HC Deb 29 May 1968 vol 765 cc1830-4

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

65. Mr. RANKIN

TO ask the President of the Board of Trade, what plans he has for dealing with the impending vacancy in the chairmanship of the British Overseas Airways Corporation; and what condition at the same time he proposes to give to the creation of a single corporation to deal with national and international airways operations.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

With permission, I will now answer Question No. 65.

As the House will know, I expect to receive by about March of next year, the report of the Edwards Committee on the structure of the civil air transport industry. I have, therefore, been considering, and have discussed with the chairmen of both Air Corporations, the best course to adopt in making and renewing appointments to the boards of the Corporations during the period before and immediately after the Committee has reported.

I cannot, of course, forecast what conclusions the Committee may reach, but I must allow for the possibility that it may suggest changes which affect the composition of these boards. I must clearly also allow adequate tune for considering and debating the report before changes have to be made.

In these circumstances, I have decided to make no avoidable changes in the composition of the boards before the end of 1969. I am accordingly inviting all those at present serving on the boards, whose appointments will expire before that date, to agree to continue until the end of that year.

In the case of B.E.A., Sir Anthony Milward has agreed to an extension of his term of appointment as Chairman until that date. In the case of B.O.A.C., I knew already that Sir Giles Guthrie wished to leave B.O.A.C. when his present term of office expires at the end of this year. I asked him to consider accepting reappointment until the end of 1969, but he told me that he has committed himself to another task early in 1969.

I have, therefore, invited Mr. Charles Hardie, the part-time Deputy Chairman, to serve as part-time Chairman for the year 1969, and he has agreed. Mr. Keith Granville will retain his position as full-time Deputy Chairman and will, in addition, be appointed by the Corporation as Managing Director.

These arrangements will ensure continuity and leave the Corporations in good hands during this period.

After consulting the Chairman of the Air Transport Licensing Board, I have decided to adopt the same policy in relation to that Board. Sir Daniel Jack has agreed to continue as Chairman until the end of 1969. I propose to strengthen the Board by appointing one or two additional members for a like period.

Mr. Rankin

I thank my right hon. Friend for that very full Answer and assure him that it has my complete support.

Will he answer two particular points? He has indicated that Mr. Charles Hardie will be the part-time Chairman of B.O.A.C. for a period ahead. Can he assure us that Mr. Hardie will sever active participation with the 40 companies with which he is presently connected in order to devote full-time attention to the very important appointment he is getting?


Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions should be reasonably brief.

Mr. Rankin

Secondly, on the question of amalgamation, will my right hon. Friend assure us that, whatever the Edwards Committee may say, he will give full attention to considering the need for merging B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. into one corporation, which I hope will be called the British Air Transport Corporation?

Mr. Crosland

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks.

I have not invited Mr. Hardie to be the full-time Chairman of the Corporation, but part-time Chairman. Therefore, it is no concern of mine to ask him to surrender other appointments which he may have, whether public or private. My concern is to make sure, and he has assured me, that he will give the time I have asked him to give to the affairs of the Corporation.

As to amalgamation, I will make no statement until I know what the Edwards Committee has to say about it, because it is one of the main issues that it was set up to consider.

Mr. A. Royle

Is the President of the Board of Trade aware that Mr. Hardie is highly regarded, and that his appointment will be warmly welcomed by all who are interested in aviation?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also pay tribute to the fine work that Sir Giles Guthrie has done for B.O.A.C. over many years, a tribute which I know that all on this side wish to pay?

Mr. Crosland

I should like to echo the tribute which the hon. Gentleman has paid to Sir Giles Guthrie, a tribute in every way justified by his record with the Corporation.

I must make it clear, in the light of one or two remarks I hear from behind, that Mr. Hardie is a most distinguished public servant who has given a great deal of time not only to B.O.A.C, but, as I know from a constituency point of view, to the White Fish Authority. Any notion that he is other than a most devoted public servant is quite wrong.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

No one is trying to denigrate Mr. Hardie. There are hundreds of good public servants who give good public service, but many of them do not get big salaries for part-time employment. All we want to know is the time that the Minister suggests he should give to this part-time employment and what his salary will be.

Mr. Crosland

My hon. Friend did not ask that before.

Mr. Lewis

I did.

Mr. Crosland

My hon. Friend asked from a sitting position. I have asked Mr. Hardie to give half his time to this position. He will, therefore, be paid half the normal salary for the chairman of the Board, namely, £5,500 per year.

Mr. Onslow

Is the Minister aware that there are important matters concerning B.O.A.C. which cannot and must not wait, in the period of continuing uncertainty, relating to industrial relations? Is he satisfied that the uncertainty will not make it more difficult to get good industrial relations in B.O.A.C?

Mr. Crosland

The matter of industrial relations in B.O.A.C. is particularly urgent, notably in the light of what the Pearson Report said on the subject of uncertainty. I am aware that there is some inevitable uncertainty, because the Edwards Committee is sitting, and is known to be sitting. This is unavoidable. However, I hope that the appointments which I have announced, providing, as they do, for continuity of management within the Corporation, will reduce that uncertainly to the greatest possible extent.

Mr. Robert Howarth

Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he has not made up his mind about the amalgamation of the two Corporations? There are mixed feelings whether this would be a desirable thing.

Mr. Crosland

I can give an absolute assurance that I have not made up my mind. I have no intentiton of making it up until I know what the Edwards Committee has to say.

Mr. Fortescue

In view of the almost complete breakdown of communication between the pilots and management of B.O.A.C, is the right hon. Gentleman entirely satisfied that a chartered accountant, however distinguished and valuable a public servant, is really the right part-time appointment to make at this juncture?

Mr. Crosland

I have made this appointment partly because I think that the gentleman concerned is the right man for the job and partly for the reasons I have explained in my Answer, namely, that the Edwards Committee's report will be available in March next year and I did not want to be faced with a situation in which, just as the Edwards Committee report came out, we had three new full-time chairmen of the three Boards I have been discussing. In the light of that, I am certain that this is the right appointment.

Mr. Cronin

While there may be good reasons for the interim appointment of Mr. Hardie as part-time Chairman of B.O.A.C, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it would be a most undesirable precedent for chairmen of nationalised Corporations to be part-time?

Mr. Crosland

There is no sense in which this could become a precedent, because I have made it clear that, after the Edwards Committee has reported, we shall all have to take a view about the long-term nature of the boards running these Corporations. This sets no precedent for the future after we have the Edwards Committee's report.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he would be wrong to commit himself to irrevocable decisions about the structure of B.O.A.C. now without having the report of the Edwards Committee and that he is right to resist attempts made from both sides to tie his hands?

Mr. Crosland

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I wholly agree with what he has said.