Yes, Sir. The Agreements signed last evening between the United States and this country at Bermuda are an achievement satisfactory to both countries. The Bermuda Conference has reconciled the desire of the United States to avoid regulation which might be construed as restricting the full exploitation of air transport and the desire of the United Kingdom to ensure that international air services are developed on an orderly basis which will eliminate wasteful competition and uneconomic subsidies.
The United States Government have agreed that all fares on air services of mutual interest to the two countries should form the subject of agreement, and this they propose to achieve in two stages. Firstly, they have agreed to recognise for a period of one year the status of the International Air Transport Association, an international operators' organisation as a rate-fixing body acting through route conferences. They have also undertaken to seek legislation from Congress which will empower the Civil Aeronautics Board to control rates. This is, in itself, a considerable advance on the position which confronted us before the Bermuda Conference began.
As regards the control of capacity operated on the routes, it has been recognised that pre-determination on the basis of estimated traffic potentials is beset with practical difficulties, and, instead, it has been agreed that the principle for which we stand, namely, the maintenance of a close relationship between capacity operated on the various routes of mutual interest and traffic offering, can best be put into practical effect by providing for an ex post facto review on the basis of this principle. Machinery for close and continuing collaboration between the two Governments will be established to this end.
Turning to the controversial issue of the Fifth Freedom, I cannot do better than quote the text of the Agreement on this subject. It reads as follows:
It is the understanding of both Governments that services provided by a designated air carrier under the Agreement and its Annex shall retain as their primary objective the provision of capacity adequate to the traffic demands between the country of which such air carrier is a national and the country of ultimate destination of the traffic. The right to embark or disembark on such services international traffic destined for and coming from third countries at a point or points on the route specified in the Annex to the Agreement shall be applied in accordance with the general principles of orderly development to which both Governments subscribe and shall be subject to the general principle that capacity should be related:
The particular Bases which have formed the subject of these discussions are those in Colonial Territories, and the Heads of Agreement contain a clause which makes it clear that they are subject to the preparation of a formal contract and to the solution of certain questions before any Agreement to use the Bases for civil purposes can become effective.
The final text of the documents as signed and initialled are not yet available in this country. A reasonably full and accurate summary was, however, released to the Press and was published this morning. As soon as the final text of the Agreement is available, it will be published as a White Paper.
On a point of Order. in view of the fact that we on these Benches never heard a single word and do not know what the statement is about, would it not be possible for the Government to consider issuing these statements to hon. Members at 2 o'clock before we come in and thus save the time of the House?
Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas:
On that point of Order, Mr. Speaker. Are you aware that there is general complaint on these Benches about the poor acoustics of the Chamber and of the fact that we can hardly hear any speaker— [Hon. Members: "Speak up."]and can hardly hear any hon. Member unless he happens to be facing— in this direction? May I seriously suggest that steps be taken to improve the position either by Ministers raising their voices on the Front Bench or by installing some more suitable listening apparatus?
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether we have or have not agreed to sign the Fifth Freedom, as we would like a definite answer on that subject; and, secondly, whether we are to understand that it is the Government's case that there has been some quid pro quo on this matter, and how long the United States intends, or has promised, to agree to the international regulation of fares?
Mr. Ivor Thomas:
I would like to apologise to the House if I was not audible. The Agreement itself is very complex, but it will be published as a White Paper before long. I cannot add to what I said on the Fifth Freedom. The Question is not susceptible of that simple answer which the hon. Member desires. The acceptance of the Fifth Freedom is subject to all the conditions I have enumerated. With regard to fares, the United States has accepted the principle of the international regulation of fares, and it is necessary now to seek the approval of Congress.
I think we all tried to follow the statement which the hon. Gentleman has given, but, even for those who heard it, it was, admittedly, an extremely complicated one. I do not want to press further questions now, as the issues are very wide and complicated, but we may, when we have had time to study the Agreement, have to ask the Government for time to discuss it.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman what, under the new Agreement, is the position of the United Kingdom vis-a-vis those countries with which we have already entered into agreements, and whether he will give us an assurance that at Bermuda the Government have not signed away the sovereignty of any of these bases?
With regard to the latter part of the question, I can give a categorical assurance in the affirmative to the hon. Member. With regard to the Agreements with other countries, the United States has accepted the same principles that govern our agreements with the other countries. We have in this Agreement adopted a different method of achieving the same result.
As Congress approval is required to this arrangement, from the American point of view, surely it is only reasonable that this House should give approval to it from our point of view, especially in view of the fact that bases in the Empire are vitally affected?
May I ask the Minister if, when he issues the text of the Agreement or publishes it as a White Paper, he will be good enough to publish some explanatory memorandum— because the text, I gather, is somewhat obscure— in order to try to elucidate the many important points and to state in simple language what the Agreement does or does not do?