HC Deb 04 December 1961 vol 650 cc915-7
20. Mr. H. Hynd

asked the Minister of Aviation whether he will give a general direction to British European Airways to cease to operate uneconomic routes.

Mr. Thorneycroft

These are matters best left to the judgment of the Corporation.

Mr. Hynd

Now that the Corporation is losing a lot of its remunerative traffic to private companies, is it going to be expected to carry on these more uneconomic routes and thereby lay itself open to the criticism that it is a nationalised industry which is losing money?

Mr. Thorneycroft

These are interesting matters, but as I have never directed the Corporation to operate uneconomic routes, I do not see why I should direct it not to operate them.

Sir A. V. Harvey

In view of the controversy over these routes, will my right hon. Friend consider allowing some independent operators to take over some of the uneconomic routes in Scotland and at the same time allow them to take on rather more lucrative services, thus giving a better service to the public?

Mr. Thorneycroft

In the first instance this would be a matter for an application to the Air Transport Licensing Board.

Mr. John MacLeod

My right hon. Friend will recall that B.E.A. took over from private enterprise which was doing quite well on the Inverness routes, and it therefore has a very serious obligatio to keep these services going and to extend them.

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am not stopping the Corporation.

Mr. Hale

Is not this Question at the moment sub judice by the Minister? Is it not a fact that an appeal has been lodged and the Minister in a quasi-judicial capacity is having to sit and arbitrate on these matters under the practice introduced by his predecessor? Is it not particularly undersirable that he should be expressing these views at the moment?

Mr. Thorneycroft

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to issue that warning to the House. I think that my quasi-judicial position should be respected in this matter.

22. Dr. Dickson Mabon

asked the Minister of Aviation if he will now provide suitable financial assistance to British European Airways in respect of unremunerative services for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

28. Mr. Rankin

asked the Minister of Aviation if he will now introduce legislation to finance from Government sources the losses necessarily incurred by British European Airways in providing air services on the domestic routes, in accordance with the recommendation of the Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries of Session 1958–59.

Mr. Thorneycroft

No, Sir. In the absence of any proposal on this matter from B.E.A. I would regard the question as hypothetical.

Dr. Mahon

Is the Minister aware that both the Chief Executive, Mr. Milward, and Lord Douglas of Kirtle-side have stated in the Press that, if the independent operators are allowed to have these routes, B.E.A. will be obliged to seek financial assistance from the Government? Is he further aware that the estimate that I have is that a loss of about £6 million was incurred by B.E.A. in operating these routes over the last 16 years? The Select Committee on Nationalised Industries recommended—I want to know if the Minister will persuade his Government colleagues to accept this recommendation—that the best way of financing uneconomic routes placed by obligation on nationalised Corporations is by an outright direct Government grant.

Mr. Thorneycroft

Many things appear in the public Press, but I have enough money to find where requests have been made for it without putting it in where no request has come forward.

Mr. Strachey

When the Minister reviews the applications and the licences, will he bear in mind that one of the things which makes it possible for B.E.A. to operate these uneconomic routes is the profit it makes after building up the trunk internal routes, and that it is very unfair to take the advantage from the Corporation but maintain the obligation on it to operate uneconomic lines?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I will take note of the right hon. Gentleman's view.