HC Deb 24 February 1965 vol 707 cc373-5
13. Mr. Buchanan-Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what has been the result of the consultations he has had with the Minister of Aviation regarding the improvement of air facilities within Scotland.

61. Mr. Galbraith

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what has been the outcome of the conversations he has had with the Minister of Aviation regarding the improvement of air communications in Scotland.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

My right hon. Friend and the Minister of Aviation are regularly in touch about air facilities in Scotland, and the airlines are well aware of the many suggestions which have been made for improvement. The hon. Members will appreciate, however, that it is the airlines, not the Government, which run air services and it is the airlines which have to be persuaded that additional services are economically justifiable.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that the Minister of Aviation's statement last week has given B.E.A. a virtual monopoly on Scottish routes, and does he realise that, in consequence, the independent airlines are much less likely to undertake services on routes within Scotland? Is he also aware that B.E.A. is proposing to raise its fares on routes within Scotland?

Dr. Mabon

I am aware of a number of these things. Although I do not accept the comment made in the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I think it would be wise if he were to address his thoughts to the Minister of Aviation who on occasion has answered some of the points which have been made. Nevertheless, the Secretary of State is concerned about these matters, and is in very close touch with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation.

Mr. Galbraith

How does the hon. Gentleman square his responsibility of being one of the spokesmen for Scotland with the decision of the Minister of Aviation to curtail private development and create a monopoly for the B.E.A.? The hon. Gentleman, and indeed his hon. Friends, seem to be pretty timid lions and not every good at speaking up for Scotland. Has he ever read the Toothill Committee's Report? If he has, what are his comments on the views of that Report on the need for more civil aviation?

Dr. Mabon

I have read the Toothill Report, including its 81 recommendations, few of which were acted on by the previous Administration. With regard to the master plan produced by the Scottish Council, which is probably more up to date, this is the concern of the Government, and the Minister of Aviation hopes to meet the Scottish Council very soon to discuss this matter. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that he was concerned with this matter himself some time ago, and that the present policy does not permit the development of any of these air services without their being economically justifiable. The idea of subsidies was rejected by the hon. Gentleman's Government, and clearly he has no right to complain about this now.

Mr. Rankin

Is my hon. Friend aware that the body for granting operating licences is the Air Transport Licensing Board, and that since its establishment in 1960 not one independent operating company in Scotland has even applied for a licence to start a new route?

Dr. Mabon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is very learned and experienced in these matters, for his comments. It gives me the chance to say that the decision of the independent operators to withdraw from certain routes in Scotland was made freely by them and not by the Government.

Mr. Grimond

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a tendency for Ministers to speak of aviation policy in Scotland as though it was handed down by God? It is in fact the result of deliberate decisions by the hon. Gentleman's predecessors, and the chosen instrument is a nationalised corporation to which this House can give new directions, or in respect of which it can bring in a new Bill any time it likes. What I find deplorable about the history of aviation in Scotland is the total failure to open up new routes in the north of Scotland, and the failure to provide enough suitable aircraft for the smaller services which are needed. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that if this increase in fares and charges is agreed to, it will be a most serious blow at the one thing which the Government undoubtedly want to do, which is to improve and cheapen transport services?

Dr. Mabon

I agree with a good deal of what was said by the right hon. Gentleman. This is very much a matter which is exercising the concern of my right hon. Friend and the Minister of Aviation. Indeed, in relation to Highland air services, I am told that the Highland Transport Board is discussing this with the B.E.A. and will report to the Secretary of State in due course. I have no doubt that at that juncture my right hon. Friend will want to speak to the Minister of Aviation.

Mr. Noble

The hon. Gentleman said that he had read the Toothill Report. Will he continue to read what Sir John Toothill said, namely, that most of the recommendations which he put forward to the Government had been accepted? Will he confirm to the House that B.E.A. withdrew its request for a subsidy for the Highland areas in the north of Scotland? This was not denied by the last Government.

Dr. Mabon

I cannot accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about the Government having accepted all the recommendations of the Toothill Report, even within this limited matter. But we are concerned not so much with the past as with trying to do something now to improve the situation, and we intend to proceed along these lines.