HL Deb 21 February 1957 vol 201 cc1162-4

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that Aquila Airways are—

  1. (1) a properly constituted and thoroughly responsible company;
  2. (2) in every way fit and proper persons to render normal amenities and reliable service in the conduct of an air line;
  3. (3) operating with safety and efficiency the flying boat services to Madeira during the winter months.]


My Lords, Aquila Airways, Limited, have been established since 1948 and have successfully operated flying boat services to Madeira since 1949. My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation is satisfied that the company's arrangements for this service are such as to ensure safety of operation. I can assure the noble Lord that the Minister would not otherwise have approved this and other regular scheduled services which are operated by the company with flying boats. There is, however, no sheltered water at or near Funchal, Madeira. Operations on the open sea cannot be undertaken when there is a heavy swell. Consequently, the Madeira service is particularly susceptible to delays owing to bad weather, especially in winter. I understand that, owing to the exceptionally had weather this winter, there have been some serious delays in the operation of the service which have naturally given rise to complaints by passengers. These complaints are at present being investigated. My right honourable friend has no reason to doubt the ability of Aquila Airways, subject to the operational limitations that I have mentioned, to provide a reliable service to the public on this route.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his full reply, may I ask him whether he is aware, or his right honourable friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation is aware, of the circumstances of a recent flight to Madeira, via Lisbon, by one of this company's flying boats when passengers were given misleading information, were subjected to intolerable delays and inconvenience, and suffered grave discomfort, while the advertised schedule of a nine-and-a-half hour flight to Madeira was prolonged to the astonishing period of seven and a half days? Will he not agree that this does savour of haphazard and unsatisfactory service?


My Lords, I am aware of the unfortunate case which the noble Lord has mentioned. It was due, as were several other cases this winter, as I have explained to the House, to exceptionally bad weather. The company are, I know, investigating this particular case, and a report will be available in due course. I am certain that the noble Lord will agree with me that safety conditions must in all cases be paramount.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, a further question arising out of the original Question and the supplementary? I know that he will forgive me if I put two or three supplementary questions to him in one, so quick is he, both intellectually and on his feet. Is he aware that this is a matter of the gravest importance, and one which does not concern merely the Madeira route but also the route operated by this company during the summer from Genoa to Southampton. Would it be true to say that this company is, in fact, a subsidiary of the P. & O., and will he not consider providing facilities for a debate? Secondly will he not consider whether there should not be an inquiry into the operation of all these private airlines—not merely Aquila Airways? Thirdly, does he appreciate that safety considerations are absolutely paramount? These people have a shack—one could not call it an air building—at Genoa. I have flown with the company, I have been to Genoa and I know this shack. I ask the noble Lord, if he will, to give urgent attention—as I am sure he will—to these matters. I understand that later on this afternoon we shall be discussing the question of individual homicide. This sort of thing may well be mass homicide.


My Lords, if I may say so with respect, the noble Lord, Lord Morris, is going not only a good deal further than the Question on the Order Paper would allow me to go, but also a good deal further than the whole subject at this moment suggests. I agree with him, as I have already stated, about the paramount importance of safety. I agree that this company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of British Aviation Services, Ltd. I can certainly assure him—and I hope that this assurance will satisfy him—that my right honourable friend will consider carefully the report, which he will no doubt see in due course, and will study it in the light of the observations which the noble Lord has just made.