HC Deb 05 February 1964 vol 688 cc1147-9
17. Mr. Lee

asked the Minister of Aviation when he proposes to place in the Library of the House a copy of the British Overseas Airways Corporation-Cunard Agreement.

Mr. Amery

In accordance with what I said in the debate on 2nd December I invited the B.O.A.C. and the Cunard Steamship Company to let me have a copy of their agreement for this purpose. Neither party has been prepared to agree to this.

Mr. Lee

I shall do what I can to get a copy for the right hon. Gentleman. May I ask him whether it is not the case that we are confronted with the position that the C.A.B. in the United States, and all B.O.A.C.'s competitors in the States, know all about the contents of this because they have had a copy? The British Minister of Aviation promised the House of Commons that he would do what he could to get one, and he, the House of Commons, and the British nation are thwarted from knowing the contents of an agreement made by a great nationalised Corporation. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to be so easily put off? Why does not he say that, on behalf of the House of Commons, he insists on seeing a copy of it?

Mr. Amery

I think that there is some basis and some ground for the opinion of the two parties concerned. The hon. Gentleman will remember that during our last debate on these matters I told the House that B.O.A.C. had had discussions over a possible merger with B.U.A. The B.O.A.C. feels that its negotiating power in future negotiations of this kind might be hampered if the party with which it was negotiating knew all the details of the agreement in question. While I was away in South America my hon. Friend offered to let the hon. Gentleman and his colleague the hon. Member for Lough-borough (Mr. Cronin) see the agreement in confidence themselves.

Hon. Members


Mr. Ellis Smith

Why only two hon. Members?

Mr. Amery

Because I had told the House that I would use my best endeavours to table a copy of the agreement in the Library. I failed to do so because of the opinions of the parties concerned. I think that we have to respect their opinions in these matters, but, so as to allay any suspicion that there was anything contrary to the national interest in it, I was prepared, and so were the parties concerned, to let the two hon. Gentlemen in question see the agreement in confidence.

Mr. Lee

The right hon. Gentleman will gather from the noises that have been made that that will not do. If I saw the agreement, I would be as bound as the right hon. Gentleman would not to divulge it to hon. Members, and that would put me in a ridiculous position. May I ask the Minister whether he is aware that the House is very keen indeed to know the contents of this agreement? Now that it has been published in the States, will he please reconsider the matter to see whether he can place a copy of the agreement in the Library?

Mr. Amery

No, Sir. I think that the argument put forward by the two parties for not having it published is a sound one, namely, that it would weaken the position of the B.O.A.C. in any future negotiations which it might have to undertake. I had hoped that the House would accept that and leave the matter there, but I made this further offer in case there was any suspicion that we were trying to cover up anything. As the hon. Gentleman had had anxieties about this agreement for a long time, I was prepared to let him see it so that—whether he thought it was a good agreement or a bad one—he could satisfy himself that there was nothing sinister about it.

Sir G. Nicholson

While accepting entirely the good faith of my right hon. Friend, is it not possible that he is on rather dangerous ground here? He is setting a dangerous precedent if, when he fails to get a copy of a document laid in the Library and so divulge it to the whole House, he proposes to give two selected hon. Members, however eminent and praiseworthy, preferential treatment. From my experience I think I can say that my right hon. Friend will find himself in hot water if he goes on like this.

Mr. Amery

I thought that it was a risky suggestion to make. I made it only because of the repeated suggestion of the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) that there was something sinister about the agreement. I put forward the suggestion for that reason, and because I had led the House to believe that it would be published. I find myself in the position where I cannot encourage the House to believe that it will be published, and I cannot even recommend to the two parties concerned that it should be. In those circumstances, I was prepared to run that risk—but I see that the hon. Gentleman is not keen to incur it—simply to satisfy him and his party that there was nothing sinister about my proposal.

Sir A. V. Harvey

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, can you help private Members? Information might be given to two hon. Gentlemen opposite which will not be available to other private Members. We are in some difficulty on this matter.

Mr. Speaker

That does not arise now as a point of order.

Mr. Rankin

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker, is it not the case that you are the guardian of the rights of private Members in the House? Do you not consider that, as this is the second occasion today when the rights of private Members have been violated by confidential agreements, you might have some power to suggest that this showing of documents to individuals within the House, or outside it in the case of Sir Giles Guthrie, is a violation of the rights of private Members?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that that raises a point of order for me.