HL Deb 17 February 1965 vol 263 cc514-8

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the debate, but, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to intervene to repeat a Statement which is being made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Aviation in another place on civil aviation policy. The Statement is as follows:—

"The Civil Aviation Licensing Act, 1960, provides for the Air Transport Licensing Board to grant licences, subject to a right of appeal to the Minister, to operate specified services. I do not propose, at this stage, to ask the House to make a change in this legislative framework. I nevertheless believe that it would be in the public interest to lay down some guide lines to the Government's views of the objectives of licensing policy.

"Three main type of operation are concerned: inclusive tour charter services; scheduled services overseas; and services within the United Kingdom.

"In general, it is not in my view desirable to apply restrictions to the inclusive tour charter services on holiday routes. The growth of such services has been made possible by an agreed European policy of licensing liberally applications by reputable operators of each other's countries. This traffic may have some effect on scheduled carriers, but to attempt to deal with this problem by restricting licences would prevent some members of the public who want inclusive tours from booking them and in addition might tilt the balance of trade within the restricted market against British operators.

"I have accordingly asked the Air Transport Licensing Board if their procedures for dealing with the applications of British operators for this type of service can be simplified and expedited. The two Corporations are, of course, free to compete in the inclusive tour charter market.

"So far as scheduled services on international routes are concerned, I am not convinced that the national interest is in general served by more than one British carrier operating on the same route. No other European country attempts to insert two of its carriers on any single international route, and I believe that a continued British attempt to do so is likely not only to be harmful to the established British operator but to bring no net gain to British civil aviation as a whole. I do not therefore propose to reopen with foreign Governments those cases where the Air Transport Licensing Board has licensed parallel international services by British operators and it has so far proved impracticable to secure the necessary traffic rights on acceptable terms. I shall also be ready to use my statutory power to direct the Board to refuse applications when it appears to me that foreign rights cannot be obtained without detriment to an established service or to the British share of the traffic as a whole. At the same time, any British operator, public or private, who wishes to provide a genuinely new service or open up some fresh market for British aviation will have my full support.

"On some trunk routes in the United Kingdom independent companies are now operating services of limited frequency alongside B.E.A. The Air Transport Licensing Board have not so far thought it right to allow them to operate at anything approaching an unrestricted frequency. This accords with my own view. In the short run, unrestricted competition might produce a better service to passengers, but probably at the cost of all the operators serving the routes in question doing so at a loss. The longer-term results could well be to force up fares or to lead to a lower frequency after one operator has been eliminated. The benefits to the passenger would be likely to be short-lived. While, therefore, so far as rests with me, the independent airlines may continue undisturbed to operate their present limited frequencies on these domestic trunk routes, I do not think it right to offer them the prospect of an unrestricted or extended frequency in the near future. In these circumstances, it will be for these companies to consider whether they wish to continue as at present or to withdraw completely from these routes.

"Should they choose the latter alternative, B.E.A. will revert to being the sole operator. I therefore propose to institute special measures to ensure that B.E.A. pays particular regard to the consumer interest. I shall seek an early opportunity to appoint to B.E.A.'s Board a member who will be charged with paying especial attention to the interests of the domestic passenger. I also propose to strengthen the terms of reference of the Regional Advisory Committees for Civil Aviation, with particular emphasis on the quality of service and convenience of timings to meet local needs. I am sure that B.E.A. will not wish to fall down on their national responsibilities in any of these respects.

"On other internal routes there may be a case for more enterprising development of air services by independent airlines, and for giving them reasonable security of tenure of licences. But the Government's eventual policy must naturally have regard to the study of the co-ordination of the transport system which Lord Hinton has undertaken to conduct.

"These general statements of policy intention, which must be subject to exception in some cases and which are, of course, without prejudice to the duty of the Board and of myself to give full attention to evidence and argument in particular cases, will, I believe, offer reasonable security and a good prospect of growth both to the Air Corporations and to the independents. Both types of operator have an important part to play in the rapidly expanding future of British civil air transport. In the opinion of the Government, they need not achieve this at each other's expense."


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for repeating this Statement to us. It reached us on this side of the House only a moment or two before I was due to say something else to your Lordships on another aviation topic, and I must therefore confess that I have not yet fully digested it. However, I should like to offer one immediate comment, and that is that, for the usually brief and pithy Mr. Jenkins, this seems to be one of his rather more indigestible pieces of literature. But, that said, there are two elements in this Statement that I should like to welcome straight away. The first is the liberal policy which it is apparently proposed that we should pursue regarding inclusive tour charter services on holiday routes. I should like to welcome that indication of the Government's thinking. I would also welcome the Minister's decision to appoint to the B.E.A. Board a member who will have as his primary duty that of safeguarding the interests of the domestic passenger.

Having said that, I should like to ask the noble Lord a couple of questions. The first is: can he give us any indication of the sort of situation which is envisaged in the fifth paragraph, when the Statement speaks of the licensing of "parallel international services by British operators"? What sort of applications have there been of this nature, and where has this arisen? Secondly, and speaking "off the cuff", I have not given this full consideration, but I should like to express some reservation about what is said in the sixth paragraph about restricting the rights of the independent operators to a fair share in the growth market on trunk services in the United Kingdom. But that is an aspect of the matter to which I, for one, should like to give further consideration.


My Lords, it is quite clear that there is no satisfying the Opposition. If we make a short Statement, they complain: if we make a long one, they equally complain—and the noble Earl was not as short as all that himself. I sympathise with the noble Earl: I, too, was not sure at that moment whether I was getting up to reply to him or to make this Statement. I think this is a Statement which will require a good deal of careful consideration. I am grateful to the noble Earl for the welcome he gave it on certain points. I should prefer not to go further; and, frankly, although I am aware of routes where there are parallel services—and, of course, there have been cases where a parallel service on acceptable conditions has, I understand, been refused by the foreign Government—I have not got the facts to go into it in greater detail at this moment.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether we are right in assuming that this is confined to European routes? If so, is there any intention to do anything similar on overseas routes, such as those to Africa and South America—and particularly Africa?


My Lords, as I understand it, it applies to all routes. It speaks of international routes and is not confined to Europe.


My Lords, only B.E.A. is mentioned, and that is why I ask.


My Lords, I think this is a matter that we shall be able to pursue in greater detail later; but I am guided by the Statement.