. Members may take of the proper distribution of work between the corporations and the independent operators, I have no doubt whatever that all hon. Members will agree that these improved relations are a satisfactory feature. They indicate a better atmosphere, which must make for more efficient working for British aviation generally. It is very much to the credit of all concerned that those relations should have been so substantially improved in a quite limited space of time.
The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) thought he was 118 going out of order by referring to certain matters which were the responsibility of my Department and not of the corporation. In fact, the hon. Member had the rather unusual experience of being more in order than he thought—my experience is always the other way round, I admit—because the buses to which he referred are operated by the corporations and are therefore fully within the ambit of the report.
I was interested in what the hon. Member said about buses outside the corporations' control—Green Line—and if I do not myself stray out of order at this point, I should like to tell him that I have taken note of it and will see whether anything can be done about it. I agree with him that it is extremely important that, when people have flown to London Airport at high speed, they should not squander some of the time which they have gained by an undue delay because of the arrangements on the airport and between the airport and the centre of the city. I am grateful to the hon. Member for having brought out the point as clearly as he did.
The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) raised, not for the first time between himself and myself, the question of the provision of Customs facilities, in particular at Greatham Airport. I am sure all hon. Members will appreciate the pertinacity, not to say from time to time the pugnacity, with which he has fought this matter, and I am sure that, had pertinacity and pugnacity been capable of achieving success, he would have achieved it.
He was, however, perhaps a little less than fair to the point of view which it used to be my duty to put to him. The point in respect to the provision of Customs facilities is this: not whether, as a matter of fact, it is possible to provide those facilities at a particular place at a particular time without undue expenditure, but whether the whole general system of providing Customs facilities at airports, or for that matter at seaports, should be fair as between one airport or seaport and another; and unless some general standard of qualification for the provision of those facilities is laid down and adhered to, the hon. Member will, I think, appreciate that there will be unfairness in respect of what is quite a valuable monetary consideration between one airport and another.
§ Mr. D. Jones
That is precisely the point I am trying to make. This rigid pattern is applied to the country, irrespective of the circumstances, and there is far greater hardship in some parts of the country than in others. The whole of the North-East has one airport with Customs facilities. On Tees-side, within 20 miles of Greatham Airport, three-quarters of a million people are living. Two of the biggest industrial concerns in the country axe within five miles of the airport. When he was Financial Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that the only way in which people could travel from Tees-side to somewhere outside these islands was to fly 40 miles to the north, come down for Customs facilities, and then take off and fly 40 miles back again before starting on their legitimate journey. That seems to be completely out of keeping with modern trends. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to develop the air traffic of this country, he should get the Treasury to look into this matter again.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Member is well up to form on the subject. Let me take his point: in the first place, he brushes aside the question of equity and fairness in the provision of financially valuable facilities. I cannot do that. Secondly, he somewhat understated the suggestion which was made at the time, which was that aircraft could either go to the Customs facilities at Woolsington or, if southbound, could call at Northolt, which was then open.
The third point, which the hon. Member overlooks, is the very low level of foreign-going traffic operating from Greatham while the facilities were provided and the fact that these facilities were provided on the clear understanding that it was to be as an experiment to see whether the traffic was adequate.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) raised, as one would expect from them, a number of Scottish issues. They both referred to the B.E.A. maintenance base at Renfrew. The hon. Member for Tradeston, part of whose speech I was sorry to miss—I know he will acquit me of any discourtesy—suggested the appointment of a further assessor. As he will appreciate, 120 in the first place this is a matter for the commercial management of B.E.A.
The hon. Member will no doubt recall that when B.E.A. decided on the appointment of an assessor, they suggested that he should be jointly appointed by them and the trade unions concerned, but the trade unions concerned felt unable to agree to that. In the circumstances, I very much doubt whether it would be useful to suggest to B.E.A. the appointment of a further assessor, particularly as the assessor appointed was a very distinguished Edinburgh accountant whose professional skill and complete impartiality are, I think, beyond dispute.
§ Mr. Rankin
I do not think there was any dispute about the need for an assessor. The dispute resolved itself around the terms of reference which were to be given to the proposed independent assessor, and on that the negotiations broke down. Will the right hon. Gentleman look into that point?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Of course, I will look into any point which the hon. Member puts to me. The terms of reference were to investigate whether the figures of economies which B.E.A. thought they would obtain were well-founded or not. I think the matter was a dispute between them and certain of the Scottish trade unions.
I will certainly look at any figure which the hon. Member is prepared to send to me, and perhaps I should say that I have agreed that, before any decision is taken, I will see representatives of the Scottish T.U.C. and other Scottish bodies. I have suggested to them that it might be convenient if we met at Renfrew on 26th November. In the circumstances, the hon. Member will understand it if I do not say more on that subject.
Apart from this subject, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll dealt with the possibility of using helicopters in the Highlands and Islands. The helicopter could clearly serve a useful purpose, but the difficulty in using it at the moment is that there is no satisfactory twin-engined model available, and there are certain difficulties about using a single-engined model in these circumstances. As the Parliamentary Secretary pointed out earlier in the debate, helicopter operation is not inexpensive, and 121 fares might prove to be higher than if the proposed twin Pionair were developed and used in a similar manner.
§ Major McCallum
This summer a single-engined helicopter flew the whole length of Scotland, even as far as Shetland, and took some officials to Fair Isle. A single-engined helicopter therefore can be operated, and I cannot understand why it is always suggested that it would come down.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I do not suggest that it will, always come down. I flew in one this summer and it did not come down—until it descended in the normal course of events. Perhaps that is a tribute to its load-carrying capacity.
I am saying that for the development of passenger operations there is a good body of opinion which, for the helicopter as for winged aircraft, has a preference for twin engines, for the obvious reason that if one engine fails there is another to keep one up. There is also the factor of expense to be faced, and helicopter operation, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary indicated in giving the approximate fares for the fairly short run which he quoted, is a not inexpensive matter.
I now turn from these admittedly important matters to one of two which featured more generally in the course of the debate. There was reference by a number of hon. Members who were understandably anxious about the possibility that B.O.A.C. might find it necessary to equip itself with a number of future American aircraft. As one hon. Member opposite said, whichever way one looks at it, this is a matter of "serious decision."
There are extremely important considerations on either side. There is the need for B.O.A.C. to secure that it is properly and competitively equipped. That is a matter which naturally and properly looms very large in the minds of those responsible for operating a great trading corporation. There is equally the natural concern of those in a very great industry as to the effect of such a decision on the prospect and future of that industry and on this country's leading long-distance airline.
No decision on this matter has been taken, and I can only say that I have listened to the very widely-conflicting 122 views which have been expressed this afternoon. One hon. Member asked that the decision should be taken, and that when it was taken the widest considerations should be borne in mind, and clearly that will have to be so. I think that it would be wrong for me, having made clear to the House how important are the considerations on both sides, to start committing myself to opinions which perhaps, I ought not lightly to express at this moment.
I think that the House will understand and forgive me if I do not seek to follow the arguments which may be deployed for and against this course by a number of hon. Members, all of whom, I am sure, are concerned, as we are, to secure in this difficult but important matter that a decision will be taken which is in the highest interests of aviation in this country.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House when the decision will be taken, because there is great suspense hanging over the heads of everyone concerned?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I would not like to tie myself to a date on a matter on which there will have to be a good deal of consideration and consultation, but my hon. and gallant Friend is quite right in saying that uncertainty in this matter is harmful, and no one is more conscious of that than I am.
A good deal of discussion was aroused about what can be done to accelerate development of the Britannia. As I have explained, the development of aircraft is financially the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Supply, but it may perhaps be of some reassurance to the House if I remind hon. Members of certain words spoken by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) a few days ago at the inquiry proceeding at Church House. In the course of a statement which, as he indicated, he had been authorised to make, he said:As you have heard, the whole of the country's technical resources can already be made available to the Board"—that is the Air Registration Board—on the problems facing the aircraft designers and the Board.He indicated that the resources of information and knowledge available in this country would be fully deployed in 123 connection with the testing of new aircraft, and it may be that in this way we shall be able to meet the apprehensions which some hon. Members expressed as to the future development of these aircraft.
It is also fair to say that B.O.A.C. has taken considerable part in flying tests and has been very helpful in this matter. Obviously, everyone concerned—there can be no clash of views as to this—is anxious that these aircraft and all other new types should be successfully developed as quickly as they safely can be.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)
Can my right hon. Friend say whether, when tank tests are made for ensuring the reliability of the pressurised cabins of British aircraft, the same tests will also be made in respect of American pressurised aircraft, because there have been some disappearances over the Atlantic and elsewhere of the latest pressurised American aircraft, and it would seem wrong that British aircraft should be subjected to very severe tests if American aircraft are not subjected to the same tests?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Clearly I cannot permit myself to answer that one, particularly when consultation is to take place between the two countries as to the appropriate tests to be applied to each other's aircraft.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Will the Minister not say that a certificate of air-worthiness will be required to apply equally in both cases?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I went out of my way to say that, as this is a matter which has to be discussed between the two countries—and we have interests both ways—I had better not comment.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge asked me what we proposed to do about the financial position of B.E.A.C. in particular.
§ Mr. Beswick
Would the right hon. Gentleman say something about the financial cost to the corporation of those Cornet aircraft which it has taken and which it cannot use?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I cannot say something about a matter which is, in the first place, a matter of the relative rights 124 and responsibilities of important commercial bodies. It is not for me to lay down the law on a matter of that sort. As regards the position of the finances of B.E.A.C, the hon. Member for Uxbridge, having drawn attention to the deficit last year, asked, with some firmness, what we proposed to about it, and he indicated—and I agree with him—that this is a matter of very considerable concern, and that it is, of course, important both that public funds should be preserved so far as possible and that the corporation should be put in a position in which it can operate with increasing solvency.
I feel a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said as to the financial yardstick being one of the tests. I think that there is a great deal of force in what he said. Naturally, we have not been unconcerned about the matter and there are several ways in which I think the position will be improved. In the first place, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it is hoped that the increase in the tourist fares on the overseas services will bring in some £400,000 extra.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the internal fares. I am inclined to agree with him that some of these are on the low side, and it may be that some adjustment in that direction might give some financial relief. As the House will appreciate, forecasts are always subject to reservations, but it looks as if the deficit in the current year will be broadly £1 million as against £1¾ million during the past year, which would certainly show a very substantial improvement.
As regards the future, it is, of course, a fact, as stated in this debate more than once, that the losses are largely, if not wholly, due to the operations of the short-haul internal services. Development of new aircraft may very well help to mitigate that. I am thinking again of that helpful development at Prestwick—the Twin Pioneer—and in due course we may have to look at these internal services to see how economically they can be operated.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge suggested, as did several other hon. Members, that it would be better if, instead of there being a general deficit partly resulting from the operation of these internal services, a special subsidy should be given calculated to cover them, rather on an analogy, I gathered, of the payments 125 made to MacBrayne's. Whatever the merits of that, it is not possible under the Act. Under the Act, which hon. Members opposite themselves passed in 1946, it is clear that there can be only one open subsidy in respect of the deficit, and special payments of that sort are not permitted. Therefore, under present legislation, it is not possible for us in any way to follow up that suggestion, although, as my hon. Friend was good enough to say, it was an interesting suggestion.
The hon. Member referred to trooping. Under the previous Government, trooping was regarded as being largely a matter for the independents. It is, of course, in the charter field, which was laid down by the former Government as an appropriate sphere for the activity of the independents.
§ Mr. Beswick
The right hon. Gentleman is now saying—presumably he has been told to say it—something that is quite inaccurate. It was never the policy under the previous Government to prevent the corporations from tendering for air trooping contracts. Under the present Administration, they are not allowed even to tender. That is the situation which we thought to be entirely wrong.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Had the hon. Member allowed me to finish, he would have found that there was little disagreement between us. Let us take it by stages. In the first place, the hon. Gentleman will agree that under the previous Government charter work was regarded as being a proper field for the independents. Trooping is charter work.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
In my view, it clearly is. On that point we must, therefore, differ. Under the present Government it is possible for the corporations to tender for individual trooping trips. Therefore, it is not right for the hon. Member to say that the corporations are barred.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
What the corporations are barred from is the long-term arrangements, because it was under 126 stood that they would not maintain aircraft kept available for this purpose. I am not saying that the policies of the two Governments are the same, because I think that ours is the better. What I am saying is that it is a development of the policy for which the hon. Gentleman was, in part, responsible.
The proof of the pudding is, however, in the eating. In this respect, as in others, our policy has been to help both the independents and the corporations to develop and expand, and the figures show that that has worked. In load ton miles, the independents very nearly doubled their traffic over the previous year, and at the same time B.O.A.C. increased by 6.3 per cent. and B.E.A. by 23.1 per cent. Therefore, it is hardly correct to say that our policy, whether in respect of trooping or charter work generally, has been hampering or detrimental to the corporations. On the contrary, the greater freedom has resulted in an overall increase in traffic, which has been to the benefit of British aviation generally.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not suggest that this is an industry in which the traffic would not increase anyway. It is a growing industry, as the motor industry was in the 1920's, and still is.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Had the right hon. Gentleman followed the argument, he would have appreciated that I was referring to an observation by one of his hon. Friends, who said that the corporations had been hampered by this policy.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It is not a bad bit of hampering, as far as B.E.A. is concerned, to increase its traffic by 23.1 per cent.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
We will come to that.
Let us consider the question of traffic. The only way that competition with independents can hamper the corporations is by taking their traffic away from them. It therefore is clear that if the traffic of all bodies concerned has increased, it is not right to say that they have been hampered. On the contrary, the greater freedom all round has been of benefit 127 all round. It has been of benefit particularly to British aviation generally, to the travelling public and to those who desire to send freight by air.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with my question about the desirability of using better aircraft for trooping and the use of the Hermes rather than the continued use of the York?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I have not overlooked that point, but let me finish this one first. Our view is that the balance that we have kept between the corporations and the independents has been of benefit to both; and the figures demonstrate that.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Is the right hon. Gentleman not arguing that the corporations could have had a much larger share of the increasing traffic but were kept out of that larger share, which they could have had on their competitive capacity, and that the traffic has been given instead to people who would make a private profit out of public needs?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman refers to those who operate independent air services as making a profit out of public needs. That is a rhetorical phrase which he might find agreeable on the platform, but it is hardly worthy of him before the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
We are at a point of fundamental disagreement between the two sides of the House. Whereas right hon. and hon. Members opposite sincerely believe in restriction and monopoly—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—I and my hon. Friends believe in greater expansion. That is really the difference between us.
The hon. Member for Southall pressed me to answer his question about the type 128 of aircraft used for trooping. As he knows, the selection of operators for air trooping contracts is the responsibility of my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Air. It is, however, the fact that a good many trooping contracts are operated with the Hermes aircraft, whose suitability for the purpose the hon. Member himself announced. I agree that we should like to see as high a standard as possible in the aircraft used for trooping purposes.
It is, of course, fair to say that the York aircraft, to which the hon. Member referred, has a very good record for reliability and has carried a very large number of men in safety. I should not like anything that the hon. Member said—I am sure he did not intend it—in the debate this afternoon to cause any apprehension to those or their families who happen to travel in that type of very reliable aircraft. But it is, of course, the fact—perhaps here I stray a little from my own sphere—that from every point of view it is desirable that there should be a reserve of high grade aircraft for this purpose, which would be extremely useful in any emergency.
I have tried to answer a good many of the points which have been put in the debate. To sum up, the reports show that despite the difficulties which B.O.A.C. in particular encountered in the course of the year, both corporations have been operated and managed with resource and skill, and that looking back at the report for the last year, one need not be quite so gloomy as one or two hon. Members have been as to the future. I believe that under the vigorous management which they enjoy, these corporations will continue to give us good service.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Reports and Accounts of the British Overseas Airways Corporation and the British European Airways Corporation for the year ended 31st March, 1954.