§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, I should have thought there could be nothing more vague and confusing than the statement which was made in this House by the noble Lord the Secretary of State. But I was wrong in thinking that, because today the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, has made confusion even more confounded; and what was somewhat murky has now become completely opaque. He has made no reply whatsoever to the questions put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, in spite of the fact that my noble friend gave him notice of those questions. Nothing new has emerged from the speech of the noble Lord, the Secretary of State, save for one matter with which I shall deal a little later.
There were two curious circumstances surrounding the birth of this particular statement, and they seem still to create confusion and uncertainty in the minds of those who have the necessity of implementing it. It was a seven-months baby. It took the Government seven months to produce it. Just before the 225 time of its birth, we had a series of alarums and excursions as to the exact time when the birth would take place. Several times it was delayed, and eventually, when it was born and we had the statement before us, it was clear, I think (to change the metaphor), that the statement had been much watered down from its original form; that the various conflicting elements in the Conservative Party had played their part in formulating it, and that the present incoherent state of the Government policy is really a sign of the play of forces. If it had been intended to satisfy one element in the Conservative Party, of course they would have said, "Free competition: Set the people free. Let them fly wherever they want, in whatever sort of aircraft they want." That would have been the Prime Minister's point of view, and no doubt that was the original statement. But before the statement came to be delivered, other forces had exercised their influence, including those represented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So they said, "No; Socialism must go on. We must have planning." And this queer dichotomy between the two elements of the Conservative Party, which has affected so many things, in a similar way has resulted in this curious hybrid, this so-called policy that we now have before us. Lord Balfour of Inchrye has asked what we shall do, whether we shall reverse this policy. Quite frankly, before we make any statement on it we want to know what it is. We have not yet heard.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
The noble Lord says he has not yet heard what the policy is. What was the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, condemning so wholeheartedly? Was he condemning nothing? I thought he was condemning the policy.
§ LORD OGMORE
—and the implication that he thought lay behind it. No one can tell me that here before us is a finite and fixed policy on which the Government are going to act.
I would remind the House that much of Lord Pakenham's speech consisted of a series of questions, which were designed 226 to try to elicit from the Government what the policy was going to be. It was because of these questions, or of this attack, as Lord Balfour of Inchrye said, that he reversed the process and suggested that we might answer a few questions as well. I would tell Lord Balfour of Inchrye this: that we shall do nothing when we come back to power which will in any way injure the Corporations in their struggle for traffic in the face of fierce international competition. We shall, in fact, assist them in every way we can to maintain their positions and increase their business. As to the charter companies, subject to those principles, we will help them in every way we can. And may I say now that we have helped them enormously? Anyone would think, listening to Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that this was a pure case of socialised industry or nationalised industry against private enterprise. It is nothing of the kind. The charter companies—private enterprises—have always had very considerable business as the result of Government interest, and perhaps I may mention two ways in which we have helped them.
First of all, we have helped them in the matter of the trooping contracts. Practically every soldier, sailor or airman who goes abroad by air—and a very large number do nowadays—is carried in a charter plane, so far as I am aware. There may be one or two very minor exceptions, but certainly all the main charters were given, in face of competition from the Corporations, by the late Government to the charter companies. If it had been a question of socialised industry, or nationalised industry, against private enterprise, one would have expected the late Government to say: "No; we will stand on our principles in this matter. We will give no business to the charter companies." But, in fact, all these millions of people who are being carried in the course of the years to the Middle East, to Malta, and so on, are being carried in charter company planes, under contracts given by the late Government. We have helped them to a lesser extent under associate agreements and in Army co-operation. My noble friend mentioned the Silver City company as one that has been and. I hope, still is, a successful company. We tried to help them with the licence we gave them, and we hope that their activities will continue.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY)
Perhaps the noble Lord will forgive me for intervening in order to elucidate this point—I know that he is always willing to give way. I am very interested in what he is saying and I am encouraged by what he has said so far, apart from a few of his criticisms. Is he saying—as I hope he is—that the charter companies should be encouraged to expand their traffic and make profits out of aviation?
§ LORD OGMORE
Certainly, I agree with that idea entirely. I hope that the charter companies will play a very considerable rôle in civil aviation in this country in the future. I say that, in the first place, because I believe in a certain amount of competition and, secondly, because it gives a wider range of opportunities of employment to pilots and others. Thirdly, it ensures the maintenance of a great reservoir of machines and men—air crews and the like—which can be drawn on in case of war. That is why I am saying this about charter companies. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has his heart in this matter just as much as anyone else. But it might appear to those who did not know him as well as we do that he was making this question one of socialised or nationalised industries against private enterprise. In fact, under the last Government there were very great developments of both. Once more, I emphasise that we should not do anything to encourage private enterprise which would materially affect the nationalised industries, nor do I think it is necessary. I do not think it is necessary at all. I think there is sufficient work in the various fields for both nationalised industries and private companies without their coming into conflict. Our fear in this case is that the Government's policy, without really benefiting the charter companies, may seriously affect the nationalised Corporations. That is our fear and I will tell the House why.
In the first place, the United Kingdom has very great prestige in the air to-day. Not only is B.E.A. the eighth largest carrier of passengers in the world, but the whole position of this country in the air world has changed from what it was only a few years ago, at the end of the war. From being merely on the periphery of Europe, and being one of the many countries dealing with civil aviation, 228 Great Britain has largely become the hub of the wheel in international air routes and international air traffic. Experience has shown over the years that there can never be more than one British air line on one overseas route. We have never yet managed to maintain more than one British air line on an overseas route. Will the Government's proposals affect the position of B.O.A.C.? That is my great fear.
The Secretary of State has said in effect, and so has Lord Balfour of Inchrye: "Oh, well, that is all right; this question of the old privilege, the pattern, so far as B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. are concerned, has gone. They can no longer be prevented from allowing other and private air lines to operate on routes they are not using themselves; they are no longer protected"—that was the word the noble Lord used: "protected." But what does protection mean? He explained what it meant. He said that it meant that, if a route was to be opened up, the views of the particular Corporation concerned have to be obtained and their legitimate interests protected and looked after. But that does not mean that the Corporation have a power of veto. It means simply that the whole pattern of air line work is brought under review at that time. That is what it means. If you are going to allow other air lines to operate on routes which B.O.A.C. may not be using for the time being (I am talking about B.O.A.C. for the moment, because this statement does not distinguish between the two Corporations, although in fact they are very different—one operating overseas and the other operating internal traffic as well), and if you are not going to allow B.O.A.C. to have any say in the allocation of all routes which they do not use now but may want to use in the future, then you are undoubtedly restricting them to those routes which they now use. This will mean that there can be no flexibility, so far as they are concerned; and in changing times like these, when a new era is starting in the air, when new methods and machines—such as for instance the jet air liner—are rapidly being brought in, you cannot restrict the Corporation for the next ten years to routes that they have been using in the past.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
My Lords, may I intervene again just to get 229 the matter clear? The noble Lord speaks of the Corporation having no say. Perhaps the noble Lord can tell us what he means by "having no say" in this question of taking up new routes.
§ LORD OGMORE
I am merely taking the definition of "protection," the word used by Lord Leathers. He said that protection would no longer be promised and in an interjection I asked him what he meant by that. The noble Lord asks what I meant by saying that they would no longer have a say. Perhaps he will tell us what the Secretary of State meant.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
I will deal with that in my winding-up speech. I wanted to make certain that we were explicit about terms. If the noble Lord could be a little more explicit about what he means, it would help me to reply to him.
§ LORD OGMORE
I can only say what I think the Secretary of State meant. He meant that they are no longer going to have the amount of protection they now have. The only protection they now have is that before a route is allocated, the views of the Corporations are ascertained and their future plans inquired into, and they may put up objections to the route for which an application is being made by a charter company to the Air Transport Advisory Council. If that no longer happens, the Corporations will no longer have a say in the allocation of routes. Let me put it in this way: they will not be able to bring any power to bear in regard to the allocation of new routes to somebody else. That may affect them severely. Whether internal or external, no civil air line in this country has ever been able to "fly on its own wings"—with very few exceptions, the Silver City line being one of them. "Flying on their own wings" is an expression which was used by Mr. Churchill in the early 1920's when he was Secretary of State for Air and took the disastrous decision that all aircraft should "fly on their own wings." As a result, the whole of British civil aviation had to be grounded. In one day at Croydon, the airfield then used for civil flying, not a single British aircraft took the air, though foreign aircraft were coming in and leaving the whole time. Following that disastrous decision, there had to be a volte face and we had to go back to the old principle of subsidising civil aviation.
230 Wherever there is civil aviation, in whatever country, and whether public or private, there is always an element of subsidy. It may not be direct, but it is there. Civil aviation has never really paid for the development of aircraft. They have had that done for them by the military authorities, who develop aircraft at little cost to civil aviation. The Government also provide landing facilities and keep the highways clear, all of which is not fully paid for by civil aviation in landing fees. I am making no complaint about that. I think it is important that the State should provide these services. After all, the Merchant Navy did not pay for the Royal Navy which swept the seas—the taxpayer paid for it. I am not sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman" would agree with me there. For various purposes—defence in case of war and for good air communications in peace time—it is necessary for the taxpayer to pay for certain services, such as air ports and the like.
I am not going to say much about the Government statement, because it is vague and because my noble friend Lord Pakenham made an excellent speech in which he dealt with every single point that could be made, and there are no points left for me to deal with. I should like to confirm what he said and say that I entirely support him in the arguments he put forward. But I should like to put one or two points to your Lordships on what I think the Government's policy should be. Now I am looking at the question from the larger point of view. We are at the beginning of a new era in flying. There are three types of aircraft made for three different types of work—first, the jet for long-range work; secondly, the turbo-prop for medium-range work, from 500 to 1,500 miles; and thirdly, the helicopter for short-range work under 500 miles, perhaps a little less. If I were a Minister I would say to myself, "How in the service of the nation am I to deal with these three classes of machine?"
In regard to the long-range class, Sir Harry Garner, the chief scientist of the Ministry of Supply, recently gave an interesting lecture. If any of your Lordships have read that, you may have been surprised at some of the things he said. He said the difficulties of transsonic and supersonic flight are largely overcome, or 231 likely to be so in the near future. That means that flying is possible near and just beyond the speed of sound. This has been made easier because of swept-back wings and new methods of propulsion. It will not be long before the gap is bridged between aircraft and projectile. This will be well known to the Secretary of State. Noble Lords may ask what this has to do with civil aviation. It has a great deal to do with civil aviation, because if the gap will soon be bridged between aircraft and projectile—and any one who attended the last show of the Royal Aeronautical Society at Farnborough will know that that is so and that modern military aircraft look extraordinarily like projectiles—it becomes apparent that there will be a big gap between military and civil aircraft. No longer will civil aviation, whether nationalised or in the hands of charter companies, be able to rely on having types tested, prepared and developed for them by the Royal Air Force. When they are considering the whole question of civil aviation and the paucity of aircraft, how can the Government fail to take that into consideration? In other words, we are faced now with the fact that, for the first time in its history, civil aviation will have to develop their own 'planes without having the previous assistance of the Royal Air Force and the Ministry of Supply for the Royal Air Force.
According to Sir Miles Thomas, we have four years' lead over any other country in the world in jet aircraft. That was largely due to the fact that the late Government took a bold decision at the end of the last war, when they decided not to go on with piston engine types but to develop the jet engine. This four years' lead has been obtained not only by developing the jet engine, but also by the fact that the nationalised Corporations were the only authorities in the world, private or nationalised, prepared to take a lead and give an order for fourteen Comets Mark I to de Havilland and for a lesser number of turbo-prop Viscounts. No other Corporation was prepared to do that. I myself, when I was Minister, saw several of these private foreign corporations and discussed this question with them, and each of them said: "It is all very well for a nationalised corporation to take a risk of this kind. We cannot do it. We 232 shall wait and see what sort of success they have. We are only a private corporation and cannot take a risk of this kind. Let them do it, and we will come in later on if it is successful." So the country is deriving the benefit of this tremendous prestige of the Comet, not only from the great firm of de Havilland's, or from Air Commodore Whittle who developed the jet, but also from B.O.A.C., who were the only corporation in the world prepared to take the risk.
I want the Government to show as much courage as the late Government showed: it will be difficult for them, but they must try to live up to the late Government in courage. We must keep the lead, because, although I do not want to talk in the disparaging way that the Home Secretary did of the people in the United States, we do know that while they are not nearly as inventive as we are, they surpass us. and possibly all other nations, in the way in which they apply new inventions to practical uses, and in their exploitation—I use the word in its most respectable sense—of new methods of production. It will not be long before the Americans catch up. Already—and this is a most interesting comment on the Government's statement—the private firms of aircraft manufacturers in America are going to the Government there and asking them for assistance in order to enable them to catch up with the British machines. So, while the British Government are trying to break down the great success which we have had here in the nationalised Corporations, the Americans are reversing the process in order to catch up with what has been done in this country.
I want the Government and the Ministry of Supply to give practical contractual assistance to the Mark III jet. The Mark I is in service—that is, the Comet with the Ghost engine: the Mark II is coming off the line and will have the Avon engine—that is an engine which will take the Comet across the Atlantic without a stop. I want the Government to look at the Mark III jet machine, which will be the next stage forward from the Mark II. They should now be giving contractual assistance to a firm—it may be de Havilland's. or some other firm—to further the prototype development work needed for this machine, which carries 233 sixty passengers, or even a greater number, and has a greater range and staying power than the Mark II. It will take years to come into production, and that is why it is essential for the Government now to give this contractual assistance to the development work that is needed and also to help in the production aspect of the machine when the time comes.
The problems of the medium-range aircraft are somewhat the same, but not, I think, so acute as in the case of the jet. I believe that the medium-range machine will prove itself. Of course, it is a much cheaper machine than the jet, and there will not be the necessity for the same amount of Government assistance in that: case as there is in the case of the Mark III jet. However, they might look at it and ascertain whether it is necessary for them to give production and development facilities in the case of the turbo-prop. In the case of the short-range aircraft the Government have a great opportunity of bringing into being within a very few years the new two-engined helicopter, with wings and engines of propulsion as well as methods of suspension, by which they can revolutionise travel in this country. I believe that we shall really be able to enjoy travel when we can go from one city to another by air instead of having to go by rail. It is essential that this great city of London, the hub of the universe, should have a station of which we can be proud. People coming in for the first time by helicopter from Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and other places on the Continent of Europe, and people coming from other parts of this country, should land at a centre which is worthy of a country which has made such a great contribution as we have to air travel. That site, without a doubt, is the South Bank. I have been making this plea for a considerable time, but I do not know what effect, if any, it has had on the Government. I hope they will not allow the South Bank site to be used for purposes which will prevent it from being used by helicopters as an air stop. I ask the Government to use imagination in this way.
That is all I have to say on this matter. I support my noble friend, Lord Pakenham. I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, has not given us the answers that we desire—in fact, he has not given us answers, other than an answer to one question which we did not 234 ask. However, I hope: that the Government, even at this late stage, will begin to look at this whole subject again; that they will realise that in this, as in so many other matters, the late Government were wise; and that they will follow wisdom, in the shape of the late Government's policy, instead of following folly in the shape of their own Right Wing.
§ 4.37 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF WILLINGDON
My Lords, year after year we debate a policy, which should be non-political, of how Government Corporations and private enterprise work together. I wonder whether it is not feasible to ask the private companies and the representatives of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. to get together and produce for the Minister a scheme which they consider is workable. Would it not be possible to get together the men who from day to day, and year after year, work in and have experience of the industry to produce a scheme for the Minister? I wonder whether that would not have worked rather well with the road haulage policy put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, and also with regard to the subject of the debate that we had on the B.B.C., television and sponsored programmes;. There are so many young men in this country with experience in these matters that I believe we should take this right out of Party politics and get them to produce a scheme for the Minister.
With regard to this particular proposition, the Minister could give a guidance—perhaps 80 per cent. of the traffic going to the Corporations and 20 per cent. to private enterprise. Undoubtedly there is great room for all. I personally am not too impressed with the records of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. as to profits up to date.
May I interrupt for one moment? I am afraid that I must have missed something that was said by the Secretary of State. Am I to understand that the noble Lord the Secretary of State said—or was it said by the Minister elsewhere—that 80 per cent. of the traffic is to go to the Corporations and 20 per cent. to the charter companies?
THE MARQUESS OF WILLINGDON
No. It is my humble suggestion that 235 the Minister might ask the whole-time workers in this industry to work out a scheme for him, and that he might give a directive saying that 80 per cent. of the traffic should go to the Corporations and 20 per cent. to the charter companies.
Does the noble Marquess realise that that would mean a complete change in the present position in favour of the charter companies? If he is talking of traffic on the scheduled routes, should the charter companies get 20 per cent. and the Corporations 80 per cent., that would be revolutionary.
THE MARQUESS OF WILLINGDON
The point under discussion is the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, some time ago: that he was going to open up new routes to private enterprise. My suggestion is based on that point. At the moment, 263,000,000 capacity ton-miles are being flown, and that figure could be trebled. Under free enterprise the United States fly twelve times that amount, and in overseas routes two and a half times. In fact, there is room for all, provided that the aircraft are available. I do not wish to tender either in auction or in open market for the Tudors, the Yorks or the Dakotas, but from the strategic point of view, and the aviation mercantile point of view, surely there is an answer in having a buying agency to purchase all the best aircraft for transport needs, and to allot them to Transport Command, to the Corporations and to private companies. Otherwise, I cannot see that these private companies, who are going to be given this magnificent seven years' run, will ever be able to operate. The cost is far beyond their means, and the delivery date is frankly out of sight.
I wish to ask the Secretary of State one question, of which I have not given him private notice, but I am certain that private notice is not required as it requires only the answer, Yes, or No. The question is: Would he advise any young man who came to him to enter a private company on a seven-year lease, or would he advise any firm with which he is connected in the City to finance a company on such a seven-year lease? In my opinion, it is not a business proposition. The noble Lord, however, knows a hundred thousand times more about the subject than I do, and I should like his 236 answer. I know that in giving it he will bear in mind depreciation, the present rate of taxation, the difficulties of building and of hangarage, and the wages being paid by the industry, particularly by the nationalised companies, to unskilled labour.
There is one other question that I should like to ask. I hope that the Secretary of State is not going to be unapproachable as regards civil aviation. There are many of us here—including the three ex-Ministers who have spoken—whose heart and soul are in this matter, and who have been connected with it for a great number of years. I should like to ask the Minister whether, before making this statement, he has at any time seen the British Independent Air Transport Association, or any of its members individually, because I believe that these private companies should be consulted before an important step like this is taken. Finally, let us follow the advice of our Chancellor of the Exchequer. Let us go out into the world with free transport, trading all we can; and let these private companies have a fair deal to run in parallel or on the 20 per cent. basis with the B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. Corporations, of which we are rightly proud as the mercantile marine of the air.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ LORD NATHAN
My Lords, I should like to examine this matter quite dispassionately, from the point of view of a matter of business. Is this a sound business scheme or not? Is it likely to attract the necessary capital or not? As the noble Marquess, Lord Willingdon, asked just now, is the policy outlined by the Government likely to attract into its ranks pilots, crews, administrators and business men? Is it likely sufficiently to improve the range and scope of British aviation to justify the risks to the position of the Corporations? The Corporations have been discussed to-day as if they were some emanation of a public enterprise, and were to be looked upon merely from the standpoint of being public enterprise in contrast to private enterprise. In what I say to-day I have no particular interest, in that question. I look upon these Corporations—originally three, the third now being absorbed into the other two—as a business enterprise, a business enterprise in which no less than £42,000,000 and more of public money has been invested. 237 As a taxpayer, I am concerned to know whether my investment is going to be improved or whether it is going to deteriorate as a result of the proposals put forward by the Government; and whether the whole range of civil aviation will be better served and will bring more credit to the country and more earnings to the country if the emphasis is upon the Corporations or if the suggested change is made in favour of the independent operators.
As I look back six years, to the time when I was appointed Minister of Civil Aviation within a few weeks of the passing of the Statute—which, with so much ingenuity and care, my predecessor the noble Lord, Lord Winster, saw through Parliament—I recall that when I arrived I found the Corporations in a situation which certainly did not enable them (how could it in that limited period of time?) to conduct business in the way in which one expects and hopes that business should be conducted. Apart from B.O.A.C., they had only just been created. My noble friend Lord Winster had brought together with great care bodies of men to operate those Corporations, but they had little or nothing with which to operate. There was an ill-assorted, heterogeneous collection of converted bombers. That was all they had until, some time later, there came upon the scene the ill-fated and inglorious Tudor, itself only an adaptation of a bomber. It is amazing to me, looking back at the situation in 1946 and surveying it to-day, to realise how well these Corporations have done in the face of these most difficult beginnings. Infinite credit is due to all ranks—if I may use that phrase—within the Corporations for the results which have been achieved. They have the advantage that £42,000,000 has been invested in those Corporations. They are showing that the money has been well spent.
I do not think we are at the end of the investment yet. The requirements of capital may well proceed quite a considerable distance further. But at least we can say this: that, whereas in the earlier times that investment looked precarious, we are now "out of the red," and that, to all intents and purposes and barring some unforeseen occurrences, we may look forward to the Corporations making a profit. That is a highly satisfactory situation within so very short a 238 time. Is it wise in those conditions, is it a matter of business prudence, to create the instability, the uncertainty and the doubts which will inevitably be created by the proposals put: forward by the Government? The only way in which the Corporations have been able to make their startling progress has been by planning ahead. They have planned ahead with great foresight and wisdom, and naturally they have phased their programme of planning with a programme of aircraft production and of aircraft coming forward. Aircraft, as the Secretary of State said, are the central problem here. It takes a pretty long time for aircraft to be forthcoming. The Comet, the Viscount and the Ambassador were all initiated in my time, but they are only now really beginning to come forward. Even so, the Comet comes forward at the rate of only one per month, while the Viscount will not be coming at all until next October, and then only at one per month. Planning is a long process; in aviation, at least, I have no doubt that it is. I have no experience of the Royal Air Force, but I have certainly had experience from my observation of civil aviation.
Now what do the Government say? They say "We will take the present position and regard it as static." It is no good planning your programmes for the future, for you cannot be certain that you will be allowed to operate the routes planned and to use the aircraft that you have ordered, because others may come forward and be licensed for those routes and then take those aircraft. The A.T.A.C. may recommend that the planned programme of the Corporations be accepted, or they may recommend that it be sacrificed in favour of the independent operator. That would not have happened under the procedure as it was previously. It has been said, and it is true, that I invented the device of the associate agreement when I was Minister; and my noble friend, Lord Pakenham, developed that idea and produced the directive to the Air Transport Advisory Council. That directive particularly emphasised the very point that I am now trying to make to your Lordships and provided, accordingly, that no associate agreements were to be made which overlapped or competed with existing services whether in operation or as part of a planned programme. Part of 239 the quarrel which, on business grounds, we have with the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, is that, according to the statement he has made to-day, the Air Transport Advisory Council is under no obligation to have regard to planned programmes. On the contrary, the indepen-rent operators are encouraged to apply to the Air Transport Advisory Council where the route is not actually operated over but is nevertheless planned. Thus, the Corporation may be excluded from the planned route not yet actually operated, notwithstanding any commitments which the Corporation may have undertaken regarding aircraft, ground works, personnel, equipment and so on. I am intensely interested to know what the directive is which is to be given to the Air Transport Advisory Council.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
My Lords, when the noble Lord was responsible as Minister, how would he have defined a planned programme? Would it have been a programme where everything was already arranged, or would it be one which was merely a dotted line on the map? It is rather important to know what a planned programme is, and I should like to know the noble Lord's views on it.
§ LORD NATHAN
That is an extremely fair question. I would say that I know a planned programme when I see one, but I realise that that will be an insufficient answer to the noble Lord. I think that I could possibly improvise a definition which would satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, with all his wide business experience. What I regard as a planned programme is this: the stage which is reached when the board of a company have consulted their technical and other advisers, when a certain period of time has been set for their programme, and when they have decided that the programme should be along certain lines—perhaps the word "lines" is not quite the correct word here, being a little ambiguous—shall I say should take a certain shape? They then direct their minds to the phasing of that programme and its implementation by phases, such as the surveying of the routes, preparations for the ground staff, the ordering and delivery of the aircraft and the training of pilots and crews—the whole of the suitable and appropriate phasing, in 240 anticipation of the programme to be pursued.
I have spent forty years in the City of London and I have in my time come across two or three industrial strategists. I have also come across a good many highly skilled administrators. I have found that they are two very different things. I am thinking of the business strategist—the man who has a touch of the statesman about him. He is a rare bird. I think we are fortunate in the Corporations in having on the boards men who qualify for the rare distinction of being business strategists, by having about them that touch of the statesman. They are much more than mere administrators. And when I say a planned programme, I mean a planned survey, first in outline and then a working out of it, first by the strategist and then by the tacticians and the other administrators. All this value is now to be denied to the Corporation, according to the interpretation given by Lord Leathers of the functions of the Air Transport Advisory Council. I think it is a great pity, because on that interpretation the Corporations cannot look ahead. They cannot decide how the successes which they have already had are to be maintained, or new successes achieved. They cannot make up their minds what additional capital resources they require—much less secure them—or, indeed, how to safeguard the capital resources which they already have. It is essential that the whole thing should be planned comprehensively.
I have no hostility towards the independent operators. On the contrary, I well remember calling them together after I had been appointed (it is now a long time ago) and asking them to form themselves into an association, so that the Minister would have someone to whom to talk. That was the origin of the organisation which has now, after some vicissitudes and some changes of name, taken the form of the British Independent Air Transport Association. My noble friends, Lord Pakenham and Lord Ogmore, have made it clear to-day that none of us has any antagonism or hostility towards the private operators. It is just a question of securing that they have a proper place, and that they can play their part in that place.
Before I pass from the A.T.A.C, I should like to ask the Minister who is 241 to reply: Who are to be the members of the A.T.A.C.? The noble Lord, Lord Terrington, has been Chairman from the outset, and his colleagues, all of whom I appointed and who have done a great public service during the six years which have since intervened, have all either resigned or been asked for their resignations. What sort of people is it proposed to appoint in their place? What are to be their qualifications'? How will they be selected? What are the criteria by which, when selected, they are to make the decisions on the matters which will come before them in regard to this new policy? I think that the independent operators have done a very good job of work. They have a fine record as regards freight; they have done well as regards trooping, and there are a multitude of services within the whole sphere of civil aviation which they can perform usefully, to the public interest and profitably for themselves. But there are few, if any, of them who have aircraft either of the quality or in the numbers suitable for running a scheduled service, whether within these islands or on the overseas routes.
How are they to obtain those aircraft? Assuming that the A.T.A.C. consider their application worthy of support, how are they to obtain those aircraft? They can be obtained, so far as I can see, only by an acceleration in production or by diversion of orders already given to the Corporations. The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, truly said that the problem of aircraft is difficult and complex. So it is. But the Corporations are entitled to know where they stand, because it is they who have ordered these aircraft. They are committed to these aircraft. They have developed these aircraft. Who is going to pay the charges for the development of these aircraft now debited to the Corporations? Are the independent operators to come in and have all the advantages of the development work done by the Corporations, at the expense of the taxpayer? Or are they themselves to make some—and if so what—contribution to those development charges?
How are they to get their trained crews and their pilots for the scheduled services? Is that to be done at the expense of the Corporations? I am trying to put practical and not tendentious questions: they are questions which somebody has to answer, either to themselves or to 242 somebody else, at some time or other. Where are the independent operators going to get their crews and pilots? Presumably, they will not get them from the Corporations because the Corporations are not going to have any routes taken from them. What is happening is that the Corporations are not to retain the same chance that they have at present of acquiring new routes. So there will be no surplus of pilots and crews, if I understand the position correctly—I see that the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, nods agreement. Where, I repeat, are these new pilots and crews corning from? Who is going to train them? Where is the school for training them such as that set up at such great expense by the Corporations?
Where is the capital coming from for the independent operator? I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Willingdon, that it is going to be difficult not only to find the personnel in their various grades but also to find the capital required for a licence of seven years—or, if the operator is lucky, ten years. Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, has said, there is not even an undertaking or a guarantee that, when the capital is there, the company will do, or continue to do, its work, and will not fall down upon its obligations. Where is it going to get its capital from? Not by taking it from the Corporations, I assume. Therefore, it can be done: only either by reducing our exports or by using for civil aviation capital predestined for capital work on re-equipment in other branches of industry. What is the effect of this going to be on the capital investment programme which the Government have laid down? Is it proposed to divert from, for instance, the building of homes and houses, and from other capital purposes, the restricted capital which the Government have made available? I make no criticism—
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
May I intervene at this point? It will save time in my winding-up speech. Does the noble Lord not think that more capital should be invested in mercantile aviation—I am not saying whether it is a Corporation or not? Does he think it is not going to be invested either by the Corporations or by the mercantile private fleets?
§ LORD NATHAN
My argument is directed to this. In the first place, I think that the conditions which the Government offer for capital will be unattractive. Secondly, I think that this capital can become available only by an alteration in the declared policy of the Government and by a change in the directive to the Capital Issues Committee. So I ask whether there is to be any change and, if so, what, in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's directive to the Capital Issues Committee. Because as matters stand at present under the terms of the directive issued by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the protection of the public finances, no company will be able to obtain capital for these purposes. There is no reason why that should not be altered if the Government be so minded—but are they so minded? If so, what else are they going to let in under the directive to the Capital Issues Committee? There are other competitors for capital in the City of London. What is the extension of the directive to be?
I come back to the Air Transport Advisory Council. I should like to know whether the A.T.A.C. are to be invited to consider each particular route taken by itself, where the application is made for such and such a route, or will it be open to any body to make a requirement upon the A.T.A.C., that it shall consider the bearing of the granting or refusal of an application upon the whole set-up, financial and technical, of a particular applicant, if the applicant be an independent operator, or of the Corporation, if the Corporation be the candidate. Are they to be limited to the detailed application or are they entitled to reflect upon the whole scene?
There can be no guarantee, as the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, has said. What happens if, contrary to what we would hope, the independent operator, having undertaken the operation, does in fact fall down upon his undertaking? Are the Corporations then to be asked to come to the rescue? If the route is a desirable route it ought to be flown. Have the Corporations to be available, willy-nilly, to pick up the pieces if the independent operator should fail? We ought to know that. Will the independent operator go to the Air Transport Advisory Council before he has his capital, and say to them, "if you will 244 grant me this application I hope that I may be able to obtain my capital," or will he go first to the City of London and say, "Give me this capital, in the hope that I may be able to obtain a licence."? What are the underwriters of the City of London (I do not use this term in its technical sense) likely to say about that?
My Lords, the present situation of the Corporations was not achieved without a great deal of devotion and sacrifice in the stream-lining of the organisation and the staff. Many redundancies were declared, but a fine spirit was created and has prevailed. Those engaged in the Corporations have felt that they have something really worth while to work for. They are proud of the Corporations, and they are entitled to be. What is going to be the effect upon their morale when they are told that, although they are the "Queens" of the air, the standing of the Corporations is entirely altered? Not only are those engaged in the Corporations proud of their work for the Corporations and the results of it, but the public is proud of the Corporations. The terms "B.O.A.C." and "B.E.A." have become household words the world over. Suppose the standard of service which has been the distinguishing characteristic of B.O.A.C. and of B.E.A. becomes less good than at present. That is going to have a repercussion on British aviation all over the world. What does the noble Lord say about that? How are the Government going to overcome those risks? Perhaps safety, which ought always to come first, might not be so carefully observed. Perhaps the service, which has been so excellent, might be not quite so good. The repercussions will be not only on the independent operator, but also on the whole of British civil aviation. The Corporations have had a difficult struggle to make a profit, to get "out of the red." What is going to be the effect upon their overheads consequent upon this change? What is going to be the effect if, as hitherto, they are no longer able to operate either fill-up freight or spill-over freight, which has made a handsome contribution towards their financial results?
What is the position of employees so far as the pension scheme is concerned? This is not a Corporation scheme; it is a Minister's scheme. What is to be the 245 position of those employees if they have to leave the Corporations as redundant and go into an independently operated organisation? They will want to know what their position is. As I say it, this is not an employers' scheme, it is a Government, or rather a Ministry of Pensions, scheme.
What is to be the relationship with the International Air Transport Association in order to prevent under-cutting in fares? Are B.O.A.C. and the independent operator to be sitting round the same table and at the same time competing with one another, in order that the independent operator may try to obtain some advantage over B.O.A.C.? The noble Lord says that air travel is going to be cheaper. How can it be cheaper for the passenger if the minimum rates are already prescribed? From the purely practical point of view of the administrator, of those concerned in the industry, whether in the Corporations or amongst the independent operators, or simply as business men, or those private citizens who, as taxpayers, have invested in this enterprise upwards of £40,000,000, I would say that this policy has not really been thought out, and I would ask the noble Lord to take it back and think again.
§ 5.17 p.m.
My Lords, your Lordships will agree that this has been a most interesting and, in some respects, a formidable debate—formidable because I have been looking at the list of speakers, and I find that five ex-Ministers and two serving Ministers have spoken or are yet to speak; so it is with some temerity that any humble layman raises his voice. Yet I venture to do so because I have one or two things that I want to say. In the first place, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, will forgive me if I disagree, gently and courteously as in all our exchanges, with his observations to-day. He appeared to feel that the policy of Her Majesty's Government as announced on May 27 was inopportune. On that I disagree with him, because I feel that it is giving and will give an increasing measure of impetus to civil aviation, a most important consideration at the present time. The policy is fraught with certain risks, but at the same time it is so full of safeguards that I should not regard the risks as dangerous.
May I interrupt the noble Lord, with equal gentleness and courtesy, because I am bound to say that Mr. Rylands, who I like to think is a friend of mine and is a leading spokesman for the charter companies, did not extend a very warm welcome to this policy when it was announced. He treated it almost with derision. I think that is a point of which note should be taken.
The noble Lord will admit that the policy has been hedged with so much care that this may have detracted from that welcome, but I believe that its intention will be fulfilled, namely, to give a stimulus to civil aviation in this country. Again, with great respect, I hold that some of that stimulus has been lacking up to now. Yet we value our great Corporations enormously and the noble Lord the Secretary of State has paid high tribute to them in his speech. Then the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, asked where would we find in Scotland a charter company able to take the place of the Corporation. I feel that under the stimulus which is now going to be given it is not impossible that there will arise in Scotland a strong charter company able to play its part in the link services, and I look forward to that happening within measurable time. I hope that in the course of time the noble Lord will prove to be wrong in that regard; and if so it will be as a result of the policy which Her Majesty's Government are now setting on foot. Now, if I may be bold enough, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, who expressed great concern lest the Corporations should be "put back into the red"—that is, make losses. If the only method of keeping the great Corporations out of the red is to keep out every breath of competition from every quarter, then I am bound to say that I cannot agree with him.
§ LORD NATHAN
If I may interrupt the noble Lord, may I say that, of course, B.O.A.C. is throughout subjected to the most intense competition. So is B.E.A., except, I suppose, on the internal services.
I was going to say that there are exceptions. There are safeguards which we hope are ample and I do not think that the great Corporations will be endangered by the steps to be 247 taken, provided that they are taken with great circumspection and care.
It is some months since we had a debate on civil aviation. Although this Motion relates particularly to the statement made on May 27 about the policy of Her Majesty's Government, it is drawn in wide enough terms to enable me to raise another matter. On the last occasion when there was a debate on civil aviation—that was on December 5 last—the Secretary of State for the Coordination of Transport, Fuel and Power, Lord Leathers, used these words, speaking of airfields [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 174, Col. 824]:Our biggest single problem is the development of airports in the London area. Of these, London airport is of prime importance for the progress of civil aviation. It is our intention that this great work shall go ahead as quickly as economic circumstances and the supply of materials permit. I can say, too, that we are all very conscious of the need of further development of Prestwick, which is, and will remain, the second international airport of the United Kingdom.It is about Prestwick that I would speak for a few moments. It is a subject which is not only of great interest to Scotland—as any Scottish Peer will bear out—but one which is of vital interest to the United Kingdom as a whole, as evidenced by the words of the Secretary of State. We cannot afford to regard lightly the fact that the second airport of this Kingdom is not fully adequate, as it certainly is not at the present time.
This is not in any sense a Party question. Both the late Government and the present Government have expressed sympathetic views and given evidence of their intentions in the matter. But I think that the red light in the matter of capital expenditure has been showing. I propose to make some suggestions in that regard. I can say that while much has been done at the London airport to render it suitable, as it should be, for heavy traffic under any possible conditions, I have the impression that affairs at Prestwick are lagging considerably behind. If your Lordships will allow me for a moment to recapitulate a little recent history, I should like to do so. In February, 1951, I presented a report on Prestwick as Chairman of a Committee appointed by the Scottish Council (Development and Industry). This report was the subject of a statement in 248 your Lordships' House on February 15 last year. We did an intensive year's work on Prestwick Aerodrome and our report was well received by the then Government. The then Minister of Civil Aviation, Lord Pakenham, referred to the document in sympathetic terms, and, what is more, he promised that a considerable part of the recommendations would be carried out. Since then, it is true, some work has been undertaken, and successive Ministers have visited the airport. Whether the proximity of an excellent golf course could have had anything to do with that or not I do not know, but it is within my recollection that three Ministers have visited the airport recently. But still the work which was recommended is hanging fire.
The main recommendations were the lengthening of the main runway to fulfil international standards, necessitating a diversion of the main road, and the speedy provision of a subsidiary runway. I have recently been to Prestwick and have been disappointed to see so little progress. It is true that temporary buildings are in course of erection for the greater comfort of passengers, and to facilitate Customs arrangements, and that some 400 feet have been added to the landward end of the main runway. But the extension on the seaward side has not yet been carried out; nor is there any sign of progress on the subsidiary runway. I am not attempting to offer criticism of events up to date, because I realise that capital expenditure is the limiting factor, but I am advised that at present neither Stratocruisers nor Constellations can take off when fully loaded or land in all wind conditions. This greatly lessens the value of Prestwick as a first-class airport; and should not the second airport of the United Kingdom be first-class? I earnestly make an appeal that progress should be more rapid if that is at all possible.
I have a suggestion to make and I make it with some temerity. I believe that the United States have a great interest in the preservation of Prestwick airport as the terminal of ferrying services, and I believe that America might be ready to help with the cost of the work. At any rate, I make the suggestion, and I ask whether the Government will 249 explore with the United States authorities the possibility of such aid. In the past, Marshall Aid has been used for many purposes of less immediate benefit to the United States of America; in fact, I can think of little else that would be of more practical and immediate benefit to both the United States and Britain than to secure immediately a fully adequate second airport, available in all weather and in all conditions in a part of the Kingdom which is remote from the South.
My Lords, though this point may be further from the terms of the Motion, yet I do not think it will be altogether outside it. Is it not vital, from the point of view of defence, that there should be an adequate second airport for Transatlantic ferrying in all weather conditions? On February 15 last the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, speaking of this airport at Prestwick, said:Whatever may be the value—I have no doubt it is great—of this airport as a transoceanic port, there can be no possible question, I submit, that in the event of another disaster such as the last war, this airport would be absolutely indispensable. I would therefore suggest that considerations of defence reinforce the need that the runway should be adequate to take the largest Service aeroplanes as well as civil 'planes. Those considerations also certainly enhance the need for proceeding with the work as rapidly as possible, as I gather the Minister himself desires.The reference there to the Minister is to the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham.
Your Lordships will, I think, agree that those are two important quotations. Noble Lords on both sides of the House desire to see the improvements at this airport completed as soon as possible. Perhaps my noble friend the Secretary of State for Air may feel able, in his reply, to indicate whether the Air Ministry would consider the question of entering into the expense of this improvement on defence grounds. He may not be able to commit himself to-day, as I can well understand, but I strongly urge that the matter should be investigated from the angle which Lord Swinton stressed as being so important. That is all I have to say on the subject of Prestwick airport. I feel that this debate has been a valuable one, and I hope that the Government will not be deflected from the policy which they have set their hands to. I hope that they will press on with it and give that 250 encouragement to civil aviation from which I think great benefits will flow to this country.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Clydesmuir, will have good luck in getting from the Secretary of State for Air the reply for which he is hoping. I trust that he will not mind my saying that I rather doubt whether he will. I entirely agree with the noble Lord that Prestwick is a most admirable and important airport, and I entirely agree with the words he quoted as having been used by the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton. I do not know whether I can have an undertaking from the noble Lord that anything done at Prestwick in the way of the developments of which he speaks will not wreck the old Troon golf course. I hope very much that he will be able to give me some assurance on that, otherwise I am afraid that I shall be compelled to come to issue with him.
If the recommendations of the Committee are carried out, the golf course will not be damaged in any way.
§ LORD WINSTER
Then I am all the more strongly in favour of giving support to those recommendations.
I should now like to add my tribute to the many well-deserved tributes which have been paid this afternoon to the work of the Corporations. Having known them and the men who guided those Corporations in their difficult days, I realise fully that perhaps the day is approaching when, to paraphrase Pitt, they may be able to say," Cork up that red ink bottle, we shall not want it again." In particular, may I say to those who guide the destinies of the B.O.A.C. that it is the most peculiar pleasure to me, remembering the time when we had to buy Constellations, without which there would have been no British trans-North Atlantic service, to see them now beginning to operate what is undoubtedly the finest commercial aircraft in the world? Having paid tributes to the Corporations, I am sure your Lordships would wish me also to pay tribute to the great firm of de Havilland for rendering this tremendous service to the country by giving us the Comet. The other night I was at a meeting of old "Brains Trusters" of the B.B.C., and one 251 of the first questions was, "Can you think of any good news at the moment? "The answer came like a flash," Yes, the Comet." I think that is a fine tribute to the work of de Havilland.
§ LORD WINSTER
Indeed. And we should remember that the Comet faces America with the most tremendous difficulty, involving a capital sum of approximately £50,000,000 which her air service companies have invested in machines of conventional types.
I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, one question. The noble Lord made it clear in his speech—I will paraphrase what he said—that the Government have the firm intention of fostering and assisting the work of the Corporations. May I ask whether that means that no new route will be allocated to a charter company to the detriment of a Corporation? That leads me to another point, for which I am much indebted to the advice and assistance of my noble friend Lord Lucas of Chilworth. Can the Corporations appear before the licensing authority to which a charter company applies for a licence to operate a route and object to the application? May I also ask whether the licensing authority will follow what I would term quasi-legal machinery, so that there would be an appeal from their decision to some higher authority? If these points could be cleared up by the Minister who is to reply, I think it would greatly strengthen the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, to the effect that the Government intend to do nothing in any way to the detriment of the Corporations.
Before I come to the announcement of policy which has been the main subject of this debate, there are one or two other matters about which I should like to speak. First, there is crew complement. The immunity from accident which the British Corporations have enjoyed has been due to the fact that they have given safety the highest priority, to the wise manning system they have followed and to the high maintenance standard which has been adopted. The policy on crew complement appears to have changed since 1949. The effects of the change have not yet become apparent: there has not been 252 time. The certificate of airworthiness sets out the minimum crew complement and licences required. We know that in some instances B.O.A.C. man-up in excess of the minimum statutory requirements, but the manning policy appears to have changed in regard to specialised navigators and engineers. I understand that the Corporations intend gradually to dispense altogether with specialised navigators and that there will be no further recruitment of them. This policy has been decided upon in face of representations from men very competent in this matter, who feel grave concern about it. Attention has been called to the need for a high degree of precision in navigation, a precision which can be but doubtfully obtained through having the pilot or first or second officer qualified. As regards the carriage of a flight navigator, paragraph 60 of the regulations at present requires that a flight navigator should be carried for flights which take aircraft more than a great circular distance of 1,000 nautical miles over water or on a non-stop flight more than a great circular distance of 1,500 miles. In these cases there have to be specialised navigators who cannot perform any other duties, except when a pilot and second pilot are carried and one of them has a flight navigator's licence as well as a pilot's licence covering the type of machine in use.
I am told that the Minister of Civil Aviation declined to listen to suggestions that these mileages are too great and should each be reduced by something in the nature of 500 miles. The use of new high-speed aircraft, such as the Comet, emphasises to my mind the necessity for extreme accuracy in navigation if these machines are to be operated with safety and with efficiency. Small errors in navigation are magnified in proportion to increased speed. The conventional aircraft cruises at, perhaps, 250 m.p.h.; the Comet cruises at 475 m.p.h. Again, such speeds as that of the Comet mean high fuel consumption and a navigational error might throw out fuel reckonings, with serious results. I understand that the B.O.A.C. originally intended to operate the Comet with two pilots, a navigator and radio officer, but that in fact the specialist navigator has been dispensed with, although a flight engineer is now being carried, no doubt as a result of representations about safety.
253 May I remind your Lordships that it would be completely improper to refer to the details of the recent Hermes accident, because an inquiry is being held? I have no intention of doing so, but I think the remarks I am about to make are perfectly fair. Public concern has naturally been very much roused by that accident. The aircraft did not carry a specialised navigator. The pilot held a flight navigator's licence and the second pilot and first officer held commercial pilots' licences, which are not of the highest standard. But by the regulations the pilot is responsible for the pilotage of the aircraft. Can he really, in addition, do full-time navigation duties over distances which I have just quoted, and which it was suggested should be reduced? At the time of the accident, the Hermes seems to have been on a "leg" of 1,400 miles. Had the proposal to reduce the mileage been accepted, the aircraft would have had a flight navigator on board. I suggest that this question wants looking into carefully. It should be taken back and studied before the decision to do away with the flight navigator is finally and firmly put into operation.
The certificate of airworthiness for the Comet gives three possible alternatives about crew complement—first, three pilots; secondly, two pilots and one engineer; and thirdly, one pilot and two engineers. I cannot say that I very much like the look of the three pilots alternative. Here, again, I think that that should be carefully considered. There is perhaps not yet enough data for a final decision in regard to these high-speed aircraft, but what is certain—and I am sure that we can fully trust the Corporations in this matter—is that, as regards crew complement and specialised officers, expense considerations must not override questions of safety and efficiency. The travelling public has a vital interest in this matter, and should watch what is decided in regard to specialised officers with great care.
There is another question I should like to put about the Hermes inquiry. The names of the members of the B.O.A.C. who are to conduct the inquiry give the utmost confidence that what can be found out will certainly be found out and that ultimately the travelling public will get the benefit, possibly in the way of extra precautions or further safety regulations. 254 The inquiry is to be private, and I have no quarrel about that. But according to the Aircraft Accident Inquiry Regulations of I.C.A.O., the State in which an accident occurs shall be responsible for the inquiry—in this case France, who are setting up an inquiry—but that State may delegate whole or part of the inquiry to the State of registry; and the State of registry is entitled to appoint a representative, who is present, but does not, I take it, sit as a member of the inquiry. I should like to know whether or not we thought fit to ask the French Government to delegate the inquiry to us, as they had power to do.
§ LORD LEATHERS
It does not arise in that way. It arises only if the country over which the plane is flying and in which the accident occurs desires some other country—that is, the ownership country of the aeroplane—to take up the inquiry.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for clearing up that point, which was not quite clear to me on a reading of the regulation which I quoted.
To come to the main subject of this debate, I cannot say that the announcement of policy by the Government has filled me with particular alarm or suspicion, although, naturally, any horse coming from the stable opposite must be viewed with considerable suspicion. This may be the thin end of a wedge, and accordingly must be watched carefully. But, as the statement of policy reads, I must say, to my disappointment, that I could not find very much straw out of which to make bricks to hurl at the Bench opposite. I do not feel that it really embodies tremendous concessions to the charter companies. At any rate, I cannot say that I have heard the representatives of charter companies uttering loud hallelujahs because they feel that the Golden Gates are at last opening up to them; they seem to have been rather quiet, and inclined, if anything, to look this gift horse in the mouth. It remains to be seen whether the charter companies feel that they can make a profit out of the services which are now opened up to them.
I have always wished well to the charter companies—this has been said by other noble Lords this afternoon—for strategic reasons, for defence reasons and from the point of view of air transport in a future 255 war. I feel that the initiative and enterprise of young men in charter companies might well yield us valuable experience in the operation of civil aviation, and also that they could confer benefit upon the travelling public by opening up services to places which it is not feasible or practical for the Corporations to touch. I doubt whether the effects of the concessions will be great, certainly in the immediate future. We have seen in the past that many applications to operate charter companies are filed, but by no means all of them—perhaps it is a third—begin to operate. I think it has been a very tricky job indeed to make money out of the routes which have been open to the charterers. I feel that the position of the Corporations is largely secured, as it should be, by the provisions concerning them which we have heard this afternoon, and which may be reinforced by the answer which I shall receive about the proceedings before the licensing committee.
The charter companies may find openings in services not fully operated by the Corporations, which would be a benefit to the travelling public; and certainly experience has shown that the provision of additional amenities often results in considerable additional traffic. I believe that the charter companies can be particularly useful in regard to special and seasonal services. As regards special services, we have heard this afternoon how the late Government relied on them for trooping work—and I imagine that the present Government do, too In my view, in freight also it is probably open to charter companies, not only to make money, but also to render great service to industry. I would say, further, that if charter companies are to operate and try to render these services, it is right that they should be given a reasonable amount of security of tenure, in order that they may be able to go into business and apply for capital on a sound basis.
The internal services have been referred to this afternoon. There will always be difficulty with regard to these. In America the airway companies can finance and run their expensive overseas services out of the high profits they make from their amazing network of internal services. With us it is very different. The only internal service I can think of that I would ever want to take here is 256 from London to Belfast or from London to Dublin, in order to get rid of that abominable sea-crossing and the general discomfort of that journey. But if I am in Glasgow or Edinburgh and wish to get to London there is no doubt that I shall get into that delightful sleeping compartment which British Railways supply, which is one of the most comfortable sleepers in the world, and come down in that manner. In Scotland the islands services must be maintained, whatever the cost, as a sort of life-boat service. We cannot leave the islands without air services, in case of sickness or other emergency.
I have one other remark to make about the charter companies. I have made some observations about the Corporations and air complement. I hope I have made it quite clear that the Corporations have tended to exceed statutory requirements, and that I question their policy only in regard to specialist officers. In the past I have not been entirely satisfied that some of the charter companies have not run things a little bit fine. I have with me here schedules of a charter company running services to the Far East. It is now defunct, but it was operating in conjunction with B.O.A.C. As I study those schedules, I am bound to say that they must have imposed great strain and fatigue upon the air crews, thereby, in my opinion, impairing the safety factor. I think the travelling public would like to know or to be reassured that charter companies will observe Corporation standards regarding crew complements, maintenance and flying hours per year. In that way the high reputation of British civil aviation will be maintained. If any corners are cut, who knows what may happen, very much to the detriment of British civil aviation, for which the Corporations have built up a reputation second to none?
The final remark I should like to make is this. In the debate this afternoon inevitably the question of nationalisation and private enterprise has reared—I will not say its ugly head, but has reared its head. Particularly where civil aviation is concerned, I believe it is a great mistake to regard nationalisation or any other method of running an industry as something sacred—a sort of Ark of the Covenant which must not be touched and which to criticise is blasphemy. Methods 257 of running an industry ought to be regarded in an empirical spirit and not as political fetishes. What we are after is to find out how to run an enterprise so as to give the fairest possible deal to three parties—the State, the customer and those engaged in the industry. It is not at all difficult to find the way to give the maximum advantage to one of the three parties, but it is very difficult indeed to do justice to all three. It is admitted by the advocates of nationalisation—they make no bones about it—that nationalisation has not as yet by any means solved that particular problem of giving the best possible deal to the three parties concerned. On the other hand, we are learning very valuable lessons from nationalisation and gaining extremely valuable experience. It is too soon to say yet if it is a success or if it is a failure. We do not know enough about the system yet. My own opinion—for what it is worth—is that it will neither succeed nor fail 100 per cent. As a system it cannot represent finality. I believe that it will merge into and contribute to some other system which one reads about, such as, for instance, the State owning the assets and leasing them to an operator.
This process of learning by experience and of one system merging into another is called by the critics compromising, and in addition to being called a nation of shopkeepers and a nation of hypocrites we are frequently called a nation of compromisers. Well, I believe we ought to be proud of that, because it is not really compromise; it is a way of making things work, and I think that we have a national genius for making things work—for making the most apparently irreconcilable things work—just as the French have a genius for improvisation and the Americans for driving a project through regardless of money, life, time or anything else. The essential thing to "freeze on to" is that nationalisation must not be regarded as an inviolable acceptance of a certain school of political thought, but that it is the latest try in a long series of endeavours to find out how to make the best use of the nation's industrial resources.
I would say to the two Parties who advocate either private enterprise or nationalisation: "Do not be so violently for or against." Nationalisation is neither an industrial anti-Christ on the one hand, 258 nor a "Beecham's pills cure all ills" panacea on the other. It has its advantages and its drawbacks, and by trying it out and by trying out other systems we shall arrive, in the end, at the best way of running civil aviation and running the other industries in this country.
§ 5.56 p.m.
My Lords, I join with your Lordships who have spoken in this very interesting debate in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, on the splendid terms of just praise in which he referred to the grand work being done by the two Corporations. Those of us in the aeronautical community—many who are in that community have already spoken—would fully underline what the noble Lord said. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, had a great deal to say about lift in the psychological sense, taking lift in the aeronautical sense as all being in the hands of the aeronautical specialists. There is no doubt that there is a lot which can be done, and should be done, in a psychological way to which the noble Lord referred. I hope that I see a change of heart coming over him, since he was in some measure responsible for leaving the flying boats ashore. I shall have something to say about that subject later on.
The noble Lord referred to the charter services, and said that the future of the services was obscure, in so far as he could see, but that matter has already been touched upon by my noble friend Lord Leathers. I did not agree with the noble Lord when he suggested that no charter company in Scotland either could or should run any of the scheduled services and receive a subsidy for so doing, because I feel that our short distances in Scotland, where routes are often of several hundred miles, are admirably suited to the type of craft which charter companies either have or would acquire. With regard to the question of the charter companies, these should be treated by the State as partners in a great service and not as troublesome small boys. They should be given a sense of mission in what they are doing, and given the privilege that comes to the under-dog— because they are under-dogs.
Just to quote a small example, there is the reciprocity in booking fees. The State enterprises expect a standard rate of commission for any work which is done for them by the charter companies, 259 but they are quite unwilling, or unable perhaps, to pay a similar amount when that operation is reversed. At the takeover by the State of civil air transport undertakings it was always an accepted principle that fair compensation should be paid to the operator. In many and, perhaps, in most cases, this has been done, but not in all—I repeat, quite definitely not in all. At this late hour I will not ask your Lordships to listen to a detailed exposé, but there were some important observations made in another place touching this matter by the then Lord Advocate, Mr. Reid—now the noble Lord, Lord Reid—showing that, despite all assurances, several who had spent two decades and all their savings, and those of their friends, in pioneering air transport in Scotland had been left penniless. Captain Fresson was one of these. I happen to know that he had for these reasons to withdraw his son from school. This is a wrong that must be put right, and I especially ask the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, to look into this matter and see that this obligation of honour—for it is an obligation of honour—is met with the least possible delay.
I have listened with close attention to all the speeches made this afternoon and in particular to those of the former Ministers of Air Transport. The immediate future of air transport lies in the subsonic field. It will pass, I suggest, to the supersonic within two decades. No Minister has done more to encourage subsonic transport—to wit the Comet—than the noble Lord, Lord Winster. Not for nothing is he descended from the Mac-an-leisters—in English it would be called "son of the arrow-maker" or Fletcher. The Fletchers, of course, were hereditary arrow-makers over the centuries to the MacGregors. I was really shocked that none of your Lordships had mentioned flying-boats. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, came near to it and I had hoped that he might redress the position when he referred to the recent Wilbur Wright Memorial Lecture (it is now over forty-nine years since Wilbur Wright made his first flight) before the Royal Aeronautical Society. The noble Lord apparently overlooked that one of the main recommendations of the lecturer, Sir Harry Garner, was "Do not neglect the flying boat."
§ LORD OGMORE
May I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? I had not forgotten. I am fully conscious of the potentialities of the flying boat, but I did not think it came within the scope of this debate; nor did I think I ought to expand my speech to cover a subject which, although important, did not seem to me particularly relevant to this discussion.
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention and for showing his enthusiasm for the flying boat. The air transport future must, for technical and practical reasons, be ever more concerned with the flying boat. We have led in development in this type, but lately we have gone far from the brilliant design of the S.R.45, which lies on the slips more or less untended and unengined. Something must be done, and I have intimated previously that I shall raise the question of flying boats again in a future debate in your Lordships' House.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
My Lords, we have had a very long debate; a debate which has deeply interested me. My spirits have risen and fallen at various times during the discussion as I have listened to the various speeches from the Benches opposite and also from the Benches on this side. I think I must say, in fairness to the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, that I thought the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, was rather less than fair to him about the answering of questions. Lord Leathers had replied to the questions put to him but I would remind the noble Lord that answering a question is not necessarily answering it as the questioner wants.
§ LORD OGMORE
Nor is it the same thing as giving the same information exactly, merely dressed up in some other form, as fresh information.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
That is slightly tendentious. I must say that my noble friend, Lord Leathers, has always treated the House courteously and certainly has treated Lord Pakenham courteously in answering his questions— though not perhaps always in the way in which Lord Pakenham wanted the questions answered.
May I bring out a specific point which I do not think the noble Lord. Lord Leathers, dealt with at 261 all? Will the noble Lord who is now speaking to us answer the question I put as to whether the Government will give an assurance that no subsidies will be given to charter companies on scheduled routes?
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
I will answer that question at once. There is to be no subsidy for charter companies on internal routes, except possibly in the case of Scotland on the scheduled services.
This is a sensational and novel statement which, of course, we shall study with interest; but it bears no relationship to anything that has reached my hearing.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
I am sorry if I have not satisfied the noble Lord but I have done my best to answer his question, and I hope I shall not incur the reproach that I have tried to avoid it. May I add that he must not take me as meaning that the Government intend to give a subsidy to Scottish aviation? But they have not ruled it out, as they have in the case of other British internal services. We can discuss that later. I am being as frank and informative as I can, and I do not want to be misunderstood in saying that a subsidy to the Scottish services is under consideration.
As I listened to this debate I could not help feeling that on the whole we are in much more substantial agreement than the discussion might have led some of those who were listening to think, and that, despite Lord Pakenham's protestations, no very wide difference has existed, at any rate in principle. I think that where we can be said to differ is in the exclusive emphasis which the noble Lord placed on the Corporations. May I say again that it is not the intention of Her Majesty's Government to harm the Corporations? I cannot conceive of any Minister of Civil Aviation responsible to Parliament who would wish to do so. We acknowledge the great and valuable services which they render, and we wish to see their scope expanded. I wanted to say that at the beginning of my speech, because everything I say ought to be listened to in reference to that. But we do say that the Government, and, indeed, the Minister, has a responsibility for all aviation, and that it ought to be the policy of the Government to maximise civil aviation of all types. We believe, 262 as Lord Ogmore seemed to believe, judging by his remarks in a previous debate, in a mercantile fleet of the air. And we do not believe that it should be confined to the Corporations. We believe that by too great caution we may lose opportunities which may exist in the future. We do not believe that these great fleets will come into existence until there is agreement between the Corporations and the charter companies.
We believe that the Corporations will continue to expand, and we do not want to see over-caution such as seemed to be expressed by the noble Lord opposite. I do not want to drag in any doctrinal prejudice. We cannot tell, we can only apprehend, when and where there will be the greatest development of air transport. But the trend of events and technological development have proved to us that there will be a great expansion in air travel and air freight. We do not believe that our great commercial position in the world was attained by that (if I may term it) exaggerated pessimism about the future displayed by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan. I do not believe that the first Elizabethan explorers would ever have got across the seas if they had asked themselves all the questions which the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, asked the Government to-day. I will do my best to answer the questions put to me, but if I try to answer every one explicitly we shall be here all night. If any noble Lord wishes a point to be answered while I am speaking, I will do my best to answer if he will interrupt me.
As I said, our aim and policy is designed to get more traffic for the whole of British civil aviation; so may I repeat what has been said, but I think largely misunderstood, as to the nature of our policy? I would first emphasis that the Minister is to have the last word. The A.T.A.C. will not become a licensing authority; they still, remain advisory and consultative. Therefore, to use the word "authority," which was used on more than one occasion, is really a misnomer. Of course, the Corporations will have a complete right of access to the Committee. The only change—and I admit it is an important one—is that they cannot claim a prescriptive right as to future routes. I listened with attention and interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, said about the planning of 263 routes. I think he agreed it was most important to be precise about it. Obviously no Minister, responsible as he is to Parliament and to the taxpayers, would allow a Corporation to enter into great capital commitments and then finally rule, as he would have to rule because he has the last word, that they must pour all that down the drain to give way to a private operator. But we do say that the Minister, having appointed a responsible and informed Committee in which he has confidence—and after all, apart from the Chairman, who is appointed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the Minister has the appointment of the Committee—is in a good position to examine the merits of the case and the wide issues involved.
I cannot believe that the Corporations, having so large a capital, having so large an enterprise and having the resources to call upon, will not in fact be in a very advantageous position anyhow. Perhaps the charter companies feel that they will still be in a too advantageous position. I think it is exaggerating fears of the future to imagine that the Corporations will now have all their future expansion lopped off because of a doctrinal preference for private enterprise. I thought that the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Winster, were most apt. This is not a form of enterprise which fits into any preconceived, doctrinal mould. It is new, it is vigorous, it is expanding. It owes a great deal to State development, it owes a great deal to military aviation; it still owes a great deal to the inventiveness and genius of designers and manufacturers of privately-owned industry. It owes much to the Royal Aeronautical Establishment which works under the Ministry of Supply. Do not let us manufacture antipathies where none exist. Because one thing that has struck me in my last six months since holding office is the harmony which exists between the manufacturers, the R.A.E., the Royal Air Force and the Corporations. Indeed, it seems to me that, whether they are in it for private profit, as servants of the Corporations or as officers of the R.A.F., there is a spirit in the air which invests them all, and it is for us to see that the spirit of the air is harnessed in the widest sense. We believe that our policy is right, that it is safeguarded and that the 264 taxpayers' money is not to be put at risk.
I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, has used a rather double-edged argument. First he said that our policy was a great threat to the Corporations, and then he said: "In any case, the charter companies have not the capital and will not get it, so they cannot expand." He cannot have it both ways. If everything he prophesied came true (which I do not think will happen), they would get an immense amount of capital and buy enormous numbers of aeroplanes and come along and put out poor little B.O.A.C. It will take some time for the charter companies to establish themselves. It takes a long time to build up a fleet, but in that process there will be a great expansion and intensification of the existing routes. There will be plenty of room for all. We ought to put more of the national capital into expanding our mercantile fleets.
I am not going into the technicalities of the Capital Issues Committee—I do not think we need go into that matter this evening—but I do say that we, as a nation, ought to back civil aviation in its widest sense. Noble Lords opposite have asked about the export of aircraft. It is a very valuable export indeed. I have not the figures here and noble Lords will not expect me to give them, but a ton of steel worked up in an aircraft is a very rewarding use of steel. Surely nothing can be more disastrous than to export our very fine aircraft and deny them to our private operators. Nothing could be more calculated to undermine the building up of a great air fleet than to deny your own people what you are giving or selling to your competitors.
Then I come to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, about prices. Of course, the private operators must pay the same competitive prices that are paid by the purchasers abroad. The aircraft companies cover their overheads on that. But do not let us imagine that it is not of great benefit to the whole of civil aviation that there is a great aircraft industry with one great customer, the Royal Air Force. Of course it is. But I do not think we should deny that benefit to any one class of user. There is research and development in the experience of flying, in the experience of jet operation and high speeds. Of 265 course, the experience of the R.A.F. has been invaluable to the Corporations. It is a national asset. But do not let us narrow our minds and say: "The charter companies shall not benefit from this in common with other users."
That brings me to the military aspect, in which naturally I am particularly interested because it is my special responsibility. I believe that this nation and the British Commonwealth and Empire has an enormous amount to gain, both economically and militarily, by increased speed of communication, and that, in order to exploit it to the full, we should have the maximum carrying capacity that we can get. I am not going into the vexed question of Transport Command, the type and number of aeroplanes it should have and whether it should do any troop-carrying or not; at any rate, it cannot be large enough to rely upon its own resources in war. But I do not think we can or ought to expect to rely exclusively on the Corporations. None of us can foresee what will happen in war, but I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, if he were charged with the responsibility of civil aviation at that time, would be anxious to "cough up" all his air-liners for the R.A.F. He would say: "We must keep the traffic going or we shall lose it elsewhere." Of course. this is a hypothetical question, and none of us can say what we would do in a certain situation. But the fact is that to have a large charter fleet will be an immense asset in time of war, not only to the Air Force but to the Army.
That brings me to the question of types. I think that so far we have not got the kind of aeroplane which we ought to have and which I might call a modern Dakota, which was a useful, workable aeroplane, strong and capable of flying in difficult conditions. That is the sort of aircraft which would be an immense national asset, because it would be available to the Corporations, to the charter companies, to the Royal Air Force and for export. It is because there is such an intimate connection between all users and manufacturers in aircraft that we have really a common agreement—namely, that British industry and British air transport should be provided with the best available aircraft and fly them the world over. The opportunity for exporting aircraft which has been referred to by several 266 noble Lords, is certainly great. It is no good our burking the issue. When you have a great Royal Air Force expansion programme, it is exceedingly difficult to fit everything in. But I assure noble Lords opposite that the Royal Air Force is certainly not adopting any obstinate attitude in regard to claiming all available capacity for building military aircraft. We know that it is in our interest, as it is in the national interest, to see that we capture and hold this market in the world, because, taking even the narrow view, it maintains the manufacturing capacity in this country.
I think we ought to aim at a stable aircraft industry. Nothing would be worse for the industry than to expand and contract, because that means instability of labour: you lose your skilled labour and the industry gets a bad reputation. We must use our best endeavours to see that the military and civil needs are fitted in. I am not going to be more specific to-day, but I assure noble Lords that I am in constant consultation on this particular subject with my right honourable friend the Minister of Supply, and we have already made way in one instance for a very important commercial aircraft. We saw that it would be absolutely wrong to insist on laying down a military line for a certain type, when the particular type of civil aircraft was so vitally important. Though I have no criticism of the late Administration in this matter, I may say that we did in fact reverse, in that particular, an order which they had instituted. They would probably have done the same had they been in office. I point that out only to illustrate our anxiety that the needs of civil aviation shall be met, and that every endeavour shall be used, by subcontracting and by bringing in engineering capacity from outside the industry, to see that aircraft will rot be denied to civil aviation by reason of the fact that we have a great Royal? Air Force expansion programme.
I do not want noble Lords to underestimate the difficulties that exist. I do not know, whether we shall be able to achieve all or nearly all that ought to be achieved, but we recognise the fact that if we can sell our aircraft abroad now, a goodwill is created and for technical reasons it is much easier to sell them again afterwards. I believe one 267 noble Lord asked about the value of Service Department work to civil operators. I think that in 1951–52 it was £4,500,000.
I am most interested to hear that answer. I did not put the question because my remarks were becoming rather long and drawn out but I gave notice of the question. That figure shows an enormous increase; and although we all regret the cause—the inevitable rearmament programme—I think we all must be pleased, from the point of view of the charter companies, that so much work is coming their way.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
I am informed that it is now cheaper to fly a man to the Middle East than it is to send him by sea, apart altogether from the speed. I think £4 is gained by flying, which to me is symptomatic of what is going to happen in the future. Without going into too many technological details, what really matters is the power/weight ratio. That has improved enormously and I believe will go on improving. Noble Lords opposite stressed the importance of stability in planning for the Corporations. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and it is our policy, and I think it ought to be the policy of any Government, to see that there shall be as much stability as can be created for the charter companies. They must not be regarded just as the fringe, which can contract and expand in sympathy with the needs of the Corporations. We must set out to give them sufficient stability to entitle them to manufacture aircraft. The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, referred to this in the last speech but one which he made in this House. That is one of the objectives of the Government's policy.
My Lords, all experience of transport—not only air transport but other forms of transport—shows that traffic creates traffic. The more people are flying in the world, the more will the routes flown by the Corporations prosper, because more traffic will be brought into them. I do not believe that the competition will be cut-throat competition. I believe that it will be stimulating competition, not only to efficiency but to traffic.
Before I sit down I must reply to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Clydes-muir. Ever since I have been in Parliament, either in another place or in this 268 House, like the great beat of a tom-tom from Scottish Members and Scottish Peers of all Parties, there has been the booming sound of "Prestwick." The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, said, I think, that it was graven on his heart, and if persistence is a merit it is certainly enjoyed by those who live north of the Border. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Clydesmuir, is unduly pessimistic. I should like to tell him—
The noble Lord will include in those booming notes those which I quoted from the Secretary of State and Lord Swinton?
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
I think they were stimulated by other booms. Work is proceeding on the new passenger transport accommodation. The first stage should be finished by the end of the month, and we hope that the whole job will be over by the end of July, although it is always unwise to prophesy as to building operations.
As to the over-run, the west end of the main instrument runway has been drained and levelled, and the work of sowing the grass will start as soon as the seed arrives. I do not know who is sending that. When the grass has been established, in 1953, the surface will be strong enough to meet the undertaking given by B.O.A.C. to provide a grass over-run capable of taking Stratocruisers at full load without damage to the aircraft. The effect will be, or should be, that the Corporation will not have to over-fly, as has often been the case in the past, and will be able to operate to and from Prestwick with a full load. As to the road, I think it is singularly unfortunate and inconvenient that it runs so close to the airport. Accordingly, discussions on the preliminary details have been proceeding steadily with the local authority about the supply of certain materials required for the provision of gas, water and electricity. Although I have tried to do so, I do not suppose that I have been able fully to satisfy the noble Lord. I must confess that no spokesman of any Government, to whatever Party he may have belonged, has so far fully satisfied any advocate of Prestwick. But perhaps that happy day will come.
If I have failed to answer any questions raised, it is certainly not through any intent to evade them. I have tried to put this whole matter into perspective; I have 269 tried to show the House that it is the intention of the Government to adopt a policy which is calculated to maximise commercial flying. We believe that by maintaining a proper balance between the activities of the Corporations, which are so well established and performing their task so admirably, and giving opportunities to the charter companies we shall be carrying out, not only for those companies but for the nation at large—and indeed for the Corporations also—a great service. For civil aviation is larger than the Corporations; it is larger than the Ministry or the Minister. Civil aviation has become, or is becoming, what sea power used to be, and it is our desire to see that Great Britain has in this important and expanding field a share which is large, because a large share is our due.
§ LORD WINSTER
May I ask the noble Lord before he sits down whether he can say anything with regard to the machinery and the working of the licensing authority? I did put a question with regard to that.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
I have dealt with that matter, and I am afraid that I cannot be more explicit than I have been. I want to emphasise that it is not an authority—noble Lords, if I may say so, must not use that word inexactly. It is a Council or a Committee appointed to consider these matters and to advise the Minister, who retains the last word. I assure the noble Lord that the Minister has the last word. Indeed, I think that in the late Administration the noble Lord did, on one occasion at least, reverse a recommendation of the A.T.A.C. The Minister will have exactly the same opportunities of doing that in the future. The Committee will review all factors of the situation, and both Corporations and charter companies will have access to the Committee. And, clearly—as I should like to stress again—the Minister, responsible, as he is, to Parliament for all civil aviation including the Corporations, obviously has a duty to see that there is no prejudice to the work or the expansion of the Corporations, should the Committee reach an inadvisable decision. It is obviously valuable for the Minister to have available, as he has had in the past, this advice from competent people. I am not going to anticipate anything in relation to my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport, but clearly he will wish to be 270 advised, just as his predecessors have wished to be advised, by men competent to do it.
THE MARQUESS OF WILLINGDON
Can the Minister inform us whether the charter companies have been brought into the discussions and whether the charter companies are satisfied?
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
The charter companies have been brought into the discussions. Although the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, has referred to a statement by one representative of the companies, I think I may say that the generality of these companies are satisfied with the Government statement.
§ 6.35 p.m.
My Lords, I have already addressed the House at inordinate length this afternoon, so I will detain your Lordships for only a few minutes now. Before the House loses the recollection of my last question, I am bound to say that I found the answer from the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Air a little surprising. I should have thought that Mr. Rylands was qualified to speak for the Charter Association as a whole, and that it would not be correct to treat him merely as one representative whose opinion can be swept aside in favour of that of some unspecified gentleman. Until we hear something more authoritative, surely his opinion is one of which we must take account.
I have so much regard for the two Ministers who have addressed us that it would give me the greatest pleasure if I could say that their speeches had clarified our minds and assisted the cause of British civil aviation. That, I fear, would be straining the truth as we see it and feel it. I hasten to say that I am sure that other noble Lords, and particularly Lord Ogmore, who alluded to the matter, would agree with me that, as always, the two Ministers concerned spoke to us with charm, courtesy and dignity. There is no sort of suggestion to the contrary from anyone on this side of the House. But I am bound to say that we cannot go away feeling that our questions have been answered. In some ways it may be that that is not altogether a bad thing. It may be that if they had been answered before the end of this debate the answers 271 would have been worse than the answers we shall receive when more deliberations have taken place. I make the charitable assumption that the reason we have not obtained answers is that the Government have not completely made up their minds, and that they have not altogether closed the door. They are, in fact, lying low.
I draw a slight shred of consolation as regards the main point I raised because we did receive a definite answer to one question. It was answered, in the first place, by a private letter in which the noble Lord gave us a most satisfactory assurance, which has now been further confirmed by the Secretary of State for Air. We were told definitely this afternoon that the Air Transport Advisory Council and their recommendations will be subject to the Minister; the Minister will have the last word. We were taken to task—we were "ticked off," if I may use that colloquialism—for talking about a licensing authority at all. I am quite ready to accept that rebuke and to cease doing it. I am glad that the word has gone out of currency so quickly. I was not sure that I had invented it, but at any rate it has come and gone, and so much the better from our point of view. We were not, I am afraid, given a very definite answer, though the Secretary of State did touch on it, to the question of how duplication with the officials of the Ministry was to be avoided. I will not say more about that now. He did allude to that, but I cannot say that what he said has made me much clearer in my mind.
In the remarks of the Secretary of State for Air we were given a rather staggering answer, which may also have cropped up in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Leathers—I am not sure whether it did or not. The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, will forgive me if I say that he went rather fast. I know that that is a failing of my own so this is a case of "the pot calling the kettle black." I did not notice the statement in Lord Leathers' remarks—if, indeed, it was contained in them—but the noble Lord, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley told us that a subsidy for a Scots charter company was under consideration. That is the first I have heard of that particular idea, and I hope it will be the last. I hope that no such idea will be proceeded with. I tell the noble Lord, quite frankly, 272 I can imagine nothing which is likely to cause more ultimate bitterness between—if you like—the two halves of the country. It will, in my opinion, arouse intense feeling. In my judgment, it will be rightly criticised. I beg the noble Lord, if this proposal is under consideration, to turn it down forthwith. I do not want to press him but I shall be glad of some clarification so that we may know whether he was referring only to new routes in Scotland or to existing routes. If he has not the facts available to reply to-night I will leave the matter there.
May I ask whether it was not the case that the noble Lord referred to ambulance work and special social services?
§ LORD LEATHERS
The matter is under consideration whether a service similar to that enjoyed to-day can be secured for Scotland, but for a subsidy lower than is paid to-day. If not, it is not worth consideration. That may arise. I had to make a little reservation earlier. If money can be saved by the payment of a lower subsidy than is enjoyed by B.E.A., that is a matter which is worth looking at.
I can only express my strong conviction, having had some opportunity of judging in these matters, that there is no charter company in Scotland qualified to render anything like the services which B.E.A. have been rendering during recent years. For that and other reasons I beg noble Lords to realise how strongly we feel about that matter.
There was another point which I put, and which the noble Lord failed to answer, no doubt because it was a difficult question. I know that he did not consciously or deliberately evade an answer. He did not reply to the question whether, if charter companies were given new routes for long periods, they would be able to operate them. The noble Lord did not answer. I do not say he wanted to evade the question, but it was not answered. Above all, I put an important question on the new directive and pressed for an answer, because so much—in fact, almost everything—depends upon this new directive. Although the noble Lord, Lord Leathers, said a few words, I am sure that no one goes away to-night with very much idea what the new directive looks like. 273 Perhaps the Government are not altogether to blame. I will give them credit for wishing to study this debate before making up their minds, so do not let. me become too acrimonious at this stage. A great deal hangs on this directive.
The noble Lord said that nothing is going to be done to damage the Corporations, and the same conception which I alluded to occurs—not perhaps with great lucidity—in the original Government statement, where there is the announced intention of the Government not to increase the cost of civil aviation to the taxpayer. What in practice is that going to mean in terms of a directive? Let us concentrate for one moment on that. I will not keep the House for more than a few minutes. What is that going to mean, in practice, in relation to these new routes? When the Air Transport Advisory Council have to choose between a charter company and a Corporation on a new route, are they going to accept as an over-riding instruction that nothing is to be done that will damage the Corporation? In other words, if the Corporation would be damaged by the charter company obtaining a route instead of themselves, would that mean that the Council would refuse the application? I do not pause for a reply. I do not want the Government to give a less satisfactory reply to-night than on another occasion. What appears to be in the Government's mind is that, whenever competition or genuine rivalry exists between the Corporations and the charter companies, the Council will have to give new routes to the Corporations because they are determined not to damage them.
§ LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY
Oh, no. The noble Lord is putting a lot of hypothetical questions. What he is saying amounts to this: that the Corporations would have a prescriptive right to all new routes always. If that is his policy, let the noble Lord tell us so.
That was the policy of the Act of 1946, and that was the intention of the Act. The idea of competition between the charter companies and the Corporations on scheduled 274 routes was never dreamed of. Under our directive there was the overriding instruction that nothing must be done to interfere with the existing services or the plans of the Corporations. That was our policy. If that is being changed, I can only express to the noble Lord our strong regret and our determined criticism. I would leave the matter there because, here again, noble Lords may have second thoughts. But if they mean to insist on a policy of this kind, clearly not in the best interests of the Corporations, they cannot be desirous of giving the Corporations what they ask for. That is fairly simple logic. Will the charter companies really benefit if the Government adopt a policy which is not in the interests of the Corporations and which involves conflict? I do not think so, for one rather obvious reason—although I do not want to drag in politics at this stage. The charter companies, to whom I can only wish what is good, have to obtain finance for these enterprises by going to business houses of one kind or another. Will they obtain much finance for these projects if the policy of the Government of the clay appears to be the policy of one particular Party? Seriously, I should think they would obtain very little finance from business men on that policy.
In conclusion, it is surely in the interests of the charter companies, as of the Corporations and of Britain, that, whatever policy is adopted, it should be a national policy which can continue and which will not be chopped and changed about as one Government succeeds another. I am grateful to all the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I appreciate the trouble that the Ministers have taken in replying, and if I say that we are not very much wiser, I can only express the hope that it may be better so. I beg noble Lords opposite to realise that unless they can clarify, and from our point of view much improve on, anything said hitherto, then there is a very difficult and bitter struggle ahead. I hope with all my heart that it will not come to that. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.