§ 11.47 a.m.
§ LORD FORBES rose to call attention to the urgent need for improved air services and other air facilities in Scotland, so as to help stimulate the Scottish economy; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to call attention to the need to improve air services in Scotland because of my firm conviction that improved transport facilities, especially in the form of better air services, would do much to revitalise the whole of Scotland. Before I go on to say how our air services might be improved, I must first explain that, although it is generally appreciated by many who have studied this matter how these services might be improved, I find it far less well known in all circles why it is 1101 so urgent and vital that improvement must be achieved.
§ I believe that Scotland needs an effectual measure to cover the whole country, such as really good internal air services, because without doubt Scotland is a country of immense opportunities, though unfortunately many of these opportunities are not coming to light in the way they should. Instead, Scotland is struggling to overcome two major difficulties: first, the comparatively slow industrial growth, owing to her previous over-dependence on road industry; and, secondly, the drift of population from the remoter parts, especially the Highlands and Borders. There are parts of England, notably the Midlands and the South-East, where the rate of growth is considerable. There are parts of Scotland, such as the industrial belt, where growth is also taking place, though much more slowly; and there are other parts, especially the remoter parts, where the depopulation goes on at a steady rate. This, if left unchecked, must mean that one day parts of the country must inevitably become lifeless deserts.
§ Here I must quote a few figures concerning depopulation, as I think they are revealing and show the seriousness of the situation. Between 1901 and 1961 the Highlands lost 74,655 people, or 21 per cent. of the population existing at the beginning of the century. In the Borders, that is, the four Tweed Counties, there was a loss of 17,266 people, or 14 per cent. of the 1901 figure. Remember that these figures must be measured against an overall increase of 37 per cent. in population for the whole of the United Kingdom during the same period. The people of the Highlands and the Borders are leaving and going to the industrial belt of Scotland, to the Midlands and to South-Eastern England where, to put it quite simply, greater opportunities exist to make use of their education and initiative than are to be found where these people are born and bred. That is the problem.
§ Of course, Scotland does not grudge the rapid economic and material growth in the Midlands and South-East England, brought about largely through the ease of communication and the location of the focal centre of main home markets, finance, technology and government, though ironically and, in some ways, per-1102 haps happily, much of this growth has been brought about by Scottish brains exported South of the Border. Indeed, there is a desire in Scotland to make use of this vital English expansion, and perhaps one can even sense a feeling that those who live in the dangerously congested parts of England often yearn for a short respite in the hills, the glens and the wide open spaces to be found in Scotland. But before any of this can happen the distance barrier, however artificial it may be, must be broken down.
§ The Inquiry into the Scottish Economy 1961 by the Scottish Council (Development and Industry), better known as the Toothill Report, highlighted the fact that for the industrialist a very real distance barrier exists when a one-way journey takes over three and a half-hours. I have little doubt in my own mind that this also applies to every man of business, and not just the industrialist. How ridiculous that there should be a distance barrier in our small country especially in this space age, when people have travelled round the world more quickly than we can travel from the North of Scotland to the South of England? To-day, surely, air travel is the one form of transport which can break this distance barrier.
§ Never was the value of air services for business purposes brought home to me more forcibly than when it became possible for me to fly from Aberdeen to London and back home again in the same day. The service is by no means ideal, as I Shall touch on later, but it has convinced me, like many others, that air travel can open up a completely new business attitude. Previously, the ability to attend a meeting in London—which place, we must admit, has a tremendous magnetic pull for many, especially the business man—was coloured by the fact that I had to be away from the North-East of Scotland for a minimum of 39 hours. This long absence when time means so much these days, often compelled one to forgo business one would otherwise have wished to attend to.
§ What then, my Lords, are the requirements to-day? First, as was pointed out in the Toothill Report, the industrialist must have suitable facilities for personal communication so as to maintain ready contact with customers and suppliers. Here let me stress that distance is not necessarily a disadvantage that cannot 1103 be surmounted, as there are counter-attractions to physical proximity to the Midlands and the South-East of England, such as freedom from congestion, more plentiful labour and cheaper rents. All these attractions might well be taken advantage of by those who live in the horribly congested areas to be found in England. But for this desirable two-way traffic to be possible, ease of communication is essential. The industrialist wants space in which to work, space to expand, and, at the same time, he must be able to contact with the least possible delay those who are vital to his industry. This usually means that he must be able to do his business and be back home at his home base—and I stress this with a certain emotion—within ten hours of leaving home. I say "emotion", because when one is flying from Aberdeen to London the plane leaves Aberdeen at 6.45 a.m. and one does not land back at Aberdeen until 10.20 p.m., and to that must be added time to get to and from the airport.
§ Without doubt thought must also be given to those living outside the industrial belt of Scotland, and who are mainly dependent on the natural resources of the country—farming, forestry, fishing and the newer industry, tourism. Here again, personal communications are essential. Today few having Scotland at heart wish to be, or can be, completely cut off from the main centres of industry, technology and Government. Those of us like myself who have our homes in the remoter parts of the country, and who have lived there virtually all our lives, know that isolation, although very pleasant at times, does not generate big business. Here let me sound a word of warning, because often those who just visit Scotland for a short time go away with a completely misleading picture of what permanent life in those parts is like. Unfortunately, it is true to say that for most the attraction of higher reward for their labours, social attractions and ease of communication makes the drift from the remoter parts to the industrial areas go on unabated.
§ When I was at the Scottish Office, I saw very vividly that once rural communities sink below a certain level, they pass the point of no return and fade 1104 altogether. Viable communities there must be, and we must not for one moment take it that the complete depopulation of the Highlands and Islands is inevitable. But it will be so unless we realise that to reverse the present trend requires essentially a vast and immediate improvement in personal communications. In Canada, important expansion is taking place outwards into the remoter parts. The sequence of events is that a natural resource is discovered, and then it is made easy for people to get to the area to be developed. This means that where distances are great, as is often the case, it is air travel which supplies the necessary communications.
§ My Lords, Scotland, too, has her natural resources and the Government have done much to assist development of these. However, expansion will not take place outwards, as in Canada, until rapid communications have been provided. In the case of Scotland many natural resources have been found, but the communications are lacking. The Toothill Report, among other recommendations, laid stress on more services direct to the Continent for business men. However, while agreeing with this sentiment to some extent, I think that this is a matter of secondary importance to the provision of more and better internal services. The planning of more direct Continental services, in my view, would produce the difficulty as to where the services should be run: Paris, Rome, Cologne, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or where? There are so many possibilities.
§ We must, I think, get our priorities right over the improvements required, and I would say that, first and foremost, as was expressed by the Toothill Report, practically every industrialist or man of business should be able to meet his counterpart or contact within three and a half hours; and that means that he should have a maximum of 7 hours' travelling in a day. I think that 7 hours' travelling in a day must be regarded as a maximum, as time must be allowed for conducting business, and, in any event, the human body is not indestructible. To achieve this, people of business and others must be able to get from most areas in Scotland, except, to begin with, the very sparsely populated ones, to, say, the Midlands of England and London within three and a half hours.1105
§ How is this to be put into practice? Apart from improvements to existing services, additional services will obviously have to be introduced. I need not go into details of the services required as I know that the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) have gone fully into this matter and have made, or are about to make, their recommendations to Her Majesty's Government. Suffice it to say that among the really urgent improved or additional services required are a direct service between Aberdeen and London; a link from Inverness to Edinburgh, in addition to the present Inverness—Glasgow route; improved timing of services between the Midlands of England and Inverness, and better services to Orkney and Shetland, especially to improve delivery of mail. There is also the general requirement of more and better services from Edinburgh and Glasgow to the Midlands of England.
§ My Lords, there is one situation which I regard as lamentable. I refer to the plight of Dundee, which is the largest British city still without an air service. Her Majesty's Government would, I think, do well to remember that, although they are doing much to push the potential growth of Dundee's industrial estate, and also the New Town of Glenrothes, the main damping influence at present is the lack of air facilities.
§ Another point is that to-day a proportion of mail is rightly carried by air. Surely, this valuable operation should be extended, not only to speed up the delivery of mail, so that centres like Aberdeen could receive London mail by the first delivery instead of, as at present, the second, but also to provide more seats for passengers, who could make use of what, in all probability, would be off-peak flights. These off-peak flights are often ideal for the tourist. For he is not usually tied in the same way as the business executive who has to make his travel arrangements at comparatively short notice and has little or no choice as to which flight is suitable. In this respect, I hope that those who make out the internal flight schedules will remember that, essentially, they should meet the exacting requirements of the business man.
§ My Lords, if planes are to be able to land and take-off under almost any conditions, the vexed question of alternative runways, such as at Edinburgh, must be 1106 considered. Each runway, I know, probably costs in the region of £1 million; but let us not forget that the provision of new runways and the need to extend existing runways will not assume such importance if the Government are prepared to back the development of the civil version of the vertical take-off plane. Vertical descent greatly reduces the possibility of diversions or cancellations due to bad weather and, at the same time, reduces still further the remote, though possible, danger during landing and takeoff. Also, it must not be forgotten that operating aircraft over short distances such as on our internal services in the United Kingdom is more costly than operating on longer distances, mainly because of the high proportion of time spent in gaining height at take-off or losing height on landing, as well as the relatively short time spent cruising at a level altitude. Adding to this is the time often spent in a queue while circling, awaiting permission to land. All this, I think, points to the need for the vertical take-off plane for civil requirements, and for this development Government assistance will be essential.
§ If, as I believe is essential, not only must the present growth be met but potential demand pushed, then air companies must give further serious thought as to how they are to encourage people to fly. Considerable thought must be given to many matters such as the existing arrangements for rebates provided by credit travel orders. Then I believe that much thought will have to be given to the need for an air-bus service linking the remoter parts with the existing airports—possibly amphibious helicopters might be used. This air-bus feeder service might well be operated by the independent companies, who could probably operate more cheaply than B.E.A. owing to their lower overheads. Surely, also, it would be appropriate for local authorities, familiar with local requirements and with the help of Ministry of Aviation experts, to construct landing strips or small aerodromes, since this would at least give local initiative a stake in what would be an imaginative enterprise. This is an idea, and, as Mark Twain said, the man with an idea is a crank until the idea succeeds. Let us hope that this idea will succeed, as I have no ambition to become a crank; indeed I should be doing a disservice to 1107 Scotland if I were to try to become one.
§ In addition, these landing strips or small aerodromes might well be used by private aircraft; because there is obviously scope for the use of private executive aircraft, for owing to the convenience and flexibility of these private planes business is not only preserved but can be created. The main advantages of executive aircraft are a saving in time compared with ordinary air travel, convenience of being able to travel at a moment's notice, being able to work more easily during travel, a means of obtaining quickly urgent supplies or spare parts so as to maintain production, and, not least, the expansion of business made possible by increasing the amount and radius of business activity without necessarily increasing the supervisory or scientific staff.
§ In the United Kingdom there are, I understand, about 150 private business aircraft, fewer, probably, per head of population than in any Common Market country. And there can be little doubt that the lack of airfield facilities has been one of the factors which has retarded this obviously very desirable growth. The businessman gave up the stage coach for the faster train. From the train many went to the more convenient car, and now the executive must use the less crowded air, where, most important, he can relax from frustration. What better lead in Scotland could be given than for the Scottish Office to own a private plane, so that the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, as well as other Ministers and senior officials, could more frequently and with greater ease visit the remoter parts of the country? Then the people in the limbs of the country would at least feel that their problems were better understood, and the resultant confidence between the outlying areas and the Scottish Office could not fail to bring lasting mutual benefit.
§ Unfortunately, the people of this country cannot yet be called air-minded. However, I am certain that, given the chance, the people of Scotland will become air-minded very quickly, as there is a general realisation throughout the country that communications can solve many of Scotland's problems. Without much encouragement from the airlines, the recent increase in the 1108 number of passengers using Scottish airports has been substantial. I say "without much encouragement" because although B.E.A. have increased considerably their services and seat capacity—for the year 1961–62 B.E.A. carried within Scotland some 865,000 passengers, and for 1962–63 just over one million, an increase of about 16 per cent.—as always, B.E.A. increased their services when it was apparent that existing growth warranted it, although it could be strongly argued that potential demand rather than existing growth should really be the yardstick.
§ To illustrate this point I must become parochial for a moment by quoting a local situation, merely because I know it well. The growth of passengers flying between Aberdeen and London is impressive; in 1961–62, London to Aberdeen and vice versa, 13,353 passengers; in 1962–63 18,736 passengers—impressive in one sense, yet in fact these figures beat no relation to the potential. I say this because the present growth could be accelerated substantially if direct services were to be introduced on this route. At present the mere fact that London planes are routed through Edinburgh and Glasgow means that it is possible to take off from Aberdeen and get stuck at Edinburgh or Glasgow. Also, there is the inconvenience of taking a longer time than is necessary. Because of the possibility of getting stuck owing to bad weather halfway, remote though this possibility is, many Aberdeen businessmen still have to use the train so as to be more certain of reaching London for their meetings on the correct day. Airlines must consider how best to meet this potential demand. Surely any successful business has to take calculated financial risks, and if the airlines cannot meet the potential demand then they must approach Her Majesty's Government to underwrite the element of risk, as both airlines and Government must ensure that the improvement to our air services on which Scottish economic growth depends is not held up.
§ Then there is the difficulty of providing adequate services for the sparsely populated areas such as the Highlands and Islands. The service at present is being given by B.E.A. and is one which they claim is being financed by profits from other routes. Although competition 1109 is generally desirable, it is, I think, obvious that in this case there just is not the traffic to justify more than one operator in this area. However, if there is any question that a company is not giving the required service in the Highlands, then believe competition could and should be introduced by the Government requiring tenders from independent as well as State-owned companies for operating routes in the Highlands and Islands.
§ Many will know that recently there has been mention of the desirability of a marriage of convenience between B.E.A. and its poorer, though possibly more aristocratic, relation B.O.A.C. I cannot in this debate enter into the rights or wrongs of such a merger, but there is one aspect of the matter on which I will open my mouth, and without hesitation open it widely. If a suggested merger between B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. turns out like the suggested merger between the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board and the South of Scotland Electricity Board and holds up progress, it will be doing nothing less than a complete disservice to Scotland and must be regarded as a tragedy for the whole of Scotland.
§ Scotland needs to-day, more than anything else, urgent progress and not delaying tactics, however plausible the ultimate aim of those tactics may be. In the cases where independent companies are given a restricted licence by the Air Transport Licensing Board to operate on the same route as say B.E.A., it is only fair, I think, that the State-owned company should have some restriction placed on it. Unless this is so, the unrestricted operator could temporarily put on so many flights as to swamp the independent company out of business; and then, having forced its opponent out of business, the State-owned company could once more reduce the number of its flights.
§ Once people in this country begin to become air-minded, then will be the time to introduce walk-on, walk-off services such as one finds in many parts of the United States, the principle of these services being that if you miss the first plane you get on to the next, probably in about half an hour's time. To my mind, this is an ideal form of air transport for internal services, and it is 1110 the next logical step that must be taken in the United Kingdom. Perhaps here it is as well to point out that it is not necessary to have up-to-date aircraft for this type of service, though I must quickly add that this does not mean that the planes would be any the less safe, as these planes, like any others, would still have to pass the stringent airworthiness test. The planes for a walk-on, walk-off service should be equipped to take the maximum number of passengers of just one class, an all-tourist class, and there should be no question of having to keep up with operating companies from other countries like our overseas services, as our internal services must be kept for British companies.
§ I think that aircraft designers will also have to be on their toes. When I was flying, not so long ago, from London to Edinburgh in the Vanguard, one tourist passenger got on to the plane. He was slightly larger than most, and he could not sit down between the arms of the seat. That caused considerable consternation. Eventually, one of the B.E.A. stewards came up and, with the usual courtesy that one expects from B.E.A., said, "Sir, with the compliments of B.E.A. will you please move into a first-class seat".
§ Whilst on the subject of safety, I am sure all agree that British companies are to be congratulated not only on their excellent record of safety but also on the handling of planes generally. Since credit is being given where it is due, I should not like to leave out the Ministry, who operate a number of our airports so efficiently, though I would say that no bitter tears are likely to be shed when the Ministry hand over some of the northern airports, where, most regretfully, at present no Sunday services are being operated because the operating companies find the Sunday charges required by the Ministry to be excessive. This is a great pity, as there is no doubt that there is a real requirement for a 7-day week service.
§ To-day, as the result of the Beeching Report, Scotland is faced with the possibility that more of her railway lines will be closed down. But, with the remaining essential or economic lines being left, and with considerably improved air travel, Scotland can become one of the most 1111 accessible parts of the British Isles, because her airports are usually remarkably free from fog and the roads in Scotland, in general, in comparison with those in England, are not overcrowded. It is, of course, ridiculous that, in a small country such as ours, there should be any distance barrier. But there is one, and it is vital for the economic life of the country that this barrier should be removed.
There can be no doubt that good communications are essential, not only for growth, but I would go so far as to say survival for any area. I was delighted to see reported that my noble friend the Leader of this House has in his eight-point plan of regional development for the North-East of England, the point of
improvement of communications by the best use of all possible means".
This demonstrates the importance attached to good communications by not only the noble Viscount, but, I hope, Her Majesty's Government.
§ There is no doubt that the wheels of progress in Scotland are turning, but something must be done to get them turning faster. To do this, new and ingenious methods must be vigorously adopted, because there is little doubt that the speed with which these new methods are adopted will determine the actual rate of growth of the Scottish economy. I have tried to give my ideas for making the pulse of Scotland beat faster. I would ask Her Majesty's Government, the airline companies, and not least the people of Scotland themselves, as all will have to play their part, to give serious thought to these ideas prescribed by me to give that stimulating tonic that Scotland so badly needs today. There is little doubt that we are on the brink of a real breakthrough as far as communications are concerned. We must, therefore, put all our efforts, as I have attempted to do, into reinforcing success because we must effectively accomplish this breakthrough.
§ To sum up, a vastly improved air service would, first, stimulate the Scottish economy quicker than any other measure because it would affect most people on whom economic growth depends; secondly, it would link Scotland with the expanding economy of the Midlands and the South-East of England; and, thirdly, it would affect the whole of Scotland, including even the glens and the Highlands, doing much to arrest the rural depopula- 1112 tion. Once the right conditions have been created, Scots will not be slow to grasp the many opportunities in their country which at present have not fully matured. Exploitation of these opportunities would, I am sure, not only benefit Scotland, but would also help to relieve inflationary pressures in the Midlands and the South-East of England, and, more important still, stimulate the whole nation by making it possible to bring present idle resources in Scotland into full productive use. There is potential growth all over Scotland, and this growth can be achieved with, first and foremost, improved air services and other air facilities. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, when in your Lordships' House earlier in the year the Scottish economic position was discussed, the question of Scottish air services was touched on by a number of noble Lords Who took part in that most useful debate. Among them was the noble Lord, Lord Forbes. But while the provision of air services was obviously an integral part of any discussion of the Scottish economy, Lord Forbes was wise in intimating that he proposed to make it the subject of a separate debate, on which we are now embarking. In the first instance I wish to thank him for having taken that decision, and then to go on to express further thanks for the way in which he has introduced this debate. He has covered a very wide range indeed, and it is perhaps interesting, and points the importance of what he is asking for Scotland, to note that if a plane had taken off at the time he started it would by now be in Scotland. But the second point which occurs to me is that he has gone so carefully into the whole field that one's first impression is that there is no need for any of the other noble Lords down to speak to say anything at all, because I cannot think of any aspect of the problem upon which he has not dwelt, and dwelt exceedingly well.
§ SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear!
§ LORD HUGHES
Those of you who rushed here to speak on the Married Women's Savings Bill and the Public Lavatories (Turnstiles) Bill need not, however, get unduly enthusiastic, because it will not deter the other ten of us from making our contributions.
1113 This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of the Scottish position at the present time, because in other fields we have been left behind in the march of progress but not more than in relation to air services. I wish to suggest to your Lordships, in a comparatively brief speech, that we shall not make the progress which all people want in furthering the Scottish economy, whether in the industrial field or in the expansion of the tourist industry, until we regard the provision of air services, both long-distance and domestic, within Scotland as something of the first importance. Having accepted that, we must proceed from that point to the acceptance of the second; that the initiation and expansion of these services must in the first instance depend on the strongest possible Government support. That was quite clearly indicated by B.E.A. when they recently expressed willingness to expand Scottish services provided they received some measure of public support from the Government. They mentioned a figure of £1½ million a year. That may seem a great deal of money, but when compared with the extent to which the Board of Trade and other Government industries are pouring money into industry in Scotland it is a mere "drop in the bucket". I suggest that in many instances the subsidy need be only of comparatively short duration, and I shall return to that in a moment or two.
That in itself will not be sufficient. We know that if the Beeching proposals for Scotland are put into effect many areas of Scotland presently served to some extent by a rail service will be deprived of it entirely. The road pattern will take many years before it even begins to approach the sort of standard people down South expect as the normal, reasonable type of road on which to travel. I often wonder what is the real impression that tourists in Scotland, going up to the Highlands in increasing numbers in bus parties, take back with them after their experience of travelling for two hours on a Highland road which caters for single-line traffic only, with passing places every 20 or 30 yards. I wonder especially what is the impression of the large number of people who attempt to manœuvre caravans on such roads. What do they think of Scotland after they have gone back? It must be an indication of the value they place on 1114 the natural beauties of Scotland that, in spite of these handicaps, they come back year after year. But if we are to expect a real expansion of tourist traffic we must make provision for people who want to come in by air. Some of the points mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, could lead to a considerable expansion of that tourist traffic.
My primary reason in intervening in this debate is to stress the need for air services as a necessary tool for the expansion of the new industries we wish to see located in Scotland. It may be that people who have been carrying on old industries over a period of time are content to put up with the disadvantages and hardships of the older forms of transport, but those concerned with the industry of the 20th century expect to move about in a 20th century fashion. May I give an indication of the sort of way these people look at it? Lord Forbes has mentioned my home town of Dundee. We have there a very prosperous industry set up by Americans, the National Cash Register factory, now employing almost 4,000 people. This was built up from an initial employment factor intended some twelve years ago to be one of 500 only.
These factories in Dundee are visited from time to time by the American executives. They fly from Ohio to New York, from New York to London; they visit their factories in Germany and Scandinavia and their markets in Italy and almost every other Continental country by air. And not until they intend to visit their factory in Dundee are they deprived of the opportunity to go by air. It is not surprising, therefore, that one of these executives made the journey from London to Dundee by British Railways on at least four occasions before he discovered that the Kingdom of Fife was not in fact an island—he having gone over the Forth Bridge and then, in due course, the Tay Bridge, and having seen these large expanses of water. He, and many others, would like to be able to go to Dundee by air.
Because this debate is taking place on a Friday it is possible for me to get a plane home this afternoon—which I cannot do, say, on a Thursday. But it is an interesting example to point out that if I leave this House at 4.30 to get a plane which leaves London Airport at 1115 6 o'clock, I get into Edinburgh at 7.20 to find that the train for Dundee left at 7.5. The next train leaves at 9.10, which is a little too early for the people who elected to go up on the 7.45 plane, because they get in five minutes after the Dundee train has left. This is how we get a co-ordinated transport system on British Railways, appearing to work on the basis: "Well, whatever happens, we are not going to give the slightest encouragement to Dundee people to go from London to Edinburgh by air, because we will make it as difficult as possible for them to get out of Edinburgh." That policy, encouraged by Her Majesty's Government, is perfectly reasonable, because their attitude is that the worst thing that can happen to transport in this country is that there should be a co-ordinated service. The word "co-ordination" seems to have scared them. They seem to associate with it the fact that co-ordination means one huge nationalised undertaking looking after the lot. That might be a very good thing—
§ LORD HUGHES
I agree that it is nonsense it should be done. But in fact it is what Her Majesty's Government have been doing for the past twelve years.
§ LORD HUGHES
The Minister from the transport side says that it is nonsense. I would refer him to the first Report made by the Chairman of the Scottish Transport Council appointed by the Minister of Transport some years ago. The first thing that he did then was to call for a co-ordinated transport service, but the report was pigeon-holed, has never even been published, and no action of course has been taken upon it; and it was largely because the phrase "co-ordinated service" was used.
A co-ordinated service does not necessarily mean that the whole service must be under one ownership. It does not mean that it must all be under State ownership. The reasonable thing is that whoever is operating the system should be required by the authorities to do so in the best interests of the economy of the country. From that point of view an integrated service, under which those 1116 operating different angles of it are required to work so far as possible with each other rather than against each other, could go a long way in making use of what we have at the present time. But what we have is much less than what we need, and I wish to support the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, very strongly in his demand both for airports capable of handling the long-distance services, and for those which are capable of operating feeder services. He went into so much detail in other aspects, and touched very briefly but most tellingly on the Dundee problem, that I may be forgiven if I confine myself to a reference to the Dundee and Fife areas, with both of which I have personal contact.
As some of your Lordships know, Dundee has recently taken steps to establish a municipal airport at Dundee. It is only a rudimentary service. It is capable of taking charter aircraft, and probably could take the smaller type of aircraft—the 12 to 16-seater craft—which is ideal for a feeder service, say, between Dundee and Edinburgh. If the necessary encouragement is received by B.E.A., or other operators for that matter—because although I am a believer in nationalisation, I should much prefer to have an air service of any kind rather than none, and I do not care at this stage whether it is operated by B.E.A. or anybody else; the important thing is that it should be provided—that service can operate between Dundee and Edinburgh. The same thing will apply in Fife. A proposal will shortly be put up to the Scottish Office by the Development Corporation of which I am Chairman, to establish a similar airfield at Glenrothes. It will be within two miles of the centre of the town, and the total expenditure involved in acquiring and equipping such an air service primarily for charter flights will not exceed £10,000, of which £7,000 represents the value of the land to be acquired. So I do not think anyone could say that we are being extravagant in the use of public money in the way that that service will be provided.
We already have an assurance from one of the companies established in Glenrothes, that, if such a field is provided, their company will be prepared to provide an aircraft not only to be used by themselves but to be made available as a charter service to other industrialists in the new town, and to 1117 the New Town Corporation itself. But that is only touching part of the problem. While it is important that we do provide for the industrialist wishing to provide his own aircraft, and while we express the hope that more and more of that will be done, because it is a first-class sign of expanding industry and of the right type of industry, if we get people prepared to do that sort of thing it will only touch the fringe of the number of people in Scotland who ought to be travelling by air. The vast majority of these people must depend on services provided by the operating companies, whether B.E.A. or the private undertakers, and for these services something very much more elaborate than the airfield at Dundee or the airfield at Glenrothes, or other such airfields, is necessary.
I wish to make my final point in connection with the provision, say, of a service at Leuchars, which would serve both the northern part of the county of Fife and the City of Dundee, and in very large measure the counties of Perth and Angus. This was suggested by a number of organisations and by myself, when I was late Provost of Dundee, as far back as 1958. We discussed it with the then station commander at Leuchars and he, with his personal interest as the commander there, could see no insuperable difficulties. Unfortunately, the project never got off the ground at all, for the simple reason that B.E.A. gave us not the slightest encouragement. They proved to their satisfaction, although I must say right away to nobody else's, that they would lose £50,000 a year by making the planes touch down at Leuchars. The argument is that it is very difficult to share an airport between the military and the civil authorities. I do not have the slightest doubt that there are difficulties, but many other countries have overcome these difficulties.
It seems to me that it would be reasonable, for instance, that a quick service to be provided for Dundee could be linked with the desire which the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, has expressed for a better service from Aberdeen by giving an East Coast service, perhaps initiated at Aberdeen, touching down at Leuchars, and adding to the Aberdeen potential. Remember that this area has a population of half a million and includes, as 1118 the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, has said, the largest city in the United Kingdom presently without an air service. With these two services added together a person leaving Aberdeen could, in fact, arrive in London very much sooner than he does at the present time. I do not think it could be regarded as an insuperable obstacle from the military point of view. I hope most sincerely that the appropriate Ministries, and not least the Scottish Office, will be prepared at first hand to investigate this proposal, and not necessarily wait until it is pressed upon them by everybody concerned, as I have no doubt it otherwise will be. But let us, for once at any rate, have a situation where the initiative is taken by the appropriate Government Department, rather than wait for pressure to be exerted upon them.
If the Government are prepared to do something of this kind they will have comparatively little expense in ensuring that they get a quicker and a greater return from the amount of money from public funds being invested at the present time in establishing new industry in Scotland. They will help the growth points, which presently are not served by air services in every case, and they will help to maintain industry in some of the other areas presently suffering from more than their fair share of unemployment. In so far as many of these services will also be capable of serving the tourist industry, which we in Scotland are already of the opinion is becoming almost our most important industry, by tying them up together they will reap a second dividend in bringing a great deal of money into the economy and a great deal of money from abroad. It is not always just a case of seeking to transfer money from South of the Border to North of the Border. The important thing is to bring more money into the British economy as a whole, and that, I think, is well worth the investment of a comparatively modest sum by Her Majesty's Government.
My Lords, I can well understand now why the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, in covering this field took as long as he did, because once one begins to deal with this subject one realises there is so much that has to be said about it that one can go on and on. But I recognise that the greatest disservice that I could do to this discussion would 1119 be to allow my enthusiasm to run away with my discretion. I recognise that there are to be nine other speakers, each with his contribution to make to this discussion, each with his own points to make. I am quite certain that, at the end of this debate, Her Majesty's Government will be left in no doubt that there are many people in Scotland who are of the opinion that the air service at the present time is not the best that could be provided.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I want to intervene only very briefly in this debate, for two main reasons. The first reason is because I have for a long time been very interested in the airport at Perth. I think it was opened in 1936, and my father was at the time one of the people who were most instrumental in keeping it going and working on it. During the war it ran a fair amount of services for passengers, but since the war these have fallen away a great deal, and at the present time it is used purely for charter flights, training flights and such services as that. Although we have tried to encourage and stimulate the B.E.A. to run a service there, up to the present we have had no particular success in that line; and it is the same with the other companies who supply services. I wondered, when the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, was speaking, whether there was not really a place for an airport to cope with Perth, to cope with Dundee and to cope with the North of Fife. Unfortunately, Perth Airport is not very near Dundee, but, as it is a functioning airport and quite a good one, it might indeed be better than nothing at all. It is not very far by road from Perth Airport to Dundee; and although there is one starting at Dundee now, I wonder whether Perth could not join up with it and be used in the same sort of way.
There are two further points I should like to make. First, I would support the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, in what he said about the importance of these long-distance flights from various parts of Scotland to London and the Midlands; but I would put in a plea that B.E.A. should make them at a rather more convenient time. I do not know whether 1120 it is my peculiarity, but I never find, when I want to go to Scotland or come back by plane, that there is a suitable time for me, and it seems that the flights are not very well placed for serving those who want to do a great deal of business in a very short time. It may mean that they have to be up rather earlier in the morning than some of us, who are not quite so pressed, would need to be.
The second point I want to bring out is that one can quite understand, in a way, why B.E.A. do not want to run these services at a loss. In Scotland, you have to take the services in two parts. First, there are those which should be commercially profitable, in the sense that there is no reason to subsidise them—and they, I think, should not be put into being unless they can be run at a reasonable profit, or reasonably commercially. Then there are a large number of services which have to be maintained for what one might may call social reasons—I do not mean social in the society sense, but from the social service point of view—such as the Highlands and Islands medical and other services which, after all must be subsidised, because if they were not there there would be no transport at all, and it obviously would not be an economic thing to run a service like that with no subsidy. Much in the same way, there are large parts of Scotland where transport is not very good and where it is going to become a great deal worse, if what we are told is going to happen does occur. Therefore I think there is good ground for the institution of more subsidised services as performing a real social service and really doing something for the people who live in Scotland.
My Lords, I do not want to repeat what has been said about the value to industry (there are many noble Lords down to speak after me), but I wanted to make those one or two points to the noble Lord, and I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, very much in the Motion which he has proposed to your Lordships now.
§ 12.54 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, I am not as well informed as I ought to be on the Scottish airway services, and I am therefore particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, has introduced this Motion, because it will give us all 1121 a chance to air our various views and it will help me, and I am sure many other noble Lords, to learn what is the progress that is being made by the Government and by the airways in providing us with a service which is so essential, as has been illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and, indeed, by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree.
I start by looking at the Toothill Report, to which so many of us refer whenever we are thinking about Scottish questions. I see there that, on page 67, at the top the Committee say:We regard the provision of adequate air services for business as a matter of such urgency to the satisfactory development of the U.K. economy, placed as it is on the periphery of Europe, that we should be prepared if necessary to recommend an outright subsidy to provide it.Then, further on in the Report they refer again toa subsidy particularly in relation to the northern part of Great Britain.I am not entirely certain whether a subsidy is or is not necessary. I am puzzled in that connection about what happened to the demand that the British European Airways made a short while ago, that they should have a subsidy if they were to provide an adequate service. I am not sure whether the figure was a million and a half, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, or whether it was half a million. None the less, they did ask for a subsidy. Then we heard no more. I do not know if I have rather a suspicious mind, but I wonder whether they suddenly said to themselves, "We had better be careful. If we ask for a subsidy the independent operators may ask for a subsidy, too. That would not do; that would not suit us, and so we will drop the whole thing and carry on as we can." In a sense, I do not blame British European Airways for suddenly realising, perhaps, that they had made a mistake, and not wanting to help the independent operators. After all, they have a charge that they have to make profits. But I am not sure whether that is the right policy in regard to Scotland and its special circumstances.
I wonder whether there is not room—indeed, I am sure there is room, and proper room—for both the B.E.A. and for the independent operators. Very simply, B.E.A. must, I think, if 1122 it is the chosen operator, do the Highland services, the Islands, and then probably the mainline services from Edinburgh and from Glasgow to London. But all the shuttle services from various centres, whether it is Aberdeen, Perth or any of the towns one thinks of, Should also work in with the B.E.A. For example, if they bring passengers to Edinburgh or to Glasgow from the outlying districts, they should get some credit for that. When the passengers go on to London they should get their share in the fares. What is the attitude of the B.E.A. to that? They say, "Certainly not; we are not going to allow you any credit at all for the fact that you have brought passengers from Aberdeen, or from wherever else it may be. That is our business. You must take it as it is. You cannot get any advantage out of it."
Furthermore, if they start a service at, say, round about ten o'clock from some place or other, B.E.A. immediately put on other planes, one starting at half past nine and the other starting at half past ten, and say, "That is jolly well going to stop them getting on with the business!". I think that is very unfortunate, and it is the wrong attitude for Scotland, from everybody's point of view. What they ought to do—and this seems to me to be common sense and of the greatest value both to the tourist and to the businessman—is to work things out together. If they are going to work things out together, what they should do is to draw up a joint timetable. Try to get a timetable for services to-day. What do you find? You certainly cannot find what is the general run of plane services all through Scotland. You can get a B.E.A. timetable, or you can ask some travel agent how to get from somewhere to somewhere else. Is this not a ridiculous state of affairs when what we are really anxious about is that the whole of the country should be properly served? That is my first point.
Then, I see that in the Toothill Report the Committee talk about the need and urgency of an independent, expert inquiry. I believe that that inquiry has not at this moment been set up, because discussions are going on between the British Council and the airways. Indeed, I think that probably some report has been worked on or discussed between them, but I do not think we have seen 1123 it yet. I hope that very soon we shall be told just what has been, if not agreed, recommended as a result of those discussions.
So much for the general issue. In coming to the particular, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, that we should have, as it were, a bogey in the golf score sense of 3½ hours from any part of the centre. If you apply that to one or two areas that I know well (taking, for example, the area around Perth and including Dundee), you will agree that we ought to have a good airfield provided. I do not mind if it be at Dundee or Scone; but in any case, we ought to have a good airfield to shuttle air passengers via Edinburgh to London. The same argument would hold good of somewhere like Dumfries. If you are at Dumfries you must motor 80 miles into Glasgow to get on a plane. If there were an airfield around there, say at Annan or at Carlisle, you would get the 3½ hours bogey. We certainly need such an airfield in areas like that. Again, the same thing is true of the Border country. There is a very important concentration of industry and agriculture around Hawick and Kelso; but there is no convenient airport. You must go to Newcastle or Edinburgh. I hope it will be thought about in terms of a relatively small airport where a shuttle service would enable one in three and a half hours to reach London.
The only other detailed point I wish to make is in relation to Edinburgh. I really think that Edinburgh Airport deserves a better airfield than it has at the present time. The number of passengers in Edinburgh has more than doubled in less than four years; it is over 300,000 at the present time. And what do we have in the way of an airfield? We have one extended runway. Many of your Lordships know what happens if there is a wind in the area—and there are often winds in Scotland. They say, "Sorry; the port is closed. It is all shut off." Is this not a ridiculous situation? We are dealing here with the capital of the country. Although it will be expensive, I hope that something will be done to give us another runway which will run the other way, so that we may use Edinburgh whether there are winds or not. The idea of closing the service because of wind is ridiculous.
1124 I am sure that the Government recognise the importance of the air services, but I am afraid that they pay only lip service to it. With the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, I would ask: "What is the use of spending tens of million pounds to help industry in Scotland or in the northern parts of Great Britain if, in trying to save the odd half-million pounds, business men or tourists are unable to use the facilities they need to do the business they want to do?" I hope the Government will take their responsibility with all seriousness. They should not say, "It is not our business; B.E.A. is an independent operator." For me, the proof that they have taken this matter seriously would be for me to see in the next few months a joint timetable issued, so that both independent airlines and B.E.A. could collaborate together for the good of us all.
§ [The Sitting was suspended at five minutes past one o'clock and resumed at five minutes past two o'clock.]
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, although we resume this debate refreshed, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has said, the matter is worthy of being treated in the widest terms, I do not propose to take much of your Lordships' time. The problem is a very real one and perhaps this debate will contribute towards a solution; but it can be no easy solution, as doubtless we shall hear from the noble Lord who is to reply. I propose to concentrate on the problems of the businessman in the industrial belt and the Lowlands. The improved air services which are so desirable, even desperately needed, can be divided into three classes—those internal to Scotland, those connecting with England and those with the Continent. The problem is, how much can the economy of Scotland support: and if the Scottish economy cannot support it, who is to pay the difference—the State?—and calculate the measure? In any case, such a subsidy would present great difficulties.
The problems of distance, terrain and weather, with which I naturally couple the seasons, are extremely complex in Scotland. So far as the seasonal effect is concerned, this is, of course, a brake on tourism, to which I do not propose to refer. The businessman requires an 1125 all-the-year-round service. If I may quote here from the Toothill Report, it says:To the businessman what matters more is frequency of service and availability of seats.Scotland dearly needs such facilities, but are they feasible, economically and physically? To this matter I propose to give some attention, but I imagine that even if we accept that an element of subsidy is necessary to support Scottish air services, resources must be fully strained by the work of improving airports, to which my noble Friend Lord Perth and other noble Lords have referred. A new runway at Turnhouse is an essential before that airport becomes practicable, even taking into account the fact that fog will close it down, however many runways there are. Abbotsinch is going to cost a pretty penny, but something must be done; and Scottish weather is against all-the-year-round flying.
One aspect of the problem, which nobody has yet mentioned, lies in the successful work done by the air service to the Western Isles and the remarkable change that has taken place, since my childhood, in the accessibility of these places and in the improvement of the standard of living of those who choose to live there. Talking of Abbotsinch, I am one of those who believe that Prestwick, with its wonderful weather record, would have made a better airport for Glasgow, provided—and always provided—that a fast railcar service linked it with the centre of Glasgow. The mileage is 27, and (I know that it is easy to say this) I think it safe to say that we can look forward to an era when traffic congestion on the roads is going to increase rather than decrease, as those who travel by air to Heathrow know only too well. Two or three weeks ago, it took me a great deal longer to get from Heathrow to the City than either the 35 miles from my home to Turnhouse or from Turnhouse to Heathrow by air. It is tragic, to my mind, that the planners for London Airport were unable to grasp firmly the nettle of access thereto, and to put into it the fast railcar service connection with Victoria, which was contained in the original conception.
Turning from airfields and traffic, the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, to whom we 1126 are all grateful for introducing this Motion, touched on the problem of the actual aircraft concerned in services such as we require in Scotland, and I keep saying to myself: "Where is the Dakota of to-day?" Having spent some time a year or two ago in Australia, one feels jealous of their attitude towards air travel and the walk-on, walk-off system, to which the noble Lord referred. There again we come back to the problems of climate and space. It will be many a long day before a sort of aerial-bus service can be visualised, though I am sure it would be a great attraction to Scotland and the development of its economy, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in his wise and humorous speech, made such pointed reference.
The noble Lord, Lord Forbes, made reference to the possible use of vertical take-off machines, and while this is attractive I imagine that it will be many years before commercial loads can be handled in that way, though I hope that the day may come earlier than we anticipate. Nevertheless, it is possible to-day to design aircraft with short take-off and landing runs, and quite good carrying ability. But whether they would be useable all the year round, it is difficult to say. However, it is worth while mentioning, as a businessman, that one could sacrifice the odd 20, 30 or 40 minutes in a run, even from, say, Glenrothes to London, if it meant using a machine which could be run possibly at all. That is a point which I trust the Government will bear in mind in their approach to the subject.
With regard to overseas services, I am not convinced that in the foreseeable future it is likely that there will be sufficient business traffic available from Scotland to make any sort of direct service, certainly from Turnhouse to the Continent, viable. It is for that reason, to some extent, that I lean towards the development of Prestwick. Though one must remember that there are Continental services running in and out of Prestwick, at the same time, the transatlantic services are pretty variable in their times of landing and take off. The one thing that can be done in regard to improving Continental services from Scotland is the improvement of the interlocking with services from Heathrow. Businesswise, it should be remembered 1127 that it is services in the evening and morning that matter: a businessman wanting to get to the Continent after a day's work in Scotland should be able to get a ready service, almost a walk-on service, to Heathrow, and there be able, without unreasonable delay to get one of the multifarious services to the Continent. At present such things are not properly timed. It is fair to say that Heathrow is practically on a direct line from Abbotsinch to Paris, and that is another reason why the idea of a direct service may not be viable for some considerable time.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, I feel that if one let one's interest in the matter outweigh one's discretion one could go on and on, and I do not propose to do so. There are other noble Lords who propose to speak and, I am sure, to refer to the Highlands. That is a matter which needs careful attention, and all one can say is that this debate is serving to set out the manifold difficulties, and I look forward very much to hearing the reply from the noble Lord, Lord Chesham. Let us hope that some of us have been able to proffer some help on a very vexed, but very important, question.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, this debate was started by my noble friend Lord Forbes and, together with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and subsequent speakers he has gone thoroughly into practically all the detail. In fact, that cuts out a great deal of what I was going to say, to the great benefit, I am sure, of all your Lordships. But there are one or two points to add. To start with, I think my noble friend Lord Forbes is lucky to be able to get to London from Aberdeen. You cannot do so from Inverness with any degree of certainty. Admittedly the great City of Aberdeen has a bigger business population, but we are growing very fast in the North, much faster than a lot of people realise, and there will be an increasing demand for air transport, which I will go into briefly later on.
At the moment, one cannot get to Aberdeen to connect up from Inverness; there is no service from Inverness to Aberdeen. You may say, "Well, you can book from Inverness to London". 1128 You can, but you do not always get there. It has come to my knowledge more than once that people have done that and have arrived in Glasgow to find that there is no seat on the plane continuing their journey from Glasgow to London. This morning I was approached by a great friend of mine, who said he was trying to book back from London to Inverness in three weeks' time, which one would think was enough notice. This was not possible. There was no way of booking, because there were not enough planes. We know that possibly at the moment the financial position makes it difficult for B.E.A. to say that they will increase, modify and bring up to date the service without a subsidy.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said that it involved a matter of over £1 million. I had a meeting a few days ago with the manager of B.E.A., Scottish Section, who was very co-operative. He mentioned a figure of £750,000, which is possibly a cheap price if we get a proper service, although I am not at the moment advocating a subsidy until it is proved absolutely necessary. We have the pulp mill which is to start in Inverness. We have this big development around the area of Invergordon. In another place the honourable Member for Ross and Cromarty asked, as I am asking, that Invergordon may be made a special area, as I say it could be. I have studied what is going on there, and it is quite magnificent.
It is starting with a big distillery, but it is going on to much bigger things. But this development will be impeded if we do not have a proper air service and rail service. I know we are not talking about railways now, but they are in the same category. Because of that, I feel that B.E.A. have a certain responsibility. I heard once upon a time that unless you speculate you cannot accumulate. I have never been able to prove that, because I have never had enough money, but, to my mind, in this case B.E.A. have a chance on their own, if they will really go about it with imagination. They may not make it this year, but they will make it in two or three years' time; of that, I am utterly convinced. I am speaking from the point of view of areas I know, but I believe if applies probably to the whole of Scotland, and no doubt the noble Lord, 1129 Lord Hughes, will agree with that so far as his own Dundee area is concerned.
As I say, I will not go into any detail; the subject has been covered by others infinitely better than I could do; but if it is found that B.E.A. are in difficulties and cannot give what we must have, which is a proper air service for our own development and our own survival, then I think it is up to Her Majesty's Government to step in and see that we get it, because, in the long run, whatever Government it may be, we do not want a depopulated Highlands, particularly when we are just on the brink of getting something going up there—and I believe that applies to the whole of Scotland. I think I have said enough in very broad terms because everybody else has crossed the necessary "t's", dotted the "i's" and done what they should have done. I support wholeheartedly, as does everybody in your Lordships' House, my noble friend Lord Forbes.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ LORD GLENTANAR
My Lords, we have had a very good speech by my noble friend Lord Forbes and I rise to support him. As the noble Lord who has just spoken said, the "t's" have been mostly crossed and the "i's" dotted, so I am not going to attempt to do anything of that kind. I have studied this matter as much as I can in the intervening time and I feel that a thorough and comprehensive survey has been made by the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) assisted by the Scottish Advisory Council for Civil Aviation. I believe that this plan has become known as the "Master Plan for Scotland" and that it contains most of the items where improvement is needed of services which have been mentioned by the noble Lord who moved this Motion. All I hope is that we shall have some indication this afternoon that the plan which is to be put forward by the Scottish Council will receive all the attention and support from the Government which I am sure it deserves.
§ 2.24 p.m.
§ LORD LOVAT
My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, with the greatest sincerity and with considerable feeling. Speaking as a Highlander, I have noticed that nearly all the distinguished speakers who have 1130 gone before have come from Aberdeenshire and the Scottish areas which are a positive Land of Goschen in contrast to the Far North; and, except in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, these more inaccessible areas have only been touched on. While I am fully aware that the Wise Men came from the East, I hope your Lordships will forgive me that I have been lured out of my tribal cave by my noble friend Lord Forbes to speak on a matter which is very close to the Highlands and their very great problems of distance, lack of communications and the real difficulties of survival.
The problem of depopulation has been touched on by several speakers. There is the threat of the Beeching plan, which is positively disastrous so far as the Highlands and Islands are concerned. Many of your Lordships may be unaware that there is to be no passenger service whatsoever on the trains North of Inverness—not one carriage of any sort or description. So, if you wish to go North to John o'Groats, a distance of 140 miles, if you want to go to the Orkneys, or to the Hebrides, you have to suffer the bucketing in the Minch for eleven hours and arrive with your children and family in an exhausted state at the Kyle of Lochalsh or Wick or Thurso, and then go by bus, with prams and screaming children and everything else. In a rough crossing, such as we know in the Highlands, that is too much to ask of anybody, whether it is tourists or the hardy breed of native who still survive, though in diminishing numbers. We are not thinking in terms of getting to London and back in a day—that is far too remote a possibility. We are thinking in terms of going about our everyday business or encouraging tourism and industry to an area which is rapidly becoming desolate through lack of sufficient appreciation or understanding from Government sources of the problems.
We have only just managed to work out a schedule whereby people in Inverness are not kept waiting five hours in Glasgow to catch what is a so-called connection down to London. It was largely due to the efforts of the Highland Members of Parliament and the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, who last year defeated a plan of B.E.A. by which those travelling from the North should have had to wait five hours in 1131 Glasgow for the one plane of the day in order to get to London. That was an insult to anybody's intelligence. We have now been given one plane a day, a Herald which is to leave Glasgow in the morning, stop at Inverness and then go on to Wick and the Orkneys. There is a further plane which flies from Glasgow to Benbecula, on to Harris and Stornoway, in the Outer Hebrides. Both those planes have to return, whatever the weather, to Inverness on the same day in time to catch the connection, if they are lucky, in Glasgow, at seven in the evening, which cannot possibly wait. But as Mistress Macpherson said, "That is a pheesical impossibility".
I hope your Lordships will bear these facts in mind. Even the Dakotas, which are piloted by old war-time acquaintances of mine, which were taken off last year (you have to wrestle them off the ground, like bull-dogging a steer in the Calgary Stampede) were more acceptable—because we had two every day; one in the morning and one in the afternoon—than the present system of one plane a day which has to perform an impossible task. I do not have to tell your Lordships that whether at Stornoway, or Harris, or at Kirkwall, Orkney, there are very great weather problems. In winter the planes are lucky to fly four out of six days a week. In summer there may be a gale wind in the outer islands when it is perfectly fair on the mainland, and the aircraft may be unable to take off so that passengers waiting at Inverness are unable to get to Glasgow to catch the connection to London. So there is not just one problem, but three, all of which are fraught, not perhaps with the same hazards but certainly the same uncertainty and difficulties as one had in the war in flying over "the Hump" in Burma to see General Chiang Kai-Shek. I suggest that it is out of date and wholly unreasonable.
I would tender one word of caution in certain proposals which I am going to make. I think there have been too many generalisations by some of the previous speakers, and the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, may in fact need something to bite on so far as Highland transport and Highland communications are concerned. There is a great deal of difference between the requirements of the Highland area in winter and in 1132 summer. That is a point which I cannot sufficiently emphasise. There are several hundred per cent. more people travelling in the summer, and by that token we should at least double our air fleet requirements in the summer months. It is an impossibility to book ahead three weeks from now, going either way. Clearly, that is an absurd state of affairs.
As the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, has said, it is one thing to anticipate the needs of a community, and a wholly different thing to wait until something becomes a crying demand before it is actually put into effect. We need two aeroplanes a day at Inverness going to and coming from Glasgow, and I would respectfully suggest that it is not unreasonable to suppose that people would like to go from Inverness to Edinburgh or, equally, to Aberdeen. These things are plain common sense and connections should not be difficult. But at the moment the time-table is so tight that there can be no allowances made for delays at either end at these various stopping places which are continually beset by bad weather conditions over which nobody can have any control.
Ironically enough, it is only a matter of luck that I am here to-day to address your Lordships' House. My plane was stuck at Kirkwall in Orkney in a haar—which is a Scottish name for a sea fog; it can come down in a matter of half an hour. As luck would have it, a passenger on the plane was a distinguished Member of this House, the Chairman of the Forestry Commission, Lord Radnor, who made it his business to hold up the plane in Glasgow. Even then, the plane did not wait. The seven o'clock plane to London went. But another plane had been diverted from Turnhouse at Edinburgh, which was I think also under fog, and landed fortuitously and we were therefore able to get to London, although hours late. That is a typical example of what happens every day in that Hart of Sutherland.
Why do the timings and schedules, as referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, not dovetail in such a way that the services co-ordinate? In places even the train service, which is no doubt in competition at Inverness, is no better because, if you miss the plane or if there 1133 is no plane, the only train of the day with sleepers on board leaves Inverness at the same time as the aircraft does. In any case, there are few sleepers, and I do not think many would be prepared to sit up hard for the fourteen hours which it takes to make the journey by night train from London to Inverness. As the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, said, fourteen hours is the equivalent time for travelling from London to New York and back again by airplane. I respectfully suggest to your Lordships that all these things are entirely out of date. Inverness is only 600 miles from London, and I see no reason whatsoever why, subsidised or otherwise, B.E.A. should not make some sort of effort, in a part of the country which has its merit, and has an immense appeal as one of the few unspoiled parts of Great Britain, to meet the requirements of a great number of people, either those who live there or those who wish to visit it.
§ 2.34 p.m.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for more than two or three minutes at the outside, because the subject has been exhaustively and extremely well discussed by every speaker. I do not think there is anything which has not been mentioned, except one thing—namely, the order of priorities: and that is the only thing upon which I should like to say a word. I am not terribly anxious about the development of the air service to the Highlands and Islands, because I think it has been remarkably up to date, and that with the development of new aircraft, small aircraft and helicopters, it will continue to improve as a vital service between Glasgow and Inverness, and the Highlands and Islands and Aberdeen. I think that will come automatically, and that it will be a paying proposition almost from the start. I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, that the services should be at least doubled during the summer months, which are the tourist months and the important months when the weather is much better. I believe that will come.
Three aspects of the general air service in and to Scotland worry me. Quite frankly—and here I declare an interest, or what at one time would have been an interest—it is scandalous that there is no direct Viscount service between London 1134 and Aberdeen. It would pay right away, it would not require any subsidy of any sort, and it ought to be done now. This coming down at Glasgow and Edinburgh, the changing and the lack of connection, and the possibility of having to get a slow train on up to Aberdeen deters an immense number of Aberdonians from using air traffic when they would without hesitation fly straight to London from Aberdeen and back again.
The second thing—and here I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes—is that we must have a proper full-scale aerodrome in Central Scotland. The choice lies between constructing a modern aerodrome—I am talking of one for large aircraft—say half way between Perth and Dundee which would also serve Glenrothes and Leuchars. I think the former would be the best solution, and would pay off. Then there should be a direct feeder service on to Inverness, which would be independent of the small craft flying about the Highlands and Islands. It would go straight through the Perth-Dundee complex, merely stopping off there and straight on to Inverness or London and back again. That service should operate twice or three times a day, and as I say I think it would be the best Solution.
The alternative to that is Leuchars. It is attractive in that it can be put into operation very quickly because it is already in existence, but there is the difficulty of trying to operate a civilian service from there. Leuchars is not so convenient because—and this will be the case for two or three years to come—one has to get across the River Tay, and it takes a little time even to get to Dundee, and still longer to get to Perth. There is a tremendous case to be made for establishing a substantial new aerodrome in the heart of Scotland about half way between Dundee and Perth. It would cater for an immense populous area, and I believe full use would be made of it.
Finally, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, said about Prestwick where there has been tremendous development. It has got the best weather record of any aerodrome in this country. It is the centre not only of a continental complex, but services to Canada, the United States and in fact everywhere. I believe Prestwick has a far bigger future ahead of it than anybody realises; but if full advantage is going to be taken of it, it 1135 is absolutely essential to get the car rail service, which my noble friend mentioned, regularly to Glasgow, running fast and to get away from buses on the roads.
Those are my priorities. I simply want to put them forward. I believe that the direct service to Aberdeen is number one; the construction of the new aerodrome between Perth and Dundee, or alternatively, the development of Leuchars for the centre of Scotland is number two; and, finally, the development of Prestwick. These are the three most important things. If we get them, I believe all the the rest will follow.
§ 2.38 p.m.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, I should like to apologise to my noble friend Lord Forbes for not being here when he made his speech. I am therefore rather diffident about saying that I entirely support him in what he said, because not having heard it and not having had the chance of reading it it might be committing myself a little too far. At any rate, I am sure I support a great deal of what he said.
The first matter to which I should like to draw attention is the lack of punctuality of the London-Edinburgh and London-Glasgow aeroplanes; they are nearly always twenty minutes late. This seems to me entirely unnecessary. It also makes it very difficult for those of us who do not have the good fortune to live within ten or fifteen miles of an aerodrome to make sure of the trains we can catch on to Perth or to local stations, as one is never confident that the aeroplane will arrive at the time stated in the timetable. I know that there must be difficulties at the London Airport end about this, but I should have thought that a better record of punctuality could be achieved. I know that if British Railways were as unpunctual as the main line aeroplane services to Glasgow and Edinburgh, there would be the most terrible outcry.
I should also like to ask my noble friend, who is going to reply for the Government whether in the more remote parts of the Highlands aerodromes could be developed which could be run by one man. This would mean altering the safety regulations for all aerodromes which have scheduled services. But before the war, when, presumably, aero- 1136 planes were less safe and, at any rate, used a fuel which was more prone to cause fires, the smaller aerodromes such as the one at Isla got along perfectly well with just one man who did virtually everything. Now they need six people, because they must have a full fire-fighting section; although, admittedly, these people do other jobs of work, such as carrying the passengers' luggage. But I think most people would rather have an aerodrome with a small aeroplane which ran to it once a day or twice a day if the demand was sufficiently great—and in many cases I do not think it would be—with just one man to work the aerodrome and the passengers carrying their own luggage when they arrive, rather than have no aerodrome and no aeroplane service at all. In this respect I would particularly instance Oban, which during the war had a perfectly good aerodrome at North Connell, which has now been allowed to go derelict for some reason. Also, I think that Fort William would probably justify some such aerodrome.
Thirdly, I should like to reinforce Lord Forbes's plea for a joint timetable. I know that B.E.A. and the independent airlines are in competition, but I really feel that they need not carry their competition quite to the extent that they do not even publish a joint timetable, or make any effort to get their aeroplanes to fit in one with the other. After all, it is done abroad, and I do not see why it should not be done in this country. Lastly, I should like to inquire whether Abbotsinch is really necessary, or whether this is purely pride on Glasgow's part? I believe it is going to cost them well over £1 million to develop and equip Abbotsinch as their airport. I should have thought that the interest on this £1 million would be far better spent in giving Dr. Beeching a subsidy to run a really fast train service between Ayr, Prestwick and Glasgow, stopping just at those three places. It would also benefit many other people who have occasion to travel from Ayr to Prestwick or Glasgow. My Lords, I think that these three points are important, and I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for giving me a chance to ventilate them.
§ 2.44 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, may I intervene for 1137 two minutes to say a word about people living in the Oban area to which the noble Duke referred? Those living in North Argyll and the Inner Islands area, the Hebrides, cannot possibly get to London in one day. You have to get to Oban, and you spend your time waiting until the night train goes to London. You might, perhaps, get the 12 o'clock train, which arrives in Glasgow at about 4.30 or 5 o'clock; and if you do that you may get the last plane to London. But not in winter. But it should be extremely easy to have one, or perhaps two plane services a day to Glasgow from Oban, because, as my noble friend said, there is an airstrip there. It is only three miles outside Oban and it was a war-time strip, I can really see no difficulty in running a light aircraft to Glasgow from Oban. After all, it is only 80 miles and should take about half an hour. My Lords, I hope that the Government will soon try to see that there is such a service, because it would help the tourist trade in that area tremendously, and it would also, of course, help the residents. I would end by saying that I fully support my noble friend Lord Forbes in this Motion, and I hope something will come from it.
§ 2.45 p.m.
THE EARL OF HADDINGTON
My Lords, before my noble friend from the Front Bench replies, as Northern Ireland has not been mentioned in this debate, I do not think, by any speaker, may I say just one word about communications between Northern Ireland and Scotland? It seems to me very queer that the capital of Scotland and the principal city in Northern Ireland, Belfast, have no air link whatsoever. To get from the East of Scotland to Belfast you have now to motor to Renfrew, in a very antiquated, bone-shaking bus (I did it myself the other day), which takes about an hour and a half. The only alternative method is to fly from Edinburgh to Dublin, and then motor up 100 miles from Dublin to Belfast. I believe that such a service, even if it were put on for only two or three days a week, would be used by many people; and it would certainly be a great advantage to communications between these two places. I do not know if such a service is anticipated in the future, but, as I say, at present there is none.
§ 2.47 p.m.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, but for a different reason, it is almost ironic that I am here, too, after the efforts made by a man in a bluish-green Standard 8 to overtake me on a blind rise in the face of an oncoming lorry. So your Lordships will realise how very pleased I was when I saw him disappear over the red lights on one of the main crossings in London. Having recovered from that shock, do not think I have failed to listen with the greatest care to the wide range of the speeches and to the many detailed points which have been made by noble Lords in putting forward the case for Scottish air services. Nor was I surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, say that your Lordships who come from Scotland are not entirely satisfied with the position as it is seen to-day.
Many points have been made, some major in principle and some more minor points of detail. There are too many, as I think your Lordships will recognise, for me to be able to tackle them all to-day. Indeed, it would not be right that I should try to do so. I am conscious of the fact that there are a number of points which clearly should be considered by my right honourable friend—and, indeed, by the Government—arising from the debate to-day. But many others that have been raised cannot, I think, be correctly described as suitable for Government consideration, because they are more points of day-to-day management by the operators.
Contrary to what I understood the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, to express as his opinion, I should like to start by saying that the Government are not, in fact, suffering from any lack of sympathy for and interest in the Scottish need for the stimulation of the economy, or for a halt to the depopulation of the remoter areas which has been described to us. Nor are they unaware of the problems, as I think most noble Lords who have spoken appreciate. I do not think it is for me to follow, for instance, my noble friend, Lord Forbes, into the full width of the realms and areas he covered in describing the Scottish problems and how they could be assisted to an extent by the air services. My noble friend Lord Craigton has been sitting beside me throughout 1139 the debate, and I have no doubt he will have listened with interest to a great many points; but I do not think the broader issues are for me. I think I must concentrate on the rather narrower front of the air services in particular, because, as I shall go on to show in a minute, what has been said has brought up a question of principle in this matter to which I must devote a little time
Before I come to that, however, I should like to work up to it by saying a few words about the trunk services, if I may so call them, between London and Manchester, Birmingham and other business areas, and Edinburgh and Glasgow. I should not like it to get about, from what has been said—and I do not think any noble Lord who spoke really intended to convey it—that the services were woefully and totally inadequate and behind-hand. I say that because a stranger listening to the debate might almost have thought so.
Over the last ten years those trunk services were carrying about six times as many passengers as they were ten years ago; that is, based on 1962 figures. In 1962, at any rate, I understand that the position, so far as capacity was concerned, was that there were three seats available for every two passengers carried. It would not appear that those existing services (and, at the moment I am talking only of existing services) are suffering particularly from a lack of capacity.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Perhaps the noble Duke will allow me to carry on. But possibly what he was going to intervene about was that these are a year's figures; and the fact that there was extra rapacity does not necessarily mean—and I readily agree—that there was only a partial utilisation of the capacity of any individual machine. Naturally, a particular service might be fully booked; I was giving an overall picture of the capacity of those trunk services.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lards, what I was going to ask the noble Lord was whether he had the relevant figures divided into times of day: because, as noble Lords know, there are always spare seats on planes between 10 a.m. and 1140 4 p.m. and with what are called cheap night flights.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I may have those figures. I have pages of figures at the back of my brief; but if I were to set them out service by service, by time of day and class of passenger, I should keep your Lordships here for a very long time, and quite possibly bore you stiff in the process. I will see whether I can get the figures which I can give to the noble Duke later, possibly by letter.
I want to mention now the service to the Highlands and Islands which, I was happy to hear, was commended by everybody; with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, who had some complaints even about the more modern, faster and more comfortable aircraft that have been introduced. But here again the traffic has increased by three times in that ten-year period. So far as capacity is concerned, the fact is that there are two seats available for every passenger. It is a pity, perhaps, that they did not carry the oversize passenger who needed two seats—but that is another matter. I am surprised that they did not think of folding up the arm-rest, which in a Viscount folds up: at any rate mine did the other day, when I was travelling in a Viscount. The figure I have given shows a spectacular increase in air services—and, incidentally, one which is considerably greater than anywhere else in this country; or, so far as I can see, in anyone else's country. It has been suggested that the increase in traffic would have been even greater, if the demand had been stimulated by more and better services. From the figures about capacity that I have just given, I think one would have some justification for thinking that traffic operators would not have had much difficulty in coping with an increase.
During the course of the debate, noble Lords have advocated new services. I do not think that they should find any shortage of operators to undertake new services that show any likelihood of being economically worthwhile. The Civil Aviation Licensing Act allows operators freedom to use their initiative and enterprise in setting up services, and, so far as I know, there is no hesitation in taking advantage of these conditions. If the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, is right in saying that the services he commended to us would pay for themselves almost 1141 right away, or in the very near future, I do not think that there would be much difficulty in finding aircraft operators who would be willing to provide them.
While I have every sympathy with the case put forward by noble Lords, I am bound to say that it is the Government's policy that the level of air services to be provided in new areas must depend on the strength of demand and the support that the public and freight interests can offer to such a service. There is something encouraging to be found in the increase in Scottish air services. It is certainly a measure of the success of this policy, and shows that economic demand can be satisfied reasonably quickly. Assuming that this was not so, then the argument runs—let us face it plainly—that we should run services which would be uneconomic; and many services have been advocated to-day without much indication that they would be well supported. Having listened to the general tenor of the case that has been put forward by all noble Lords, I would say that what, in fact, is being asked for is assistance to meet a demand for uneconomic services.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
But only at the outset. Every noble Lord made it plain that he was asking for financial assistance from the State only to start off these services, and, to begin with, to build aerodromes, when necessary. Nobody suggested that it should go on indefinitely.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, I think we ought to put right the question of capacity. The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, is making out that planes are not running at full capacity, and with that I entirely agree. But what is happening is that if you apply to get on an aeroplane, say, three days ahead, you are told it is full. It is full then; but when it actually leaves the ground it is not full.
§ LORD CHESHAM
It does not seem to work. I acknowledged at the time that what my noble friend has just said was a possibility; that you could not necessarily get on the aircraft. But talking of capacity as a whole on the services I mentioned, I would point out that in a year there were one million seats 1142 available, and 660,000 people sat in them. That is the measure of capacity. I acknowledge the point that it may not be possible to get on the individual aircraft that you wish.
I think I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Boothby. I do not think that in this debate all noble Lords made it clear that only a little assistance was necessary in the early stages. If I may be permitted to have an opinion in this matter, I think your Lordships have underestimated what would be the subsidy cost because what has been asked for is, if not a direct subsidy, something tantamount to a subsidy. My noble friend Lord Forbes actually used the words that Her Majesty's Government should make good the short-fall, and I think there has been quite a measure of underestimation of what that short-fall would be in operating the services that have been called for.
I am not going (tempting as it is) to take up the political points into which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, went.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, may I intervene for a moment. I tried to get in before, but I did not want to break into the argument. Is it the Minister's intention to say something about possible feeder services? Because, if not, it would be perhaps appropriate for me to, possibly I should not say "remind him", but to draw his attention once again to the fact that one of the arguments that have been long advanced by people all over Scotland to B.E.A. is that the way to make use of the spare capacity is to take up the feeder services that could bring them in. They say they will lose Money on the feeder services. Of course they will lose money on the feeder services. But if they get 20 passengers going into an aircraft to London at something like £9, £12 or £15 a head, it will make up for the deficiency. That is where we have failed to get anywhere with these operators. They want to regard the feeder services and the main services as two distinct compartments. At the end of the day, what matters is if their overall takings are increased by more than their overall expenditure.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I understand that point, but it is only part of the general subject on which I am talking now, because not all the services that have been asked for this afternoon have been feeder 1143 services. I daresay the point the noble Lord has made is not necessarily true of all feeder services.
§ LORD HUGHES
I agree, my Lords, but it has a relation to what the noble Lord said about the unused capacity on what he called the trunk services. I found I could get nowhere in talking to the principal operators, simply because they said, "It is perfectly true we run planes with 10, 20 or 30 vacant seats, but if we are going to run a feeder service, then sooner or later we are bringing people to a plane that is full, and then we have to put on a second plane which is going to run with 20 or 30 vacant seats." How can you argue with people who use that sort of logic?
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I am going to ask the noble Lord whether he would mind if I left this, because he is taking me away from my general point. I will come back to that question later on. My point is that there is here a demand, whether your Lordships are fully conscious of it or not, for a pretty sizeable subsidy in this matter. When your Lordships have thought about it a little more, you will see that that is true. I do not think it is for me—in fact, I am sure it is not—to stand here at this moment and say whether or not, if there were to be such a subsidy, such a considerable sum of money provided, it would be in the best interests of Scottish economy and national life that it should be spent in this way, or whether it should be spent in some other way. I can only say to-day, as I said before, that a subsidy of that kind has not been in accordance with the policy of the Government.
In any case, there is the question that my right honourable friend or the Government—whichever way you like to put it—has not the power to require any airline to operate a service against their commercial judgment. Even the service to the Highlands and Islands is not an exception to that. It is a very exceptional and important service, and I would agree with almost everything that has been said about it. B.E.A. accept, as many transport operators do, the necessity of running that service, which is not a paying service. As we know, it costs them money to run it, and they do it by cross-subsidisation. I do not think it can 1144 ever be economic, because of the short sectors, the weather and the limited traffic which is available. It has been mentioned that if there had been a subsidy from public funds, the services should be put out to competitive tender. I think my noble friend suggested that. I would say that if in the circumstances of that particular service, the question arose of a direct subsidy, that is a position which I agree would need careful study; and the question of calling for competitive tenders from all interested operators would certainly have to receive consideration. In the meantime, B.E.A. go on running these services.
My noble friend Lord Perth is no longer with us. He asked what had happened to their request for a subsidy. The answer is that they have withdrawn that request for a subsidy, not, as I understand it, because of the reason that he suggested—which is that they thought somebody else might get one, too—but because they were doing rather better and were able to continue with the arrangements they had already made. Therefore, if the Highlands and Islands will forgive me for referring to the service as a hair shirt which they must continue to wear, there is a limit to the number of hair shirts that can be worn by any operation, and this would be the case even if what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in certain instances were true. It is not true in all of them. There is certainly something to be said for a limit to the amount of unprofitable services that can be carried. For instance, I think the noble Lord himself mentioned that there is a service from Dundee to Renfrew.
§ LORD CHESHAM
I believe that some noble Lord did; perhaps it was my noble friend. But I happen to know that B.E.A. went into the need for that and in conclusion worked it out that a single daily flight each way in a Heron, assuming a 50 per cent. load factor, would cost £40,000 a year.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, in fact they worked out that they would lose between Dundee and Turnhouse or Dundee and Renfrew a sum of £47,000 a year. But this is the point which I have already made in an intervention. 1145 They assumed that all the people, having gone from Dundee to Turnhouse or Renfrew, were then going to proceed on foot and were not going to take a plane anywhere else. These people did not want to take a plane to Turnhouse or Renfrew merely in order to stop there. It was as part of an onward journey. That was the point I made in my intervention. They have absolutely insisted that a feeder service of that kind cannot be started unless it is profitable in its own right.
§ LORD CHESHAM
The noble Lord has made his point and, as I say, I quite well understand it. What I say is this: the effective way to get a service that is required is to demonstrate to the operators that it can be an economic one, and that will attract them. The noble Lord challenges the figures and says they are not right; that it could be economic for them to provide it. The answer to this one, if he wants this service—and this applies in principle to any other service—is to rally up the local interests and bring pressure to bear on the operators and convince them they are wrong. They are the people who are operating the service. That is what the noble Lord should do. Surely, if there is, as he says, so much local demand in Dundee pressure should be brought more heavily and it should be demonstrated to B.E.A. in this case that they are wrong; the case should be put forward. Perhaps if they insist on being wrong somebody else will think that they can work a service and apply to do so. That is the way to go about that particular matter.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves this point, may I say that he has laid considerable stress on the question of a subsidy? If it is a question of a subsidy, which I do not for one moment believe it is, the noble Lord is saying that B.E.A. are so well off now that they are not going to apply for a subsidy. If they are so well off, then they can run this service for the Highlands. If that is not so, then surely the whole thing must be put out to tender and we shall probably have an independent company who will be able to run the service very much more cheaply than it is run at present.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My noble friend is mistaking me on this point. I did not say that B.E.A. were doing so well and were so rich they could run all these services. That is one thing I took pains not to say: I pointed out that that was not so. I pointed out that in the exceptional service to the Highlands and Islands they were doing rather better than they had been, and were able to continue that service, as it were, by cross-subsidisation rather than by asking for a further subsidy. I must stick to my point, which the noble Lord is still denying, that he has asked for a subsidy. He did not stand up and say, "Can there be a subsidy?", but the whole of the case put forward, which was supported by other noble Lords, does in fact, in view of the volume of services, entail the likelihood of providing a very substantial subsidy. I hope that my noble friend will at least allow me the sincerity of my opinion in that regard.
§ LORD LOVAT
My Lords, the noble Lord has been very patient, but before he passes from the Highlands and Islands I must take him up on his contention that only 600,000 seats out of one million were sold throughout the country. That I know nothing about.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, may I put my noble friend right? That was on the trunk services between London and the Midland towns and Edinburgh and Glasgow.
§ LORD LOVAT
I am delighted to hear it. I feel I speak with some authority about the problems of transport between the Islands and Inverness, the outer Islands and the Orkneys. There is a long waiting list, and perhaps the noble Lord does not sufficiently appreciate that the population of the Highlands between April and October quadruples itself. They need far more aircraft in the summer. I never made any point about empty seats in the winter. We need twice as many aircraft—and that is an understatement—during the summer months. There is nowhere an empty seat and you have to wait many weeks to get them. Many people are turned away, and they are not using aeroplanes because they know they are not likely to get a seat or to catch a connection between the Islands and the mainland or Inverness and Glasgow, let alone get down to London. 1147 They have three hazards to risk in respect of inadequate services.
§ LORD CHESHAM
My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord is doing a good thing by bringing this forward. I was going to say it later on, but I will say it now. That surely is a point for B.E.A. to look at. I do not know what conversations my noble friend has had with them, but I think that that is purely a commercial matter, if there is all this traffic uncatered for. I appreciate the point that there is a vast difference between summer demand and winter demand, but I have been thoroughly under the impression that the operators were out to get as much traffic as they could and do the best they could with the services. I certainly think that is a point which should be most seriously taken up by my noble friend with B.E.A., and I am sure they will by no means overlook what is being said in this debate today.
My noble friend made the point about the carrying of mail by air, and this, again, is something that has developed considerably over the years, and has actually, over the ten years that I mentioned—and I trust this figure can be accepted—increased twenty-five times over, and by 50 per cent. on the Highlands and Islands service. It is already the practice to use scheduled services wherever this would be sensible and economic to do, and, as I told my noble friend when he asked a Question about it the other day, the possibility of extending the night air-mail services from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Aberdeen is under consideration at the moment, although there is nothing more I can say about it today.
There was the question of executive aircraft and of encouraging their use, particularly in connection with industry. We realise that this is a growing and an important thing, and there has been set up and is in fact in being a standing committee which is chaired by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation at which all the interests concerned are represented, and they make their requirements known to that Department. Your Lordships might like to know that a letter is about to go out to local authorities, chambers of commerce, and other people who may be interested in 1148 the flying needs of business, drawing attention to those needs and recommending that where they are not already met by State, municipal, private, or part use of Service, aerodromes, consideration should be given to the construction of special landing strips. The letter will give a brief idea of the requirements of such strips, and the technical staff at the Ministry of Aviation will be available to give advice in connection with anyone's proposals. I think that it is a good thing that there should be an increase in this kind of traffic, provided, of course, that the planes are suitably designed and equipped for the purpose and capable of meeting the safety standards, and particularly the demands of weather which have been rightly referred to. I would only ask my noble friend not to pin too much faith to this, because of the cost, first, of the aircraft and, secondly, of equipment, both on the ground and in the air, for all-weather flying. Because of this the matter is not so simple as it might appear. I can remember myself flying some years ago in a small light aircraft, such as one might fly as a private individual, from Sussex to Newcastle. It took me two and a half days, thanks entirely to the weather. A better machine requires greater expenditure and more facilities at the point of arrival.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, I do not know anything about the cost of the ground facilities, but I gather that if you use a private aircraft for 500 hours at least in the year, it will not cost anything more than flying by an ordinary aircraft.
§ LORD CHESHAM
Quite possibly not. I wanted only to ask my noble friend not to think it was just too simple; that is all. There are slight complications, but it is an entirely desirable development in regard to which we should certainly welcome further possibilities.
It is suggested that an aircraft should be available to the Scottish Office. Certainly, from what I understand, it must be difficult for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and his Ministerial colleagues and senior officials to get about and get their essential work done. I am happy to say that my right honourable friend is considering this suggestion at the present time. It would, of course, be most handy for getting to less accessible parts.
1149 Both my noble friend and the noble Earl, Lord Perth raised the rather interesting point that when an operator is granted a restricted licence any competitors also on the route should be restricted so that they would not swamp him out of the market and then themselves remove the services. It just so happens that there is a certain recent application to the Air Transport Licensing Board which suggests this. At the moment it is before the Board, and therefore, so far as I am concerned because of the right of appeal to the Minister, it must be considered sub judice, and there is nothing more that I can say about it to-day.
My noble friend suggested Government backing on a V.T.O.L. aircraft—by which I take him to mean something other than a helicopter. I could not say anything about that to-day because it is too far off for us to discuss it as a practical proposition at the moment. We know that the principle works but, I understand, at such an uneconomical cost that it really is not yet on the horizon in this connection.
I must come to the question of the master plan mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Glentanar. I can only say what I know of it. I understand the situation to be that there has been consultation between B.E.A., the Scottish Council, the Scottish Advisory Committee and other local interests. According to the Glasgow Herald of May 30, the plan was then discussed and broadly agreed between the Council and B.E.A., subject to certain reconsideration by B.E.A. of various points, and a revised plan was to be put to the Council at about the end of June. I presume that in due course it will be submitted to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and no doubt he will consult the Minister of Aviation. My noble friend Lord Polwarth—who I think is the Chairman behind it—issued a Press statement on May 30, which indicated that B.E.A. would not provide the extra services without a subsidy. No doubt if that is so it will be asked for, but until such time as it gets further I can say no more, and obviously I cannot do so until the plan is nut forward to my right honourable friend.
I am conscious that I have not mentioned very many specific points that 1150 have been made. Many are detailed points which are for management to consider. The suggestion of my noble friend Lord Haddington, about a service from Edinburgh to Belfast is one of them, and comes under the umbrella I have mentioned; the question of joint timetables suggested by my noble friend Lord Perth is another, and, I am bound to say, so are a number of other specific points made by my noble friend Lord Forbes and by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree. All I should like to say in that connection is that B.E.A., being especially concerned in Scottish services, and indeed other operators, have, I have always believed, understood that success in such a highly competitive business as the operation of air services must depend a good deal on the good will they can earn from the public. In fact this has been endorsed this afternoon. They must—and do—study the reactions of the public, and I think they do their best to scrutinise and analyse criticisms in detail to see what they can learn from them. I think your Lordships will find that they will pay a good deal of attention to what has been said in this debate, and it may well be right that a number of the points raised ought to be taken up direct with them. I am sure that they will listen to them.
My Lords, I hope that I have been able to help, at any rate to some extent. I have tried to answer as many points as I could, and, in the light of what I have said, I hope we may at any rate move some way towards the thinking of my noble friend Lord Forbes and all other noble Lords who have supported him.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. There have been two remarkable aspects of this debate. First of all, the great number of noble Lords who have come down here from Scotland on a Friday; and, secondly, there were speakers from all sides of the House. It goes to show that this matter we have been discussing affects all Scotsmen and is a matter on which the growth of Scotland is dependent. Of course, I cannot say that we can derive complete comfort from what the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has told us, but that would be expecting too 1151 much. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will really give this matter their full consideration.
My Lords, I think finally I should say that I take it as a great compliment to Scotland that the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, is on the Front Bench to-day. I only hope that if the air services in Scotland are improved the Scottish Office will take some credit for it, because too few people realise that, if anything goes wrong in Scotland, it is the Scottish Office that is blamed; if anything goes right there is always a Ministry to pop up and take all the credit. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.