HL Deb 21 December 1944 vol 134 cc481-99

12.13 p.m.

LORD MORRIS had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government, if they will state:—

1. The annual amount received by General Critchley, Director-General of British Overseas Airways Corporation

  1. (a) by way of salary,
  2. (b) under the head of non-taxable "expenses";

2. The terms on which the Greyhound Racing Association Offices in Berkeley Square were taken over by the British Overseas Airways Corporation;

3. How many former employees of the Greyhound Racing Association were employed by B.O.A.C. on 25th November, 1944, and in what capacities, and what were their salaries and "expense allowances";

4. How many persons employed by B.O.A.C. on 25th November, 1944, were formerly officers or other ranks of No. 54 Group, Training Command, Royal Air Force; in what capacities were these persons employed by B.O.A.C., and what were their salaries and "expense allowances"; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the unfortunate adjournment of this matter has been, as you know, none of my seeking, but it has had several fairly obvious repercussions, and anyone who is expecting any fireworks from me to-clay will be grievously disappointed. I think your Lordships will agree that this is not the time for me to initiate a full-dress debate on a matter of this importance. I think we have already achieved something in getting the Prime Minister on his feet yesterday to say that this matter would have, immediately after the Recess, the direct and immediate attention of His Majesty's Government. That is something, and I think we may even say that it is an indirect snub to the Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Air in the House of Commons, who the day before tried to laugh the whole thing off as being an improper, unfair and dirty attack by an independent Member in another place, Mr. Hopkinson, on the Director-General of the British Overseas Airways Corporation. That remark by the Prime Minister shows that the matter is now beginning to be seen by the Government, for the first time, in its proper perspective.

At the moment, of course, our thoughts are very much in Belgium and in Greece, and, with the Recess beginning this after- noon, I have not the faintest intention of pressing my Motion to a Division, or indeed of speaking to your Lordships for any longer than I can possibly help. There seems to be an idea abroad that people like Mr. Hopkinson in another place and myself here have nothing better to do than carry on some improper personal vendetta against Critchley and the rest of his pirate crew by raising these matters. Nothing, of course, can be further from the truth. I have never laid eyes on Critchley in my life; we have never met, and I should not know him if I saw him, so that to suggest that I am animated by some fanatical hatred is all moonshine. Nothing of the sort. This is a matter of public interest, and, as what seems everybody's business is sometimes nobody's business, it falls to my lot to raise it. If any one thinks that I enjoy this kind of thing he must be crazy; the whole matter is extremely distasteful to me.

The fact remains that this great Corporation has unfortunately fallen into the doldrums, and a number of tried and trusted servants of the Corporation have been dismissed, or allowed to go. I do not want, if I can possibly avoid it, to mention any names, but if the noble Viscount who is to reply wants names, he shall have them either coram populo or privately. Many of these people have gone or have been dismissed, and have been replaced by people who do not know the first thing about the work which they are called upon to do. That is a very serious matter, because the taxpayers' money—our money—is involved. I should be the last to object to General Critchley or any one else taking with him, when he goes to undertake a new job, a trusted private secretary or a chauffeur or someone like that, but that is not the case here at all. This man has taken with him an absolute entourage. Two of his immediate entourage are, or were until the other day, directors of his Greyhound Association. He takes men with him from this No. 54 Training Group, R.A.F., where that filthy scandal occurred a few months ago which goes back as far as 1942. The Government managed to gloze it over; but while you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, you cannot fool all the people all the time, and people in this country are now beginning to get tired of this sort of thing. It does not matter whether it is the pig scandal in Regent's Park or the B.O.A.C. or the little racket the other day in the City about British Celanese. People will swallow a certain amount in this country but no more.

I am very glad to see that the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has returned from Chicago, where no doubt he has had an extremely thin time. I do not think that he is very much to blame for that, because, after all, only a Government like ours would dream of sending a man fresh from the swamps of Africa to a place like Chicago, to deal with a matter where a Cripps or a Birkenhead would want a good deal of time to study his brief before dealing with it. I therefore do not blame the noble Viscount for the poor performance put up by the British Delegation in Chicago or for the complete flop which has marked the whole business from start to finish.

However, turning now to the specific questions which appear on the Order Paper in my name, I hope your Lordships will support me in thinking that I am now entitled to answers to those questions. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air, in the House of Commons forty-eight hours ago, was able to say that the questions put to him and the allegations made were entirely new, and that he had had no notice of them and could not cope with them—all the usual "alibis" of the Government when they are in a sticky position and do not want to play. That cannot be alleged against me. These questions have been on the Order Paper for some considerable time. They were stood over by me at the request of the Government, and therefore there is no reason whatever for the Government to urge that they cannot give me answers to-day. And now I should like very much to have answers to these questions.

The first question concerns the salary and non-taxable expenses (and needless to say it is the latter in which I am particularly interested) of the Director-General. If he occupied any ordinary post or were any ordinary individual, this sort of thing could be easily ascertained in a standard work of reference such as Whitaker, but, owing to the secrecy in which all B.O.A.C. affairs have been shrouded for years past, one cannot find out anything about it. I want to know his salary and expenses, and if I do not get an answer to-day I shall raise the matter again immediately after the Recess. The B.O.A.C. Act of 1939 provides in Sections 22 and 23 that accounts must be laid before Parliament. Nothing of the sort has been done. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air in another place said rather glibly that the accounts would be ready early in the new year. He seemed to regard it as in the nature of doing a personal favour that he should get them out quickly. Nothing of the kind. The country and Parliament are entitled to see what is done with the taxpayers' money. I want to know, therefore, what are the salary and expenses of the Director-General.

My second question concerns the offices of the Greyhound Racing Association in Berkeley Square. Having an office in that neighbourhood myself, I know that rents in that district are stiffish, and I want to know what rent is being paid by B.O.A.C. for this vast building, which until the other day—I pass it about four times a day, so I have some personal knowledge of this—was occupied by the Greyhound Racing Association. It may be that the whole thing is perfectly proper, and perhaps my allegations are entirely without foundation. Perhaps General Critchley and his greyhound boys have made a present of this building to the State, or have lent it to the State, in which case instead of criticizing them we ought to thank them; but I will believe it when I hear it!

The third and fourth questions on the Paper ask in what capacity and for what salaries and with what expense allowances are former employees of the Greyhound Racing Association employed by the B.O.A.C., and secondly, what people from No. 54 Group, Training Command, Royal Air Force, have been taken on, and what are their salaries and expenses. Those two questions might, I think, be taken together, and no doubt the noble Viscount will answer them together. I want to know what sort of salaries and expense allowances are paid to these people. Most of them are very new recruits to B.O.A.C. work and are reported to understand little or nothing of the work which they are doing; yet these people have replaced, as I have already said, men of considerable experience and long service with this very important Corporation.

I hope that the Government, as I have said, are going to take this matter seriously. They have had many indications in this House alone that civil aviation is regarded as a very important matter. And I think one might say without exaggeration that little things like the B.O.A.C. have before now cost Governments an election. This matter requires very delicate handling. If I might make what I hope is a constructive suggestion to His Majesty's Government and intended seriously, I would suggest this. They might consider immediately after the Recess appointing a Committee of Inquiry to inquire into the whole of the internal management and running of the B.O.A.C. When I say "a Committee of Inquirs" of course I mean a Committee of Inquiry. I do not mean a collection of elderly gentlemen with a whitewashing mission, commonly known as a Royal Commission, I mean a Committee, preferably a judicial Committee, presided over by one of the younger of His Majesty's Judges with, say, two or three experts in the aircraft industry and a lynx-eyed accountant sitting as assessors. They, I think, would find out material which could not fail to be of interest to Parliament and to the public. That, I feel, would meet the criticisms that have been made, and satisfy the public that something is really being done. Incidentally, though I hold no brief for them, I should have thought it was only fair to the officials of the B.O.A.C. and to its rather anemic board that these matters should be investigated. Allegations have been made about them both here and in another place, and I think it is only fair to them as well as to the public that these matters should be cleared up.

That is really about as far as I can take the matter to-day. As I say, I do not propose to press my Motion. All I want is answers to my questions. If I do not get them to-day, then we shall have to take steps to see that they are provided by His Majesty's Government. I warn the Government once again that this is an important matter, which must be taken seriously and be answered. We cannot have people running this country simply because they belong to the right clubs. It is not good enough, the world is altogether in too parlous a state. I remember one afternoon years ago I was in the House of Commons sitting in one of the public galleries—I will resume when the Leader of the House and the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, have stopped talking. I was saying that I was sitting one afternoon in one of the public galleries of the House of Commons listening to a Cabinet Minister making a personal statement. The House was packed—standing room only. You could have heard a pin drop, and it made a deep impression on me. When he had finished speaking, instead of resuming his seat he walked out of the Chamber and out of public life, never to return. So far as I know, he had committed no criminal offence, no charges had been preferred against him. All that had happened was that his conduct had fallen below that standard which we in this country have always expected, do expect, and I hope always shall expect, of our public men. I beg to move.

12.24 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to follow the noble Lord in the manner of his speech, which is not one, I think, that most of us are accustomed to in this House. I propose to treat this matter as a serious one. Serious allegations have been made, which are not merely a reflection upon one particular person but are the gravest and grossest reflections upon the board of this undertaking. Weak cases are not infrequently supported by offensive language. I propose to use no such language. I propose to tell your Lordships the facts about a good deal of these matters.

But I want to make one thing clear, if I may, in the first instance, and that is the relationship, the statutory relationship, of the board and the management of the British Overseas Airways Corporation to the Government. This is an example of the principle of State ownership and business control, and the essential of such a system is and must be that while the Government are responsible for the appointment of the board of directors, the conduct and management of the business must be entirely a matter for the board. No other system could possibly work, and that system, that principle and that practice were specifically laid down in Section 1 of the British Overseas Airways Act. It has therefore always been the rule that the responsible Minister, while answering questions about the constitution of the board and the general policy of the Corporation, should not answer ques- tions about the detailed management of the Corporation or its staff, which are by Statute made matters for the board. I use the phrase "board of directors." The Act actually uses the word "members," but I think it is more convenient for all purposes that we should talk about the board of directors, because that is what in fact they are.

I wanted to make that position very plain at the outset, because if in the present case I appear to depart from that principle and precedent which has always been followed, it is because the questions on the Order Paper, and indeed the speeches which the noble Lord has delivered, are a very serious reflection upon the members of the board. That obviously is so. Here it is alleged that a disgraceful racket is being conducted by the chief executive officer of the Corporation, an officer who was appointed by the board and is responsible to the board, and if those allegations could be sustained they would obviously be the greatest possible reflection upon the board. The board of directors would have been guilty either of corruption—participating in this alleged racket—or, to say the least of it, would have been guilty of such negligence that they would be quite unfit to conduct the business. It is for that reason that I am going to depart from the ordinary precedent and deal with certain matters in detail.

The first question the noble Lord has raised relates to the emoluments of the Director-General. Under the terms of the Statute the appointment of this officer and his pay are entirely a matter for the board. Section 1 (4) lays down that: The Corporation may appoint a member, not being either the chairman or deputy-chairman, to be chief executive member of the Corporation. And subsection (6) of Section 1 of the Act says: The Corporation may pay to the chief executive member thereof, in respect of his office as such, such remuneration (in addition to any remuneration to which he may be entitled in respect of his office as a member) as the Corporation may determine. Therefore by Statute both the appointment of the chief executive officer and his remuneration are made matters for the board of directors. But as a number of rumours are current and have been added to by the noble Lord to-day and on other occasions, which are very wide of the mark, I propose in this exceptional case and at the express request of the board to state what is the remuneration which the board, in the exercise of their statutory duty and power, have assigned to the chief executive officer. These are the fees for the present period: a salary of £5,000 a year and an expenses allowance of £1,000 a year. That is the whole. The matter is entirely one for the board, and now I have given the facts. But I think I may be permitted this observation, and I am sure your Lordships will agree: considering the magnitude of the work and the responsibilities attaching to this post, that remuneration is certainly not excessive.


Hear, hear.


Not at all excessive.


Nothing like enough.


Nothing like enough.


If it is true.


If what?


If it is true.


My Lords, I have been in both Houses of Parliament for a considerable time. I have had the honour for some years of being a member of your Lordships' House. I leave my reputation for veracity in your Lordships' hands.


Hear, hear.


The statement I make is a statement vouched for by the board. Your Lordships will observe how venomous is this attack upon this Brigadier-General, how venomous is this attack which is made upon the board of this Corporation. They are not only accused of being incompetent; they are accused of being liars and of giving false information to the Minister who is answering your Lordships. That remuneration is certainly not excessive and I was going to add that this rate of remuneration is, in fact, considerably less than was paid to the corresponding officer of Imperial Airways and to the officer who preceded him in this Corporation or in British Airways when the B.O.A.C. took it over. So much for this Charge that an excessive, undisclosed, improper remuneration is being paid by the board to its chief executive officer.

Now the next allegation is that there has been another racket over the leasing of the premises which are now occupied—temporarily occupied—by the headquarters of this Corporation in London. That again is properly entirely a matter for the board, and if it were merely a question whether the board were conducting their affairs in a businesslike manner it would, I respectfully submit, not be a proper question for the Minister to answer. But of course the question and the innuendo imply a great deal more than that; they imply that there has been some corrupt, improper bargain, something underhand between the Greyhound Racing Association and the board of directors of B.O.A.C. or their chief executive officer, and in those circumstances it is, I think, my duty to the board and to the House to make the facts plain.

Now the facts are these. The board of B.O.A.C. required temporary offices for two reasons: in the first place, they have been badly "blitzed" in their other headquarter offices in London, and, in the second place, they have to bring a number of staff up from the country in order to run their business effectively. Well, premises are not very easy to acquire today, as your Lordships know. They have to have these premises in London. I am informed that, quite properly, General Critchley, having been interested in the premises, took no part whatsoever in the negotiations about taking them over. The whole matter was done by the board. The board employed an independent valuer to advise them as to the rent that they should pay, and it was rent for a temporary occupation terminable at short notice, which you would expect to be a higher rent than a rent for a long term. That is the ordinary business proceeding which you expect. Now the rent which the board are paying and which the independent valuer advised them was a reasonable and right rent to pay, is at the rate of £10,031 a year. £1,031 of that is for improvements and fixtures, and the balance of £9,000 is exactly the rent which the previous occupiers were paying before the war—the 1939 valuation in fact. I have not been in this country very much during the last two or three years but I understand there was some discussion about the 1939 valuation. I have never heard it argued that the 1939 price or value was an excessive one. I think that if what they are paying is the 1939 valuation, the 1939 rent, and they are paying it on terms which enable them to get out of their lease very quickly, though it is not strictly within my province to comment upon the business side of this matter I would venture to suggest that the board acted not only as you would expect that board to act, with perfect propriety, but acted in a perfectly business-like manner as well. That disposes of these two main allegations.

The third and fourth parts of the question contain a request for information about the number of men employed by B.O.A.C. on the 25th of November, 1944, who were formerly employed by the Greyhound Racing Association or who served in No. 54 Group, Training Command, R.A.F. It also asks for information about the capacities in which they were employed by the Corporation on the date mentioned, and the remuneration they received. The appointment of staff is and obviously must be a matter for the board and management of the Corporation, but the board have asked me to inform your Lordships that only two men previously employed by the Greyhound Racing Association were employed by the Corporation on the 25th November or are now employed by them. As regards the second category—that is, persons who came out of No. 54 Group, Training Command—the Corporation could never have carried out their vast task in this war unless they had received or had had seconded great numbers of men with suitable experience from the Royal Air Force. This has been the practice for many months—all the way through the war, I think. Long ago the arrangements were made, perfectly properly, by the Air Ministry and within the Air Ministry, for the secondment of personnel—pilots, ground staff, administrative people, persons of all sorts—to do this work of the Corporation which, during the war, mark you, your Lordships will appreciate is acting as the agent of the Government and entirely occupied in transportation work in connexion with the war effort, directly as an agent and under the direction of His Majesty's Government.

I am informed by the Air Ministry that over 1,40o personnel who were previously employed by the Air Force have been transferred or seconded to the Corporation to be employed by them and of these twenty-six out of fourteen hundred came out of No. 54 Group. On the question of salaries paid, or the capacities in which personnel are employed, it would obviously be entirely contrary to precedent for a Minister to give this information, and I am sure all your Lordships will agree when I say that you cannot have two people running a business. You can have a Department of State like the War Office or the Air Ministry in which the Minister is entirely responsible and you can ask him about everyone in his Department from a Field-Marshal down to a Lance-Corporal, or you can appoint a board to run a business; but if you do that the board must be left to carry on that business. If it is a bad board then you can get rid of it just as when you have a bad Minister you can get rid of him. The one thing that is impossible and which can only lead to absolute chaos, is that you should try to make the worst of both worlds and appoint a Corporation to run a business and then try to supplant that Corporation by some Minister. I for one say that means chaos, and nothing else can come of it.

If you pass an Act of Parliament and appoint a Corporation to act on behalf of the Government, you will not get a board of directors to serve on such a Corporation unless they are allowed discretion as to how they carry on the Corporation. If they do not have that then no directors would dream of accepting office and serving on such a Corporation. If I were to answer these questions that would imply that the Minister was making himself responsible for matters which Parliament itself has laid down should be vested in the Corporation. But I am going to say one or two words about it, if I may. From inquiries which were made long ago, and with which the Parliamentary Committees who I understand examined the accounts are well acquainted, the system of control which the board exercises over appointment and emoluments is the following. I am advised that the regular practice of the board is that in the case of every appointment carrying a salary of over £1,000 a year the person appointed and his salary are approved by the board. I have been further informed by the Chairman of the Corporation that in no case has any such appointee been granted an allowance exceeding £250 a year. Now I am going rather outside what is normally given in these cases, but in this exceptional case I think it right to do this in justice to the board and I hope that is going to dispose of these allegations, or still worse innuendoes, that the board of this great Corporation has been corruptly paying a nominal salary to a large number of persons and then paying them two, three, four and five times their salaries in expenses.

Those are the facts. For the reasons I have given I thought it right in this particular instance to give a number of facts which I very respectfully suggest would not normally and properly be the subject of question or debate in Parliament. I should like to add this, and I am sure that what I am going to say will find an echo in all, or very nearly all, of your Lordships' minds. This Corporation has a very important task to fulfil and it has got to do it under difficult conditions in the war and after it. It is doing a good job of work. I have seen in the last few years, in my position in West Africa, something of its work. I do not say it cannot he improved; of course it can, but it has been doing its work on the whole, as I have seen it, well and it is, I suggest, entitled to our support. Constructive suggestions and constructive criticism which will make this Corporation a more effective instrument for its purpose, will certainly be welcomed by the Government and I am sure equally by the board. But I do ask the House to give to the Chairman and the board and the staff of this Corporation the fair consideration and support to which I think they are entitled. I add, advisedly, "the staff." Nothing more undermines the morale and efficiency of the staff of a great undertaking, whether it be a Department of State or a business undertaking, than continued sniping and suggestions of corruption and the like. It has a thoroughly bad effect upon the, whole of the staff. I hope that what I have sail to-day will have removed what in some minds I am sure have been honest doubts and anxieties—I will not say in all minds. But I trust that I have removed any such anxieties.

I would like to add one personal word. During the last seven or eight weeks—and I am not greatly disconcerted by what the noble Lord has been good enough to say about my conduct at Chicago; that I am also quite content to leave in your Lordships' hands—I have been working every clay in the closest contact with the Chairman of this Corporation, the noble Viscount, Lord Knollys. I have been greatly impressed by his ability and his grasp of all the problems with which he has had to deal. I am deeply in his debt for wise help and advice and for the most complete co-operation all through those weeks. He is well-known to all of us but I should like to pay that special tribute to him based on that close association. I think, my Lords, that not only the Corporation but the country is fortunate in having Lord Knollys as the Chairman of this great Corporation and I would appeal to your Lordships and to the noble Lord to give this Corporation a chance to get on with its job.

12.49 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think your Lordships would like this Motion to pass without our paying a tribute .to the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, on his return from Chicago. We sent him there with very few aces, with very poor cards. He has had a very uphill fight. As for myself this is the first time I have been able to face a Minister of Civil Aviation, an experience I have dreamed about and hoped for for many years. And here he is. Although we have not got from Chicago complete agreement and the ideal that we wanted, that will come, we must thank him anyhow for sticking up for our own side in a very difficult situation and for that agreement on the technical side which has been brought about and from which we hope a lot.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that with great events occurring throughout the world this is rather a storm in a teacup, but to a leaf the storm is just as real. That is why I am joining in, because I happen to be a leaf in this teacup. I am not wholly satisfied with what the Minister said with regard to these questions. He answered the questions because he was asked by the Chairman to answer them. I do not think that is a very satisfactory situation, because questions in the future can be worded so as .to reflect upon the board's wisdom and if the Chairman of the board does not ask a Minister to reply to them the question will be immediately put why he did not ask the Minister to reply. I think we must put our heads together and try to get a more satisfactory arrangement than that, because quite obviously my noble friends on the Labour Benches and others will be setting up more and more of these Corporations which are owned by the State but managed by the best possible people you can get. We want to be quite clear what questions can be asked and what questions can be answered, because it is impossible to get the right people to take up this sort of job if they are to be sniped at from any quarter behind the walls of privilege which we are granted in this House.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, had some rather pungent words to say about me the other day. I do not in any way resent them, but I think they were founded on rather a false idea of what I was trying to do, if I may say so. What occurred, as your Lordships know, was that a series of questions was put upon the Paper. It is perfectly legitimate to put a series of questions on the Paper, but by implication those questions were censorious. We were going to have a debate on a certain day, but the Leader of the House asked Lord Morris to postpone it. He very kindly postponed it and there is nothing wrong about that. But what immediately happened was that these questions were automatically put on the Paper with no day named. That was the point I put and there was no reflection on the noble Lord, Lord Morris. Perhaps technically I was wrong in the point I put because these were only questions and not a vote of censure as such, but they did imply censure and I thought it only right that they should be taken off the Paper or have a day put to them. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, said that I was—not that it worries me very much, but let me get the words right—"impudent and insolent." I do not know, I may be impudent and insolent, but I made my point with such effect that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, agreed with me and proposed to your Lordships that the point should go to the Committee on Procedure. He put that suggestion to your Lordships' House and your Lordships agreed. So if anybody was impudent and insolent it was your Lordships' House and the words slide quite gracefully off my shoulders on to your Lordships. I leave the noble Lord, Lord Morris, to deal with the situation as he finds it.

I take no umbrage at what the noble Lord has said. I forgive him everything because he said something which has kept me chuckling ever since. I do not know how many of your Lordships have met General Critchley. He is a man of great physique and great personality and he suffers fools not at all gladly. That he should be described as my crony has kept me in a good temper for a week since. That indeed anybody who is an itinerant swashbuckler could be anybody's crony is to my mind somewhat extraordinary. There is nothing wrong, of course, with the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, to investigate this matter as much as he can. That is only right. If he has any misgivings, he has to try and find out all about the subject he is interested in. But, as I say, these questions were by implication censorious and there I think we run into a very curious position which I cannot help saying a word about in your Lordships' House.

I am quite a new member and I think it is glorious to have no rules of procedure and no one to call you to order. Long may that continue. But there are dangers. For instance, if I object to any person personally—let me call him Mr. Blank—as far as I can gather there is nothing to prevent me putting a notice on the Paper to ask the Leader of the House how many times Mr. Blank has been in a lunatic asylum and when did he come out. I could put that Notice on the Paper and put no date to it, so that it would remain quietly on the Paper and be given publicity up and down the country. Mean-while Mr. Blank is not at all amused. I can go even further and put down a starred question. If I put a star against a question there can be no debate in your Lordships' House. So when I ask the question, if the Leader of the House says "It is no concern of mine," Mr. Blank does not get an answer that he has never been in an asylum and the mud sticks to him. If that sort of thing goes on it appears to me we shall have to look into the question of procedure because it is very undesirable.

I am very pleased that the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, has answered some of these questions because I am a director of the Greyhound Racing Association. If I have any qualms of conscience it is because somebody may ask at our general meeting why we let premises at so low a price when quite obviously we could have stung B.O.A.C. for a very big rent. That is my only qualm of conscience, as it would seem that the Greyhound Racing Association made a very bad deal and B.O.A.C. a very good one. As to the personal side, there are only two of our men with B.O.A.C.—one who left before the war for military duties and another who was a director in a subsidiary company. Those are the only two. As to the 54th Group, I do not suppose there are many people on the operational side at any rate among the newer people who have not been through that Group. I think it is a pity because someone got pigs trotters without a coupon, that anything should be said that could bring discredit on one of the finest organizations ever brought about in this country. Really the quality of discipline, the appearance, the general morale and outlook of all our pilots and observers and all our aircraft crews are the admiration of the world. They came through that organization.

Out of this mountain of questions moves majestically—a mouse. I only hope that the papers which have given publicity to the questions will also give publicity to the answers. B.O.A.C. is one of our first great nationally-owned corporations. It has many enemies who would like to burst it. As we already see there is likely to be conflict as to who is to do this job. For myself I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, that during the last eighteen months there has been an improvement which is quite remarkable. Travellers used to complain usually but now there seems to be a pæan of praise. That cannot have come about automatically. It has been brought about by a new controller in that organization. It is difficult I think when so much has got to be done, when the chief executive has to negotiate with other countries, that there should be this sniping going on behind the scenes. I think the noble Lord, Lord Morris, is entitled to be anxious about the whole thing and press for an inquiry to try to elucidate matters. But he comes from Newfoundland. There is no Dominion in the world which is more conscious of what civil aviation means to the Empire. They have their troubles and they know what an enormously important part they are going to play in the future. I appeal to Lord Morris that, when he is satisfied—as I know he will be satisfied—he will come over to Macedonia to help us and turn from being a critic into one who will help in this important matter.

1.2 p.m.


My Lords, as I have already intimated, I now withdraw my Motion, and, having regard to the hour, I will not keep you for more than a moment. I, of course, accept everything that the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, said relating to the premises in Berkeley Square. I do not say that I am prepared to believe that it is just the long arm of coincidence all over again. I still think it is all very mysterious and that it would have been very much better if it had not happened at all. As with the law, so in this matter it is just as important that things should appear to be in order as that they should actually be in order. I think it is an unfortunate coincidence, but I am prepared to let the question go at that.

With regard to the people in the R.A.F. Training Command, well, of course, an ex-Secretary for Air, even if he did resign in 1938, obviously knows a great deal more about these matters than I can hope to do. I have only had some three and a half years in the Air Force. But I must say that it astonished me to hear that B.O.A.C. could have any particular use for large, or even small, numbers of men drawn from a training command. If it had been an operational or a coastal command one could understand it—but a training command! Try how the noble Viscount will to throw dust in your Lordships' eyes, there is no escaping the fact that many of the people in the greyhound racing business found their way into Training Command and from Training Command into the B.O.A.C. But as I have said, I do not wish to pursue the subject. I think that everyone is getting rather tired of it. God knows that I am. Having had the Prime Minister's assurance that, after the Recess, this matter will be inquired into I am only too happy to leave it where it is. So far as Lord Brabazon's observations are concerned, there again I am prepared to leave it. I think I may say—using his language—that I am entitled to regard myself as "dormy one."


Does the noble Lord wish to ask for leave to withdraw his Motion?


My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.


Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the Motion should be withdrawn?


No, no.

On Question, Motion negatived.