HC Deb 05 August 1966 vol 733 cc954-70

2.34 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Transfer of Functions (Civil Aviation) Order 1966 (S.I., 1966, No. 741), dated 22nd June 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 28th June, be annulled. I should begin by declaring an interest, which I have declared in debates on this subject more than once before. I am a director of Handley-Page Ltd. and, therefore, connected with the aviation industry. In the circumstances, I hope that need not inhibit my putting the views of my right hon. and hon. Friends, particularly since my company has never been connected with the sponsored groups, and we operate as best we can on our own.

In this Order, we are concerned with one of the three main redistributions of responsibility which follow from the Government's decision to do away with the Ministry of Aviation. As I understand it, the particular activities which this Order covers are the following, and they will pass to the Board of Trade: the Air Traffic Control services; the oversight of the State Corporations and independent airlines; the question of aerodromes and liaison with the new Airport Authority; air safety in its various forms and subdivisions; aviation overseas policy; and the barter, in particular, of traffic rights.

In order to judge the proposal in the Order in perspective, which is important, it is necessary to see it alongside the other two of the three main sub-divisions. We are talking of what is in many respects the most complicated sector in the whole sphere of our administration, dealing as it does with relations between the Government, air transportation, the aircraft industry and the needs of our defence. All those have a bearing of some kind on the Order.

We are dealing with an area which is dominated constantly by invention, with vast sums of money both public and private, and with some of the world's fastest-growing markets; in other words, with a scene which, willy-nilly, is shifting constantly.

When the Prime Minister made his statement about this on 16th June, he referred to the extreme complexity of the problem. I think that the main burden of our doubts about the Order lies in the fact that the Government, while appreciating the complexity, on the Prime Minister's admission, have chosen this moment to throw what I would term the whole aviation complex into further confusion.

If, as I have, one inquires into the probable course of events as a result of the Order, one is told that while the broad decisions have been taken, the details have still to be worked out. If I may say so to the Financial Secretary, that is typical of so much that this Government do, and I suggest that it is only from an exhaustive examination of the detailed working of this Ministry and its intricate relationships that the Government could hope to bring about any improvement.

We doubt whether the Government have made such an examination. In his statement, the Prime Minister said in effect that the aircraft industry is a significant part of the engineering industry as a whole and therefore should be lumped together with it for certain purposes. He added that, since the problems of air transport were roughly analogous to those in the shipping industry—if I may say so, pretty roughly—these two should be lumped together as well.

That is really all that we have heard. We have heard no detailed supporting arguments at all.

And so we have these major changes at a moment when the industry is in a state of grave uncertainty, and when the administrative machine in Whitehall as a whole is in a state of flux due to changes in other sectors of the Administration, particularly fiscal changes. No one of this side of the House could claim this decision has resulted from the examinations of the Plowden Committee either, since the reorganisation of the Ministry of Aviation did not lie within its terms of reference, although Lord Plowden devoted a couple of paragraphs to the subject in his Report, since the matter had cropped up so often.

If I may say so, this is in strong contrast to the Conservative Government's approach to the reorganisation of the aviation industry as a whole. Mr. Julian Amery initiated an inquiry into this subject in 1963, and it was undertaken by Sir Frank Lee. Later, there were two full-scale meetings of representatives of the aircraft and aviation industries, senior representatives from both the airlines, as well as representatives of the manufacturers. The first meeting was held at Chequers, in March, 1963, and the second was at Lancaster House, in July 1964. Their object was to discuss all aspects of this question, including the present proposals which, in more or less the same form, I think, were mooted at the time. This represented a pretty detailed examination.

I understand, and if I am wrong I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will correct me, that the conclusion was that, in effect the civil and military sides of the industry were indivisible, and that this consideration was particularly important with regard to our success in international markets. I believe that this would still have been the general view of those in the aircraft industry had they been consulted about this reorganisation, and I must ask the Financial Secretary why they were not consulted on this occasion.

The Prime Minister said in his statement—and I think that he was questioned by one of my hon. Friends on the same subject—that he did not think that the leaders of the aircraft industry would agree to his proposals. But that seems to me to be all the more reason for taking them into the confidence of the Government and discussing the matter with them before these very far reaching decisions were taken. I wonder whether the hon. and learned Gentleman is aware that the S.B.A.C. has, or had, some very constructive and, interesting suggestions to make in relation to the future of the Ministry of Aviation. I do not think that those suggestions were ever taken into consideration at all. At the very least, the industry would say—and I believe this to be entirely the view of my right hon. and hon. Friends—that before changing the present arrangements, it is incumbent on the Government and on this House to give very careful consideration to the disadvantages of the alternatives.

Two things have been basically wrong with the working of the Ministry of Aviation. First, there are the difficulties that have arisen from a lack of direct contact between the users and the makers of our aircraft, particularly in connection with defence procurement. I believe that that view would be generally agreed in the industry, and widely in this House.

Secondly, there is the problem of the isolation of a vital field of research and development from the rest of industry as a whole, which results, or perhaps has resulted, from a certain isolation of the Government experimental stations and the consequent probable loss of fall-out knowledge which could be of critical importance to the rest of industry.

These two problems must be dealt with, but I submit that this Order will have little or no effect on either of them. What advantages the Order will bring—and I am ready to concede that there might be some, though I would doubt whether they would be major ones in comparison with the size of the problem as a whole—we have yet to learn. I hope that we shall learn something of them from the Financial Secretary.

The advantages are not easily discernible, whereas the dangers are. I believe that there are three main dangers and that, in one degree or another, they all relate to the manufacture of civil aircraft, which is the area which this Government have repeatedly said they are particularly keen on forwarding. This also was the recommendation of the Plowden Committee.

The first of these three dangers—and I am talking strictly within the context of this Order rather than on the general question of the reorganisation of the Ministry—is as follows. I believe it to be increasingly important today to coordinate airline Corporation buying policies and international air traffic rights—both of which are now to pass to the Board of Trade—with transport aircraft development, because the complex technological problems of aircraft control and air safety in all its forms are becoming ever more closely connected with civil aircraft performance. In other words, research and development on civil aircraft must take increasing account of them. No one can tell me that this will be rendered any easier by removing these two important functions to two separate Ministries.

The second main danger as I see it is that the air corporations have understandably sectional interests, perfectly properly, with regard to their own profitability. Their instructions are, and have been for many years, quite clear. It is their business to make a profit. On the other hand, they are not interested in the profitability, or as perhaps I may put it, the foreign exchange earning capacity of the aviation complex as a whole. Their tendency over recent years has been to turn alarmingly towards the purchase of foreign aircraft, and I am personally by no means satisfied that this reflects in any way badly on our own aircraft. I think that the Corporations' decisions from time to time have turned on administrative considerations as much as anything else. Be that as it may, this is a most serious aspect of our aviation policy as a whole.

I submit this to the Financial Secretary as a serious point. The Board of Trade must surely be less likely than was the Ministry of Aviation, with all its experience and its global outlook on the industry, to challenge this sectional interest, and more likely to recommend to the Transport Aircraft Requirements Committee—an important body in this connection—that they should allow the Corporations to buy whatever seems best to them on the day of need; rather than that plans should be prepared well ahead of time in order to meet the Corporations' requirements so that the planes can be produced in this country.

It follows that from now on, if this reorganisation takes place, the importance of the Transport Aircraft Requirements Committee becomes even greater than it has been up to now. The hon. and learned Gentleman will have noted in the relevant paragraphs of the Plowden Report that, regardless of this reorganisation, the Plowden Committee had certain specific and important recommendations to make with regard to this Committee. Now that the cohesion of research and development of civil aircraft is likely to be weakened, I think that those recommendations should be given great attention at the earliest possible moment. In particular, the necessity is to strengthen the secretariat of the Committee, and the Government might also like to look at the numbers involved. This is a very large and unwieldy grouping.

The third danger is broader. Whereas formerly there was only one Minister who had the duty of resolving the many complex problems and differences of interest between air carriers and the industry, there are now to be three, of whom the one we are now discussing is the President of the Board of Trade.

No matter what party is in power, it is surely true that each Minister will always tend to represent a different interest, and I believe that this breaking down of the Ministry of Aviation will tend to throw a number of problems which up to now, and over recent years, have been resolved centrally by the Minister of Aviation, up to the Cabinet, with consequent delays in decision. This is a fast moving industry if it is nothing else and I must represent to the Financial Secretary, that in the past it has suffered gravely from slow decision-making, even with the present centralised approach. Therefore, I believe it is perfectly understandable that there should be misgivings about the consequences of this action as a whole and this Order in particular among the airlines as well as in the aircraft industry.

All these problems on which I have touched this afternoon were identified quite clearly in the 1950s, and the result was the creation of the Ministry of Aviation. In 1963 there was a major conference at which all concerned in the industry and airlines were consulted, under the auspices of the Ministry of Aviation at the time, to review the position. It was then decided that the best course was to strengthen and improve the existing organisation. The Ministry of Aviation may not have succeeded in all respects but its achievements have nevertheless been considerable. To dismantle this whole machinery is an extremely serious administrative step, particularly in the light of all known past advice as far as I can trace it.

It may be that the present Order is the least controversial of the three aspects. Nevertheless, as I have tried to explain, it is dangerous and I would conclude by saying to the Financial Secretary the aviation complex as a whole is a massive earner of foreign exchange and also, I believe, an essential lead technology. I am not sure that the most important and pregnant passages of the whole of the Plowden Committee's Report was not the conclusion of their section on technology, in which they say no other technology could have such a pervasive effect or influence on industry as a whole as aviation. It seems to me that here we have the crux of the problem.

The object, therefore, of any change in these administrative arrangements must be to improve the capacity of the aerospace industry, to earn foreign exchange and profits; and it does not follow that to split its relationship with the Government between three separate Ministries will necessarily accomplish this. I believe this lies at the heart of our misgivings over this Order and the policy as a whole and it is in the light of this objective alone that we shall judge the Minister's arguments this afternoon and the results of the Government's actions.

2.55 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Niall MacDermot)

I thought perhaps other hon. Members wished to intervene, but I gladly reply straight away to the powerful speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings). First of all, may I confirm with one small addition what he said as to the effect of the Order. What it does is to effect the first stage, the first part of the transfer of functions, from the Ministry of Civil Aviation to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. The functions which are transferred at this stage are those of airport policy, the National Air Traffic Control Organisation, which is run jointly with the Ministry of Defence, the international regulation of Civil Aviation and the negotiation of traffic rights, safety matters, aviation and flying safety matters, and the final one, which I believe the hon. Member overlooked, accident investigation.

The hon. Member, as I anticipated, set his remarks under this head within the wider context of the decision announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the dissolution of the Ministry of Aviation and the distribution of its functions as between the Ministry of Technology and the Board of Trade; and the interests of the Ministry of Defence on matters of procurement policy are, as my right hon. Friend announced, the subject of a continuing and special study. First, the hon. Member asked a question as to why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has chosen this moment, as he put it, to throw the industry into confusion. I would substitute for those words, why has he chosen this moment to make the decision? I do not believe there there can be any dispute that the future of the Ministry is something which has been the subject of speculation and discussion for some considerable time.

The Plowden Committee, as the hon. Member says, shortly discussed the issues involved. It was not, of course, directly within the terms of reference of the Committee, and it certainly was not for it to make any recommendation. The Committee did make a recommendation that a decision should be reached, and reached urgently, because of the uncertainty that was overhanging the industry as a result of the criticisms which were voiced of the existing system. It will be remembered that in its Report the Plowden Committee drew attention to some of the evidence which had been given to it, sometimes forcibly, and in particular the evidence of representatives of the Ministry of Defence Air Force Department, criticising the present system in the matter of aircraft procurement. Those witnesses had pointed out the drawbacks which there would be if the whole of functions of research, development and sponsorship of the industry were transferred to the Ministry of Defence, including the risk that the civil interests of the industry, which many feel are and should be of growing importance, would be unreasonably subordinated to the military interests. They referred, also, to the evidence of many witnesses from the industry that the intermediary position of the Ministry between the customer and the supplier incurred greater drawbacks than it offered advantages.

These were some of the considerations which led the Committee to urge that a decision should be taken early, and therefore I cannot accept that this was an inopportune moment. When one considers the moment at which the decision was made, I would remind the House first of all that it has been made after and in the context of the Defence Review and some of the major decisions about future aircraft development which have been made by this Government.

Second, it has been made at a time when the issues which have to be decided about the industry have been marshalled and presented by the Plowden Committee, and at a time, also, when the question of the future purchasing policy of the air corporations has just come up for decision, the basic decision having been announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation last Tuesday. There still remain to be decided the vital questions about the future relationship between the Government and the industry.

The main considerations were all reviewed and dealt with in the Plowden Report, the conclusions of which, I think, have commanded general assent. In past years, a disproportionate share of the country's resources has been tied up in an industry which has been spiralling in its costs and has been suffering financial losses and falling exports. Second, the difficulties confronting the industry are difficulties which confront every advanced technological industry in this country. I think we are all firmly of the view that it is a primary national interest to maintain an effective and viable aircraft industry, but what we must decide is the right scale and scope of that industry.

As was said in one of the more contentious conclusions of the Plowden Committee, the aim of policy should be to create conditions in which industry can thrive with no more support or protection than that given to comparable industries in Britain".

Mr. Hastings

This is an important statement and, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, one of the most contentious in the whole Report. Can he instance a truly comparable industry in this country?

Mr. MacDermot

All this matter was argued out in the debate last February and it was answered by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation. Clearly, the comparable industries for this purpose are the other technological industries, as he then said.

This is the major decision which has been taken, that responsibility for research and development and sponsorship of the industry should be transferred to the Ministry of Technology. As the hon. Gentleman said as his last point, this is a lead industry for technology, and so much of this country's technological development is bound up with the future of the aviation industry. In this context, I prefer to use the wider term, the aerospace industry.

From the point of view of the machinery of Government, the basic question was whether it was right to have two Ministries, as it were, vying and competing with each other in the forefront of this crucial sector for the future of our economy. We all agree that the development of the technology and science-based industries is the key to our economic future. Obviously, my right hon. Friend's decision implies his belief that it is right not to disperse the efforts, as it were, within the Government machine as between two Ministries but to bring them together in the Ministry of Technology. It is for that reason, and on the same principles, that responsibility for the shipbuilding industry has been transferred from the Board of Trade to the Ministry of Technology. This is really the starting point and basic decision.

There remains the problem of the lack of contact which there has been between users and producers, particularly in military procurement. As announced by the Prime Minister, this matter is being studied urgently by a Committee in order to see what the right division of functions between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Technology should be in these vital matters for defence policy.

It is against that background that we consider this Order, which transfers the first part of the civil aviation functions to the Board of Trade. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear why this was being done in two stages—that until the basic decisions were taken about the future purchasing policy of the civil aircraft Corporations, B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., he thought it right to leave those matters with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation. Now that the basic decisions have been taken, there still remain to be decided the questions of precisely which aircraft B.E.A. will purchase. But, since the basic decisions have been taken, I may inform the House that it is the Prime Minister's intention to continue the process and quite shortly to transfer the remaining functions in civil aviation to the Board of Trade.

The hon. Gentleman put forward what he said were the dangers in the decision to separate responsibility for civil aviation and, in particular, the responsibility for the Government's relations with the air Corporations, from the sponsorship of the aviation industry. First, he argued that it was necessary to co-ordinate the airline buying policies and air traffic rights with transport aircraft development. I should not challenge as a proposition that coordination is needed. I merely echo what the Prime Minister said: these decisions are very difficult, and the arguments are very nicely balanced. This is reflected by the amount of change since the war in governmental responsibility for this industry.

Some have argued that the development of aircraft in this country may have suffered from being tied and tailored too much to the specific needs of our air Corporations. This may be one of the reasons why we have not had greater success in exporting. While obviously a primary need of our air industry must be to serve the needs of our air Corporations, there may be advantages in having the different interests reflected by a separation of responsibility in different Departments where the matter can be effectively argued. This, in effect, is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's second point about the air Corporations' sectional interests with regard——

Mr. Hastings

The hon. and learned Gentleman's first point is surely the responsibility of the Transport Aircraft Requirements Committee. Mistakes have been made in this respect in the past; and I should not dispute that mistakes have been made. This is a failure of that Committee. I was seeking to argue that with this division the dangers are present, but the importance of this Committee becomes even greater than before and, therefore, great attention should be paid to it.

Mr. MacDermot

I should not dispute that. But in a field in which so much Government money is involved and Government responsibility is so great, any Government must arrive at a balanced judgment of its own in the first instance about what it considers should be the policy. The hon. Member is arguing, as others have argued, that there are advantages in having all of these matters under the umbrella of one Minister. As he said, formerly there was only one Minister resolving the conflicting interests, now there are three. With my modest experience of government I am not sure that I agree with his proposition that it is an advantage to have but one Minister.

If there really are conflicting interests, as there are here, it is a great advantage co have different Ministers representing the different interests. The truth is that these matters are so important, the amount of money involved is so great, that they are bound to be Government decisions. The Treasury is vitally concerned in these decisions, but these are matters which go, in any event, to the Cabinet. There is very great advantage for the interests concerned if each have a Department and a Minister arguing its case so that the matter is resolved, and the conflict fought out at higher levels.

Expressing a personal view, I think that there are real advantages, if one can get the conflicting interests properly delineated, in having them spread between different Ministries. This depends upon one's viewpoint as to what makes the most effective machinery of government under our Cabinet system. The same argument applies to the point which I am about to move to, relating to the sectional interests of the Air Corporations which are naturally concerned with their own profit-earning capacity, and not with the wider interests of the aviation industry as a whole.

On final point, which was not referred to by the hon. Member but which may be in the minds of some hon. Members, is the reason for these functions of civil aviation being transferred to the Board of Trade rather than, as some might argue, the Ministry of Transport. There was a time in the past when these functions did rest for a while with the Ministry of Transport. If we were only concerned with internal transport considerations, there would be an obvious argument when we are trying to get better coordination between road and rail and sea transport to co-ordinate air transport also.

In this matter we are not only concerned with internal transport, and from a Governmental point of view it is the external consideration which assumes the greater importance. It is in these matters of negotiation of traffic rights and the international regulation of civil aviation that the commercial and international experience of the Board of Trade makes it the more natural department to assume these responsibilities. I take it, impliedly, that this view is shared by the hon. Gentleman as he did not offer criticism on this point.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his statement, the functions here are similar to those exercised by the Board of Trade in the shipping sphere. It is our view that this would make for a more effective and a better system. The Ministry of Transport is a very heavily engaged Ministry at present; it is reviewing the whole order of transport policy. Although the arguments are nicely balanced I would commend the decision of my right hon. Friend to the House as being the right one.

3.14 p.m.

Mr. Cranky Onslow (Woking)

I must apologise to the House for not being able to be in my place when this debate began. It was for this reason that I did not seek to intervene before the Financial Secretary spoke. I am most grateful for the opportunity of hearing him. I do not wish to quarrel with some of the points he made, although while it is undoubtedly true that there is a continuing momentum for decisions in the history and the future of the aircraft industry, for some months it has been arguable that decisions ought to have been taken much sooner than they have been needed and that many others still remain outstanding.

Secondly, it is ironic and fortunate that some decisions were deferred because, curiously enough deferment of decisions about the purchase of aircraft by British airlines until the advent of the present economic crisis must have greatly strengthened the hand of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Aviation in insuring that B.E.A. continued to purchase its aircraft in this country.

I hope that the management of British European Airways will now make it un-mistakeably plain to the industry and the country that the aircraft which it is to buy and which, I am delighted to hear, are to made in this country are fine aircraft in their own right. I hope that there will be no recriminations or continued quarrels on this score. What we need now is a demonstration of confidence in the capacity of the British aircraft industry to make commercially efficient competitive aircraft, as I am certain that it can, and although the Minister has said so, we are still waiting for B.E.A. to make this perfectly clear, as I hope it will.

I am sorry that the Financial Secretary relied as much as he did on the conclusions of the Plowden Committee. We could have a prolonged semantic debate about the meaning of the word "comparable" in this context and I challenged the Minister on this issue when the matter was debated in February My own views were powerfully reinforced by what lord Plowden himself had to say about what he meant by "comparable" when he discussed his Report and the circumstances in which his Committee had been obliged to prepare it when he made clear in a debate not only that he had scarcely been given time enough to complete a proper report, but that he had meant the word "comparable" to have a different meaning from what the Minister evidently imagined.

The Order contains the decision to hive off some of the powers of the Ministry of Aviation, perhaps the easiest of the decisions to be taken in this dismantling process, although not entirely insignificant. The Board of Trade will have a fairly long list of work under at least three of the main headings of authority transferred to it. Urgent decisions have to be made about civil airport policy, some of which have been affected by the credit squeeze, but which are nevertheless urgent and which must be made. Some might have overridden the necessities of the credit squeeze, particularly that concerning the construction of the cargo terminal at Heathrow which will be a major currency earner. I am sorry to hear that it is likely to be seriously affected by the stringency which the Government have imposed.

Important decisions have to be taken about traffic rights. New traffic rights have been obtained by negotiation in the Western hemisphere and must be taken up, but if they are not promptly taken up by B.O.A.C., I hope that there will be no doctrinaire objection on the Government Benches to their being taken up by other operators, because they are all part of British trade and British venture, and the fact that the British Government have secured rights ought not to mean that they will allow those rights to be taken only by the nationalised Corporations.

Thirdly, there is the issue of air safety, which is extremely urgent. I have been rather disturbed at certain incidents at major and minor air displays in the country when spectators seem to have been placed accidentally at hazard. There have been one or two rather nasty near-misses and one or two fatalities. The Board of Trade should direct its attention to this aspect of air displays.

The importance of air safety to the public will increase greatly as the number of passengers transported in a single aircraft increases, as it is likely to do in the years ahead. Once we get the 230-seater aircraft, the jumbo-jets, carrying large numbers of people through the air who may at any one time be placed at risk of their lives, the importance of air safety and the vital necessity to maintain the highest possible standards must become all the more obvious. I am certain that the Ministry of Aviation understands this and I have no doubt that the Board of Trade will equally understand it, but both should be aware that the public will want to know and to be assured that the matter is given the most serious consideration.

However, the Order will still leave the most important decisions about the transfer of functions to be resolved. Of course I accept that difficult and delicate and finely balanced decisions are involved. But I hope that there will be no decision of major significance announced except in the House. Announcement of decisions could probably be deferred until the House reassembles.

I hope that when they will be published, on or after 18th October, they will be published here, not through the columns of the Press for sure but while Parliament is sitting for certain, and that we shall have an opportunity to debate them. The mere fact that they are finely balanced decisons and not decisions which commend themselves one way or another on party political lines, makes it all the more important that Parliament should have an opportunity to debate them and that the expert opinion on both sides should be brought to bear.

I hope—perhaps this is a political point—now that the industry has been given the prospect of getting on with constructing for B.E.A. in particular, but also I hope for world markets, civil aircraft which will satisfy domestic and world needs over the next 10 years there will be no doctrinaire determination on the Government's part to distract the industry from its task by imposing on management the confusion, the uncertainty and upheaval which would result—which must inevitably result—either of a forced merger of the two main manufacturing organisations or of governmental control. The aircraft industry is now in a position with its order books to go ahead on a healthy basis for the next five years. For heaven's sake let it be allowed to get on with this and do the job it is capable of doing. Do not muck up the whole thing by throwing a nationalisation spanner into the works.

We are witnessing the first stage of dismantling the Ministry of Aviation. I nevertheless still believe that activity in the air, whether it is defined as aviation activity or aerospace activity or whatever it may be, is and should be considered as a composite unit with all the various branches connected one to another and related one to another. They must be discussed in connection with one another. While it may be arguable—I take the Minister's point—that where there are conflicting interests and conflicting points of view put forward for argument at Cabinet level, there may be advantage if this should be done by two, three or more Ministers each representing a point of view, for Parliament, the industry and the country there would be enormous advantage to derive from the establishment in this House of a specialist aviation or aerospace committee which could keep the whole matter under review.

I hope that this is a subject on which when we eventually get down to some suggestions about the formation of specialist committees the mind of the Government will be found to be not entirely closed. I am encouraged to see a half nod from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation. Perhaps before he and his functions finally disappear he will convert it into a whole nod.

I renew my apologies for not being present initially in this debate. I am grateful to have had the opportunity of putting these points to the Government.

Question put and negatived.