HC Deb 20 April 1956 vol 551 cc1317-22
Mr. G. R. Strauss

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation whether he can make a statement about the changes on the Board of B.O.A.C.

The Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

I have appointed Mr. Gerard D'Erlanger as Chairman of B.O.A.C. for five years from 1st May. Sir Miles Thomas's resignation will now take effect on 30th April.

I have reviewed with Mr. D'Erlanger the organisation of the Corporation's Board and I have concluded that the Chairman should not hold the office of Chief Executive, and that, although he will necessarily devote much of his time to his duties, he should not be required to give whole-time service. Mr. D'Erlanger has agreed to serve on this basis and has generously asked that he should receive no salary.

Under Section 2 of the Air Corporations Act, 1949, there may be two Deputy-Chairmen in B.O.A.C. I have appointed Sir George Cribbett to be a full-time Deputy-Chairman from 1st May. At the same time Lord Rennell of Rodd, who is at present a part-time Deputy-Chairman of the Corporation, has asked to be allowed to resign from the date the other appointments are made. I have regretfully agreed to this.

Mr. Strauss

Before asking the Minister a number of critical questions about these appointments, may I say that whatever doubts we may have about them we wish the new Chairman and the Deputy-Chairman every success and that we will give them all the support we can in their very responsible task?

The first question I wish to ask the Minister is why he did not make this announcement to the House rather than to the Press. If there was any urgency in the matter he could have made the announcement and the statement after Questions yesterday, but to by-pass the House in this way is surely contrary to precedent. I suggest that it is a grave discourtesy to Parliament to take such a step unless it is absolutely necessary, and it obviously was not in this case.

The second question I should like to ask is whether, before appointing Mr. D'Erlanger, the right hon. Gentleman studied the facts leading to the refusal by a previous Minister of Transport to reappoint Mr. D'Erlanger, after a short tenure of office as Chairman of B.E.A., to that post. Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect—and, if he does not, many in this House and no doubt many working in the Corporations do—the statements made at the time, and, in particular, the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation who, giving the reasons in this House on 1st March, 1949, said that the reappointment was not made because his noble Friend the Minister felt that change would be to the benefit of the development of B.E.A. and civil aviation generally."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 228.] In view of that, is it not doubtful wisdom to appoint Mr. D'Erlanger to this key post at this critical moment in the affairs of the B.O.A.C.?

The next question I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman is whether he does not realise that by reducing the post of the Chairman to that of a part-time unpaid job he is lowering the status of this important publicly-owned industry, and that his action will be deeply regretted by those who have the welfare of British civil aviation at heart?

Finally, in view of the grave objections that exist about the appointment to the chairmanship of an important post of this sort of someone who is to be unpaid—in America he is called "a-dollar-a-year man"—and those objections are very similar to the objections to having unpaid Ministers, and as this is a matter which goes far outside Departmental jurisdiction, did the right hon. Gentleman consult the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Prime Minister about the principle, and, if not, will he do so?

Mr. Watkinson

I will endeavour to answer this omnibus list of questions, and I am delighted to do so. First, of course, I intended no discourtesy at all to the House. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, when we come to this kind of decision a number of people have to be consulted. It has to be done very quickly—and it is quite impossible to keep it out of the Press. Every hon. Members knows that that is so. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me this opportunity of bringing the matter to the attention of the House, but it was quite impossible for me to say, at the appropriate time yesterday, what I intended to do, and equally impossible for me to keep it out of the Press this morning.

Secondly, I have studied the facts concerning the past history of Mr. D'Erlanger with the Airways Corporations, and I am satisfied that they are greatly to his credit. I will not say more than that. Thirdly, I have discussed the matter with the Prime Minister, and he has authorised me to take this decision. In our view it is essential, in the interests of the commercial future of the Corporations, that their Chairmen should not combine the office of Chief Executive and Chairman.

Mr. Strauss

indicated assent.

Mr. Watkinson

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman agrees.

Following from that, the Government take the view that it is much in the commercial interest of the Corporation that the Chairman should have wide outside interests which, no doubt, will help the commercial future of these very competitive international businesses. Therefore, this was a decision deliberately taken, and one which I am quite sure will be greatly in the commercial interests of the Corporation.

I am certainly grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that the whole House must hope—and I am sure it does hope—that this great Corporation will go on to an even more brilliant future. That is essential in the national interest. I am quite satisfied that I have picked two men whose only object is to secure that purpose, and I think that I have secured the two best men in the country for that job.

Mr. Bowles

If Mr. D'Erlanger is not being paid a salary, what is he getting in expenses which, in these days, is sometimes very much more important?

Mr. Watkinson

Sir Miles Thomas was on a similar basis so far as expenses were concerned. I have no doubt that Mr. D'Erlanger will enjoy the same benefits.

Mr. Bowles

What is the figure?

Mr. Beswick

While associating myself with what my right hon. Friend has said about these two gentlemen, I want to emphasise the fact that they are taking on their responsibilities at a most difficult time, in view of the re-equipment position, and the fact that the problems ahead are by no means certain. Does not the Minister think that he has worked out for himself an organisational tangle? If there is inadequate work to merit a full-time Chairman, what is the useful work that the full-time Deputy-Chairman can do? To what extent will he encroach upon the executive field? To whom will the Chief Executive report—the Deputy-Chairman or the Chairman? Lastly, can the Minister give the reasons why the Deputy-Chairman, Lord Rennell, has resigned?

Mr. Watkinson

I will answer the more important part of that question. It is strange that only a short time ago this House was criticising the absence of Sir Miles Thomas, and, at the same time, criticising Lord Rennell as part-time Deputy. It was said in this House then that that was adverse to the operation of the Corporation. In fact, I believe the hon. Member himself had some point to make about it. I accept that criticism but, equally, I accept that in this competitive international business it is the job of the Chairman and the managing director—as I prefer to call him, rather than Chie Executive—to be abroad and about all their business. Therefore, we must have a third, full-time, responsible member of the Board who can be at home carrying out the day-to-day duties of the Corporation.

Therefore, I have deliberately decided to broaden the base in order that we can have a Chairman and a managing director abroad, properly about their duties, and also have a third responsible member of the Board at home, who will look after the Corporation's duties, and indeed, be responsible to me and this House, while the other two members are abroad on their proper duties.

Mr. Bowles

Why does not the Minister answer my question about expenses? He knows that it is a very important factor in these days. He said that Sir Miles Thomas was on the same basis as the new Chairman, but what is that basis? How much will he get?

Mr. Watkinson

Sir Miles Thomas had a salary of £7,500, and, in addition, a £1,000 expenses account.

I am sorry that I did not answer the last point of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick). This is a responsible position. As everybody knows, the Chairman is in charge, and in the absence of the Chairman the Deputy-Chairman is obviously in charge, in the same way as Lord Rennell has been in general charge when Sir Miles Thomas has been abroad. My point is that in my view we must have a part-time Chairman, a full-time Deputy Chairman, and a very able full-time managing director. In my view, that is the right set-up for the Corporation.

Mr. Strauss

The Minister has not relieved my anxieties to the slightest degree by his statement. Can he say a word more about the question of appointing to this post of great responsibility someone who will be part-time and unpaid? In particular, will he say a further word about the general principle of having responsible people working directly or indirectly for the Government upon a "dollar-a-year" basis, to which there is obviously grave objection, which has been expressed in America as well as in this country? Is this a matter of general policy on the part of the Government? Has the right hon. Gentleman consulted the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer about it?

Mr. Watkinson

The Prime Minister has taken a deep interest in this problem. I hope that I have made it quite clear that the Prime Minister's only concern is to get the best men for the job. I regard that as being far more important than anything else. I gather that the Opposition accept the necessity for the devolution of the duties of Chairman and Chief Executive. Therefore, if we are to have that devolution and are not to have all the duties wrapped up in one, I am satisfied that the Chairman should have outside interests, as Sir Miles Thomas had. It is the right pattern.

I take great exception to what the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) said about the Chairman-designate of the Corporation. It is not, in my opinion, consonant with the facts of the case, but leaving that aspect on one side, I am quite satisfied that I have picked the two best men available for this most important job.

Mr. Gaitskell

How much time is the new Chairman to devote to the job? Why did the Minister not answer this point. Why was this new principle of no pay accepted? I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman must realise our objections to it.

Mr. Watkinson

indicated dissent.

Mr. Gaitskell

To many people it implies a lesser degree of responsibility than if the Chairman is properly paid, as he should be.

Mr. Watkinson

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not implying that the Chairman of B.E.A. is directly responsible to this House, and not myself. I am the responsible Minister, and I am prepared to answer in this House. Mr. D'Erlanger has assured me that he will give all the time necessary to his job. It is only fair to say that it will amount practically to 100 per cent.

Mr. Wigg

This principle of appointing a "dollar-a-year" man is not a new one. The Secretary of State for War appointed a public relations officer—I believe that the then Prime Minister had a hand in this game—and that appointment was a complete failure. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know what a great failure it was he should have a talk with a very distinguished gentleman who became public relations officer in the War Office and went out with a "flea in his ear" because the arrangement did not work.

Mr. Speaker

That point does not arise out of the Question.

Back to