Is the Minister not guilty of a little prevarication? Is it not the case that this private company first went to the Ministry? As it concerns the Ministry and a decision will have to be made by the right hon. Gentleman, can he now give a firm assurance that in no circumstances will he, as Minister, require B.O.A.C. to give up any part of its scheduled passenger services over the North Atlantic to a private firm?
I do not think that the hon. Member fully appreciates the position. Under the terms of reference of the A.T.A.C., this service is reserved to B.O.A.C. and can only be operated by anybody else in agreement with B.O.A.C. The proper course, therefore, for anybody who wishes to operate such a service is to discuss the matter with B.O.A.C. That is what I have told people on questions of this sort and will continue to tell them from time to time.
How can the right hon. Gentleman have told them anything if they had not made representations to him? Is he not, therefore, a little less than frank with the House? In the circumstances, will the right hon. Gentleman give a categorical assurance that no pressure will be brought to bear by him on the Corporation to give up any part of its scheduled passenger services over the North Atlantic?
I resent the tone of the opening part of the hon. Member's supplementary question. No proposal has been made to me or—as the hon. Member would know if he understood the setup—could be made to me on this matter. On the question of inquiries being made, I advised the people concerned that their only proper course was to discuss the matter with the operators who, under the terms of reference, have a monopoly of the route. I should have thought that it was not necessary for me to say that I would not dream of putting pressure on this or any industry with which I am concerned to do anything which is contrary to what it regards as its proper commercial rights.
Air Commodore Harvey:
Will my right hon. Friend take an even broader view of the matter, and bear in mind that under the bilateral agreements the United States is having by far the best deal? Is he aware that there is more than one American company operating against the British one, and that there is room for further British competition, even against the Americans?
In view of the fact that the Government have, over a period, manifested a distinct bias against the public Corporations in civil aviation, is it not legitimate for my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) to be apprehensive about the Minister's policy?
I think that that is a rather odd comment in view of the fact that it has been only under the present Government that both Corporations have made a profit.