I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Order in Council, dated 14th September, 1948, entitled the Air Navigation (Amendment) (No. 2) Order, 1948 (S.I. 1948, No. 2074), a copy of which was presented on 14th September, be annulled.
There has been some publicity given during recent weeks to a firm of aircraft operators from South Africa, and this order represents a culminating point in a long struggle between a small
private firm and the British Ministry of Civil Aviation. In order that the purpose behind the order may be made plain and in order to show the reason we on this side of the House wish to annul it, I should like very briefly to review the stages of the controversy.
There is no doubt that success has been well nigh the undoing of this small firm because it is success of which the Minister is so jealous. This is really another story of David and Goliath in modern dress but with Goliath at his very clumsiest. The Government have said some very unpleasant things about the operations of this company, which have been reported in the Press. Nevertheless it is clear that it is the Government themselves who are in the wrong. We on this side of the House do not support lawbreaking in the air, and we support this firm tonight because we believe it is acting well within the law and in correct interpretation of the law as it stands. In fact, the firm, Messrs. Mercury Airways, clearly has committed no offence, otherwise the Ministry would undoubtedly have prosecuted it, instead of which the Ministry have resorted to a series of underground moves which have only lately come into the open, and of which this order is the latest and most flagrant—
Yes, and most despicable example. It started at the beginning of this year when two firms of travel agents, Messrs. Thomas Cook and Son and Messrs. Dean and Dawson, were instructed to accept no further bookings for this firm. Why those two firms? Because they now belong to the nationalised railways. That was the first dirty underground step. The next step was when the Ministry of Civil Aviation sent a letter to the firm saying that in future they would require permission to land aircraft in this country, and intimating in the letter that if they asked for such permission it would not be granted. In actual fact no such authority exists for the Minister to prohibit the landing of an aircraft in this country without obtaining prior permission. When challenged on this point, the Minister informed the firm that he had sent a letter to I.C.A.O., the international organisation, saying that such permission would be necessary in the future. I would point out that a letter to I.C.A.O. does not make the laws of England, even when the Minister of Civil Aviation has drafted the letter.
This company, alarmed at the turn which events were taking, had to change its policy. It is necessary for me to outline what the company has been doing and what it is proposing to do, in order to show why it incurred the unreasonable wrath of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. This private company possessed a number of aircraft and was engaged in charter flights between Johannesburg and this country. It started off by chartering complete aircraft and then it just sold individual seats in larger machines. All this time it was charging the same prices as B.O.A.C. and South African aircraft. It was tacitly understood that this practice was to be commended because of the shortage of suitable aircraft on this very popular route.
However, as time progressed and the firm developed new ideas, and particularly as B.A.O.C. traffic declined, so did the Ministry start their subversive tactics. The firm, fearing the effect of Section 23 of the Civil Aviation Act, 1946, decided to run its own service between Johannesburg and this country from Paris. It started its aircraft from Paris, and provided a free flight for such passengers as wished to go on to England in the same machine. Thus it overcame the definition in the Act which relates to aircraft
engaged in carriage for hire or reward.
The Ministry responded with another underground move. When the aircraft landed in this country, it was denied petrol for the return flight to France. This was not the direct act of the Minister of Civil Aviation, but rather that of the Minister of Fuel and Power whose aid was invoked in this sordid underground warfare. The Petroleum Board was ordered to refuse petrol for refuelling purposes. However, the enterprising firm was not to be outdone. It had foreseen such a manoeuvre. Its organisation was working very well, so there was enough petrol in every aircraft for the return flight. Even this was not enough; the present order was issued. Nevertheless, when these aircraft land in this country they are still denied petrol, even if they land empty and return empty, simply for servicing. This is part of the vendetta pursued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
The culminating point of the struggle arose with the issue of the Air Navigation (Amendment) (No. 2) Order, 1948. This order, which requires a good deal of study before its intention becomes plain, seeks to extend the existing powers of the Minister for detaining aircraft in this country to cover a category of aircraft not previously detainable. That category of aircraft includes aircraft belong- ing to companies in States other than Great Britain; in other words, it covers the aircraft belonging to Mercury Airways.
The Minister shakes his head, but on page 2 the order says:
After Article 25 of the principal order "—
which covers detention and so on—
there shall be inserted the following Article—An aircraft registered in any State other than Great Britain "—
in South Africa, for example—
if engaged in the carriage of passengers for hire or reward shall not take on board or discharge passengers … except in accordance with the terms of any agreement for the time being in force … or in accordance with the special permission of the Minister of Civil Aviation.
It is true that one might say that that contains no reference to detention, but the Minister never says that something must be done without including a penalty for non-compliance. The penalties are only described in either the parent Act or the first generation of subordinate legislation, this order being about the great-great-grandchild of the original Act. It is right for the Opposition to complain about the nature of the explanatory note which is anything but explanatory and only seeks to cloud an already complicated issue. It makes no reference to the essence of this order, which is that it gives the Minister power to detain aircraft. The whole purpose of the order was to enable the Minister to detain the aircraft of Mercury Airways.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House. He is under a misapprehension. Detention of the aircraft is to prevent an offence; not because an offence has been committed.
I submit that is even worse and that the Minister has taken unto himself powers to impound aircraft before an offence has been committed, quite clearly with an eye to Mercury Airways. More significant of the double-dealing which has been going on is that the managing director of Mercury Airways was interviewed by the Minister of Civil Aviation on Monday, the very day on which this order was issued, but the Minister made no reference to the fact that this order was being issued—no reference at all. He was undoubtedly hoping to catch a few of the Mercury Airways aircraft on the ground at Black-bushe. He took care not to publish the order until Friday morning and only published it then because of a threat of a Private Notice Question which was going to be put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd). This was a low attempt to try to impound one or more of Mercury Airways' machines. It is true there was also a notice to airmen which was published. That was not published until Friday morning either; and it does not contain a very clear account of the purpose of this order. It is framed very much in the terms of the so-called explanatory memorandum.
The order is surely already a dead' letter. It has failed in its purpose because Mercury Airways, not to be outdone, are arranging other means for conveying their passengers between London and Paris en route for Johannesburg. For that reason alone the order might as well be annulled, but I doubt if it will be because the fifth move in the sinister game being played by the Minister is to make an approach to the French Government to try to secure their co-operation to stamp out this successful example of private enterprise. As if the French Government have not trouble enough without being asked to co-operate in a Minister's private vendetta. If governments must be approached in this matter, surely the right government to approach is the South African Government, the Government in whose territory the company is registered. Why has no approach been made to them? They are a co-operating government. They arc members of all the international organisations to which His Majesty's Government also subscribe, but no approach appears to have been made to them. Surely they are the people who should issue a restraint, if restraint needs to be issued, to this firm. They are the people who should take the necessary action, and the Minister of Civil Aviation should be spared this undignified method of trying to keep a monopolist preserve safe. That is what it amounts to.
The root of the trouble lies in the aviation Act itself, the Civil Aviation Act, 1946. Section 23 deals with the question of scheduled services being reserved for the corporations appointed by the Minister. The argument is whether Mercury Airways are running a scheduled service or not in general terms. If not, there is even less justification for the vendetta which is being pursued. The trouble is that scheduled services have never been defined, and no operator is prepared to go to the legal expense of fighting the issue out in the courts against the Crown, and I do not blame them either. The right and honourable course for the Minister to take is to amend the Act so as to make clear what a scheduled service is, clear up the uncertainties, and stop behaving in the childish, undignified way exemplified by this order, which I hope the House will annul.
This is one of the first occasions on which it has been possible to trace into effect what this House has passed in theory upon nationalisation. Hon. Members in all parts of the House will remember speeches made about what would happen when civil aviation came under national control, and it seems to me really ludicrous that the very aeroplane belonging to Mercury Airways which was refused petrol at Black bushe Aerodrome by the British Government was the one that was christened by the South African Minister of Transport who said that the nationalised South African Airways and private enterprise had equal opportunity as far as he was concerned. That was what the country of origin said. Our reaction in this country, where the Government were so keen to nationalise airways, is that we cannot even allow the aircraft to have any petrol. No greater distinction can be found between what go-ahead countries do and what the present Government have recourse to doing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) has dealt fully with the legal case, but I hope hon. Members in all parts of the House will realise that, whatever we feel about civil aviation, we have the right only to deal with aircraft that are registered in our own country. If we go outside that, we are transgressing the principle upon which that Act was passed. If I may quote from the Act to which my hon. Friend referred, Section 23 rightly lays it down that scheduled journeys between two places, of which one is the United Kingdom, shall be governed. It goes on to say, in Subsection (4), that, where a third party is concerned, we must accord full rights under the agreements which we do not control, and that we may not discriminate.
All this order is doing is to tackle a small airways firm which the Minister thinks he can tackle. If he is so concerned about these preferential excursion rates, why does he not tackle Pan-American Airways? Can the Parliamentary Secretary say that there is a case where petrol has been refused to Pan-American Airways? Of course not. He would not dare. He dares tackle some company which he thinks he can frustrate, but he cannot frustrate that company. This order, which is issued in malice and prejudice, is worth nothing. I understand that the company concerned has registered as a British company and that in future they will fly from London to Paris under British registration. Can the Minister challenge that?
That is the answer to the order. I hope the Minister will be the first person to say, "I advocate its repeal." Suppose he had in mind some other piece of double-dealing, let him remember that even if he forced this through, there is nothing to stop this company from taking bulk bookings on either British European Airways or Air France so that they can convey their passengers between here and Paris. They arc covered in every way, and even if the Minister could twist his present powers in order to stop them—
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. There have been several references in the course of the last two speeches accusing the Minister of double-dealing and twisting. May I ask whether the House can have either some details of this double-dealing and twisting from the hon. Members or a Ruling on whether these remarks are in Order or not.
There has been no personal charge against the honesty and integrity of the Minister. There is no personal charge against the Minister when an hon. Member says the Ministry is dealing wrongly or is double-dealing. There would be a limit to what one might or might not say about the Ministry, but one may put the case very strongly.
If I have somewhat upset the hon. Member, I hope I shall be able to prove everything I have said. The rules we have laid down in this House and the Acts we have passed are applicable only to British transport planes, and we can govern and regulate only planes registered in this country; but now, for some reason which I hope the Minister will explain, we interfere with planes registered in other countries. I would like to hear from the Minister an explanation of the grounds on which he bases this order. While the order is laid down in general terms, it is perfectly clear that it is aimed against Mercury Airways and Mercury Airways only. Where does he find the basis of principle on which this can be justified?
It is easy for the Minister to make a particular body responsible. If the hon. Gentleman wants to enter into that particular dispute, I will willingly enter it. What is happening at the moment is that for some reason best known to the Government, and known perfectly well to the Opposition, we have this order designed to prevent a particular company from competing with the nationalised airlines. That is the sole issue we have to face now.
Throughout this dispute, from beginning to end, His Majesty's Government have behaved, not with double-dealing, as stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, but with such pettiness, such despicable pettiness as it would be hard to imagine. When this quarrel started, what was the action of the Government? In Rhodesia, they stopped any person travelling by Mercury Airways going to the toilet. Is that conceivable by any known form or standard of air travel? That, I understand, actually was a misinterpretation of a sort of over-all order issued by the Government, and it was rescinded after a few days. However, that did not damp His Majesty's Government, who then decided that anyone travelling by Mercury Airways could not go into the lounge, but had to stand out in the African sun; a person might use the toilet, but could not go into the shelter.
There was then a very unfortunate incident, because it so happened that Ivor Novello and "Miss France 1947," who, I understand has recently become "Miss Europe, 1948," travelled by Mercury Airways. They were allowed into the lounge, but directly it was found that they had travelled by a Mercury aeroplane, the sandwiches they were eating were immediately confiscated. It so happened that another plane—whether it belonged to B.O.A.C. or whatever Corporation works in that area, I do not know was due at the same time. It had on board several tennis experts, and the mayor was present to receive them. But Mercury Airways had taken off in the meantime. The mayor was so humiliated when he found that he had missed "Miss Europe" and Ivor Novello that he asked whether the plane could be recalled.
I will come to what happens at Blackbushe Aerodrome, which is much nearer home. An order has been issued to the people who manage that aerodrome that when one of these machines lands, there are two courses which they must take. The first is to caution the pilot, and the second is to seize two passengers who in their view will prove to be most useful witnesses for the prosecution which will be instituted by the Crown. I do not believe that such lengths have ever been gone to in order to pursue a private vendetta. It is well known that so long as there was a number of passengers far in excess of what could be carried by scheduled services, there was no complaint; in fact, that acted as a foil to the incompetence of the British nationalised airways; but once K.L.M. introduced a competitive service, down came the clamp on Mercury Airways. I find it very difficult to believe that at this moment when our chief preoccupation is free transit to Berlin, and all that it stands for, we should find that the Ministry of Civil Aviation are denying air access to this country. On the one hand, we are claiming our international rights, and on the other, we are denying them.
I defer to your Ruling, Sir, but this order does limit what may be done and what may not be done, and when we have subscribed our names to certain very great principles, then in general terms it is surely right to refer to the principles within certain limits.
I am sorry, Sir; all I wish to do is to point out the inconsistency of what we are now asked to do with what we have done previously—something to which we have already set our names. If this order is allowed to stand, we shall be encouraging the Ministry to use any weapons in their power in order to achieve an end which is something which I am sure no hon. Member in any part of the House would approve. I and my hon. Friends see nothing for the benefit of the air travelling public in this order, and nothing for the benefit of our air services.
After what you have said, Sir, I rise with some fears because I am a little doubtful whether I shall be in Order, but I will endeavour to keep to the Prayer. I make these comments as an operator of aircraft myself. Unfortunately, they are registered in this country and not in South Africa.
It seems that this small company to which we are referring—and it is only a small company—commenced operations after the war. Ex-Service men saw the big demand for seats between this country and South Africa, and what I cannot understand is why nothing was done to stop their operations, for two years. I believe that is because a large number of passengers were waiting for seats to South Africa with B.O.A.C.; one was told, in fact, that at one period there were no seats available for six months, and of course that was an embarrassing position for the Corporation. Nothing was done to hinder this company carrying emigrants to South Africa—and they carried them at the same rates as the Corporations. Passengers were allowed to buy their tickets on the instalment scheme. Mercury Airways operated their aircraft well, and free from accident, and one can speak well of the technical side of Mercury Airways.
There is no Act in South Africa which gives the Government air line, South African Airways, a monopoly. In fact, Mercury Airways are within their rights to fly not only to the United Kingdom, but to anywhere else in the world. They are not breaking the law if they do so, and it is an extraordinary thing that it should be this Government which should clamp down on an airline from a country which recently lent us £80 million of gold. It is a most short-sighted policy to take this action at the present moment. Nothing was done to ban this airline until the company introduced the excursion rate on 1st August. When Pan-American introduced the cheap excursion on the North Atlantic route in August, they did so without reference to the international organisations. "The Times" and one or two leading newspapers had articles dealing with this.
Nevertheless it was done without any comment from the Government, or from British Overseas Airways Corporation, except that B.O.A.C. and K.L.M. have since followed by introducing the rate of a fare and a third with the duration period for the ticket cut down, I believe, to three months. There is no company running between South Africa and Paris at all, and Mercury Airways are perfectly within their rights to operate on that route. I hope that the Government will not try to get at the French Government to prohibit them from landing at Le Bourget. That would be wrong. Let us limit it to what goes on here but not in France. This company could easily have stopped at Paris on 1st August if they had chosen to do so.
It is a most difficult thing to keep exactly in Order, but I am trying to explain what happened on 1st August when the Government put the ban on the company operating, and refused them petrol.
Although this order was only made last week, the Government had taken this action which was the forerunner of the order. However, I shall try to be brief and keep to the order. Anybody can go to the London office of Mercury Airways and get a free ride to Paris, because the company has offered free seats so that they will not infringe any law. Anybody can take a ticket at the London office and not have to pay, provided seats are available. The company is well within its rights. They have the full support of their own Government. The aircraft which was banned in August was actually christened by the Transport Minister in Johannesburg, and this supports the rights of Mercury Airways.
I am bound to point out that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has not once mentioned the order to which this Prayer refers. It is a matter to which he must address himself. The order makes certain provisions and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman deals with matters of fact he should re late them to these provisions.
I am trying to give the story which leads up to the order. The point I was making is that Mercury Airways are looked upon as official carriers of Government mail; not carriers for this Government, but for the Greek Government between Athens and Johannesburg. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) referred to the meeting between the managing director of this Company and the noble Lord the Minister of Civil Aviation a week ago today regarding the warning prior to the issue of the actual Statutory Order No. 2 of 1948. He did not even mention that it was to be made next day. He merely tried to make some sort of deal and warned him off. I have a great admiration for the Minister, but I think he should have put all his cards on the table and told the managing director of Mercury Airways exactly where he stood. I think that would have been the right thing to do.
Because of this order a British company is going to lose something like £20,000 servicing fees from Mercury Airways. They will go now to a French company—good South African money being thrown away by this Government. I ask the Minister to look into Section 23 of the Act, which needs clarifying, and to tell the operators what a scheduled service really is; and amend them and make their laws clear to the operators, for at the moment they are confusing to everyone. Everyone wants to see aviation go ahead, but that is not possible unless the laws are made clear. This was forecast in the Committee stage of the Bill and we said then that it would only be a question of time before the Government would be in this difficulty. because Section 23 is so confused. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give a satisfactory answer to enable this company to operate and come to this country, and to play its part in a proper way.
I hope that, in the words of the hon. and gallant Member, I shall be able to give a satisfactory answer because, quite frankly, the Opposition have got excited about nothing. One of the hon. Members, the hon. and gallant Member for New Forest and Christchurch (Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre), did not really know what the order meant. First I take it, as was indeed suggested by the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) that the Opposition do agree that regulations are needed to govern commercial air transport. After all we have had these regulations ever since civil aviation began. There was the Paris Convention, as a result of which we had an earlier order To give authority to that Convention we had the Air Navigation Act of 1920 and the regulations of 1923. Even under the Coalition Government there was the Chicago Convention negotiated by the first Minister for Civil Aviation and, in fact, signed by him on behalf of this country.
Now, what do these particular regulations, made under the Chicago Convention which was signed for this country by a Minister representing hon. Members opposite, actually do? There are two regulations, Article 5 and Article 6. Article 5 deals with non-scheduled, and Article 6 with scheduled operations. Now, so far as scheduled operations are concerned, they are governed under Article 6 by bilateral agreements with the countries who entered into those agreements. All that this order does is to give under Article 5, the force of law to requirements for non-scheduled operations such as exist under Article 6 for scheduled ones. Article 5 of the Chicago Convention says that the member State can make such regulations or conditions or limitations as it considers desirable. And we do consider regulations desirable; and so does every other country.
What we have said is that any person operating non-scheduled services for hire or reward to this country shall apply for permission to do so before they operate. That is all we have said: if you want to operate a single flight, or a number of flights, then apply for permission. In the light of the application permission will be granted or refused. That is not so terrible. It is a condition required by the vast majority of States, even America, which hon. Members opposite are always applauding as the land of free enterprise. If the firm with which the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) is associated wants to operate a single flight to America, he has to apply for permission to land before he can operate. All we are asking is for the same conditions as are required by America, Canada and other countries.
South Africa has not got that particular regulation, but the vast majority of States in the world have regulations governing both scheduled and non-scheduled services which require that those who want to operate aircraft shall ask for permission. Let me say quite frankly that practically every operator in the world recognises these requirements made under the I.C.A.O. provisions of the Chicago Convention.
It was the intention of this, as of many other countries, to require prior notice of intention of flight, and every country which was a member State of the Convention notified operators in accordance with an agreed procedure. That procedure involves, generally, a Notice to Airmen, as a result of which practically every operator who wants to come to this country comes with prior notification of the intended flight, as do operators from this country to other countries. But from South Africa it is true—
France is slightly different. Flights are governed either by prior notice as required in most cases, or in particular instances by bilateral agreement, as with France, or by a series of exchanges of letters; but, whatever the method, there have to be rules and regulations in regard to them, and every operator recognises the rules and regulations which are required. But this company—indeed one or two companies also, but I am speaking of one company in particular—simply refuses to recognise the requirement that they should ask for prior permission.
No, Sir. As I was trying to explain, the requirement arises under Article 5 of the Chicago Convention. which Article gives authority to member States to impose such regulations and conditions or limitation as they may consider necessary. The condition which we consider necessary is that of prior notification of flight. That requirement was notified to I.C.A.O. in September, 1947, and every operator in the world—or practically every operator—has been aware, as was this company, of the British requirement for prior notification of flight.
It is open to any operator in the world who wants to land to make an application, and his application will be considered. In the light of the application permission will be given or ref used.
On the grounds of the application the intention of the flight. In the case of this operator, facilities had been refused because the notification requirement had not been complied with.
It is necessary as a requirement under Article 5. The requirement exists under Chicago regulations but has not got the force of British law. It is a requirement which the vast majority of operators have honoured, but when an operator fails to honour it there is no force of British law to give authority for any sanction if there is a violation. Therefore, what we have done is to place in the 1923 orders a new clause, Article 25 (A), which now clearly defines what is the requirement. It is not something new, but something giving legal authority to the existing requirement already honoured by the vast majority of operators. As far as Article 10 is concerned, we have amended it to include Article 25 (A) so that there can be a preventive detention of aircraft, if considered desirable, to stop an infringement of the law.
The detention of an aircraft is in no way a penalty. If, in fact, there is no infringement there is no right of detention, and if a person conforms with the rules and the law then, in fact, the detention cannot take place. Detention would only be applied to flights from this country. I do not know how far I shall be in Order, but I want, if possible, to get the House to agree to this order without a Division. But let us take the instance of Mercury Airways. If they flew into this country in violation of this order, there would be no detention. All that would happen is that, as a definite offence against the law of the land would have been committed, we would under Clause 27 of the regulations take the necessary action through the courts, and apply for a summons and hearing. If there were an aircraft in this country intending to take off with passengers or goods without prior permission then, to prevent an offence being committed, the aircraft would be detained. If there were no offence, the aircraft would take off in the ordinary way.
Really what the Opposition are asking for—and I am surprised at the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield— is that operators of other than British charter companies should be in a privileged position not given to our own operators. That is what they are really asking.
I think the hon. Member has misunderstood the point I was making. It was that the Government have dealt with this matter in a pettifogging way, and that a matter of principle is involved. The second point is that when the hon. Gentleman speaks of other countries applying these regulations, I suggest that is not the case. If it were, if you tried to fly tomorrow to China you would never get there, because it would take months to get your permits. It may be the case in America, but not elsewhere.
I am not in a position to give a definite answer about China, but so far as I am aware there is not a Chinese company operating to this country. Air navigation regulations are governed, between countries which operate agreements, under agreements. These agreements are made in accordance with the principles of the Chicago Convention and I.C.A.O. It is said that we have been pettifogging and pinpricking. Really that is not true. We have been very patient indeed. We did in this case what we would do in any other case. We first called the attention of the country from which the operator is working to the matter, and asked them to take internal action according to their own rules and regulations. Such requests are made by other countries to this country. Only the other week, because a British pilot infringed the regulations of India, we stopped his licence.
If an operator from this country infringes the regulations of another country, we take disciplinary action in our own country, and I think that is the correct approach. So do the majority of other countries. We therefore called the attention of the South African Government to this matter when these operations started. As the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield said, the South African Government have not the power to deal with breaches of our regulations within their own country.
It is a breach of our regulations in our country. It is still left a matter for us to deal with when there is a breach of the regulations in operating from this country.
Until three or four days ago there had been no breach of any statutory regulations in this country. It has been perfectly permissible for this firm to do what it has done.
There has been no breach of the existing law of this country, but there has been a breach of the existing requirements, which have been honourably accepted by practically every airline operator in the world. Is the Opposition going to say that, when 999 people out of 1,000 loyally accept a regu- lation for law and order, we should not take action against the one lawless person? They are asking for a privilege to be given to those persons who do not accept the normally accepted rules and customs.
All that this regulation does is to give the power of British law to what has been the custom, so far as airline operators of non-scheduled services are concerned, for a very considerable period. It does not place a penalty upon anyone. 1f we did not have this order, it would place certain operators in a privileged position vis-a-vis British operators. I am certain that the Opposition do not want British charter companies to be in a worse position than their competitors so far as operations into and out of this country are concerned. What is more, before this requirement was notified to I.C.A.O. it was discussed and approved by the British Air Charter Association. What the Opposition are saying is that, after we have agreed with the British Air Charter Association what is to be our requirement under Article 5, we are to allow some independent operator from some other country to violate that requirement. We cannot accept that. We say that if there is to be a law, there must be acceptance of the law by everybody.
I will put all the cards on the table, as I was asked to do. This regulation would not have been made until we brought the new Consolidated Order forward in some months time. We had intended to give the force of law to the regulation under Article 5 in the new Consolidated Order, but as this has happened we cannot allow this violation to go on unchallenged. One cannot allow persons in the Press and elsewhere deliberately to flout rules and regulations, and boast that they are going to do it, for it brings the law into disrepute. [An HON. MEMBER: "There is no law."] An hon. Member may say that there is no law. but I should have thought that he would have realised that some of the best citizens are those who recognise the unwritten laws as well as the written laws.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary confirm that Article 5 applies only to people operating for hire and reward and that it does not affect private owners? If I own my own plane, I do not have to ask permission to land in a foreign country. Mercury Airways have been flying a free service here. It was not for hire or reward. Why has there been a breach?
The hon. Member tot Worcester (Mr. Ward) knows that Article 5 is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the private flyer and the second with non-scheduled operations for hire and reward. Under the first part there are the ordinary rules and regulations about flight plans and so on, and they are not concerned with hire or reward. The hon. Member asks me to give an answer to a hypothetical question. There are lawyers in the House and I do not pretend to be a lawyer, but if one says that taking a ticket from Johannesburg to London, stopping at Paris and being charged only to Paris is not an intended violation of a regulation, that is not for me to determine. It is for the courts to determine. All we are doing is applying the force of law to the existing practice which has operated for a considerable time. Questions as to whether or not it is right to operate to Paris and to carry on here free is a matter for determination by other bodies and not through regulations in this House.
I thought I had already admitted that in so far as the law of the land is concerned, we have no backing of law for the regulation, except in the sense that there has been notification of our regulation or requirement to I.C.A.O., and the member states of I.C.A.O. have loyally accepted that notification as we have accepted those of other countries which have had no statutory authority behind them. Now, because a person or group of persons deliberately defies what is an international understanding, we seek to give the authority of law to that understanding in order to make sure that the person who is breaking the regulations conforms to them.
I would like to know why the Government are preventing this airline running air services to this country, if they are not either undercutting or being more effi- cient than the present service. What is the reason?
The Parliamentary Secretary, in the earlier part of his speech, spoke as if this order was practically a normal order in conformity with the ordinary international practice of air navigation, but towards the end he made it quite clear that it was aimed at one company and one company only. He made a great deal of play with Article 5 of the Chicago Convention, but the General Act was signed on 7th December, 1944, and this company has been carrying on unhindered its highly desirable operations for the last two years.
Now, for reasons that the Minister knows, and no doubt because B.O.A.C. are finding it more and more difficult to get the traffic that Mercury Airways are attracting, a new order is brought in. It has been shown in a number of speeches that this company has not broken any law, and for the Minister to use the phrase "lawless operations" is surely grossly unfair. They have not broken any law, either of this country or South Africa. They have not engaged in flying scheduled services, so they have not broken Article 23, giving a monopoly to the Corporations, even if there was—and there is not—a similar Act in South Africa, giving a monopoly to South African Airways. They have not broken any international agreement on rates, because there is no international agreement on the Johannesburg-Paris route.
What is their offence? They have been successful. At a time when in this Empire we suffer from having so few enterprising people, it appears to me to be a tragic mistake to try to penalise the one enterprising company that has operated since the war. Because they have been successful, they are now to be broken.
No, certainly, but the whole of our case and, indeed, it is also part of the Minister's case, is that this Company has not broken any regulation. The regulations are going to be altered in order to catch up on something which up to the time of this regulation was perfectly legal. A crime has been manufactured in order that the Minister can impose a punishment. It almost looks as if the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) is in fact legislating for the present Government, finding a crime and then applying a punishment to it.
The Minister said it would not be fair to other operators. The operator most concerned is South African Airways, which might reasonably have a grievance. It is also a nationalised airline. But it has not protested. It believes, as indeed most of us on this side of the House believe, that there is room for both State and private enterprise in a happy partnership in the air, if only our Government will allow private enterprise to play its part.
As this airline has not broken any law, it has to be caught out in some other way. The first attempt was made by trying to cut off its fuel. The Minister made very many references to the Chicago Convention, and mentioned Articles 5 and 6 of that Convention. There is also Article 11, and it is open to doubt whether the Government have not broken that by cutting off fuel supplies to this company. I will not weary the House by reading Article 11, but briefly that Article provides that all signatory States shall be treated in the same way, and their aircraft in the same way. by Government regulation.
Having failed to catch this company by cutting off its fuel, this order is being issued. The order is the inevitable con-
sequence of something which we on the Opposition Benches pointed out during the passage of the Civil Aviation Act. Charter operators who have been struggling to carry our prestige forward in the air have been complaining about the vagueness of the definition of "scheduled services." I think that many Members of this House who came with open minds to this Debate tonight actually thought that Mercury Airways had been running a scheduled service, and that this was the charge against them. No one really knows what "scheduled services" are. But this is not a "scheduled service." No one wants to run the risk of proving it at law, because the result might be a fine of £5,000 and imprisonment up to two years for unlawfully carrying on a scheduled service.
We said that this would happen, and also that if any operator made a success of his air line, the Government would come in and steal that service. That is what the Government are doing now. I agree with my hon. Friends that it seems an extraordinary thing that on the eve of an Empire Conference we should take this action against a company from South Africa, action against that part of the Empire which in its own view has seen no breach of the law. South Africa, as the parent nation, and its Government, which has sponsored this enterprising company, should take action if action is necessary. Because of the very poor case which has been put up by the Government, we have no option but to divide against this order.
|Division No. 3.]||AYES||[11.25 p.m.|
|Agnew, Cmdr. P G||Duthie, W. S.||Keeling, E. H.|
|Barlow, Sir J.||Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)||Langford-Holt, J.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Gage, C.||Lennox-Boyd, A T|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J A||George, Maj. Rt. Hn. G. Lloyd (P'ke)||McFarlane, C. S.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T||Gomme-Duncan, Col A.||Mackeson, Brig. H. R|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E||Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||McKie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Cuthbert, W. N.||Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Mellor, Sir J.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Hollis, M. C.||Mullan, Lt. C. H|
|Dower, E L G. (Caithness)||Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Nicholson, G.|
|Drayson, G B||Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.)||Nield. B (Chester)|
|Drewe, C.||Jeffreys, General Sir G||Raikes, H. V.|
|Scott, Lord W.||Studholme, H. G.||Ward, Hon. G. R|
|Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir W||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)||Wheatley, Colonel M. J (Dorset, E.)|
|Smithers, Sir W.||Thomas, J. P L (Hereford)|
|Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.||Touche, G. C.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Strauss. Henry (English Universities)||Wakefield, Sir W. W||Mr. Erroll and|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, Soutn)||Griffiths, D (Rother Valley)||Porter, G. (Leeds)|
|Allen, A C. (Bosworth)||Guest, Dr. L. Haden||Price, M. Philips|
|Anderson, A. (Motherwell)||Guy, W. H.||Pursey, Comdr. H|
|Attewell, H. C.||Haire, John E (Wycombe)||Randall, H. E|
|Awbery, S. S.||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col, R.||Ranger, J|
|Bacon, Miss A||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)||Rankin, J.|
|Balfour, A.||Hardy, E. A.||Reid, T. (Swindon)|
|Barstow, P G||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)||Robens, A.|
|Barton, C.||Hewitson, Capt M||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)|
|Bechervaise, A. E||Hobson, C. R||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)|
|Benson, G.||Holman, P.||Royce, C|
|Berry, H.||Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)||Shackleton, E. A A|
|Beswick, F.||Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W)||Sharp, Granville|
|Binns, J.||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)||Shurmer, P.|
|Boardman, H.||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)||Silverman, J. (Erdington)|
|Bowden, Flg. Offr. H. W.||Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M (L'pl. Exch'ge)||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)||Skeffington, A M.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Janner, B||Skeffington-Ledge, T. C.|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Jeger, G (Winchester)||Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Jenkins, R. H.||Soskice, Rt. Hon Sir Frank|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)||Sparks, J. A|
|Burden, T. W.||Jones Elwyn (Plaistow)||Steele, T.|
|Burke, W A.||Jones, P Asterley (Hitcher)||Stross, Dr. B|
|Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.)||Keenan, W||Stubbs, A. E|
|Champion, A. J.||Kenyon, C||Swingler, S.|
|Chetwynd, G. R||King, E. M||Sylvester, G. O|
|Cobb, F A.||Kinley, J.||Symonds, A L|
|Coldrick, W.||Lee, F (Hulme)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Collindridge, F.||Lewis, A. W. J. (Upton)||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Collins, V. J||Lewis, J. (Bolton)||Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)|
|Colman, Miss G. M||Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Corlett, Dr. J||Lindgren, G S||Tiffany, S.|
|Cove, W. G.||Longden, F.||Timmons, J|
|Crawley, A||Lyne, A W||Ungoed-Thomas, L|
|Daggar, G.||Mack, J. D.||Vernon, Maj. W. F|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon H.||Mackay, R. W G. (Hull, N W.)||Wadsworth, G|
|Davies, Edward (Burslern)||McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Walkden, E.|
|Davies, Ernest (Enfield)||McLeavy, F||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|Deer, G.||Macpherson, T. (Rumford)||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow. E)|
|Delargy, H. J||Mallalieu, E L. (Brigg)||Warbey, W N|
|Diamond, J||Mallalieu, J. P W. (Huddersfield)||Watkins, T E|
|Debbie, W.||Mann, Mrs. J.||Webb, M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Driberg, T E N||Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Weitzman, D.|
|Dye S.||Mathers, Rt. Hon. George||Wells, P. L (Faversham)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Middleton, Mrs. L.||Wheatley, Rt. Hn. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Edwards, John (Blackburn)||Mitchison, G. R||White, C. F (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel)||Monslow, W.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon W.|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Moody, A S.||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B|
|Evans, John (Ogmore)||Morgan, Dr. H B||Wilkes, L.|
|Evans, S. N (Wednesbury)||Morley, R.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Ewart, R.||Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Willey, F. T (Sunderland)|
|Fairhurst, [...]||Nally, W||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Farthing, W. J||Neal, H. (Claycross)||Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)|
|Field, Capt. W. J||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Williams, R. W (Wigan)|
|Fletcher, E G. M. (Islington, E.)||Nicholls. H R. (Stratford)||Williams, W R. (Heston)|
|Foot, M M.||Oliver, G. H||Wills, Mrs E. A|
|Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Orbach, M.||Woodburn, Rt Hon A|
|Freeman, J. (Watford)||Paling, Will T. (Dewsbury)||Woods, G. S|
|Ganley, Mrs C. S||Palmer, A. M. F||Wyatt, W|
|Gibbins, J||Pargiter, G A||Yates, V F|
|Gibson, C. W||Paton, Mrs F (Rushcliffe)|
|Gilzean, A.||Paton, J (Norwich)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Glanville, J. E. (Consett)||Pearson, A||Mr. Snow and Mr. Richard Adams.|
|Grey, C. F.||Perrins, W.|