HC Deb 09 May 1956 vol 552 cc1212-4
45. Mr. Beswick

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what consultations he had with the Board of British Overseas Airways Corporation before he made his recent statement about the future aircraft purchasing policy of the Corporation.

58. Mr. Burden

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation if he is now in a position to make a statement about his future policy with regard to the procurement of aircraft for British Overseas Airways Corporation.

Mr. Watkinson

I am and have been in constant touch with both Corporations regarding their future aircraft requirements. I am sure that the whole House hopes that B.O.A.C. may find itself able progressively to equip itself with fully competitive types of British aircraft.

The immediate problem, however, is for the Corporation to formulate in detail its actual procurement programme, taking full account of the re-equipment of its competitors. The new Chairman is fully alive to this important matter and has set up a special committee to review, as a matter of top priority, future aircraft requirements.

I shall examine these proposals in the broad national interest as soon as they are put to me.

Mr. Beswick

Whilst welcoming that statement and also the appointment of this Committee, and particularly the fact that an operating airline pilot is on the committee, may I ask the Minister whether he would not agree that what he has just stated was in complete contradiction to the very unfortunate interview which he gave to the News Chronicle, in which he said that the Corporation had to be a proving ground for British aircraft whether or not there were any successful British aircraft available? Will he say now that he is not going to impose upon the Corporation a fly-British policy unless the industry provides appropriate planes?

Mr. Watkinson

I must confess that in the somewhat super-heated atmosphere which surrounded B.O.A.C. at that time everything anybody said, including myself, found its way into the headlines. I am glad to make the position quite clear. It is exactly as set forth by my predecessors, including right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is and always has been Government policy for the Corporations to fly British, and that does mean, to some extent, being a proving ground for British aircraft. It is equally my responsibility to see that B.O.A.C. makes a profit and maintains its position as a leading world airline. The Corporation has made no firm demand to me for any type of American aircraft and it has not even finalised its demand for British aircraft. Therefore, its first priority, for the sake of the Corporation, is to come and tell me what is its shopping list. That is most important.

Mr. Burden

Is my right hon. Friend really telling the House that the Board has not come to him with any procurement policy which will ensure that British aircraft will, in the years to come, be able to fly competitively with their competitors throughout the world?

Mr. Watkinson

I am saying℄and I want to be fair about this℄that this is a matter of terrific difficulty. It is a great decision and one on which the future both of the Corporation and, to some extent, the whole of the British aircraft industry, depends. Everyone knows that the Corporation has placed orders for Britannias and Comets, but it has not in my view, or in that of the new Chairman, completed the range of aircraft which will be necessary—1 see that the hon. Gentleman agrees▀×to secure that competitive position in the future. I regard that as a task of absolutely vital importance, and I am with the hon. Gentleman in saying that I am delighted that the Chairman has done as I have indicated, and equally delighted that he has a pilot to help him in this difficult choice.