HL Deb 09 February 1965 vol 263 cc47-84

4.41 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of the Airports Authority Bill. This is not a controversial measure as between the political Parties, a fact which at first sight may seem a little strange, since the Bill establishes yet another public authority. In other words, it provides for another piece of practical and applied socialism. It was described in another place by a member of the Opposition as an excellent Bill. While that in itself may not commend the Bill to my noble friends in this House, I hope that it will set the tone for the comments made from noble Lords opposite.

The Bill was, of course, drafted by the preceding Government, and I understand that the proposal to establish a public authority for the administration of our main airports was first put forward some twenty years ago by the noble Lord, Lord Reith, than whom there is no greater authority on these matters of public administration; and I hope that that opinion will carry considerable weight. The immediate purpose of the Bill is to transfer the four main international aerodromes of the United Kingdom, Heathrow, Prestwick, Gatwick and Stansted to a new and, it is considered, more appropriate form of ownership and control—namely, to the British Airports Authority.

Before going on to discuss the proposal for the future, I should like to say something about the present position and about those who have been responsible for the achievements of the past. A good deal has been said from time to time in "Letters to the Editor", and indeed when the Bill was passing through another place, about dirty teacups and untidy lounges, poor service, and high aircraft landing charges. I consider that often a good deal of this criticism has been unfair, inaccurate, mostly out of proportion and certainly unjust to those devoted public servants who have had responsibility for the administration of these airports up to the present time. It is conceivable that on occasions, when noble Lords or some of these television personalities go up to London Airport, especially after a delay when there has been a rush through of passengers, one may find a dirty teacup. On the other hand, I have noticed elsewhere that not everything has been above criticism when large crowds have passed through a public place.

I myself have watched the development of London Heathrow. Over the past twenty years I have seen it grow from one runway and one tent to its present quite enormous industrial complex, in which 20,000 people earn their living and serve their country—and I include, of course, men and women other than those employed directly by the Ministry. No fewer than nine million passengers passed through this airport last year. The figures show a rate of growth of 600 per cent. more passengers in ten years, and a most surprising increase in revenue. I see that over a period of ten years the revenues collected for the services offered at London Airport, Heathrow, have gone up from £844,000 to £10,295,000. All this—in a highly technical operation where the safety factor is absolutely paramount—reflects credit on those who until now have borne the responsibility and who have brought us to this position of economic viability.

As for airport charges, I have seen a good many figures about costs, and I know that it is possible, if one is sufficiently selective, to prove almost anything about the charges for landing of aircraft at Heathrow and elsewhere, Possibly one ought to take with more than a grain of salt the airline operators' own selection of charges. It is difficult to get a perfectly comparable set of Costs. Probably the fairest comment was that made by the Select Committee which reported in 1960–61 and which, after examining this matter, stated: Your Committee has experienced considerable difficulty in obtaining facts of comparable costs, but they consider that the costs to operators using London airports are not unreasonably high. This does not mean, of course, that further improvements are not possible. And the purpose of this Bill is to facilitate these improvements.

Many developments and improvements are already in progress. New passenger piers are planned; multi-storey car parks, a new passenger building, an extension of No. 1 runway, and the development of the freight area are among the improvements which are either in course of construction or planned. But the point is that now that the need for public subsidy has gone, now that there is this trading surplus for the group of four international airports, we believe that it is both possible and desirable that management should be transferred from a Government Department to a separate authority which is able to exercise more flexible commercial methods in their management.

The success of the British Airports Authority will depend to a large extent on the calibre of the members chosen to control it, as well as of the staff who are employed to run it. With regard to the members of the board, the Minister stated in another place that within the maximum of eight and the minimum of four members provided for by the Bill, in addition to the chairman and Deputy chairman, he will be inclined to appoint mearer the lower limit. Having looked at the qualifications which the Minister is required to have in mind some may say that the is now guided by a set of very comprehensive, one might say complete, qualifications and that he could not possibly appoint from, outside them. I know that some noble Lords have questioned the wording in Clause 1 (4). All I would say about this at the moment is that the qualifications there set dowa certainly have been increased over the years, but have been increased because Parliament itself has demanded that the qualifications should be listed. And in setting down those qualifications the Minister has been following the wish of Parliament. The qualifications were added to during the progress of the Bill in the other place.

I should like to emphasise, in regard to the constitution of the board, that, once having been appointed, it will be expected to use both the responsibility and the powers granted to it. It is in no sense intended that this new Authority shall be tied to the apron strings of the Minister. It is true that in certain matters—for example, when framing proposals involving substantial outlay on capital account, or involving wider economic or national aviation policy; and in two matters specifically mentioned in the Bill, air traffic control and aircraft noise, to both of which I shall return later—there are reserved ministerial powers. Nevertheless, it remains true that this body, the Airports Authority, will have, in fact and in name, the authority to carry out the duties all located to it.

The staff, who will number about 2,000, will consist initially of the civil servants, both. industrial and non-industrial, who operate these aerodromes at the present time. To provide for the smooth transfer of the functions to the Authority they will be seconded to the Authority for a period during which time most classes will have an opportunity of deciding whether to accept any offer of employment which the Authority may make or to return to the Civil Service. For certain classes of staff, however, the Department will have no alternative post to offer in their existing grades, and to this extent if the staff concerned do not wish to transfer to the Authority, alternative arrangements will have to be considered. No civil servant will lose by his temporary secondment to the Authority, since his pay and conditions of service will remain unchanged. Furthermore, staff who decide to transfer permanently to the Authority can expect terms and conditions of employment at least broadly comparable with those which they now enjoy.

Your Lordships will probably be aware that for good reasons the two functions which I previously mentioned—namely, air traffic control and consideration of noise—are not being transferred under this Bill, but will be reserved to the Minister. Provision of navigation services— the air traffic control and function Associated with that control, which guid the approach, landing and take-off of aircraft at the aerodromes—will remain the responsibility of the Minister. In this respect, the British Airports Authority will be in the same position as the major municipal aerodromes—Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. The reason for this reservation of functions to the Minister is that at important aerodromes such as these, where the technical control of aircraft movements to and from the aerodromes is closely linked with the complex State-controlled en-route navigation services along the air corridors through out the country, it is important from the point of view of both safety and economy that the services are provided by one agency.

The other function over which the Minister will continue to have control is the regulation of aircraft noise on and in the vicinity of the Authority's aerodromes. Aircraft noise, as most noble Lords will know, is a very difficult and a very vexed problem and it was considered—I think father courageously—that a Minister directly responsible to Parliament, and directly responsible to Members of Parliament, who in turn are often very closely in touch with the constituents affected, should retain responsibility. The Minister will therefore continue to monitor the noise made in the vicinity of the Authority's aerodromes, and to lay down the anti-noise requirements, such as the current limitations on jet night flights at Heathrow. If there is any infringement of the Minister's requirements in respect of noise, the Authority can be required to take steps to see that the infringement does not recur—if necessary, by excluding any offending pilot or airline from its aerodromes. With these exceptions, the British Airports Authority will be given as much freedom of decision and action in the day-to-day commercial management of its affairs as is possible, and the provisions of the Bill follow the line set down in a number of post-war nationalisation Statutes.

Clause 1 specifies the aerodromes to be transferred, and takes the necessary provision for the appointment of members. The four airports—Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Prestwick—although at varying stages of development, and of utilisation and profitability (especially profitability), are essentially a coherent group of international aerodromes whose fortunes are linked, and I think we shall all agree that it is reasonable that the one Authority should undertake the management and development of the whole group, and not just the more profitable London (Heathrow). The inclusion of Stansted in the group will in no way prejudice the outcome of the forthcoming public inquiry, which the Minister of Housing and Local Government will be holding on the proposal to develop Stansted as the third London airport. The special position of Prestwick in the Authority is recognised in Clause 1 (5), which requires the Minister to see that the interests of Scotland are fairly represented on the Authority.

Schedule 1 details the arrangements for the terms of appointment of members, for the Authority's proceedings and for staff consultation. Schedule 2 sets out the arrangements for transferring from the Crown to the Authority on the vesting date land and other property, together with rights and liabilities. The vesting date will be as soon as possible after the passing of the Act, although it is not anticipated that it will be before the autumn of 1965.

Clause 2 deals with the duties and powers of the Authority, and the power of the Minister, which is a standard one in Acts creating public authorities of this kind, to give the Authority general directions in the national interest. The powers include the power, subject to the Minister's approval, to provide new aerodromes or to acquire or assume the management of an existing one. This power is not intended for be used, to take over existing aerodromes against the owners' Consent, but it will obviously be needed if the Authority develops a fourth London airport—or even if it has to look for an alternative site to Stansted for the third London airport. It will also be required if the Authority establishes a Central London heliport.

Clases 3 to 8 are fairly standard financial clauses. The Authority will inherit an initial capital debt equivalent to the written-down book value of the inherited assets, plus a sum for working capital, and this debt together with any other capital loans will be constituted by means of Exchequer loans. The Authority's revenues will derive mainly from landing fees, rents and services, and trading concessions. There is every reason to believe—and this, of course, is the expectation—that the Authority will be able to meet from the start its statutory duty to pay its way—as the phrase goes, taking one year with another.

Clause 9 empowers the Authority, through whose aerodromes several millions of people and vehicles pass each year, to make by-laws regulating the use and operation of its aerodromes, and the conduct and safety of people using them. There was some criticism in the other place, that London Airport was at times a meeting place for "Teddy boys". I am informed that under the new powers, although the situation has already improved to some extent, it will be possible to rectify some of those complaints. Schedule 3 sets out the procedure for confirming and promulgating the by laws.

Clause 10 deals with the Authority's constabulary, which will be recruited in the main from the Ministry's constabulary who currently perform the policing functions at these aerodromes. Clause 11 deals with the constable's powers of search and arrest in respect of thefts at the airports. These powers are similar to those held by the railway and the Port of London Authority police who are confronted with similar problems. Clauses 12 to 15 make the necessary provision for the control and management of road traffic, port health functions, noise and lost property at the aerodromes.

Under Clause 16 and Schedule 4 the Authority will be able to acquire land by agreement or, with the support of the Minister, compulsorily. In fact, the powers given are similar to those held by a local authority which already provides an aerodrome. The clause also provides for the Minister of Aviation or the Minister of Transport to exercise in favour of the Authority his power to obtain rights over land, to impose control over laud or to stop up or divert highways. Clause 17 provides for the Authority to pay compensation or to purchase the land in cases where planning permission is refused or revoked in the interests of the Authority's aerodromes; and Clause 18 makes the Authority a statutory undertaker for the purpose of certain named Acts and thereby gives it the same sort of protection from unreasonable interference by a local authority or another statutory undertaker as is afforded to existing transport undertakings such as railways, inland navigation, and dock and harbour authorities.

In conclusion, my Lords, I think I I should say something about the task ahead. I have referred to the very considerable growth in air traffic at these four airports over the past two decades, and undoubtedly there will be a considerable expansion in the future. But I think it would be wrong not to recognise that some advantages which these British international airports have enjoyed in the past will be less evident in the future. Much has been said about the international airports of Britain being the gateway to Europe. This they have been, and this, I trust, they will remain. But, with the development of the longer-range aircraft, there will be an increasing possibility of transatlantic aircraft overflying London and making directly for the European Continent. To the extent that this tendency is encouraged by the development of new aircraft we shall have to ensure that it is counteracted by the increasing attraction and efficiency of our airports. This is a challenge that I have no doubt the new Authority will accept, and in their work I know noble Lords on all sides will wish them well. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Beswick.)

5.3 p.m


My Lords, I am very honoured to follow immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, and to be the first to congratulate him on, I believe, the first Bill he has presented in this House. I am sure he will wish that all the Bills he presents here will be received as well as I believe there is a good chance that this one will be. I should like straight away, if I may, to join with him in offering our regard and congratulation to the many public servants who worked at the aerodromes owned by the Ministry of Aviation. I am bound to say that I think many of them have not worked in the easiest circumstances, and not least, perhaps, because of the organisation which has been imposed.

The noble Lord talked a little of the tasks ahead. I am going, if I may, to try (shall I say?) to prise open some more ideas of what does lie ahead, and see whether Her Majesty's Government have in fact considered a number of the difficulties which are likely to arise, and perhaps fairly soon. Before doing so, however, I should like to call attention to the actual format in which this Bill has been presented. Perhaps I should particularly address these remarks to the noble Earl the Leader of the House. When this Bill was presented in the other place, it had an Explanatory Memorandum—I never quite understand where Explanatory Memoranda come from—which was divided into two. When it comes into this House, one finds that the second half of the Explanatory Memorandum has been cut off; and I do not quite know why that has happened.

The second part is called, "Financial effects of the Bill". I do not know whether this is due to the fact that your Lordships' House is so learned in financial matters that it is wholly unnecessary to offer any explanation; or whether the opposite view should be taken, that it is wholly improper for your Lordships to consider any financial matter at all. Whichever it is, I think it is wholly false. It is nothing to do with the Parliament Act. It may conceivably have something to do with the Resolutions passed in the time of Charles II, I think, about 1670: something which said that aid and supplies are solely the province of the Commons. Nobody is questioning all this, but we in this House have always been entitled to the fullest explanation of all matters in Government policy, including financial matters, and we are fully entitled to make any comment we like on them. I merely put to the noble Lord that I think it is a pity that there should be any suggestion that this House is not entitled to all explanations, whether financial or otherwise.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Earl, since he has referred to me, I apologise to him for the fact that I may have to leave the House in a few minutes, but the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who is going to wind up, is very well equipped to deal with this point, among others.


I thank the noble Earl very much. I would not dream of retaining the noble Earl unnecessarily on it. The noble Lord mentioned two subjects which are going to be reserved to the Minister of Aviation, and the first of those is noise. I wonder if the noble Lord could state whether, in the event of any damage arising from noise, the Minister of Aviation accepts full responsibility. This, I know, is a very tricky subject, and I expect the noble Lord may have difficulty in answering me in categorical terms, but I think it is a point of very considerable public importance.

The second point I should like to make is on the other reservation. It is put in the Bill as being "navigation", but if your Lordships turn to the Interpretation Clause 1t will be found that "navigation" can in fact cover a much wider sphere than one would normally imagine. It covers, in fact, all facilities provided in connection with the movement of aircraft and of vehicles on the airport. That means that the Airports Authority will have nothing to do with aircraft except when they are parked. I bring this out in no sense of criticism, but simply because I think that, in aviation particularly, direct and clear lines of responsibility are of great importance. This means, then, I think, that all the equipment connected with flying—that is to say, blind-landing equipment, I.L.S. or any other form of blind approach system, or any other form of radar connected with aerodrome control—will be wholly the responsibility of the Minister of Aviation and not of this Authority.

I make this point because I think it is very important that we should know who is going to be responsible for developing blind-landing equipment—which, of course, among other things, and among other forms of control, we are looking forward to coming quickly. It is important, I think, that this Authority should know where they stand in this. I am aware that this arrangement can be changed by a letter; but, frankly, if there is a clear decision to be made, it should be made, I think, in the Statute, and not in a personal letter from the Minister to the Authority.

There is one thing, however, which is quite clearly the responsibility of the British Airports Authority, and that is car parking. For a long time we have been far behind the world in our car parking arrangements, and we should have reached the stage when a car is not regarded as an unusual luxury for which people are very lucky to have any provision whatsoever. A large number of those employed in different capacities in airports come in cars. It is high time that at aerodromes, at least, proper car parking facilities were provided; and I should be glad to see some indication of this in the Statute itself, because this matter has become very badly out of hand in a great many places.

If I may go on from that, I am not entirely happy about the title British Airports Authority. In the first place, it is not British in the full sense of the word, because it represents only a comparatively small number of British airports; and, secondly, it is not really an Authority, because all it is doing, in fact, is being a stationmaster for an airport which is operated for the Ministry of Aviation. I am bound to say that the expression is slightly grandiloquent and, in a way, rather misleading. I do not know that that matters very much; but I should like to ask whether it is intended that this should, in fact, cover a large number of additional airports. For instance, I take it that there will be no attempt to take over the municipalised airports in Group 2. Whether the intention is to find an agency to run what is called Groups 3 and 4, I do not know; but I should be interested to know whether the Government have that in mind. What I am really concerned about is the structure of our air services in the immediate future, because they will, and could, considerably affect the economic evolution of this country and the distribution of industries and, accordingly, of population.

My Lords, the great failure of our air services in this country since the war is that they have followed the railway line far too closely. They have perpetuated and continued the concentration which the railway line started a hundred years ago. I think this is a very great pity. They had the opportunity to break away and they did not do so. I am hopeful that they may yet do so. At the present time, the first thing you do, if you want to leave this Island, is to buy a ticket to London. That has always been the case with the railways. I had hoped that with the development of aviation that would cease to be the case. But what has happened? Naturally, London Airport has become horribly overcrowded. It may be it is not designed as well as it should be; but from the passengers' point of view it is really one of the least pleasant airports in the world to-day.

This is something which can very well be got over by greater diversification of the terminal traffic and by stopping the channelling of all traffic to Heathrow. It is really curious that the Air Transport Licensing Board has taken the line that this is the only way in which the airlines can be commercially operated in this country. That may be true if you disregard the personal comfort of the passengers and the broad economic planning requirements of this country. But if you do regard them it is wholly untrue.

My Lords, I am asking only this: does this Bill affect this proposition? This is fundamental; it is important to know how our evolution in air planning is to take place. Does this Bill, as it now stands, affect it at all? If so, how far are we going to be able to maintain control of proper aerodrome services? I should like to ask this: will the Government recognise that the shape and form of aviation services is going to play a fundamental part in the broad economic planning of this country? I should like to have an answer, either "Yes" or "No", on that. Let us not forget that it is the North and West of this Island which have been traditionally deemed most concerned with the export trade; yet it is from these areas that it is almost impossible to get out of the Island, either to the Continent or to any part of the world, without travelling first through London. To get round this, I suggest that more attention should be devoted to the provincial services outside London, instead of doing what at present is the apparently accepted policy: feeding all the services from all over the country into London Airport.

I should like to deal specifically with the subsection to which the noble Lord referred and which deals with Scotland—Clause 1 (5). This, in common terminology, is called a gesture to Scotland; but if I may say so, it is a pretty feeble gesture. What it says is this: that one member of the Authority will be familiar with the general circumstances in Scotland. Frankly, with four airports, I should hope that all the members will be familiar with the general position in Scotland. Indeed, if you take its meaning further, it implies that the other eight or nine members will be unfamiliar with the position in Scotland. That is ridiculous. I would rather have no paragraph at all than that. I know this is a difficult point; I am aware of it. It is not easy, because it is not always easy to get the right man. And if the man lives in Scotland, it is sometimes difficult for him to attend meetings in London. It is not easy; but in this case, where there is an obvious possibility of a conflict of interest between, say, Prestwick and London Airports, I think stronger assurances must be given that Prestwick Airport will not be strangled by London.

The position, bluntly, is that London Airport is crowded at the present time and is making money; and Prestwick Airport is losing money. It will be obvious that an Authority such as this, which is clearly designed to be commercial, will put all its money into the paying side of the proposition and leave the other side undeveloped. There is clearly a financial incentive to do so. In these circumstances it will be necessary to put down an Amendment to ensure that there will be a clear-cut expression of those who are resident in Scotland on the Board of this Authority. I will only add this. I am glad that, as I understood it, the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, said it was his intention to make this Authority independent, or, at least, not tied to the apron strings of the Ministry. I am delighted to hear this. I hope he will get people of standing for this important work; and with those words I, personally, welcome this Bill.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, I got far more from the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, than from the Bill. It is true that I tried to have an aerodrome authority created after the last war, and what it is proposed to do now is, in my view, entirely right in principle. But, according to the Bill as it now stands, how it is proposed to do it, the institutionalisation of the Authority, is in so many paragraphs so horrible as almost to make the original right a wrong. I have made myself clear, I hope; and I have also made clear, as did my noble friend who has just spoken, one's immense relief that the Bill should have been interpreted in a much more satisfactory way than eyesight entitled one to expect.

I think most of us agree that it is right that there should be such an Authority, but I say that at the moment this Bill is giving birth to an Authority in a straitjacket. What are we to believe: the clauses of the Bill or the statements of the Minister?—because they are delightfully and most satisfactorily different. And I am sure the noble Lord means what he says. But I find that this Authority is, according to the Bill, merely a proxy for the existing Civil Service control.

In general, I want to make an appeal to the noble Earl the Leader of the House, or to the Minister, or to whomsoever it may be. I believe profoundly in the public corporation system—I was responsible for the first one and for five others and I have managed six—so long as proper institutionalisation is given to the Authority; so long as one can depend on the decent. right attitude from the Minister (with the approval, forsooth, of the Treasury), from the Treasury, from both Houses of Parliament and from the civil servants of the Ministry concerned; without all that I should oppose the public corporation system, either for this particular service or for almost any. After all, both Houses of Parliament, in letting a Bill through for the creation of a public corporation, have passed a self-denying ordinance—have they not, my Lords?—withdrawing from themselves the right to interfere in management.

Now that affects this tremendous issue of accountability. And my appeal to the noble Earl, in his absence, through whomever it may be, is this. Would he consider, and if his considerations are as I think they might be would he recommend to his colleagues, the establishment soon of a Royal Commission to consider this new—relatively new, anyway—and tremendously important instrument of government, which has had no official consideration, none at all, so far as one knows, and in which practice varies immensely as to accountability and in many other ways as well? Could we have consideration given to the appointment of a Royal Commission, so that in fact this system gives what it is designed to give—namely, the best of both worlds: public control over major policy when necessary or desirable, but no public interference in management (or, if you prefer it to be put positively, relatively commercial freedom of management) so that those two essential characteristics may be realised?

So much for the general. Let me turn to the particular. I am going to say very little indeed, because this is Second Reading and not Committee stage. But in my view it really is an awfully bad Bill as it stands. I think it could be two-thirds of the length, with far greater clarity. It is too bad to establish an Authority with a borrowing power of £70 million with an initial capital debt commitment of £56 million-plus. How delighted I was to hear what the noble Lord called it! It was not what the Bill called it at all, but the initial capital debt; not, forsooth, the "commencing capital debt"—in one's prep. school the word "commencing" was as much an offence as a split infinitive. The Authority will have this initial capital debt of £56 million-plus, and for the first two years they may have another £4 million added and no consultation or say. What a task— £70 million borrowing power and committed already to anything up to £60 million!

Equally important—could they not be allowed to borrow in the cheapest market? I think your Lordships will agree that the clauses read now as if the borrowing, the repayments, the interest and all the rest are to be controlled by the Minister. Surely we can trust the Authority to look after their own affairs as to borrowing reserves, repayments and statements of accounts. But the particular matter I am referring to is the borrowing and repayment.

Please, could the Authority be allowed to appoint their own auditors? There have been many Scottish accents in the House this afternoon, so I will use a Scottish word. I think that to make the Authority take auditors appointed by the Minister is "scudgie". Please let them appoint the auditors, if you like with Ministerial approval. Could consideration be given to that?

I have nothing more to say, except to repeat that, despite what the noble Lord has said—and he said a great deal that is most relieving—these things are here in black and white. Could some of them be modified to make it statutorily clear that what the noble Lord said will be implemented and that the Authority will be a real authority, trusted by the Government?

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I can only hope that the worst fears of the noble Lord, Lord Reith, are not realised. On the whole, I welcome this Bill, and I am very glad that it should be introduced in this House by a noble Lord who had such a close connection with the subject fourteen years ago, and who, in addition, must be one of the few Ministers in the Ministry of Aviation to be experienced in piloting an aeroplane. I think that he speaks to us with great authority.

I believe that the Bill is a very necessary step towards placing our major airports on a businesslike and commercial basis. The demands of air travel change so rapidly that the development and management of airports is a science which calls for a high degree of business sense, imbued with foresight, imagination and courage. It is no reflection on those Ministers and their servants who have been responsible in the past to say that a Government Department is not the best sort of organisation for this purpose.

We all know the trials and trouble at Heathrow. It has never been adapted for the traffic, constantly growing, which has been brought to it. At one time or another, most of us have suffered discomfort, delay and frustration there. Until very recently the conditions in the domestic departure and arrival area would have disgraced a cattle market. Fortunately, some improvements have been made; and more, I am glad to see, are on the way. Again, these conditions are no reflection, as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said, on those who work there, doing their best in the face of heavy odds. They are the consequence of early mistakes of design and subsequent indecision on future needs and planning. I am glad to say that at last there are more signs all around London Airport that we are beginning to put these things right.

I am glad that the noble Earl said a few words about the future of the staff, because it struck me as peculiar that in the Bill the only reference I could find to staff was to the Authority's power to pay them pensions, and I am relieved to find that that is not all they are going to do with the staff. This is reassuring, because an enterprise like Heathrow is very much dependent on the staff. It is a remarkable mixture of a small town and a sizeable industrial enterprise rolled into one.

May I say a word on the communications to and from airports? I know that the Authority's responsibility ends at the perimeter of the airfield, but that does not lessen the vital importance of public communications from the neighbouring town. We all know the problems of getting to London Airport. Fortunately, they will be considerably eased by the opening of a new road in the spring. I think that they would have been even more eased if, years ago, the various plans for a railway line or monorail line had been taken a great deal more seriously; and I hope that, even at this stage, the new Authority will not rule out something of this kind.

There is one particular point which, though I do not think that it is covered by this Bill, deserves the Government's attention—that is, the question of the fares charged for taxicabs from London Airport to the centre of the city. I know that they come under ancient legislation, which refers to them as hackney carriages, and that the jurisdiction of that legislation does not extend as far as London Airport. But the fact remains that if a passenger arrives at London Airport and takes a taxicab outside, as a friend of mine from America recently did, the taxicab driver can charge anything he asks, if the passenger is prepared to pay. It may be said that one should take a bus or hired car; but, after all, the foreigner arriving and seeing a London taxicab probably regards it as much a part of the image of British respectability as he would a London policeman. Moreover, the end of a long and tiring journey is no time for argument. To be charged, as my friend was the other day, the sum of £4 10s. to be conveyed from London Airport to Hyde Park Corner is an utter disgrace when it is possible to hire a car, with driver, for less than half that sum.

I should like to say something, in particular, about Prestwick, because it occupies a position somewhat distinct from the other three airports covered in the Bill. When the White Paper was first published some voices in Scotland suggested that Prestwick should be included in a Scottish Airport Authority, as distinct from the rest. I am sure that this would have been a mistake and it is right for it to be in this group which is essentially one of international airports. It is only in this way that its equipment facilities and status can be properly maintained.

Prestwick has come a long way since before the war, in the days when it was a grass airfield and its potential had been appreciated by few people, including the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, his brother, the Duke of Hamilton, and that great pioneer of aviation, the late Group Captain Macintyre. It was the war that brought Prestwick into its own. It was vastly developed with Government money, and was brought to its position because of its location for the shortest crossing of the Atlantic and because of its climatic conditions as the most fog-free airport in Britain. It was reported in a headline last week that Prestwick had been blacked out by fog for a whole day. That was news because it was the first time this had happened since the end of the war. I believe it was that quality of being a fog-free airport more than anything else that saved it at the end of the war, because its value as a diversion was considerable, and it still is most important to-day, as you will discover at any time when there is fog in London.

There is, however, another reason why it survived, and that is that there was a strong realisation in Scotland after the war that our own transatlantic airport was essential for the development of our industry and trade. Those were the days when United States companies were first coming over and setting up branch plants in Britain, a great many of them in Scotland. They have now swollen to some 70 in number, making everything under the sun; and many of these, I know, might well have gone elsewhere if they had not direct communications with their parents in the United States. It is this question of direct air communications that is so important: they are the lifeblood of industry and trade. And I say direct, as opposed to hampering bottlenecks, like the procedure of changing planes at London Airport.

To-day Prestwick is a great gateway for our export salesmen and the goods they send out, and also for the growing incoming tourist trade. That is why we have always kept up the pressure and wrung out of successive Governments, as the noble Lord knows well from his earlier experience, assurances about Prestwick's future. We have constantly done so because there have been times when it looked as if there was a danger that Prestwick would be relegated to a second-class status, and also because the Ministry of Civil Aviation (as it was then) seemed to enjoy (if that is the word) an unusually high rate of turnover in Ministers. Our aim has always been to secure that Prestwick should continue as the second international airport of Britain, and that it should be developed to handle all aircraft capable of being handled, and on the same terms as at London Airport. An assurance to that effect was given categorically by the then Minister to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to the Scottish Council, which I was representing, in December, 1958. The assurance was honoured, if only in the nick of time, by the extension of the main runway for the accommodation of jet aircraft when they came into service. If this had not been done, they might well have overflown on their regular schedules for ever.

The new terminal building at Prestwick is a fine building. This has now been completed, and so have other facilities. Prestwick is now well up to date and an airport to be proud of, with the exception that it lacks a hotel. The old one had to be demolished in the interests of safety—not of the occupants, but of the occupants of the aircraft. The late Government negotiated with various developers for the building of an hotel, but nothing came of this because the requirements of the Ministry were for something much too grandiose and expensive. I hope that they will reconsider this as a matter of urgency, because there must be an hotel there.

The assurance about Prestwick was given about six years ago. I would ask the Minister who is to reply if he will be good enough to repeat the assurance for us to-day. I say that because there has recently been some talk of further extending the runways at London Airport for the requirements of the supersonic aircraft. We are most anxious that there should be full provision for these at Prestwick, too. That is why we attach such importance to Scottish representation on the Authority. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said something about this. I would only add that the expression in the Bill regarding this is not only verbose, but verging on the evasive. Clause 1 (5) says: The Minister in appointing the members of the Authority shall have regard to the desirability of ensuring that there is at least one Scottish member. If there is a "desirability", presumably it is desirable; and if the Minister is to "have regard to the desirability", surely he must do something about it. I would suggest that it can be simply put (I know that we can raise this in Committee) as "shall" and "should".

In Clause 7 there is mention of provision for consultation with various local interests. I am not sure how much value one can attach to this kind of consultative committee, but I would suggest that in the case of Prestwick the locality of the airport is not strictly relevant in the normal sense. The area served by the airport is the whole of Scotland, and if there is to be some consultative body for Prestwick, then I suggest that it should be on an all-Scottish basis.

I should like to ask one other question. What in future will be the status of the Scottish Advisory Council on Civil Aviation, which has a duty to advise the Minister on matters affecting Scottish airports? How will this be affected by the advent of the new Authority? As we have been told, the Authority is bound, under the Bill, taking one year with another, to make ends meet financially. Prestwick does not yet do so. The overall profit of the four airports covered in the Bill last year was some £1½ million. But London Airport alone made a profit, or, as it is described, net operating surplus, of £2¾ million. This was offset partially by a deficit at Prestwick of £250,000, and even more by a deficit at Gatwick of nearly £1 million.

What we have to do is to build up the traffic, particularly through Prestwick. For this reason we were disturbed at the late Government's action last summer in placing restrictions on the number of services that Scandinavian Airlines could run through Prestwick Airport on the ground (which I think was somewhat dubious) of international agreement. Certainly that was not the interpretation of the agreement by the Scandinavians, to whom I know, from a visit at about that time, we caused a great deal of offence.

There is a rumour that other overseas airlines may be similarly restricted. I should like to point out that these services are valuable, not merely for the crossing of the Atlantic, but as direct air links of the kind mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, from Scotland to the Continent of Europe, and they are widely used by our visitors. I hope that rumours of further cuts are false.

It is understandable that the Government should want to give some protection to our national carriers. But B.O.A.C. can stand on their own feet against this kind of competition. In fact, they are doing an excellent job in building up air traffic from Scotland and the North of England to the United States. They are running a daily service called the "Scottish Monarch, "which originates from Manchester, calls at Prestwick, and flies to New York every day of the week, in addition to services to Canada. For the benefit of our friends embarking at Manchester, I think the least they could do would be to call it the "Lancastrian," or something similar, on one day of the week. This service has the added advantage of taking away traffic that would otherwise be channelled through London Airport, so adding to the congestion there. I also think that every possible encouragement should be given, and everything possible done, to increase the service through Prestwick and other airports, rather than place a restriction on them.

On the accounting side, there is one technical branch on which I should like to put a question to the Minister. I think it is a matter of bookkeeping. Last year, over 20 per cent. of the total landing fees at Prestwick were not paid in cash, but were a bookkeeping entry from another Government Department for aircraft, mostly military, which enjoy rights of landing free of landing charge. Under the new Authority, how will this be dealt with? Will the Government promise to make good to the Authority this shortfall on a cash basis, instead of merely treating it as a shortfall?

I know that I have spoken rather a lot about Prestwick, but it is only because I believe that, important though it is to Scotland, it is equally important in its r^ le of being one of Britain's great international airways. It is important that Prestwick should not be left behind or forgotten just because the other three airports covered in the Bill are London airports. The new Authority has, as has been said, a challenging and exciting task. With the powers in this Bill, and if it is given the right membership and left unhindered to get on with its job, I believe that we stand a chance of regaining for our international airports their rightful place among the leading airports of the world. And in this I would certainly join the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, in wishing the Authority very well.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships long, nor will I say much more about Prestwick. If I do not, it will not be because I do not, as a fellow Scot, support all that has been said on the subject. There are two points I should like to emphasise. One is the reference to supersonic aircraft and the importance of Prestwick in terms of the supersonic boom for outward bound planes. We do not know much about the boom, but it has an effect upon a coastwise airport of that nature. The second point which was touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, was the trade between Scotland and Canada. When I have travelled in and out of Prestwick, as I do quite often, I have been greatly struck by the enormous volume of the Scottish-Montreal traffic flowing inwards and outwards, almost like commuters.

Mention was made of the need for rail connection with London Airport, and noble Lords may remember that I have asked a question in this House on that subject before. Of course, it is a pity that, when the Airport was developed after the war, the rail communications were not completed as originally planned, due, I am informed, to the absence of sufficient bridging spaces at Victoria across the river at that time. That accommodation in tracks across the river is now there, and if it is not too late I feel that, whatever may be said about the future of a highway to the West and a road to London Airport, the speed with which road traffic is growing may still make us face the same kind of problem in ten years' time-the problem of linking the centre of London with the Airport, which can be overcome only by some sort of rail connection.

Reference was made to the taxi service at Heathrow, and I think it is perhaps a little off the beam to develop here what the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, said. I got in a taxi at Heathrow the other day and asked to go to Osterley Park Tube station. The taxi driver told me he could not take me there, but that he would take me to the taxi pool. I motored in the taxi until it had 3s. 6d. on the meter. When we got to the pool I offered to pay, but the taxi driver said, "No", and told me that this was a service they rendered free. I got in a taxi which took me to Osterley Park, and I got in a Tube to the City. It is clear from this that there is a problem which must be overcome by the authority in the future. I mention this only because it seems that something might be done now; and I believe the taxi people would co-operate to enable one to take a taxi from there to any part of the Metropolis, within reason. With those few remarks, I support the Bill.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, I hope it is in order for a mere Englishman to venture into this discussion, and I should like to start with a brace of congratulations. I had the good fortune to be able to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, only a few days ago on his recent debut in your Lordships' House. But, as my noble friend said, this is certainly the first time that he has introduced a Bill to your Lordships, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Reith, is not alone in being grateful to the noble Lord for the helpful and lucid way in which he introduced us to this Bill.

My second meed of congratulation is to the Government themselves. It is no secret that this Bill was prepared by the last Administration. It is one of the many good things which the present Administration found waiting for them when they took office, and I should accordingly like to congratulate the Government on their good sense in taking over this measure. Given the Bill's respectable parentage, I think it would only be right and charitable for me to put right any uncertainty which the noble Lords, Lord Beswick and Lord Shackleton, may be feeling, and to tell them straight away that I, for my part, have No 1ntention of disinheriting this child. I can straight away endorse what my noble friends have said: that we generally welcome this Bill, and we welcome the improvements which were made to it in another place. I am particularly glad that the interests of the consumer and the user are now specifically provided for in the membership of the Authority itself. There may well have been very good reasons in the post-war years for our international airports being subject to tight ministerial control. But they should now be well able to stand on their own feet; and we agree that it is certainly time now for them to be free from the ministerial apron strings. The reasons for this are perfectly simple. It was put very succinctly. I feel, in the evidence which B.E.A. gave to the Estimates Committee three or four years ago, as they then stated: An airport is potentially a keenly commercial undertaking, and for this reason should be run on competitive business lines. A Civil Service approach is very often quite inappropriate. As an ex-civil servant, I should like to associate myself with those words.

That said, I think I also agree that the Minister has in all probability been right to reserve to himself the two areas of activity, air traffic control and noise, to which the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, specifically referred. It is quite clear from what has been said in your Lordships' House this evening that the new Authority is to have a considerable job on its hands. This is one of the fastest growth points in our economy and, like much growth, this particular growth has been accompanied by growing pains.

I certainly do not wish to disparage Heathrow and other great airports, and I certainly do not wish to disparage the achievement of those responsible for them and who have been working there, but if there was any part of Lord Beswick's introductory speech which gave me some concern—and I hope I am not putting it too strongly—it was the rather complacent way in which he dismissed some of the criticisms which have been made of these airports and of Heathrow in particular. It is true that they have a proud safety record and I think that their traffic control is unrivalled in its efficiency. The Foreign Airlines' Association in their statement to the Select Committee said that in operation London Airport is one of the best in the world. If anything, I think that is an understatement.

But the criticisms which have been made of London Airport, and of Heathrow in particular, go a lot deeper than the question of whether there is, or is not, dirt on teacups. They go very deep indeed. I will not go over the ground, but a number of telling points have been made by my noble friends on this subject. I do not intend to elaborate on this point, if only because I could not possibly put the critical case against Heathrow better than it was put by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in your Lordships' House three years ago on February 23, 1961. I would endorse and echo many, if not all, of the strictures which he then passed on Heathrow. I do not think we help ourselves or help the cause of British aviation by overlooking the warts on London Airport.

I know that up to a point all airports are being overtaken by events these days. However, compared with the new Rome Airport or Orly or Kennedy Airports, or those fine airports at Copenhagen and Zurich—I am just mentioning one or two which are personally known to me—Heathrow, in certain important respects, certainly as far as the convenience of the passengers is concerned, does not come off too well. But it handles more international traffic than any other international airport, and it should, and must, therefore, be a shop window for British aviation, and not least for Britain. It is not yet that shop window, and I am sure that most noble Lords will agree with this and will also agree that this is part of the challenge that the new Authority are facing.

I hope I have said enough to show that we on this side feel strongly that this new Authority will have a big job on its hands and will need big thinking. Any indication which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, can give us in his concluding speech of what is contemplated in this respect will be very welcome. For example, what is the programme of material improvement at Heathrow? When will the new freight area, about which we have heard and which is very important, be ready? Do we really have to wait four years for the new domestic terminal? What about Stansted? When is the inquiry to which the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, referred likely to be held?

Perhaps most important of all, there is the question of communications and intercommunications between the London group of airports, a point on which a number of my noble friends have touched. Is there anything which the noble Lord can tell us about this, and of the monorail project, of Tube extensions, of the use of helicopters, of the pet project of my noble friend Lord Bossom for hovercraft, of road improvements, and so on? These things are not directly relevant to the Bill, but they are the long-term setting in which the new Authority is going to have to work, and I, for one, would welcome any glimpse which the noble Lord can give us of what is the Government's future thinking on these important matters.

Big thinking is certainly required here, and big thinking needs big minds and big men. The stronger this Authority can be made and the sooner it is set up the better. I am glad that the Minister prefers a smaller rather than a larger Authority. I suppose we must accept the fact that it would be difficult to get the new Authority constituted until, say, the middle of next year, but can the noble Lord tell us anything more about the Minister's intentions here? I think he said in another place that it was the middle of next year.


In 1965.


It was last year that he said it.


I am delighted to hear that.


The noble Earl should have looked up the debate in another place. It took place last year, so "next year" has now become "this year".


I am grateful to the noble Lord for exhibiting his remarkable arithmetical prowess to us and the House as a whole. Can the noble Lord tell us anything else about the Minister's intentions regarding this new Board? I remember having something to do a year or so ago, with my noble friend Lord Hastings, with the establishment of the Water Resources Board, and we then gave your Lordships a fairly clear indication of the then Minister's intention in that respect. What sort of Board does the present Minister of Aviation have in mind? Does he, for example, propose to appoint a full-time chairman? I hope that the noble Lord can give us the answer to that, and that the answer will be affirmative. What about the remuneration of the chairman and other members of the Authority? These men will have a pretty big job on their hands, and I trust that the noble Lord, in winding up, will be able to tell us what sort of remuneration is proposed.

Finally, my Lords, while I am on the question of the composition of the Authority itself, I should like to add my support to what my Scottish noble friends have said about the Scottish provision in Clause 1 (5). It seems to me that the simplification of this as proposed by my noble friend Lord Polwarth could be very easily achieved, and it would be right to achieve it.

My Lords, if big plans and big thinking are required, big money is likely to be needed; and here, in an exploratory way I should like to reinforce the question put to the Government by the noble Lord, Lord Reith. I note from subsection (2) of Clause 4 that the commencing or initial capital is not to exceed £56 million. I see from the Explanatory Memorandum that probably a figure of £50 million is in the Government's mind. Can the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, confirm that this figure cannot be exceeded? In that connection, may I ask whether I am right in thinking that subsection (3) of this particular clause cannot override subsection (2)? Finally, can the noble Lord assure us that, in the Government's view, the borrowing powers of the Authority are really adequate for the foreseeable future?—one of the points on which I think the noble Lord, Lord Reith, touched. I must confess to some doubts about this. If the initial capital debt is, say, going to be £56 million and the ceiling is £70 million, that will represent a margin of only £14 million; and another place was told in the debate last year, I think on the Second Reading, that the proposed extension of the freight area might itself cost £10 million. It seems that the margins here are very slender. Can the noble Lord give us any assurance about this particular aspect of the matter?

This Bill was examined carefully in another place, and some of my noble friends have asked a number of quite searching questions about it. I trust that the noble Lord will be able to satisfy your Lordships on the points which I have put to him and, more important perhaps, the points which my colleagues have put to him. But, that said, I should like, in any event, once again to congratulate the noble Lord on the way he introduced this Bill to your Lordships, and from these Benches to wish the new Authority well.

6.0 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Beswick, as noble Lords have indicated, has brought to this debate a great deal of experience and interest; indeed I am not sure that London Airport was not in his constituency, or an adjoining one, at one stage. I would certainly agree with noble Lords opposite that we have had an accession of strength to this side of the House and to the Government. Since the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, was so generous with his congratulations, let me congratulate him on leading for the Opposition on the Airports Authority Bill for the first time. He was perfectly right; this was one of the things we found in the cupboard, along with £800 million deficit in foreign exchange. I am glad that there were some "plums". I think the Bill was beginning to get a little bit mouldering at the edges, and the present Government have hastened to bring it forward.

It is clear that your Lordships generally accept and welcome the Bill. A large number of questions have been asked, and practically every noble Lord—or every noble Lord who was aware that he was going to speak—has given me notice of points that he intended to raise. I should like to express appreciation to noble Lords for that, and it means that I shall be able now to deal more effectively with many of the points raised. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, added a few at the end of his list, and I may not be able to answer them all; but I will do my best.

The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, raised one or two issues of a procedural nature, of which he had been good enough to give me notice. As to why the financial memorandum to the Bill has not been prefixed to the Bill as printed for the House of Lords, I can assure the noble Earl that this does not date back to some historic practice from the time of Charles II, or an earlier age. The actual history of this is that in the House of Commons the Treasury, on a recommendation from the Estimates Committee in 1927, require the financial memorandum to be prefixed to all Government Bills involving expenditure, and the memorandum sets out briefly the financial effect of the Bill and, where possible, contains estimates of the money involved.

Of course, the inclusion of this memorandum to some extent reflects the predominant r^ le of the House of Commons in matters of finance; and, furthermore, your Lordships' House has never expressed the desire for the same information to be attached to the House of Lords print of Government Bills involving expenditure. I must say that I find it hard to see any reason in principle why we should not have this. As the noble Earl said, we have always exercised our right to discuss these matters and to be as fully informed as possible. My noble friend Lord Longford heard the observations of the noble Earl, and I suspect that this is really a matter of the procedure of the House, rather than one for me to deal with in any more detail now. But certainly I congratulate the noble Earl on hitting on what now appears to be an extremely obvious point, but one that appears to have escaped the notice of your Lordships ever since another place introduced this.


May I thank the noble Lord very much. Perhaps I might read one passage which is really quite interesting: In the financial year 1963–64 the expenditure incurred by the Exchequer in respect of the four aerodromes is estimated to have amounted to £12 million (including £4-3 million on capital account) … "— That information is not known from other sources— These figures include the cost of navigation services, which will not be transferred to the Authority but which cannot be estimated separately". I think that passage is very relevant to the Bill we are discussing.


I accept that it is, and it is clearly the desire of this Government, and I believe of any Government, to give the House as much information as possible. At any rate I think this is a matter of which we have taken note, and I congratulate the noble Earl on raising it.

The noble Earl raised a number of points, some of which he seemed to think I might not be able to answer right away. There was one on the question of liability on the part of the Authority for damage in regard to noise. I can say specifically that under the Civil Aviation Act and the Noise Abatement Act the Authority is exempted from legal process in this matter, and will not, therefore, be liable. This is one of the reasons why power is retained in the Bill for the Minister himself to ensure that the necessary measures are taken. He is retaining the control because, clearly, the Authority, which no doubt will have regard to public convenience, none the less will have No 1ncentive—indeed, there would be a financial disincentive—to restrict the number of night landings, and so on, in order to deal with the matter.

The noble Earl also mentioned the question of navigation services and definition, and I agree this is a matter which, when I first read the Bill, caused me a little concern, because it appeared that the definition was taking navigation services very much wider than one had anticipated. There are technical reasons, and if the noble Earl wishes I could go into these; or we could deal with it at Committee stage. But I can assure the noble Earl that no difficulty is anticipated in making the dividing line. There are certain powers put into the Bill which are necessary but which, none the less, must be a matter of sensible agreement between the Authority and the Ministry of Aviation. I am assured that in fact no difficulty is anticipated in this matter, which clearly is of great importance, especially as further developments of instrument landing, blind-landing devices and so on, come along. In regard to other facilities, I doubt whether one wants to write into the Bill the obligation to provide car-parking facilities. It is an interesting idea, but I think it would be going a little far to write it into the Bill. However, the need for the provision of car-parking facilities is not in question, and of course there are a number of proposals—indeed, certain steps are being taken—to increase car-parking facilities.

The noble Earl also referred to the Title of the Bill and of the new Authority. This was a matter of some contentious discussion in another place. It was doubted whether British Airports Authority was the proper title for this new body. But, frankly, I do not think anybody has been able to come up with a better one. It is unquestionably British. This we know will at least not be offensive to the Scots. And I think it is as good a title and as fair a title as can be found. But if any noble Lords wish to make other suggestions they are welcome to do so. I think that to call it the Airports Authority would, in effect, give it even too wide a connotation. Nor would it be entirely satisfactory to call it the International Airports Authority. I am inclined to think that British Airports Authority is as good a name as we can find.

The noble Earl also asked whether there was any intention to take over additional airports. I think my noble friend Lord Beswick dealt with this point fairly fully. Of course there is No 1ntention of taking over the other groups of airports, either the Ministry's own airports or municipal airports. This Bill follows closely the White Paper which the previous Government produced, and certainly there is no definite proposal in this matter. There is no total exclusion, but, as noble Lords will see, the Minister retains certain controls. Certainly there is nothing planned or intended in this regard at the moment.

There were a number of other interesting points raised by the noble Earl concerning wider issues in regard to planning, which I do not think I will go into. I followed what he had to say, but I think I should not go further than saying that I noted it with interest. I would fully agree with the fact that there is scope for original or fundamental thinking in this matter, and any contributions of this kind are valuable.

The noble Earl and several other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, referred to the question of the Scottish representation dealt with in Clause 1, subsection (5) of which says: The Minister in appointing the members of the Authority shall have regard to the desirability of ensuring that there is at least one member of the Authority who is familiar with the requirements and circumstances of Scotland. I realise that this is a most delicate subject, and I share the concern of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, in taking part in a debate on it at all. I think it is perhaps safer for the Scots to debate it than the Welsh. But there is of course no requirement that any member of the Authority should be familiar with the requirements and circumstances of England. I think that occasionally the Royal Society for St. George might have something to say on that. But the Government would, I think, be prepared to consider any further representations on this matter. I should not like at this stage to undertake to strengthen the clause, but certainly I will discuss this with my right honourable friend and, if there is anything more that can be done to meet the noble Earl and other noble Lords on the point, the Government would wish to do so.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord this question? Suppose you put it this way, that it is desirable that one member of the Authority should be familiar with the situation in London. That is utterly absurd. To put that in would be just as absurd.


My Lords, I think it would be desirable that more than one member should be familiar with the situation in London. I am not sure what the noble Earl wants. I think he wants this clause out, and other noble Lords want it in in a more explicit form. We will do our best so far as possible to meet these views. On the whole, I think I am slightly more inclined to favour the views of the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, but again I do so without any undertaking.

The noble Lord, Lord Reith, in a rather short speech raised some most fundamental questions. As the noble Lord himself demonstrated, and indeed as we all know, it is clear that no noble Lord has greater experience of public administration. Indeed, perhaps I may say, as one of the last of the talks producers in the B.B.C. to have the famous Reith interview on appointment, that there is no man who has made a greater mark of value on this country in the matter of broadcasting. Therefore, there is no question but that we respect anything he has to say on this matter. I think, however, that he is unnecessarily concerned. I was a little worried that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, appeared to be listening to the siren voice (if one might apply such a term) to the noble Lord, Lord Reith, and applying it to his argument.

The noble Lord was good enough to write to me raising a number of points of drafting, but I will deal only with those points that he mentioned. First, I should like to emphasise what Parliament has made clear—whether Parliament is right or wrong is another matter, but I think it is right. In setting up a public Authority the Government, as my noble friend Lord Beswick said—and I do not myself regard the noble Lord's speech as inconsistent with the Bill; certainly it was more agreeable, but then sometimes speeches are more agreeable than Acts of Parliament—certainly had every intention to set up an Authority which is free to do its job and to run its affairs. But there have always been certain matters over which Parliament wishes to retain some control. These are covered in the Bill. In fact it follows closely the pattern of previous legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Reith, would say that this is part of the dangerous hazards of certain kinds of institutionalism which we have got ourselves into. But the examples he gave I did not find convincing. I think that the right balance is struck in this Bill. There are, as again I stress, certain matters in which the Government, clearly acting for and responsible to Parliament, have to exercise and retain some control. When you set up a public monopoly like this it is of the essence that this control should be retained.

The noble Lord objected, for instance, to the fact that the auditor is appointed by the Minister. But this is traditionally something which a company or the board of a company does not do for itself, for certain obvious reasons. One may say that one ought to be able to trust the Authority. I would accept this. But traditionally, as the noble Lord, Lord Reith, knows, practically the only business at some company meetings, after passing the accounts and possibly declaring a dividend, is the appointment of an auditor. This is done by the shareholders. This seems to me to be perfectly analogous and consistent, and not an interference in the management freedom of the Authority.

The noble Lord asked why should not the Authority shop for its capital in the cheapest market. It will in fact do so. This is precisely what the Bill provides. It will go to the cheapest source. This is in fact laid down. The noble Lord also objected to the figure of £56 million. I think the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, also asked whether £70 million was enough. In setting up this Authority the Government and the Ministry of Aviation are not just trying to saddle the Authority with some big debt. These figures are most carefully arrived at and are regarded as the proper figures. Certainly I am not competent to question a figure which I should be surprised that the Authority itself would question—namely, whether the total figure of £70 million is enough.

If I may deal with the point of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, over the five-year period until 1970 the total capital expenditure is expected to be £34 million, of which the Authority can be expected to find £23 million from their own resources. This leaves approximately £11 million to be obtained by borrowing. The Bill provides for a total borrowing limit of £70 million, including the initial capital debt, before further reference has to be made to Parliament. This, again, is a well-established practice. When the airlines wish to increase their borrowing powers, the Minister comes to Parliament and brings in legislation to do so. After all, this is consistent, to take the analogy of a limited company, with a proposal to increase the authorised capital of a company, which has to be agreed to by the shareholders. This enables Parliament usefully to retain a control, and on previous occasions we have had useful discussions on the airlines in relation to such matters. I do not regard this as an interference with the independent management of the Authority.

There is one small point which I cannot resist referring to, and it is the noble Lord's objection to the use of the word "commencing". I would best answer this by referring him to a document, with which I am sure he is very familiar, namely Gowers' Plain Words, where a very firm differentiation is made between the language of literature, writing or conversation and legal language. I should regard it as rather strange if one were suddenly to start changing accepted legal phraseology. I can assure the noble Lord that this is not due to some passionate belief, on the part either of this Government or of the previous Government, in words of Latin derivation. It just is the accepted phrase which draftsmen have continued to use.

The noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, raised a number of Scottish points, with some of which I should briefly like to deal. He mentioned the problem of providing an hotel at Prestwick. This does not seem to me to be a matter for the Authority but rather a matter for private enterprise. I hope that there will be an hotel. Perhaps the various Scottish bodies may be able to stimulate some public-spirited entrepreneur to set up an hotel. I believe certain proposals have been put forward, but it must pay its way. The hotels around Heathrow have not been set up by an authority or by the Government, but by private enterprise.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to put one point straight? I am not asking the Authority to build an hotel, but I think that it was the case under the recent Administration that the only suitable sites were on land owned previously by the Ministry and now, presumably, by the Authority. It would be a question of negotiation by the Authority with private enterprise to provide a site on certain terms. This was the difficulty previously.


This is clearly a matter on which the Scottish Advisory Committee on Civil Aviation could make representations to the Minister, or indeed to the Authority. In that connection, I should imagine that the Scottish Advisory Committee would be able to approach the Authority direct; but, as the noble Lord knows, my right honourable friend the Minister of Aviation had intended to visit Scotland to-day in order to meet them to discuss some of these matters. They have the right of access, which will continue at all times.

The noble Lord wondered whether Scottish representations in the consultative r^le would be confined to the locality of Prestwick, or whether Scotland could be regarded as local for this purpose. I understand, from the strict drafting of the Bill, that there is nothing to prevent Scotland from being regarded as "local" for this purpose. Here again, this is a matter which could well be settled by discussion. I would only say that the noble Lord's point is taken.

The noble Lord also asked about reimbursement in regard to the mainly military air traffic landing free at Prestwick or at any of the Authority's airports. Hitherto, these have not been charged, on the reasonable grounds that transfers of this kind are not made between different Votes, but in future it is intended that reimbursement shall be made. To this extent the Authority will not suffer from traffic of this non-fee-paying kind, of which Prestwick carries a great deal. I noted that the noble Lord was concerned that Prestwick was not paying its way and that it was, in a sense, being subsidised by London and by Heathrow. This is the essence of the problem, and is inescapable. The solution contained in this Bill—that is, the setting up a national Authority—will ensure the continuation of Prestwick as a first-class international airport.

In regard to the point made by the noble Lord about the landing of supersonic aircraft, I cannot answer straight off, but there is no reason to suppose they will not. It has been the Government's intention that Prestwick should be able to take any aircraft, and I assume that this will apply in the future. As to the other points the noble Lord made, they are, I suggest, Scottish points and it would probably be better for him to tackle the Minister direct. As to the exact status in the league of international airports, that is something into which I would prefer not to be drawn to-day. Certain facts in the development of Manchester and other airports may increase the numbers of movements, but whether on a strict comparison it equals Prestwick in the international r^ le I cannot say.

The noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, referred to restrictions on foreign services at Prestwick; I believe he was referring to the limitation of Scandinavian air services. These restrictions, I am advised, have been more than counter-balanced by increased services which B.O.A.C. have been able to introduce. On balance, the Authority's revenues will be the gainer. While we want to see the airports play a full r^ le in the country's communications, we also want to see British airlines carrying as much as possible of the traffic.

The noble Lord and others mentioned the taxi service. I agree that there have been some disgraceful episodes. This is a difficult one to answer. The Bill will have one effect—that taxis coming into London Airport will be obliged at least to pick up fares within the six-mile limit and will be obliged to accept fares. But the problem of driving into London is, of course, limited by the out-dated provisions of the Hackney Carriage Act, 1831, I believe it is. This is a matter on which discussions are taking place; the Home Office are actually discussing it with the London cab trade. I cannot say that a decision is imminent, but I hope very much, and I know that the House will agree, that this matter will be put right. Noble Lords who raised this matter can accept that the Government are doing their best.

The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, made a number of points, and I do not wish to go through all the developments which are taking place at London Airport. I thought that he was a little unfair in saying that my noble friend Lord Beswick was complacent. I did not think he was complacent. London Airport has had so many "knocks" from so many of us, including myself, that it is right it should also receive its true meed of praise. I was interested to see how closely Lord Jellicoe, who thinks on similar lines to myself on these things, had drawn on the speech which I made three years ago. I can only say that I am slightly better informed now that I have seen some of the facts, but this Bill and the measures which the last Government set in hand and which this Government are setting in hand will, we hope, contribute greatly to improving the facilities of London Airport.

The delay in building piers is something on which we have commented in the past and these, of course, are under way. There are a number of proposals which will contribute to improvement in these matters and which I should like to relate to the House now, but I have already taken up a lot of time. On this vexed problem of communication, I cannot offer any hope of any break through, whether on the subject of monorail, Underground or Southern Rail link, beyond saying that there is a committee which is sitting—and they must be getting fairly tired of sitting on this subject—and which is considering these matters. But, of course, the most striking development will be the completion of the M.4 with the direct link into London Airport, and we shall see how that works out.

If the noble Lord wishes to pursue these others points, I think there may be an opportunity on the Committee stage. I am afraid I am not able to give him any definite information on the composition of the board. If it is possible to find out what is in my right honourable friend's mind on this matter before a later stage of the Bill, I shall try to do so and will give this information to the House. Again, the question of whether there should be a full-time chairman will depend on whether a man of the suitable calibre, willing to take a full-time chairman's position, can be found. Of course, this ties up very much with the rate of salary which it is proposed to pay, and it is important that it ensures that we get people of the calibre we want. Certainly, I agree that on the quality of the members of the board of the Authority will, to a large extent, depend its success.

I am grateful to your Lordships for the welcome you have given to the Bill. I do not think there is very much between us but, undoubtedly, we shall have many debates in the future on the development of airports. I doubt whether we shall always get them satisfactory, but the Government are determined to do their best to improve London Airport. On Stansted, I should say that the public inquiry is expected to be in the autumn. On the development of this complex of airports depends a great deal of the prosperity of this country.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.