HC Deb 14 May 1968 vol 764 cc1175-9
Mr. Speaker

I have not selected the Amendment to the next Motion formally, but it can be discussed with the Motion and, if the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) wishes, I am prepared to allow a Division on it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, the facilities available to a Member for free travel on parliamentary duties between London and his constituency by any public railway, sea or air service should be extended to cover travel by chartered air services, provided that the cost to public funds is no greater than the cost of travel by public transport.—[Mr. Peart.]

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I am very glad to have the chance to speak to the Motion, even if I am not able to move my Amendment which proposes the insertion of the words "or private aeroplane" after the word "services". However, I hope that the Leader of the House will accept it in principle, at least.

It is important that the Motion has been put down, because we must move with the times and use the opportunity of the most advanced form of transport whenever it is available. It will help hon. Members to reach their constituencies and the House more quickly and, more important, it may help hon. Members who live away from their constituencies where cross-country journeys are involved.

I shall be interested to hear from the right hon. Gentleman why he has put down a Motion confined to chartered air services, and I shall be equally interested to hear his views about my proposal to include private aeroplanes. There are very few private pilots in the House; in fact, 66 per cent. of them are present, and I hope that the third will be with us soon. None of them owns his own aircraft, though I am sure that they would take the opportunity to use club aircraft or borrow aircraft owned by friends if they were able to reimburse part of the cost with the aid of the normal expense allowance given to hon. Members travelling to their constituencies.

I hope that, in the future, more hon. Members will be sufficiently interested in flying to have their own licences. If my Amendment were accepted, they would be able to reach their constituencies more quickly and, more important, it would enable more hon. Members to know what is going on in the world of air transport, because it is only by practical participation that one understands the difficulties which face light aircraft and executive aircraft pilots who wish to fly over this country.

I must stress that I am not asking for more generous treatment than that which is afforded to hon. Members who travel by road or rail. We do not expect anything more than the first-class rail fare which can be set against the costs of flying an aeroplane.

Perhaps I might give the right hon. Gentleman two brief examples to show that there is no question of hon. Members making a profit out of it. I have chosen two rather distant towns. The first of them, Plymouth, is 225 miles from London. The rail fare is 91s., and the journey takes about four hours. The same mileage by air would require about 16 gallons of petrol, which cost £5, and one could do the journey in about two hours. In addition, if one had to hire an aeroplane, it might cost £15. There is no question of the air fare being cheaper than the rail fare. Therefore, the hon. Member would be out of pocket. I mentioned four hours by rail, but hon. Members from the West Country know that in summer it would take many more hours by road.

For my second example I chose the town of Carlisle because I know that the Leader of the House takes an interest in Carlisle Airport, where I often fly. It is 300 miles away and the first-class rail fare is 119s. It would certainly cost £6 for petrol for a light aeroplane to fly from here and £18 or £19 if one hired a club aircraft for the journey. There is no question but that an hon. Member would be out of pocket by using light aircraft for that journey.

We should encourage hon. Members to use light aircraft, whether their own or those borrowed from clubs or friends. In this way we could stimulate interest in air travel for the light aircraft and executive aircraft, which is as important as giving hon. Members the opportunity to use charter aircraft.

10.6 p.m.

Mr. Frank Taylor (Manchester, Moss Side)

I am glad that the Leader of the House proposes to bring charter aircraft into the advantage of hon. Members' assisted travelling expenses. This shows that he appreciates that there are other means of air transport than the public service aeroplane. So far so good, but the proposed extension to charter air services only is unfair since it expressly excludes private hire.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) has spoken of the number of hon. Members who have a pilot's licence. They naturally feel slighted by the terms of this Motion, since those who are in a position to fly their own aero-planes are completely excluded from the benefits of the Motion. They feel slighted because the Motion is couched in terms which slow that the Government have little regard for light aircraft and they wonder why light aircraft are expressly excluded. This is either due to the thoughtlessness of those who drafted the Motion or it hints that private aircraft are of little consequence and that the Government do not need to bother about them.

The light aircraft industry has dwindled and very few now have a light aircraft in operation. We should do everything we can to sponsor and help them. One or two hon. Members were at Hanover a week ago at an aircraft fair. The place was flooded with light aircraft from all over the world, but there were only two there from England. If this Motion could be extended to include private aircraft it would show that the Government recognise that light aircraft have a place in the country and deserve support. The industry is struggling because in other countries there are subsidies for construction and purchase and also for fuel. In England, we suffer through lack of that.

If the right hon. Gentleman agreed to add light aircraft to the Motion it would satisfy we who feel so strongly on this matter. I confess to being one of the hon. Members who has a pilot's licence, one of the very few. We hope that the Minister will agree to add private aircraft.

10.10 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Frank Taylor) showed a slight political undertone in his speech. There is no conflict here. The Government are as anxious as the Opposition to encourage the light aircraft industry, so I hope that that idea will not remain in the hon. Member's mind as that I am judging this Motion on its merits, and also the Amendment which is in the name of the hon. Member. I believe in the light aircraft industry and will do anything I can to encourage it.

However, we are really dealing here with a matter which involves Members and expenses. I would remind the House very quickly that on 15th November, 1945 the House passed a Resolution—it is a long time ago now—authorising free travel for Members to their constituencies on any public railway, sea or air service. Therefore, in the course of that, travel vouchers cannot be provided to cover the use of chartered air transport, nor can such expenditure, incurred by a Member, be refunded.

A few instances have occurred recently in which a scheduled flight has not been able to be completed owing to bad weather, although chartered flights in smaller aircraft have been possible. A Member who may have an important engagement in his constituency is then forced to join a chartered aircraft at his own expense and cannot claim the cost or even a refund of the cost of that part of the scheduled flight which has not been completed.

This Motion proposes that a Member may receive from the Fees Office money which can be reclaimed from the air company concerned. Any extra cost of the chartered flight will have to be paid by the Member. This will result in no extra cost to public funds but will help to compensate the Member for the extra expense to which he has been put through no fault of his own.

I have noted what has been said by the two hon. Gentlemen opposite and I agree with the hon. Member for Dumfries that there is a problem here. I know this from my own experience. I have a constituency which is just south of Carlisle: it is probably the most remote, in many ways, of any part of England. I have to travel to Carlisle and down to the coast and I would like to improve the air service between Cumberland and the City here. I think the hon. Member who has used Carlisle as an airport would agree with me.

So there is no dispute. I hope the hon. Member will give me the Motion, which I think is agreed. I will take note of what he has said. I will consider carefully the wording of his Amendment. In principle, I accept it. I will give it all the sympathy which I know is essential in a matter which will help hon. Members and will encourage aviation, as both hon. Members opposite want.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, the facilities available to a Member for free travel on parliamentary duties between London and his constituency by any public railway, sea or air service should be extended to cover travel by chartered air services, provided that the cost to public funds is no greater than the cost of travel by public transport.