HC Deb 29 June 1971 vol 820 cc308-13
Mr. Bishop

I beg to move Amendment No. 35, in page 44, line 20, leave out '(ii) be terminated' and insert: 'no appointment shall be terminated under paragraph (d) of the preceding subsection'. This Amendment concerns the British Airways Board, its constitution and general functions. The Clause says that … the appointment of a person as the chairman of either of the corporations"— which, I think, means B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.— shall not— (i) be made unless he is a member of the Board and the Secretary of State approves the appointment … and, secondly, that the period of his office shall not be terminated … unless the Secretary of State approves its termination; This is tied up with subsection (d) of the same Clause which says that: Subject to the following provisions of this Part of this Act, the Board shall have power—to appoint such persons as the Board thinks fit as the chairmen, deputy chairmen and other members of the corporations and to terminate any appointment made by virtue of this paragraph notwithstanding anything in the terms on which the appointment was made. It seems that although in the case of dismissal the chairmen shall have recourse to the Secretary of State who shall endorse the dismissal, this does not apply to the other members mentioned in subsection (d). This includes the deputy chairman and other members of the Corporations.

We think that this is quite objectionable, because it does not give them any kind of security or appeal against dismissal. That refers to all the members of the Corporations, except for the chairmen. Although Clause 38(2)(d) says that no person whose appointment is terminated shall lose any entitlement to damages or compensation as a result of the dismissal we find these provisions objectionable.

The Industrial Relations Bill seeks to lay down a code of conduct. The Government claim that work-people must have rights. Here is a situation where the Government could have demonstrated their concern for the rights of the individuals concerned. One wonders whether the Industrial Relations Bill will apply here. The Clause does not lay down the rights of the deputy chairmen and the members of the Corporations who can be summarily dismissed without appeal to the Secretary of State, unlike the chairmen of the Corporations. In Committee my hon. Friends and I sought to restrict the conditions of dismissal to those who had been absent for a specified number of meetings without permission, to those who had become bankrupt or incapacitated through physical or mental illness and to those unable to fulfil their functions. The Amendment was rejected by the Minister, and we have to fall back on the safeguards which this Amendment seeks to impose.

In the Bill there is power of dismissal without reason being given and without appeal in the case of all members of the Corporations except the chairmen. This is an arbitrary kind of dismissal and appears to be the policy of the Government. Who are the kind of people most likely to be at risk in this situation? They include some of the members who display the attributes which may have justified their appointment. They would include those whose knowledge and experience of the world of commerce and civil aviation is greatly needed by any authority such as the Corporations.

We know that civil aviation and the world of aerospace is an exciting and demanding one, stretching into the unknown. In the past Britain has become great because fearless men sailed the seas into uncharted areas and crossed unknown lands. Today we need men and women with the same kind of daring as the merchant venturers and those running civil aviation need the courage and daring of those who fly. We need those kind of people on the boards of our Corporations. I am not suggesting that B.O.A.C. or B.E.A. members lack any of these attributes.

We are concerned about the future. The Minister said in Committee that we have all had experience of the awkward, probing chap, and he agreed that such members were often extremely valuable members. He went on to say that, in his experience, provided it is done constructively, most boards are only too delighted to have someone who fulfils that kind of function. If the Minister's words mean what many of us think they mean he must have been in disagreement with his colleague, the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications who, evidently finding Lord Hall an awkward chap, sacked him from the Post Office. Not only that, Lord Hall is apparently still waiting for the compensation which would be paid to anyone affected by similar circumstances under this Measure. So the Clause as worded does nothing to encourage, much less to protect, the venturesome individual.

9.0 p.m.

The progress of the air corporations and the development of airlines and aerospace will be far more enhanced by the daring of unconventional people like Sheila Scott than by the behaviour of the conventional striped-trousered creatures who have seats on boards and whose habitat is more likely to be the Stock Exchange, of which the Sheila Scotts of this world, and other women too, are not yet deemed fit to be members because of their sex. A further disadvantage is that the kind of person we should encourage to accept appointment to the corporations may not wish to risk being thrown out without a right of appeal and reasons being given.

The main objective of those who have framed the nationalised industries Statutes over the years has been to create a framework in which industry retains as much management responsibility as is consistent with preserving Parliamentary and public accountability. Fundamental to that approach has been the security of tenure conferred on those who were appointed to the boards.

The Amendment carries with it the principle of justice to the community and to those who seek to serve the community. There is a strong case for the Minister accepting an Amendment which seeks to give justice to the chairmen of the Corporations, and to give rights of reasons for dismissal and appeal to the Secretary of State, so that they have conditions at least equal to those enjoyed by the people who at present head our Corporations.

Mr. Noble

I promised in Committee to look at this problem. I have considered it very carefully and have reached the conclusion that no such safeguard can be written into the Bill without unduly eroding the Airways Board's status. I know that I shall have the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Leslie Huck-field) solidly with me on this, because he is continually saying how important it is to give these people independence, yet his hon. Friends are trying to take away one of the essential powers of the Airways Board.

Our intention is to give the Airways Board strategic control over B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., with powers which are broadly equivalent to those of a holding company in the private sector over its wholly owned subsidiaries. In fact, the powers of the Airways Board will be rather more limited in the termination of appointments than those of a holding company because, under subsection (2)(c)(ii), it will be unable to dismiss the chairman of either Corporation without the Secretary of State's approval, and under subsection (2)(d)(i) the tenure of existing members is preserved. However, any greater limitation on the Board's powers to dismiss members of the Corporation on the lines of the Amendment would make nonsense of the concept of an Airways Board with responsibility for and control over the public sector group of airlines as a whole.

Furthermore, if we were to depart further from the analogy of the holding company and to require the Secretary of State's consent to all dismissals from the boards of the two Corporations, we should also have to alter Schedule 10 of the Bill so as to involve the Secretary of State in decisions on pensions and compensation, since he would have to take cognisance of these factors when considering the termination of appointments. Such a course would be totally incompatible with the concept of the Airways Board having controlling powers over the group.

I see no reason why a member of the board of B.O.A.C. or B.E.A. should feel more insecure by the powers given to the Airways Board in subsection (1)(d) than he would feel on the board of a wholly-owned subsidiary of a private sector holding company. In either case he would be entitled to damages or compensation where appropriate. It would also be exceedingly odd to enable the Secretary of State to veto the dismissal of a man in whose appointment he had had no say. I do not think we shall get anywhere by saying that hot pants are better than striped pants in the board room. I feel that we have struck the right balance in preserving the freedom and independence of the Board, so dear to the heart of the hon. Member for Nuneaton. I recommend the House not to accept this Amendment.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

I wish to point out that the right hon. Gentleman was rather mistaken since I was referring throughout to the Civil Aviation Authority. The right hon. Gentleman was referring to the board, which is a rather different matter.

Mr. Noble

I accept that it is a different matter, but the hon. Gentleman said that this Bill was my poodle. I would merely say tha I keep my poodle rather better clipped.

Mr. Bishop

We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for carrying out the promise he gave in Committee to reconsider the situation, but we are disappointed with his reply. It is nice to realise that at this late stage the Minister is getting sensitive about the amount of interference or intervention, according to how one looks at it, that he or the Secretary of State may have in regard to this legislation. It is a fact that in some 10 pages of the Bill there are no fewer than 60 references to the power of the Secretary of State in respect of approval, intervention or interference and there are also references in a similar context to the Treasury. In a Bill of over 90 pages, this suggests that there are probably over 500 references in the Measure to ways in which the Secretary of State can intervene. I feel that this is a justifiable kind of intervention if it brings justice to the individual.

I hardly think the right hon. Gentleman was serious in saying that the Amendment would mean altering Schedule 10 and other parts of the Bill. Surely if the Amendment would bring about more justice, then any administrative inconvenience involved in changing the Measure, even at this stage, is surely justified. Despite the Minister's reply, I hope that he will have second thoughts during the later stages of this Measure.

Amendment negatived.

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