§ 3.35 p.m.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE CO-ORDINATION OF TRANSPORT, FUEL AND POWER (LORD LEATHERS)
My Lords, perhaps I may be permitted to intervene at this point to make a statement on civil air transport policy in similar terms to one that has just been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister for Civil Aviation. As I told your Lordships recently, it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government for air transport to combine the activities of the Airways Corporations and the independent companies in the way which will best serve the interests of British civil aviation and of all users of their services.
We recognise that the Airways Corporations have established themselves well in the international field. We shall do all we can to encourage this. They 1470 are important earners of foreign currency. They are up against intensive competition from foreign air lines and we are determined that the competitive strength of the Corporations to operate both first and second or tourist class services on their present established networks will not be impaired. On the other hand, we seek to improve the position of the independent companies, which with few exceptions lack long-term security and opportunities of expansion. They cannot establish their position if they cannot plan firmly ahead. We therefore intend to give them more scope and security, while at the same time not increasing the cost of civil aviation to the taxpayer.
We have therefore decided that the development of new overseas scheduled services shall be open to the Corporations and independent companies alike. Applications will be made to the Air Transport Advisory Council, which will administer a procedure on licensing lines. Associate agreements for new routes will normally be granted for seven-year periods with extension to ten years in special cases. This should give private firms sufficient security for capital outlay and expansion. In particular, we have hopes of independent companies, developing the all-freight market, which is a growing field with great possibilities. There are also opportunities for special types of service such as seasonal inclusive tours and services at cheap fares not directly competitive with the Corporations to places within the Colonial Empire.
Charter operations are in the main the domain of the independent operator. The Corporations will keep the right to engage in charter work in those cases where they have special facilities. They will not, however, maintain aircraft specifically for charter work. United Kingdom internal sere ices present a special problem. Their cost to the taxpayer is considerable. We are still examining the best way of dealing with this. At the same time we are considering how best to meet the needs of Scotland. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man also present their special problems. In the meantime British European Airways will continue to operate their existing network. Internal services additional to those of British European 1471 Airways will be made available to private operators for long-term periods. The Air Transport Advisory Council will be ready to receive during this summer applications not involving subsidy for these and for new overseas services in time for the policy to take effect in 1953. The companies will continue to operate scheduled services as associates of the Corporations but under a modified form of Agreement. Terms and conditions of service must be not less favourable than those reached through the machinery of the National Joint Council for Civil Air Transport. Under this policy, which has been framed after consultation with the many interests affected, the public and private sectors of the industry can both make their best contributions to the development of British civil aviation.
My Lords, I am sure that we have all followed with great attention the Statement of the Secretary of State. It is clearly one which will require debate in this House at an early date. To-day I shall confine myself to one or two observations only. It may be recalled that when the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, raised this subject in your Lordships' House last December, we on our side expressed the opinion that it was possible to extend the opportunities for the charter companies (for whom we expressed our good will) without damaging the Corporations, but we said at that time that if the Government found that impossible and proceeded to damage the Corporations they would be resisted by every constitutional means in our power. I am afraid that this afternoon the noble Lord has unfolded a policy which constitutes a solid threat to the international activities of the Corporations and holds a sort of vague menace over their internal activities as well. It is a thin and at the same time a most unsatisfactory document. I intend to put only one question this afternoon, though I know my noble friends will wish to add others. Will the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, inform us whether legislation will be required to give effect to this remarkable and lamentable departure in civil aviation policy?
§ LORD LEATHERS
It is not expected that there will be need for legislation to give effect to the proposals I have outlined.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, arising out of the Minister's Statement, may I ask whether my noble friend can answer this one question? The plan he has unfolded, which as the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, says needs further explanation, nevertheless seems to give that possible field for civil aviation which many of us desire, and I believe the proposal will be welcomed by large sections of your Lordships' House. But unless there are increased facilities for the production of new civil aircraft there is little hope of aircraft operators being able to take advantage of this new opportunity. That being so, is the Minister in touch with the Ministry of Supply as regards a greater allocation of resources for the development of modern types of civil aircraft?
§ LORD LEATHERS
Yes, we are in touch with the Ministry of Supply on this subject, being very conscious of the need to watch it carefully. At the moment, however, I am not able to say precisely what is the result of those talks. But we are very mindful of the need to provide, if we possibly can, the facilities to carry out the policy we are about to introduce.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, arising out of the reply of the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, to my noble friend Lord Pakenham, that no legislation will be needed, may I ask the Minister how the Government intend to give authority to the Air Traffic Advisory Council to carry out the new duty which is imposed upon it? As I read it, it is doubtful whether they have such authority under Section 36 of the Civil Aviation Act. 1946. As the Government are now proposing to turn them from an advisory body into a licensing body independent of the Minister, who will no longer be responsible for them to Parliament, how does he propose to enable them to carry out that function under the existing law?
§ LORD LEATHERS
I have not the final answer to that question, but my information at present is that there will be no need for further legislation and that this can be done within the scope of the legislation which now exists. However, I am not absolutely satisfied that that is the final word, and the matter is, of course, having immediate attention.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for assuring us that he will inquire into the legality 1473 of the proposal. I should assume that he would have done that before making his statement. At all events, he will now inquire into the legality of this proposal. May I point out to him the constitutional issue which is involved? As my noble friend Lord Listowel said only yesterday on the proposal in regard to the B.B.C., here is another case where the Government propose to take out of the hands of Parliament any supervision of the running of this particular body. In other words, this body will have power to allocate charters and licences over a wide field of activity in this country, and yet no noble Lord in this House and no Member in another place will be able to put a single question to the Minister, who hitherto was responsible with relation to the activities of that body. This is a serious derogation of the powers of both Houses of. Parliament and of every member in this House or the other one, and it is a matter about which we should be convinced before we allow the Government to get away with it.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, may I, on behalf of the noble Lords on this side, ask the acting Leader of your Lordships' House whether Her Majesty's Government give time to debate this subject immediately after the Whitsun Recess, as it is obviously a question which noble Lords on this side of the House, and I take it noble Lords on the other side of the House also, will want to debate?
§ LORD WOOLTON
If the House wants to debate it, it would be improper of me to say "No." I am very glad to agree.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
I am grateful to the noble Lord. Perhaps arrangements can be made through the usual channels.