HL Deb 24 April 1945 vol 136 cc15-24

2.44 P.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I hope with decent modesty to commend to your Lordships this short measure to legitimize myself. The Bill vests all the civil aviation functions of the Secretary of State for Air in the Minister of Civil Aviation. The whole of the powers and duties which it is sought to transfer are set out in the Schedule to the Bill. They come mostly out of two Acts of Parliament, the Air Navigation Act, 1920, and the Air Navigation Act, 1936. Those two Acts are concerned because, in the first place, the Act of 1920 vested all these powers in the Air Council and the Act of 1936, while adding certain new powers, vested those and all the existing powers in the person of the Secretary of State as an individual Minister as distinct from the Air Council. There is, in addition to the Schedule and to those clauses which are common form in any Bill of this kind, Clause r which, following our modern practice, sets out the scope of the minister's work.

Without creating any new powers, it sets out concisely the objects of the Ministry and the functions of the Minister and it divides them broadly into four classes. There is the duty of organizing, carrying out and encouraging measures for the development of civil aviation. That includes matters like airline policy, such as we debated recently, under the White Paper, matters such as negotiations with the Commonwealth and foreign countries for services overseas and the like, the general policy and general agreements such as we achieved in the Commonwealth conversations in Montreal and London, and the detailed application of all such agreements as we achieved in the recent and very successful conference in South Africa. I think perhaps without digressing unduly, because it is a good example of the powers under this Bill, your Lordships might wish me in a sentence or two to refer to that South African Conference from which I have so recently returned.

We there dealt with Commonwealth air services in the territories represented; and in addition to the United Kingdom and the Union both the Rhodesias and Nyasaland were present and all territories of East Africa. We dealt with the great trunk route from the United Kingdom to South Africa, we dealt with the local services in all the different territories, and with the regional services which will link up those groups of territories, and we dealt also with the inter-territorial services with neighbouring foreign countries. We agreed—and I think it was rather a remarkable achievement in a Conference which lasted only six days—on all the details of the operation of the great trunk route between here and South Africa. It will be operated in a parallel partnership by B.O.A.C. and the South African Aim Lines and will be operated by those air lines, I am glad to say, using the same types of British aircraft. We agreed upon the number of frequencies for the route, how these frequencies shall be shared between the operators, the pooling and sharing of revenue, how the expenses should be borne, and on the areas in which each company will look after the commercial and technical interests of the other. We went further because WE wanted to make a thorough job of this, and under the very expert chairmanship of Dr. Schonland, one of the ablest physicists in the world, our experts worked out together all the meterological services, the communications and the flying ads which will be required in the various territories for regular day and night flying all along the route. That in itself, I think your Lordships will agree, was an extremely complete and successful thing to have done in these few days.

We succeeded because we and the Governments of South Africa and the other territories were all applying those principles of ordered partnership in the air in which we most profoundly believe. We had plenty of practical difficulties, but we never had differences, and those practical difficulties were overcome, and easily overcome, because we were in partnership acting to overcome them. The Conference itself approved of the agreement and passed the following resolution: The Conference notes with satisfaction the arrangements made for the inauguration and operation of the trunk service between the United Kingdom and South Africa under which the British Overseas Airways Corporation and South African Airways will operate reciprocal services on an agreed partnership basis. The Conference also set up—because we wanted to follow up the good work and make sure that not only difficulties but all the practical questions could be dealt with regularly and in complete agreement—the South African Air Transport Council representing all the territories concerned, including of course the United Kingdom with the following functions: to keep under review and promote the progress and development of civil air communications in Southern Africa; to serve as a medium for the exchange of views and information between the mem- ber countries on civil air transport matters; to consider and advise on such civil aviation matters as any member Government may desire to refer to the Council; and, in order to link it up with the Commonwealth Air Transport Council established at Montreal with its headquarters here, to furnish a link and to cooperate with the Commonwealth Air Transport Council and to keep the Council fully informed of its deliberations. I think that is a good example. Other examples, of course, of organizing this development of civil aviation are the Commonwealth Air Transport Council itself and that interim international organization which we agreed to set up at Chicago and which we hope we shall get established in the very near future with its headquarters in Canada.

Then the second of the duties is defined as measures for design, development and production of civil aircraft, with a proviso which was intended to make clear the intention of the clause that that would not entitle the Minister to engage in direct production. Whatever anybody's views may be on the question whether we should have private enterprise or State enterprise or both, I do not think anybody would suggest that it is the proper function of a Minister of Civil Aviation to set up great factories. It is his business to make sure that he can place all the orders needed for research and development, for prototypes or the like. I would like to emphasize that that power does not in the least mean that the Minister should take the place of that essential close contact between the user and the producer, between the operator and the aircraft constructor which is absolutely vital if the country is to get the right advice on aircraft. On the contrary, I take it that these powers mean that it is the duty of the Minister to ensure that close contact. During the war when all capacity has to be allocated by the Ministry of Aircraft Production in order to meet the demands of the Air Ministry, of the Admiralty and of civil aviation, the Minister must make his demands and place his orders through the Ministry of Aircraft Production.

The third function is defined as the duty of taking measures for safety and efficiency—for example, the provision of navigational aids at airports and along the flying routes; the charge of airworthiness on the advice of that admirable Air Registration Board, and matters like try- ing, as we are trying now, to work out details of the framework we laid down at Chicago, to get, as I hope we shall get, a complete and world-wide navigation code. The fourth of these functions is defined as research on questions relating to air navigation—for example, things like the development of radio. Then, again, there is the link up with the Commonwealth, as I explained on a previous occasion to your Lordships. We have taken under the æis of the Commonwealth Air Transport Council all the work which is being done by C.E.R.C.A. The countries of the Commonwealth will work together on radio development for civil aviation.

Then your Lordships will see there is a proviso about the acquisition and disposal of aircraft and their engines and equipment. The discharge of the Ministry's duty will be subject to the approval of the Treasury. That is that proper financial partnership which should always, I venture to submit, exist between the Treasury and the spending Department, and which is of very great benefit to the Department. I think your Lordships will be interested in one example, in regard to the disposal of aircraft. I come back to the South African agreement. As I have explained, we have agreed that these partnership services should be run with the same type of aircraft, which is obviously a great economy, and these will be British aircraft. I am glad to say that we have been able to agree—the South African Government and myself when I was in South Africa—that these lines, which I hope will start next July, shall be run with York aircraft. These are quite good aircraft. I made an excellent voyage there and back myself in a York, being on time at every single place. But they are temporary and the intention is that they should be superseded by the Tudor aircraft when they are ready. We therefore made this arrangement, that the Yorks should be leased by His Majesty's Government to the South African Government, as they will be to the British Overseas Airways Corporation until the Tudors are ready, and then we shall take them hack and the South African Government will buy the Tudor aircraft. Your Lordships will probably agree that that is a practical application of a provision about which there is a paragraph or two in the White Paper suggesting that aircraft might be leased where that was convenient. I think your Lordships will agree that that is a singularly appropriate arrangement. It has already been announced by the Minister of Transport in the South African Parliament.

The Schedule contains statutory powers and duties transferred. One or two will be exercised jointly by the Secretary of State for Air and the Ministry—for example, in regard to accidents. Accident investigations may relate to Service planes or civil planes. Obviously we want the same people to make the investigations. Therefore either Minister can direct the necessary investigation. There is no desire, as far as I am concerned, to duplicate organizations which already exist. I will give this undertaking that I shall not seek because a new Ministry is established to set up a vast number of sections and sub-departments within it. Wherever there is an organization, which can do the job, available to the Ministry, then it will be my aim to employ that organization for that purpose. For instance, take research. It would be madness to set up, first of all, entirely new research organizations. The thing to do is to strengthen those that exist. It will, I take it, be the Minister's job to see that all the research organizations know what civil aviation needs, and that those organizations serve its purposes.

This is a Bill for which this House has long pressed. If these powers are vested in me, by Parliament, I give this undertaking: that my whole object will be to use them for building up British civil aviation to play its full part on the airways of the world, and, first and foremost, in linking the countries of the Commonwealth and Empire where we have already made so propitious a start. I am deeply indebted to this House, which has taken so keen an interest in civil aviation, and which contains among its members such a wealth of practical experience in this matter. It will, I know, continue to give me that help and counsel which I need, and which I shall, I hope, use to the full. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 21.—(Viscount Swinton.)

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, the Minister has made most suitable use of the occasion of the Second Reading of this Bill to give us some very interesting information, and all of us, I am sure, were gratified to hear the report, short though it inevitably was, of some of the proceedings at the recent conference in South Africa. My noble friends on these Benches have heard with gratification of the important results so far achieved. We believe that the Minister of Civil Aviation, as much as any Minister, ha it in his power, by means of civil aviation, to cement, in large part, the partnership of the Empire and the Commonwealth. As the noble Viscount has said, this is a Bill to legitimize him, to make him respectable, to clothe his person with personality, and to turn him from an individual into a corporation sole. We wish him well in the task which he has undertaken.

This is a machinery Bill, and there is only one point arising on it to which need draw attention. The Bill differs from the draft which was originally circulated to your. Lordships, when it was presented to thé House of Commons, by reason an Amendment passed in another place in the Committee stage, inserting a proviso to Clause 1 (1). As the Bill was originally drafted, it bestowed upon the Minister a wider range of powers defined in positive terms. The proviso which has now beer inserted to the effect that the Bill does not authorize the production of civil aircraft by the Minister is, of course, a restriction upon the range of powers originally contemplated for him.


I think not as originally contemplated. There was some doubt as to whether the words which had been used gave that power or not.


I am afraid I have not expressed myself suitably. I will use another phrase. It is now made abundantly clear—if there were ambiguities before—that there is no power reposed by this Bill in the Minister, himself, to produce civil aircraft by the authority of this Bill. Whether that be a wise proviso or not is a matter which I do not propose to argue at this moment. It is a matter which may require—which, doubtless, will receive—consideration either at a later stage of this Bill or on some entirely different occasion. My object is to ensure that it shall be on record that those for whom I am speaking must not he deemed by reason of their agreeing to the Second Reading to be in favour of what is implied, or what may be implied, in the proviso that has been inserted. Nor do I propose, on this occasion, to say anything upon the general question of policy in regard to civil aviation, because that will be more suitably dealt with in a discussion on a Motion which is down in the name of my noble friend Lord Addison with no date named. With those few observations, I would say that my noble friends support this Bill.

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the appearance of this Bill, and we feel that we are indebted to the Minister for the very clear and lucid explanation which he has given of its provisions. The Bill marks a definite step forward in the development of civil aviation in this country. As the war draws to its close, it is clear that the importance of civil aviation is being greatly enhanced. In this connexion I happened, recently, to read an article by Viscount Nuffield, who is, I gather, on his way home from the East. In the course of the article the noble Viscount wrote: The effects of full unhampered air travel—as we have never before known it—on our political, social and industrial relations with the Empire countries and with every other land on earth are to us as yet incalculable. I think that that is quite true. We are within a few months of the end of the war, and with Canada less than a day's journey away, with Australia and New Zealand, possibly, a little over two days' journey away, the effects on our Imperial relations will be very notable indeed.

For my part, I hope that this full unhampered air travel will have the effect of linking the Empire more closely than ever before, more closely than would have been thought possible a few years ago. The Minister, himself, has shown us that he believes in the advantages of air travel. I think it was only the other day after he had taken part in a debate in this house, and made a most notable speech, that he travelled straight to an airport and set off immediately by aeroplane, arriving in Cairo the next day and in Capetown, I believe, on the Sunday afternoon. I think that we are indebted to the noble Viscount for the very interesting account which he has given of the conference which took place at Capetown, and in which he played such an interesting and important part. Only a few days after taking part in that conference he was back again in London and no doubt preparing for further debates in your Lordships' House.

I am sure that those responsible for civil aviation will be faced with keen competition in different parts of the world, and particularly, perhaps, in Latin America. I happened to read only a day or two ago the report of a speech made by the Deputy Director-General of the B.O.A.C., Major J. R. McCrindle, who is a very experienced administrator in civil aviation matters. Major McCrindle, who is representing the B.O.A.C. at the International Air Conference which is taking place at Havana at the present time, predicted "a wide scramble for serving new world routes with commercial airlines." Sooner or later, he said, the airlines of the world would agree to operate under a central authority, which would allocate air routes in a fair and equitable manner. I hope that he is right in that forecast, but, until that time comes and that agreement is reached, I think that much tact and diplomacy will be required if serious international friction is to be avoided.

In conclusion, I should like to say this. To those of us who take an interest in our proceedings, it is satisfactory to know that two members of this House, the noble Viscounts, Lord Swinton and Lord Knollys, have been appointed to important posts in civil aviation. They have shouldered great responsibilities, but they also have great opportunities for rendering signal service to this country, and for combining with the countries which form the Empire in order to establish air routes all over the world. We on these Benches sincerely wish them well in the great enterprises on which they have embarked.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, if I may intervene again for a moment it will be to do two things. First, I should like to thank your Lordships for, so to speak, making an honest woman of me. Secondly, I should like to say that I entirely accept the fact that by endorsing this Bill no commitment is being made from one side of the House or the other as to how aircraft should be manufactured. The sole point here is that this particular Minister ought not to set up factories. When the Bill was in draft, as I saw it before I went to South Africa, it had some words about "fostering." I did not quite know what "fostering" meant, and those who were looking after the Bill in my absence took advice about it. I said, "The one thing that I must be able to do is to order aircraft. I must be able to order prototypes, and in this intermediate period I must be able to order aircraft on behalf of the companies." The lawyers advised that "fostering" would not give even that power, and so they devised some other words, which would give the power of placing orders. There was then some doubt about whether the power to place orders also implied a power to manufacture; and, in order that the common desire might be expressed beyond a peradventure, the proviso was put in that I at any rate should not have the power to manufacture. By the generous support which he has given me, the noble Lord opposite is by no means committed for or against a particular brand or extent of Socialism.

The only other point on which I would ask your Lordships to agree is this. We want, if possible, to get the Royal Assent to this measure to-morrow, and I hope your Lordships will agree to take all the remaining stages of the Bill to-morrow, so that that can be done. I ought to give your Lordships notice of that.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.