§ 2.50 p.m.
LORD OGMORE rose to call attention to the development of civil aviation in this country; to inquire as to the intentions of His Majesty's Government with reference to civil aviation; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the object of the Motion which I have put on the Order Paper to-day is to review developments in our civil aviation, particularly in the last six years, and to ascertain from His Majesty's Government their intentions with regard to this important branch of our national activities—a subject upon which at present there is some doubt and confusion. This subject should be one particularly near to your Lordships' hearts. I think I am right in saying that, so far as a separate Ministry is concerned, every holder of the office of Minister of Civil Aviation has been a Peer. That I believe must be a record for any Government Department in the history of this country. I am particularly glad to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, here to-day. I was beginning to think that I might say of him, as Betsy Prig said to Sarey Gamp, in memorable and tremendous words, of Mrs. Harris:
I don't believe there's no sich person.
But here he is to-day; so we know that there is such a person. And he is to reply to this Motion.
I am afraid that I shall have to give some praise to civil aviation—not that I shall be able to attract any to myself, because my own stay in the Ministry was so short; but I speak of it as a whole. I defend myself in the words of the first Lord Birkenhead. I remember the late Lord Justice Scrutton once attending at a dinner at which Lord Birkenhead was
present, and Lord Birkenhead spoke in very handsome terms of the legal profession. Lord Justice Scrutton went up to him afterwards and said:
Lord Chancellor, you certainly did us proud to-night.
Lord Birkenhead replied:
Well, if we do not do ourselves proud, who is there to do it for us?
I may say that I shall have to follow Lord Birkenhead's example.
§ The history of this industry is probably known to your Lordships as well as, or even better than, it is to me. We often forget how young an industry it is. It has been profoundly influenced by the geographical situation of this island. I think it is right to say that up to about the year 1939 we could regard this island, so far as the air was concerned, as being on the rim of the wheel of the European air routes. During 1939 and since the last war it has changed, and has now become the hub of the wheel, with air routes radiating in every direction. It is interesting to note that the first official air transport service was started on Coronation Day, June 22, 1911, when letters were flown from Hendon to Windsor Castle. The first regular daily passenger service in the world was started on August 25, 1919, from London to Le Bourget, and others followed. I want at the outset to make this point, because I think it is germane to our consideration of this problem. The Government laid down the principle that civil air transport must "fly by itself," as they put it—in other words, it must make things pay, and must not depend upon subsidy. In time, however, British companies found themselves completely out of business, until in one week there were no British aircraft flying from this country, although foreign aircraft were coming in in those days in quite large numbers.
§ In February, 1921, all British services were suspended. It is interesting to note that the present Prime Minister, who was at that time Minister for Air, set up a Committee, the result of which was that subsidies had eventually to be given to subsidise British air lines, which were merged into Imperial Airways, who again had subsidies. In 1935, there were three British air lines, which amalgamated to form British Airways Limited, and a subsidy was given to them. In 1938, Imperial Airways and British Airways 807 Limited merged and blended themselves into B.O.A.C. Their object was to operate overseas air services, whilst the internal air services were operated by independent operators who from January 1, 1939, received a subsidy. The position now, as your Lordships know, is that B.O.A.C. handle the long-distance traffic, B.E.A. the short-distance (the internal and European) routes, and the independent companies, of which there are a considerable number, fly on scheduled routes under licence from the Ministry, with the cooperation of B.E.A. They do charter work and trooping, with which I will deal in a moment.
§ The lessons of this short gallop through history are two: first, that subsidies are essential on scheduled routes, either in this country or abroad—that is, on routes that have to be flown, whatever the traffic is like on any particular day, through the year; and, secondly, that so far as the overseas services are concerned, there can be only one British line operating if a profit is to be made: it is fatal to have more than one British line operating on the same route overseas. This is an industry in which one must not look only at the physical structure; one must consider also the psychological elements. It is a new industry, and I am glad to see that a number of the pioneers are still with us. We in this country have had great pioneers in the air. As your Lordships have possibly heard, it has been decided to erect at London Airport a statue to Alcock and Brown. There were also Alan Cobham, Mollison, Amy Johnson, Scott and Campbell Black and, last but by no means least—in fact, in many ways I think he should be at the head of the queue—there is a member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, who was, I believe, the first Britisher to hold a licence to fly. So far as the aircraft building industry is concerned, I am glad to see that we still have, looking younger than ever, Sir Geoffrey de Havilland and Sir Frederick Handley-Page.
§ But, as it is a new and very exciting industry, it is also in some ways an adolescent industry and psychological matters affect it probably more than they would the old and perhaps rather atrophied railways—if I may say so in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. We are in fact standing at the 808 threshold of a new era in flight and many new problems are thrown up by the new machines that are becoming available—the jet, the turbo-prop and the helicopter. We on this side of the House should be grateful to know—in fact, we are most anxious to know—that the Government are fully seized of the psychological importance of the industry and the proper way of tackling it, as well as of its more physical manifestations. I will run through some of the main pillars of civil aviation in this country, and walk around them and touch them here and there, and then deal with some of the problems. The first pillar is the Ministry itself, which has been under fire in some quarters. I suppose any Ministry can always be sniped at, but most of the fire seems to me to have come from entirely the wrong direction or to have hit the wrong target—put it how you like.
§ It has been said that, now that the Corporations are established, there is no need for a Ministry of Civil Aviation. That is a complete misunderstanding of the position of the Ministry. The Ministry's tasks are, first of all, to foster civil aviation—not only flying by the Corporations but all sorts of flying within the scope of Government policy. It is to make flying as safe and as speedy and cheap as possible. It has to investigate such accidents as unfortunately do occur and always will occur. It has to supervise the Corporations. It has to encourage the charter companies, flying clubs and private flying within the scope of Government policy. It has to run the major airports, of which there are some thirty-five, and to operate navigational aids at others. It has to negotiate international agreements and to advise on the development of civil aviation facilities overseas, especially in the Colonies. We can clearly see that it would be impossible to ask the Corporations to do any of those things. The Corporations are commercial undertakings. It follows that quite a small percentage of the Ministry's staff—when I last saw the figures, it was about 17 per cent.—is at headquarters. The vast majority of the staff is out in the field—out on the aerodromes, in the various radio stations, handling stores and the like. They are scattered not only over this country but in Europe in Africa, in America and in Asia. I think I have said enough to show that the Ministry of Civil Aviation simply cannot 809 fade away like a bureaucratic old soldier, it must remain.
§ Now, as to the Air Corporations. When my noble friend Lord Pakenham, took office in June. 1948—I have not consulted him on this point but I hope that when he speaks he will confirm what I am about to say; it will be unfortunate if he does not—he found that although the standards in the Corporations were high, the deficits were also high. These deficits were caused by unsuitable aircraft, by dispersed bases and by uneconomic routes. My noble friend set himself, with great success to reduce the deficits, with the support, of course, of the Corporations themselves. My noble friend's efforts, and, I may say, his qualities of mind and heart, were most highly appreciated in the civil aviation industry. When I came to follow him as the responsible Minister, I found that he had left behind a wonderful and, so far as I was concerned, a very frightening reputation. He did a wonderful job for civil aviation in this country and he was strongly supported by a fine team that had been built up both in B.E.A. and in B.O.A.C.—my noble friend Lord Douglas, Mr. Masefield and their colleagues in the B.E.A.; and Sir Miles Thomas, Mr. Whitney Straight and their colleagues in the B.O.A.C.
§ Really, the figures are remarkable. May I show your Lordships what has happened in the few years since 1947? I am comparing now the year 1947–48 with this year, 1951–52, estimated on the basis of the first half year. With regard to B.O.A.C., in 1947–48 the capacity flown and offered for sale was 91,000,000 ton miles; this year it is estimated at 177,000,000 ton miles. Yet the number of staff has gone down during that period from 23,349 to 16,408. The operating costs in pence per capacity ton mile have gone down from 56.6d. to 38d., and the output per employee in capacity ton miles has risen from 3,790 to 11,176. The passenger miles, in millions, have gone up from 348 to 726, and the total operating revenue, again in millions, has gone up from £14.6 to £29.2. The deficit, after payment of interest on capital—that is, the gross surplus or deficit—has gone down from £7,581,000 to an estimated deficit for this year of £133,000, a drop of nearly £7,500,000. That is a very remarkable story in the history of B.O.A.C.810
§ B.E.A. has done equally well. During the first five years of its existence the Corporation has almost trebled its business, the increase being from 14,000,000 load ton miles sold in the year 1947–48 to 41,000,000 ton miles sold in the current year. The rate of increase has averaged 31 per cent. per annum. In the number of passengers carried, B.E.A. has achieved a corresponding increase. In 1947–48, the figure was 150,522, and in this year the estimate is 1,150,000 people. In round figures, that is an increase of 1,000,000 in only five years. I do not know whether any other class of industry can say it has done as much as that.
§ Compared with pre-war operations in the United Kingdom, B.E.A. is now offering about seven and a half times more capacity ton miles inside Scotland (I recommend this particularly to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk), than were operated by all the private companies in Scotland before the war. Quite rightly, we are often reminded by Scottish Peers in this House of the conditions in Scotland, so I should like to reassure them on that point. I am glad to inform the noble Lord, Lord Clydesmuir, that, in fact, B.E.A. is now offering seven and a half times more capacity ton miles than were offered before the war.
§ As to the Channel Islands—another responsibility—B.E.A.'s traffic to-day is six times what it was in 1938. We often hear criticism front the Channel Islands, who quite rightly want to encourage their trade. The noble Lord, Lord Terrington, and I went to the Channel Islands not many months ago and heard their views on this problem. I am glad to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Terrington, by giving the following figures. In 1938, the Channel Islands Airways carried 35,000 passengers, and this year B.E.A. has carried 205,000 passengers. I dare say the noble Lord knows the figures already. In terms of passengers carried, B.E.A. now ranks first amongst the world's airlines, outside the United States, and seventh amongst all the world's airlines, the first six being the six largest internal operators in the United States. In spite of the tremendous increases in costs of all commodities compared with pre-war days, B.E.A.'s fares have not increased substantially. For instance, the increase in fares on the 811 Scottish services is only 12 per cent. above what it was in 1938, while costs have gone up in some cases as much as 200 per cent.—for instance, landing fees have gone up 200 per cent.
§ The economic position of B.E.A. is very interesting. There has been a reduction of the deficit from £3,573,989 in 1947–48 to £979,267 in 1950–51. That is a remarkable reduction, and we hope it may be possible for there to be even greater reductions in the future. Of course, B.E.A. have certain problems about which they are always making representations to the Ministry. They are never satisfied about the mail rates. I have negotiated certain figures for B.O.A.C. with the Postmaster-General and it is quite possible that the present Postmaster-General will be able to help the Corporation and give them a substantially increased figure on the mail rates. The domestic mail rates to-day are still substantially less than the rate paid to the United States international air carriers, and if the same sort of rate had been paid to the Corporation, the Corporation's revenue would have been increased by £695,000. We must remember, too, that B.E.A. pay the full rate of petrol tax on petrol used on the internal airways. That is a great burden to them, and it affects the amount of profit that they make.
§ Now I turn to the charter companies. As we all know, charter companies operate under associate agreements. These agreements are scrutinised and the applications are considered very carefully by a committee over which the noble Lord, Lord Terrington, presides. Some forty-five associate agreements were operating in the summer of this year, including seventeen for five years. Quite a large number were approved which in the end were not taken up; that is to say, licences were sanctioned but were not taken up by the companies concerned. I asked those interested and concerned to inquire why so many licences had not been taken up by the charter companies. I think that probably one of the reasons was the high cost of aircraft in these days; another, possibly, was the difficulty in getting pilots. But I hope that all concerned will try to ensure that the companies which are entitled to licences do in fact take them out, because other com- 812 panies are prevented from trying to operate services when they know that some other undertaking has already been given a licence. The charter companies now have a very lucrative business in ordinary charter work. If the noble Lord, Lord Leathers—as I am sure he does—looks at the Baltic Exchange accounts from day to day, he will see from them that invariably there are instances of no charter companies being available for the transport of crews here or there, and for other work which has been offered.
Then, of course, the last Government assisted the charter companies because it was our policy to keep them in being. We gave them a reasonable amount of work. We gave them a number of trooping contracts of a very valuable nature. There were contracts for four-engined machines to carry troops to Fayid in the Canal Zone, and contracts for two-engined machines for service to Malta. So far as I know, the principle trooping contracts are carried out by these companies, and they must be very valuable. What we should like to know is what exactly is to be the relationship between the Corporations and the charter companies. I think I have said enough to your Lordships to demonstrate the fact that both the Corporations and the charter companies are now operating successfully, that they have plenty of business, that in the conditions in which they are now operating they have put up a very good display indeed and are doing well. Is there to be any alteration in these arrangements? Are the Corporations to be prejudiced in any way? Are the charter companies to be prejudiced? I did hear, for example, that the Minister had said that only one-year licences would be given to charter companies for the time being, in order that the position should be examined. If that is so (and I do not know whether it is) it will be a serious matter for the charter companies, because, owing to the high cost of aircraft it is almost impossible to write off the cost of a modern aircraft under five years, and even five years may not be sufficient. We should like to know what is the policy of the Government, both as regards the Corporations and the charter companies. I ask this because in the recent Annual Report of the British Independent Air Transport Association, Limited, I find this statement:
Since the change of Government, however, the issue of long-term agreements has been
postponed as an interim measure in order that the present Minister, the Hon. John Scott Maclay, may review the general policy with a view to extending opportunities for private companies. The outcome of the Minister's review is cordially anticipated.
I do not know whether there are any grounds for the cordiality or for the anticipation, but at least I think we are entitled to know whether the independent charter companies have anything but hope on which to build.
§ Another pillar—one of the last I shall mention in this connection, but a very important one—is safety. During the time when my noble friend Lord Pakenham was in office, it was, quite rightly, decided to inaugurate in this country a system of airways or air lines. These are lines along which the great air liners and other aircraft can travel to London, or from London to other parts of the country or to other parts of Europe or America. We have, so to speak, canalised a very great part of air traffic in this country, particularly that passing to and from London. That, in my view, gives us a responsibility to ensure that the airways are as reasonably safe as they can be made. I need not go into technicalities, but I can say that that has been done, and they are, I think, reasonably safe. There are the new Decca system and others. That responsibility, of course, is increased in consequence of the use of the jet-propelled machine. With the jet-propelled aircraft there is no time for the pilot to make mistakes and no time to recover from mistakes. With machines moving over England at a speed of 500 m.p.h., safety precautions have always to be maintained in absolutely first-class order. I would ask the Secretary of State who is sitting opposite to bear in mind that always in that duty he is supported by the Air Registration Board under the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, which deals with the safety of aircraft, and the Air Safety Board under Sir Frederick Bowhill, and his Chief Inspector of Accidents, Air Commodore Brown.
§ Finally, on this part of my speech, I want to say a word or two about aerodromes. I think we have now reached the position in which the management of aerodromes, so far as the passenger handling side and the safety side are concerned, is in pretty good order. The methods adopted have been well thought out, and when the new buildings are con- 814 structed at London Airport we shall have an airport second to none in the world. But I think we ought to pay more attention than we have done hitherto to the business side. After all, the Minister is responsible for many thousands of acres of land. The average big aerodrome is about 3,000 acres, and your Lordships will realise, if you tot up the total number of aerodromes and multiply that total by 2,000 or 3,000 acres, that the Minister is a pretty big agriculturist. Is the noble Lord satisfied that the best use is being made of all this land. I have been to France and Holland, and other places, and I found—particularly in Holland, where land is very precious—that a large proportion of the aerodromes are cultivated in a more intensive way than we cultivate ours here. They even put cattle on their aerodromes. They have found that our system of simply taking off the grass and carting it away to be dried and used for fodder is not sufficient, it does rot put enough nutriment into the soil. Therefore they put cattle on aerodromes. I think that is a matter which is worth looking into.
§ Then I think the licensees' side of aerodromes might be examined—I have in mind the people who rent shops, and that sort of thing. I feel sure that this side could be developed. On one occasion I went to London Airport and the barber complained bitterly to me that he was not getting any customers. It seemed rather odd to me that the barber who had a shop at a place like that should not get customers. We made one innovation by installing outside the shop a barber's pole which revolved in the modern and rather American manner. That attracted people to the shop, and it made the public at large realise that there was a barbers' shop there. Surely, there are all sorts of other ways in which these aerodromes, which attract thousands of people every day, could be used to make some contribution to the National Exchequer. The landing fees which can be charged are definitely limited and, apart from taking landing fees, all one can do is to make the aerodromes pay as a business proposition.
§ Now a word with regard to helicopter sites, or airstops. I believe that, with the possible exception of airstops in London, these should be run by local authorities. I am hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, will use his influence in the 815 Cabinet to get the East portion of the South Bank Exhibition site allocated as an airstop site for London. I wrote to the Minister of Works on that matter, and I hope that Lord Leathers will use his co-ordinating powers to such effect that we shall have an airstop site on the South Bank at the spot I have indicated. It would be a wonderful site, and it would act not only as a focus for internal services but also as a terminus for helicopter services from the Continent.
§ I come next to the main problems, with which I will deal quite shortly. The first and chief point to remember is that we must not give the people who are concerned with aviation the idea that they are being prejudiced in any way by this change of Government policy in putting the Minister of Civil Aviation under or in conjunction with the Minister of Transport. It is a young, an adolescent industry, and if it were thought that the Minister was mostly concerned with pedestrian crossings, whether the 8.10 ran to time this morning and that sort of thing, it would be a matter of considerable concern to pilots and others who regard themselves as being in a new and exciting industry, quite different from the industries of the past. I think there is something in that view. If the coach proprietors had run the first railways, possibly railway development would not have been so rapid as it was; and if the railways had come under the Government Department that dealt with coaches. I do not believe their development would have been anything like so rapid as it was.
§ I believe that with the development of civil aviation and the competition it will afford to both railways and shipping, there may soon be very great pressure on the Minister of Transport. Two big industries are concerned and they are in a position, I feel, to bring much greater pressure on the Minister than the civil aviation industry. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, to watch that position and to safeguard against the possibility. B.E.A. already carry over 1,000,000 passengers a year, and we have touched only the fringe of this development. When helicopters start, they will increase the competition with the railways, and at that stage it will be important that the Secretary of State should ensure that they are not prejudiced. On a murky day like, 816 to-day, the opportunity to cut through me fog and cloud and get up to the blue sky above is an opportunity we should give to everybody. To prevent people flying in the blue sky, such as we have every day in this country above the low pall of smoke and fog, is a tragedy. The air needs a champion and we are looking to the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, to be that champion.
§ My second point is a serious one, not only for aviation but also for the export trade. I hope that here I shall have the attention of the noble Viscount the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. We have now two types of aircraft—the jet and the turbo-prop—which give us a lead of from three to five years over every other country in the world, including the United States. We sacrificed for this by not building piston engine types. During the post-war period we had to buy American machines with scarce dollars, but we did it with our eyes open. At the end of the war, the United States had a long lead with their Constellations, Convairs and D.C/'s. We concentrated during the war on bombers and fighters, but we took the risk. Are we going to throw all that sacrifice away?—because I warn your Lordships there is a grave chance that we shall. So far as the Comet is concerned, we shall produce only one Comet a month, starting from next spring: that will be the total production. So far as the Vickers turbo-prop Viscount is concerned, we are going to produce only one a month, starting from next October. Already, to my knowledge, foreign companies have tried to order these new machines, and they have been told they will have to wait at least three years. Is it really worth while trying to sell more and more motor-cars in countries which do not want them, or where there is great difficulty, when here are machines which all the world wants and cannot get? Every Comet costs roughly, £500,000, and every Viscount, with spares, £250,000. Here is a market for the asking. But to make use of it will mean that aircraft manufacturers will have to have more materials and more men in order to fulfil both these orders and the military orders to which they are committed. I am afraid that it will mean some sort of funnelling of the materials and men from industries which are not so important.
§ Then I think it is important that, apart from its peace-time purpose, civil aviation 817 should be ready as a machine reserve for the Royal Air Force. It should stand in the same relation to the R.A.F. as the Merchant Navy stands to the Royal Navy—I am glad that the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Air, says "Hear, hear!", because I am going to put this to him. Let us see how many industries we shall touch on this question, because it is not a small matter. In my view, it is essential to build up a reserve of aircraft, consisting first of those aircraft which are already in the hands of the corporations and the chartered companies, and the flying clubs, for that matter; and, secondly, of those commercial aircraft which, for one reason or another, become obsolete but which are still serviceable and could be stored. I myself started this idea and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, in conjunction with the noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley, will continue it. There are many big aircraft which are serviceable, with many years of life in them, but which are not operated. They should not be broken up, but should be stored. That is quite easy; their wings can be taken off.
§ I want to touch for a moment on Welsh aviation, because, so far as I know, this has not come before your Lordships, and it is an important matter with which I think we ought to deal. The pattern in Scotland is now fairly clear, following the developments at Prestwick and in other directions, which are known to the noble Lord, Lord Clydesmuir. But there is no civil flying in Wales. There is no way of getting by air from London to Wales, unless one goes to the Channel Islands and from there to Cardiff. And it would probably be quicker to go by rail. The opportunities are great but not very profitable. There are social services in the Scottish Islands and to the Scilly Isles, but these districts are in a class of their own. On the whole, Scotland and Wales are sparsely populated, mountainous countries, badly served by road and rail. I had hoped, before I left office, that we should be able to have a line from London to Wales, starting at Witheybush and going by Swansea and Rhoose, near Cardiff, on to London, with a link to Dublin, and, eventually, an extension from South Wales to the ancient island of Mona, now called Anglesey, so that we should link up North and South Wales with London. The industrial area of Scotland is fortunate in 818 having an air service, but we have no service in Wales. We have a great and thriving district near Swansea, which in a few years' time is going to be one of the great cities of this country: it is going ahead by leaps and bounds. We also have the industrial district north-east and west of Cardiff, and that area should definitely have a service such as I suggest.
§ Lastly, I come to helicopter services. As I have indicated before, in my view, which is shared by a large number of people, the helicopter is going to create a new era in travel in this country. If our anticipations are correct, it will solve many of our passenger problems. As your Lordships know, the great drawback to air travel in this country is that it takes such a long time to get from the city centre to the airfield. The whole point about the helicopter is that it goes from city centre to city centre. I am told that the United States are already building 100-seater helicopters for military purposes, to carry 100 fully armed men. I have not been able to verify this statement entirely, but it is by no means beyond the bounds of possibility.
§ What we need is a machine of two engines, so that if one stops the other will keep the helicopter, carrying thirty to forty passengers, in the air. I think it will be agreed that that is the commercial type of helicopter that is required. A specification has been drawn up by B.E.A. for such a machine, which could be used both as a military carrier and as a civil passenger 'plane. That specification has gone to the Ministry and I have no doubt is now with the noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley. You cannot expect B.E.A., which is a commercial corporation and is not supposed to be an experimental one, to carry, as they have been doing in the past, the cost of this new and exciting machine, and to get a pattern, not only of services but of user. I feel it is something which will have to be done in co-operation with the military. If we can evolve a 'plane which the military can use for troop carrying and which will also serve as a civil passenger 'plane, then I feel sure we could soon inaugurate a helicopter service in this country. But this matter is proceeding at a very leisurely gait, and every year people are prevented from flying who would like, and ought, to fly. This is a matter which the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, might well take under his 819 wing, and on which he should endeavour to procure some action.
§ That is really all I intend to say. I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, who has been complaining about the length of speeches in this House, but this is a subject on which I felt I had to speak at some length, in order to put the position before your Lordships and also to give the noble Lord who is to reply some ground upon which to make his reply. I am bound to say that the actions and some of the speeches made on behalf of the Government—more the speeches, I think, than the actions—have caused dismay in the industry. I also find that there is some difficulty in seeing the Minister. Previous Ministers of Civil Aviation—the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, or whoever it may have been—have always been most approachable by all concerned with the aircraft industry. Naturally, owing to his many commitments, dealing with pedestrian crossings, and so on, the present Minister has been unable to give quite that attention to the industry which they have previously been led to expect. That is a matter which should be looked into. I have tried to give an account of the main structure of the industry and some of the problems. Now I should like to ask the Government: What are you going to do? Are you going to treat this new and exciting industry in the way that it deserves to be treated? I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ LORD LEATHERS
My Lords, it has been our custom in this House in recent years to debate from time to time the progress of civil aviation and to hear a review by the Minister of Civil Aviation of that progress. This is a custom which has much to commend it, particularly as these debates have been objective and outside the main stream of controversy. Although the responsible Minister is now in another place, there are many in this House who, from past experience, have much to contribute to this subject, and I therefore welcome the action of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, lately Minister of Civil Aviation, in initiating this debate.
At this short time after the formation of the present Government, I am sure that your Lordships will not expect me to give a detailed statement of our intention. 820 Our main policy is clear and simple. It is that we favour a combination of public and private enterprise in whatever way is in the best interests of British civil aviation. It would be imprudent—I might even say irresponsible—to reach conclusions without a full and detailed study of the facts, and this must inevitably take time. But I can give your Lordships this assurance now: that we approach the subject as a practical problem in the solution of which we shall be guided by the general policy that I have stated. In whatever we do we shall be aiming only at serving the national interest and the best interests of British civil aviation. Thus, I am not at present able to make a statement about the future of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. That Ministry is carrying on its work under the leadership of my right honourable friend, Mr. Maclay, who is also Minister of Transport. That fact in itself carries certain implications which are being studied. Our conclusions will be announced as soon as our studies are completed. But I would say this. Whatever may be the form of organisation at the top, the essential work of the Ministry, with which the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, is so familiar, must, and will, be carried on.
Let me turn now to actual flying. There is no doubt that progress has been made in all its branches, particularly in the last year or two. The concentration of the previous Government on the Corporations has certainly produced results in that sphere. I shall quote some figures very soon to illustrate the improvements that have taken place which I feel will be more precise and demonstrative than those quoted by Lord Ogmore. As for the independent operators, it is true, as the British Independent Air Transport Association say in their report for 1950–51, that the private companies are now in better shape than they were. But they have undoubtedly passed through a very difficult period. The companies are now hampered to some extent by shortages of aircraft and crews. I am particularly glad, too, that the flying clubs are now on firmer ground and able to be of considerable help to the Air Ministry in training pilots.
There are a few figures for the Corporations which provide an interesting study. Going back no more than three years, their total output (measured in 821 capacity ton miles) had about doubled in 1950–51 compared with the output in 1947–48; the staff had been reduced by a quarter—I think that corresponds with the noble Lord's figure; the output per employee had increased nearly threefold; and the financial loss for the year had been reduced by half—from about £11,000,000 to £5,500,000. Thus, the loss per capacity ton mile had been reduced by no less than 75 per cent. (from 24d. to 6d.). Further progress is being made in the current year, and actually in the first six months both Corporations worked at a profit, though it must be remembered that seasonal influences are much more favourable in the summer than in the winter months. I should like to pay tribute to those who helped to achieve these results. On practically all their overseas routes the Corporations are, of course, in keen competition with foreign airlines. Competition, I know you will agree, is very stimulating, and I am sure that under this healthy influence the Corporations will show even greater improvement in their results.
Turning to the private operators, I would remark that their position is now, as I have said, happier than it was. This is largely due to the growth of charter work and of work for Government Departments, which has been increased by recent contracts for carrying troops by air—a most valuable business for them. The private operators have also been allowed to get a foothold—though only a small one—in the field of the scheduled services. But there are some of us who feel that the private operator can play a more important part in the development of civil aviation, and this is a subject to which we shall give close consideration. All I can say now is this. It is the intention of the Government to help forward the sound development of civil aviation, to reduce the cost of air transport to the taxpayer and to give greater opportunities to private enterprise to take part in air transport development, without in any way impairing the competitive strength of our international air services. The precise methods and arrangements for giving effect to these intentions can be decided only after consultation with all the interests involved.
The Corporations have established an important position in the highly competitive field of international air trans- 822 port, and it is the intention that they should retain that position. For that reason we have no intention of undermining the existing international networks of the Air Corporations, B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. However, there are also other ways of expanding our air transport effort, and we shall explore directions in which it is possible to provide opportunities for the private companies to play a valuable part in this expansion.
§ LORD OGMORE
That is a very important point, and I should like to ask the noble Lord a question on it. When he said that we do not want to interfere in any way with the activities of the Corporations, he means, does he not, that on one overseas route there will be one British Corporation operating and not more. I think that is essential.
§ LORD LEATHERS
My answer to that is really, "Yes;" but I must make this proviso. That Corporation must be able to cope, and cope successfully, with the traffic, or some other view will have to be taken.
§ LORD LEATHERS
We have no intention of undermining the existing international networks of the Air Corporations B.O.A.C. and B.E.A.—I am repeating this again, so that we shall all know. However, there are also other ways of expanding our air transport effort, and we shall explore directions in which it is possible to provide opportunities for the private companies to play a valuable part in this expansion. I do not feel able to be more specific at this juncture. Naturally, there will be consultations with all the interests concerned, including the private companies, the Air Corporations, the trade unions and others whose interests may be affected, before final decisions are taken.
We realise that the rôle of the private operators was enlarged in 1950 by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham (whom, I believe, we are to have the pleasure of hearing later this afternoon) when he extended the period for which private companies might be granted permission to operate scheduled services from two years to five years, and that about seventeen such services are in being. However, to continue granting more of these long-term associate agreements, as they are called, while policy is being reviewed, 823 might prejudice the pattern of future development. The Minister has therefore decided that for the time being existing agreements coming up for renewal shall not be extended beyond March, 1953, nor shall new agreements be granted extending beyond that date. That will give them an opportunity of thoroughly overhauling the whole situation and of dealing with new agreements and the extension of the old ones simultaneously. There may be some independent companies whose plans for the future are based on getting longer-term agreements, and the Minister is making it quite clear to them that the present restriction is solely to allow breathing space for working out future plans.
Turning now to the ground organisation for civil aviation, I would say that great developments on navigational aids have been made in the past few years. The main civil air routes in the United Kingdom are covered by an airways system designed to avoid the risk of collision in the air between 5,000 and 11,000 feet. Approach and landing aids at important aerodromes have reached a high standard of efficiency and they are still being improved. Further technical developments of navigational aids are taking place all the time. In sum, the navigational services for civil aviation have appreciably added to the safety and regularity of flying and will continue to do this good work. While on this subject, I may mention that His Majesty's Government naturally have in view the revolutionary developments which the noble Lord has already mentioned. The turbo-jet and turbo-prop aircraft introduce new problems into air traffic control, because they have very high speeds, and also very high fuel consumption when flying at low levels. These problems, as the noble Lord knows, have been receiving the special attention of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The work so far done on this problem affords good hones that the difficulties will be overcome and that, if I may put it this way, the ground will keep pace with the air.
Looking further ahead, I would point out that the helicopter will also introduce novel problems of navigation. These, too, are being studied, and we have every reason to suppose that no insuperable difficulties will be encountered in fitting this new vehicle into the air traffic pattern 824 over this country. Among the new developments in navigating technique is the Decca navigator, and particularly the flight log, which show promise of giving to air navigation an accuracy never before attained. An important aspect of this device is that it is of equal use to the high-flying aircraft, the helicopter at 1,500 feet and the ship at sea.
On the aerodromes side, the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has made a number of detailed references to aerodromes in South Wales. No doubt others of your Lordships will have points to make about individual aerodromes, and I think it would be better if I left it to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, to reply on such points later in the debate. What I must say, however, is that limitations of capital investment mean that the growth of air traffic will have to be met by the most intensive use possible of available facilities. Our biggest single problem is the development of airports in the London area. Of these, London Airport is of prime importance for the progress of civil aviation. It is our intention that this great work shall go ahead as quickly as economic circumstances and the supply of materials permit. I can say, too, that we are all very conscious of the need of further development of Prestwick, which is, and will remain, the second international airport of the United Kingdom. So far as the administration of aerodromes is concerned, a number of them are already run by municipal or private enterprise. The Government will consider whether there is further scope for such initiative, though the high cost of developing and maintaining aerodromes to the standard required by modern commercial aircraft must be borne in mind.
I would assure your Lordships that nothing precipitate will be done and that our guiding light on this issue, as on the other problems we have touched on, will be to do what is best for civil aviation as a whole. In conclusion, I should like to say that I am myself deeply interested in these aviation problems. Some of them are new to me, but in the course of many journeys by air all over the world I have learnt at first hand what this great industry, though young, means to the development of civilisation everywhere.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
My Lords, I am sure I shall be voicing your opinion when I say that we are very happy to see the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, in the important position he now occupies. Although I think we have sprung at him a little early, having regard to the many subjects he has to consider. I can assure him that we feel so strongly on this matter that we hope to see him frequently at that Box later on. We in civil aviation are, so to speak, cousins twice removed from him. We have gone down in status, and I am a little apprehensive about the whole situation, because civil aviation is such a restless subject; it is never the same for a year. New machines come in, new arrangements have to be made with other countries, and nothing is static for any time at all. Consequently, I think we were fortunate that when we had the most intensive growing pains there was a Ministry existing to deal with that subject and with that alone. I cannot help paying my sincere respects and admiration to the Ministers who looked after that Ministry for its short time of existence. They wholeheartedly gave everything they could to the subject. In particular, Lord Pakenham won admiration not only from everybody on his side of the House but from many spirited political opponents as well, When he left the Ministry it was with regret from the whole industry and the whole world of civil aviation, because he had gained their real affection.
Now the situation is that there is no separate Ministry of Civil Aviation. I am not quite clear what the policy of the Government is—whether the Ministry of Civil Aviation is to be merged into the Ministry of Transport in the same way that the Ministry of Shipping was merged into transport or whether it is just to exist independently, with a Minister common to both. Your Lordships will remember that at the end of the First World War the Air Ministry and the War Office were presided over by the gentleman who is now Prime Minister, and that we fought hard and eventually separated them again. But it does not follow that, because you do not have a Minister, your staff automatically becomes reduced. The subject is one of more and more importance in the world; it is one of international import; and often subjects have 826 to be taken up very quickly. I do not know whether it is wise to put the status of the Ministry one step down. There is the danger that the Minister of Transport will always be dealing with the more domestic problems wrapped up with politics, and not be able to give the attention to the other subjects which is required.
Let me put one or two suggestions for the possible reduction of staff before my noble friend Lord Leathers. You could put the aerodromes back into the hands of the municipalities. I am not advocating that, but it could be done. You could set up a sort of Port of London Authority for the London aerodromes. You could hand over all private flying clubs and gliding clubs to the Royal Aero Club, who did the job very well in the past and could do it again. You could hand over much of the safety measures affecting aeroplanes to the Air Registration Board; they do much of it now, and could take on more. I am not advocating those things, but if you are trying to economise in the personnel of the Ministry, those are some of the things that might be done.
There is one matter about which I feel very unhappy, and that is the machinery whereby new aircraft are produced. During the war, as has been said to-day, we did not build transport machines—we left it to America. Because we did that, we were left behind in the production of civil aviation. Towards the end of the war I was asked to preside over a Committee to ascertain users' requirements in post-war civil aviation. It was a most talented Committee. We went into the subject very thoroughly, and I want to stress now that we had on that committee two members of B.O.A.C.—they are still prominent members of B.O.A.C. We made, I think, five recommendations. One of those was for machines which would fly regularly, not only from London to America but from America back to London. That necessitated a very big machine, which was eventually known as the Brabazon I. I may mention in passing that that Committee was responsible for the Brabazon IV which to-day is the Comet—but you never hear of that; everything is pushed on to Brabazon I. That was the recommendation: users said that that machine was wanted. The proposal went to the Minister of Aircraft Production of the time, and the machine 827 was ordered. The machine was immensely expensive and it used up money which could have been spent in other fields. And who are the people who now say, "Throw it away"? They are the very people—B.O.A.C.—who were partially responsible for ordering it.
There is another example of a waste of money. Who was responsible for ordering the Princess? In my Committee we could never get the user to ask for a flying boat, but the Ministry of Supply, I think imaginatively and wisely, ordered the Princess. But when the Princess is in process of coming out, no one wants it. Those are two machines costing millions, which no one is going to use. That is very unsatisfactory and I ask the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, what is going to be the machinery in the future. We have now made an advance with Type IV—the Comet. Are we going to keep ahead? What is the machinery whereby we are going to get ahead and keep ahead of the world? Remember, the operator never likes anything new. He likes something old, about which he knows all the data; and so you have to push new things on to him. What is the machinery now? We have the Ministry of Civil Aviation, who are anxious to get the most progressive machines, but there are the operators who do not want them but rather something which has been flying in America for years. There is the Ministry of Supply, who are prepared to order and to pay for it, and the Air Ministry on the other side. Rearmament is coming along, and the Ministry of, Supply is slowly pushing the building of all aircraft on to the military side.
I regret that the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for Air, has left the Chamber. There is a hope that if the Secretary of State for Air will now acknowledge that air transportation is a military function of the Air Ministry, things will change a good deal. He can take on the responsibility of seeing that great transport machines are built for use by the military and later, with adaptations, used for civil aviation. If he can do that, I shall be reassured. But at present I am not very happy about our spending so much money without seeing ourselves maintaining the clear lead which we have gained in civil aviation.
§ 3.58 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for raising this subject. We realise that His Majesty's Government have not had a long time to consider all the questions involved, and are not yet able to make a full pronouncement on their policy. None the less, we all feel that it is right that this matter should be debated before we adjourn for the Christmas Recess, and much that has been said to-day may be of value to the Government in the consideration of the subject. Many people in this country, and in other countries, are looking to the Government to give a lead which will restore the ascendancy of Great Britain in civil aviation and silence charges of lack of initiative and unimaginative management. I do not say this criticism is deserved, but it is there, and we need a robust statement to meet it.
To-day, however, I propose to address the House very shortly from one angle only—the subject of Prestwick Airport. I was going to say that it was proper that in such a debate there should be a Scottish voice raised, but I see that there are several Scottish voices to be raised—those of my noble friends Lord Balfour of Inchrye and Lord Sempill, and, of course, that of my noble friend Lord Selkirk, though on this occasion his voice will be an official voice, perhaps to some extent muted by responsibility. We look forward to his winding up the debate.
In February last, I was Chairman of a Committee which presented a Report on the subject of Prestwick Airport. The Committee were appointed by the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) to consider the future development of Prestwick Airport, and the Report was the subject of a statement in your Lordships' House on February 15. The then Minister of Civil Aviation, the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, referred to the document in sympathetic terms, and he went further. He indicated that a considerable part of the recommendations found favour and would be carried out as opportunity afforded. Later, when Lord Pakenham left office, his successor, the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, visited Prestwick. He saw the ground and made speeches on the subject which gave us hope for the future 829 in Prestwick. Now I admit that time is short, and one must not be unreasonable in expecting that Rome, or Prestwick, should be rebuilt in a day, but although some work has been undertaken, the main part of the Committee's recommendations are still hanging fire. I urge the Government to-day to give earnest consideration to them.
I was happy to hear the Minister, my noble friend Lord Leathers, refer in his statement to the importance of Prestwick arid to its future development. The Committee's Report included a number of recommendations. I will not weary your Lordships by going through them, but there were two main recommendations to which I wish to refer. One was the lengthening of the main runway to 7,500 feet, to fulfil international standards, and this necessitated the diversion of the main Glasgow—Ayr road. The second was that a subsidiary runway should be constructed at a new angle to enable the largest aircraft to land and take off whatever the wind direction. That latter recommendation is no less important than the former one. I think that these two main recommendations were substantially agreed by the Ministry at that time, and their implementation is only a question of timing. At present, stratocruisers not infrequently have to over-fly Prestwick Airport. I quote from to-day's Daily Telegraph, on the front page of which there appears this:A special air lift had to be operated between London Airport and Prestwick last night when wind prevented B.O.A.C. Stratocruisers from landing at the Scottish Airport for the second day in succession.The report goes on to say that arrangements were made for the onward transport of passengers. These are not isolated instances of over-flying; in recent gales there have been several others. I therefore take this opportunity of urging the very early consideration of these two main recommendations, and that they should be given a measure of priority in their fulfilment.
The history of Prestwick Airport is one which gives deep concern to the people of Scotland. That airfield rose to the highest importance, from an operational point of view, during the late war. It was a great Atlantic terminus and played no small part in the strong link that was forged between the United States and ourselves, both for operations and for transport. It 830 would not be going too far to say that it was a decisive factor in victory, so far as the air was concerned. When peace came, there were many good people in Scotland who hoped that Prestwick would retain its leading position when the danger of bombing was removed. But the draw of the Metropolis brought London Airport into the very front position—a perfectly natural consequence. None the less, the people of Scotland hoped that Prestwick would play a leading part as a great international airfield, and there are few subjects that have given rise to more contention and disappointment that the history of this airport during the last few years. There are other useful airfields in Scotland—for example, Renfrew, which is an important and thriving airport, though it could never be a serious competitor in international or trans-oceanic traffic. The small Committee of which I was Chairman included the Chairman of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, and a prominent ex-railway official. None of us had any connection with the previous discussions or controversy about the aerodrome. We were brought into it quite fresh in a sincere attempt to allay the controversy, and the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, paid tribute to the fact that we had attempted to do so in an objective Report.
I referred earlier to the defence aspect of this question, and I should like to quote words used by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, in this House on February 15 [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 170, col. 356]. My noble friend said:Whatever may be the value—I have no doubt it is great—of this airport as a transoceanic port, there can be no possible question, I submit, that in the event of another disaster such as the last war, this airport would be absolutely indispensable. I would therefore suggest that considers lions of defence reinforce the need that the runway should be adequate to take the largest Service aeroplanes as well as civil planes. Those considerations also certainly enhance the need for proceeding with the work as rapidly as possible, as I gather the Minister himself desires.I do not see my noble friend the Secretary of State for Air in the Chamber at the moment, but I hope that those words will fall softly and receptively on his cars, because it is from the defence point of view that speed is vital.
There is another matter to which I should like to refer. There has been a conference in Nice—it may still be going 831 on, since it sat in November—of the I.A.T.A. (which I believe is the International Air Transport Association), and that conference has been considering an interesting plan for tourist class fares, a plan which, if it comes into operation, will greatly increase traffic between the United States and the United Kingdom. There will be reduced fares, such as the tourist fares on ships—to use the expressive American phrase "air coach flights." My Lords, it is most important that Prestwick should be designated (again to use an American expression), one of the gates for this tourist traffic. I gather that it is likely to be, and that there is no difficulty about that; but it is most important that it should be kept fully adequate for this tourist traffic, for it is in the interests not only of Scotland but of the United Kingdom as a whole to bring in as many of our foreign friends as possible when the scheme comes into operation.
So, my Lords, both on defence, and on civil aviation grounds I urge most strongly that the Government should give early consideration to this matter. I believe that no single thing which the Government could do for transport would give greater pleasure in Scotland than to place Prestwick where it belongs—namely, in the first rank of trans-oceanic air travel. The Minister said that he regarded it as important and as second only in place to London. My plea is that it should be a good second, a real runner-up, and not some distance behind.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I should like to reiterate the words of the noble Lord who has just sat down, that the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, is both opportune and timely. It is opportune and timely not only because we are examining this great problem of civil aviation, but also because it gives me my first opportunity of welcoming my noble friend Lord Leathers at the Box in his present Ministerial office. My noble friend Lord Leathers said that his policy was to aim only at serving the best interests of civil aviation—a sentiment which I am sure will find echo in all parts of your Lordships' House. But in taking stock of this position some of us on this side of the House are so bold as to wonder whether 832 the last six years of Government policy have been in the best interests of civil aviation. My Lords, if I may summarise it—I hope not unfairly—in a sentence, we have had six years of policy giving the Government-owned Corporations a privileged position in civil aviation. Their first privilege was that of running all the main routes; their second, of running or allowing others to run the secondary routes only with their permission, or, alternatively, of objecting to others running these secondary routes; and third, the privilege of having freedom to use all their resources on charter work should they so wish.
My Lords, within the boundaries of that policy of nationalised, Government-owned Corporations, I think the Corporations have done a fine operational job, and rightly enjoy the respect of the travelling public. I repeat, that is within the boundaries of their policy; but they are boundaries that I should like to see amended in certain directions in the future, because that policy has another side to it. What has been the cost to this country of the execution of that civil aviation policy? In my view, the cost has been a throttling grip on the possibilities of expansion by independent operators. It is true, as the noble Lords, Lord Leathers and Lord Ogmore, have said, that in their recent report, particularly dealing with last year's operations, the independent operators say that they have had a much improved trading record. That is true because the demand for air travel has been greater than the supply. But I think the policy of the Government in the past six years has prevented expansion by the independent operators. I do not say that it has denied the independent operators a living, but it has prevented their expansion. And the result to-day is that Britain's effective mercantile passenger air fleet, other than machines owned by the Corporations, consists of some twenty-six aircraft, none of them four-engined. There are some twenty Vikings, six Dakotas, but no four-engined aircraft, except certain obsolete Yorks which have been purchased by one of the companies from B.O.A.C. I think that is a sad thing at the end of six years, because after the war these independent operators started with great hopes of vast opportunities for expansion and of being able to build up a British mercantile air service. It is sad that outside the 833 Corporations we have come down to twenty-six aircraft of passenger type, none of them four-engined.
I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but why did these independent operators start out with such great hopes? I am not quite sure what date he is referring to, but they must have known as soon as the war was over what the Government policy was.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, they started out with great hopes, which were dashed at once by the Socialist policy, which said—I think not unfairly—was one fostering Government monopoly. Until the Civil Aviation Act of 1946 there was not seen the lengths to which the Government were prepared to go in order to prevent competition upon the preserves of the Government-owned monopoly.
We are now just starting on a new era of air travel. Costs are coming down, tourist fares are being introduced, and we are opening up for air travel vast and hitherto untapped sources of the travelling public. Mr. Juan Tripp, with that forward imagination which is characteristic of his action in air travel, has said that there are no fewer than 4,000,000 Americans waiting to cross the Atlantic by air once the fare is 250 dollars return. It may be a long time before we reach that position, but it is a wonderful conception, that there is that goal ahead. The question that I would put to your Lordships is: Can Britain do her fair share to meet the demand for air travel in this new era with a policy which is based on an outlook which restricts all regular air travel to Government-owned monopolies operating the main trunk routes? I think there is now a chance to give free enterprise greater prospects and greater opportunities than it has had in the past. I know that at the present time any change in long-term policy involves legislation, and as such cannot be contemplated at the moment. I should like to register the view that it is desirable, at some time when Parliament has an opportunity to consider this matter, to modify the Government-owned monopoly in respect of the development of all the future routes. I am not for breaking up the Corporations; I am not for restricting their present activities. But together with many of my noble friends on this side of the House, 834 and, I know, Members in another place, I feel that when we some to the development of new routes there should be a greater degree of participation by free enterprise than has been possible in the past.
May I now turn for a moment to the immediate problem, which seems to me to be this: What can be done administratively, within the present boundaries of the legislation, to improve Britain's civil aviation by private enterprise? I will make to the noble Lord four suggestions as to what might be done. First, open up those routes not being run by the Corporation but on which, at the present time, the exercise of the Corporation's monopoly rights prevents anyone else from operating. I have in mind particularly the route from London to Manchester, in respect of which an associate company's application for a licence was turned down because that route (I do not quarrel with this; it is in line with declared Government policy) is to be operated in the future by B.E.A. Do this through the associate company scheme, and give not less than ten years' security of tenure to the associate companies, so that aircraft can be amortised over ten years, which is, broadly speaking, the time which the companies require to write off modern aircraft. It is true that the noble Lord has announced that there is to be only one year. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, will not try to make any political point about the one-year period. That is just a standstill period, while consideration is being given to the bigger issue as to whether the period should be five, seven or ten years, and in what form the agreements with the associate companies should be made.
May I interrupt the noble Lord at this point in his very interesting speech? I do not want to quibble over that last point, but if these companies are to have such very long-term agreements as the noble Lord suggests, would any obligation fall upon them to operate those agreements, or would they be allowed, after a year or two, to pack them up and say: "We found they did not work."? If they are to be allowed to do that sort of thing they will be getting a very unfair advantage over the Corporations.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
Of course I would impose obligations upon them. I was not going to weary your Lordships by going into the details of the administrative machinery by which it would be possible to introduce such long-term agreements and to ensure that the companies would fulfil their part in them. One envisages a licensing board, people applying to that licensing board, and so on. A period of ten years would give the companies time to buy new equipment and to write it off during the period of their contracts.
The next proposal I make to the noble Lord is that there should be a more liberal interpretation as to what are scheduled services available for the public. There has been a great deal of doubt as to whether an inclusive tour was a scheduled service available for the public. Charter companies have taken out a load from here, say, to the Far East and have had to come back empty because, under the present legislation, they have not been allowed to advertise for a return load. If they did so, they might come under the law as a scheduled service available for the public. Let there be a more liberal interpretation which would give the charter companies greater opportunities.
British European Airways operate social service routes almost entirely, I think, in Scotland. The loss on these last year was £219,000. These are routes which they do not want to operate themselves from a commercial aspect but which are what I would term social service routes, those required for better communications between outlying parts of Scotland and the centres. I do not quarrel with the Government policy—whatever Government introduced it—of maintaining these social service routes, but I think it is wrong that they should be included in the general picture of the Corporation's activities. I have dealt with this point before, and it is no Party matter. It is unfair that the Corporation's picture should include the social services and I should like to see these lifted right outside. Let the Government, if you like, charter these services from the operators, taking to their own credit any income derived therefrom. I believe that in connection with these social service routes, there is a good opportunity for charter companies to appear before some licensing body to 836 tender for these services. I have no reason to think that they would not operate them as well as they are being carried out at the present time, and they are certainly being very well carried out now by B.E.A.
The last suggestion I make is that the charter companies should be allowed to take over more of the Army and R.A.F. trooping work. I should like to see R.A.F. Transport Command confined almost to the operational aspect of Transport Command work—such as carrying parachutists, towing gliders, and moving troops about in the operational theatres. I cannot see any logical reason why the R.A.F. should do, as it were, carriage work. The Navy employs the Mercantile Marine to do carriage work, and the Mercantile Marine does the work on charter, efficiently and cheaply. If Transport Command's scope were greatly reduced, and that carrying work given to charter companies, one effect would be to release many R.A.F. pilots, many valuable ground crews, as well as much ground equipment, all of which could be usefully absorbed within the R.A.F. To do that, certain transport aircraft would have to be released by the R.A.F. Transport Command, but I cannot see any difficulty about that.
I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, remembers how the War Office, at one period, paid a subsidy for every lorry maintained by a private lorry operator, which was suitable for the carrying of military transport, and upon which the War Office could have an immediate call if required. Could there not be some form of payment made to charter companies to maintain transport aircraft with a full certificate of airworthiness, and to see that these transport aircraft had necessary fittings for quick conversion to troop-carrying work? It would be an economic proposition, I believe, for the Ministry of Civil Aviation. I am sure that it would provide an added source of revenue and would also be an added source of encouragement of user to the civil transport charterers.
Further, I hope that with a view to helping the charter companies the noble Lord will look at the ground facilities given to these companies. The large Corporations use London Airport and Northolt. The main charter companies 837 are using Blackbushe. I am informed that next year Blackbushe Airport will be passing through its passenger portals about 40 per cent. of the total number of passengers passed by B.O.A.C. through London Airport—which is indeed a very great total. I hope that the noble Lord will send someone to look at the Customs facilities, the waiting rooms, the feeding arrangements, the telephones and other facilities, having in mind the fact that this enormous number of passengers will be brought into Blackbushe by the charter companies.
Just one more point, and that is a point which I think will help the Corporations—I am sorry that the Postmaster-General is not here. I believe we could get a better presentation of the work of the Corporations if they could be paid on a proper basis for the mails to be carried. The Postal Union and the International Air Transport Association have agreed on six gold francs per ton kilometre as being the right basis. When B.O.A.C. carry Dutch mails they obtain that sum. When they carry British mails they do not. They obtain a lesser sum. They obtain a sum—the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, I believe, negotiated this with some difficulty—which averages just over four gold francs per ton kilometre. I cannot see the logic of K.L.M. and Sabena paying B.O.A.C. the full six gold francs while at the same time our Post Office refuse to make a like payment. I know that there is great resistance in Government circles to this particular point, but a strong Minister such as we have now will, I feel sure, obtain victory even over a difficult Chancellor of the Exchequer.
All these points I have been making, and also the success of our long-term policy, depend finally on the supply of aircraft. That is the key to our civil aviation plan. As B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. obtain their more modern aircraft, they will throw out other types for which they have no further use on their main line routes, and these 'planes will become available for the charter companies. I understand that four Hermes are going to the charter companies. As the Corporations obtain Viscounts and Comets, they will be able to dispose of very fine but not quite so modern aircraft. Our aircraft production, both civil and military, presents a depressing picture. This is 838 not the right occasion to debate the question of man-power, but that is a terrifying problem for the aircraft industry. I should like to give your Lordships one set of figures to prove the point that while the rearmament programme, as regards military aircraft, and the supply programme, as regards commercial aircraft, may break down for a whole number of reasons, it is bound to break down for this particular reason, unless something is done. The Economic Survey of April, 1951, stated that the aircraft industry needed 160,000 skilled men by April, 1953, if programmes were to be fulfilled. By July, 1951, the increase had been only 10,000, leaving 150,000 to be recruited by April, 1953. That requires a monthly intake of 7,500 men. In fact, the monthly intake is 800.
It is not for us to debate to-day the solution of the man-power problem. I put it forward to your Lordships as the problem that is going to cause a breakdown of the civil and military aircraft programme. I hope that we shall revert to that problem in your Lordships' House in the new year. I do not believe that we have enough men in the country to build large numbers of modern civil air liners and, at the same time, large numbers of military transports. I would give priority to the civilian air liners and make arrangements for their conversion to military transports when required in an emergency. I should like to see aircraft ordered now so that they will be in operation in 1956—that is about the earliest they could be in the air. These aircraft would have to remain on the main lines and on the charter lines afterwards until 1966. These are some of the immediate things we should ask the Government to do. I believe that, with energy and determination, all of them can be accomplished. We can argue from our different political points of view about long-term policy, but I think there should be no difference at all on the merits of doing something more than has been done far the independent companies within the boundary of existing legislation on a short-term basis.
§ 4.34 p.m.
My Lords, in common with other speakers, I should like to say how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for raising this subject in a House in which it has 839 always been of special interest. I should also like to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, on his replying as a Minister to a debate on civil aviation, for the first time in this House. I wish to say a few words from the point of view of the user of civil aviation. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, I suggest that the ultimate user is the passenger who pays his fare, and to some extent the travel agent who brings that passenger along. As an agent for both Corporations, I desire to pay a tribute to the excellent services which they are maintaining throughout the world at the present time. It has been most noticeable to me that a few years ago, when we asked passengers which way they would travel, they would generally name one of the foreign air lines and we had some difficulty in persuading them to use our own lines. To-day the opposite is the case, and the first choice of most of our clients is B.O.A.C. or B.E.A. That happens not only in this country but also overseas. I think it is largely due to the fine representatives which B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. have in various parts of the world. I have had an opportunity of meeting them at Rome, Athens, Lisbon, Boston, Chicago, New York, Rio de Janeiro and other places, and they are uniformly of very high standard and doing a great job of work in bringing passengers to the Corporations.
I welcome the announcement that tourist fares are to come into operation in the fairly near future. I was particularly interested to read in The Times early this week that B.O.A.C. hoped to introduce tourist fares on the Atlantic next summer, and I understand that B.E.A. will be able to do so possibly in 1953. I believe there is a tremendous untouched flying public waiting to use the air when these tourist fares are introduced. I find at the present time that most of our passengers are people over 40, because young people simply cannot afford to fly. With the tourist fares, we shall cater for a great number of younger people, and this will apply particularly to passengers from the Commonwealth. For instance, on completion of their university career, young people wish to visit the old country. They cannot travel by air because it is too expensive, and they cannot travel by sea because they cannot get sufficient leave from their jobs or afford the idle time 840 of three months or more away from their country. I think these tourist fares are to be welcomed from every point of view.
Following up what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has said, I would point out that the aircraft fitted for tourist-class traffic can, in some cases, be almost the identical aircraft which would be used by Transport Command in time of war. At any rate, it would require very little modification. Tourist class is particularly suitable to the fast aircraft now envisaged, because when we take a passenger on an air journey lasting eight to ten hours, he wants meals and other amenities, but with fast aircraft with a journey of four to five hours a passenger does not require much more than a comparatively comfortable seat.
I thoroughly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, about his barber's pole. It is a useful amenity for an airport, small it may be, but in the right direction. Incidentally, I should like to ask the noble Lord who is replying, what is happening about the licence for London Airport. I understand it is still controlled by the local licensing justices. Time means nothing in the air, watches may have gone forward or back four or five hours, and after a rough passage or a delayed flight passengers should be able to refresh themselves with a whisky and soda should they so desire, whatever the hour may be. I understand that something is afoot in this respect, but it has not yet come to pass. I am all in favour of making our large terminal airfields the rendezvous of the public. I well remember before the war the great beer gardens, with glass fronts, on the German airfields, and a Sunday visit to the airfield, with an orchestra playing, was one of the most sought after amusements by German families. I believe we should do all we can to make our airports attractive to the public. These amenities should not be costly—in fact, they should bring in some revenue. I was interested to hear the suggestion made to-day that possibly some economies might be made by administering the air ports through the municipalities. A glaring example is the fact that, as I understand, no less than sixty firemen are at present employed at Prestwick. If Prestwick were co-ordinated with a municipality, some integration with the local fire service could take place, thereby producing a saving in man-power.
841 I should now like to say a few words about the charter companies. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that the position at the moment is unsatisfactory. Interpretation of the Act is extremely difficult, and there are many anomalies. So far as I can see, anybody can form a club, and can by that means pick members of the club and form a party. On the other hand, if a travel agent wishes to get a party together for an inclusive tour, he cannot utilise a charter aircraft without paying the full national air transport fare. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, also, that charter companies should be allowed to advertise for a return load, instead of having to go back empty, thereby involving much waste of fuel and money. A start has been made in granting contracts for the transport of troops, which is a step very much in the right direction. I understand that this has been done on a large scale in America, and it has been found to be a cheaper method of transporting Service men than doing it by rail. Although I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, has said, that until the new Ministry have had an opportunity of considering things only interim licences can be granted, for short periods, I think the question of giving longer-term associate agreements should be considered as soon as possible. In my view, they should be for a minimum period of ten years. With the high cost of aircraft today, I do not think an operator can be expected to take the risk of purchasing aircraft unless some period such as that is envisaged. In that connection, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, on granting a charter for ten years to Silver City Airways for their admirable specialised service of transporting motor cars across the Channel. I am sure that is a step in the right direction.
§ LORD OGMORE
May I point out to the noble Lord that the five years' licence period was suggested by the charter companies themselves? I believe they have now changed their view, owing to the ever-increasing cost of aircraft, but the Ministry did originally agree to their suggestion of five years. I mention that, because I do not want it to be felt that the Ministry were unfair to them.
As the noble Lord has said, their views are coming round to a much longer period. The noble Lord gave an instance just now in which he said that charter companies were not having a bad time because there was a great demand on the Baltic Exchange for their services. Surely, the reason for that is that in the past few years, through lack of support, the charter companies have fallen so low in aircraft that there are not the aircraft to-day to cover the work offered. I understand that the number of serviceable charter aircraft to-day is only twenty Vikings, seven Dakotas and four Hermes. That is a pitiable total.
I would suggest that to-day this country has a unique opportunity in the field of civil and transport aircraft. At the moment we are years ahead of any other country in jet-propelled aircraft, and we have a great opportunity of reversing the position which existed at the end of the Second World War, when America was absolutely supreme—I believe that no fewer than 12,000 Dakotas were built and sold. In my view, we should "think big" in the matter of transport and civil aircraft, and I suggest that they should be treated as part of our rearmament policy. Subject to certain limitations, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, said, there is no reason why that should not be done. The question of who is responsible for developing new aircraft is a serious problem that ought to be faced at once. At present we have the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, the Minister of Supply and the Air Minister all concerned, to some extent; but I do not think it is at all clear who is supposed to take the lead. Far be it from us to offer any criticism of the new Government at this early stage, but I must say that many noble Lords in this House who have taken a great interest in civil aviation are a little concerned at there being no separate Minister responsible for this Department. Before a long-term policy is decided, careful thought will have to be given to this point. I should like to conclude by pressing for a really powerful, bold and progressive programme for civil and transport aircraft, because this is an opportunity which, if we miss it to-day, may never recur in years.
§ 4.49 p.m.
My Lords, I join with the noble Lords who have participated in this debate in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, for initiating it, and congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, on his first speech to your Lordships on civil aviation. In listening carefully to the debate, I have been struck by a number of points, and before I come to that which I particularly want to submit to your Lordships I should like to say how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, on his recommendation that the Royal Aero Club should be charged in a greater measure with its particular responsibilities in the civil aviation field than it is to-day. I should also like to add my words to those of the noble Lord, Lord Clydesmuir, in hoping that the Minister will be able to speed the agreed construction work at Prestwick Airport.
I suggest that the greatest policy disaster that our Empire-wide transport system has suffered in recent years was the withdrawal last year of the flying boat service to South Africa. The flying boats were run with great regularity and provided a first-class service much appreciated by passengers by reason of its unique qualities both of comfort and novelty. As it happens, I used it myself on one or two occasions, and as business takes me often to Africa I hear many tales of lament along the line that the service is no longer running. After all, it was the only flying boat service connecting Europe with the outside world. This service was keeping our flying boat captains and crews in practice for the day—and it certainly would he a great day—when the S.R. 40, the Princess, a design of Sir Arthur Gouge, the most skilled of designers and the most practised in this field, would be in service. Now, as I understand it, the policy with regard to the use of these large flying boats has been changed, and as it now stands they are to be used as military transports.
We have always led in the design, development and operation of flying boats and, in fact, all types of sea-going aircraft. These have a part to play in Empire air transport, and a growing part, too. Now to-day in the world there are some fifteen companies, mostly small companies, operating flying boats. Of all these, the two most important are Pan-American and the three companies in 844 the Antipodes. Australia-New Zealand, which latter operate some sixteen flying boats. I would appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, who has a very wide experience of transport, to consider afresh the case of the flying boat. I suggest that at some time suitable to the Minister I should raise the question of the use of the flying boat in British air transport.
§ 4.54 p.m.
My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House very long. My noble friend Lord Ogmore has covered the ground so well from a point of view so similar to my own, and the main issues have been dealt with from one angle and another so effectively, that I shall be very brief indeed. I intervene mainly in order to prove to my old friends in civil aviation that my interest is no less than it ever was and, I believe, will increase still more with the years. I should like to thank those noble Lords who have been kind enough to allude to me personally, including my noble friend Lord Ogmore and the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon—I should like to call him my noble friend, if that is technically and politically correct. I should like to thank Lord Brabazon not only for what he said—and coming from him it means mere than it would coming from any one else in this world of civil aviation-but for all the kindnesses which he showed to me when I was Minister. So far as we got on at all, we certainly owe a great deal to the noble Lord.
I cannot help hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, is not so depressed as he sounds about the result of his labours on the famous Brabazon Committee. I was very glad that he pointed out—because if he had not I should have had to do so—that the famous Brabazon aeroplane is not the only project of the Committee. The Comet could just as well be called the Brabazon, and I am inclined to think that those who now hold power should change the name. I do not see why not better late than never, and I believe that the change would be appreciated by everyone. I throw that out to the Minister when he rejoins us, or to his able deputy the noble Earl, and to B.O.A.C. themselves, because there is every reason to call the Comet the Brabazon and to let it receive that name henceforth. I do not regard the expenditure on these great aeroplanes 845 as a waste. One type has proved more successful than other types, but they cannot all be equally successful. It seems to me more a question of the Comet having gone ahead much faster than the others and, therefore, it has been decided that it will be more profitable to concentrate on that type. I should be very upset if I felt that the noble Lord regarded his labours in that field as a waste.
It is a great pleasure to be speaking again on civil aviation, with so many ex-Ministers of civil aviation. It is rather like coming down to play against one's old school for a team of old boys. One can recognise some of the strokes, and one might say that one can almost see the school coaches sitting in the pavilion, or not so very far away, to whom one owes so much, and some of the later cuts and firmer drives seem to have a familiar appearance. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, will be able to join us before my few observations are concluded. I have used a cricketing metaphor, and while we are happy to spend our time in the field we do not want to spend it all "leather hunting." However, if I go slowly enough it may be possible to summon him. I cannot think that he regards me as so formidable as to desire not to face the bowling at all.
Let me join in the tributes which have been paid to the Corporations, because they have put up a wonderfully good show in the last few years. I am very pleased indeed to see that the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, has rejoined us. I was speaking about the noble Lord, but, I can assure him, in a friendly and slightly facetious manner. The Corporations have done great work, as the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, and other noble Lords have said. In particular, they have had this very unpleasant task of cutting down their staff. This redundancy problem—as I think most noble Lords who have experience of it will agree—is perhaps the most infernal nuisance from which any large company can suffer. It reflects great credit on the managements, and also on the trade unions—and this is a point worth making—that those very large reductions to which the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, and my noble friend Lord Ogmore both referred, particularly in the staff of B.O.A.C., have been carried through in a time of expansion without any serious labour trouble. It reflects 846 the greatest credit on the National Joint Council machinery, and I feel sure that the noble Earl when he replies—because speaking for the Government his words will now carry more weight than mine—will see fit to emphasise the great importance attached to the working of that essential machinery.
I will not say more about the question of civil aircraft, except to underline with any power I possess what has been said this afternoon by almost every previous speaker. It would be a tragedy if, after having gone in front, we slipped behind again. I do not know whether the noble Lord saw in The Times yesterday a most interesting statement from America about their acceptance of the fact that we are right in front. I do not know whether there are many other spheres—I hope there are—where the Americans admit to complete inferiority at the present time. As a result of the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, and other noble Lords in various parts of the House, and of gentlemen outside, we are at the present time right in front of the Americans and right in front of the world in civil aircraft. Let us exploit that advantage in a most friendly international fashion, but let us make the most of it. I should have thought that most well-meaning Americans—and most of them are well-meaning—would be glad to see this country continue to prove itself superior to all comers. After all, we want to see our civil aviation succeed, and we want to see our export trade succeed. So I think we are all at one on this, and that it is just a question of asking the Government to put their powerful shoulders to the wheel and of shoving along faster than ever.
There are one or two other points which have been dealt with from an angle which is perhaps not quite mine. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye referred to mail payments. He referred also to the possibility of taking the Scottish social services out of the ordinary B.E.A. accounts. The question of fuel also arose. In no disrespectful spirit I would group this class of proposal as a financial and bookkeeping change. There is a great deal to be done in that direction, more, I am sure, than I did when I was in office. I think it helps the Government on an occasion such as this if the Opposition say quite frankly that we should welcome further exploration along these lines. It 847 is good for both Government and Opposition to think about revision of the account system, because otherwise one is open to the charge of "faking the books." When the Government receive support from the Opposition—and we had it when we were in office—on such questions as that of mail payments it has good results. I hope there will be further efforts in this direction to bring about what seems to be a fairer presentation than is given to-day of the results of the work of the Corporations.
I believe that at the present time, good though the results are, their presentation is still not good as compared with foreign competitors. I think that is true of mail payments and also of the social services, and I wish more power to the elbow of noble Lords who do anything to effect an improvement. I know the argument: I know that noble Lords may be told that anything of this kind is a concealed subsidy. On the other hand, however, there is a great deal to be done in the way of improved mail payments without increased subsidies, and I hope it will be possible to achieve more in that direction. Noble Lords may ask why I did not take this up during the three years when I was Minister. I do not mind giving the answer. I was not keen, while there was so much to be done in the way of improving the efficiency of the Corporations, on trying merely to improve the presentation of the accounts. I thought it much better to wait until the Corporations could, so to speak, look the world in the face and say that they were efficient before looking into this way or that of publishing figures. I leave that thought with the Government.
I wish to say a word about the future of the Ministry, where I was so happy for so long. I believe that about seven noble Lords in this House have served as Ministers of Civil Aviation—if I may include Lord Balfour of Inchrye in that number. We all know the splendid work that they have done. There has been at times an attempt to treat the Ministry of Civil Aviation as a laughing-stock. When I was there, chairmen at local meetings rather hushed up the fact that I was the Minister and thought no one had better hear too much about it. Later, they admitted it and rather apologised for it, saying that, after all, it was not my fault that I was the Minister. It was not until 848 the end that they began to boast of the fact that they had secured the services of such a Minister as the Minister of Civil Aviation. The Ministry have worked through all that, through obloquy and musical comedy nonsense, and I feel that they deserve a good reward. I know that the reward they would wish would not be anything for themselves. The wish of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, who is really the fons et origo of the whole effort, and that of the officials would, I think, be to give the best possible chance to civil aviation—as the noble Lord himself suggested.
Whether or not we want a Ministry of Civil Aviation permanently is not an obvious proposition one way or the other. I think the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, made it clear that we might save manpower by abolishing the Ministry of Civil Aviation. It would be possible to save manpower by eliminating waste, if there was any waste to be eliminated. We had a comb-out when I was there, however, and I do not think much waste can be found now. If the Ministry is abolished you could eliminate a few people at the top. You could eliminate the Minister and his private office, and possibly one or two officials. That might save a few bodies, if I may use that unpleasant term. But there again you tend to create a bottleneck. Things have to wait longer before being done; the tray of the Co-ordinating Overlord, if I may use the expression, begins to get a little more full, and new staff have to be brought in to deal with that; and it is doubtful whether you would really save any man-power. All one can say is that the better arrangement saves more manpower than the worse.
What is the best arrangement? I do not think one could become fanatical about it. So long as you have a separate Minister of Civil Aviation he will naturally wish to make a good job of it, to be active; and in the new Minister we have a gentleman who is forty-five—which seems young to me, because I am forty-six to-day. In him we have a man in his prime, and I know that he will wish to make a great success of the job. The danger is that he may wish to interfere too much, particularly with the Corporations; and as soon as you reach a point where the Minister cannot make an active job of it without interfering with the Corporations, you should abolish the 849 Ministry. I am of the opinion that we have not reached that point to-day. I believe that there is still so much to be done in the way of nursing this new industry and helping it forward that there is full scope for a separate Ministry.
On the other hand, I feel that you lose a great deal in other ways—a number of psychological ways which are hard to assess—by abolishing the Ministry. But quite apart from any views expressed by Lord Ogmore, and by myself (and I may be supposed to be a little biased) I hope the House and the Secretary of State will be impressed by the concern expressed by Lord Brabazon, by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and by other speakers about the abolition at this stage of a separate Ministry. I wonder whether when members of the Government come to read this debate they will alter their minds on this matter. They must do what they think right; but I beg that if they are set on abolishing the Ministry—contrary, as I think, to the best interests of civil aviation—they will make sure that a separate Parliamentary Secretary is appointed. I hope that, if the Minister cannot, as he probably cannot, allow much to be said on that subject to-day, he will give it the most careful consideration.
I am much obliged to the Secretary of State. I propose now in a very few minutes to deal with what I may call the general approach to the future of the Corporations and the charter companies. I am going to make my remarks very general, because the Government have said that they have this matter under consideration. I may be wrong—I did not take down the words as fast as they were said—but I rather got the impression from the Secretary of State that all this will be considered. I take that consideration to be something which is going on at the present time it is not something in the future.
Because in grave matters of this kind, one obviously must not press for an answer to-day or tomorrow. We shall wish to return to this subject fairly soon after Christmas, unless the noble Lord can carry it forward at a fairly early date. We shall adopt the 850 same attitude as he would in similar circumstances. We are following the matter very closely indeed. I say frankly that on the whole—I may form a different opinion when I read his words, but I think not—I was rather more encouraged by what he said than I had expected to be. He seemed to make it plain that there would be no attempt to undermine the Corporations, that he wishes to make sure that they go on from strength to strength, and that he has in mind the hope that it will be possible to reconcile that policy with giving some wider opportunities to the charter companies. May it, indeed, he so. Without following up the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, I would express the hope that he can achieve those two purposes. It will require statesmanship, but that will be no new subject to the Secretary of State. I regard this matter as something which will require all his thought, or at least a very high proportion of his thought, and a still higher proportion of the thought of the Minister during the next few weeks. With an expanding business, with the Corporations doing better all the time and the charter companies doing better all the time, it ought not to be impossible to find a means of reconciling their interests. We shall await with great interest the efforts of the noble Lord to bring about that harmonisation. I do not want to adopt a tone of violence, let alone of threats, but I must inform the noble Lord that if he found it impossible to bring about this reconciliation and he took steps which, in our view, damaged the Corporations, we should fight him by every constitutional means, here, elsewhere and everywhere. I must put that quite plainly on record.
I shall not say much about aerodromes, though it is a very interesting subject. Aerodromes are curious things in this country: everybody wants one until he gets one, and then, of course, it is the last thing he wants. I spent a great part of my time going around appeasing people who were begging to have aerodromes, and the rest of my time appeasing people, like people in London, who had an aerodrome and found it very noisy. I have put that a little crudely, and, for the benefit of the record, I would add that I said it not in full seriousness. Yet there is a considerable germ of truth in it. Any policy on aerodromes must be a national policy, because you are going to sink 851 large sums of money in certain parts of the country and you are bound to seem to ignore other parts of the country. Every local council, until it has an aerodrome, wants to spend money on it. We have tried to stimulate the great municipalities to take an interest to running their own aerodromes, but it is not easy. We had some discussions with Manchester—I forget how long they have been going on now, but a considerable time. An aerodrome loses money, somebody has to pay for it, and, even before the noise of the aerodrome makes itself a nuisance, when the true cost starts to appear, the local authority begin to have a variety of thoughts. So this question of stimulating local interest within a national framework is not an easy problem. There, again, is something which will appeal to the statesmanship of the noble Lord.
I have done. I wish to echo many things that have been said by other speakers, but I leave their words to speak for themselves. As has been said by more than one speaker, we are standing at the threshold of a new era, with all these achievements of the Corporations and the charter companies. I have not had time to refer to the flying clubs. In this House the flying clubs have many friends. During the last few years great strides have been made with jet-propelled aircraft. We refer to all these achievements of the last few years. Therefore, it is right to say here that we stand at the threshold of a new era. We in Britain are, and should remain, ahead of the world. It always seems to me that we have not reached the really interesting period of civil aviation. The really interesting period of civil aviation will be reached when the millions, not just the thousands, get into the air—although, of course, a million people flew by B.E.A. last year, so we are not very far off our target. But it may be that the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, will not remain in office long enough to see the fulfilment of that dream. I only express the hope that, while he is in office, he and his colleagues will be successful—I have no reason to think that they will not be—in carrying on the same passionate desire which, whatever our politics, has inspired us all to make our British civil aviation what it has always been potentially, actually 852 and in full realisation, the best in the world.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, in wishing the noble Lord, Lord Pakenhan, many happy returns of the day. I hope indeed that he will spend many days speaking on a subject as important as this. We have had an exceptionally interesting debate—indeed, one would expect that to be so, for we have five former Ministers of Civil Aviation in this House, including my noble friend, Lord Swinton, who started that line. By reason of their pretence here to-day, it would be rather surprising if we had not an interesting debate. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, naturally and properly wanted to give an account of his stewardship. We did not haw an opportunity of asking him what he was doing. I found listening to what he had to say very interesting. In spite of the fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, has been here all the afternoon, this debate has not done "Hell for Leather!" as at one time it possibly might have gone. May I put it in this way? We have made our policy in respect of civil aviation quite clear. But we are necessarily influenced by two considerations which are of permanent importance to our way of living. The first is continuing the good in what exists: and the second is the endeavour, which I think is fairly successful, to keep civil aviation outside the maelstrom of Party politics.
As to the Ministry of Civil Aviation itself, no one has expressed sympathy with the Ministry of Transport, and, as a matter of fact, it may well need more sympathy than does the Ministry of Civil Aviation. What is interesting is the fact that it was from this House that the latter Ministry was set up. I do not think anybody has regretted that that action was taken. That is a testimony to all the noble Lords who have filled the office of Minister. I should like to mention one matter which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore—I do not know if he wanted to emphasise it—that the Minister has not been as available as his predecessors were. With great respect, I would only say that in the initial stages he has had a great many people to meet. At the moment he has to meet one Commission, five executives and two Corporations, with their members.
§ LORD OGMORE
I do not want it to seem that I am blaming the unfortunate Minister in any way, because I am sure that as a person he would want to do everything he possibly could; but I am saying that the set-up is such that he has so many duties to perform that he obviously cannot be as approachable as the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and other Ministers were when they had sole responsibility.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
That, of course, is obvious, at present, but it should none the less be possible. The point I was making was that he is as easily approachable as anybody, but naturally in the period of change it is possible that Ministers are busy. I will not say much about aerodromes in South Wales, but I can say that the Minister appreciates the importance of the question and hopes that it will be possible to improve the links between Cardiff and Dublin, as has been suggested, by opening another airport. The matter has to be considered, as the noble Lord himself knows. A great deal was said by my noble friend Lord Balfour and the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, on the subject of mail rates. Now that the Postmaster-General is not here, I suppose the Post Office is fair game.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
What I was about to say was that it is generally recognised that the Universal Postal Union rates are not applicable between the domestic air companies and the Post Office of the same country. On the other hand, I am informed that the Post Office makes no profit out of the difference between the U.P.U. rate and what it pays to the Air Corporations. That may be due to the improved terms which I think the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, obtained during the period he was in office. In any case the air mail rate for B.O.A.C. is three times that paid for the same weight of passengers. That is an interesting thought, but I am afraid I can give no reason why, in fact, that should be necessary.
May I ask the noble Earl a question, and if he is not equipped to answer it to-day perhaps on some other occasion he will be able to? Is it not the case that at the present lime our air lines are receiving much lower rates of pay from our Post Office 854 than are nearly all the main foreign air lines?
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
The terms of the noble Lord's question—namely "all the main foreign air lines"—are such that I should not care to answer it. I could answer in regard to one or two specific cases, but I think the better course would be to let the noble Lord have that information in detail. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, raised the question of helicopters. So far as I remember, or at least for quite a number of years, helicopters have been tantalisingly round the corner, but I think the specification outlined by the noble Lord is still some way off. The only one that is coming on is a Bristol aeroplane which will not be available for a few years. That is what I am given to understand.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF KIRTLESIDE
May I say that the specification is actually in the hands of the Ministry of Supply at this moment? Of course, it is not yet a specification approved by the Ministry.
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
I am delighted to have the assistance of the noble Lord. Perhaps I expressed myself badly. What I meant was not the specification but, of course, the production, which would necessarily be perhaps three or four years ahead. At least, that is what I am given to understand. What I was going to say was that I am inclined to think helicopters suffer through being compared with the normal fixed wing aeroplane, because in almost every case, in speed, weight and in range the helicopter is inferior to a fixed wing aeroplane. A comparison takes one nowhere. The point about the helicopter is that it does quite different jobs. I suggest that it should be used now far more for such jobs as crop spraying, inspections of high tension cables, fire fighting, mine prospecting in boggy country, possibly anti-sabotage work, traffic control, postal deliveries within a city and, of course, casualty evacuation and things of that kind. I am glad that B.E.A. are continuing the experimental unit, with the support of His Majesty's Government, and anyone who desires can, I understand, go from Northolt to Birmingham by the service provided.
My Lords, there is one matter upon which I should like to congratulate the late Government—it has not been mentioned so far to-day. I refer to their 855 preservation, in spite of temptation, of the independence of the Air Registration Board. I think that is something for which we shall always be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham. That is a body representing the constructors, operators and insurers and, indeed, the Ministry of Civil Aviation. It has been doing very important and valuable work, and is a recognised authority, both at home and abroad, on airworthiness standards. I think the House might like to express appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon who is chairman of the Board, for the work which it has done.
The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, if I may venture to say so, made a most fascinating speech, one spoken with authority and upon which I hesitate to make any comment. But it was a speech of such importance that. I feel perhaps I ought to say just a word or two. First of all, I think I must defend B.O.A.C. in that they did not officially accept responsibility for that large aircraft, though they had representation on the Committee concerned. I understand that the Board cannot be charged with having accepted that aircraft officially and of having subsequently refused it. I say that because I believe that it is fair. It is, however, fair that His Majesty's late Administration should be criticised on their actions in the early stage in one respect. The purchase of an aircraft is necessarily an exceedingly difficult and tricky job, and for the first three years after 1945 the Corporations were not allowed to accept the responsibility of buying their own aircraft. That is absolutely vital. I think that proposition is accepted to-day, but I am informed that the Bristol 175, which has not flown, is the first aircraft which the Corporation has bought entirely on its own. That is my information. I am only emphasising that. I am quite certain that the lesson—and I hope the noble Lord agrees with me—is that those who operate must have the fullest responsibility for purchasing from those who build, and any interference in that direct chain must necessarily result in an unsatisfactory situation.
I do not want to say much about the aircraft situation. We are necessarily unhappy that half the modern aircraft we fly are of North American manufacture, but we are in very great hopes—and I 856 can enlarge upon this in detail if your Lordships wish—in regard to the future. I do not want to set hopes too high, but, as Lord Pakenham has said, the Americans are looking with very real interest at the Comet aircraft, the Avon Comet even more than the Ghost Comet. We hope that, next spring, B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. will have new aircraft in service, and that B.E.A. will have the Viscount in operation a year later.
May I intervene to ask the noble Earl whether he will at any rate promise to give consideration to the suggestions which have been made from more than one quarter in this debate, that the production of Comets and Viscounts and other such aircraft should be increased?
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
The point which the noble Lord has raised is a proper one, and is one which is fully appreciated. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, used the words "funnelling of labour," and I think those words may become important, because this may be one of the great difficulties, and it will be a matter of the greatest possible disappointment if at this stage, when we have gone through so much, other pressure doe; not allow us to reap the benefits of what has been achieved. I am afraid that I am not in a position to add anything more on that subject at the present time.
My Lords, I should like to say something on the subject of private companies. It is interesting that only twelve months ago the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, was anxious to demonstrate himself as their good friend, and I think it would be true to say that of him again to-day. All I will say is that if we go back to a White Paper published in December, 1945, we see that preference is expressed there for one international owning and operating body. It shows how the political development of the noble Lord has taken place. Now he is the good friend of the private operator. Of course, I offer him my warmest congratulations on the progress which he has made. The development is interesting because it was the noble Lord, Lord Nathan—who is not in the Chamber at the present time—who first instituted the associate agreements which were never intended in the Act itself. The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, accustomed, no doubt, to legal matters, was able to evolve a means of granting these agree- 857 ments. This idea was extended by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, first to two, then to five years. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, I believe, was going to extend it further, and he certainly made one notable extension to ten years.
These services have some 6,000 miles of route mileage to their credit and they carry almost 70,000 passengers a year. Lord Ogmore, very properly, praised the Corporations and I am not going to make carping criticism of any sort. But I would ask him to remember that we have spent something of the order of £42,000,000 in helping to get these organisations going. What the associate companies, so called, had to do, was to pick up those routes which the subsidised organisations did not want, so we must give them credit for what they have done. It must always be remembered, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has emphasised, that in future developments the fullest co-operation will be necessary, and in order to ensure this the companies must be assured that they will have the fairest treatment that can be given.
The other side, which is also one of great importance, is the charter side. It is important as a factor in the economic evolution of this country to note how charter work has steadily developed, not only with the Baltic Exchange, but also, of course, with Government Departments. In this connection, I should like to mention to your Lordships some of the things that the operators carry. They include milk, fruit, flowers, lobsters, cattle, and even, I am told, the odd rhinoceros. There is, of course, a very large air service from Lympne, which also has carried something like 1,800 head of cattle across the Channel this year. Other activities of which I would remind your Lordships in this connection are the Berlin airlift, the transport of pilgrims to Rome and Jedda, and troop movements to Egypt and Korea. All these seem to me to indicate the vital importance of a flexible organisation which can rapidly adjust itself to whatever demands may be made upon it in consequence of the requirements of aviation.
It may be that we are greedy in the field of overseas services. We have been accustomed for long to having a great mercantile sea fleet. Perhaps we do not realise that it was to some extent chance which brought us to that commanding 858 position. We expect, I think, to obtain something approximating to the same position with regard to the air. This is vital, not only for our own domestic industry but because it can play a part of the greatest importance as invisible exports, upon which we are so heavily dependent at the present time. I am sure it is right and proper that aviation should gradually become more and more a token and a bond between the peoples of the world and not be regarded primarily as an instrument of destruction. I will add little more. I think that we have nothing to complain about as regards this debate. I have not attempted to answer many of the questions raised. Obviously, they require full and careful consideration. I thank noble Lords for the proposals and ideas which they have put forward, and I can assure them that they will receive the fullest possible attention.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, in the first place I should like to thank not only the two noble Lords who have spoken for the Government but also all your Lordships who have taken part in this debate. I believe that your Lordships will agree that we have had an interesting debate, and I think that both the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, and the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, will say that it has been a valuable one. We have had an expresssion of views, and we have had an expression of atmosphere—which was what I meant by what I said in my opening speech. There has been a feeling of disquiet in the minds of many people interested in civil aviation. I hope that what the two noble Lords opposite have said will to some extent alleviate that feeling, though perhaps it will not alleviate it altogether.
There are just one or two points that I should like to mention shortly. As to the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that there should be an amendment to the accounting system of B.E.A. so far as the social services are concerned, I myself made that suggestion to the Corporation. I found that the chairman, after full consultation with the auditors, was in favour of it. The ball now rests with the noble Lord opposite. I recommend him to agree to that change, which would be a fair one to make. What we call the social services are, in fact, the Highlands and Islands 859 services of B.E.A., and they can never, by any possibility, be an economic success. These social services were rightly provided for people who live in remote islands and districts. That is something for which I consider we should pay, and it should be entered into the accounts as a separate matter.
I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, gave us so little encouragement with regard to both air mail and helicopters. I feel that B.E.A. have a good case concerning the Post Office—the noble Earl the Postmaster-General is still here, I am glad to see. The Post Office did agree with me on B.O.A.C., and I think that to a large extent they have admitted the case in regard to B.E.A. It does not really matter where the mail is carried, but in fact it costs B.E.A. more to carry mail than it costs B.O.A.C. They have to pay petrol tax and their running expenses are higher. It does not matter whether the mail is internal or external; the service is one that has to be paid for, and I think we should pay for it on proper lines. As to helicopters, as I have intimated, I was most disappointed at what the noble Earl said. It is true that, at the present rate of progress, it will be years before the helicopter comes into general use. That is the whole point of my suggestion to Ministers opposite. I hope they will put drive into the matter. I was not satisfied with the drive which we were putting into it when our Party was in office—I give your Lordships that. I may be regarded as an enthusiast, but I believe that if Lord De L'Isle and Dudley would get together with the Minister of Supply and the Secretary of State for the Co-ordination of Transport, Fuel and Power, it would be possible for them to evolve a type (a specification is already available to them) which could be used both for troop-carrying and for 860 civil aviation purposes. It could go into operation—assuming that the necessary materials and men for the job were provided—in a very few years. And, indeed, such a machine will be needed in Malaya and elsewhere for military purposes, quite apart from civil purposes.
I have to make one correction with regard to what I said in my opening speech, or I shall have Sir Miles Thomas writing a very indignant letter to me. I find that in quoting gross figures for this year I gave as an estimated loss a figure which should, in fact, have been quoted as an expected profit. I should have said that there was expected to be a profit of £133,000 whereas, in fact, I told your Lordships that there was an expected loss of that figure. But that only makes my argument stronger. I misread the figures—the black type for the red type. I hope that your Lordships and Sir Miles Thomas also will forgive me.
The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, did not answer many questions. I thought that he cantered over the course rather quickly, and I could not take in all that he said. I shall read the Report of his speech very carefully indeed. I am glad that he did not answer some questions, for I feel that if we had received a snap answer to-day that would not have been anything like so satisfactory as a really considered reply later. I hope that the noble Lord and his colleagues will give very careful attention to what has been said in this debate, for we have spent a great deal of time and effort on our contributions to it, and that they will try to put into effect the suggestions which we have made. Nothing remains for me but to ask your Lordships for leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at eighteen minutes before six o'clock.