§ 4.47 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Profumo)
I beg to move,That this House, in reviewing the progress of civil aviation, 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, 1955.I much regret that so much time which would otherwise have been devoted to this important subject has already been taken up, and I hope not to take too much of the time of the House. Hon. Members will, however, probably expect to hear something from me on this occasion about the civil air transport industry, which is, as we all know, highly complicated and technical.
There must be many people whose knowledge of, or interest in, the industry goes no further than the fact that aircraft make an unholy din and seem to devour an ever-increasing proportion of our small island for their bases, which cost vast sums of money, to which the taxpayer has to contribute without any great apparent return. Thus, it may be well if I say something about the contribution which this young and vigorous industry is making to our national economy, to our security and to our international prestige. Then, perhaps we might take a look into the future.
Nowadays, no great nation can be without its own civil air transport industry. First, it provides a speedy means of transport, both domestic and international, which is essential to Government and commerce alike. In the year ended 1st September last, United Kingdom airlines flew 66 million miles and carried 2,900,000 passengers and 103,000 tons of freight on regular services. The industry provides a considerable revenue to our national income. In the year under review, the Corporations earned a net surplus of foreign currency of £7½ million on revenue account.
Perhaps one can give a more striking indication by calculating the effect of discontinuing all international services of United Kingdom airlines. Allowing for the fact that British passengers would 1877 have to use foreign airlines, the net result would be a worsening in the United Kingdom balance of payments of about £35 million. The industry provides a strategic air reserve both of aircraft and of aircrew ready trained in case of emergency. There are approximately 150 four-engined aircraft and 200 twin-engined aircraft operating with United Kingdom airline companies at this moment, and 1,748 pilots in addition to 1,061 other operating crews.
The industry is playing an ever-increasing part in the movement of troops and their families, and is beginning to bring those serving in countries overseas nearer, in time at any rate, to their homes and families. Last year independent companies carried 214,600 troops and members of their families all over the world. That was an increase of 44 per cent. over the previous year. Incidentally, only a short time ago the Royal Navy used civil air transport for the first time in naval history to re-commission a whole cruiser in the Far East. Finally, the industry provides a home market and shop window, if one wants to call it that, for British-manufactured civil aircraft.
I believe, if there is time that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, a little later, but it would be well if I mentioned B.O.A.C's position in regard to the Vickers V.C. 7, the civil version of the V-1000. There have been some suggestions that B.O.A.C. cancelled its order for the V.C. 7. That is quite incorrect. The Corporation never even placed an order for this aircraft. It is true that it displayed an interest in them, as it would display an interest in any advanced type of British aircraft.
Perhaps I might remind hon. Members that at the time about which I am speaking no one was in a position to count on the future of the Comet series. Even so, no order was placed, and therefore no question of cancellation arises. I will revert to this question again when I refer to future aircraft a little later.
It is encouraging to see that in the case of both Corporations, the total output per employee has increased. A most notable aspect of the B.E.A. Report is that for the first time the Corporation achieved a profit from its operation, admittedly only a small profit. but nevertheless it still represents a very great improvement 1878 on the previous year, when there was a loss of more than £1,750,000. In no small measure this improvement is due to increasing the work done and the revenue earned, without a corresponding increase in expenditure.
The B.O.A.C. story, of course, is one of struggle against sudden adversity when faced with the withdrawal of the Comets from service at the very beginning of the year. Deprived by this catastrophe of one-fifth of the capacity which it planned to provide, the Corporation faced the challenge with skill and fortitude. In giving full credit to B.O.A.C., one should also make reference to the help which it received from its Commonwealth partners, Quantas Empire Airways and South African Airways, in maintaining capacity on the Australian and South African routes. This was an outstanding demonstration of the value of those partnerships which we in this country acknowledge with deep and sincere gratitude.
The longer-term tasks of making good the loss in aircraft capacity and restoring the Corporation's competitive position have been tackled with equal determination which is already beginning to show results. I think that the House would wish to join me in an expression of admiration and appreciation to the Chairmen of both Corporations, their Boards and every man in the organisations.
How is the industry as a whole progressing and expanding, for there is the growing independent side of it to take into account? Of course, my right hon. Friend does not have, nor does he expect to have, the same detailed information about the financial results of the independent companies as is available in respect of the Airways Corporations, but, so far as we can judge, they too, on the whole, have had a successful year, during which they have continued to expand their fleets and their operations.
All their activities have in fact increased, as compared with the previous year, by percentages even greater than those of the Corporations. Independent companies are now tending to concentrate more and more on regular operations, including both scheduled services and regular air trooping, which is carried out wholly by the independent companies. These together now constitute a large part of their total activities.
1879 Air trooping has continued to increase throughout the past year as more aircraft, some of them of more modern types, have been employed on this work. It now accounts for about 67 per cent. of the total operations of the independent companies, and has increased about three and a half times both in passenger mileage and in freight ton-miles since 1951–52.
The independent companies have also taken full advantage of the increased opportunities made available to them since 1952 to operate scheduled services as associates of the Airways Corporations. Under the law as it at present stands, the existing networks of the Corporations are fully protected, and this inevitably places some limit on the opportunities available to the independent companies. Even so, as the recent report of the British Independent Air Transport Association shows, they have been able to make a substantial contribution to the provision of scheduled services over the last few years. Since 1952–53, when the new policy was introduced, the independent companies have been able to increase their operations on scheduled services threefold.
It was with great regret that my right hon. Friend and I learned of the decision of Airwork to suspend its all-freight service across the Atlantic. The mounting and launching of an operation of that magnitude is in itself a notable achievement, and its commercial decision to cease operations, as I am sure all hon. Members will agree, is no measure of the praise which it deserves for its courage and its enterprise. Let us hope that the use of the word "suspend" in its announcement may be well justified. Her Majesty's Government wish this company and its colleagues in the independent field good fortune in the future, for we wish to see them prosper and endure as a permanent feature of our national effort.
When considering the expansion of aviation, it would be wrong to overlook its effect on our domestic transport system. Although the amount of traffic on domestic routes is increasing, it is of course still small. Last year there were perhaps 1 million passengers carried by air, as compared with more than 16,000 million by road and nearly 1,000 million by rail. At the same time, we are beginning to see cities like Newcastle, Leeds and Cardiff becoming the centres of local networks, and the fact that it is now pos- 1880 sible to come from Scotland to London to do a day's business and get back again without sleeping away from home, illustrates the contribution which aviation is already making to our domestic standards.
May I revert to the question of aircraft, but this time aircraft for the future? In close co-operation with B.E.A., the firm of Vickers-Armstrong is now producing a larger version of the Viscount, to be known as the Viscount Major, or V-800, with improved Dart engines. B.E.A. has ordered twenty-two of these aircraft, the first of which should be delivered towards the end of next year. My right hon. Friend has recently agreed to the Corporation ordering a further sixteen. The Corporation has already made plans, in conjunction with Vickers, for a successor to the Viscount Major, which, as the House will know, is to be known as the Vanguard. Within the last week my right hon. Friend has approved B.E.A.'s proposal to order twenty of these Vanguards. The Corporation's fleet requirements for the future should, therefore, be adequately safeguarded. It is most satisfactory that it has been able to meet its future requirements wholly with British aircraft.
B.O.A.C.'s competitive position should continue to improve until it is fully restored, as aircraft now on order are progressively delivered and introduced into service. These include fifteen Britannia 100s; seven Britannia 300s; eleven Britannia long range; ten D.C.7.C.s and nineteen Comet IVs. Incidentally, we wish this latter great British venture and its operation well indeed.
B.O.A.C.'s future plans, therefore, are based on a combination of the different marks of the Britannia and the Comet IV. The Britannia will be flying on the Empire routes and on the North Atlantic as the main type of turbo-prop aircraft, and B.O.A.C. is confident that the Comet IV will be the first turbo-jet aeroplane in regular international passenger service. The Corporation believes that with these two types it will be able to compete with foreign operators for many years to come, and having decided upon this plan of re-equipment, it does not feel that it has any requirement which would justify an order, involving very heavy expenditure, for the V.C.7.s.
I make one observation about the future generation of civil aircraft. In the 1881 interests of us all the time has certainly arrived when manufacturers must bend the genius of designers and scientists alike to the end that a new generation of civil aircraft shall achieve a practicable medium between greater speed on the one hand and shorter distances of landing and take-off and less noisy characteristics on the other. It seems to me that we humans whom these machines serve have a right to demand this.
I now wish to say a few words about London Airport, to which the B.E.A. Report rightly refers asa worthy and imposing gateway to the United Kingdom.It has been suitably honoured by Her Majesty's gracious action in performing, last Friday, the official opening ceremony. All who have any responsibility for this great airport fully appreciate that it is not enough that it should look well, it has to function well also. Not unnaturally, there have been initial teething troubles, but the aerodrome is now functioning with anticipated efficiency, and much credit is due to Air Marshal Sir John D'Albiac and to his staff.
There are two measures which have been taken still further to improve arrangements at London Airport. First, it has been decided to retain a firm of industrial consultants to examine the apron organisation and to recommend whether any improvements can be made in its handling of aircraft. The firm to be appointed has not yet been chosen. Secondly, my right hon. Friend has asked the Air Transport Advisory Council to examine the factors which determine the time spent by passengers at airports, with a view to its reduction.
§ Mr. Robson Brown (Esher)
Has any decision been made to eliminate the iniquitous charge on passengers using the airport?
§ Mr. Profumo
Perhaps my hon. Friend would look at the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates on that matter.
I cannot say what the Air Transport Advisory Council will do. The matter of the time spent at airports is what has been referred to it by my hon. Friend. In due course it will report, and then I have no doubt that it will be possible to make public the Report.
My right hon. Friend welcomes the comprehensive Report of the Select Com- 1882 mittee on Estimates to which I have referred. The recommendations of the Committee will be studied as a matter of urgency, and our detailed comments will be offered in due course. Generally speaking, it seems as though the minds of the Committee and of members of my Department have been working along similar lines. For some time it has been our policy to encourage municipalities to take a share in the development and maintenance of their local airports.
The State cannot entirely dissociate Itself from the provision of necessary amenities at our main airports, which is referred to in the Report—and surely the provision of these amenities is one of the best ways of attracting traffic—but the House may like to know that we are already engaged in the preliminary examination of the feasability of attracting private enterprise to construct and, later, to operate a great multi-storey garage, service station and car-hire service in the central area of London Airport.
Both the Corporations have suffered great losses as a result of the acceptance of other appointments by Mr. Whitney Straight and Mr. Peter Masefield. They gave service to the industry which deserves due gratitude from the nation. It is at least a happy augury that one has gone from B.E.A. to a firm which is engaged in helping forward projects for B.O.A.C. and the other has gone from B.O.A.C. to produce engines destined for B.E.A. Their places are difficult to fill, but hon. Members will have noticed that in the case of B.E.A. the present arrangements have particularly been referred to as "temporary"; in the case of B.O.A.C. the Act permits of two deputy-chairmen. So far, only one has been appointed. It is of the greatest importance, as I know hon. Members will agree, to select the right man for the job, and I think it will be generally agreed that it would be wrong to be over-hasty.
Airlines are not made only by senior executives. Perhaps the greatest selling point of our British lines is still the quality and dependability of our aircrew. However miraculous may be the aircraft provided, it is to their skill and prowess that we entrust ourselves aloft in the great unknown elements of the skyways. The more the science of aviation develops, the more complicated and dextrous become the responsibilities of these men and the 1883 higher the order of the qualifications required at moments of grave, split-second decision. We cannot pay these men too high a tribute, and I personally count it among my greatest privileges to have had the good fortune to have made so many firm friends among their number.
While the relationship which aircrew enjoy with management must continue to be a matter of constant consideration by the boards of the various companies, a working party under the chairmanship of Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill has been considering, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, the need for more closely controlling the duty, flying and rest periods of aircrew. Its examination of the problem has shown that it is both complex and highly variable in different circumstances and with different people. For that reason my right hon. Friend has decided that detailed responsibility should continue to rest with airline operators, who alone have the intimate knowledge of conditions of each flight and of the personnel concerned. However, without in any way reducing this responsibility, my right hon. Friend proposes, in the interests of safety, to lay down rather more detailed regulations than exist at present. These will be laid before Parliament early in the New Year.
We are nearing the end of the calendar year, and the shape of the next Corporation reports and accounts is already far advanced. The satisfactory nature of these, and indeed, of the future of the whole industry, depends to a considerable degree on the stability of the industry itself and on its ability and the ability of the companies concerned—State-owned and private alike—to be able to plan ahead with reasonable certainty of continuity. It depends also on a high degree of co-operation among its own members against foreign competition. I have long believed that it would be of considerable value to the industry if there could come into being a Chamber of Air Transport and I am sure that it will come in the long run. From my point of view, the sooner the better.
Governments have, of course, a considerable responsibility in all this, and I think that the policy of Her Majesty's Government is clear beyond doubt. We shall always wish to support and further 1884 the Corporations. Every country must have its chosen national flag carriers, assisted to the necessary degree by the State, but, I submit, assisted only to the extent which is wholly necessary in the interests of all concerned. We believe just as much that there must be, and continue to be, a strong, thriving, independent section of the industry, taking its share of world trade, offering a measure of competition and playing a real part in the ordered development of civil air transport.
It may be as well, even at the risk of detaining the House for a few moments more, if I remind hon. Members of the words we used regarding civil aviation in our Election manifesto—it is quite short, and it is worth while hon. Members listening, because when we write something in a manifesto, we keep our promise:Air transport gives us new highways. Experience has shown that a blend of public and private enterprise is best for this service. Close co-operation with shipping can often be of great value. The Airways Corporations will continue to have an important role; we shall ensure that their relationships with independent operators are developed in the interests of traveller, trader and taxpayer.To the extent to which the companies concerned, not forgetting the great shipping interests, can help to shape this end by freely conceived co-operation, so much the better. But there should be no doubt about the Government's long-term intentions. In the interests of the industry it is essential that aviation policy should transcend party differences, and I firmly believe we can arrive at a pattern for development which will remain unchanged even if—as I venture to suggest is unlikely—Governments change.
With these considerations in view, and the lateness of the hour in view, but, at any rate with these thoughts in mind, I commend to the House the current Reports and Accounts of the two Corporations.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
I am sure that, on their behalf, my hon. Friends would like me to thank the Joint Parliamentary Secretary both for the agreeable manner in which he moved the Motion and for the modest share he has taken of the shortened time we have at our disposal. As it is getting near Christmas, I take this opportunity of thanking 1885 the hon. Member for the courtesy which he has extended throughout the year to other hon. Members and to myself when dealing with the routine problems which crop up. I am especially grateful because, as London Airport is within my constituency, I seem to have had more than my share of those routine problems.
I think we would all agree with a good deal of what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has said. It is with what he has not said that I am going to have most to say this afternoon. Before I go on to the main burden of my remarks, I should like to say this much about London Airport: I was interested to hear what he had to say about the studies which are to take place in the centre of London Airport, but I wonder if a suitable and adequate proportion of all the time and energies of his Department—the transport side as well as the civil aviation side—is being devoted to the problems of getting people out to the Airport, especially along the Bath Road, immediately leading to the airport. It seems to me that we shall run into very severe difficulties there, and no matter how well laid are our plans for speedy air travel, they can easily be thwarted if we are unable to get along the road leading to the airport.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have been pleased to hear the account which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was able to give us of the development and expansion of civil air transport. It is not simply a matter of carrying people. I was interested to see that the B.O.A.C. Report talks of cargoes of elephants, fish, reptiles, young lions and radio-active isotopes. All over the world today the productivity of mankind is being increased by crop spraying, topsoil dressing, aerial surveying and the fertilisation of grain—all done from the air. Only a few weeks ago I saw something of the aerial survey of pants of our country, using the method of the extended photographic strip films, miles long—part of the method which, I understand, President Eisenhower seems to think we can develop for the purpose of an effective international safety patrol as part of the arms control. I ought to declare an interest here, because I am concerned in the firm which has had something to do with that work.
The Parliamentary Secretary gave us some figures about British air traffic. 1886 Amongst the most interesting increases are those connected with inclusive tours. According to the latest A.T.A.C. Report, the number of passengers carried went up from 7,750 to 23,400 in the following year, and 31,000 cars, 7,500 motor cycles and 5,000 cycles were lifted over the Channel within one year. Much of this traffic is done by people who have never travelled before. We are tapping a new field of air passengers—all part of the process of air-mindedness—and I think that the current year's figures will show probably as much as 100 per cent. increase in some cases.
At a recent function which the Minister will remember, the Chairman of B.I.A.T. said that he thought that civil aviation had now reached a certain settled state of adult life. I doubt that. I wonder whether it has even reached its adolescence. Indeed, history may well show that now was the time when civil aviation was just getting out of its swaddling clothes. Our job is to see that Britain pulls her weight and provides her share of the world's increased air services. If a comparatively small country like ours is to occupy a major rôle in the world of the future I am certain that we should concentrate both upon the operation of air services and the manufacture of aircraft.
The operating side of the industry, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, has worked under a national policy. There has been talk that the Government intend to change the policy laid down in the Civil Aviation Act. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary did not deny that such a possibility lies ahead; indeed he referred tothe law as it at present stands.What did he mean by that? I agree with him that we all want a policy which is broadly acceptable to both sides, and which does not lead to industrial changes following political changes. We do not want to repeat in this industry the sort of story which has already been written in the steel industry, a further chapter of which will be written when the Labour Party resumes power.
Let us look a little closer into the present position of the respective fields of the State Corporations and the private, independent operators. By the end of the second Labour Government we had 1887 developed the policy of associated agreements, under which independent operators could operate services complementary to the Corporations. We had encouraged the independent operators to go in for air trooping, and considerable contracts had been awarded them. It was agreed that the Corporations should not keep aircraft specially for charter work; that field was to be open to the independent operators—although the Corporations were not forbidden to tender when it was convenient for them to do so in the utilisation of their aircraft.
Every assistance was given to the specialised vehicle ferry services, and I recall that, with the Minister's approval, I went out of my way to help the one company which was operating flying boats, because it seemed important that some experience in that field should be maintained. In addition, there was the question of freight. It seemed to us that air tramping was a function peculiarly suited to the independent operator.
The first Conservative Government laid it down that the Corporations should not tender at all for long-term trooping contracts; apart from existing services, they were to leave all-freight routes to independent operators. B.O.A.C. was required to keep off the North Atlantic, and it handed over its existing all-freight service to Singapore to an independent operator.
There were aspects of that policy with which we disagreed, and which we contested, but it can be said that it has allowed both the independents and the Corporations to develop. Now, however, there is this talk of a further change in the Civil Aviation Act. There has been a good deal of pressure in this matter. The shipping interests—Furness Withy in the Airwork; the Clan Line in Huntings, and the P. and O. in Britavia—have been naturally concerned at the increasing competition from the air, and want their respective air companies to get more of what is going.
I asked the Minister about proposals from the Withy-Airwork Company that it should go into the passenger traffic business. He was a little cross at first, but he later agreed that some inquiries hart been made. Subsequently we saw the announcement that the freight services of Airwork were to be withdrawn. I agree with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary 1888 that we are all sorry when someone has made a good attempt at anything and has failed, but, as we said at the time, surely the idea that there should be parallel British operations across the Atlantic, and a legalised barrier between freight and passenger services, was quite a wrong conception.
The right way to build up scheduled freight services must surely be in conjunction with passenger operation, and on that route, at any rate, B.O.A.C. is entrusted with the rôle of the chosen instrument. The Minister has apparently now decided that in that case he cannot allow the independent operator to take over any of the Corporation's passenger business. Most hon. Members will agree that that was the right decision, but, as I have said—and the Minister must be aware of this—hopes had been raised that there may be a further incursion into the business which the Corporations have been developing. I am sure that he will agree that unwarranted expectations on the one hand may be as harmful as unnecessary apprehensions on the other. Both can be allayed by a clearer statement than that which we have so far had from him. This is the place where Government policy should be announced, and this, too, I should have thought, was the time to make such a statement. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us quite clearly whether it is intended to amend the directive to the Air Transport Advisory Committee or to bring in an amendment to the Civil Aviation Act.
I turn to the Reports. We are all pleased on this side of the House to share the pleasure expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary that B.E.A. has now been able to show a surplus on a year's working. It has had many obstacles to overcome. Not the least was the chopping about of the currency allowances to the Continent. We are glad to join in these congratulations. I know how keenly many of the people who work in the Corporations have felt about these annual deficits, even though the original estimate of Parliament was that it would be ten years before results of the hard work were shown. In saying these things, we do not sacrifice our right or duty to be critical.
The first thing I observe is that the total operating revenue, though it has increased to £17,140,000, is still below the total capital of the Corporation, 1889 £18,400,000. It does not seem to me that the Corporation even yet is using its capital adequately. Moreover, the net profit of £63,000 has aroused some critical comments, principally because of the system used in the amortisation of aircraft. The better financial position is to a large extent the result of the use of economical and attractive new aircraft. The Viscounts earned 38 per cent. of the total revenue, but only one-twentieth of the cost of these machines is allowed for amortisation in the first year. This proportion is gradually increased, but only 50 per cent. is planned to be written off over the first five years according to the statement in the Report. The normal commercial practice is to write off the total cost of new aircraft within five or seven years. Even allowing for the smaller utilisation in the first year or two, one-twentieth seems to be curious accountancy. The Minister should explain why he agreed to this particular method of amortisation.
When we come to the older aircraft, the Report states:No provision is made for amortisation for the period subsequent to the withdrawal of aircraft from service.Does that mean that the Vikings, when withdrawn, and if they stand unsold upon the tarmac, are left on the books each year at the same figure? It is the Minister's responsibility to scrutinise these accounts. We are entitled to an explanation from him on this aspect of the matter.
The Parliamentary Secretary expressed his regret on the one hand and his pleasure on the other that both Mr. Peter Masefield and Mr. Whitney Straight were leaving the Air Corporations and that they are continuing their interest in the field of aviation. This brings in important aspects of the direction of the Corporations. Mr. Peter Masefield, the Chief Executive, has left B.E.A. His energy, enthusiasm and hard work for aviation are well known.
We understand from what has been said that Sir Arnold Overton, the retired Permanent Secretary of the M.C.A., has taken on extra duties since the Chief Executive left and during the regrettable illness of the Deputy-Chairman, Sir John Keeling. I am sure we are all grateful to Sir Arnold Overton for stepping into the breach in this way, but the present position is so unsatisfactory that we feel 1890 we should have assurances that it is to be changed in the very near future.
Here is a young and rapidly developing industry. Surely there should be some comparatively young, air-minded executives ready to move up and take over the senior positions. In any well-run business there should always be one or two reserves ready to take on the highest jobs. The unsatisfactory position at the head of B.E.A. is associated with a not dissimilar position in B.O.A.C. There, Mr. Whitney Straight, formerly Deputy-Chairman, has left the Corporation. This air-minded personality has been replaced by a banker from the City of London. All these changes make a most disquieting picture and do not seem to me to build up into a pattern for the future.
As I said before, it seems a strange commentary that now, ten years after the war, no employee of either Corporation has been given the chance of working through to the top. I always thought that among the able and keen-minded air captains to whom the Parliamentary Secretary paid a proper tribute and who are absolutely saturated with experience in the air-line business, there should be one or two at any rate who could be brought along and given senior positions, but the movement of these experienced captains has not been up but out.
One recently took up the position of managing director of a firm outside. Another, Captain Harrington, formerly an Imperial Airways captain, whose administrative ability I well remember, because I worked under him, did get near the top as Deputy Operations Director, but a month or two ago we learned that he had left to join the Bristol Aeroplane Company. This makes a disquieting picture when we are thinking of the years ahead. The Minister ought to be concerned about this and tell us what he is doing to remedy this position.
It was at this point that we learned from the Press that the Minister had agreed to the Chief Executive of B.O.A.C., who is also Chairman of the Corporation, taking on a directorship with another firm. I do not myself think that this is necessarily a bad thing, and certainly I do not believe it to be beyond the capabilities of Sir Miles Thomas, but, coming when the direction at the top is getting looser rather than tighter because 1891 of the other changes, we should have been given a statement about it.
Questions were put to the Minister about Sir Miles Thomas's directorship of the Ferguson Company. He said in his answer that the extra duties taken on were not such as to cause any difficulties. It is being said now that Sir Miles Thomas also has another directorship, which he took at about the same time, with British Glues and Chemicals. I could not accept that information because I was sure that the Minister would have made some reference to it. As it has gained currency, I wondered whether the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation could take the opportunity to make some reference to it.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
The hon. Gentleman should study the answer I gave in the House when I gave the House the information.
§ Mr. Beswick
I studied the answer very carefully. It is true that the Minister said that he did not think the directorship of two outside companies would affect in any way the discharge of Sir Miles Thomas's duties as Chairman of the B.O.A.C. Two. Are we to understand that the only information we were to be given about this matter was an oblique reference of that kind? No indication was given at all of the nature of the other company. Moreover, the Minister must have known that on this side of the House we were under the impression that the two companies to which he referred were the Ferguson Tractor Company, on the one hand, and the Colonial Development Corporation on the other.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman is making extremely heavy weather about this. I was asked a specific Question relating to this matter of directorships, and I went out of my way to tell the House that there were two. If the hon. Gentleman was not capable of understanding it. that is not my fault.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that information was published in either Flight or the Aeroplane about both directorships at about the same time as the Minister made his statement?
§ Mr. Beswick
I keep myself abreast as far as I can of these matters, but I 1892 was not aware of that fact. I did not myself press the point that was being made by some of my hon. Friends about the unsatisfactory nature of this appointment with Ferguson Tractors, but we should have been told what was taking place and why the Minister had agreed to it. It is a new departure to allow a full-time executive of a Corporation to take outside positions. If the Minister means that his reference to two companies was giving us full information, I can only leave the House to draw its own conclusions about the matter.
I do not propose to say anything in detail about the B.O.A.C. Report. I only say that, in view of the calamitous blow that struck the Corporation, psychologically as well as technically, when it lost the Comet, the results shown in the Report represent an achievement of the very first magnitude. The resilience shown by the management and the real hard work entailed in the redeployment of its available fleet and the temporary bringing of pensioned aircraft into service reflects the greatest credit on all concerned, upon Sir Miles Thomas and all associated with him.
Some favourable figures have been quoted by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I was very pleased to hear them quoted, but in case we tend to get too complacent about these matters, I may say that the comparative figures of capacity ton miles of both B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. are well above the figures shown by such concerns as Pan-American, Trans-Canadian and K.L.M. If the Parliamentary Secretary wants the figures, Pan-American shows a cost per capacity ton mile of 33.5d.; Trans-Canadian, 36d.; K.L.M., 38.4d.; B.O.A.C., 39.9d., and B.E.A. 41.7d. I know that in the case of B.E.A. there is the factor of the short-haul operations, and when considering B.O.A.C. we must take into account those unfortunate changes in its air fleet. Nevertheless, the two Corporations have still some way to go to increase their efficiency and to bring down their costs to the level of the other companies. Though complacency is not something that we should accept at this time, there have been achievements from which we can draw the greatest encouragement.
I should like to refer quite briefly to the supply position, on which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary touched, and to 1893 that controversy about the aircraft industry which was sparked off by the cancellation of the V-1000 contract. It is quite true that the Corporation had no firm order for the V.C. 7—the civil version of the V-1000—but most people had thought—and B.O.A.C. had expressed a close interest—that here there would be a machine to fill the gap in the B.O.A.C. fleet. That gap, of course, was in the long-range jet aircraft capable of flying over the Atlantic without any stop. Last year we asked for a thorough-going, top-level inquiry into the whole aircraft manufacturing industry—its organisation, its size, actual and potential, and its relationship to the State and to the State-owned Air Corporations. Nothing that has happened since that request was made has suggested that we were wrong in making it.
If the V-1000 is finally dropped it will be adding one more to the dismally long list of expensive false starts. The Princess, the Brabazon, the Apollo—and now the V-1000—failed at or before the prototype stage. The Tudor, the Hermes and the Comet I were prematurely withdrawn from scheduled passenger services. Let me add that in the case of the Hermes, now giving good service in trooping, there is no reflection upon its safety—only upon its economics. The really successful proven civil aircraft built in this country since the war could be counted on the fingers of one hand—and I exclude the thumb. The outstanding case, of course, is the Viscount.
One of the most disturbing features of the V-1000 affair is that the Government are cancelling a product from the one stable which has produced an undisputed winner. I am not arguing here for the purchase of a particular aircraft. I do not believe that this Chamber is the place where specifications of aircraft can properly be considered. I think it is our duty, however, to ask questions about an industry which has received more public money than any other in the country.
I want to look for a moment at some of the arguments which the Minister of Supply has used when explaining the Government's decision on the V-1000. First, there is this view that the trans-Atlantic non-stop airliner must be an esoteric aircraft for a specialised route and without a large sale. With that I emphatically disagree, and hard-headed 1894 airline executives throughout the world are disagreeing with it also. American Airlines have not bought 30 Boeing 707's for the North Atlantic. They do not operate over the North Atlantic. United Air Lines have not placed their great order of 30 D.C. 8's for that route either, and I doubt whether K.L.M., with their purchase of D.C. 8's, intend to use them exclusively over the Atlantic route. I do not believe that the Minister of Supply is right in his judgment on the sudden potential of the big non-stop trans-Atlantic jet air liner. I believe that this big aircraft will command the big market in the next decade, and two American types are already proving that to be so.
Secondly, the Minister emphasised in the House at Question Time that we should have the slower, though still speedy and reliable and comfortable turbo-prop machine for the Atlantic, but we now learn that the successor to the Britannia is to be a combined effort with the American Convair Company, the Canadian Canadair and the Bristol B.E. 25 engine. Is not this another retreat from that supremacy of which we heard so much up to a couple of years ago? Why should we, just when the Britannia is on the point of coming into service, ask our American friends to build the airframe for a British machine which was developed at public expense? Was the Minister consulted about it? Under what arrangements has he agreed that the engine shall be so used?
There is the argument, too, about the concentration of our resources. That is something which some of us have been saying for a long time—that there must in this country be some degree of concentration. We are glad that the Minister has now come round to that. But to accept the general principle is not necessarily to accept the particular application. The Minister is starting at the wrong end. Transport aircraft ought to be the last sector of the industry on which he should use his axe.
The Minister of Supply has just come back from the United States, and I am looking forward to what he will tell us about what is happening over there. They have some great plans there. May I just put this to him? We are told that the Air Transport Requirements Committee is considering new specifications for another transport for the 'sixties, but does 1895 the Minister think that if competitors come along now with some new long-range jet aircraft anyone in this country can now catch up with the Americans? I hope, at any rate, that he and his Committee have given up the idea of trying to leap-frog forward to a supersonic transport. We have already burnt our fingers by trying to go too quickly into the future. We have to be more modest in our plans, but must also be quicker in putting those plans into operation.
As I say, the Minister will probably tell us something about what is happening in the United States. I have not the time at my disposal to go into all the stories we are told about research facilities over there, but one figure which was quoted to me the other day as illustrative of their capacity for ordering should make us think. I am told that the United States Army order for the tanker version of the Boeing 707—that is a machine which will fly about the skies to refuel these machines—amounted to 700 million dollars. Obviously, there is some money to play with.
A company which gets an order of that magnitude is clearly in a position to spend a lot on research. I wonder whether any one company in this country is big enough to produce the type of aircraft we want for this market? I suggest that we might very well ask—and the Minister has considerable powers of persuasion in this matter—two or three of our firms to get together on the sort of project we have in mind.
I conclude by saying that I should like to think that in the four years of office that the Government have now enjoyed we could point to those twin industries of aircraft operation and aircraft manufacture and say that we now have a really firm foundation on which to build. Certainly, in the latter case—the manufacture of aircraft—I do not think that we can claim that. The principal thing that the Government have offered when we have asked for some sort of plan is a change of Minister. We have had three Ministers of Transport and three Ministers of Supply, all in the space of four years. We do not want a reshuffling of Ministers in this field. We want a clear statement of the Government's objective and of how they propose to reach that objective. I end by saying 1896 that if this Government is not capable of giving us that clarity in this important field, they should make way for a Government which can.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Captain F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
I have to crave the indulgence of the House in intervening in this debate with a maiden speech. I do so not only with the apprehension which, I believe, is quite common on these occasions, but also with considerable pride, because I can claim, in a sense at any rate, to be the Member for the Britannia.
When my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply announced his decision not to go on with the V.-1000 or the V.C.7 that created a considerable controversy both inside and outside this House. I think that controversy about these aircraft and about the American turbo-jet aircraft as possible contenders for the blue riband of the Atlantic in the future has tended to obscure the achievement and the unwavering faith of the Bristol Aeroplane Company in developing a turbo-prop aircraft—the Britannia. Of course, the turbo-jet has all the glamour and prestige of sheer speed, but I rather doubt whether we should attach over-great importance to that factor alone.
The Americans, it is true, are pinning their faith on the turbo-jet in the race to be first with a modern, non-stop trans-Atlantic airliner. But even considering the achievement of the Boeing 707, with its very high fuel consumption, and the forecast performance of other aircraft which have not yet flown, I do not think that we should be dazzled into forgetting our own achievements in beating the Americans to it with a turboprop aircraft which is likely to be on the trans-Atlantic route at least four years before these American aircraft, and probably more.
Nor should we forget the overall picture. Whatever may be the advantage of speed of the Boeing 707, it requires at the moment for a non-stop Atlantic crossing something in the neighbourhood of its own weight in fuel, and that it seems is likely to mean a comparatively larger aircraft if its carrying capacity is to compete with the long-range Britannia, which carries more passengers, although it has a smaller all-up weight and a fuel advantage in pounds per horsepower hour 1897 to the tune of 25 per cent. It is not surprising therefore that there is a body of influential opinion which has grave doubts whether these American projects will be able to carry a worthwhile pay load both ways across the Atlantic with sufficient regularity to enable them to compete with the Britannia, because it seems certain that they have not the superiority in speed to be able to hold their own if they have to stop for refuelling at Gander.
International air traffic in the last few years has increased enormously, something in the neighbourhood of two and a half times since 1947 and 1948, but, unfortunately, the proportion carried by the British airlines has declined slightly. I think that in looking to the future it is certainly arguable that we will secure a greater proportion of that traffic by looking to the much larger number of passengers who are likely to be attracted by the comparatively cheap tourist type of travel than by looking to the few who can pay the much higher fares which are involved in the more costly but speedier jet.
Even in the realm of luxury travel, I think that it is very doubtful whether the lower speed of the Britannia is as great a disadvantage as it appears. It seems at the moment that the superiority in speed of the American jets is not likely to be greater than about two hours on the west to east crossing of the Atlantic, and perhaps three hours on the return journey. Certainly as far as night travel is concerned, it seems rather doubtful whether the more costly transport is a great advantage for the benefit of arriving at say four o'clock in the morning rather than arriving for breakfast at what most of us regard as a more reasonable hour.
Looking further ahead, the Bristol Aeroplane Company has every hope that a later extension of the Britannia, equipped with the B.T.25 engine, which has aroused American interest, may well attain speeds of something like 500 miles per hour, a figure which compares favourably with anything forecast for the American planes which we are likely to see in the immediate future.
But however rewarding the success of the Britannia may be, as it certainly is to my constituents, so many of whom either directly or indirectly depend for their livelihood on the aircraft industry, it is absolutely certain that, looking to 1898 the future, aircraft development is not likely to stand still. As we look across the Atlantic it becomes increasingly clear that a very important factor in developing any aircraft is the size of the home market. It is interesting, I think, to realise that in terms of aircraft ordered or delivered, the United States manufacturers in this long-range type of aircraft can look to a civilian market of something like 700 aircraft and a military aircraft market on top of that of 1,250. The latter figure includes 250 aircraft of the Boeing 707 type adapted for military tanker service. So they have the advantage of the greater part of the development of that aircraft being borne by the defence estimates of the American Defence Department.
When we turn to this country, we find the corresponding figures are only 103 large civil airliners, 50 of which are of Canadian or American manufacture, which leaves only at the moment a potential market of 53 for our own manufacturers and nine Britannias ordered for Transport Command. It is interesting to compare the de Havilland Comet, for which my right hon. Friend stated there was an order of 19 for B.O.A.C., with that of Lockheeds, which in one week in October had orders for 60 aircraft to a total value of £100 million. We have a similar comparison in the medium-range aircraft. The United States manufacturers can look to a total in the neighbourhood of 800 against 70 Viscounts ordered for B.E.A.
Naturally, the sheer geographical size of America must be an enormous advantage to them in developing both internal and external airways. I think that we have advantages, too. We still remain the centre of a far-flung Commonwealth; we have military commitments which perhaps spread over an even wider area, and we are still the ideal geographical centre for the entrepôt trade between the new world and the old. I do not propose to develop the possibilities for the expansion of air transport in these fields, but there are two or three features in our policy and our organisation which appear to me to be inimical to expansion and efficiency and to which it might be worth while drawing attention.
Probably one of the most limiting factors in the development of our Colonial Territories is the lack of transport, and, 1899 now that the great Corporations have expanded and established themselves, surely it is quite out of date to put a limit on the use of modern aircraft by independent operators on these colonial coach services.
There is a serious run-down of Regular personnel in both the R.A.F. and the Army, and I believe the cause is very largely the fact that the Services cannot cater for the ordinary requirements of family life. I believe that here is a great chance, perhaps not for a cure but at least for a palliative; far more free passages could be given for wives and children to join husbands who cannot establish homes in overseas stations.
If we look within the Services themselves, surely an order for nine Britannias is a very inadequate fleet of long-range aircraft for a great Power with such tremendous obligations, which can be met only by the utmost mobility of our Forces. Backing them are only the independent operators with perhaps 50 aircraft, kept alive by short-term trooping contracts; and I feel that that is a very inadequate reserve.
Turning to the subject of freights, surely we cannot risk losing a valuable entrepôt trade to such places as Amsterdam and Frankfurt simply because our Customs organisations are inflexible and out of date. Surely we can establish a free Customs area at the big air termini, and surely we can establish even at the smaller airfields Customs which will attract the traffic rather than wait for the traffic to attract the Customs.
I believe that the possibilities and the potentialities for our aircraft industry are great for us as they are for America. Aircraft and their spares, and servicing, constitute an export of enormous value, because in the main they are exports of skill and craftsmanship rather than of material, often scarce and often imported. On this basis it is interesting to compare the aircraft exports with those of our motor car industry. It has been estimated that a modern airliner, worth for export purposes perhaps nearly £1 million, contains materials which, if exported in the form of motor cars, would earn a mere £80,000.
I am confident that we can expand our home market. If we do that, our manufacturers can go on developing aircraft 1900 of a world-beating calibre such as the Britannia. But if we do not do that, at a time when we are facing a reduction in military aircraft, I think we risk the stability of our aircraft industry, a certain amount of military mobility and exports which bid fair to balance our trade.
Finally, whatever may be the anxieties over the V-1000 and the V.G-7, and for all the American claims for the future, we stand not as a country which is flagging in the race, but, with the Viscount, the Comet and the Britannia, as a country very much in the lead. In South Gloucestershire we are very proud of the contribution which has been made by the Britannia, because it shows that in the new technologies our craftsmen can compare with the craftsmanship of the past, for which our country is renowned. We are quite confident that the Britannia will earn us prestige, as a county, all over the world, in the same way as our county regiment has done by its valour and devotion to duty.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
It is a very great privilege to me to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield), who has made an extremely interesting maiden speech. I know that I speak for every hon. Member present when I congratulate him on it. I hope we shall hear from him again, for he is obviously greatly concerned with this industry, with which all at present in the Chamber are concerned—otherwise we should not he here.
I shall pick out four points which the hon. and gallant Member made, and build what I have to say around them. He made many excellent points on supply, but two in particular are of the greatest importance. The first was the excellence of so many of our products in aircraft and aero engines. That is something which we should not forget—especially the aero engines.
The second point which he made was the fact that we are competing in this industry with that gigantic country, the United States. The size of the country is a factor not only in developing the type of aircraft which it uses but also in determining the size of the orders which can be placed.
1901 The hon. and gallant Gentleman also commented on operation and the fact that although we have done very well—and the Reports show how well we have done—the British share of world air traffic is not increasing. That must come. Sir Miles Thomas himself has pointed out that although every half-hour of the day and night—every half-hour of the twenty-four hours—a passenger aircraft crosses the Atlantic, not one of the aircraft on these scheduled services is a British-built aircraft.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) touched on this question of the size of the industry here in competition with the United States when he reminded the House and the Government that the Opposition had repeatedly demanded an inquiry into this industry. We know that we suffer from a multiplicity of firms, but this question can be considered not only from the positive aspect of concentration but also from the aspect of expanding our technical resources. We suffer from a manpower shortage for design and development. The Gnat has attracted a great deal of attention because it is one of the simplest aircraft, yet I believe as many as 5,000 drawings are required for the aircraft alone.
The suggestion about an inquiry has been made more than once. It is right that we should put forward some of the points on which we think there should be such an inquiry. The first is the greater concentration of manufacture; and the second is the expansion of our technical resources. I should like to see two aspects considered in the concentration of our resources. The first is a study not only of how to increase the number of technicians at every level, but also the possibility of closer work with our fellow Europeans. If their designers and technicians joined with ours they could enable us to have a far greater opportunity of competing in the long run with the enormous resources of the United States.
Let me take those two points separately. Many hon. Members will remember that on Thursday last week the Minister of Education was under fire about technical education. I think it is now becoming generally recognised that we must have more technical education, and it is no use the Minister of Education riding off—as he did—criticisms of the 1902 plans by saying that we must preserve the basis of our system of education.
I should like the Government to consider that, although it is recognised that there is a shortage of technicians all the way down the scale, and although something is about to be done—we are pressing for more—to increase the number without reducing the quality, at the very highest level of technological education we do not appear to be expanding at all.
Last Thursday the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, in answer to a Question of mine, that there was no university or college which gave a course on the lines of the Cambridge mechanical sciences tripos, and on that very same day there was a letter, which I have not yet seen refuted, in The Times, pointing out that since 1938 the proportion of undergraduates at Cambridge reading engineering had declined—not the number, but the proportion. I submit that, in considering this we must not only look all the way down the scale, at the obvious shortages, at the drawing board, and so on, but we must look right at the top too and consider this as a great national problem.
The other point that I want studied is how to bring in our fellow Europeans on this joint enterprise. When the history of the post-war years is written, we may find that politically we have made a terrible mistake in the years immediately following the war in not taking a more positive lead on the Continent of Europe. It is easy to explain how it happened; we had the problem of India, and then of Africa and the Middle East.
Economically—and this is directly relevant to the point—we may well have made a mistake too. We must not underestimate what the Continent of Europe has to offer. Take for example, the three big countries of France, Germany and Italy. We know that they are skilled and inventive countries. We know that, like us, they are small compared with the colossal United States. The hon. and gallant Member for Gloucestershire, South referred to turbo-jets at the beginning of his speech. The only country which has developed the small turbo-jet is France. I cite that only as an example to stress that there is thinking and designing going on on the Continent. Even the smaller countries cannot be dismissed as of no 1903 value in this field, when we realise that in metallurgical science connected with military aviation, and indeed with all forms of aviation engines, Sweden has something to teach us in this field.
We must face the fact that, big as we are, we are small compared with the United States. We must remember, too, that besides being the centre of a great Commonwealth we are an island off the coast of Europe, and it is surely worth considering whether we cannot use a great deal more of the designing and development resources of our neighbours on the Continent so that we Europeans have a real opportunity of competing with the United States.
The enormous orders which have been given to American manufacturers within the last few weeks contrasted with the small orders which have been given to our own manufacturers for the large types of aircraft make one wonder whether, in the matters of procurement and supply, we should not look to the Continent of Europe and the Commonwealth to join with us in some purchasing commission so that we can place larger orders. It is not too much to hope that we could work out some such joint development, and I certainly ask that that be studied too.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge asked some questions about the financial gain to public Corporations and to the Government from the developments of engines, aircraft and equipment because of Government investment in the first place. I should like to know how we can do anything about letting B.E.A. benefit in that way, whether it has been considered and found impossible. B.E.A. gave hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of services to Vickers, and helped Vickers to sell its great aircraft, the Viscount, to foreign countries, especially to Capital Airlines. I do not know how these services can be evaluated in terms of money, but it was an enormous amount. Is there any way in which a Corporation can be rewarded for such services?
I should also like to ask what direct financial benefit the State gets—the answer is probably quite simple, but I just do not know it—from the sale of engines on which a good deal of public 1904 money has been spent, as, for instance, the recent sale of the Bristol Orpheus to the Italians, and the possible sale of the Conway to Boeing for the 707?
I cannot leave the subject of aeroengines without offering, for what they are worth, any congratulations to the aero-engine people and all those concerned in it, on the remarkable achievements made in this field; and, secondly, giving a thought to what is to happen in the years to come, when so much of the militarily-financed development will be in the field of guided missiles and intercontinental rockets. Who then will pay for the development of the civil aeroengine? We cannot follow the military to the extent of using inter-continental rockets, and have people parachuted out over Arizona when they really want to get to New York by ordinary aircraft. I am being too fanciful. But we must begin thinking of these things, because we know that the overheads for so much of our development is covered by the military side. What is to happen in future? Are we beginning to think of that?
I will not detain the House much longer but I should like to refer to the operation of B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. I am a fairly frequent and contented passenger of B.E.A.; I like its service, but I deliberately go on other airlines sometimes in order to make what comparisons I can. I find that B.E.A. comes out well. However, we have a lot to learn. I am sure that B.E.A. will try to learn from what Capital Airlines is doing with the Viscounts, with which B.E.A. was so successful.
Incidentally, I do not understand why in Europe generally air fares are 50 per cent. to 100 per cent. higher than those in North America. As I understand it, Capital Airlines has average staging lengths of only 240 miles when operating Viscounts, whereas B.E.A. has average staging lengths for its Viscounts of twice that—480 miles—yet the break-even load factor is 51 per cent. for Capital Airlines and 60 per cent. for B.E.A. Of course, there are differences. There are B.E.A.'s higher fuel costs and landing charges, but even these two, on the figures in the Report itself, do not amount to more than 12 per cent. of the total Viscount costs; and, after all, the labour cost of B.E.A. operations is less. What is there to learn from the operation of Capital Airlines 1905 that B.E.A. has not yet learnt? Remember that these are the very aircraft which B.E.A. operated so successfully that Capital Airlines was persuaded to adopt them.
In turning to B.O.A.C., I come to the very point touched upon by the hon. and gallant Member for Gloucestershire, South, and on which I commented earlier in my speech, concerning Transatlantic passenger carrying. I wonder whether B.O.A.C. realises the extent of this potential market. A quarter of a million tourists come from North America to this country each year. Not quite half of them come by air. There is here an enormous potential market. Comparison shows that a much higher proportion of visitors travel by air from the United States than from Canada. Of 52,000 Canadians coming to this country each year as tourists, only 16,000 come by air. I do not know the reason for the difference—as North Americans, the people of these two countries are very much alike. I should have thought this was a good potential market if we could get more of the North American tourists to come by air.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge referred to the lack of evidence that the Government were giving an opportunity to youth in the Corporations. He pointed to the fact that just at this stage, when B.E.A. has been deprived of Mr. Peter Masefield, when the Corporation's admirable Chairman happens to be a retired Royal Air Force officer, the new Deputy-Chairman should happen to be a retired civil servant. When men like Mr. Whitney Straight and Captain Harrington left B.O.A.C., the new Deputy-Chairman was a man from the City. Surely, it would have been possible to find young enthusiastic people for the Corporations.
Even in political life, we recognise that from time to time it is necessary to jump a generation or two and to give younger people their chance. Surely, in a venture like aviation, bold decisions are called for and young men of enterprise should be found. We should not have the Boards of these two great Corporations becoming, in the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, somnolent in an atmosphere of port and over-ripe pheasant.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Dr. Reginald Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
I should like, at the outset, to say how pleasing it is that this debate has been on such a highly constructive level throughout, and I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) for saying so many things with which I could find myself in complete agreement. That goes far to point the way for the future of civil aviation if it is to be a matter that either side of the House can discuss without any noticeable party slant on the points that we make.
In particular, I endorse the hon. Member's remarks on the nature of the surplus reported this year by British European Airways. That calculation has filled me with alarm. One could not improve upon the hon. Member's presentation of the point, but I should like a great deal more to be said about it. It seems to me that the depreciation chargeable for plant and aircraft can be an arbitrary matter which can be juggled with to any extent if we are to let it pass without fairly rigorous comment and without having some idea of what is the accepted practice—if, indeed, there is an accepted practice—in these matters.
I should also like to say how very much I was impressed by the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield). It was one of the most outstanding maiden speeches I have heard, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will have plenty of opportunity to be patted on the back without needing any such pat from me.
The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) mentioned two points to which, he felt, attention should be devoted. One was the problem of the concentration of resources in the aircraft industry. The other was the potential expansion of the industry and the suggestion that more attention should be devoted to it. Two of the points which have already been referred to in the debate have gone some distance to meet the points raised by the hon. Member.
First, the cancellation of the V-1000 or V.C.7 is a piece of policy implementing the very idea put forward by the hon. Member that we must do something to concentrate our resources on the projects in which we excel. The debate has, therefore, already answered that point. As to 1907 the possibility of expansion, I am convinced that the co-operation between the Bristol Aeroplane Company and Canadair and Convair is undoubtedly a form of co-operation without which it is doubtful whether we shall be able to expand to anything like the extent to which the American aircraft industry is capable of expanding.
I have one point only to make today, concerning the future equipment of the Corporations and particularly of B.O.A.C. I have heard most of what has been said in the controversy about the cancellation of the Vickers machine and I am sufficiently impressed by the arguments I have heard to be satisfied that the cancellation was justified. But when we consider the future of the equipment of B.O.A.C., some of the statements which have been made in public cause me a good deal of disquiet.
On 2nd December, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply remarked that consultations were now being started with operators about the next big civil aircraft project, which my right hon. Friend said,can be and must be a significant improvement on anything flying today.That is obvious and right; but only a few days later, speaking to the Chartered Institute of Secretaries at the Guildhall, on 6th December, the Chairman of British Overseas Airways used these words:We are now looking to the British aircraft manufacturing industry to assist in providing us with an airliner in the 500 miles-an-hour class which will be more advanced and more effective for our purposes than the new American jet aircraft likely to appear on the North Atlantic routes in the early 1960's.He was speaking of 500 m.p.h. as the speed for a type of aircraft which is to be regarded as a project of the future. But those speeds are already here. The Comet does that kind of speed, and speeds of this order are undoubtedly to be expected in the Boeing and the Douglas aircraft, of which we have heard so much already in this debate.
I was, therefore, interested to find a front page headline and column in the Daily Mail of 28th November, which stated that the United States is "stepping up the Atlantic race" and that a large American firm, one of the many which have been mentioned today, has a super- 1908 sonic project which is expected to come into operation about 1965. The hon. Member for Uxbridge said that in the light of the experiences we have had in this country, he was against trying to jump too far at once. That, of course, is right, but I do not think that it is jumping too far at the moment to start thinking of a supersonic project.
I fear that we are liable not to jump far enough, and as far as I can see, if the remarks of the Chairman of B.O.A.C. are to be taken at their face value, we shall be jumping backwards. Supersonic speeds will not be fantastic if we assume that it takes ten to twelve years to develop a new type, even one with a very large step forward intrinsic in its design. Surely, if an American firm could evolve such a project, a British firm could start doing so now to be at least level with the American firm when the time comes.
I am concerned about possible fumbling in the future programme of B.O.A.C. I implore the Minister of Supply to make sure when he discusses with B.O.A.C. its newest projects that a speed or performance of about 500 m.p.h. will not be accepted for our next creation We must consider a supersonic speed, because if we are to have only a 500 m.p.h. project we shall have that in any case in the Britannia by that time.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
I am sorry to disturb the serene atmosphere in which the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) has spoken, but in my few remarks I should like to introduce rather more controversial observations than those which have been made already. I certainly agree with everything that has been said about the Reports and Accounts of the Corporations. The Corporations deserve to be congratulated on an excellent year's result, but the admiring remarks which have been heard on all sides of the House about the Corporations as such can certainly not be echoed, at least by me, in connection with the aircraft manufacturing industry as a whole.
I should like to speak briefly about certain aspects of the aircraft manufacturing industry. In some respects, the industry is like a medieval mystery. It is a self-contained unit with a very close 1909 link between the Government and the actual operation of the industry. Outsiders who ask questions about it receive only the most obscure of answers. The result is that while the aircraft industry is in a position to say—and it certainly can say it—that success is always round the corner, the layman who wants to know what has happened to the hundreds of millions of pounds which have been poured into the industry can always be brushed off by a reference to the obscure technicalities which affect the actual production of aircraft. It is rather like asking a doctor when a cure will be effected and the doctor says, "Just wait a little longer. The patient may recover." So it is with the aircraft industry.
Whenever a problem arises and the public asks, "Where are the aircraft?" the answer is always that research and development are going on and results will shortly become visible, but we know that ever since the war enormous sums of money have been paid out by the taxpayer which have been used for research and the development of aircraft. If one considers the total of production which has taken place, it bears no direct connection with the amount of money which has been invested in the industry. In the normal way, if dividends were to be paid out of capital we would all justly complain that some criminal process was taking place, but in the aircraft industry the fact is that year after year the major aircraft firms are paying considerable dividends and a great part of those dividends must come out of direct subsidies, or concealed subsidies which are paid into the aircraft industry in the form of development contracts. [An HON. MEMBER: "All of them."] There are certain industries in which entrepreneurs put in some of their money and, therefore, I do not want to be too sweeping.
We have this extraordinary situation, to which we are so habituated that we take it for granted, that a major national industry, which should supply aircraft to the country for the Services and civil production, and which steadily pays out relatively high dividends but yet when one asks, "Where are the aircraft?" the answer is that they are on their way. It is perfectly true that certain splendid types of aircraft have been produced, such as the Viscount and the Britannia, which 1910 are admirable examples of what the industry can do, but if we consider the construction of the industry as such, I believe that what is needed today is a most probing inquiry into the system whereby public money is used for the production and development of aircraft.
Where have the £400 million which have been paid into the aircraft industry in the last four years gone? If one goes to any of the major aircraft firms today —and there is one in my constituency—one finds that the executive department is overloaded while the actual productive part is deficient. One will find empty hangars and full car parks. That is the characteristic pattern of every major aircraft firm throughout the country.
I dwell on that point because I want to draw the attention of the House to a specific instance of a large aircraft works in Coventry. I have had a letter from the Federation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, Coventry District, which reads, in part, as follows:We are particularly concerned about this redundancy "—That is, the redundancy threatened in one of the major aircraft firms in Coventry—because it will happen at a time when we will experience redundancy in the car industry and the class of labour involved will be the same as that dismissed from the aircraft industry, i.e., skilled body makers, sheet metal workers and airframe fitters.I recall that last summer, with my colleagues in Coventry, I went to see the Minister of Supply and put to him that there was considerable apprehension in Coventry because there was no forward provision for enough work to keep in employment the labour force there. The casual reply of the Minister—and I described it at the time as casual—was that these men who were made redundant could be transferred to the motor industry. We warned the Minister then that although it was very easy to point to the number of apparent vacancies in the motor industry and to say that these highly-skilled men engaged in highly-specialised trades could be transferred to semi-skilled work in the motor industry, there was absolutely no guarantee that the vacancies which existed in the summer would exist when the redundancies became effective, and, indeed, that is what has happened.
§ The Minister of Supply (Mr. Reginald Maudling)
Would the hon. Member add that I also pointed out that the only possible alternative was to spend more Government money on additional military aircraft, which I do not think the hon. Member has advocated?
§ Mr. Edelman
I will come to that point.
I said at the time to the Minister that these paper vacancies would not exist later in the year when redundancies became effective and that, of course, is what has happened. A process of increasing difficulty has been speeded up by the Chancellor's Budget. It is now more difficult to sell motor cars, particularly the cheaper-priced motor cars, and that has hit Coventry extremely hard. The result is that the men who have been made redundant by Armstrong Whit-worths are finding it increasingly difficult to get alternative employment in this great centre of engineering.
It is true that the substantial redundancy, which was last summer forecast as running into several thousands, has not developed to the extent then prophesied. The reason for that was that, partly under the instigation of my hon. Friends and myself, certain alternative forms of work inside the factory were provided, but perhaps more important than that was the fact that in the Hawker factory, at Blackpool, there was a prolonged strike which had the effect of diverting work to the Coventry factory.
I do not want to dwell on this particular case, although it is a most serious matter in Coventry that redundancy in the aircraft industry is likely to rise to about 2,500. It is forecast that by the end of the next five months there will be that substantial figure. It has to be remembered that these 2,500 men are not unskilled labourers; they are not semiskilled men doing routine production jobs, but men who have spent long apprenticeships and years of work developing highly specialised skills, which, in the normal way, should be directed towards the manufacture of aircraft. My general indictment against the Minister is that in Coventry we have illustrated the fact that there is no plan, no policy for the British aircraft industry. Every firm goes its own way and the very tight ring of the Society of British Aircraft Con- 1912 tractors holds the industry in a vice-like grip.
But for certain technical points, I should have thought that one of the first industries to be referred to the Monopolies Commission would be the British aircraft industry. Although, by a variety of devices, one is given the impression that the industry is free and that some contractors are independent agents who can make statements to the Minister, and so on, the fact is that the British aircraft industry is tightly controlled at the centre by the S.B.A.C., the so-called designing firms. Because of the fact that in the last few years, owing to the concealed subsidies, the industry has become overfed and under-active, despite the brilliance of its designers and the technical ingenuity of the men who work in it, the industry is undoubtedly lagging behind other aircraft industries elsewhere.
I shall conclude with two suggestions. The first—and I hope that my hon. Friends will consider this point—is that I believe that there should promptly be a Select Committee with the task of inquiring, first, into the present state of the aircraft industry and, secondly, into the method of ordering aircraft. The great fault of the British aircraft industry is the traditional system of development contracts. Once upon a time the cost-plus system gave a completely free hand to aircraft manufacturers. Today, the system no longer obtains, and in its place there is the system of development contracts which is open ended, with the result that money can be poured into the industry through the funnel of these contracts, without any guarantee that there will be practical results for the nation.
Finally, I come to the logical consequence of what I have been saying, and I must add in advance that this is purely for myself. I believe that the success of the two Corporations, B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., is an important pointer to the fact that if the transport side of the aircraft industry is to be considered a national undertaking, then the corollary is that the production side also should be considered a national undertaking. I believe that if the manufacturing side of the industry were brought under public control in some form or another as a counterpart to the national control of transport, then Britain would be able to regain its pre-eminence in the world of aviation.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. George Brown (Belper)
I do not interrupt from this Bench at this stage to indicate that the debate is coming to a premature conclusion, but I understand that it will be for the convenience of the Minister of Supply to speak on supply matters after I have spoken. It would, perhaps, help if I were to reinforce some of the issues that seem to be within his realm of responsibility and which we think are urgent and need the attention of the Government. My appearance in a debate of this sort may strike some people as unusual, as I am moving from agricultural techniques to aerodynamics, but it is a return to an old love, for I have spent a large part of my life organising labour in a large number of component firms in the aircraft industry, where we had to deal with a large number of peculiar problems.
I will start, as has almost everybody who has spoken up to now, by saying that the situation in the aircraft industry is causing a good deal of disquiet both within the industry—certainly among its operatives—and among the general public, who are very worried at the large amounts of money which they are having to find for the industry, and the apparently vast number, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) put it, of costly false starts that get us nowhere. I want to say something about both of those things and to ask the Minister some questions.
One cannot shrug off the basic grounds for the disquiet. Recently, in reply to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), dealing with the number of projects for which public money had been found, we learned that for those projects alone about £40 million had been found and that the overwhelming proportion of the projects concerned had never been proceeded with thereafter.
One of the things about which one has to be careful is to not attack this sort of thing in such a way that one seems to be getting at the British aircraft industry as an industry, apart from its control and make-up. Our ability as designers, our ability to produce quite brilliant things from time to time, is without doubt a feather in our cap, but there is something about the make-up of the industry and its outlook—and my hon. Friend the 1914 Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) put his finger on this—which enables us to be very good when it comes to designing, even up to the prototype stage, but which makes us extremely bad when it comes to overcoming production problems and getting the things which we have designed so well actually produced and into regular operation.
One has to find out what is wrong, whether it is the organisation of the industry, whether it is the form in which we contribute money—and there is something in that—and I will try to say a word about those various things. But first I want to urge upon the Minister the need to tackle the state of unrest in the industry itself. Disquiet is perhaps a better word than unrest. I do not want to suggest that there is a bubbling cauldron, but many organised workers in various factories are expressing a good deal of anxiety.
I have in my hand—I do not propose to read them—a batch of papers which have come to me from trade unions concerned in dealing with this situation. What is worrying them is the fact that there seem to be less than adequate arrangements within the industry for consultation and information about changes in plan, changes in production, to be available to the workers themselves in time to be of any use to them.
I do not want to go into details, but we have recently had labour difficulties where, whatever the specific "sparking plug" was, the underlying trouble was the fact that the workers did not know to where they and their factory were going, or how long they would go on working, or whether they would be moved. There is a good deal of redundancy without explanation and a lack of information about when things will be cancelled. I believe that, in part, that is because the Minister himself does not have adequate information and is not clearly informed in advance.
It is part of the general sickness of the industry that too many things of vast importance are done too suddenly and too quickly, without anybody having the chance of being forewarned. I am told that the V-1000 was cancelled at Wey-bridge, where they knew all about it, but apparently nobody realised that some component parts were being made at Cowes; and these continued to be made for a long time afterwards because the 1915 decision was taken so suddenly that even within the Ministry adequate information was not available.
I have particulars here which I will not quote, although the Minister can see the letters if he wishes. There are cases of factories learning about considerable redundancy when, at the very same time, associated companies are approaching the unions to consider questions of dilution with unskilled workers because they are so heavily pressed. I am an official of what is generally called an "unskilled union," although the days when there was a real distinction between skilled and unskilled have long since gone.
I can say that there is nothing more likely to start trouble than the question of dilution. It has to be done with the greatest of care. To have a situation in which one part of an organisation is talking about standing off hundreds or even thousands of skilled men while another part of the same organisation, somewhere else in the country, is approaching the union and asking for a signature to a piece of paper entitling them to dilute with semi-skilled or unskilled people, is bound to create a great deal of resentment. The Minister must apply his mind to finding some arrangement by which we can stop that kind of thing from happening.
I have a great deal of evidence here, and no doubt the Minister is acquainted with it, but a talk with the unions concerned will soon clear it up for him. His predecessor was made aware of the point and so, I think, was the Parliamentary Secretary. Among the workers there appears to be a colossal wastage of time in many of our aircraft plants due to what they think is bad planning of the whole throughput of the work. One of the irritating things is to know that this is happening, because one sees it, and, at the same time, to have Ministers or anybody else blandly giving an assurance that it is not happening. There have been such cases.
I have the evidence here of cases in which assurances have been given at high level to national trade union officials that there were no lost manhours on particular projects because of shortages when, at the same time, the shop stewards and convenors in the factory concerned had been negotiating a whole list of them in that factory and doing their best 1916 to overcome them quietly. The Minister's answer is given, publicity is given to it, and a great deal of irritation is caused.
If the Minister is to consider what he can do to improve the attitude, the outlook and the operation of the industry he ought to begin within it. I know that he desires to have the best possible relations with the unions concerned, and I suggest that he starts by asking them seriously to suggest to him how we can get a better arrangement so that the aircraft industry and the Minister himself know what is going on and that better organisation and planning is made available.
The next point I want to make has been mentioned many times. It concerns the disquiet from the public point of view. There is no doubt that we are making available to the industry vast sums of money which are not being reflected in the goods it produces. It is no particular value to us, if we have spent hundreds of millions of pounds, to get excellent design teams, and quite a lot of them, if we do not end up with planes which fly satisfactorily for the purpose for which they are required. I believe that one of the problems in the industry arises from our system of development contracts, whereby money is paid under those contracts. However good that may be for other reasons, it produces these disorganised arrangements by which we are better and keener about design up to the prototype stage than about production afterwards.
Speaking as a layman and bringing a quite new mind to the problem—whether it is a clear mind or not I do not say—it seems to me that this method means that, if we accept that the firms are competitive—as I believe they are in this industry—then each firm is seeking to be competitive not in terms of aircraft or engines produced, but in terms of aircraft or engines designed. Once they have overcome that stage they immediately turn their minds to the next thing they can design, in order to be rather better than their competitors. This form must be partly responsible for throwing the attention not, as the taxpayer would want it, on the final article produced, which flies and sells, but inward, to the first page, to the design.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman appreciates, when 1917 he says that men are looking ahead to a new type, that if we are to keep a design team together we must be progressive. In the case of the pistonengined industry, men left to go to jets, and as a consequence only one firm is making piston engines. The real knock for Vickers is not in losing the order for the V.1000—they have the Vanguard, although it is not the same thing but in losing a great many design people.
§ Mr. Brown
I am not saying that we should not look ahead for new designs in order to be progressive. I am saying that there is not much value in being as progressive as all that if the one we last produced does not fly. I say that the need for competition in design has to be reproduced in production.
Next, we seem to have far too many teams operating in this industry for the value which we get from it or for effective use to be made of their efforts. I am told —and the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—that we have more teams, more distinct factories, on engine manufacture than there are in the whole of the United States, and that this is even more the case on the aircraft side. On the face of it, it must be questionable whether that will make for the best use of our labour or money.
One can see for oneself that the number of engine manufacturers, and, even more, the number of aircraft manufacturers, who have produced something which has been a success and which has sold, is quite a small proportion of the total number of manufacturers. The other day the Minister made a comment—I will not quote his statement, but I hope he agrees that I am paraphrasing him correctly—that he was interested in the idea of concentrating our effort both in terms of numbers of establishments and of projects undertaken. We should like to know from the Minister what he has in mind; how he envisages this concentration taking effect and how he thinks he can bring it about.
The withholding of development contract moneys may well be a possibility, but so long as the industry goes on as it is, brilliant ideas and new designs may be provided at any stage from anywhere, and it may be difficult to produce a concentration by relying on the power to refuse development contracts immediately. 1918 There may be quite a lot of good advice given about particular things, and it would be wrong not to advance money for a project which might look good. I think that the Minister must take into account what I was talking about, the likelihood of something being produced.
There is a good deal of competition between various concerns to take highly placed technical men from one another. That might be considered an example of competition. But I doubt whether, in the circumstances of this industry, it is a good example. The result is that an organisation from which a highly skilled man is taken is disturbed. The man is placed somewhere else where there will almost certainly be duplication of what is going on in the first place. And to the first place must be brought someone from somewhere else to fill the gap. At the best a lot of disorganisation has gone on to achieve but little, and, at the worst, duplication has been achieved. I doubt whether relying on the power of money is likely to achieve the desired result.
It seems to me that the Ministry needs to have a much stronger control over this industry in order to force concentration and a reduction in the number of projects and to bring together design schemes which are at the moment spread thinly. There is nothing more thinly spread than drawing office staff and people at that level. I doubt whether at present the Minister has power to do that. I should like him to tell us whether he thinks that he has and whether the Government have made up their minds about this matter.
We hear references to the number of Ministers who have occupied office in the last four years and we do not know whether the number will be increased during the next four days. But I should like to know whether the Government are clear about this: I have heard references to statements by other Ministers that it is the intention of the Ministry to spread the work as widely as possible and maintain important firms in the industry. We cannot go on with a policy of concentration in the interests of efficiency and, at the same time, spread the work as widely as possible in order to maintain what are called important firms. Some of the so-called "important" firms may have to be sacrificed to achieve concentration. I do not know whether the Minister realises that or is willing to face that position.
1919 I wish, also, to ask what is the right hon. Gentleman's view about the placing of sub-contracts. I understand that the Minister ceases to have much control, or indeed very much interest, beyond the main contractor. I think that he should carry his interest right the way through. If the industry is to be made more efficient in tents of production, it needs much stronger control than the Minister now possesses. The more I look at this the more apparent it is to me that in cases where large sums of public money are being paid, and the aircraft manufacturer is paying but small sums of money, unless the Government take some interest in the company in which the money is put I doubt whether we shall ever achieve the kind of influence which is desirable.
This is a difficult matter, but do not let us use bogey words. Let us treat this as a constructive suggestion. It is not nationalisation on the generally considered pattern, and there is no need that it should be. We must gain sufficient influence and, if hon. Members wish, control; but I am sure that we need sufficient influence at the point where it matters, namely, in the policy-making councils of the company. That influence should be exercised through a member of the team responsible to the company and responsible to the Ministry for the money which is being paid. The Minister must face that, but I doubt whether his present methods will prove fruitful.
The question arises of whether the Ministry of Supply has the necessary attitude to its own functions. It appears to me that the Ministry regards itself as not much more than a go-between. Someone tells the Ministry what kind of machine is required, the Ministry tells someone else what machine is wanted and helps to bring about the desired result. But the Ministry has no more interest and power than that. If I am correct about that, I think that the Ministry of Supply must have a different conception of its place in the scheme of things. The Minister should be a more important personage than he is now, if he wishes to exercise the kind of influence that the industry seems to need.
The Minister should be able to deal with the users of the aircraft, whether it be the Air Ministry or the Corporations, not just as someone taking note of their 1920 requirements, but as someone able in the end to explain to them why in the general national interest some course of action is desirable. That comment would seem relevant to the situation regarding the V-1,000. I am doing no more than pinpointing views which have been expressed by other hon. Members who are better informed than I, but all this adds up to the need for a high-level inquiry into what is required in this industry; what is the matter with it and what changes we should make.
I doubt whether the Government will do the job, or whether even the present Minister of Supply would be able to force through a radical review of this kind. But a good inquiry is needed into the industry to discover the problems and the deficiencies and it would strengthen the hand of the Minister. I think that that should be the next step to be taken, and I hope that the Minister will think it over.
I am worried about the news of the Britannia, the B.E. 25 and the Convair. The hon. Member for Gosport and Fare-ham (Dr. Bennett) welcomed this as the right kind of co-operation between British and American firms, and that may or may not be so. But a lot of public money has gone into this British production and we have heard little about it. Incidentally, I have been concerned with an industry, the agricultural industry, which is always alleged to be getting public money of which no account is given. But, compared with the aircraft industry, I think that the agricultural industry has been unfairly treated, because a great deal of money is poured into the aircraft industry and no one seems to come forward to justify it. Public money has got this British production this far. We ought to know whether that public money will be reimbursed as a result of any arrangements which may come from co-operation across the Atlantic. I am not all that sure that this is a good thing to do. We should be told something about the terms upon which it is being done.
The same thing applies to the Comet. One hears different views as to whether the Comet will ever be a successful aircraft. I believe that a good deal of prestige is concerned in this matter. People feel that they must say that the Comet IV is a good aircraft; that it will fly again, and sell again, and be widely 1921 used. The professionals may feel that they have to make that declaration, but I come now to this subject, and I can only record the fact that I have found that more than one view exists in the industry itself on the question whether the Comet will become a successful aircraft.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
We must get this matter clear. We do not want to damage a great enterprise. I would only point out that in Australia, five or six weeks ago, high executives of Qantas Airlines assured me that they had very great hopes about the Comet IV.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must not answer every point with which he disagrees as I go along. Let us have a package arrangement later on. I am not saying that it may not turn out to be a good aircraft, and I am not setting out to damage it, but this seems to be a case where nobody must ever comment doubtfully about it. The reason I do so is not because I want to damage the project, but because wrongful decisions might well be taken now as to the sort of plane that is needed in the future, just because we dare not voice the question whether the Comet will be the answer in the next few years. Because we assume that the Comet must be right; because we talk as though we dare not think otherwise--we may well make a wrong decision. I believe that something of the sort is true also of the decisions about the V-1000 and the V.C.7.
§ Mr. Maudling
I do not think that anyone wishes for a moment to try to suppress criticism of the Comet, but no one should criticise it unless he can give valid reasons for doing so.
§ Mr. Brown
All I have said is that I have met both views, inside the aircraft industry and among operators and informed observers. It should be made quite clear that two views do exist, instead of the general assumption that everybody is quite convinced not only that the Comet will fly again—there is no doubt about that—or that it will be a good aircraft—there may be no doubt about that—but also that it will be bought in large numbers, instead of some new aircraft being more favoured by the time the Comet IV gets into the air. I thought that that should be said and that I could say it, whereas those who have been involved in it so far perhaps do not like to say it.
1922 I now want to ask something about the public commitments in the whole business of getting the Comet back into the air. A whole lot of Comets of earlier marks were, presumably, left on the tarmac when the unhappy decision to ground this aircraft had to be taken and the aircraft looked at again. No doubt much public money went into the development of those Comets. To what extent has public money been involved? Who has paid for the present development and the testing work? Has public money been involved in that? We should be told a little more about the financial arrangements as the matter develops. The Minister should be more forthcoming from time to time about our commitments in these matters.
I now turn to the question of the Air Transport Requirements Committee. It is difficult to find out what this body is, of what it is composed, what are its terms of reference, and what are its powers. Reference has been made to it recently in relation to the new study which is being made of a new airliner since the decisions which have been taken in regard to the V-1000 and the V.C.7. I cannot find any people who know what the body is, or who is on it. Even leading aircraft manufacturers do not seem to know. I should like to know all these things, and also what is its place in the hierarchy.
Contrary to some hon. Members who have spoken, I do not believe that the Minister's statement has really very much allayed the dissatisfaction which has been caused by the decision to drop the V-1000. I am not convinced by what he has said so far, as the hon. Member for Gosport and Fareham said he was. When the Minister was answering Questions on 28th November, he gave as the reason for the decision not to go on with the military version and the development of a civil equivalent, the fact thatIt has taken longer than was hoped to overcome some of the problems of meeting the specification laid down for the V-1000. In these circumstances, and in view of the urgency of the need to re-equip Transport Command, it has been decided to take the long-range Britannia…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1955; Vol. 546, c. 1929.]I am not accusing the Minister of dishonesty, but I wonder whether that is really so; whether the decision was taken as he says, just because of the length of time taken to overcome the problems of meeting the specification, and the urgency 1923 of re-equiping Transport Command. If it is, many of the things which I have been told by people who would be regarded as both well informed and honest do not seem to match.
The history of this aircraft began in 1952; the prototype was ordered in 1953; the military production order for six was placed late in 1954, and the whole thing was put under suspension—although the official announcement was not made then —in June, 1955. The project was, therefore, never alive, in terms of production, for more than about six months. It seems to me that the Air Ministry started having second thoughts about its original strategic thinking almost as soon as it reached the point of putting the aircraft into production. It looks very much more as though the Air Council, who may well not have been unanimous about it at the beginning, changed its mind—which it is entitled to do—about our military requirements, and that it was that rather than any delay on the part of the firm which was responsible for the ultimate decision.
I am told that the aircraft has met the military specification at every single point. I should like the Minister to put me right if I am wrong, but it is being said that it would meet the military specification and that the planned development of the Conway by-pass jet engine, at every single point, would have been and is sufficient to handle the weight growth. The firm of Rolls-Royce is in my constituency. I know it very well. It is one firm, at any rate, which does not fail to perform what it promises. If it says that the developed Conway engine would meet the needs of the weight growth of the aircraft I am sure that it is right.
The Conway engine is just about the best jet engine in existence. It is a jet by-pass engine which, in terms of economics, is better than the J.75, or whatever it is the Americans are talking about. The V-1000 aircraft was built round that engine. We now drop it, whereupon Rolls-Royce are thinking of selling the engine to the Americans, who are trying to produce a plane to compete with that which we are developing. That does not seem to make sense. If it is the best engine; if there is a job to be done with it, and if we have an aeroplane built round it, it seems to me that there is much to be said for continuing the development of the V-1000.
1924 What seems to have happened in this case—and this casts doubt upon the Minister's explanation—is that the Air Ministry turned it down for a good reason; B.O.A.C. turned it down for a good reason, probably because of economics—the Corporation having a small fleet, with nobody else to share the jigging and tooling costs. They have both turned it down for reasons which seemed to them to he good ones, and there is no national authority which can say, "This is a very good aeroplane. We ought to be concerned with the next stage of development now. This is a plane we ought to fly."
I am told, and this is significant if it is true, that the Viscount went through an almost comparable experience and was virtually dead. But for a very tough and strong man in the Minister's own Department, somebody big enough to carry it along, we would never have kept the Viscount in being, and B.E.A. would never have got a chance to change its mind. The absence of anybody able to do and say that sort of thing in the case to which I am now referring is very serious.
I hold no brief for Mr. George Edwards, or Vickers, but from what I have been able to pick up, not only from those who like the plane but from those who do not, I do not believe that the case for going on to produce the plane has been adequately answered. It is not for me to say whether it should be made, but for the man who is responsible—the Minister. It sounds to me as though the wrong decision has been made just because there is nobody to deal with the matter on a national, overall basis, but only as a sectional interest.
The performance of the plane appears to suggest that it would be as good as the performance the Americans claim for their own plane, and that it will certainly be ready as soon as the Americans' plane, even if they get an engine for it. The fact that they are looking for the Conway does not suggest that they are happy about their own engine. As to our selling the plane in sufficient number to break even, I would point out that with B.O.A.C., T.C.A., Transport Command and S.A.S., from what limited check I am able to make it seems that the chances are considerable of selling the 40 or 50 required to see whether the market builds up, as it did for the Viscounts.
1925 The Parliamentary Secretary said something about T.C.A. which does not seem to tie up with the story as one can discover it by inquiring around the industry. No doubt the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) will pursue that point. To say that T.C.A. dropped out of the field for orders before it knew that we were not going on with the aeroplane is stretching the case a bit too far. I think it would have stayed in had we gone on.
Perhaps I have taken longer with my speech than some hon. Members like, but I believe that the decision in this case is open to criticism. It throws up more than anything else the fact that there is something wrong with the organisation of the industry and with the arrangements for Government policy, and Government contol and influence in the industry. It all builds up to the request for an inquiry and, even more, for having a change in the position of the Ministry of Supply in relation to other Departments and to the industry.
While we shall not divide against the Government tonight, we want to give the Minister of Supply notice that between now and the presentation of his Estimates we want evidence that the Government are thinking anew about the industry and about their own place in the scheme of things. If they are not willing to have an inquiry the Minister had better be prepared to come along with convincing evidence about the hard thinking that he has done in the meantime.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ The Minister of Supply (Mr. Reginald Maudling)
This debate would normally have been concerned with the nationalised industries, but I gather that the Opposition thought it convenient to take up the subject of aircraft production. Hence my right hon. Friend and myself are taking part in the debate on behalf of the Government. I am glad to have a chance to say something, because it is opportune to make a statement in the House on policy in civil aircraft production. I may not cover the whole of the industry, which is still predominantly a military industry, because we are only discussing civil aircraft. I will try to give the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) the clear picture for which he asked, and to deal with most of the points 1926 made by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown).
I was most interested in what the right hon. Gentleman said about disquiet in the unions, and I shall be very glad if he will let me have the details which he offered. I am anxious to pursue any criticism or suggestion from such a responsible quarter on the conduct of the industry. Tomorrow I am receiving a deputation from the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions, which asked a little while ago if I would see it on the question of redundancy. I welcome this opportunity of talking with the deputation on a matter which is clearly of great importance to the unions and to hon. Members who represent areas such as Coventry, where much aircraft production activity takes place.
§ Mr. Maudling
Yes, it is a national deputation from the Confederation itself.
Both the right hon. Member for Belper and the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) referred to the development-contract system. There is a little confusion about it. It is a subject in which I am extremely interested and which I was studying in the United States recently. The Americans' procurement system is practically identical with our own. I spent one morning asking people in the Pentagon about their procedure and I had exactly the same questions asked of me that afternoon in the Pentagon from people who wanted to know about our procedure. We found that the answers were much the same. Development contracts are based almost entirely on a system of cost plus fixed fee and not cost plus percentage. The fee is calculated on a pretty narrow margin.
The truth is that firms like to make their profits out of production orders and not out of development orders, from which they do not make substantial profits. The real incentive is the production that follows. If hon. Members talk about large sums of money being spent and no aircraft appearing, I point out that aircraft production is about two and a half times what it was when they were in office, a substantial expansion. I shall deal later with the other points.
§ Mr. Beswick
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the difference between our own system and that of the Americans. It is said that there is a penalty clause in the American form of contract which is not in ours. Is that the case?
§ Mr. Maudling
The Americans have experimented with some form of penalty but the impression I got was that they did not find a form of penalty that was effective. I am anxious to find more incentives to good development and not penalties for poor development. It is difficult to put into a practical definition what is a good job of work and what is not. I was interested to find that on both sides of the Atlantic the same problems and difficulties are arising.
It is important to maintain a balanced view of the industry. We should look at an aircraft, not as some rather mystic symbol of national prestige, but as a means of transport. If aircraft succeed as commercial vehicles national prestige follows. First, let us build our aircraft and operate them successfully; then the prestige will come.
It is very important not to go to the other extreme view about the aircraft industry. Some people say that every gleam in the eye of a British designer is the best in the world. Although I think that, by and large, more bright ideas still come out of this country than out of any other, we must not be complacent about it. I cannot accept the view of the industry taken by the hon. Member for Coventry, North, who was about as inaccurate on every point as it was possible to be.
§ Mr. Edelman
The right hon. Gentleman has made a sweeping allegation in saying that I was as inaccurate on every point as I could possibly be. My only point was about the redundancy in Coventry in the aircraft industry caused by his own inefficiency. The right hon. Gentleman has just said that he will be receiving a deputation on redundancy introduced by the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions. On what point was my speech inaccurate?
§ Mr. Maudling
I was clearly referring to that part of the hon. Member's speech in which he gave his views on the aircraft industry. I was saying this his views on the so-called ring of the aircraft constructors, the way in which the money is spent 1928 and the way in which aircraft are produced—all his statement about the efficiency or lack of efficiency in the industry was completely inaccurate. What he says about my personal efficiency is, of course, more open to debate.
There is a very interesting comparison to be made between this country and the United States. So far as I have been able to obtain figures, it seems pretty clear that we get more results from a given quantity of technical man-hours than do the Americans. They have far more technical man-hours and facilities at their disposal than we have, but for a given amount of technical effort I think that we get better results. As a general assessment of whether or not an industry is efficient, I think that is about as good a method as we shall readily find.
The difficulty about the industry is one which has been referred to by the right hon. Member for Belper—the lack of balance between development and production. There is no doubt that while, in many cases, our production resources are under-employed—or, at any rate, not overstrained—and will become less employed as the demand for military aircraft falls away, on the development side there is a very considerable strain on our technical manpower and facilities. Two pieces of evidence of that have already been mentioned. The first is the competition for technical manpower, which is very disturbing because it pushes up costs without producing greater output.
The other example of the shortage of design and development capacity is the Bristol Aeroplane Company's proposal to develop the Britannia's successor in conjunction with people in the United States who have the necessary facilities at their disposal. In order to get this matter quite clear, I should say that the company has rightly consulted me—at the right stage—about my views on its proposals, and as I am even now considering them I cannot yet give the House my views upon them. Should the proposals be completed and carried forward, arrangements would be made for the proper recovery to the taxpayer of the money invested in the B.E.25. This matter was raised by one hon. Member.
The system which we always adopt when supporting the development of civil aircraft or engines is to pay a development contribution on the understanding 1929 that a specific sum per unit is repaid as sales go on. In each case an agreement must be come to with the company as to the amount to be invested and the rate at which it shall be repaid. It is almost, I think, in the nature of an equity investment. That system would be applied in this case. There are always clear contractual arrangements with the firms to ensure that, before a firm sells abroad any aircraft the taxpayers have financed, the interests of the taxpayers are properly guarded.
The really serious problem is the strain on design and development resources. The more an industry is overloaded in that sphere the more difficulties and delays and apparent inefficiencies there appear to be. The criticism has been made that we are very good at producing new ideas but not so good at producing the actual aircraft. I think that the distinction is more subtle than that. In this country the initial ideas do come forward very well, and when it comes to producing we can produce very well when we have the aircraft in the final production form. It is always at the point between the initial idea and the final development of the aircraft that the difficulties arise, and by comparison with America that is where we are particularly short of resources of all kinds.
In looking at the future, we must base our ideas as to our capacity to design and develop aircraft on the capacity of our manufacturers to produce the designs and build up, develop and test the aircraft, and also on the capacity of our operators to take an aircraft and give it its first running in. That is another great advantage that the Americans have —the very large numbers of military and civil aircraft they can order. They can thoroughly test out the engines and give them the thorough flogging, day in and day out, that is necessary to bring them to proper efficiency. We must, therefore, base our plans on the manufacturers' capacity to design and develop and on the operators' capacity to break in the aircraft.
There are other aspects. First, there are a number of minor projects, which though minor in size may, in sum, be very important. There are such developments as the Dove and the Heron of de Havilland: the Handley Page Herald: Scottish Aviation's Twin Pioneer—and 1930 possibly the Rotodyne. Here, for the future, are a number of very promising smaller aircraft whose sales may prove to be very big Just because they are smaller in size than some of the more glamorous machines we must not forget the contribution they can make to the economy.
Then there is the V-800, and, following that, the Vanguard—a magnificent line of succession based on collaboration between Vickers-Armstrongs and Rolls-Royce. Thirdly, there is the Britannia which, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield) said in, if I may say so, a most admirable maiden speech, will be the first turbo-prop or turbo-jet aircraft operating non-stop across the Atlantic—and some time before the American long-range jets do so. Finally, there is the Comet IV, which will, of course, operate over very long stages—as we have seen from the recent performance of the Comet III—and which will be unable only to do the non-stop Transatlantic route in the difficult East-West direction.
There are four categories of aircraft, and they have their families. I think that is very important, because one of the successes of the American industry has been to build a series of aircraft and establish goodwill with consumers. In that way, if one sells an aircraft like the Viscount one can establish goodwill for the next stage, and in those types and their families we can have a magnificent exporting industry. In addition, there is the aero-engine business. Perhaps it is not always realised how much of the life of an aircraft is represented by the cost of engines. I believe that about 40 per cent. of the total spent on an aircraft in its lifetime is spent on engines, spare engines and engine spares.
If we can get into the engine business, and get American aircraft to fly with our engines in them, it will be extraordinarily good export business. In the matter of engines, therefore, we should take it as a principle that it is advantageous to sell the engine, then to license people to make the engines and then, while the licensees are learning how to make the present engine, you can go ahead and develop the next. I think that is the way Rolls- 1931 Royce has carried on and it has proved very successful.
This is the picture for the present. With this range of civil aircraft and engines we have the capacity to earn an enormous income in the export markets over the next eight years or more. What comes after that? We must consider with great care the next step. As I have said before, we are now considering with the operators and with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation —and we shall consider with the manufacturers—the right step for the future to get maximum utilisation of the design and development resources we possess and of the operating resources that we possess. In this connection, I should like to assure my hon. Friend that we shall consider the views put forward from every quarter, not merely from the operators, but from manufacturers.
In addition, I shall have the extremely valuable advice of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, which, as I think everyone will agree, is a really magnificent source of scientific strength in this country, and which is much admired in the United States. Before taking a decision about the next step in civil aviation we shall have to get the complete views of all the people concerned, and we are at present arranging for that to be done.
§ Mr. Beswick
The Minister is talking about deploying our national resources, and must therefore take into account all the resources at present employed on military aircraft. Is this committee—or are these people—empowered to look at the resources now being employed on military projects? In other words, can they shove a little in that direction and make more room for civil and military transports?
§ Mr. Maudling
The responsibility rests on the Minister of Supply, and all the work on military account is done on his order. That is where the co-ordination will take place and where the responsibility certainly rests.
I think that the argument that remains is whether this particular range of aircraft is adequate. This, of course, has special reference to the V-1000 and the V.C.7, about which I shall say a word in a minute. The story of the V-1000 or the V.C.7, which is the civil version, 1932 has been given, but I should like to give it in a little more detail. May I start by assuring the right hon. Gentleman that what I said the other day in answer to a Question was accurate, and I have no qualification to make about it.
The only aircraft that has been partly constructed is the V-1000, designed to meet the definite requirements of Transport Command. No work has been done on the civil version, and no Government money has been spent on the civil version. It was a military aircraft to meet a definite requirement of the R.A.F., but as I said the other day it has taken longer than had been anticipated to meet the specification, and I say quite categorically that, on all the advice I have received, there is no doubt in my mind that this aircraft could not have met the specification required by the date envisaged, which is what I said. Whether or not it would in future have met the specification I do not wish to argue either way.
I think that the future performance of aircraft is not a thing which we can judge with very great mathematical precision. There was no prospect of this aircraft meeting the original requirement at the time intended. If there had been, the R.A.F. would gladly have taken the machine; there is no doubt about it. The R.A.F. decided that it did not want it because it was taking longer than had been anticipated, and because in those circumstances the R.A.F. could, by buying Britannias instead, get the job which it had in mind done more quickly and at much less expense on public funds. That is the real reason why the military version was cancelled.
Turning to the civil version, I tried to discover what way there was of proceeding with the civil version as a separate civil venture. It would have needed quite a bit of redesigning to meet the ideas of the civil operators. I consulted the home operator and the firm. The point here is that it is perfectly clear that we could not launch an aircraft of this size and type on the world market unless it was first bought and run in by a home operator. About that there is no argument, and the firm itself never questioned that.
The only home operator was B.O.A.C. and, therefore, we asked that Corporation whether it wished to order this aircraft. As my hon. Friend said earlier, 1933 the Corporation never in fact ordered it. It always expressed interest but never ventured into any commitment. The Corporation's answer was that it had already investments in British aircraft of over £80 million, I think, which is a great support to the industry, and that this aircraft did not fit in with its timing plans or route patterns, and it was not likely to possess any significant competitive advantage in time or performance over the American aircraft which would counterbalance those disadvantages. So the Corporation said that it did not see that it could order the aircraft.
§ Mr. G. Brown
Would the Minister think again about that? I have reason to believe that the position of B.O.A.C. is that had the military version gone on so that the jigging and tooling costs had been borne, not only by B.O.A.C. but by the others too, they would have been quite happy to have begun the alteration of these planes. It was the decision to cancel the military one that threw this one out.
§ Mr. Maudling
That is not correct. What I said is specifically the view of the Corporation. Time-wise and route-pattern wise, it does not fit in with the Corporation's other requirements.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
Is it not true that the wings of the civil version were to be different and, therefore, the wing jigs would not have been suitable'? The cost could not have been spread between the military and civil version.
There has been talk about both the R.A.F. and B.O.A.C. taking it, but the civil version is very different from the military version and involves the complete redesigning of the wing to meet the civil requirements. They are not the same aircraft; they would be quite different aircraft. For these reasons we decided that we could not justify putting the taxpayers' money behind this venture in circumstances in which the firm itself agrees, on commercial grounds, that it would not put its own money behind the venture.
How does this leave this country's prospects in the air? I think that people should not exaggerate the position or make an out-of-scale contrast with the United States. It is true that in the early 1960s we shall not have any very long- 1934 range turbo-jets operating, but neither will the United States have a long-range turbo-prop capable of crossing the Atlantic non-stop.
There are arguments, by no means decisive on either side, as to whether the future lies with the turbo-jet and its speed or the turbo-prop and its economy. Our projects in the civil aviation line will be the medium-range turbo-prop Viscount, and its successors; the long-range turboprop Britannia and the long-range turbojet, the Comet. These are three definite categories of aircraft. The Americans are producing a medium-range turbo-prop and two very long-range turbo-jets, two categories of aircraft. So already we are spreading our catalogue, as it were, over a wider range than the Americans. That is a point which we must bear in mind when we realise the competitive position of this country compared with that of the United States. We can offer a greater variety of civil aircraft than they can.
The only aircraft that we cannot offer in the early 'sixties is one that can do flights both ways across the Atlantic nonstop. Having crossed the Atlantic twice in the last 10 days, I can say that people should realise that it is possible to cross non-stop in the winter, but landing when one gets there is another matter. Anyone who thinks that there can be guaranteed regular operations across the Atlantic is rather optimistic.
In considering our policy for the future we must remember that in order to sell in competition with the United States in the world market, we must produce something significantly better than that which the United States offers. This is because world airlines have been so used for so long to buying American and American spares—and to American technicians and engineers—that in order to obtain a switch to buying from Britain we must have something significantly better or something that America does not offer. That is where the Viscount has been a remarkable achievement, breaking into a market which has been dominated entirely by the United States almost since the beginning of aviation. Therefore we must produce something significantly better, and recognise that in design and development American resources are much greater than ours—whether we look at the number of wind tunnels they have, at the money that they can spend, at the engineering resources which they have, at 1935 the number of aircraft they can order, or at the flying weather which is their most important advantage of all. The weather never troubles them. At Edwards Field they can fly almost every day, but the number of times we can fly from Boscombe Down is much more limited. In all these ways, they have greater resources than we have, and yet I believe that we use the resources which we have more efficiently than they do.
The only way to win in a contest between David and Goliath is to pick one's effort very carefully and concentrate on things that will really succeed instead of dispersing one's efforts by trying to compete with one's opponent in every possible way. I think, therefore, that we must concentrate on building on the successes that we have and in not dispersing our effort too widely.
The right hon. Gentleman asked if we had adequate powers to ensure concentration. That depends on what is meant by concentration. I do not know if he is thinking in terms of concentration of firms. In that connection one does not have to believe in shot-gun marriages in order to express belief in the principles of matrimony.
In this connection I think that the Ministry of Supply has considerable powers because, by and large, there are few projects for large aircraft which can be started in this country without Ministry of Supply backing. Before the Minister of Supply backs an aircraft he should satisfy himself that not only are the development resources available but that the production resources are available, too. I have no doubt that the powers exist, and that if such a pattern is not followed in the British aircraft industry it is not because the Minister has not the powers but because he has failed to use those powers which exist.
I have answered most of the points made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. The picture as I see it—and I hope it is a clear picture—is this: we must build on what we know we can do, we must build on successes and develop successes and concentrate our design and development resources into a few really profitable channels. If we look at Vickers, we see that it will now concentrate its design and development resources on the Vanguard, which will meet very severe 1936 competition from the Lockheed Electra. I believe that, in concentrating on the Vanguard, Vickers will put up a fine competitive struggle against that large American opponent.
With Vickers concentrating on the Viscount and its successors; with Bristol concentrating on the Britannia and its successors; and with de Havilland concentrating on the Comet and its successors; and with the range of small aircraft and of engines which I have mentioned, I believe that we have about enough projects fully to occupy, but not to overstrain, our development and design resources in this country. That is the target at which we should aim. I believe that if we continue on those lines we shall see the aircraft industry producing fine results for the trade, commerce and economy of this country.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
The speech of my right hon. Friend and that of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) have reminded us that there is one significant similarity between this and our last debate on the Corporations' accounts. The ordering of or the refusal to order certain types of aircraft has been the prime feature of the discussion in each case.
Last year, the point at issue was B.O.A.C's proposal to obtain 10 D.C.7.C.s from the United States. Today, we are concerned with the refusal to order, or the lack of interest in, the Vickers V.C.7. I will not, in my few remarks, argue the merits or otherwise of the Corporation's decision, but I will attempt to make some observations on the methods and principles which we follow in ordering our civil aircraft. The line which I adopted last year, when we discussed the ordering of the American D.C.7C.s was that this was commercially a prudent course for the Corporation to follow. I said at the time, and I still say now, that in the strictly business sense —that is to say, if financial results are to be the prime concern—it was hard to see how the Board of the Corporation could have arrived at any other conclusion.
By the same token, it may well be that the decision of the Corporation not to ask for the civil version of the V-1000 is commercially justifiable. I do not say that it is nationally justifiable, but it 1937 may well be commercially justifiable in the existing circumstances. In my view, the mistake which was made over the V-1000—which, I think, would not have been made in the United States—was that the original requirement was based primarily on a military rather than a civil specification. This seems to me to be a clear case of putting the cart before the horse and it is to the principles here involved that I want to address my few remarks.
I have always thought and said that some clear Government directive is needed, beyond what is stated in the Act and the Charter, saying what the purchasing policy of B.O.A.C. should be. In this case, we are dealing with a nationalised airline in which considerations of national prestige arise far transcending anything which would normally apply to the independent operators.
It is, I believe, a little hard to criticise these B.O.A.C. accounts one year if a fair trading result is not obtained, and then, a few years later, to castigate the Corporation, if, for purely commercial reasons, it decides to go to the United States to order aircraft or refuses to order them from this country. As I see it, the decision has to be faced sooner or later. Either we must say to the Corporation. "You are a British airline; the prestige of the British aircraft industry is at stake; export factors affecting our balance of payments are involved; therefore we want you to fly British and British aircraft alone"; or else we must say, "You are a commercial airline operating in a strictly competitive field; go anywhere you like to purchase your aircraft, either to the United States or to the British industry, but make sure that your buying is strictly commercial and is undertaken in the interests of the trading position of the Corporation."
Unless there is a clearer statement of policy, stating which of these two positions the Government intend the Corporation to take up, we shall be bedevilled every few years with these politico-commercial arguments with which we have become so familiar. If we do not do something on these lines, then in a similar debate, in two or three years' time, we may well be arguing the merits or otherwise of a proposal to purchase the D.C.B.
1938 If I say that I favour the first of these alternatives—to fly and buy British —it is only because I remain quite immovable in my conviction, that, given reasonable opportunities, the British manufacturers will, between them, meet any challenge which may arise. In saying that, I make one proviso—that we must recognise that we shall not in the long term compete successfully with the United States in this industry until we accept the principle that Transport Command of the R.A.F. must become a proving ground for our civil airliners of the future. It is my view that one of the paramount reasons for the American success in this field is that the United States Air Force has accepted into service the forerunners of their great civil airliners. The examples are there for all the world to see—the D.C.4, the D.C.6, and now the Boeing 707 and the Lockheed Electra.
Transport Command must become to our aircraft manufacturers what the international road race has been to Bentley, to Jaguar, to Aston Martin and, let us not forget it, to Mercedes. If this is a necessity for British civil aviation, and I profoundly believe it is, so also is it an unanswerable requirement in our policy for defence in the years ahead, which the Foreign Secretary has called the "period of the long haul." Of course, I cannot disguise my belief that there is now a need for some permanent, representative and authoritative committee, rather on the lines of the Brabazon Committee, to be set up to advise successive Governments on the ordering and development of civil and military aircraft. Only in this way shall we achieve some continuity in the face of the Governmental changes which arise.
I have said something about policy and principle. Let me, in the few moments which remain to me, submit a thought or two on the main direction of B.O.A.C. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) is not here, because he made some points this afternoon with which I fully agreed. I do not always agree with him—certainly, I disagreed with him in last year's debate—but today I gladly take the rather unusual course of congratulating him on his contribution, which was in direct contrast to his somewhat vitriolic contribution twelve months ago.
1939 I say at once that, as far as it goes, I do not criticise the present composition of the Board of B.O.A.C. I do not doubt that its individual members are all most capable men, possessing experience far above the average in the direction of great companies. This sort of experience is very valuable, and, indeed, indispensable to the Corporation. My criticism of the Board—and here I agree with what the hon. Member for Uxbridge and the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) said this afternoon—is that its representation does not include sufficient practical knowledge of the operation of modern post-war aircraft. This Corporation exists for one purpose and one purpose only—to operate a great fleet of aircraft in competition with world airlines. How much first-hand experience of the actual operation of modern civil transport aircraft, with all the responsibilities which this involves, is to be found among the present Board? I say very little—and that is putting it generously.
In my view nothing would be lost and much might well be gained by appointing two further directors, as the vacancies arise—we are not allowed to appoint more than eleven, and there are now ten —with just those qualifications of which the Board is now so signally deficient. No doubt it will be argued that such experience is already available to the Board through the medium of the executive management. I do not think that that is the answer—and, in any case, I must say that I do not think there is any excess of operational experience there.
To broaden the base of the Board in the way I now suggest would not only widen its authority but, much more important, would bring it far closer to those who maintain a standard of operational efficiency in the air which, in my view, is unsurpassed by any airline in the world. After a decade of operations, I cannot believe that the main direction of the Corporation should continue to lack just that experience which is to be found in other enterprises of a not dissimilar character. One has only to look at some of the airlines of the United States to see what I mean by that.
To that I would add only this. The loss of Mr. Whitney Straight and Mr. Peter Masefield to highly-paid executive 1940 posts in industry underlines the need for a thorough revision of the top salaries in the Corporations. I do not believe that we can expect to attract and retain—and that is the important thing, the retention —full-time executives of the type we need in these Corporations at the salaries which are now being paid. Sooner or later, this fact will have to be faced, and the sooner the Treasury is brought to understand it the better.
I close by asking my right hon. Friend to say how much longer it will be before B.O.A.C. again starts operating on the South American run. It is more than eighteen months since the Comets were withdrawn from service, and with them the Argonauts, from the Southern Atlantic. We are told in Paragraph 27 of the Chairman's Report this year, that the withdrawal of these services is only temporary, pending suitable aircraft becoming available. How long is "temporary"? Is it to be another eighteen months, or two years, before we shall reopen on this route? Has the possibility of operating a strictly limited service under charter to B.O.A.C., been examined and considered?
It is an important point of national prestige that the British flag is absent from the Southern Atlantic while Air France, Alitalia, K.L.M., and so on, are operating regularly. To extend the time that we are off this route can only do a disservice to British civil aviation. At present, if a passenger finds himself in Trinidad and wants to fly British back to London, he is obliged to do so by way of Montreal: Trinidad—Barbados—Bermuda—Montreal—London. Here, indeed, is "The Road to Roundabout."
One can almost hear the Chairman of the Corporation, summoning all those arts of salesmanship with which we are now familiar, and which I personally respect, repeating to would-be passengers on this route:There is good news yet to hear, and fine things to be seen,The day we go to paradise by way of Kensal Green.Sir, the sooner we are back on the South Atlantic run the better.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I was surprised to hear that the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) did not like the "vitriolic speech" 1941 of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) when he spoke in our last debate on civil aviation. It surprised me to know that he did not like vitriol, because had he been in this House when we were on the Government benches he would have remembered gallons of "vitriol" being poured out by his present colleagues when we were discussing this question, the pre-eminent and leading one being the present Secretary of State for the Colonies.
§ Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)
Surely my hon. Friend is not going to exclude the present Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, who called the present Chairmen of the Boards "quislings"?
§ Mr. Rankin
It is always wise to start in descending powers of x. That is sound mathematics. Two years ago I quoted one gem from one of the last speeches on civil aviation delivered by the present Colonial Secretary, and if the hon. Gentleman wants to see something vitriolic, let him read some of his right hon. Friend's speeches. As my hon. Friend has just said, as a sort of finish to his course of learning let the hon. Gentleman study some of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman who now presides over the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
I think that this is the first occasion on which the House has had the pleasure of discussing this industry as a whole—the airfields, the aircraft and the productive side. I welcome that, because for years I used to try to introduce the productive side when I was speaking, and was regularly ruled out of order. I am glad to see that now both sides of the House are taking the view that the three components must be discussed together if we are to form a proper estimate of the health of the entire industry. If we have reached that stage, then I suggest that we shall, in the long run, reach another stage. We have nationalised the airfields; we have put the Corporations—public bodies—in charge of the operational side, and to tidy up this whole industry we must, as has been emphasised from this side of the House, bring some form of public control into the productive side as well.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
As the hon. Gentleman is referring to the nationalisation of the airfields, I presume he has read the Report of the Select 1942 Committee on Estimates on this very subject.
§ Mr. Rankin
Yes, I have read it, and I should be very glad to deal with it, but unfortunately I have a number of points that I wish to make, and I cannot be expected to cover every aspect of this widely ranging debate. If I am to be interrupted, I am perfectly prepared to answer, but what I was saying has not been disturbed by the intervention of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams).
We are using public money in vast quantities on research and development in the industry. There is no denial of that. I agree with every word said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), despite what the Minister said later. The Minister cannot deny that hundreds of millions of pounds have been poured into the industry. The Minister called it "Government money" after he had denied the assertion of my hon. Friend, but that is public money. He cannot deny that huge dividends have been paid. He cannot deny that bonus shares have been issued by the industry.
When we discussed this matter, during an Adjournment debate initiated by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South a week last Thursday, the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) told us—and we respect his attitude in telling us—that the firm with which he is associated actually made £500,000 profit. But the next morning Hawker Siddeley revealed a £13 million profit, an increase of £4 million on the previous year. This came out of effort subsidised by the public, and that is the reason why we have to take the next step in the evolution of this industry and take some form of public control over the productive side.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone) rose —
§ Sir W. Wakefield
Is not it a fact that half of these profits go back into the 1943 pockets of the people, because the taxpayers are 50 per cent. owners, and also that much of these profits were made in Canada?
§ Mr. Rankin
Why make such a childish interruption? That is only begging the question. The hon. Member cannot deny the statement that appeared in the Daily Express that Hawker Siddeley made £13 million profit, an increase of £4 million on last year. I am not against that.
What I am against is that the country that provides a large part of the money that backs it has nothing to say about it, and no control over what that firm does. It has no power to say whether or not it is getting the goods for the money that is being poured into the industry. I know the feelings of those who have sat most of the day seeking to take part in the debate, and I leave that aspect, because we did to some extent get a chance of airing our views on it a week ago last Thursday.
I wish to raise certain matters about the airports in Scotland which I know well, and which I have been asked to raise tonight. I have given the Minister notice of some of these points, and if he finds it impossible to deal with all, or any, of them in his reply, I hope he will communicate with me, because some of them are quite important to us.
First, what is happening in connection with the maintenance base at Renfrew? This is the first opportunity we have had to refer to that base, because a year ago it was still in existence at Renfrew. Now it has been transferred to London Airport. One of the objections made by those of us who opposed the transfer, during the period of that long struggle, was that London Airport could not adequately deal with all the maintenance work necessary. Today, in the Press—I think it was the Daily Express —I am informed that London Airport, within the short time since the maintenance staff were transferred, is now sending out to private contractors the work that the staff should be doing themselves. We were told that they were fitted to do it, but they cannot do it. The work has been taken away from Renfrew and now we are informed it is being given out to private contractors. If that is true, then it is a terrible condemnation of the decision which the 1944 Minister took just a few months ago, and I hope he will have something to say about it later.
Then there is the need for the extension of Renfrew Airport. In the Report of B.E.A. we are told that 106,000 passengers passed through Renfrew in 1951. In 1954 that number had risen to 211,000. The passenger traffic was almost doubled within four years. That shows, of course, how successful B.E.A. has been. Therefore the extension of Renfrew Airport is already a pressing business. I hope the Minister has that in mind and will give us his views on the subject.
Might I draw attention to a minor point? At the old airport we were dealing with about 106,000 passengers a year and there were five telephone booths; now, when there are 211,000 passengers a year, we have two telephone booths. The queue for booths, especially on Monday mornings, is quite fantastic.
I want the Minister to think about the extension of the air ambulance service based not merely on Renfrew but on Lossiemouth, because I am sure he realises that there are great tracts of the Highlands of Scotland where accessibility to hospital treatment is not easy. The extension of the air ambulance service based not only on Renfrew but also on Lossiemouth would be of great value.
There is a further point about Renfrew. Last Wednesday night, when a Viscount came in, it had an accident. Fortunately it was nothing serious. The 52 passenbers on board got out safely and there was no damage. I am assured, however, that had the wind been in a different quarter, we might have had at Renfrew a disaster paralleled only by the one at Prestwick just a year ago. The approaching machine had the freedom of Renfrew golf course to land on because of the direction of the wind. I am assured that had the wind been in a different direction, the outcome might have been a very sad one indeed. I hope that the Minister will look into that matter, and will let me have his views. I know, of course, that there will be an inquiry later.
Then there is the question of Prestwick. We have heard a lot about the third runway. I wonder if we could know how it is progressing, and whether the Minister is going ahead with the full programme, which involves the building of 1945 the new control tower and also the passenger terminal.
I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to the need for thinking about fares. In one part of the Report reference is made to the fact that we want to transform this industry from a semi-luxury into a major industry. A week last Monday morning, when I was waiting to board the Viscount, the Heron took off for Tiree, which is, I think, about a 30-minute flight. I counted the number of passengers boarding the Heron. There were only five. She can hold 12 or 15, depending on the amount of freight carried. Those five passengers each paid a return fare of £6. That is a very heavy fare, because on the Islands wages are not so high as on the mainland.
I submit to the Minister that £6 for a flight of that distance is far too much. On Friday night, I travelled home on the Viscount and returned on it on Monday morning. The return fare is £10 5s., which includes an excellent dinner and breakfast that one does not get on the Heron when flying to Tiree. A comparison of the two fares shows that they are completely out of proportion. If passengers can be carried from Glasgow to London or from London to Glasgow at a return fare of £10 5s., including breakfast and dinner, then, surely, a return fare of £6 from Glasgow to Tiree is far too much. It would obviously be far better to have 12 passengers travelling on that flight at a return fare of £3 than to have five passengers at a return fare of £6, because then the machine would be fully employed.
We do not want the civil aviation industry to remain a luxury or a semi-luxury industry, but if we are to carry more people, then, obviously, we must look at the fares charged and try to bring them within the compass of the great mass of people who still do not travel by air.
On page 30 of the Report there is a graph to which I should like to refer. It tells one of the most interesting stores that I have read for a long time. It gives the B.E.A. fare index and compares it with the cost-of-living index. It shows the tremendous gap between the two indices. Since 1948, the cost of living has steadily gone up until it is now 40 per cent. above what it was that year. Since 1946 this Government have come into power it has jumped up even more sharply. It has risen by 30 per cent., and that is what the graph shows. But, since 1952, B.E.A. has reduced its fare index by 16 per cent. while during the same period the cost of living has risen by nearly 30 per cent. I am taking roughly comparable periods.
That is most interesting in view of the criticism that we often hear about public industries, because the price of the ticket covers the cost of everything. It covers the food to which I have referred, the clothing worn by the crew, and wages. Wages have gone up, as has the price of clothing and food. Last year B.E.A. paid £387,000 in taxation for the fuel it used. The cost of fuel has also increased. This public Corporation, with all its increasing expenses, has reduced the cost of operation while the Government, believing in an entirely different principle—not the principle of public enterprise, but that of private enterprise —have seen the cost of living rise to drastic heights.
It might be worth while for the Minister to consult the Board of B.E.A. with a view to finding out how it managed to reduce the cost of its fares so appreciably while at the same time the Government have been unable to reduce the cost of living. It seems to me that many hon. Members opposite who used to criticise B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. so forcibly when they sat on this side of the House must be having almost a pang of regret at the way in which the public Corporations have progressed.
I should like to have referred to flying conditions, because I have here a letter from the captain of a Dove machine. Indeed, he is the whole crew of the machine. I will read out as quickly as I can the conditions under which, until quite recently, he was operating the machine. At 0915 hours he took off from Cardiff to Bristol, at 0955 from Bristol to Jersey, at 1135 from Jersey to Guernsey, at 1205 from Guernsey to Cardiff, at 1320 from Cardiff to Liverpool, at 1515 from Liverpool to Cardiff, at 1630 from Cardiff to Guernsey, at 1740 from Guernsey to Jersey, at 1825 from Jersey to Bristol and at 1945 from Bristol to Cardiff, and he then called it a day.
§ Mr. Rankin
The letter says:Allowing half a hour for flight planning and slip papers before take off, this service means an 8.45 a.m. start and seldom have I gone off duty before 8.30 p.m. after completing Custom formalities, journey and technical logs and filling in company flying return sheets.I hope that we shall not acquiesce in such conditions being continued.
The service being operated belonged to the Cambrian Airlines. The letter continues:On many an occasion when the whole day's flying has been /FR with beacon holdings and instrument approaches on most legs I have reached the stage where I pray for a straightforward last leg with a visual approach as I haven't felt able to cope with more procedure work or with anything out of the ordinary that is likely to arise.That raises the serious issue of fatigue. I am intensely interested in it, because I fly regularly. We want to know that the men in charge of these machines are fit, not merely physically, but mentally, all the time.
I know that the Minister is issuing regulations to ensure greater safety. Will he promise us that those regulations will ensure that no pilot, in any machine, flies a schedule such as that which I have just outlined?
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Farey-Jones (Watford)
Hon. Members might like to know that the few comments I shall make are the result of my connection with air transport and aeroplanes for nearly twenty-five years. I have been an airline operator, I have made aircraft, repaired them and insured them, and I have used them in Europe and in various parts of the Commonwealth. What I shall say is perhaps distasteful to hon. Members, but at least it is activated only by the motive that I want to see British civil aviation right on top of the world, where it is not today. It is, in fact, suffering from creeping paralysis.
In view the broad picture of British civil aviation, one asks oneself what is the position of the A.T.C., the boy group. Is there at present anywhere in this country where pilots can be trained, or to which young men who have perhaps served in the Armed Forces and who want to take up a flying career can be taught? With one exception, there is no pilot school to which they can go. That one exception, which is, perhaps, one of the 1948 best air universities in the whole world, is the A.S.T. at Hamble.
Only a few days ago, a constituent of mine at Watford came to me and said that he wanted to have his son trained to be a pilot. He had got him accepted at Hamble, and he was the only British boy being trained at that university, which is not only the finest in the Commonwealth, but there is not one like it in the United States. In addition, anyone who goes to Poole Harbour, in Dorset, can see the grave of perhaps the greatest British flying idea that one can remember: that is, the flying-boat.
I have listened to every speech in the debate, which, so far, has been more an argument that the only things that matter are engines or the type of aircraft that is to fly the North Atlantic. What is needed, by both sides of the House, is a fundamental and completely different approach to the problem of air transport.
It appears on all sides as though we are terrified by the magnitude of the organisation and the orders that can be placed in the United States. I recently completed an examination, which occupied me for very nearly four years, of all the techniques and operations of all the world's registered airlines. Before the war, I was a representative on the old International Air Transport Association, and towards the end of the war, when the Chicago Conference was held, I was one of the three international advisers who brought the new world air transport organisation into being. Dr. Goedhuis, of Holland, the late Colonel Gorell, of America, and myself formed the advisory committee.
Both sides of the House have made mistakes, but if we have the right approach, if we approach this problem from the Empire, Colonial and Dependency point of view, we could, within ten years, not only compete with, but exceed, the total summit of results of the United States. There is no doubt about that.
At the end of the war we did something which is mitigating all the time against the undoubted success of our manufacturers and against our trans-continental and trans-oceanic operation. We created in the two Corporations a deadly monopoly, another Government Department. Now, we have all—both sides of the House—arrived at the stage when we 1949 must face up to the appalling fact that British transport companies are receiving less share of the growing bigger cake in air world transport than we have had even since the war; and the share is still decreasing.
I do not make a criticism like that without saying to the House that the first thing I want to see done, and the greatest contribution I ever hope to succeed in making, is to try to raise civil air transport in the British Empire completely above party politics in this House. We have to realise for a start that provided there is not a third world war, in civil aviation lies the greatest promise that offers to the British people, not only in this island, but to the development of our Colonies and the Dominions.
We want small aircraft, larger aircraft, and still larger aircraft, and we want the trans-oceanic aircraft of ten years' time. The other day I heard my right hon. Friend the Minister himself say from the Government Front Bench that unless he could get the home operator to handle aircraft, there was nothing that could be done about it. Have we not in this House, on both sides sufficient vision to get the whole Empire into our future programme of the next ten, fifteen or twenty years? Are B.O.A.C. the only possible people who can prove or test aircraft? I deny it.
My proposition, which, I hope, will be considered on both sides of the House, is that the Government should form a financial corporation to buy and acquire the shares of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., to get the shipping companies and the independent operators to retain even B.E.A. and part of B.O.A.C., and to allot various regions of interest throughout the Commonwealth and all over the world to those groups who are best fitted to carry this out. The financial corporation belonging to the Government—if one likes belonging to the people—should have a 50 per cent. capital interest in any airline in which it is interested. Unless we do something like this, there will be a continuation of the rot that has already begun. I do not mince matters; it is a rot.
I have said that British air transport is getting less and less share of a very big cake. Having been in air transport of one kind or another for well over twenty years, I can tell the House what 1950 is happening. All the bright fellows who would normally be interested in air transport are going to Canada or to the United States, and some of them to New Zealand or Australia; but nearly all of them are going to Canada or the United States.
This does not only apply to those who are interested in air transport. It also applies to technicians and people who will be a godsend to this country in five, seven and fifteen years' time. We must see a little ahead. If the world becomes peaceful, civil air transport will have a fantastic importance. Let us be quite blunt about it. The British aircraft industry, since the war, has been enabled to exist only through military support, but in three or four years' time it is quite possible that the pressure of the build-up of military aircraft will become less and less, possibly even less than 50 per cent. of what it is now.
I believe that it was the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) who spoke about the possibility of redundancy and unemployment in his constituency. How many hon. Members realise that the export of one modern aircraft valued at £1,250.000 is equal to the export of at least 350 motor cars valued at £500 each?
§ Mr. Farey-Jones
Yes, but since then the stepping up of exports has become infinitely more important. The export of aircraft throughout the world is the first target for the United States, yet a man who undoubtedly has the mental capacity for the job—I refer to the present Chairman of B.O.A.C.—is devoting some of his unquestioned talents to thinking about car gears, when the roads of Great Britain are so cluttered up that no one who has not made the journey can imagine what a week-end trip between London and Brighton is like.
If we were able to secure that Airwork, Huntings, the Lancashire Aircraft Corporation and all the shipping companies and interests throughout the Empire had a vital interest with the Government in civil aviation, what kind of picture would the aircraft manufacturers have within three or four years? It would be a healthy, sound, happy, worth-while, optimistic picture compared with the present situation when, as a result of a 1951 B.O.A.C. decision, one aircraft manufacturer has to sell whatever he has left of a projected aircraft for scrap.
I should like to pay a great tribute both to the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and to his Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I know how hard they have worked since they took office, but I want to see every airline in the Commonwealth sending their executives at least once a year to plan ahead—and not for eight or ten aircraft for B.O.A.C. I can tell the House that in 1960 Empire airlines alone can use 460 large aircraft. That is at least 410 more aircraft than are likely to be ordered by B.O.A.C. in any one year for the next ten years at the present rate of showing.
The larger of all the world airlines are faced with the problem now of what aircraft they shall order for delivery between 1960 and 1965 which will set the pattern for the use of those airlines for the following fifteen years. That goes for aircraft engines and all the ancillary equipment. Therefore, the prize which we in Great Britain have to try for is something in export value so astronomical and so vital to the country's survival that both sides of the House have in some way to meet each other's point of view. We have to combine the work of national corporations with the driving force of private enterprise, particularly in the matter of civil aviation.
I want to bring forward another important point which was touched upon by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield), in a maiden speech. We have one of the finest airports in the world at London Airport. I will not say that the present Government by themselves were responsible for all of it. That would not be true. Some hon. and right hon. Members opposite were responsible as well. At the moment, however, we have no free Customs area at that airport. Unless we rapidly create one, that world air development will reach the stage at which an international airport for Europe will be established perhaps at Rotterdam or Frankfurt. Something will have to be done about it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to be brought into consideration of this matter, because our Customs will have to be completely reorientated.
1952 It was a tragedy that yesterday, or the day before that, Airwork's air service across the North Atlantic was given up. I know that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary very carefully said that the word "suspended" meant suspended, and that the service might be put into operation again. These private, independent operators should have at least a fair crack of the whip, which they have never had up to now. They never had it even in the days before the war of the struggle between British Continental Airways and British Railways clearing house. Some hon. Members opposite will remember my lobbying them, and particularly how I lobbied the late Mr. Arthur Jenkins, of Pontypool, who helped us in our fight against the attempt of the railways to stop airline bookings.
If we approach this problem from the completely realistic Empire angle, we have to realise that we are not only looking for aircraft which will fly the North Atlantic. In British Guiana, the West Indies, South Africa, in the new kingdom of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, people are looking for little aeroplanes. Flying boats that will develop communication on the west coast of South America are also being sought. The opportunity given to the British aircraft industry is so vast that it cannot possibly be measured, but if anyone thinks that one can release the pioneering British spirit by keeping this whole, vast enterprise of the future in the hands of one board of directors they certainly deserve the failure which certainly is creeping upon us.
As a member of the Air League and of its council and executive for very many years, and also as a member of the Guild of Air Pilots of the British Empire, I tell the House that the creeping paralysis over British civil aviation since the war is appalling to anybody who cares to study it.
The hon. Member is talking about parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire crying out for small aircraft. Can he say what there is about the present policy which prevents anyone from, say, Rhodesia, the Caribbean, or anywhere else ordering a Pionair or a Handley Page Herald?
§ Mr. Farey-Jones
It is a matter of lack of interest. The Corporations are interested in nothing but running their own 1953 airlines, and unless there are other groups of companies doing airline work of a different kind from that of the Corporations, no manufacturer in this country will make that type of aircraft. Suppose one wants a certain type of light aircraft to spray tobacco fields in Rhodesia. Which British manufacturer could afford to make, say, six?
§ Mr. Beswick
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that B.O.A.C. should buy some of these small spraying aircraft in order to provide a market for them?
§ Mr. Farey-Jones
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will try a little harder. If we create a healthy atmosphere in British civil aviation and extend that atmosphere to cover the Dominions and Colonies, we shall create a confidence in this country which does not at the moment exist. I do not mean confidence in the people of this country and the country's ability to survive, or confidence in this Government. I mean another sort of confidence. Where are the people of the Dominions and nearly all the Colonies going for their aircraft and engines? They are going to the United States of America for them. We must face that problem.
It is true that Vickers scored a very wonderful success with the Viking. No one could be prouder of that than I am. It is very disheartening to go round world airlines and see nothing but American aircraft wherever one goes. We must remember that at present and during the next two years the strategic planning of the next twenty years is taking place; and we have not time to make mistakes.
I would emphasise that we ought seriously to do something about the training of pilots. It is far from enough to rely purely on the R.A.F. to provide the pilots for our civil requirements. I would also suggest that an aviation adviser should be appointed to the Colonial Office.
If we do not take advantage of the undoubted desire of shipping and other interests to get into air transport, the paralysis which is already creeping upon 1954 us will put us well behind in world air affairs.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
I do not want to detain the House long, because I want to deal with a purely local point. I certainly have no intention of echoing the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones) in his gloomy prognostications. I have no sympathy at all with his extraordinary scheme of introducing financial interests into the two great Airways Corporations, which received such great praise today, I was glad to hear, from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. A study of air developments contemporaneously in the world and in the past does not lead me to believe that the hon. Gentleman's suggestions of private interests is likely to bring about a happy or practical solution.
It was a great pleasure to listen to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary giving almost unstinted praise to the two great public Corporations and their ever growing extension. I feel that his speech gave the lie to some of the anti-nationalisation remarks of the less thoughtful hon. Members opposite who support the Government in the Lobby, but whose general absence from the debate at the moment is probably not deplored by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I was very grateful for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's survey and for the very agreeable terms in which he made it.
I believe that I shall be in order in raising the subject of noise, because in page 29 of the B.E.A. Report, in the second paragraph these words appear: "By October, 1954, the last workshops had been removed from Northolt to the new engineering base at London Airport." This, no doubt, was a very welcome development from the point of view of servicing aircraft by that Corporation, but certainly added to the burdens of those many families living on the periphery of London Airport whose difficulties have been mentioned in previous debates by my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter), my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), myself and many others.
I hope that it will not be thought that those of us who raise this matter of noise want to be continually nagging at the airport authorities, or discouraging them. 1955 All of us realise that they have a very tricky problem at this heavily worked airport, which is centred almost in the midst of a great residential area. We are all proud of their achievements and that is particularly so for those of us who, last Friday, were privileged to be at the formal opening of this very great undertaking and enterprise.
It is, however, our duty continually to bring before the Minister the really intolerable conditions to which a group of people are subjected because of the increasing activity at the airport. Since the last discussion, which was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham, there have been further developments of a very unfortunate kind. I am informed that almost continually at the beginning of November there was air testing or tuning in the early hours of the morning for six or seven nights between 2.30 and 4.30. Those of us who have experienced that noise for only a few minutes in close proximity to engines being tuned or tested know how excruciating it is. When it goes on for two or three hours at a time, in the early hours of the morning one can realise the intolerable interference with normal conditions of rest and living.
This matter was taken up by the South Harlington Residents' Association, among others, on 10th November. I regret to say that they did not get a reply from the Ministry until 8th December. I have written to the Minister about this, so I have no doubt that he has the matter under review. When the reply was received, it transpired, first of all, that the baffle wall, the acoustic wall, could not be used at the beginning of November, because of some work to part of the Central Air Terminal and, furthermore, it was considered that the testing was operationally necessary on all those occasions.
That made the experience very much more acute. A great many of my constituents have complained about noise, even when aircraft are being tuned in a proper position in relation to the baffle wall. Without the wall the amount of noise must have been very considerable indeed. Further, this intolerable noise is continuing and I have signed statements to say that on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th of December, again between 2.30 1956 and 4.30 in the morning, this noise continued—and again on the 11th and 12th.
We are entitled to ask the Minister whether it is always necessary that this tuning should be done at that time of the night. One can understand it, intolerable as it may be early in the evening—I have experienced it myself—up to 10 p.m., or after 7 a.m., but I would have thought that special efforts should be made to tune early in the morning, after 7 a.m. when people are beginning to get up, or at least not later than 11 o'clock at night.
I ask the Minister whether he can give some assurance that unless this work is absolutely essential to the safety of aircraft, it will not be done. We are always told that it is operationally necessary. I can imagine that operators who have to think of the maximum convenience of their staff and services can nearly always justify an occasion as being operationally necessary. Some other guarantee is required. I hope that the Minister—I am sure that he and his Parliamentary Secretary have done so—will give serious consideration to this intolerable burden which falls upon a number of families.
I have spoken to many of those concerned, and there is no doubt that their nerves are being badly affected. Certainly, in the case of children there can be no doubt that they are under a severe handicap compared with others more fortunate. All of us who, during the war years, suffered from continuous loss of sleep know the effect which that has upon one's health, mind and temper. It is a very heavy burden which I do not think that we should ask civilians to bear if there is any way in which it can be mitigated. I conclude by asking the Minister to look into these two cases of tuning during the first week or so in November and the dates which I have mentioned in December, and to see whether provisions laid down for the tuning and testing of engines could not be more rigidly enforced at London Airport.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
I will try to curtail my remarks for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman opposite who is to wind up this debate for his party, but if I am rather brief I hope that the Minister will not ignore my remarks.
I wish to refer to some of the statements of the hon. Member for Govan 1957 (Mr. Rankin) about the Hawker Siddeley profits being in the region of £13 million. A few days ago the hon. Member took part in a debate in which I spoke and he has displayed what appears to be a pathological hatred of anyone who makes profits. I do not see why there should be any deep party division about this. Benefit accrues to the nation from a company making profits and it is worth while remarking that, as I am informed, £5 million of the profits were made by the operations of this company in Canada. I should have liked to follow the comments of the hon. Member about Renfrew and the developments at Gatwick and whether we may be given some date of completion, and when operations at Gatwick may be started.
The hon. Member referred to flight time limitations and the example he quoted appeared, on the face of it, to be a shocking example of long hours and far too many landings for any form of operation. The question of safety is paramount if air transport is to gain the position which we expect of it. I should have thought that the time had arrived for further legislation on flight time limitations, but I hope that not too much detail will be entered into in any such legislation. To do so might well hamstring any operators, although I concede the point that safety must be the primary objective.
Perhaps I may be allowed to strike a slightly different note than might appear in the context of a debate on civil aviation. I do not think that it would be out of order were I to refer to the fact that this debate appears to have been put off at least twice before today, and that today it was a considerable time before we got to what right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have called an industry into which hundreds of millions of pounds of money have been poured. It seems more than unfortunate that this debate should take place on the last full Parliamentary day before the Christmas Recess and that many of the vital things we wish to talk about should have to be syphoned off or stifled.
I wish to raise two points relating to the competitive and comparative position of Britain and our operators with operators abroad. The first is the question of efficiency compared, for example, with the United States airlines and other air- 1958 lines. One of the scales or yardsticks that one might take are the figures of capacity ton miles per employee. I think that a reasonable yardstick, although it is not final and conclusive.
If one takes the figures of capacity ton miles per employee, the comparison between the two British Corporations on the one side and operators in other countries on the other is rather striking, and not altogether happy from our point of view. In the case of B.E.A., it is 10,791; for B.O.A.C., it is 12,655. At the other end of the scale, for T.W.A. it is just over 22,000; and for T.C.A. just over 20,000. There are, of course, various other airlines operating at figures between these two extremes. This comparison leaves room for grave disquiet about the operating efficiency of the two British Corporations.
In addition, over the last four years, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, Britain's share of the world market has been declining. The figures in this connection must also cause very grave disquiet, to put it at its lowest. In 1951, Britain achieved a share of 13.7 per cent. of the world market; in 1952, it was 13.5 per cent.; in 1953, it was 13.3 per cent., and in 1954, it was 12.6 per cent. This is in respect of the total of international scheduled airline operations in ton kilometers, which is another of the yardsticks in measuring operations.
It is notable that in this respect the United States' share went up by 0.5 per cent.; that of France by 2 per cent.; that of Holland by 2 per cent., and that of the Scandinavian countries by just over 1 per cent. The United Kingdom's share was down by 1 per cent. That cannot leave us particularly happy about the total efficiency of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. in comparison with other international operators—and this at a time when the potential market is expanding. I know that we are expanding operationally, but our share of the total is declining. As in the case of shipping, it leaves me particularly unhappy.
Now let us look at the figures of profitability of the two Corporations over the years. B.O.A.C.'s total losses to date are about £40 million, compared with the last annual figure of a profit of just over £1 million. B.E.A.'s total losses are about £18 million, compared with the figure of profitability in the one 1959 year which we are debating tonight. Although we should show some pride about that profitability, to boast about it is really to ignore the experience of the last few years, in respect of which the losses are very substantial. Before we can hold up the Corporations as profitable concerns we must consider the figure of accumulated losses over the years. What we need now is more competition on the operating side of the industry. I believe that to be vital. This should be coupled with political stability. The one thing which will prevent substantial development and expansion, and which will prevent British aviation from obtaining an increasing share of the world market, is political uncertainty at home.
I want to see a new policy under which there will be more competition and greater opportunity for independent operators while, at the same time, we maintain political stability. I am not suggesting a coalition, but we should have as little political difference about this sort of matter as possible. It seems to me that to a certain extent the two parties are inhibited by their political slogans and their rigid attitudes of yesteryear. One party shouts "nationalisation," and the other "free enterprise." In the case of civil aviation, I believe the answer to be somewhere between the two. We should harness the present experience of the Corporations and, at the same time, infuse into them, through the independents, a greater spirit of competition. Now is the moment to review the development of the policy which occurred in 1952, to see whether or not we should now launch a new policy and give the independents a greater chance.
On the supply of aircraft, I have a great fear that the decision over the Vickers V-1000, and its commercial counterpart the V.C.7.C, means that we will be baling out of the last development in the subsonic field. Unless we produce more aircraft in the long-range pure jet category, we shall be faced with the same experience as de Havilland were immediately after the war, of having to take two development steps in one, in order to face competitors overseas.
The decision not to go on with the aircraft will hamstring our industry in its ability to supply aircraft which the operating side will need in fifteen years' time. As to the home market, I go part 1960 of the way with my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones), but not the whole way. When we talk of the home market we mean potentially a very small market indeed, a matter of six aircraft for Transport Command and six for one of the Corporations. That is just fiddling about with the matter.
At the stage where one draws up a specification it would be as well to encourage the executives of Commonwealth airlines to sit down with us, with no commitments either implied or given, and to specify the sort of aircraft which would suit the needs of all Commonwealth operators. I believe the attempt would be worth making, so as to expand what we call the home market. We would be more likely to sell aircraft to those operators at the end of the line than if we were designing for ourselves merely to hand the aircraft over to someone else at the end.
To sum up the points I wish to make, we now need a further injection of competition while maintaining political stability in the industry, and we need a review of the methods of drawing up specifications for new aircraft.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Reading)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) for truncating his observations to allow me to enter the debate. I would seek to repay his kindness by giving him, without immodesty or presumption, one small piece of advice. It is that he should not draw conclusions from figures unless he studies the figures more closely, and uses them with a bit more expertise than he has displayed this evening.
I am with him when he subjects the Corporations to careful scrutiny and criticism; but he reached unnecessarily gloomy conclusions because he did not take all the factors into account. For instance, as to our share of world traffic, if we merely take the operations of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., there has been a slow decline, but we have to remember the partnership arrangements which our Corporations have with other Empire operators such as with Qantas on the Kangaroo route and with South African Airways. We have voluntarily given up some of our share in order to make an effective partnership. Some hon. Members would think that we were right to do so.
1961 Secondly, there is the growing interest of our Corporations in a whole range of subsidiaries. One would have to add substantial fractions of their share of world traffic to the share of the Corporations in order to get a realistic figure. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider that that piece of advice fully recompenses him for his great kindness in giving way for me.
Airlines depend for their operation on three elements—men, machines and money. Most of the debate has been concerned with two elements only—money and machines; about the financial implications of airline operation and the aircraft which the operators use and are thinking of using over the next few years. I hope that I may be forgiven, therefore, if I devote most of what I have to say to the men at all levels, from management to the humblest worker, who keep our airline operations going, and if I say that on the way their problems are solved depends the success or failure of their employers, the airline operators.
Before deal with that matter, however, perhaps I may be allowed to deal with some of the observations of the Minister of Supply on the subject of machines. I was a little shocked to hear how complacent he was. As I listened to him I recalled the man he was a couple of years ago, in a different job, when he brought the razor edge of a critical intellect to bear on whatever problem faced him. When I heard him today, if he will forgive my saying so, and thought how flabby—I do not mean physically, but intellectually—he was in accepting the status quo because it is the status quo and believing that this is the best of all possible worlds, I was saddened at his grave deterioration from the days when he came fresh from the invigorating atmosphere of the Conservative Central Office.
If he really thinks that there is not something radically wrong with our aircraft manufacturing he is about the only man who has any contact with the industry who does believe that, and who does not suspect that there is a prima facie case for a serious investigation into it. The airline operators — certainly B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.—have every reason for saying that the British aircraft manufacturing industry has let them down 1962 hook, line and sinker since the end of the war. With the exception of the Viscount, British aircraft manufacturers have signally failed to produce a decent economic aircraft for our airline operators in anything like the time they promised, or in anything like the time the machines were wanted.
I do not believe that anybody in B.O.A.C. or any other British organisation takes pleasure in buying American or other foreign aircraft. The plain fact is that, saddled as they are with the obligation laid upon them by Parliament to make their ordinary revenue balance their ordinary expenditure—taking one year with another—the Corporations would have been untrue to their charge if they had not sought to get economic aircraft wherever they could, even though they had a predilection towards buying from Great Britain.
They have been let down all along the line. They have had aircraft of poorer performance than promised, delivery much later than promised, aircraft much less economical than promised, and of higher weights and lower pay loads than had been originally planned. Even today they know—and are having to go to great expense because they know—that the Britannia, like virtually all its British predecessors, is to be delivered very much later than was promised and very much later than the time by which it was planned to absorb it into service.
It will not do for the Minister of Supply to tell us that the aircraft firms look not to development contracts but to production for the source of their profits. It simply will not do. I beg him to take a list of all our aircraft manufacturers and to place a tick against the name of every one who has not made a successful aircraft for many years but has still made very big profits during every one of those years. He would find that he had placed a tick against the name of nearly every manufacturer.
It is true of the majority of aircraft manufacturers that though it is many years since they produced a successful aircraft their profits have risen steadily throughout the period. That does not seem to fit in with the right hon. Gentleman telling us that they look to production and not to development as a source of their profits. Nor do I think it right for him to come to the House—I think 1963 he makes rather the mistake of underestimating our intelligence—and saying, "We think our ordering procedures are all right, as they are pretty well the same procedures as are used in America."
I have seen the inside of aircraft factories in the U.S.A., and they laugh heartily at the procurement procedure of the United States Government because they do darned well out of it, and they know how much waste goes on. Let them get on with it. The United States can afford it. We cannot. If they do things in that way it does not follow that we have to do it in that way as well. Nor will it do for the right hon. Gentleman to tell those of us who have worked in aircraft factories, as I have done, that everything is all right because development contracts are not on the basis of cost plus percentage but on cost plus a fixed fee. This begs an important question: what do we mean by costs? What elements do we let people include in costs?
I put it bluntly to the Minister that one can "get by" the Ministry's costing inspectors. I want to tell the right hon. Gentleman that during the war when the administrators and technicians in an aircraft factory sometimes had rather a dull life—because we were working long hours and there was the blackout—a few of us produced a little booklet for strictly private circulation which was called, "Forty-eight ways of cheating the Ministry's costing inspector." Those were all ways which one or another of us had seen actually used in operation in factories.
§ Mr. Maudling
I should be obliged to the hon. Gentleman if he would send me a copy; it might help me.
§ Mr. Mikardo
There was a stage towards the end of the war when we thought that it would be discreet to destroy all the copies which had been made. I can remember a lot of it, and I shall be glad to make some of it available to the right hon. Gentleman out of the recesses of my memory.
I have seen some of this. I have seen tooling schedules got out in the following way. The company's financial controller has said, "We have a tooling contract. I think that the Ministry will stand for £100,000. Can we draw up a list of tools 1964 that comes to £99,998 19s. 11d."? In other words, the sum of money was fixed first and the tools were decided upon afterwards. That was a frightfully expensive way of doing it.
I say this to the Minister before I proceed to deal with the operation side. The Minister said that the British aircraft industry is bad at the stage of what is sometimes called "productionising" or converting from the prototype to the production line. He is right, but he did not properly diagnose the cause. The design stage has this to be said for it: when we make changes and modifications we can put matters right with a pencil and india rubber. We alter a few drawings for each modification, and alter weight calculations and stress calculations, on a piece of paper.
When we get to the production side we settle down to routine. The worst of the modifications are over. The problem in the productionising stage is that every modification means an alteration to the bill of materials, the schedule of parts, requisitions, and production control and stock control procedures. That is why that is the point where organising skill is most needed, much more than in design or in smooth production at the end; it is the point at which the British aircraft manufacturing industry is most deficient, and the reason is that the industry has not learned that there is no such thing as aircraft manufacture. There is aircraft design and aircraft development.
Past that stage there is engineering, and I wish to goodness that we could get engineering done by engineers who are not suffused by the mystique of aircraft flying romantically into the sun. That is all poppycock. The British aircraft industry suffers from the fact that for far too many years—and in some cases still—the designer became the managing director. Managing directors require qualities opposite to those required by designers. We still suffer from that trouble.
When I turn to the subject of the men who run our machines, I want to make some comments to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, because at one point in his speech—or rather in the reading of his brief, which he did with such beautiful diction and at such high speed—he touched upon human relations. That was his reference to the regulations which he 1965 promised to control working hours and rest periods for aircrew. We shall all be glad to have them. Some people, including myself, think it none too soon; we think we should have had them before.
We recognise, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South, that fatigue can be a great element in danger. Indeed, from my own experience in this industry I should not care to say that this factor has never been the cause of a major air crash in British airlines. There is some evidence to suggest that it has been a cause on at least one occasion.
Even now, the unions which represent aircrew are not altogether happy with the first shot which the Minister has had at these Regulations. Of course, I know he will not ignore their views, but I want him to give full weight to them, because it sometimes turns out that the chaps on the job—and this was the case in one instance which I will quote shortly—know a good deal more about it than does anybody outside the job, even anybody as eminent as the Minister or as hard-working as his staff.
We have said over and over again in our debates on civil aviation that much of the success of our two Airways Corporations has been due to the keenness, enthusiasm and esprit de corps of the staff. In the past that statement was about equally true in both the Corporations, but I am sorry to say that in the last year or two a gap has opened between B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. in this regard, and that it is not nearly as true to say of B.E.A. as it is of B.O.A.C. that the Corporation can look to further successes because management-worker relationships in the organisation are of the best.
Both of them, of course, work to exactly the same industrial relations machinery in the National Joint Council for Civil Air Transport, but hon. Members on both sides of the House will know that labour relations are not merely a matter of machinery but also a matter of the spirit in which the machinery is worked and the intensity of the desire on both sides to make it work.
In B.O.A.C. there is a real desire to make the machinery of joint consultation work. I think the Corporation is well 1966 justified in making this claim in paragraph 81 of its Report:The Chairman and senior executives continued to meet trade union representatives on the Council each month with a view to keeping them informed of Corporation progress and major policy developments. The Corporation places the greatest importance on maintaining a full flow of information about its varied activities and plans to all members of staff.B.O.A.C. has very fairly carried out that claim but the position is not the same in B.E.A. at present. The Chairman's meetings with representatives of the trade unions are not nearly as regular as in B.O.A.C. In B.O.A.C. they are held monthly and Sir Miles Thomas rates them as a very high priority. It is very seldom that either he or his chief executives miss a meeting. In B.E.A. these meetings started as quarterly meetings but they have now become very intermittent and are obviously rated as a very low priority.
Nor has B.E.A. ever had anybody of the calibre of the present chief personnel officer of B.O.A.C., or the man who was the chief personnel officer and who recently left. The exchange of information with workers is very much slower and more cumbersome than in the case of B.O.A.C. Finally—and this is the greatest sin of all—those in authority in British European Airways seem to think that joint consultation with workers consists of telling workers what they are going to do and then going ahead and doing it, irrespective of what the fellow on the other side of the table thinks. That is not consultation; that is a diktat.
There is a classic case of this happening which I want to quote in some detail because, in my view, there is a great deal to be learned from it, and also because the Minister bears a large share of the responsibility, because he participated in the decision. It concerns the decision, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Govan, to close down the maintenance base at Renfrew. I think that this was a very great mistake on the part of the Corporation and the Minister, and a mistake which they could have avoided if they had made use of the hard work and detailed research done on the subject by the trade unions and by the workers.
The right hon. Gentleman is probably aware of the history of the matter. What happened when the matter began was 1967 that there was an interchange of technical papers between the Corporation and the trade union side of the National Joint Council, each of which made a forecast about what would happen technically and commercially if the maintenance base were closed down. The base is now closed, most of the men and most of the work have been transferred to London Airport. We can now see what have been the results in practice and we know which of the two, as between the Corporation and the trade unions, made forecasts which have turned out to be right and which of the two made forecasts which have turned out to be wrong.
In the light of both foreknowledge and hindsight, I consider that the closing of the Renfrew base was the worst error of technical and commercial judgment I have come across in all my business experience. I have never known any other case in which programming and forecasting proved so very quickly to be so utterly wrong.
The principal justification put forward by the Corporation, and accepted by the Minister, for closing the base was set out in a forecast paper produced by the Corporation in December, 1953. This is what it said, at the start of the problem:During the next ten months all Viscounts will be retired from B.E.A. service, and shortly thereafter the number of Pionairs will start to run down. Fewer flying hours and fewer men will inevitably be required from the Renfrew base.The trades unions disputed this contention and said that the demand would not fall off. What has happened in fact? It is now not ten months but twenty-four months since that forecast was made. It is therefore fourteen months after the Corporation expected, and the Minister agreed, that the number of Pionairs would start to run down. In fact, not a single Pionair has been withdrawn from service.
If Members will refer to Appendix 11 of the Report and Accounts they will see that the maximum number of Pionairs ever in service was 38, the number in service on 31st March, 1955, was 38; and the number in service today is 38. Indeed, far from being run down, they are being increased because the Corporation has just sent out to Cyprus Airways to try to grab two Dakotas from them in order to supplement the flying hours of 1968 the Pionairs. It is not surprising that that has happened, and it has happened because of the great growth in traffic at Renfrew to which my hon. Friend referred. Reference to page 27 of the Report will show that B.E.A. aircraft movements in one year, 1953–54, when the Corporation forecast that the thing was going to run down, went up from 8,700 to 9,500, and passengers from 172.000 to 211,000.
In fact, what has happened to the Pionair hours in the Corporation has been as follows: last winter they were a record; last summer they were a record; this winter, so far, they are a record; and next summer they are planned to be a record—the biggest ever if the Corporation has the capacity to run all these Pionair hours. But the Corporation will not have the capacity, because at London Airport it has not got the space and the staff required to do the necessary amount of maintenance.
It is very difficult to get engineering labour in west London. The Minister, when he made this decision, ought to have taken into account, if anybody ever told him the facts, that at London Airport the annual rate of labour wastage is 22 per cent. and that at Renfrew it was 2 per cent. There was a stable labour force in Renfrew, but the labour force cannot be held at London Airport because the competition is so much keener.
What has happened is that the Corporation has admitted—I quote its figures from minutes of a meeting at which it was represented and gave figures—that the revenue which it will turn away next year, through not having the Pionair hours, and not having the Renfrew base, will be £1,250,000. That is not my figure: it was given by the Corporation. The highest estimate it ever gave of the saving by shutting down the Renfrew base was £240,000 a year; so it has now admitted that in one summer—next summer—it will lose five times as much revenue as the best estimate that it was ever able to make of the annual saving through the shutting down of the Renfrew base.
The Corporation could well do with that money; but that great loss of revenue derives from nothing but a total failure to estimate and to programme properly. So it is right along the line. In the interchange of technical papers between the 1969 Corporation and the trade unions the Corporation forecast that there would be enough engineering space at London Airport to absorb the Renfrew work. The trade unions said that there would not be enough engineering space. In fact, as it has turned out, there is not enough.
Space is so restricted that the Corporation recently had to try to borrow a hangar from British Overseas Airways. British Overseas Airways would not lend one, so B.E.A. is short of a hangar. The Corporation is now getting out plans to build a new hangar, but that will take several years. Meanwhile, it is losing all the time.
Again, with regard to the number of workers, the Corporation budgeted that 338 of them would move from Renfrew to London. The trade unions said that not so many would move, but the Corporation laughed at us. In fact, 254 have come, not 338. Again the trade unions were right and the Corporation was wrong.
One of the arguments used by the Corporation, and accepted by the Minister, was that the move to London Airport would reduce waiting time. Indeed, on page 30 of the Report, the Corporation says:From the move"—that is, from Renfrew to London—B.E.A. expects substantial reductions in the cost of maintenance as a result of a reduction of waiting time …Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to tell the House how much reduction there has been in waiting time at London Airport. Perhaps he would like to tell the House what is the present level of waiting time there. Perhaps he does not know "off the cuff," so I will tell the House that it is between 25 and 30 per cent., which, even allowing for the special difficulties of aircraft maintenance, is a really colossal figure of waiting time.
There is one other point about this transfer. One of the bad results of overloading London Airport is that it has become necessary to have more aircraft components overhauled by outside contractors, some of whom do not always reach B.E.A's high technical standard. That is directly contrary to the Corporation's own policy as set out in its Report. On page 30, once again, it is claimed that the proportion of aircraft components 1970 overhauled by outside contractors is gradually being reduced. That may have been true when the Report was compiled. It is certainly no longer true, as at the moment more and more stuff is going out and being scrapped which would not have been scrapped if Renfrew were there, because, when it was, all that stuff was overhauled without being scrapped.
When the management was told two months ago that this was happening, it got into a great flap and said that there must be an immediate investigation. When it was told that undercarriage selectors and cowl gill jacks were coming back in an unfit condition from outside contractors, it said that that was terrible and that the position must be examined at once. Two months have passed, and no one has yet been down to make the most obvious inquiries, and no visual investigation has yet begun.
To sum up, I would say, as I said earlier, that all the evidence of what has actually happened in practice—not in theory—as a result of the shut-down of the Renfrew base reinforces the opinion which I gave earlier that this decision was the worst error of technical and commercial judgment that I have ever known.
I wish to make one last point before I gladly give way to the Minister. In this debate, we have heard a number of criticisms of the Airways Corporations. I have made some myself, and I shall go on making more when I feel that they deserve them. It is right and proper that such criticisms should be made in the House. It is our duty, as representatives of the taxpayer and the consumer, to stimulate all the publicly-owned industries into correcting what is wrong and in improving what is already good.
But we must not allow our just criticisms to obscure the fact that both Airways Corporations have done and are doing a wonderful job. They have added much to the prestige of Great Britain in all the six continents of the world. Every Briton should be proud of them. We on this side of the House are particularly proud of them as examples of the way in which an industry which was languishing under private ownership became reinvigorated under public ownership.
Before the Corporations were formed, British civil aviation was always in the 1971 doldrums. It was technically and financially weak. It lagged behind its overseas competitors and was the subject of constant and anxious critical examinations. Today, under public ownership, British airlines stand in the forefront of the airlines of the world. B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. have given the lie to all the detractors of public ownership.
Right hon. and hon. Members opposite repeatedly say, rather parrot-like, that nationalisation leads to losses, inefficiency, timidity, unimaginativeness and lack of initiative, and bad staff relations. I do not believe that a single hon. Member of this House would seriously argue that the two Corporations are characterised by losses, inefficiency, timidity, unimaginativeness, lack of initiative and bad staff relations. We on this side of the House, at least and I certainly hope that we are joined by right hon. and hon. Members opposite—wish both the Corporations, for all our criticisms of them, smooth take-offs and happy landings for many years to come.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
I am sure that all hon. Members now in the House regret the loss of an hour and a quarter from the debate as a result of the discussions which took place earlier on other topics. I particularly regret it because these debates on the affairs of the nationalised industries are extremely valuable not only for the House, but to those directly concerned with the industries. They form an important part of the still incompletely worked out technique of Parliamentary control of the nationalised industries. Therefore, these debates, with their play of criticism and counter-criticism, are of real practical value.
I should like to take the comparatively restricted time at my disposal to reply in detail to as many as possible of the points that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, in a speech whose smooth speed was admirably typical of the jet age in aircraft, covered a very long route so successfully that I shall certainly not come along with my old piston engine, flying shorter stages over the same route. My hon. Friend presented the general view of the problem with such clarity that I can confine 1972 myself to a reply—necessarily, therefore, somewhat ragged—to the points that have been put during the debate.
The hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo), as did two or three other hon. Members, referred to the very important question of the limitation of flying hours from the viewpoint of aircrew fatigue. As the House knows, regulations on this subject are in course of preparation. I hope it will be possible to lay them before Parliament very early in the New Year. Those regulations are designed to deal broadly with the matter from the point of view of safety. It is important that we should not create confusion in this matter between the strictly safety aspect of aircrew hours, which is the responsibility of my Department, and the purely industrial questions which arise in discussions between employers and employed, which, except in so far as they impinge upon safety, are not the responsibility of my Department. It is extremely important to get that clear.
One other principle to which I attach great importance in considering the regulations and the very helpful representations that have been made to me about them in the course of their drafting is this. As I see it, it is my duty to lay down certain overall maximum periods of flying. I must, however, be careful to do nothing to undermine the responsibility that falls on the operators for the safe operation of their aircraft. Just as at sea a very real responsibility falls on the shipowner for the safe operation of his ship, it is extremely important, in this newer activity of the air, to place solely on the shoulders of the operators the responsibility for the safety of the aircraft they operate and of the passengers they carry.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I have much less time than the hon. Member had, and I want to answer his questions.
The point introduced by the hon. Member for Reading about Renfrew seemed entirely contrary both to the general theme of his speech and to his singularly agreeable peroration. Indeed, it seemed that he was seeking to establish the line, in which I agree with him, that the Corporations are admirably managed; but the hon. Member would insert the exception: except in cases where, in 1973 matters of management, they disagree with the hon. Member for Reading, they are wrong.
Let me say a word about this because, as the hon. Member rightly said, I have some responsibility for the decision. Two points arose in this matter. The first, as far as the Government are concerned, is whether, in the case of a nationalised industry, it was right for the Government, in a matter of commercial management, to over-rule the Corporations for other than commercial reasons. As the House knows, my right hon. Friends and myself took a great deal of trouble to hold up this move until alternative arrangements for employment were made, partly as the result of the very hard work put in at the time by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply.
It seems quite clear that if these nationalised industries are to be told, as they are told by the statutes that set them up, to run their affairs in a businesslike way and to conduct them so that they do not lose money, they cannot do that if Governments are leaning over their shoulders and saying, "We take a different view of the commercial decisions you make." One cannot expect an industry to prosper and competent people to manage the industry if Governments conduct themselves in that way.
The hon. Member for Reading went into detailed criticism of the merits of the decision. Before the move took place, British European Airways Corporation offered to submit its own calculations as to the saving to be achieved to an independent Edinburgh accountant. The Corporation also said that opportunity should be given to those who objected to put their point of view to him. Those who objected, for what no doubt, in their view, were perfectly good reasons, did not accept that invitation. Nevertheless, B.E.A. put the matter to the accountant and received a report that, if anything, the B.E.A.'s estimated saving was an understatement of what would take place.
§ Mr. Mikardo
The right hon. Gentleman knows that the trade union side say, "We do not want that. We will have a joint independent commission, but we do not think that anybody is independent when he is appointed by one side and paid by one side, on terms of reference fixed by one side."
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I went out of my way to say, "what no doubt in their view were perfectly good reasons," but any suggestion that an Edinburgh accountant would be affected in his report in that way is one that I cannot accept for one moment. It is extremely unfair to a distinguished member of the profession who undertook this duty.
I will not enter into the details which the hon. Member for Reading says support his view that there has been no saving. I must be guided by the Commercial judgment of B.E.A. in the matter. I do not find from the hon. Member's argument anything which I could accept as being any clear evidence that, in fact, savings had not been achieved as a result of this move. [Interruption.] It may well be that the Government are farming out particular jobs, which in the circumstances of the case is a sensible, practical and economical thing to do. It is impossible for us to proceed to analyse in the House detailed commercial transactions of this kind and say, when we are sitting here, whether these things are commercially justifiable or not when we do not have all the details in front of us.
I agree with the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) that ground communications with London Airport are a matter of major importance. It is at least partly for that reason that we have given very high priority iii the roads programme to the construction of the Cromwell Road extension, work on both sections of which has started this summer. When completed, the extension will greatly improve road communications with London Airport and will make a significant saving in time. The question of the possibility of a rail link of one kind or another is being examined between the British Transport Commission and some of the airline operators, but in the case of road communications, for which I am directly responsible, work has started and will be pushed on as hard as possible.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge also raised the interesting and important question of the rate of amortisation of aircraft, particularly by B.E.A. It is true that the figures which I have look in ordinary practice perhaps a little unusual. The figure for the first year is one-twentieth, for the second year one-fifteenth, for the third year one-tenth, for the fourth year one-eighth, for the fifth 1975 year one-ninth and for the sixth to tenth years again one-tenth. The interesting figure is the low figure lot the first year. I suggest that there are circumstances which are peculiar to aircraft making that kind of figure more acceptable than in other cases.
The first is the low utilisation that one can obtain out of new aircraft at an early stage. The other is the fact, proved over the last few years, that the market value of an aircraft one or two years old, has been in many cases at least as high as when the aircraft was new There are experiences of the sale of aircraft of proved types at actually higher prices.
One of the interesting features of aircraft generally from this point of view has been the very high price which has been obtainable for what one might describe as relatively new second-hand aircraft. However, I am examining the question whether these annual rates are precisely right. I thought there was some force in some of the criticisms which were made, though I equally thought that the criticisms did not make full allowance for the very peculiar and special problems which affect aircraft.
It is significant that, whatever view one takes of the period of amortisation, the figures comparing like with like, for British European Airways' out-turn over the year dealt with in the Report were on the same basis so conspicuously better than those for the previous year that the argument founded on those figures to the effect that there had been a real improvement in the Corporation's finances stands, I think, without any difficulty whatever.
The hon. Member for Uxbridge then referred to a very important matter indeed, what he called—I accept his phrase—the direction of the Corporations. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House attach the highest importance to the efficient management of the Corporations and to the difficult but important task of securing that the best people available are, in fact, available to run them.
I will take his reference first to B.E.A He referred to the appointment of Sir Arnold Overton as temporary Deputy-Chairman as a result, as he rightly put it, of the unhappy illness of Sir John Keeling. As was made clear at the time, that was a temporary arrangement, and no one is 1976 under any misunderstanding about that. I would say in this context, as in the context of other vacancies, that it is important that we should get the most suitable people for the important appointments with these Corporations. I believe that it is well worth while taking a little time over this in order to make sure of getting the right men rather than to rush forward with appointments, which may not be quite as good as they could be later, simply for the sake of filling a vacancy as soon as it appears. I am quite certain that that is the right approach.
§ Mr. Beswick
I was in no way criticising Sir Arnold Overton. My phrasing was to the effect that no young men had been brought forward to the Board who could take over.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The point I am making is that the question of whether anyone young or less young can be put into particular vacancies depends on finding the right man for the job, and that is not always something which can be done in the course of a few days.
I am sorry that, in relation to B.O.A.C., the hon. Gentleman, in a rather sneering way I thought, referred to the appointment of a banker from the City of London. The hon. Gentleman must realise that B.O.A.C. is a very large commercial undertaking and that a distinguished banker can contribute a great deal of highly valuable experience to the management of a big commercial undertaking, such as B.O.A.C. is. I do hope that we shall get beyond the point of being, as I know hon. Gentlemen opposite are apt to be, a little susceptible to sneering at bankers in the City of London because they do not happen to approve of them.
Let me follow with the hon. Gentleman's reference to my Parliamentary Answer on the question of the two directorships to which I gave Sir Miles Thomas permission to accept. The hon. Gentleman appeared to have been startled by the fact that there were two. In that case, it is very peculiar that the Question which he addressed to me asked… the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what permission he has given to the chairman and Chief Executive of British Overseas Airways Corporation to accept other appointments with commercial firms"—I would ask the House to note the plural—and if he will make a statement.1977 In the course of my statement I went out of my way to say:I was satisfied, in the case of Sir Miles Thomas, that the small amount of additional work involved in his membership of two outside boards would not in any way affect his discharge of his duties.…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1955; Vol. 546, c. 1459.]Both the hon. Gentleman's Question and my Answer made it, I should have thought, as clear as it could, without tedious repetition, be made clear, that there were involved two boards.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
No, Sir. I think that this is where the hon. Gentleman has fallen into a trap. The hon. Member is thinking of the Colonial Development Corporation. Sir Miles has ceased to be a member of that for years and, therefore, are two Boards and two only, and those are the ones to which I referred. I hope that the hon. Member for Uxbridge will get it out of his head that he has not been told, as I very carefully went out of my way to tell him what were the facts of the matter. The fact is of very little importance, but if I value anything, I value my reputation for being perfectly frank with the House and that is why I have taken up a little time of the House to demonstrate, I think, irrefutably, that I have given the full facts. If the hon. Member did not appreciate them, that is not a matter for which I can accept responsibility.
I will refer to the hon. Gentleman's comment on this not very important matter. As I understood it, he said that I ought to have made a statement about it. I do not know why I should. I answered his question and the questions of a number of other hon. Members on a matter on which there are many precedents, which is not of earth-shaking importance and to which I would not have agreed had I not been clear that it could not interfere with the effective operation of the Corporations. I said a few moments ago how extremely important it is to get the right people in these appointments. If, whenever arrangements of this kind are made, they are to be subjected to criticism of this sort, that will not make it any easier.
I should like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for 1978 Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield) on his extremely attractive and interesting maiden speech. I say that with particular pleasure, because I recall that my hon. and gallant Friend was elected to this House notwithstanding the fact that I spoke for him a little before the General Election. It shows only what an extremely powerful candidate he has been and I am glad to carry hon. Gentlemen opposite with me in that uncharacteristically generous tribute. I listened to my hon. and gallant Friend with very great interest and, so far as the question of the Customs area at London Airport is concerned, not without a good deal of sympathy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport and Fareham (Dr. Bennett) also raised the question of the amortisation period, which I have already dealt with in connection with the subject generally. The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) was dealt with so effectively by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply—he has moved a long way down his Bench as the result of the battering he received—that it only remains for me to point out, on his reference to the Comet, that the best indication of proper and experienced confidence in these aircraft is the order for 19 of them which has been placed by B.O.A.C., and the extent to which B.O.A.C. has vigorously co-operated in the development of these aircraft. The views and experience of an extremely experienced operator such as this will weigh more heavily in the eyes of the world even, if necessary, against the views of the right hon. Gentleman on this subject.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brent-ford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) also made an interesting speech. I was interested in his reference to the salary level of Board members and also to the possibilities of future membership of the Boards. I know that the hon. Member has very great practical experience of flying, both in peace and war and, naturally, I paid a good deal of attention to what he said.
The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin), apart from general questions with which I have already dealt in the course of my reply to other hon. Members, raised a number of specific questions relating to a subject with which the hon. Member is closely associated, Prestwick. 1979 I often dream that if the hon. Member ever goes to the other end of this Palace, it will be under the soubriquet of Lord Prestwick. I can answer some of his questions. First, the new 6,000-foot subsidiary runway at Prestwick, which I saw as it was being finished in September, was brought into use on 31st October. The associated taxi track and other works are being pushed ahead and will be finished in the spring. The design of the new control tower is approaching completion and it should be possible for the work to start in the coming summer.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I have nothing to add about that at the moment.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that at Renfrew traffic is increasing, and the capacity of the very fine terminal building, the first to be opened in this country since the war, is fully occupied. I will certainly look into the matter of the telephones. I should hate to feel that the hon. Gentleman was prevented from telephoning the Whips to know whether he ought to return more rapidly to this House.
As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, the matter of the air ambulances is not my responsibility, but that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland who, I understand, shares that responsibility—for what reason I am unable to explain—with my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty. The hon. Gentleman will, of course, forgive me if I do not comment on the Viscount incident—it was happily no more than that—at Renfrew the other day. That matter is being looked into.
I was interested in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Farey-Jones). He has spent nearly a lifetime in aviation, but I would not be so pessimistic as he was in his general diagnosis. I do not think that the increasing traffic, both of the Corporations and of the independents—indeed, there is a big proportionate increase of traffic for the independents which was very marked in the year concerned—indicates that the rot has set in. Obviously, this is an industry about which criticisms may be made. It is a new and developing industry in a formative stage. But despite the experience of my hon. Friend, I think that 1980 to regard the rot as having set in is a little pessimistic.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) raised the perrenial question of noise at airports. I have great sympathy with him and with his constituents over this matter. It raises very difficult problems if we have to operate—as we have—a major airport, as in the case of London Airport, which is one of the biggest international airports in the world, in an area adjoining residential areas. We are trying to mitigate this trouble by a variety of methods which the hon. Member has been shown. I will not occupy the remainder of my time by describing them, but I will certainly look into the troubles which occurred on the dates specified by the hon. Gentleman to see whether anything went wrong.
One other thing that I should mention in a debate on civil aviation, though it leads into the coming year, that is that B.O.A.C. is looking forward with pride to the privilege conferred upon it of conveying Her Majesty the Queen to West Africa on 27th January, with the return journey in February. I am sure we all hope that British civil aviation will serve Her Majesty loyally and efficiently on that important visit.
If I may sum up, the general picture is that which one would expect of an industry, partly publicly owned and managed and partly privately owned and managed, at a very early stage of development, with technical development moving rapidly; with the economic and financial schedules still somewhat loose and with many administrative problems to solve. The year we look back on was a period of expansion and development and a period which offers good hope for the future. British civil aviation suffered a severe blow with the disaster to the first Comet, and B.O.A.C. in particular did a fine job in recovering from that trouble. Indeed, the figures of last year for progress are quite remarkable when that setback is remembered.
I think that the lesson to be learned from the past year is that while there are many problems and real difficulties to be solved, the future of British aviation is almost unlimited. Perhaps I may be allowed to add a personal note and say that I feel very proud to have been connected, in however humble a capacity, 1981 with that development during the last seventeen months.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, in reviewing the progress of civil aviation, 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, 1955.