Orders of the Day — Civil Aviation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th February 1948.

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Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield 12:00 am, 26th February 1948

I accept that point, but nevertheless, South American Airways, Skyways and other companies have been operating at 68,000 lb. I am inclined to think that the reduction of 3,000 lb. in the payload is due to a decision by somebody within the Corporation. Either they are wrong or the A.R.B. are wrong. This is a matter which ought to be settled right away so that the operators may know exactly where they stand.

We have heard about K.L.M.'s profit. In addition to making a profit of £78,000, they have contributed £60,000 to the Dutch Inland Revenue. It has not been done simply by having American aircraft, but because they have serviced their Constellation aircraft in the open during the winter. At Schipol Aerodrome their aircraft have been serviced, and I wish that the Corporation could have improvised their accommodation as the Dutch have done this winter, and saved money by servicing not only their own aircraft but the aeroplanes of other people. The Irish Constellations have flown there every so often for servicing. Many of the Corporation's staff are at Dorval in Canada where they service their Constellations, and they probably want to stay there for a year or two until things are rather better at home. We hope that some of these matters will be tackled right away.

I would like to give the Committee an instance of bad administration. It is of a trip home which I made from India last November. There were four of us in a York, and when we arrived at Lydda we were told that there would be a delay of some three hours owing to technical trouble. Another York followed up, with seven passengers. It was the day before the opening of Parliament. I went to see the manager of the Corporation and asked him, "Can you transfer the four of us to that second aeroplane?" His answer was that it would be very difficult to do so as it would mean a lot of paper work. We actually stayed there, not for three hours, but for 16 hours, and we had to have accommodation which probably cost £16. It meant great delay and inconvenience for everybody. The Corporation must get their staff thinking in terms of making money. It does not follow that because they are making a loss they have to go on doing so and adding to it. They must instil into their employees the idea that they must economise wherever it is possible to do so.

There are far too many buildings under the B.O.A.C. I believe that the figure two months ago was 21 around London and one of them was not in use at all. There are ways in which they can bring about great economies in moving their staff into the new building on the Great West Road as soon as possible. They must economise in every possible way in the matter of accommodation. Another point is that not enough men are promoted within the Corporation. Far too many people are brought in from outside. They go on to the Board and are placed in the higher executive posts. I cannot for the life of me see why Lord Burghley and Lord Rothschild are on the Board of the B.O.A.C. What qualifications have they? I am sorry to have to mention their names, but it is far better to be quite frank about the matter. They have no qualifications whatever for serving on this Board. There are men within the Corporation who would be well suited and who have great experience of their profession. They would do very much better in running the business.

I would now refer briefly to the method of ordering aeroplanes. I recognise the difficulties because now we have to think again about our defences. I am concerned at the fact that, while the aircraft industry made last year the profits to which the Minister referred, the next year or two will not tell the same happy story. The industry is in for a very rough time indeed. Nevertheless, more could be achieved if operators dealt directly with constructors. It must be so. We cannot imagine the ships of the Merchant Service and Navy being built through the Ministry of Supply. It just would not work. I have heard the story—and I do not know whether or not it is true—that at one time the Corporations had to get permission from the Ministry of Supply before they could go into factories where the aircraft were being built. If that was so, it was deplorable.

When Treasury sanction has been given to purchase aircraft, the operators must deal direct with the constructors and the closest relationship must be brought about, except where airworthiness requirements are concerned. In fact, the operator must be responsible for all matters relating to the ordering of aircraft. We have had very serious difficulties with ordering of aircraft, and in regard to delivery dates, which have constantly been retarded. We have constantly had explanations and descriptions of what we were going to get in five years' time. What is going to be done between now and the next five years? The Halton aircraft have already cost more than £500,000. To have tried to operate Halton two years after the war in competition with Skymasters and in competition with French and Belgian machines was a waste of the taxpayers' money. It should not have been undertaken. I now refer to the Brabazon I, in connection with which something like £6 million or £7 million have been spent. Whether or not it is likely to be a success, I do not know, but it is important that we should know what is to be the future of the aircraft, and of the Saunders Roe Flying boat as well.

The aircraft industry did a superb job of work during the war, but through no fault of their own they lack experience of building large civil aircraft. It is not possible to begin suddenly in a matter of months to design aircraft and to expect to fly them in three years' time without having to meet a lot of trouble. The experience of American constructors has shown that it takes from 15 to 20 years to go from the D.C.1. to the D.C.6. Many things based on knowledge and experience have to be done in connection with the construction of new types of large civil aircraft.

I support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford about the Canadair types. If we can get them on terms which will not commit the Government to spending dollars but on hire purchase, that would be the right thing to do for the immediate future. Further, if it is thought that the Constellation will remain in service for the next eight years—which it probably will with modification, because types will not change so often as in the past—ought we not to get a licence today to construct the Constellation in a British factory with British engines? It may take two or three years before they come off the line, but I am told that the Americans would he glad to come into some such arrangement. We should then get experience in building these airframes and enable the design staffs to look ahead and concentrate on the future. The Government should seriously consider taking these Canadairs as an interim measure. I do not suggest that if we do that the Tudor should be dropped. Everything should he done to get the Tudor into the air, with mail or freight or anything in order to get the aeroplane flying, until it is well tested and can then be used on the Empire routes. It is infinitely better than the existing fleet of aircraft.

Unless we fly aircraft as good as competitors, we are bound to lose money. We have been told that Air India, a new company, will operate from Bombay to London in 20 hours. It is quite impossible to compete with that sort of thing. I would stress to the Minister of Supply and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation the importance of close liaison with the Air Ministry when ordering new types of aeroplanes. It should be worked out in great detail with the technical experts at the Air Ministry to see whether there is some matter which is common to both civil aviation and the Royal Air Force whereby the development costs could be spread between the two services. The Americans have done that. For example, they found that the wing of a civil type would do for a military transport aircraft. There must be the closest liaison between the two Ministries in that respect.

When I was in India, I took part in the evacuation of the refugees between Pakistan and India. That was the biggest civil air evacuation in history. I am only sorry that the Americans were not told a little more about that air operation. We were rendering a great service to humanity and to our friends in India. It was a case of the Corporations and the charter companies working together, and they did work together. My own company, with two aeroplanes, carried 15,000 people in a matter of weeks. We had 69 up one day in an aircraft built for 21. There was not a single fatality or any technical trouble at all. I would like to take this opportunity of paying my tribute to Air-Commodore Brackley of B.O.A.C., who was in charge of that evacuation. He showed leadership and overcame the difficulties with the Governments of India and Pakistan. I should like to see Air-Commodore Brackley taking far more responsibility in his own Corporation. He has been in the industry the whole of his adult life, and knows what he is talking about.

Will the Minister do something about the flying clubs? We know that they are in a very poor way and are losing money, and unless something is done they will have to go out of existence. They made a contribution before the war in providing pilots for the Service and the A.T.A. I know the Treasury will not give them what the Whitney Straight Committee are asking for, but they should be given a token grant to keep them going. The international situation does not look any too good. If we let the clubs have £50,000 to £80,000 for this summer, we can keep them alive and review the situation later on.

I want, in conclusion, to refer to the Corporations as a whole. I believe that in the main they are doing good work, and provided we can overhaul the boards of directors and get more people from the Corporations coming up and sharing the responsibility, they will increase their ability. I have great confidence in Mr. Whitney Straight, who is with the Corporation. He is a man with experience and a go-getter, and I believe there is a great future for him, but he must be more drastic in dealing with matters such as pruning the Corporations. Not now; the time to tackle the job of reductions was last August when the Government hinted that there would probably be an economic crisis.

When the Government nationalised the air lines some 18 months ago, we were led to believe that all would be well in civil aviation. I am not complaining unduly, but I re-read the speech of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) the other day. Of course, it was not entirely his fault; he was perhaps misled to some extent by his advisers. Nevertheless, he painted a very rosy picture of the situation as it would be after the Government had nationalised civil aviation, indicating that the Labour Government would be able to go all over the world and show the flag. It was a grave miscalculation, for they completely under-estimated the difficulties of operating aeroplanes. I beg the Government to review the situation from now onwards and to see where they really stand in this matter. It is no advertisement at the moment for British aircraft overseas. I beg the Government to review the situation and to leave party politics aside for the moment. Let them get the best out of civil aviation; it is there for the asking.