HC Deb 23 November 1955 vol 546 cc1454-8
43 and 44. Mr. Lewis

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (1) what leave of absence has been granted to Sir Miles Thomas, the chairman of British Overseas Airways Corporation, to take up employment with a private business firm; and to what extent his salary as chairman of British Overseas Airways Corporation will be reduced;

(2) if he will make a statement on his decision to allow Sir Miles Thomas, the chairman of British Overseas Airways Corporation to take up part-time employment with a private firm whilst maintaining his present State employment.

46. Mr. H. Hynd

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation why he authorised the chairman of British Overseas Airways Corporation to take other employment and continue in his present post as a part-time job.

47. Mr. de Freitas

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he will ask the chairman of the British Overseas Airways Corporation to give full-time service to the Corporation.

48. Mr. Edelman

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what dispensation he gave to Sir Miles Thomas enabling him to become a part-time director of H. Ferguson (Research) Limited, of Coventry.

52. Mr. Beswick

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 other commercial firms; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The chairman of British Overseas Airways Corporation, like many other members of public boards, is appointed on a full-time basis. This does not preclude, in appropriate cases, permission being given to them to accept membership of other boards, public or private. The essential point is whether such membership may affect the proper discharge of their duties. 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 as chairman of B.A.O.C. I therefore gave my consent. In accordance with the established practice in such cases, any fees received by him in respect of these directorships will be surrendered to B.O.A.C.

Mr. Lewis

Is the Minister aware that these appointments were made, as he rightly says, on the understanding that they would be on a full-time basis? Hence, the salaries for such appointments are not in any way small. They were based upon that fact. Does the Minister think it is right that State employees should have the right to work for private industry? Is there not a danger that this can be extended? May civil servants now ask for the same opportunity, and shall we find them employed by private industry? There must inevitably come a time when there is the possibility of a clash between private interests and State interests.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Experience in industry generally is that it is often very valuable and sometimes very helpful for the head of one great industry to have direct, inside contact with one or two others. As to the salary, as the hon. Gentleman will have gathered from my original Answer, Sir Miles Thomas will not be a penny better for this.

Mr. Beswick

Whereas there is a great deal in what the Minister said, does he not agree that the difference between this case and other cases to which he has referred is that the Chairman is also the chief executive of the Corporation? As this follows a pattern of appointments and arrangements in which, for example, a retired civil servant takes the chief executive post in B.E.A., for the time being, and a part-time banker is appointed to succeed Mr. Whitney Straight in B.O.A.C., does the Minister not think that these matters ought to have been announced and explained to the House?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. Gentleman is in error. In respect of B.E.A., the appointment which he has in mind is that of the acting deputy-chairman and not that of the chief executive. On the other point, I am perfectly satisfied that a man of Sir Miles's capacity can adequately discharge his extremely important functions without the slightest detriment, as a result of the small amount of work involved in these directorships. Sir Miles's highly successful conduct of B.O.A.C. over the last few years should be sufficient reassurance for this House and for the country.

Dame Irene Ward

Is it not a very lucky thing that we have someone like Sir Miles Thomas who is able to give his great services to the nation? May I therefore ask my right hon. Friend not to pay any attention to what is said from the other side?

Mr. de Freitas

In view of the difficulties which B.O.A.C. is bound to be facing very soon in this highly competitive field, is it not very important that Sir Miles Thomas should be encouraged to give his very great abilities, energies and enterprise exclusively to this Corporation, and that it is no time to distract him in other ways?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

There is no question of Sir Miles being distracted from duties the importance of which he appreciates as fully as does this House. I do not think we can deal with suitable people in senior appointments in the great industries on the basis of the Minister or, with respect, this House, laying down precisely and in detail how they shall use their time. The important thing is whether the job can be done adequately. In this case I am satisfied that it can.

Mr. H. Hynd

Is not this creating a precedent in the public service? Civil servants are not allowed to take part-time jobs. How can Sir Miles Thomas do another job if he is giving his full time to B.O.A.C., especially as the vice-chairman is also doing a part-time job?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The position of members of boards of nationalised industries is quite distinct from that of civil servants. There are, in fact, a number of precedents for whole-time members of nationalised boards accepting seats on other boards. Indeed, if the hon. Member looks at the White Paper circulated by my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, he will see that some members are members of more than one nationalised board.

Mr. Edelman

From a somewhat different point of view, is it desirable that public servants should be associated with an enterprise, which is certainly speculative and, judging from precedents, may well become controversial? In those circumstances, will not the Minister give this further consideration?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

In this context, the term "public servant" could be a little misleading. Sir Miles Thomas is chairman of a great industry, and I think the fact that his business experience has caused him to wish to apply for permission to accept this directorship should really be sufficient to quieten the hon. Gentleman's apprehensions.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

Whatever justification there may be in this particular case for granting permission to Sir Miles, is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that what is causing great concern is that it may lead to a general weakening in the direction of the Corporation, which is particularly dangerous at a time when it is facing such difficulty in settling the future aircraft-procurement programme?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman need have any fears on that score. There is no intention, or possibility, of the direction being weakened.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, to many people, the only thing strange about this arrangement is the receipt by B.O.A.C. of the fees of the new directorships? What possible interest has B.O.A.C. in the new companies? If it has an interest, there is some reason for the receipt of fees; otherwise, it seems a curious arrangement.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As I said in my main Answer, that is the established practice in these cases.

Mr. Remnant

Is it not a fact that Sir Miles Thomas could perfectly well have given his advice to this new outlet in his private time without any question but, much to his credit, rather than do that he has come into the open and done it in this way?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

That is perfectly true.