HL Deb 31 July 1946 vol 142 cc1222-31

[The references are to Bill (115) as first printed for the Mouse of Lords.] Page 3 line 31, at end insert as a new Clause—

Constitution of Scotlish Associate.

" —(1) Upon the establishment of the British European Airways Corporation that Corporation shall, with the approval of the Minister, constitute an Associate (to be known as 'The Scottish Associate'), the members of which shall be appointed by the Minister after consultation with the Secretary of State for Scotland and shall have their offices in Scotland.

(2) The functions of the Scottish Associate shall include the following:

  1. (a) to advise the Minister and the three Corporations upon all questions affecting air transport in, from or to Scotland.
  2. (b) to provide such air transport services internally in Scotland and such other air transport services as the Minister may from time to time after consultation with any of the three Corporations allocate to it, and
  3. (c) to perform such other of the functions which any of the three Corporations have power to perform as the Minister may from time to time direct.

(3) The provision of working capital for, and the making of loans to, and the fulfilment of guarantees given for the benefit of the Scottish Associate shall be purposes for which each of the three Corporations may borrow money under the powers conferred by this Act.

(4) The Scottish Associate shall consist of a chairman, a deputy chairman and such number of other members, not being less than three nor more than nine, as the Minister may from time to time determine and the supplementary provisions contained in the First Schedule to this Act shall have effect in relation thereto with any necessary modifications as they have in relation to each of the new Corporations."

The Commons disagree to this Amendment for the following Reason:

Because the purposes of the said Amendment can be better secured under the provisions of the Bill without the said Amendment.

6.36 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House does not insist on its Amendment to which the Commons have disagreed. This is the third occasion on which we have debated this matter, and, with great respect, may I say that perhaps by now the arguments on both sides have become a little threadbare? I will only address myself to-night, very briefly, to this reason that "the purposes of the said Amendment can be better secured under the provisions of the Bill without the said Amendment." I feel I can best develop that by recapitulating the proposals which I make in respect of Scotland where civil aviation is concerned. The noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen, said, "Why Prestwick has been so much cold-shouldered, no Scotsman can understand." What is this cold-shouldering? Let us look at the position to-day. Prestwick has been designated an international airport, which involves that it must be developed to the very high standards required by international obligations. Prestwick certainly enjoys great weather advantages, and it will be used as an alternative to London Airport. Certain transatlantic services will be routed via Prestwick.

Let me clear up a misapprehension which appears to exist. We are under no obligation whatsoever to route all our transatlantic services via the Shannon; we can route them in any way we like. Certain of those services will be routed via Prestwick. We have made provision in agreements concluded with certain foreign countries which will enable those countries to route transatlantic services via Prestwick.

Prestwick has been linked with London by a new service recently inaugurated. It has always been linked with London by a service which ran to Blackbush, but it is now linked by another service. Internal services in this country will be linked with Prestwick in order to meet Prestwick's traffic needs. In that respect I am not forgetful of the fact that the provision of services generates traffic. There is more to it than merely providing services to meet traffic needs; the provision of services in itself generates traffic. In regard to Prestwick, can it be said that what I have enumerated represents cold-shouldering?

Now let me go on to the other proposals. Within the general framework of management of the State-owned aerodromes, Scotland will have the management of her own State-owned airfields. There will be a Scottish Division with the generous degree of autonomy which I have indicated. Side by side with this Division there will be a Scottish Advisory Council whose chairman will be on the Board of the British European Airways Corporation. I shall act in consultation with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland as regards the selection and the appointment of this Council. It is my wish and intention, so far as I can work out the details with my right honourable friend, to leave the selection to the Scots. Let them choose as far as is reasonable the men who are to advise them on their own affairs. Behind everything that I have enumerated, the management of the Scottish aerodromes, the Scottish Advisory Council, the Scottish Division to operate and manage the internal services of Scotland, will be the finances of the State and the resources of a great Corporation.

With great respect to the noble Lords who advocated so forcibly and so sincerely the case for Scotland in this matter, I suggest that we should approach this matter as realists. Do these things which I have enumerated represent trampling on Scottish aspirations, ignoring Scottish needs, keeping the control in London, directing everything from London, and choking Scottish initiative? Can it really be said that these proposals which I have made represent such sentiments or intentions as those? If this is treating Scotland badly I wish someone would treat me half as badly. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, in rejecting my proposals moved an Amendment which he quite frankly agreed in his speech I could make a dead letter. I cannot make a dead letter of my proposals"—that is impossible. They are on record and I cannot make a dead letter of them, but the noble Earl admits that if I were so minded I could make a dead letter of what he proposes in his Amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, said that if the noble Earl's Amendment were carried Scotland would have responsibility for all internal services in Scotland. That is the effect of what I propose. The noble Lord asked us to agree that the Scots should be entitled to fly direct from Scotland to places outside the country. Who has ever suggested that they should not? At this moment we are planning thirty-three lines operating from Scotland internally to the Islands and externally to Europe and to America. I realize fully, and I have always realized, that geography impedes road communications in Scotland and that that country must have air services out of all proportion to its population. The noble Earl said that I was planning to run a service to Stornoway and Inverness from London. Where are there any such plans? It is a travesty of what I have said to make such a suggestion as that. It is said very frequently that these arrangements are not in the Bill. Matters of this administrative nature are not really entirely suitable for inclusion in a Bill. Some elasticity is necessary in these matters and that is all the more necessary when a new venture is being started.

Undertakings have been given in Parliarnent; they are on record and they have been given by my right honourable friend the Lord President A the Council and by myself on more than one occasion. Such pronouncements are always completely binding upon Ministers. Let us get this business in the right light. These arrangements are not "sops" or "concessions" to Scotland. Language of that kind has been used in these debates, but I have never employed wittingly any such terms. On the contrary, let me remind your Lordships, in the debate on February 14 I quoted a minute which I had written in my Ministry in. September, 1945. I minuted: Scotland must have a fair deal. We wish to give Scotland the same good service that we intend to give the rest of the United Kingdom. We must work on the assumption that the industrial area of Scotland will attract international traffic. It is in that spirit that these arrangements have been worked out on practical and not on political grounds. They have been worked out as an administrative matter to give Scotland the same good air services that we intend to give everyone else, but recognizing the special needs of Scotland. Some hard things have been said about me in these debates. I take them equably, but I must say I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, say: I do not question the good will of the Minister or the Government in setting up that Council. I think they have acted in the greatest good faith. That is true. We have acted in the most complete good faith in this matter. May I conclude by saying that in the course of some of his remarks the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, in speaking of me, said: His policy is actuated by a profound ignorance of the situation and by a large measure of indifference. In the last remarks I made on the Report stage I said that the noble Earl and myself had had certain communications with each other during the proceedings and that probably we had come to know and understand each other's point of view rather better. I hope the noble Earl does not now think that I have acted with indifference or in ignorance where Scotland is concerned.

These are the reasons which in my opinion justify the Commons in disagreeing with this Amendment. The Commons say: Because the purposes of the said Amendment can be better secured under the provisions of the Bill without the said Amendment. That is the case under the Amendment proposed by the noble Earl. His Associate could not even be set up without my consent, and by his Amendment the Minister must be called in to give his assent to what an Associate would do. Under my proposals I am willing that there should be an Advisory Council, chosen in the way I have indicated this afternoon, advising the Corporation upon Scottish needs, and I propose a Scottish Division which shall have the fullest possible share of autonomy in directing the internal services in Scotland. Indeed, I sincerely believe that under my proposals we shall be better able to meet Scottish needs than under the Amendment proposed by the noble Earl. As it is my intention that the needs of Scotland shall be met fully and generously, I beg to move that this House do not insist on their Amendment to which the Commons have disagreed.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on the said Amendment."—(Lord Winster.)

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Lord, the Minister, for what he has said to-day. I regret very much that he is unable to accept the Amendment which I proposed, because I think it is very generally agreed in this House that a wider measure of devolution will become increasingly necessary. That view, I think, is held on all sides of the House in different degrees. We are approaching a time when we shall have a very high measure of political control of industry. That is a new factor in our lives, and we have to take full cognizance of the sociological and economic consequences which inevitably must follow. I think that if the Minister had endeavoured at an earlier stage to investigate the difficulties of Scotland fully, to have carried out an inquiry as to what was wanted, we would not have wasted so much Parliamentary time as we have done to-day and on other days. The noble Lord has, I think, if I may respectfully say so, learned quite a lot in the last six months about this and other problems. I am afraid, however, that I am not satisfied that he is fully cognizant of all the problems yet. It is hardly to be expected that after only this period of time he should be.

I gave way quite a lot on what I considered, and do still consider, to be the correct solution of this particular problem—that is, to have a separate corporation for Scotland—but the noble Lord was unable to meet me at all. Now he has asked me to be a realist. It is true that what he has described is, at least, some measure of arrangement for Scotland. But I think it is not untrue to say that not one word of it stands in this Bill—not one word or syllable. I think that if the noble Lord had thought of this earlier, he would have seen to it that something of it went into the Bill. I have grave doubts as to whether, under this Bill, the noble Lord has the power to create a Scottish Division at all. I will read to the House the only section which, so far as I can see, empowers, or might empower, him to do it. It is as follows: The Minister may, after consultation with any of the three Corporations, give to such Corporation directions of a general character as to the exercise and performance by each such Corporation of their functions in relation to matters appearing to the Minister to affect the national interest and each such Corporation shall give effect to any such directions. That has nothing to do with organization or administration, and I shall be surprised if the noble Lord claims to have such extensive powers over the Corporations that he could decide matters relating to their administration and organization. If he can indeed do so, then it appears to me that the chairmen of the boards are no more and no less than members of his staff—bureaucrats indeed, which is something that the noble Lord has constantly and emphatically denied.

This proposal has not been put forward simply through the efforts of an irresponsible person like myself. It was recommended for the consideration of the noble Lord by those who were set in authority to advise the Secretary of State for Scotland on industry and on economics. The noble Lord has not found it possible to accept the advice which has been tendered in that respect. It is common knowledge that we are facing to-day a very serious economic position in Scotland. We are now at the very best employment period of the year, but there are 75,000 unemployed in the country. In six months' time the position may possibly be much more serious. If advice on a matter of this sort, which. I am sure the noble Lord will agree is fundamentally economic in its character, can be so totally disregarded, there may be other advice of equal and perhaps greater importance which is not taken.

I regret very much the course that has been taken. I cannot say that I think the situation is satisfactory. I accept absolutely that the noble Lord intends to do this. Of course he does. "But facts are chiels that winna ding," and if you cannot get things done it is of no use at all. If, for instance, another Minister is appointed, and if another chairman of B.O.A.C. is appointed and snaps his fingers in the Minister's face, can the Minister still order him to form a Scottish organization? I cannot see that this is provided for in the Act. In other words, the Scottish Division depends entirely on the whim of the board of British Overseas Airways Corporation. If that is not centralization, I do not know what is. I can only repeat that this very modest measure of devolution seems to me to have established conclusively that the noble Lord has mixed completely the two matters of planning and control. They are two quite different things and they can be separated. It is feasible within a national plan to have decentralization and devolutionized control, but that does not exist in this Bill. If the Minister is changed, there is very little to say that such measures of -an administrative character as he has promised can have any effect whatever.

6.55 p.m.


Perhaps I may say one word on this question before we end our sitting to-day. I understand from the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that while he and a great many other people feel very strongly in regard to this question of a subsidiary company for Scotland, he does not intend to press this matter further in your Lordships' House. I think he is probably wise because, after all, important though this particular issue is, it is not one on which I should have thought it was proper to invite a definite clash between the two Houses of Parliament. It is, after all, a matter of machinery, and such questions can always be reviewed and mistakes can be rectified at a later date"—either by this or by any other Government that may come into power. At the same time, I would not like your Lordships to think that we, on this side, have in any way weakened in our view as to this Amendment.

We are grateful to the Minister, if I may say so, for his great courtesy in explaining his views again so fully to-day; but I listened very carefully, and I must say that I really could not hear any valid argument against this Amendment in all the mass of language which the Minister used. I felt all the time that if I were a Scotsman I would still prefer to have a subsidiary board at Edinburgh rather than an Advisory Council. An Advisory Council is an advisory body, and its advice may or may not be taken. A subsidiary board, as I understand it, is, for the area which it serves, an executive body. I would rather have it, and I think that is how most of us feel on this side of the House. Though the noble Lord did not mention this, and argued entirely on the ground of efficiency, there is also this aspect of the matter"—that Scottish sentiment should not be under-estimated. After all, local pride is a very valuable adjunct to technical efficiency. It really was the whole basis—if I may use this as an analogy—of Lord Haldane's scheme for the Territorial Force, and we all know how much our country owes to than. I believe that the very existence of a board sitting at Edinburgh would have stimulated interest in Scotland in civil aviation in a way that probably nothing else could, and by flouting Scottish opinion—for that is really what the Government have done, whether intentionally or not—I believe that they have made not only a bad political but a bad technical mistake.

There is just one other word which I would like to say on a rather wider aspect of this matter. I have noticed that in the debates in another place on the Civil Aviation Bill there were certain supporters of the Government who have taken considerable exception to the fact that we have had do not know whether it is the' impertinence or the imprudence to make Amendments in a Bill which has been sent up here from another place. It has been said by some of those speakers that this House is not representative. That is a matter of opinion. I think myself that noble Lords on both sides of the Chamber would say, after a little experience of this House, that we are a pretty representative cross-section of the people of this country. Whatever may be said about that, however, we are a definite integral part of the British Constitution and one of our main functions—I put this in no controversial spirit—is to amend and improve legislation which is sent up to us from another place. That function we have tried to perform with this and other Bills, to the best of our ability, and I honestly believe that during the last year we have done it to the general satisfaction of the country. We shall continue to perform that function so long as this duty is entrusted to us. In the present case, we have done our utmost to persuade the Government to accept modifications of the scheme which—rightly or wrongly—we believe would be to the advantage of civil aviation in this country. We regret that the Government do not share that view, and we believe that they themselves will regret it, as time passes. But we cannot do any more, and as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has said, we do not propose to press the matter further.


My Lords, I support what the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, have said, but I want to ask the Minister, before this Bill finally passes, what steps he will take to ensure that the promise he has made to-day—that a Scottish Division and a Scottish Advisory Council will be set up, will be acted upon when he passes from this office. As my noble friend has said, there is nothing in this Bill requiring him to do these things, and I wish to know what steps he will take to make certain that what he has promised to-day will continue in perpetuity.


My Lords, I cannot, of course, bind my successors, but I do believe that once this machinery of a Scottish Division and a Scottish Advisory Council is set up—as it will be in the shortest possible time after the passing of this Bill—it will function successfully. I do not imagine that anybody who hereafter holds my office will wish to interfere with machinery set up in fulfilment of a definite undertaking to the nationalism of Scotland.

On Question, Motion agreed to.