I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
this House, while expressing its deep appreciation of the efforts of the British Overseas Airways Corporation and the British European Airways Corporation to provide safe and efficient services, regrets that the operation of the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act, 1960, and the policies of Her Majesty's Government threaten the position of the two Corporations and endanger the best interests of British aviation.
We move this Amendment because it appears to us that both the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act, 1960, and the Government's policy as a whole are working extremely inefficiently and unsatisfactory in three major respects. There is, first, the question of safety, with which, although it is often forgotten, Section 1 of the Act is entirely concerned. There is, secondly, the question of the strength of the Air Corporations, B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., and their ability to hold their own in very fierce international competition. There is, thirdly, the question of the consequential effects of any weakening of the position of the Corporations on the British aircraft industry and on British aviation as a whole. I shall try to deal with these three matters one after the other.
First, on the question of safety, repeat at the outset, what I have said before in the House of Commons and in Committee, that I have no desire to blacken the reputation, certainly on this matter of safety, of any section of British aviation. It is, of course, perfectly true that any air operator in any section of the industry may have the misfortune to have an air accident. Nevertheless, we cannot neglect the fact that there have been four fatal accidents in the last two months and that they have caused 71 deaths. Of these, the tragic accidents at Stavanger and near Perpignan are the two which have made a deep impression on the public mind and caused deep concern.
Whatever may be the explanation, one must face the actual fact that all these accidents have been on non-scheduled charter flights run by independent airlines. It is necessary to point out these facts because of public concern and anxiety and I do not think that Parliament would be doing its duty unless it did so.
It is, of course, very difficult to compare the accident rate over a term of years—that is the real thing—of independent flying and charter flying in general with that of the Corporations on scheduled flying. All the figures which I have been able to ascertain are incomplete and one can only make estimates. A number of estimates have been made in this House. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Grsham Cooke), for example, said the other day that in his opinion the independents had had over a period of years seven times as many accidents per passenger mile flown as the Corporations.
Flight, in its issue of 19th October, which was quoted in a recent Adjournment debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), stated:
The independent fatality rate over the past six years has been eight times higher than the Corporations".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1961; Vol. 694, c. 325.]
As a matter of fact the figures that I have got out do not show as wide a difference as that; nevertheless, there can be no doubt that there is a very wide differential here.
Some of these comparisons are for passenger miles flown and others of air movements. We can take one basis or the other. I do not say which is the more relevant.
Whatever the figure is, and I do not think that any of us can be dogmatic about it, there can be no doubt that there is a very wide difference—too big a difference to overlook. I wonder what would have been said in the House of Commons if the figures were the other way round and the Corporations had an accident rate many times higher than that of the independents.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to be fair. He said that these accidents went in cycles, but I think that about three years ago, if I recollect correctly, speaking from memory, B.E.A. had a bad accident at Munich, involving Manchester United football team, followed by a Viscount accident, which killed many people, at Manchester. I think that it is very unfair to take a particular three months' period and tie it up with accident rates. One has to take a period of years.
It would be very unfair to quote a three months' period. That is why I was quoting Flight, which has taken a six-year period. That is the point—it is for a number of years. But I think that it is fair to say that it has been the last three months' period which has brought this matter into very great public concern.
The question to which the House has to address itself and, I would suggest, to which the Minister must address himself, is: what is the cause of this very great difference in the rate? I think that neither the Minister nor any of us would like to assume that this is necessarily a question concerning the private operators as such. I think that, on the contrary, it may be bound up with the question of charter flying as such. The more I look into the matter, the more I think that may have a good deal to do with it.
I return to the observations of the hon. Member for Twickenham on this matter, because I thought that it was very relevant when he asked, last week: to what extent does this route testing take place with the charter companies? He was getting on to something which seemed to me to be of very great importance. I recognise, and the Parliamentary Secretary has assured us often enough, that the safety regulations are just the same for the Corporations as they are for the private operators. I would think that the question of aircraft was probably not very relevant. The charter aircraft of the independents are probably older, but that does not necessarily mean that they are unsafe if properly inspected.
I entirely agree with that. But I am concerned about the regulations of the pilots and the question of route testing and training and the question of the pilots in general. It is in that sphere that I think we are most likely to find some of the causes of this very remarkable difference which we simply cannot overlook.
I ask the House to consider the Air Navigation Order, 1960, which lays down certain regulations, in particular, paragraph 1 (5, a) of the Tenth Schedule. I am sure that the Minister is familiar with these regulations which read, in part:
The pilot designated as commander of the aircraft for the flight shall within the relevant period—
and there then follows a whole list of other considerations.
(i) have demonstrated to the satisfaction of the operator that he has adequate knowledge of the route to be taken, the aerodromes of take-off and landing…
Paragraph 1 (5, b) of that Schedule says:
In determining whether a pilot's knowledge of the matters referred to in sub-paragraph (a) (i) is sufficient to render him competent to perform the duties of aircraft commander on the flight, the operator shall take into account the pilot's flying experience…
and many other factors.
What strikes me very strongly is that the whole onus is put on the operator to see that the pilot is sufficiently experienced and sufficiently conversant with the route. Is the Minister satisfied that the regulations in that Order have proved right and sufficient? No doubt we shall be told that if an operator persistently fails in this obligation he may have his licence withdrawn from him. But, after all, that would be after the fact and perhaps after many lives had been lost. I cannot feel very satisfied with the Order as it now stands.
Nor is it merely a question of route training as such. It is a question of the whole status and position of the pilots in regard to their employers, the operators. If the House will forgive me, I would like to read what I think that hon. Members will regard as a remarkable letter which I have received on this matter:
"Dear Mr. Strachey,
I write to inform you of an incident which illustrates the highly undesirable pressures under which pilots of some independent air companies may be called upon to work. Returning in October from a holiday in Greece, our pilot, after an abortive attempt to get to Perpignan in bad weather, night-stopped at Pisa on the same night that the Derby Aviation Dakota was lost in that area. An R.A.F. aircraft, homeward bound from Malta, was also delayed in Pisa the same night for the same reason. Appreciating that our captain's decision to delay would not be financially popular with his company, on arrival in London next day I wrote to them praising his good judgment and suggesting that this was just the way for a small independent to earn a good reputation. I was, therefore, shocked to learn a few days later that he had been sacked."
The letter goes on:
"The crux of the problem is this. Independent air operators have a useful rôle to play in developing the all-in air holiday."
We all agree with that.
"In season, however, independent operators commit their aircraft and crews to the maximum extent. A delayed aircraft may mean not only that no aircraft is available for the next trip, but, even if an aircraft is available, a properly rested crew may not be."
The letter ends:
"I can, of course, give you names and fuller details concerning this incident at your convenience.
A. D. G. James, Wing Commander."
I can, of course, give the letter to the Minister.
I quote the letter because it is a striking and shocking letter and seems to bring out this issue of whether a safety Order, which places the obligation on the operator to satisfy himself of the experience and competence of the pilot, is really good enough.
To be specific, ought not this responsibility to ensure the adequate route checking and general competence and experience of the pilot be placed on the Minister and his inspectorate and not on the operator? Ought it not to be the Minister's responsibility to insist on a meticulous standard of route checking and route training for charter flights, and, in particular, to ensure the protection of the pilots in cases such as that which I have just quoted?
It seems fatal to the future of aviation and to the independent operators themselves that any incident of that sort should ever occur again. I am told that the kind of regulations I am suggesting—and it is for the Minister to say how they could be worked out in detail—would be very expensive for the charter operators, and I can believe that they would be. But can we consider that when the safety of the travelling public is involved?
The firm has not gone into liquidation, so that statement is definitely wrong. The right hon. Gentleman can take that from me, because this firm operates from Southend Airport, which I know fairly well. Will he be good enough to tell the House why the pilot was sacked?
What has happened here does not suggest to me that it is a first-class firm. It suggests just the contrary. The reason why the pilot was sacked is only too obvious from this letter.
This is a matter of some importance. I had no intention of interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but he is making allegations against the company, which is not here to defend itself, and at least he should have made some inquiries from the company about why the pilot was sacked, so that he might have been able to inform the House. The pilot might have been sacked for all sorts of reasons.
He goes on in a portion of this letter which I did not read to say:
I offered my services to the British Airline Pilots' Association as a witness to support any action they might propose on behalf of the pilot concerned. But before any appeal could be heard the company placed itself in the hands of the Official Receiver.
There is no doubt at all about what the implication is.
Order. If hon. Members have counterpoints to make, their prospects of being able to catch my eye might depend on the amount of interruption and time consumed at this stage.
This is the issue which is raised not only by the letter, but by the accidents which have had a profound effect on the public and caused profound concern about charter flying. I am trying to make suggestions to the Minister for some sort of remedy for this state of things. He may have a better suggestion to make, but I am suggesting that the onus, put by the regulations on the operators, should be transferred to the Minister.
I do not believe that anything which tightens up safety regulations and improves the record of safety is against the interests of the independent operators themselves. It is very much in their interests and it seems incontestable, from this letter and from other evidence which we have all received and from the actual accidents, that something ought to be done and that some measures ought to be taken about charter flying. They will apply to the Corporations, which, of course, engage in charter flying, as well as to the independents.
It is not sufficient to say that regulations are the same for charter flying as for independents. That is not the issue. Are they adequate in both cases? The Minister ought to say what he has in mind about this, and what proposals he has for tightening the safety regulations and improving the whole status of the Ministry and its ability to ensure the safety of the travelling public.
I come now to my second subject, the working, of the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act, 1960, on the Corporations, their strength, and their ability to carry the flag of this country in the face of extremely severe competition and the fierce air race on all their international routes. Reluctantly, we on this side were unable to write certain words into that Act. I shall deal with that aspect in a minute. Since the passing of the Act, the Air Transport Licensing Board, in its first major hearing, that of the Cunard Eagle Company, granted a licence to that company on the vital North Atlantic route. As we have said on several occasions, the granting of that licence was a realisation of the worst fears expressed by my right hon. and hon. Friends when the Bill was before the House.
What has happened now? The decision of the Minister, which was announced two days ago, and on which we sincerely congratulate him, has reversed that decision and allowed the appeal of the B.O.A.C. In the light of those two decisions, what is to be the future pattern of British aviation? Unless some coherent doctrine, embodied in some clear terms of reference to the Air Licensing Board, can be evolved, the future of British aviation and its operation will be clouded in great uncertainty, to the prejudice of British aviation.
After all, as the then Minister of Aviation said, we are dealing with the whole question when we deal with decisions of the Board and appeals from it. During
the Second Reading debate on the Bill, he said:
The future pattern of British aviation will emerge progressively from the decisions of the Board and from the results of appeals to the Minister. A kind of case law will gradually be built up.
What kind of case law is being built up? Both the Corporations and the independents must know how they stand on this matter. They have to make enormous financial commitments for aircraft—in the case of the B.O.A.C. running into hundreds of millions of pounds—and if the case law which is built up is chaotic, and, indeed, incomprehensible, great damage will be done.
To do justice to the Board, it showed quite clearly what its doctrine was in its first decision of Cunard Eagle. To put it briefly, it was that if and when the traffic on a route became really heavy, and the route therefore became really lucrative, a part of that traffic, or a part of the British share of the traffic—because that is what it came to—was to be sliced off from the Corporations and given to an independent. This was to be done even when it meant a serious loss to the Corporations, because in its decision in the Cunard Eagle case it said:
…there will be diversion, and probably 'material diversion', from B.O.A.C.
This was to be done even when the Corporation in question had, as it had in this case, entered into heavy commitments for aircraft to cater for the routes in question.
Paragraph 24 of the Board's decision says:
We accept the evidence of the Corporation that they have recently entered into financial commitments, notably in regard to aircraft purchases, designed to cater for all the traffic which they might reasonably have expected to carry on this and on all their other routes over the next five or six years. We do not regard this as precluding the advent of a second United Kingdom operator on the United States East Coast route as now licensed.
As it turned out, the evidence against that decision was so overwhelming that on appeal it had to be reversed, and, as I read the Minister's decision, it was reversed on three principal grounds. First, that there might not be enough traffic after all for the B.O.A.C. with its massive order of 45 VC10s and Super-10s. Secondly, it amply catered for all
the traffic, all the British share of that traffic, which could be expected to be received, and, thirdly, there was very little evidence that Cunard Eagle would attract any foreign traffic which would not have been attracted by the B.O.A.C., and, therefore, everything that Cunard-Eagle got would be a subtraction from the B.O.A.C.
Those were certainly good and adequate reasons for allowing the appeal, but in what position has the Board been left? What guidance has it received about its future decisions, for example, in extremely important cases such as the numerous applications before it now from independent operators to fly on routes at present served by the B.E.A. in Europe?
The decision of the Board was, I think, to try to work out a kind of doctrine for its own guidance. I think that it was a disastrous doctrine, but it was comprehensible. Its rejection of Cunard Eagle's application for the traffic in the mid-West route of the United States was in keeping with it. The Board said that it rejected this application because the traffic was not yet sufficiently dense, but that if it became sufficiently dense it would grant a licence on that route, too.
The Board was beginning to lay down in its case law that however fierce the foreign competition which the Corporations faced, and however much had been their financial commitments to cater for all the traffic they could expect to get, on these dense and lucrative lines a substantial slice was to be cut off and given to an independent operator who applied for a licence.
If that was the doctrine of the Board, it was a sharp repudiation of the assurance which the then Minister of Aviation gave us during the Second Reading debate, when he said:
that is, the operators—
naturally wish to be assured that, having built up custom on a particular route, they will be given some reasonable protection against interlopers who seek to reap where others have sown."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1960; Vol. 618, c. 1231–3.]
But, in fact, the doctrine being worked out by the Board was that as soon as there was a nice crop anywhere some part of it was to be taken away and given to someone else.
We therefore ask the Minister to follow up his admirable allowance of the B.O.A.C. appeal in this matter with a clear-cut assurance that he does not accept the doctrine—or the case law, if that term is preferred—which the Board appeared to be building up by its first Cunard Eagle decision. When he does that he must realise that British aviation in general, and the Corporations in particular, simply cannot get on with their job until they know what is the doctrine of the Government on this matter. I have some sympathy with the Board. It was placed in an almost impossible position by the equivocation—I do not think that I can use a less strong word—of the language of the Act and of the Minister's statement about it when it was passing through the House.
It has now seen that its interpretation—whether it was right or wrong—of the Government's intentions will not do, and a vacuum is left in which it has no guidance as to the shape of the decisions which it has to make. That all comes from the obstinate refusal of the then Minister of Aviation to write into the Act words of the kind suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) and many others, to the effect that the Board was not to allow a material deviation from the traffic of the Corporations.
Where do we go from here, if the Board is left with no good guidance as to what shall be the general policy on the vital question of the licensing of independents? I imagine that we shall he asked by hon. Members opposite whether we are against all competition in aviation. My answer is, "No." In principle, in aviation as in other matters, the conception of some private competition, and some private profit-making firms operating alongside the publicly-owned Corporations, is quite an attractive one. I can imagine circumstances in which we should have no objection to that principle.
For example, I can see a case for further licensing of independent private operators on the internal routes. Many are already operating. Other things being equal, and if the necessary conditions were satisfied, there might be a case for licensing an independent who took the view that he could carry us from London to Glasgow cheaper and better than could B.E.A. But if permission to do so is given, that independent operator must operate some of the uneconomic lines in Scotland and elsewhere which B.E.A. operates as a public service today. If those conditions and others were satisfied there might at any rate be some case for allowing competition on the internal lines.
Does my right hon. Friend accept the view that there is a reason for some discontent on my part about what he is saying? He has not indicated that the aircraft which will be in competition will be the same type as is operated by B.E.A., or that the private operator will provide the same kind of facilities as those provided by B.E.A.
Of course, he would have to. I cannot see that that is necessarily a reason for not allowing him to try. If an independent operator believed that he could carry us cheaper and better than B.E.A. from London to Glasgow I do not see why he should not do so. He would certainly be benefiting tremendously from the work that B.E.A. has put into the development of that route, but at any rate there would be a much better case for allowing him to do so on the internal lines than on the external ones, and it is with the overseas lines that we have to deal.
The Minister said that on those lines the Corporations face fierce competition from foreign rivals. In those circumstances I can see no case for the licensing of new independent operators. If the effect is that this country, as it were, has two weak entries in the competition instead of one strong one, it cannot make sense.
What, then, should be the revised terms of reference of the Licensing Board? There must surely be some revision of them. Should not they be to the effect that the new operators should not be given licenses on routes where the Corporations can show that they are already facing fierce competition, and are making fully adequate efforts to cater for their present share of the traffic and any foreseeable future share, in their delivery of aircraft? Such terms of reference would leave very large spheres of operation open to independent operators. The main part of the charter services would be open. Some internal services are already open, and there may be some oversea services in which the Corporations, for one reason or another, do not wish to operate, or are not fully catering for all the traffic.
I predict that unless simple and comprehensive terms of reference are given to the Board, if necessary by means of enabling legislation, the Board will founder, as it has undoubtedly and incontrovertibly foundered up to now. Contradictory decisions and disallowances on appeal will have to be made. There is no sense in the terms of reference of the Board today.
That brings me to the third thing that I wanted to speak of—the effect of all this on the British aircraft industry. There is no need for me to dilate upon the state of the industry today. Many of my hon. Friends will wish to do so. But it is in a serious condition. Factories are closing down, or threatened with closing down, in Portsmouth, Gloucester, Chester and many other places, and we must feel great anxiety about the industry. With the industry in this very precarious condition, what will be the effect of the uncertainties that I have described, which themselves have been created by the uncertainties of Government policy?
Large sums of public money are involved. The B.O.A.C. order for VC10s and Super-10s amounts to£151 million. This order was in question and is in question in the Cunard Eagle case. Then there is the order of B.E.A. for 24 Tridents, which it would like to extend but which it is unable to extend because of uncertainty whether many of its routes are being taken from it.
We may be told, of course, that these orders will be made up to the industry by the orders from the private operators if they receive licences. But I submit that the industry would be most ill-advised to forgo the "bird in the hand" of the Corporations' orders for the "bird in the bush" of possible orders from independent operators.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that he is doing a great disservice to at least one section of the industry, British United Airways, which has placed an order for six DC111s, as a result of which a number were sold to an American aircraft company off the drawing board?
Of course there were orders from the independents, but it seems to me that the basis of the industry's work on the civil side—we are, of course, talking about the civil side—is the orders from the Corporations, and that no independent could possibly pioneer an aircraft in the way in which B.O.A.C. pioneered the DC10 and the super 10 by a massive order off the drawing board. There is no substitute for that.
What about the uncertainty of the Government over Transport Command? They seem to have no idea of what its needs will be. Everyone knows that Transport Command is under-equipped and that people are threatened with the loss of their jobs while the Government dither about, considering selective service or something of that kind.
Yes, I entirely agree.
I wish to say a word about the longer-term future of the industry, which brings us to the interesting and difficult question of a supersonic air liner. I do not wish to exaggerate the importance of a supersonic airliner in terms of immediate employment in the industry. I appreciate that for many years there would not be very much work on it. I appreciate that the whole civil side of the industry is much less than the military side. I also appreciate that the short-haul aircraft, the Trident and the 111 types, may be more important in terms of employment given. Nevertheless, I cannot help feeling that in the long-term interests of the industry and, indeed, of the nation the question of a supersonic airliner is very important.
Let us look at the matter from the other angle. Let us consider the position which will arise in perhaps fifteen to twenty years' time if this country is unable to produce or take part in the production of a supersonic airliner. I do not for a moment pretend to be a technician, but I share a feeling, which I think is widespread, that in, say, twenty years' time, long-distance air travel will be undertaken at supersonic speeds and the Corporation concerned, B.O.A.C., if we produce no liner of this type, would have to order and operate entirely foreign-built liners, either French, American or Russian.
This seems to me a serious consideration. No doubt our aircraft industry could go on producing short-haul aircraft, and aircraft of other sorts, and it might do fairly well. But that strikes me as being similar to what would have been the position if, in 1900, the British shipbuilding industry had decided to produce cargo boats and smaller craft of all sorts, but gave up building big liners and bigger ships and resigned itself to having them built in German, American, French and Japanese yards. I cannot help feeling that the future of an industry which had to do that would not be very bright.
Surely, from the long-term point of view, this is a matter of great national importance. No doubt the Minister will say that it does not solve the problem, arising here and now, of how to pay for the development of a supersonic airliner without starving the industry in respect of other developments which may be of equal importance. I recognise that it is a very big problem and one which, in certain circumstances, might be insoluble.
In certain circumstances it might be insoluble. For that reason, we welcome these negotiations, which I know are incomplete, between B.O.A.C. and that quite remarkable French example of public enterprise Sud-Aviation, for the general development of a supersonic liner. I recognise that this would be the Mach 2·2 for smaller and slower supersonic speeds—if one may use such a term. I realise that there are those difficulties. I realise the question of whether the range would be sufficient to cross the Atlantic is still in issue and I should think that almost indispensable from our point of view. If these problems could be solved hon. Members on this side of the House regard a development of that sort as of very great importance.
We ask the Minister for his views on this and the whole future of the British aviation industry. What size does he envisage for this industry? Is he content to let it contract to a half or to a quarter of its present size, or to what? I should regard any such prospect as that with the utmost dismay. It seems to me that an adequate aviation industry is of very great importance for this country.
Together with the size of the industry, is the question of its shape, its organisation and constitution. As someone coming fresh to the subject as I have done during the last year, I feel bound to say that the organisation of the industry, its constitution, its control and its ownership still seems very irrational and merits much further consideration. I do not know, and I do not pretend to know, exactly what it should be, but an industry which is really entirely dependent on public money, directly or indirectly, for development, except for its exports, is not in a rational state and a much greater amount of public participation of one form or another—control or ownership, or a combination of the two—seems to me the only logical course which could be taken.
We have three things to ask the Minister. First, on the safety issue, is he satisfied with the present Order? Is he satisfied with the present position, because I think that it can be said that none of us on this side of the House is satisfied, and the public outside is very far from satisfied, with safety regulations today. Secondly, when will he give comprehensible and coherent terms of reference to the Air Licensing Board, which, obviously, is floundering in total uncertainty today? That uncertainty is fatal for the aviation industry and for the production side of the industry. Thirdly, what are his proposals for what I would almost call a rescue operation? Nothing much less than that is needed now for the British aviation industry. We very much want satisfaction on all these issues.
I welcome the opportunity of this debate on aviation matters. I shall try to deal with the three points which the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) made in his extremely interesting speech.
The aircraft industry is a very curious industry. It is a mixture of science, technology and commerce. As the right hon. Gentleman was saying towards the end of his speech, it is a very interesting mixture of public and private enterprise in almost every field. The airports, for example—which the right hon. Gentleman did not mention—are almost by historical accident owned by the State, yet it is our purpose and policy to put some of them under an independent authority, others under municipal ownership and to keep air traffic control under the Government. The operators are partly public operators and partly private companies. As the right hon. Member spoke quite a lot about their relationships, so shall I.
In the manufacture there is a nationalised sector and, curiously, it is at the centre. It is the central, highly specialised research establishments such as the Royal Aircraft Establishment, at Farnborough, and the Royal Radar Establishment, at Malvern, both of which have a world-wide reputation of which we can be extremely proud. Surrounding is a wider sector in which production decisions are made and industrial risks taken, although those risks are sometimes shared with the Government. It is possible to fault any Government or the rôle of any Government in industry, but I think that we can be proud of this one as a good example of public and private endeavour.
I am not saying that criticism cannot be made, but we have a proud record. We have aircraft like the Canberra, the Hunter, the Viscount and the Argosy, which have done very well for this country. We are looking forward to the success of aircraft like the BAC 111 and the Trident. It is true to say that of all the jet and turbo-prop aircraft flying or on order, two out of three are carrying British engines. This is not a record of which to be ashamed.
If I may say so to the right hon. Member, today my thoughts are much less turned to whether this is an appropriate industry to be nationalised or not nationalised than, much more pertinently, to how much it should be internationalised. This is the question facing us at present. There are very great advantages in sharing the costs of development and in widening the market. Since I have been Minister I have used a great deal of my time in urging this on the industry. It needed little urging, because the industry obviously sees it very clearly for itself.
I am not being at all dogmatic. I am merely saying that the first interest in my mind is not the old archaic issue of whether we should have public or private ownership in this country, but whether we can have an international industry so that we can go forward together with exciting projects and find a really wide market for what we produce. We have some good examples in the Hawker P1127, where we are seeking agreement with the Germans, and the Rolls-Royce RB162 engine developed by the French, the Germans and ourselves. I am hoping that agreement will be reached between B.E.A. and Sabena for helicopter services.
There is an attempt to secure agreement—and we have received agreement on the convention which is now before the Governments—on a satellite launcher built, produced and developed on a European basis. There are the arrangements which the Hawker Aircraft Company has made. Only last night, as announced in this morning's newspapers, there was the statement on the steps which the British Aircraft Corporation has taken to link up with four different countries in Europe. All these projects are surely on the right lines.
We see the same thing with air traffic control and the Bill on Eurocontrol which is at present before the House. To take up a point made by the right hon. Member, if we are to build a supersonic airliner there is something to be said for building so expensive a project for so limited a market on a co-operative basis. I have seen the report in today's newspapers about the intentions of the French Government in regard to the medium-range project. My information is that this does not indicate a firm decision to build a specific type of aircraft, but that financial provision has been made in principle for the work that may be taken on for such a project in the next year or two. I am assured that this is entirely without prejudice to the outcome of the current discussions taking place between the two countries about possibilities of collaboration on a joint project on the basis of sharing the cost between the two countries.
All these are possibilities. They are rather exciting possibilities, but they are more within the grasp of a group of nations than the grasp of a single nation. The policy of Her Majesty's Government was announced on 15th February, 1960, by my predecessor and it stands today. It was that the Government should stand behind a reorganised industry—and reorganised it certainly has been. It has been reorganised into two fixed wing groups, one helicopter group and two engine groups. These amalgamations are not painless. When one brings firms together in that way inevitably one does not carry them all on exactly as they were run before. It inevitably flows from decisions of the kind that one pools design staffs at the centre. At the centre one concentrates production within areas where the load was rather thin and try to get a proper load into other factories. These are painful decisions which have to be taken under public ownership or private ownership. We are seeing the results of these amalgamations coming forward now.
That is a perfectly fair question. I am in close touch both with the Ministry of Labour and the Board of Trade in an endeavour to see that wherever possible alternative work is available or factories are relet to others. All the steps we can take in that way, I agree entirely with the hon. Member, should undoubtedly be taken, but it is no good pretending that we can have a vast reorganisation of an industry of this character without having some effects similar to those taking place at present. We must face the facts.
Can the Minister tell us what truth there is in the report which appeared in the Daily Express earlier this week? It said:
The Government has decided to stage a 'rescue operation' for some sections of Britain's aircraft industry. It has been warned that if new orders are not placed soon the industry's labour force will have to be cut by a third.
Then the report gives details of various aircraft for which orders are said to be under consideration.
I should always hesitate to say what truth there was in a report in the Daily Express. If the hon. Lady will listen to the rest of my speech she will hear what our plans are.
Support has been given, or will be given, to such projects as the VC10, the BAC111, the Rotodyne, the Trident, and the Spey engine. Others are under consideration. Assistance has been provided up to now at about£7¼million a year. The basis is shared risk between the Government and the industry; that is to say, we try to put in money only where the industry is putting in money. There are obvious and sensible reasons for this. The attempt is to harmonise the military and civil production—that is, to get where we can development which serves both. We try, too, to share this work on an international basis. I believe that this is a proper foundation upon which to go forward with the industry at present.
This is the aid which goes in on the civil project side.
I will now deal more closely with the terms of the Motion. It is concerned principally with a fairly narrow but important issue concerning a group of topics on the record of the Corporations and the effects of the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act. I wish to say a few words about the relationship between my Department and the Corporations, the prospects of the Corporations, and the policy of the Act. We can be very proud of the efforts which the Corporations have made. I certainly appreciate their difficulties in a tough and highly competitive world. There is no monopoly for B.E.A. or B.O.A.C. on the international air routes. Whatever the future may hold, at this moment of time there are more seats than passengers.
An important policy decision with regard to nationalised industries was taken fairly recently by the Government. This refers to the Corporations, also. It is to set down and agree with them targets of profitability. These targets have to be set. I am working out with the two Corporations targets we can all agree upon as reasonable in the circumstances. If we say to the Corporations that they must run on a profitable basis and make both ends meet, we must also recognise the implications of this and recognise and respect, as I knew the House does, some of the problems which they face. I am well aware both of their efforts in the past and of their problems in the future.
This has been a thoroughly bad year for civil aviation. The Corporations have suffered. I do not think that they have suffered worse than comparable competitors. They may have done better than some, but they have suffered. I understand that B.E.A. has a chance of breaking even after paying interest on capital. In this financial year it will be in balance only because it has been able to accumulate more than£2 million against the introduction of new aircraft. This performance, against a record of seven consecutive years of profit, is some credit to the Corporation and is a powerful testimony to the general problems affecting international aviation at present.
B.O.A.C.'s present position is proportionately much more serious. It has suffered the same maladies in 1961 as B.E.A. and others, but it started from a far less healthy point of departure, namely, an accumulated deficit of about£15 million. It expects a loss of about£10 million this year.
Yes, ten. This will be after payment of interest on capital.
This is a situation which simply cannot be ignored. This is due partly to trading losses ascribable to subsidiaries and associates, partly to capital losses directly or indirectly attributable to the re-equipment problems following the disasters to the Comet I, partly, alas, to an unfortunate strike which hit the Corporation very hard indeed, and partly and importantly due to problems of traffic recession and over-capacity. B.O.A.C. traffic to North America is about half its effort, and this traffic stood almost still during the summer months.
B.O.A.C.'s prime difficulty this year was on the North Atlantic. It is no reflection on the Corporation that this was so. There are no completely reliable figures for what other airlines do, but there is good reason to believe that comparable airlines have suffered on that route as much as B.O.A.C. I am confident that even the airlines themselves are not prepared to say with complete certainty what will happen in this field next year or the year after.
I am equally confident that the damaging combination of excess capacity and diminished traffic cannot be overcome quickly. B.O.A.C. and other airlines whose commercial and financial strength on the North Atlantic depends on these factors will have a very difficult time next year. It may take some firm, but I should not like to specify what time, before we reverse the trends. On the other hand, I am equally confident that in the longer term the upward trend will be resumed.
This brings me to the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act, 1960. It is worth while recollecting the purpose of Section 1, which does not enjoin us to have particular regard to the public Corporations or the independents. It enjoins us to pay attention to the interests of British civil aviation. This must constantly be borne in mind.
The right hon. Member asked me whether I could lay down some rules so that everybody would know where they are. He knows that this is far too complicated a subject, with far too many ramifications, to be able to do anything of the kind. If we could do it, we should have done it in the Licensing Act. It is because we could not do it that we set out in Section 2 (2) a whole list of considerations to which we should have regard.
We set up a machinery—a hearing by a Board, an appeal to a Commissioner, and a decision by the Minister. If we had meant that the Board's decision was to be final in every case, we should not have appointed a Commissioner. We should not have said anything about a decision by the Minister. We should have simply left it to the Board. I dare say that in many ways the Minister would find himself in a much easier situation if this were so, but it is not what the Act says. The Act lays down the considerations which are to be borne in mind and specifies the people who must consider them.
The Act has one curious feature. It gives the Minister almost a dual rôle. He is the final court of appeal, but the Act also leaves him the task of seeking to negotiate rights to pick up traffic in foreign territories. It is not enough to have a licence. That is only the beginning of the story. Even if someone has a licence, the Minister has to negotiate the right to pick up traffic on the other side.
A licence does not give this right. The Minister has to consider very carefully how he will negotiate, and what price he will have to pay. Nevertheless, the Act supposed, what I still believe to be entirely true, that the independents have an important contribution to make to the advance of British civil aviation, and it is the aim to give them equality of status in applying for licences.
The Act swept away the old statutory barriers whereby it was impossible for an independent operator even to apply for a route reserved to the Corporations, but it was not the intention of the Act to promote competition between British carriers for its own sake. What was recognised was that in some cases competition would be a good thing. I think that the decisions of the Board have reflected the new liberality and, certainly, the new freedom of application. For example, the old Air Transport Advisory Council last year rejected 48 per cent. of the applications made by the independent airlines. This year, of the cases so far decided, the Board has rejected only 17 per cent. Further, of the 850 cases that have been before it, there have been only four appeals; two decisions have been upheld, one has been reversed and the fourth has not yet been heard.
Just a word, now, about the Cunard Eagle case itself. Hon. Members probably have read the letter of decision, and I think that it would be their opinion that we should not set ourselves up as a sort of court of appeal but, as an exception, one might, as it is one of the first and most important cases, say a few words about it.
The facts are that the Board decided for Cunard Eagle, the appeal commissioner for B.O.A.C., and I decided to uphold the Commissioner. Many considerations were involved, and no one of them was decisive. I have to try to take a balanced view of them all. In the first place, would say that the decision or appeal in no way implies the slightest loss of confidence in the Air Transport Licensing Board—far from it. I have a very deep respect for that Board and for its chairman, who has won the confidence of all sides of industry, public and private. He certainly has mine. We are very fortunate to have secured the services of Professor Jack in that very exacting rôle.
The Act, however, never presumed that the Board, the Commissioner and the Minister must in all cases agree. If it had so assumed, it would not have laid down the procedures that are laid down—
While appreciating, as is my view, that it is not the Board's fault by any means, it is not enough for the Minister to say that the Board has the confidence of all those who appear before it when B.U.A. has just withdrawn all its applications because it alleges, I think wrongly, that the whole proceeding is a farce.
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to do so, I shall come to that in a moment.
In this case it was common ground that B.O.A.C. had the capacity to carry the traffic. This is an important factor, but it is not the only one. If it were the only factor, I think that the Board would have been right in thinking that it would tend to freeze the position. I rather share the Board's view about that if we take that as the only factor.
I have to take account of the whole position—the gross over-capacity on the route; the evidence that B.O.A.C., so far from expanding its air capacity, is contemplating—indeed, is intending—to cut its capacity on the North Atlantic this year; the weakening market; the trading position of the present operators; the probable effects of international negotiation of traffic rights, and the likely price that we may have to pay for them. I have to weigh all these things well and fairly, and judge the situation as best I can.
My decision on this application at this moment is to uphold the appeal; it does not apply to another application by Cunard Eagle or, still less, to other applications now pending. I emphasise that it would be quite wrong to assume that all the complex considerations applying to this case would necessarily apply to some quite different case. This decision does not freeze the pattern of air traffic as it is at present, and anyone who assumed that it did would be very wide of the mark. The Cunard Eagle case must be considered on its particular merits—
The one thing that is absolutely certain is that it is certain. I have made the decision. There are other ways in which it could be dealt with, but I think it better to make a decision so that people know where they are, although others may or may not agree with it.
I pass to the very important question of safety, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. We debated this aspect in some detail recently, and I shall not repeat all that was then said. There is no monopoly of concern at the danger of air accidents, but we have to get those accidents in perspective. Very many millions of miles are flown without disaster. I shall not bandy statistics with the right hon. Gentleman—there are so many quoted at present—but do not let us over-simplify the causes.
It is not a question of this company or that, or of private or public ownership. Some of the most famous airlines in the world have had some of the most disastrous accidents; some with the best safety records have suddenly run into trouble—and some of the smallest air lines can show years of safe operation. It is not possible to generalise this painful story, or to paint the picture with too broad a brush.
We must lay down and enforce safety standards, and they must be the same for corporations and independents. We must administer the air operators certificate. The right hon. Gentleman asked where the responsibility lay, and I shall look at what he said. I would never be dogmatic about air safety, and say that there are no better methods. We are all learning in this business, and we try to learn all the lessons we can.
At this moment, I would say that there are some advantages in placing the responsibility fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the man running the company. He has a very great responsibility. That is where it is at the moment—and it is, of course, the pilot's responsibility, when he takes off, to judge whether weather conditions are safe. I make no comment on the case quoted by the right hon. Gentleman now, but perhaps he will let me have the details. I know that he would not expect me to comment without looking at the facts of the case.
We must be satisfied with the administration of the air pilots certificate. We must be satisfied with the standards of pilot training. Above all, we must press on with research and development in navigational equipment and procedures. We must do this on a basis in which all nations pool their best information. We must share our knowledge. There is a Bill before the House placing some of this on a more international basis.
I would urge—the right hon. Gentleman did not do it, and it is no reflection on him—that people hesitate before they attack pilots. It is so easy after an accident, flying in broad daylight—I did it myself over Stavanger—when one can see all the instruments and the airport, to wonder how it could happen. It is not quite the same when one is flying in thick weather conditions—and who will ever know whether something was not working properly at the time? We are learning. We have these inquiries, which are extremely well done, but do not let us prejudge these things and, above all, do not let us judge too harshly men no longer here to defend themselves—
Would not my right hon. Friend also agree that with the very narrow margins allowed for human error today as a result of the high speed of aircraft, the care with which every possible safety measure connected with the carrying of passengers by air is incorporated is clearly evident? Considering the very few accidents that take place, can we not say that in this matter the ingenuity of the aircraft industry and everyone connected with it is being constantly exercised to ensure still greater safety?
That is fair enough. We all pay tribute to these men, who conduct a fantastically difficult operation, especially considering the speeds at which aircraft are travelling. At the same time, we must not be complacent. We must be planning now not for the situation in the next year, but for ten years ahead, when aircraft will be moving even faster. Whatever we do—whether we like it or not—supersonic transports will go through the sound barrier and we have now to be doing the research and development to devise the most sophisticated equipment necessary for aircraft of that kind, at that height and at those speeds.
I believe that in all these matters we must make it a common cause between one country and another because at these speeds national frontiers mean little. We welcomed the opportunity for discussion on these issues and we will listen with the greatest of interest to any suggestions that are made. I have read the terms of the Amendment. It is an admirable one with which to initiate a debate, but I would have thought that, in the circumstances, hon. Members opposite would not wish to press it to a Division.
The Minister has particularly dealt with the state of the industry and its fears for the future, and a number of my hon. Friends who are more conversant with these topics will deal more effectively with them. I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman's comments about B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. not having a monopoly. I was disgusted to see an editorial in the Daily Mail this morning stating frankly that they are monopolies. This is an absurd situation; that the public Press is misleading people in this way. The Press knows well that B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. are in fierce competition with many aircraft firms abroad, and to talk about giving some of the independent airlines a service alongside B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. is merely making is easier for the overseas airlines to compete more successfully with us.
It is my intention today not to dwell on these matters, but to deal mainly with the subject of air safety. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not mind my dealing primarily with this matter, for I feel strongly about it and, while I do not wish to be an alarmist, there is reason for concern and need for the right hon. Gentleman to do something more regarding the future of aircraft accidents. It is thus my intention to highlight the deficiencies in the Government's inspectorate and to consider the general accident record.
In doing this, I must relate most of my comments on accidents to the independent airlines, and particularly to their charter services and inclusive tours. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to take note of the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act, 1960, which in Section 2 (2) states:
…the Board shall consider in particular—
Section 1 states that the operator will be authorised to receive a licence only if he can operate with a measure of safety. But Section 2 (4) wipes out completely the first half of Section 2 (2), because it says:
(a) whether they are satisfied that, having regard in particular to his experience and financial resources and, subject to subsection (4) of this section, to his ability to provide satisfactory equipment, organisation and staffing arrangements, and having regard also to any contravention in respect of aircraft operated by him of the provisions of section one of this Act, the applicant is competent, and a fit and proper person, to operate aircraft for the purposes for which he seeks an air service licence;
For the purposes of paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of this section, the Board shall not consider the matters in respect of which an air operator's certificate is required that is to say, the competence of the applicant to secure that aircraft operated by him will be operated safely.
Thus the Act specifically informs the Board—which has subsequently been set up and has issued its first report—that it has no power whatever to inquire into
the real operations of the independent airline that has its operating certificate.
What perturbs me a great deal is that Section 1 is not strong enough to demand that the independent airline which has received its certificate shall operate with the maximum safety. The Air Transport Licensing Board's first report shows that the Board is overwhelmed with applications and can only pay a cursory glance at the financial status of the air companies. That is all.
My contention is that the Minister does not have sufficient power to deal with these independent airlines, their charter services and their inclusive tour operations. Glancing at the figures for the Corporations as a whole, their safety record is quite good. Since October, 1958, it has been excellent, because there has not been a fatal accident of any kind. Concerning the independent airlines, however, while their scheduled services are quite good—but are not as good as the Corporations'—their charter services and inclusive tours present a different picture. They are not good at all, especially when one considers that since July last year there have been 67 fatal accidents on these aircraft alone.
There have been 67 deaths resulting from three disasters on these services alone. I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary when he said in an Adjournment debate the other week that statistics should be used with caution when considering the accident record of airlines. There are many permutations, whatever statistics one uses, but we cannot escape the fact that the independent airlines' record is worse than the Corporations' charter services and that their inclusive tours are even worse still.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) mentioned one of the tables which appeared in Flight of 19th October, which was based on capacity ton miles of all the services. That table proved that the fatality rate over the past six years—not just in the last twelve months—was eight times higher for the independents than for the Corporations.
The Institute of Professional Civil Servants carried out a remarkable survey on this matter. Credit is due to that organisation, because it has been looking after the interests of its own members. That survey proved that between 1951 and 1955—and the survey was checking movements in millions of miles per accident, not capacity ton miles—having checked 800,000 movements in and out of the United Kingdom, the number of accidents per movement was five times higher for chartered than for scheduled services. That organisation repeated the survey in 1958 and found that it had increased from a five-to-one ratio to a 7½-tol ratio. In terms of movements, the accident survey showed that the position had become worse both in and out of the United Kingdom.
As a result of this, I asked Questions of the Minister, who published a table in the OFFICIAL REPORT. If this table is analysed one sees that the independents' accident rate as against the Corporations, on the basis of millions of miles per accident, is still three times worse than the Corporations—and that is excluding this year's accidents that have taken place. When those sixty-seven have been added—the accidents to which I referred earlier—the ratio will be increased enormously.
The hon. Gentleman no doubt realises, when he refers to the accident rate of the independents concerning charter flying, that the Corporations do not normally do charter flying.
The Corporations do, of course, do charter flying. We know, of course, of one particular accident which took place in 1958 when an aircraft piloted by Pilot Thain crashed as it was taking off from the Munich airport and when the Manchester United football team was virtually wiped out. But this was a Corporation charter operation. And my argument is against charters, whether by the Corporations or by independent operators.
Of course, as I stated at the outset, independent airlines are doing far more of this service than the Corporations. I recognise that many of these airline companies have very good safety records indeed. They may only have—my hon. and gallant Friend's company did—one accident in probably twenty-two years of operation which makes their accident rate look pretty bad. But some of the small companies are having a lot of accidents, only just escaping from their becoming fatal accidents. They, particularly, are worse off than the Derby Aviation Company, for example, which has operated for a very long time and has had only one accident.
We have, first, the Civil Aviation Licensing Act, then the Report of the Licensing Board and then from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation we have the statement that we have watching and criticising these companies 48 inspectors. I am satisfied, first, that that number of men cannot do the job efficiently; secondly, that the Licensing Board has very limited powers indeed, and thirdly, that these 48 inspectors cannot scrutinise completely the companies, their aircraft and, particularly, the whole range of charter operations and inclusive tours that go on during the summer.
I wish to ask what method of investigation is used by this inspectorate of 48. I am satisfied, of course, that its numbers are not sufficient. We already know that the inspectorate responsible for investigating after an accident has occurred is understaffed because, that is stated in the Cairns Committee's Report issued not long ago. Already understaffed for investigating accidents, I am satisfied that the Ministry is understaffed for scrutinising these types of operations.
Let us examine what the people concerned have to do. There are 55 companies with 463 aircraft in public transport, and 32 of these companies are engaged in services such as charter flying and inclusive tours. How is it possible for this small body of men to examine and inspect navigational aids, all the equipment and the routing of flights, which is most important? My right hon. Friend brought out this point in his speech.
This is something, the routing of the flights, which is not properly looked into. Both B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. invariably have two if not three pilots flying on a given route, one of whom has already been flying on the route before. If a man wants to be conversant with the route he has to fly with someone who is already conversant with it. This does not happen with the independent airlines. This is one point, the routeing of these flights, which the Minister is not investigating thoroughly. When an independent airline company is flying an aircraft over an unknown route and is sending a pilot over that route for the first time, the Minister has no power to control matters and to see that the person responsible is conversant with the route and has traversed the area before.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very serious allegation against at least some independent companies which he has not named. If he knew of cases where this procedure had not been followed, he should have informed the House.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. If he attended the House more frequently, especially at Question Time, he would know that when we want to raise these matters, especially when we do not wish to name companies or people in the House, we send the material to the Minister concerned. Whether the matter be in reference to pilots or companies, or anyone else, our Privilege is a qualified one. Only last week one of my hon. Friends raised the question of three pilots leaving B.E.A. for inefficiency and going to independent airlines. The Minister asked for names to be sent through the post. Mr. Speaker was asked to what extent we were covered in doing that, and his reply was, "I am sorry, you are not." Unless, of course, hon. Members are prepared to mention people by name in the House, with the possibility of having them bandied about in the Press and the probability of those people's characters being blackened, it is not possible for us to do it.
On a point of order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not endeavouring to mislead the House, but it so happens that when that point was put to the Chair, Mr. Speaker said, "I will look into the matter and let you know." He did not make the statement that the matter was not covered by Privilege.
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. If he were better informed it would not be necessary for me to explain the matter to him, but I will inform him that Mr. Speaker is not going to make a statement on the matter. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member who supported him received a private letter from Mr. Speaker saying that hon. Members cannot send information through the post and be covered by Privilege. It is a qualified Privilege and an hon. Member has to take the risk.
I am not sure whether I have the facts correctly, but my recollection is that on the occasion of the Question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) the matter was referred to the Committee of Privileges which reported in favour of its being covered by Privilege. But the Report of the Committee was set aside by a vote of the House, with most hon. and right hon. Members opposite voting against the Privilege.
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. I do not want to pursue the matter further, but I would inform the hon. Gentleman opposite that I do not propose to mention independent companies or pilots by name because of this position. I do not wish to blacken the names of anyone in the country. I am, however, restricted in sending information to the Minister because doing so is not completely covered by Privilege, but I hope that what I have said will be sufficient for the Minister to do something about the matter.
I have dealt with navigational aids and the routeing of flights. I would point out that many of the small airline companies are using little used airports abroad which are not on regularly used routes. They are using airport equipment which is not up to modern standards, and here they take a chance. Some 40 per cent. of all accidents take place on the approach to landing. Here there is something in the charter company's favour, because, in the main, they are doing short hops and are doing more take-offs and landings than the scheduled services whether operated by independent airlines or the Corporations. Consequently, there is the danger all the time that they will be subject to more danger than those operating the long hop flights.
As far as servicing is concerned, we can easily see the difference between the Corporations and the independent airlines. First of all, the Corporations are flying on regular routes and using regular airports. They have skilled technicians on most touch-down points. They use aircraft equipped with modern devices, especially for safe take-off and landing. They are the State airlines carrying the nation's name and bearing the flag. Therefore, they tend to be more cautious and hence more safe. It should be noted that B.E.A. alone has already spent more than£1 million on training facilities for pilots.
It is understandable that the independents cannot compete on this scale. This is why it is essential to have greater scrutiny by the Minister of Aviation than hitherto. They may be using aircraft which are not often used, aircraft probably in mothballs during the winter when the traffic is slack. The crews themselves are not, perhaps, regularly flying. They are flying a great deal during the holiday season, of course, but not during the winter. They may often go on new and unknown routes. They may not be familiar with the aircraft. I do not know to what extent the crews which are brought in from their odd jobs in the country to pilot passengers in the summer are fully familiar with the aircraft and the equipment which they have to use. To what extent does the Ministry and its inspectorate keep a watch on this kind of operation?
There is the problem of pilot fatigue. The people who fly the charter services and inclusive tours are brought in for a short period of the year. They are racing the clock all the time, flogging the machines and flogging themselves, getting the maximum done during a short period of service life, as it were. Accidents are more likely to happen in those circumstances on charter flights and inclusive tours than on scheduled services. The crews may be going on unknown routes, flying by instruments all the time, perhaps having to work an excessively long working day. Consequently, the possibility of pilot fatigue will always be greater on this kind of operation than on the scheduled services.
At a conservative estimate, 200,000 people will during the coming summer go abroad to Spain and other places on charter services and inclusive tours. Taking an average of only 60 people per aircraft, counting the movements in and out, there will be 7,000 flights of this kind during the summer. The demand exists and the competition is enormously keen. All sorts of aircraft are brought into service at these times. Both crews and aircraft work very hard for a short period. I wonder, also, to what extent the drive for lower fares in inclusive tours may, in itself, prejudice safety.
We have heard already about pilots leaving B.E.A. because of inefficiency or lack of discipline. Some of them may be working for the independent airlines. The question is worthy of study by the Minister to ascertain to what extent this kind of thing happens, and to what extent old aircraft, aircraft previously used by B.E.A., are being used by the independent airlines. Many old aircraft are used on the summer tours.
I am not satisfied that the Ministry has imposed upon the independents, and particularly on the charter operators, the general safety standards required of the Corporations, and I am not satisfied that the Minister or his inspectorate have sufficient power to scrutinise all these operations. I reiterate my plea that the Minister should set up a committee on aircraft accident prevention. We have had the Cairns Committee dealing with investigations after an accident. What we need now is a full investigation throughout the Corporations and the independent airlines into accident prevention itself and, flowing from that, into the extent to which the Minister could tighten up his own regulations.
There is an acute shortage of pilots in the country at the moment. Both Corporations are suffering from this shortage, and the independents must be suffering likewise. I note from the Report that B.E.A. has during the last year recruited thirty pilots from Canada, from Trans-Canada Airlines and from the Royal Canadian Air Force. Both Corporations have high hopes of success in what will flow from the Air Training College at Hamble which opened only as late as September, 1960, but I doubt that even this college will provide sufficient pilots for B.E.A., B.O.A.C., and some of the large independent airlines which may be suffering from the same shortage.
I wonder to what extent the independent airlines are getting the pilots and what type of pilot they are using during the summer. Is the Minister able to keep a check on the type of pilot who is brought in to run the charter services in the summer, whatever job he may be doing all during the winter?
I do not, of course, wish to be responsible for a witch hunt, but there is no reason why we should not ascertain whether there are people who, after being sacked for inefficiency, lack of discipline and so on from the Corporations, are going to independent airlines. The wages and conditions offered by the independents cannot be on the same scale as those offered by the Corporations, so there may be in the small airlines a number of what might be called "wastepaper basket" pilots. Obviously, the small airlines cannot compete on the same scale with Corporation standards, and pilots of inferior quality may be brought in by some of the small airlines. I repeat that we should not start a witch hunt, but I believe, nevertheless, that the Minister should look into that.
My last point relates to safety and public accountability. The Corporations, like nationalised industries, are always coming under review in the House, at Question Time, in debates on Annual Reports, and so on. There is always a public inquiry following their accidents. They are always subject to a great deal of debate in the House of Commons. All this is not so with the independents. There is usually an inquiry after their accidents, but Members of Parliament have to take the opportunity to burst in on debates on Annual Reports or on Supply Days to try to highlight some of the deficiencies of the smaller companies.
Allied with the need for safety and public accountability is the faulty and sluggish method for disseminating information concerning the causes of accidents to all the airline companies after inquiries are held. Again, this is easy for the Corporations. The great advantage of a nationalised undertaking is that, when an accident takes place within its purview, everyone is immediately acquainted with the lessons to be learned. That is the beauty of nationalised coal mining today. If there is an accident at one colliery, shortly after the inquiry every pit in the country is aware of how the accident happened and of what precautions should be taken against similar accidents occurring. This does not apply to the small airline companies today.
This subject causes a great deal of concern in many of the technical journals which deal with these matters. I draw the attention of the House to the issue of Flight of 28th September this year where, in a discussion of this very matter, it is said:
Safety in air transport does not sort well with secrecy, for two reasons: firstly, public accountability is a deterrent to the bad operator; secondly, safety experience must be shared as widely as possible throughout the air transport industry. No one really disputes that safety and secrecy do not go together. The problem always is that the rights of the individual must be protected. Unfortunately, so weighted is the system in favour of the sharp operator that, all too frequently, the wrong or mistakes of a company or an individual are protected too.
This is bound to happen in the operations of the small companies. A small company can have an accident which is soon hushed over. There is not public scrutiny. There is no public debate and no lessons are learned from it. The same sort of thing could be happening at the very same time; a similar accident could occur which could have been stopped if people were fully aware of information flowing from accident inquiries.
The final paragraph of the article from which I have quoted already reads:
Although the time may well have come to reconsider whether the enforcement of U.K. civil aviation safety legislation is adequate, more important than anything else is
the need for a fresh approach by the Ministry to the dissemination of safety information. Excellent work is being done by an independent body, the Transport Flight Safety Committee, which publishes—at present for private circulation only—Flight Safety Focus. But final responsibility for safety, the furtherance of which depends so much on the sharing of experience, lies with the Ministry.
I could not agree more with that article. It is absolutely essential that, if there is to be generally available information both about and for the little companies which are operating aircraft, the lessons to be drawn from accidents must be quickly disseminated all down the line.
On the technical matters, apart from having a speedy inquiry into an accident and a public report flowing from it, there is no reason why, when there is an aircraft accident, there should not be a public report presented to the House of Commons. Every time there is a mining accident there is a Blue Book presented reporting all the facts, with charts, details and plans. A similar report should be available in the case of aircraft accidents. On technical matters relating to accidents, this method of dissemination ought to be exploited so that the Ministry may consider to what extent information should quickly be sent to all the technical bodies concerned so that they themselves may print it in their own journals and thereby form a wider body of informed public opinion on the precise causes of accidents and the lessons to be learned from them.
I think there is still a great deal to do in this subject of keeping the airways safe. Flying is still pretty safe, in spite of the fact that we have to highlight these deficiencies, but I do not want the Minister, in his proposals to give the independent airlines a new deal, to cloud his vision. At all times, as far as I am personally concerned—and that is why I have spent the whole of my time in intervening in this debate on this subject—safety must be kept paramount in the Minister's mind
I think the House is probably quite ready to accept the view of the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) that safety is an all-important factor in civil aviation and that we ought properly to spend more time here today discussing the merits and demerits of various forms of operation but I feel that he has spoiled some of his case by indulging in exaggerations which, I think, are extremely unwise and also unfair both to individual pilots and individual operators.
For instance, is it not manifestly unfair for the hon. Gentleman to say that a pilot for an independent company can get into an aircraft of which he has no knowledge and fly it away on an inclusive tour? Even the hon. Gentleman ought to know that the pilot has to be passed out for that type of aircraft.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong, in a situation of some gravity, in trying to convey to the House and to a wider audience outside a completely distorted picture of what is happening. I do not myself want to try to minimise the gravity of recent accidents, because I realise that there may well be inherent in charier flying a more risky operation than in the case of scheduled operations. I should like to see my right hon. Friend inquiring more closely into the figures relating to charter flying, both in this country and abroad, to try to establish whether it is inescapable that we have had and shall have more accidents with charter operators than with scheduled operators. I think that, first, it is essential to establish that. It may well be that this is so, not necessarily because the operators are incompetent, the pilot, careless or the aircraft old, but because of the very nature of the operation itself.
The right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who opened the debate for the Opposition, made a very reasoned approach to this problem of safety, but I wondered whether in one particular he was not a little too kind to the charter companies when he said that he did not think that the type of aircraft was very critical to the rate of accidents. I am not myself entirely convinced that this is so. I am not at all sure, for example, that an aircraft which cannot fly above the weather is as likely to avoid trouble as one that can. I should like my right hon. Friend to try to investigate this aspect of the question, because it may well be that aircraft which are unable to fly above the weather are exposed in modern conditions to more hazards than those that can. As one who has very often recently had experience of charter flying, I can say that the aircraft are more uncomfortable in bad weather.
I want to try to bring home to the House the danger of exaggerating what has happened in the last few months with charter aircraft, and I want to do so by comparison with our own nationalised Corporations and other aircraft of other countries. It is perfectly true to say that our scheduled operators—the two Corporations—have a fairly good record, but this is, unhappily, only a relatively recent event. If five years ago one had compared the accident record of the British Corporations with the accident records of the independent operators in the United States of America, one would have found that the accident rate of the British Corporations was something like three times as high, and I believe it was even more at one time a little earlier on.
It is conceivable that there may well be cycles of difficulties which for the moment paint a very unfortunate picture. It is definitely true with a relatively small charter operator, and it may well be that in the case of charter operations one occasionally gets the unfortunate pilot, and the unfortunate pilot in a charter operation can have disastrous results on the record of his company. One unfortunate pilot in a charter company can have a very much more disastrous effect upon his company than the pilot of a scheduled airline of the same size. We ought to emphasise that the pilot is still the main cause of the accidents which we have so far investigated, and, so far as I can see, he is likely to remain the main cause of most major accidents.
I hope that my right hon. Friend, when he receives the reports on these three recent unfortunate affairs, will go very carefully into whether more stringent regulations are necessary to ensure the safety of charter operations. Let me say at once that I should prefer to see a slightly higher level of fares, anxious as I am to see fares in aviation down generally, and would welcome regulations which might result in a slightly higher level of fares with a much higher standard of safety than merely pursuing the aim of the lowest possible fare. I hope that my right hon. Friend, when he has these reports, will decide what he is going to do.
I think that the hon. Member for Barnsley was perhaps a little wrong when he said that 48 inspectors were inadequate. I do not know what is the total number of aircraft flying civilian passengers in this country, but it cannot be a very big total, and I should not have thought that 48 inspectors was a very meagre number to deal with them. I should have thought it was about right.
May I now leave the subject of air safety and say a word or two about the Licensing Board? I say right away to my right hon. Friend that I regard it as extremely unfortunate that the first major decision of that Board in favour of a private operator should have been reversed. I accept all the difficulties of my right hon. Friend's position, and I think it is probably commercially unlikely that any independent operators would have sought to have gone into these rather difficult operations over the Atlantic in the next year or two. Nevertheless, I feel aggrieved in some measure that the first major decision in favour of a private operator should have been reversed. I hope that the Board will not take the view that, as a consequence, this House is any the less determined to see that the private operator should have a share than it was before.
The right hon. Gentleman who led for the Opposition was somewhat unfair in the partial way in which he described the report of the Board. The Board did not say that the private operator was justified in skimming off part of the business of the Corporations. What the Board said, and properly said, was that in a growing business it took the view that a private operator was justified in getting a share. This is very different from what the right hon. Gentleman tried to convey to the House. It is a question not of cutting down the activities of the Corporations but of giving to private operators a share in the growing business that will be before civil aviation in the next couple of decades. I reiterate my determination to ensure, as far as I am able to do so, that private operators get a share of that business.
That is too naive and simple a view of the situation. I will deal in a minute or two with what I think is the more sophisticated aspect of that question.
What I am saying to my right hon. Friend is that I believe that there should be a place for the private operator, because, although it is true that the Corporations, or, at least, one of them, have served us well, it is equally true that the instrument of flag-carrying in overseas countries, B.O.A.C., has not served us as well as we ought to have been served. I do not hesitate for one moment to pay tribute to any corporation, whether nationalised or otherwise, which does a good job, but let us not have lip-service which is empty and which means nothing.
In the past, and, unfortunately, today, B.O.A.C. has not done too well. It has not carried out its job as well as it should have done. There have been many faulty decisions on aircraft. There have been bad industrial relations. There has been a laxity of control and a lack of morale which has been damaging to a corporation as large and important as B.O.A.C. If matters cannot be put right merely by changing the directors—I had to make a very strong attack on the directors a couple of years ago, much to my regret, but I thought it essential to make it in the public interest—let us have competition from some other unit to stimulate the Corporations to a greater effort.
My right hon. Friend has told us that B.O.A.C. will lose about£10 million this year. This is almost as large as its total accumulated deficit. This is a staggering result. I doubt whether any other aircraft corporation in the world of a comparable size will in this current year lose£10 million. If it does, many people will have a lot to say about it, particularly those who own shares in it. It is no good sticking to the idea that only the Corporations can do a good job. If we have an instrument of public policy which is not doing its job, let us put it right, if necessary by stimulating the competition.
I now turn to the question of sharing traffic. All the arguments about sharing traffic are very wide of the mark, because they refer only to the market that exists at the current rates of fares. This is, of course, a futile, stupid and barren argument, because what we want to do—I hope that the whole world wants to do this—is to stimulate air travel by cheaper fares.
I am prepared to admit that there are merits in regulated fares, but, whatever they may be, there is no doubt that the existence of a rigid I.A.T.A. control of fares has done two things—first, it has kept fares at a higher level than they would have been other wise, and, secondly, promoted a headlong race for new aircraft before people are ready to pay for the mode of travel that those aircraft afford.
If we can travel in a jet aircraft at almost precisely the same fare as in a Dakota, being what we are and liking to get what we can for our money, it is not unnatural that we travel in the jet. There is nothing really wrong in that, but it means that the aim that we ought to pursue in civil aviation, namely, to reduce the cost of flying, has been abandoned for the sake of pursuing the very latest type of aircraft, irrespective of whether or not the market can stand the fares.
Could the hon. Gentleman say how B.O.A.C. could maintain its business if it retained its old aeroplanes when foreign competitors were introducing jet aircraft?
If there were an I.A.T.A. arrangement to the effect that all aircraft flying should fly at the same fare, it is obvious that every company, in order to get business, must provide itself with the latest type of aircraft. That is precisely what I am saying. We have neglected what ought to be our real pursuit, which is to fly aircraft at economic rates.
Let me take, for example, the present fare between London and Nice. I go there fairly frequently—I may hasten to add, on business. The tourist fare is£43 return. At this fare, it is beyond anyone's capacity to go to Nice for a few days. It is beyond my capacity as a private individual. If that fare were brought down, as it could be, to£20 return, we could generate a great deal of traffic between London and Nice. This applies to many places, such as Portugal, Spain and Greece. But this traffic is not generated, simply because we have pursued a rigid fare policy, which means that the highest fares must prevail.
I hope that when my right hon. Friend discusses the question of fares structure he will try to get a different approach which will mean that we are after not sharing the existing market among different operators but creating new forms of traffic and new markets so that every operator will be able to operate properly. I believe that there is room in British aviation for efficient nationalised corporations and efficient private firms. If we can get away from the stranglehold of I.A.T.A., I think that there is plenty of business for both.
I take part in this debate with a certain amount of diffidence, because I have not any experience of civil aviation and, unlike some hon. Members on both sides, I am not an expert in the matter. However, I have two interests in this subject. One is a strong constituency interest and the other is that of the ordinary passenger or consumer of this industry.
I was very much interested in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) about air safety, to which he has referred in this House before. I very much hope that the Minister will reassure the public and will make certain that every possible step is being taken to ascertain the causes of accidents. We have had a limited number of fatal accidents. We do not know how many near-misses there have been. The margin between a hideous fatal accident and one that just did not happen can be very narrow.
I think that we are all very much concerned about the human factor in chartered flights. It is not a question of blaming the pilots; it is simply that the human factor is so important. If a pilot is fatigued, if he has been asked to fly in unreasonable conditions, if he is not sure that his company will back him if he takes a decision on weather conditions, and so forth, then he is being asked to fly in conditions which may turn the near-miss into an accident.
My husband and I flew in a chartered aircraft some years ago, on an Italian holiday. It was cheaper. We were in no position to judge the skill or efficiency of the pilot. All we could judge was the thorough inefficiency of everything else connected with that airline. We came back by it with great hesitation. Having made the return journey, we both swore that we would never go on a charter flight again but would stick to scheduled services. When that company was involved in a horrible accident, some months later, it may have had no connection with the kind of thing with which we had been concerned, but we said to one another that we were not surprised.
It would be most unfortunate if the charter companies, who are taking many people abroad on holiday—and we are happy that they should go—tried to cut their costs to such a point that, they endangered efficiency. This is a case where competition is not necessarily an unmitigated blessing. I was glad that the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) rightly said that, in this direction at least, somewhat higher fares may be of advantage to the public.
My interest not merely as a passenger, but also from a constituency viewpoint, is because there is in my constituency one of de Havilland's largest factories, at Broughton, where serious redundancy is threatened. In considering this, one has to look at the general pattern of civil aviation.
We have been discussing the independent operators, charter companies, and so on. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) suggested that the fact that many of them use old aircraft may or may not be a safety factor. What it certainly may mean is that these firms, because they do not have large financial resources, keep aircraft in operation for long periods and there is no rapid replacement.
Even in the case of the Corporations, however, modern machines have a much longer replacement cycle than some of the older aircraft had, taking the capacity of the aircraft into account. There is a much larger capacity with the new aircraft. I am told, for example, that the Comet, in which we are particularly interested, is reckoned to have a 15-year cycle. This may not be true when newer aircraft arrive, but I am told that this is the estimate on which the company works. The whole question of both replacement and overcapacity, which is a factor in the question of size and speed, is of great importance for the aircraft industry.
We are very much worried at the effects of the concentration of the industry in certain areas. The Minister said that what is happening in the aircraft industry is the natural consequence of the Government's statement of policy of February, 1960. The industry was told that it must concentrate in particular, for example, in the pooling of design staff and concentration of manufacture. Up to a point, I appreciate that this is necessary. What worries me, however, is the way in which the burden is distributed and to what extent the Government are prepared to take any sort of responsibility or any kind of interest in what happens.
I have read the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debate in another place yesterday. I cannot quote directly in this House the proceedings of another place, but I read what Lord Mills said about reundancy.
That is true. The Minister, Lord Mills, speaking yesterday for the Government on the question of redundancy said:
It is something that the industry must work out and with which they are competent to deal.
That is the philosophy of the party opposite. Lord Mills also said:
I do not think we should be surprised or dismayed…that for a time we shall have to grapple with this problem of redundancy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 22nd November, 1961; Vol. 235, cc. 930, 929.]
What concerns us is whether the Government are prepared to grapple with this problem of redundancy.
It is disturbing for workers, many of whom have come from other parts of the country to a place like Broughton, on the outskirts of Chester, to a factory which, in the words of Sir Aubrey Burke, head of the Hawker Siddeley Group, is regarded as
our best production factory but it is designed to handle an output of aircraft in considerable
numbers and in the days in which we are living we do not get orders for a large number of aircraft, either for military or civil types.
In other words, here is a factory, owned by the Government, designed for the production of large aircraft, which cannot be worked economically unless large numbers of aircraft axe made there. The overheads are otherwise too great. I am, therefore, anxious and concerned to know how far the Government take any responsibility for the results of their policy.
I asked the Minister in an intervention whether any credence could be placed in a report in the Daily Express earlier this week. I did so because in that report, in which it is suggested that the Government have decided to stage a rescue operation, some quite specific points were made, one of which is of considerable interest to the workers in my constituency. It is said that there is under consideration
An order for 20 de Havilland 125 small jet executive aircraft—to be used as a flying classroom for navigational training and for 'brass-hat' travel.
If this is true, I shall be delighted to hear it from the Parliamentary Secretary. If the Government are proposing to order 20 DH125s, I do not mind who the "brass-hats" are, whether they are sitting on the Front Bench opposite or anybody else. If the Government are prepared to order DH125s, they have our full support.
What I want to know is just how much substance there is in this suggestion. If there is no substance in it, I would like to say to the Daily Express reporter that it is a very cruel thing indeed to put something like that in a newspaper and to arouse hopes among the workers who, between now and Christmas, face redundancy.
May I put my hon. Friend out of her misery? My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) and I had discussions yesterday with the Minister about redundancy in our part of the country. The Minister said quite clearly that this was a commercial decision which was of no concern of the Government.
My hon. Friend has confirmed what I suspected. As this matter has appeared in print, however, it is only right that I should bring it up on the Floor of the House and get the facts of the situation. If the Government are saying that this is simply a commercial matter and they are not undertaking any rescue operation, we should be told. It is most disturbing for workers in the industry to see a report like that if it has no foundation.
Another thing which is most disturbing for workers placed as those in my constituency are is that, while they are so lacking in work, they learn from their colleagues in other parts of the country that new premises are being built, a new training school is being set up and advertisements are placed in the newspapers for more workers; and they ask whose job it is to share out the work in a shrinking industry.
Is it to be left entirely to the two consortia? Have the Government washed their hands of it completely? If there is an excess of work in one place and a shortage elsewhere, surely the Government should pay attention to it. If they do not, we are faced in certain areas, not merely with redundancy, but with the possibility of complete closure of establishments which are designed, equipped and efficient for the production of aircraft.
I want today a much clearer indication of what the Government believe is likely to be the future size of our industry. The Minister said a great deal in his speech—indeed, he really did not say very much else—about the inter-nationalisation of aviation. Well, I am as good an internationalist as anyone else, I trust; I have no objection at all to our going into suitable agreements with other countries, but I must say that I shall feel very hesitant if the Government are to be in charge of negotiations for this kind of thing. After all, we have seen what they have done in bungling about the Common Market.
Really, one would hesitate very much lest they should behave in the general as they do in the particular. I should like to know a great deal more about what is really intended and as to where the balance of responsibility would lie between private firms and the Government, supposing we went in, not for an internal consortium, but for an international consortium for the production of any of these new aircraft.
I do not propose to speak at any great length, because I know that there are many more hon. Members with problems to raise, some of them similar to my own, but I think that those of us who represent constituencies like mine, where we have literally thousands of workers not knowing what their future is to be, and who, I repeat, many of them, came into the area from outside when they were urged to do so, and have established themselves there, have established homes there, and have their children at school there, are entitled to ask for a much clearer indication from the Government of what their real intention is and how far they take any responsibility.
The Minister made just the most fleeting reference to the need for harmonising civil and military construction. He went into no details at all. I would like to know just how far, in the situation I have described, we can expect any assistance from the military side if there is a gap in civilian orders.
We have been discussing relations between the independent airlines and the Corporations. I should like to say from my experience that the company in my constituency, de Havilland, would not have had a hope of keeping that place open at all if it had not been for firm orders off the drawing board by the Corporations. It is no substitute at all to have an odd order here and there from an independent operator, and if we weaken the Corporations we shall not merely be weakening them but weakening the British aircraft production industry as well. I see the hon. Member for Cheadle shaking his head. I would ask him, if it were not for B.E.A., where would the orders have been for the 24 Tridents?
I will answer the hon. Lady. I agree, of course, that the domestic market for the companies producing here is important, but surely the hon. Lady realises that B.E.A., in tailoring the DH121 to its specific requirements, may have damaged the prospects of successfully selling the aircraft overseas?
Maybe, but at least it gave the order for the 24, and nobody else did, and nobody else would have done until the aircraft were in the air. Orders on a purely speculative basis will not be placed for something as expensive at this. Manufacturers need orders for planes still on the drawing board. The smaller people will buy only when the aircraft is in the air. Therefore, we in our position want to have a clear view of the Government's decision which would in any essential way weaken the civil aviation Corporations on which our aircraft industry depends.
There is only one other thing I should like to mention, and it is also a constituency point, although it is also more than that, for it is a North Wales point. We have not this afternoon had any discussion at length on the question of airports. I have been asked by my own local authority, Flint County Council, which has been in consultation with other North Wales local authorities on this matter, to say in this House that we feel that further consideration should be given to a civil airport within easy reach of North Wales. We are not satisfied with being in the Manchester area.
Anyone who knows the state of traffic in the summer between North Wales and Lancashire knows that it will take one longer to get from almost any part of North Wales to the airport than it will then take to make a journey by air—to anywhere in Europe, certainly. We feel that, as far as summer flights go, at any rate, we should have consideration for the airport at Hawarden. I myself would very much prefer that B.E.A. should run more services from there, but if B.E.A. does not wish to do so one would be happy if a suitable private operator were licensed to use this airport, which would be within reasonable distance of good rail communications, and so on, with other parts of North Wales, which, at the moment, is without any sort of civil airport services whatsoever.
In twelve years I have only once previously bothered the House with any observations whatever on questions of civil aviation. If I do so this time it is perhaps among other things to remind the House that on that occasion I was urging the then Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation to respond to the appeal which had been made for the institution of colonial coach class services to Africa, a move which at that time was bitterly opposed by B.O.A.C.
I am glad that they were, in fact, instituted and that today B.O.A.C, which said at one time that it could not do so, is now operating them in happy unison with other lines and at lower fares which, it said at that time, were uneconomic. So, perhaps, a lesson may be learned, that if we do introduce an element of competition in the airline services we can succeed in getting cheaper fares and shall be able to travel about the world more cheaply than is the case at present.
Apart from that, I would not have been provoked into taking part in this debate had it not been for the way in which the matter was introduced by the right hon Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) who opened for the Opposition. I think it is true to say that on both sides of the House we are concerned with the safety of the travelling public. It is not a question of political faith. We are concerned with seeing that people who travel by air are able to travel as safely as is humanly possible.
However, I think that it is really going a bit too far when attempts are made to divide into two kinds the people who cater for the flying needs of the public, the Corporations, on the one hand, and the independents, on the other, and to assume that all independents are exactly the same. We have got some first-class independent airline operators with an absolutely unblemished safety record. It is also a fact that we have got some independent operators whose activities ought to be carefully watched and, if necessary, stopped. But to group them all together in an attempt to besmirch them all and to conduct a kind of smear campaign against those independent operators as a group is both unfair and unjust.
The right hon. Gentleman went out of his way to adduce one example in support of his case of how independent operators conduct their duties. He produced a letter which, for greater verisimilitude, was from a wing commander; this, presumably, was to get the hallmark of authenticity on what was being said. He said that an independent airline pilot who had been employed by the independent line, because he did not take off when the operator wished him to take off, because he refrained from taking off, was sacked; Wing Commander James was so upset about this that he wrote to the right hon. Gentleman; this firm, so the right hon. Gentleman said, not only sacked the pilot, but had gone bankrupt.
Let us get one or two things straight. First, there is nothing wrong with sacking a pilot.
That is better. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would fall for that one. He says that it depends why the pilot is sacked.
The right hon. Gentleman, on being challenged, showed he had never made the slightest inquiry. I challenged him earlier, and he said, "I do not know, but the inference is that he was sacked because of this particular incident." In fact, it had nothing to do with it at all. Not at all.
Wing Commander James, who wrote to the right hon. Gentleman, was interviewed by the chief pilot of the company concerned, with one of its directors. The circumstances of the case were explained to him, and he expressed himself as being completely satisfied by the explanation which was given.
The House will judge on the ridiculous travesty of what I said which the hon. Gentleman is making. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The House will judge, not hon. Members opposite. But what the hon. Gentleman said about Wing Commander James I must contradict, because he wrote to me. I received the letter yesterday and the House can judge for itself, by the letter, whether he was satisfied. He was totally dissatisfied. I also discussed the matter with him. He was on the flight himself. He is himself an expert in these matters. There is not the slightest question of his being satisfied. I contradict the hon. Member when he says that Wing Commander James was satisfied.
The right hon. Gentleman had his letter yesterday. I spoke to the chief pilot of the firm this afternoon. We cannot take time discussing this now but the chief pilot is not a wing commander, he is a group captain, and he was not satisfied entirely with the efficiency of this pilot.
In this incident, the pilot came on at 10 a.m. He took off from Pisa at 15.00 and returned to Pisa at 16.30. He still had 7½hours of duty to do, but he cancelled his flight immediately. I am not an expert pilot, but those who are know that weather can sometimes change in two hours, and for a pilot to cancel his turn of duty with 7½hours still to go might well decide that he should be relieved of his command. This pilot was not dismissed, but was demoted to first officer. The allegation of the right hon. Gentleman's should not have been made.
The hon. Member now agrees that this incident resulted in the pilot's attempted demotion, which he would not accept, so the hon. Gentleman is shown to be completely wrong.
I apologise. One further point which should be taken into account by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) is that it is also the invariable rule of B.E.A. that when a pilot decides that it is not safe to go on, his decision is never questioned. That is the right rule, which was not followed in this case.
I do not want to pursue this matter unduly, but this company has a first-class safety record. It has never had an accident. It has never sacked a pilot for deciding not to go on, but what it does insist is that a decision to cancel a flight should not be taken while there is still a long period of unexpired duty to go, during which the weather might well change. That is also a long-standing rule followed by the Corporations. As the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) pointed out, pilots have been dismissed from B.E.A. for inefficiency. If it is right for the Corporations to take this line, it is equally right for the chief pilot of an independent airline to take such a line about a particular person if he thinks fit.
I now turn to the question of the bankruptcy of this company as being something to take into account. Some of the nationalised industries and Corporations might be in a sticky position if considered on a purely financial basis, but this company is not bankrupt. The right hon. Gentleman has no right to exercise his privilege in the House to make allegations against individual firms.
I was about to explain, but apparently the right hon. Gentleman sees it more clearly now. There is a difference between a receiver and manager being appointed and going bankrupt. If one were to judge some of the Corporations on the basis of financial stability, the right hon. Gentleman would have a great deal to worry about.
I want now to turn to the general issue of the attitude taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation concerning the Cunard Eagle application, which was accepted by the Licensing Board, but finally turned down by him after a commissioner had inquired into the case. It is most unfortunate that in this, the first major instance to come before the Minister, he should decide to turn down the recommendation of the Board, whose excellence he has praised and whose chairman, he says, is beyond praise. It is regrettable that he should have taken this step, and regrettable that he should have taken it for the reasons he has given.
If I understand him correctly from the information which he has given, my right hon. Friend decided to reject the application because the number of aircraft ordered by B.O.A.C. is sufficient to cover its requirements for several years, and that it would be unfair, therefore, to grant a licence to Cunard Eagle. If we are to have the position in which a nationalised Corporation is prepared to say that, because it has all the aircraft for a route nobody else can operate on it, then it is not much use for an independent airline to apply for a licence to operate at all.
When my right hon. Friend says that his second reason is that the operation of this service by an independent operator would mean a diversion of customers from B.O.A.C. and other operators, that seems to me to make nonsense of the creation of this Licensing Board. If the Board is to be given a chance at all, it must be given a chance to operate within proper and specific terms, with the cards not being stacked in favour of the Corporations and their being allowed to say that so long as they have sufficient aircraft no one else can operate a service, and that, as long as another airline can take passengers from them, it cannot have a licence.
I understand that it is not the intention or the desire of Cunard Eagle to take away existing customers of B.O.A.C. It wishes to do what other independent operators have done with the African service—by the reduction of fares to create fresh traffic and customers on these routes. The importance of the independent airlines' effort in Africa has been recognised by B.O.A.C.
The share of B.O.A.C.'s traffic in capacity ton miles has risen since 1955, when it was 254 million capacity ton miles, to 667 million capacity ton miles in 1960–61. Does that not show that there is an enormous possibility for further growth?
I am glad to have given way to my hon. Friend so that he could give those statistics. If we are able to operate a competitive service between the independents and B.O.A.C. on the African route, there is equal possibility of operating a mutually satisfactory service on the Atlantic traffic.
I am not suggesting that this was the point of its case. What I am saying, in particular, is that if the Corporations are to be put in a privileged position of being able to say, "We have ordered enough aircraft and the introduction of any competition means that some traffic will be diverted from us", and these are to be paramount considerations in the Minister's mind, it is a waste of time for independent operators to go to the Licensing Board at all.
I can understand the attitude of those who walked out of the Licensing Board. I can understand their saying, "What is the point? We employ counsel to represent our case. We spend a great deal of money on its presentation. This independent body examines the facts and grants us a licence, within the rather strict terms laid down by the Act, and then, having obtained the licence and ordered the aircraft, some of them in advance, in expectation of being allowed to operate within the terms of the licence, the Minister turns us down."
I am saying that I can quite understand the attitude of a company in withdrawing its application before the Licensing Board, because it seems to me that the independents are not getting a fair crack of the whip.
I agree with one thing which was said by the hon. Member for Barnsley, in so far as I comprehend it, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will make it clear for my benefit when he winds up the debate. The hon. Member drew attention to the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act, 1960, Section 2 (4) of which seems to remove from the Board any consideration of the safety methods used by the operator in operating his aircraft.
The hon. Member for Barnsley suggested that this was a weakness. Indeed, at first sight it appears so to be. I should like to know whether the safety aspect is taken care of in some other way. I assume that it must. I cannot imagine that it is completely ignored, but this subsection appears to take it away from review by the Licensing Board. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give a satisfactory answer on this point.
The independent operators, over a wide field of activities, have provided remarkably good service. They have succeeded in bringing down by a remarkable degree the cost of transportation of people from this country to places abroad. Thousands of people have travelled safely in the airlines of independent operators all over the Continent of Europe and beyond. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will realise that they do a great disservice to the cause of British aviation if they seek to lump the good and bad operators together and to say that all independents are bad and all corporations good. This is not true. It is true that there are bad independent operators who ought to be rooted out, and nobody would be more pleased about that than the safe operators, but do not let us besmirch all independent operators with the slur which has been applied to them in recent weeks.
I should not occupy the time of the House profitably if I commented on the argument about the real reasons for the sacking of a pilot, to which so much reference has been made. Those who have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) will be the judges. On the whole, the case put, by way of illustration only, by my right hon. Friend was rather more convincing than the speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Southend.
I want to tackle the hon. Member for Southend, East about his remarks on the Minister's decision over the Air Licensing Board and B.O.A.C.'s appeal. The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are quite capable of defending themselves, but the hon. Member put forward a travesty of the reasons why the Minister came to his decision. It is true that one factor was the orders on hand for new aircraft, but I should have thought that the paramount reason which the Minister, absolutely properly and logically, took into account was that there is far too much aircraft capacity at the moment for the number of passengers available on the North Atlantic routes. This seems to me a predominant reason and one which completely justifies the decision.
To have done what the hon. Member for Southend, East wanted would no doubt have given the opportunity for some operators to make some money, but it would certainly have further pushed B.O.A.C. into a difficult financial position. This might have suited the hon. Member's political philosophy, but I cannot see how it would have served the interests of the public or of British aviation. I think that in this matter the Minister has given an absolutely right decision in the interests of the country as a whole, which is the proper thing for the Minister to do.
I am glad that we are having another opportunity of discussing some of the problems which inevitably arise from what is still our newest means of transport, evolving new techniques every day and operating continuously at higher speeds. These are bound to raise new problems, not only for operators but for the public and for all those who have to administer this great industry.
Anyone who represents a constituency where there is an airport is only too well aware of the constant pre-occupation by all concerned with many of the problems of safety and amenity which arise. These problems are faced by the people who live near the airports, by those running the airports, by those operating the aircraft and, indeed, by the local authorities. I do not know whether it has ever been mentioned before, but I should like to place on record my appreciation of the local authorities in West Middlesex, where London Airport is situated. They have an unofficial airport committee which considers all the problems which confront them by reason of the existence of the airport.
It is quite a voluntary body, but it approaches Ministers and Members from time to time about the problems and risks. It not only helps us to realise the practical consequences, but it must obviously draw the attention of the Ministry to matters of great importance. I hope, incidentally, that all those who are concerned with the day-to-day work of airports and airlines will never resent the fact that often in the House we draw attention to safety or amenity problems. We ignore them at our peril, and we must seek every opportunity to improve matters.
A fortnight ago we had an interesting debate about the noise round airports, and, therefore, I do not need to detain the House on that subject today except in one respect. The Parliamentary Secretary told us on 15th November that although he had only recently been appointed to that post he had already taken the opportunity to spend a night at London Airport. There he had spent a perfectly good night and had had a sound sleep. This has considerably astonished me and a number of my constituents. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is a good sleeper."] No doubt he is, but I hope that that will not be so in the position which he now occupies.
I have been inundated with requests to find out where it was that the hon. Gentleman spent that night. He said that it was at the airport, but he does not say whether it was in the middle of the airport, in which case he would not have suffered the kind of inconvenience which my constituents near the Bath Road suffer from the take-off of jet aircraft. I assume that he could not have been sleeping in one of the new luxury hotels nearby which are fitted with soundproof bedrooms. We should like to know where it was and what night it was. It might have been one of those foggy nights when all flights were cancelled. I hope that we shall have the information so that we may find out whether the hon. Gentlemen's experience that night was representative of the kind that some of my constituents have to endure.
I saw this week that an unofficial working party has been established to consider the feasibility and practicability of moving London Airport. This would solve the noise problem satisfactorily for many of my constituents, but when one considers the vast financial investment in Heathrow which has made it one of the finest airports in the world, and the fact that over 30,000 people are employed there, obviously one cannot lightly consider such a possibility. It would mean a major upheaval.
I know of very few places now within 50 to 100 miles of London which would be suitable and where there would not still be an element of danger and of nuisance. It will be interesting to see what conclusions the study group reach. I would think from a first glance that it is impracticable.
I should like to refer to the safety aspects. Apart, of course, from the increasing number of people using air transport every year, this is a matter of considerable concern to those who live near airports. In my constituency we had a very near miss in connection with the Southall disaster which occurred a few years ago.
I think that the public are perturbed about some of the points, one of which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West in opening the debate, concerning the responsibility for pilots knowing the routes being placed upon the operator rather than its being, as it were, a public responsibility. I agree with hon. Members opposite who have said that, normally, most of the independent operators are responsible people who take a very great deal of trouble in this matter. They would be most foolish and less than humane if they did not. I make no general charge against them. But I think that the speech of the hon. Member for Southend, East and others in defence of the private operator was almost too strong. They protested too much. No one lumps all the private operators together in the way that has been suggested.
I do not think that that has been the general tenor of the speeches made from this side of the House.
On the particular matter of the pilot's knowledge of a route being the responsibility of the operator, I do not think that the Minister faced up to the problem. It is in the one case of where we may get an inefficient or indifferent operator that the danger will arise. It is not an easy problem to solve, and I would have thought that there should be some
accountability wider than that of the operator in the first place. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say something about that and about the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley in connection with Section 2 (4) of the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act, to which he referred. I am sure that it cannot mean what my hon. Friend thought it meant. If it does mean that the Board do not have to take into account
…the competence of the applicant to secure that the aircraft operated by him will be operated safely.
it makes nonsense of the whole Section. I cannot think that that is what the Act means. I hope that that point will be dealt with by the Parliamentary Secretary.
I want to refer also to another of the conditions under which licences are granted under the Act. Under Section 2 (2, b) the Board has to be satisfied that there are adequate financial arrangements to meet damage to persons or property arising from the operation of the aircraft. I have had letters about recent disasters which indicate that this is not the position. It may be that negotiations will take a very long time to complete and that in the end everything will be satisfactorily settled, but the knowledge and information that I have been given so far about past accidents seem to indicate that there is a very considerable doubt as to financial liability and how far at the moment it can be legally enforced. I feel concerned about this. Apart from the general principle, I am sure that the House will always want justice to be done to those who suffer through no fault of their own. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) and I moved an Amendment in Standing Committee the effect of which would have been to ensure that a kind of third party cover for the general public was provided under the Act.
My hon. Friend has raised such a very important point that I hope the House will forgive me for interrupting him to say that this question of insurance should be well known by the public so that they can protect themselves whether they are in the air or on the railways or travelling anywhere else. If there is a ques- tion of wilful negligence someone is responsible. The public should know that when travelling by air they should protect themselves by insurance. This is such an important matter that I have intervened to make that point clear.
I am sorry if I did not make that clear. That was the purpose of the Amendment which my hon. Friend and I moved in Committee upstairs. We withdrew this on the understanding that subsection (2, b) covered the point, i.e.:
…provision made or proposed to be made against any liability in respect of loss or damage to persons or property which may be incurred in connection with aircraft operated by the applicant.
If that is the case, I think that this would meet the point made by my hon. Friend and myself in relation to the problems that we have locally as well as those of general application. I cannot understand why it is, then, that there has been so much delay in settling claims where damage of that kind has arisen. If the position is fully covered legally, we shall be delighted, and if it is not I hope that we shall be told, so that we shall know what other steps ought to be taken to put the matter right. It may be that not all aircraft operators have been subjected to the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act procedure. I do not know. But for those living and having property near airports this is an important matter.
Like many other hon. Members, I have in my constituency a number of people who serve as air crew in private as well as other types of aircraft. I understand that these are rather isolated instances, and I do not want to say that this is always happening on a charter flight, but I think that everyone in the House of Commons was shocked that not only were some passengers left stranded on at least two occasions in Europe last summer, but that the staff of these companies, also, were left in a very serious position. On two occasions both staff and passengers had to be flown home by one of the despised Corporations.
I have had constituents write to me saying that when they got back they found that they had lost not only their salary, but their job. I understood that under Section 2 of the Act adequate arrangements had been made about staff and I am sure that this refers not only to the provision of adequate staff for operating the aircraft but also to the financial arrangement of the concerns as a whole. This is a serious matter and I hope that we may hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that in future these incidents, whether by private or charter companies, are not likely to recur.
I share the sentiments of the Amendment, which takes pride in the achievements of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. I must say that I always feel very happy and safe when travelling in a Corporation aircraft. It is nice to be able to do something in practice of which one approves politically.
The House has listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington). I thought that his approach to the safety question was in great contrast to that of the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), whose speech was very regrettable in parts. At least the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington took the trouble to say that these unfortunate incidents were isolated cases. Such things happen in every walk of life. I have said on many previous occasions in the House that the regulations need tightening up. I go even further, and say that the charter or independent companies should have to prove their financial standing when they apply for licences or operate charter flights. There should be more strength behind them. The hon. Member referred to the question of noise, at London Airport, and we sympathise with him, but I understood him to say that, on balance, he would rather keep the airport where it is than move it elsewhere. I can understand that, because it brings considerable prosperity.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Barnsley is not in his place. He has referred to my not being in my place, but in 16½years I have missed only one main debate on aviation, military and civil—and that was due to illness. Typical of his wild statements about independent aircraft companies was his reference to pilots going off and flying aircraft which they had never flown before. That is absolutely wrong. A pilot must be trained. He must be checked out. He must do an instrument course. The most stringent regulations are laid down, and the private pilot has to fulfill the same conditions as do the pilots of B.E.A. or B.O.A.C. The rules are identical.
The private airline pilot may not get the same amount of flying in the winter, but he is kept in training—and even Corporation pilots go off for a month's holiday on occasion. When they come back they are probably put on an instrument course and on the Link trainer, and so on. It does untold damage when an hon. Member makes sweeping allegations about certain companies and then refuses to name them. A Member has full privilege. It is not a question of his writing a letter to the Minister from outside, in which case he could be in difficulties. If the public are in real danger from flying under these conditions the hon. Member has a duty to name the companies concerned. He has denigrated professional pilots, many of whom have come up the hard way. They are mostly war-time pilots, who have to pass a very strict medical examination every six months. They live in fear of losing their licences if they fail to pass the examination, because their livelihood then goes. A speech like that of the hon. Member for Barnsley does not help to maintain the morale of these men. He referred to waste-paper basket pilots. I suggest that there are some waste-paper basket Members in the House. I would rather leave the matter there.
I have only a very indirect interest in the matter now, through a holding company and not an operating company. Everybody is told that large profits are just around the corner, but it just has not happened. Companies both large and small have been operating on marginal profits, or even on no profits at all. We have now reached the stage where there is an overcapacity certainly on the North Atlantic route. It has been a question of one line competing with another to keep up with the Joneses.
I recently looked up some documents to discover the number of different types of major aircraft operated by B.O.A.C. in recent years. During the last six years it has had the original Comet, which unfortunately met with some accidents, then it had the Stratocruisers and then the DC7c, which the House was assured would be sold for dollars. I imagine that they are being sold for sterling, at a very nominal price.
Yes, as scrap. Then there was the Britannia. We know the sad story of that aircraft. Today we have the Boeing 707 in addition to the new Comet, and we are expecting the VC10 in a year or two. It is rather like running an engineering company and changing the plant every eighteen months. How any airline can hope to keep out of financial difficulties when it changes equipment as often as that, I do not know. Many other types were used previously, apart from those that I have mentioned.
We can never freeze design—at least, I hope not. My criticism of B.O.A.C. is that until recently it has not had the technical people of sufficient calibre on its staff to estimate its forward requirements for aircraft. It talked in terms of using Princess flying boats and then changed its mind. It has gone from one type to another.
British European Airways Corporation is not so complex. It is a smaller airline. But it handles its affairs with far greater efficiency.
It must be borne in mind that the operations on the long hauls are very different from those on the short hauls. All the long haul people have had precisely the same difficulty with their aircraft.
I beg to differ. Qantas has had very few types, and this is an opportune moment to say that in over thirty years' operation it still has a clean sheet. That is a remarkable effort for an airline.
The Minister has told us that B.O.A.C.'s loss this year will amount to about£10 million. Last year we heard of the disastrous financial results of the Scandinavian Airways System. It lost between£5 million and£7 million. But a loss of£10 million is very serious, especially when it is considered on top of all the previous losses which have occurred over so many years.
Over the years we have also seen a deterioration of labour relations as between management and workers. At B.O.A.C. they are now deplorable.
I was coming to that. Many of my hon. Friends and I have begged B.O.A.C. to get rid of these associated companies, such as Bahamas Airways and its interest in Malayan Airways. We have repeatedly advised B.O.A.C. to concentrate on running its own routes. It can work with the other lines, but it should not have financial arrangements with them. Our repeated statements to this effect are on record in the Library.
I do not know to which instruction the hon. Member is referring. He may refer to it when he makes his speech, if he is fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair.
A short time ago we were told that B.O.A.C. engineering workshops were overstaffed to the extent of between 2,000 and 3,000 men. In those circumstances it is not surprising that large losses are made. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to assure us that the position is improving. I am glad that Sir Matthew Slattery has been appointed chairman of B.O.A.C. He is a man whom we all admire. It may take some time to do it, but I hope that he will be able to put the Corporation on its feet.
I now turn to the question of the associated companies. Many of the losses arise from their operations. In some cases they have cost the Corporation over£600,000 a year. B.O.A.C. evidently finds some advantages in these links, but I cannot see what the financial advantages can be. The Corporation says that it gets a traffic advantage out of it. But it loses masses of money—£500,000 here and£600,000 there. This is a very serious matter, and it requires to be looked into. However, the Corporation seems to be getting rid of some of its commitments.
We are told that for the first six months of this year all the airlines operating on the North Atlantic route have lost about 20 million dollars. We must not be too depressed about that. I travelled back from Trinidad via New York at the end of June, and altogether there were only about twelve people in the aircraft. The President of the United States has asked American citizens to stay at home, following the recession. The Berlin problem is also scaring people away, besides the bombs that have been exploding in Austria and Paris. Many Americans have stayed at home.
I read in The Times on Wednesday this short paragraph:
Rise in Atlantic air traffic. The proportion of available passenger seats occupied on scheduled airline services across the North Atlantic in October was the highest since Oct, 1960. According to the International Air Transport Association the figure was 59·2 per cent. This compares with 50·4 per cent. in September and 52·4 per cent. in August. The percentage in October, 1960, was 65·1.
One has seen a steady growth over all the airlines for the past fourteen years. There is over-capacity at the moment, but I do not think that the growth of aviation will stop from now on. We may be going through a trough period, but it will undoubtedly recover.
Like other hon. Members, I am concerned at the decision of my right hon. Friend, which I do not suppose he enjoyed having to take, regarding the Cunard Eagle company's application. I have mentioned that the traffic figures are increasing. We as a party have always tried to make a case for the independent operators. The right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) said he thought that there ought to be competition on the domestic routes. I suggest that parallel services might be run to Manchester by one of the independents. At times it is impossible at present to get a seat booked three weeks ahead and timekeeping is deplorable. I congratulate Lord Douglas and Mr. Millwood on winning the safety award and I acknowledge that they have a magnificent line. But over the last year I have noticed that B.E.A. has been slipping in some respects, and I have had many complaints from constituents and others about the mishandling of baggage and bad timekeeping. I always travel by air to my constituency and so I see that side of the organisation, and things need looking into.
I am extremely sorry that it was necessary to make the decision which has been made regarding the Cunard application. We all had confidence in the Air Transport Advisory Board, and I do not think that that confidence has been diminished because of the reversal of a decision. I was glad of the assurance of my right hon. Friend that it is possible for another application to be made. Were I occupying the position of the chairman—I am glad that I am not—I should be glad to be relieved of this responsibility. It is fully realised that competition on the North Atlantic is coming from the air rather than from ships, and the old company with a great tradition has moved ahead to get into the air. I am sorry that this has happened and I hope that affairs will be adjusted so that another application may be made.
The alarming thing is that B.O.A.C. will always be able to say that it has such and such equipment on order. What is to be done? If an independent line is successful it will have to take over the equipment. The same thing applies to British United Airways which has ordered the BAC111. I was told the other day that a number have been sold to Branff Airways of America off the drawing board with the possibility of a follow-on order.
Where does a British company stand with an application if it is told that the Corporations have aircraft to see them through? This is a matter which must be worked out in a friendly way possibly by the independent operators taking over some of the aircraft. We have heard a lot today about independent companies flying parallel with the Corporations. I invite the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us, taking a weekly average over the last year, how many services the Americans operate in and out of London and how many are operated by B.O.A.C. There are two American airlines, Pan-American and Trans-World Airways and one British Corporation, and I have the impression that the Americans operate many more services out of Great Britain than B.O.A.C. If that is so, I should think the Minister's problems regarding bilateral arrangements would not be too difficult.
We may pay a compliment to B.E.A. on its financial results. It has done very well despite severe competition. There has been a good policy regarding re-equipment, but B.E.A. must look to its laurels over small things.
I hope that the Minister will tell us something about London Airport, where in the last six months there has been a considerable improvement by the rearrangement of seating accommodation. Passengers are looked after in a better way, but there is still a long way to go. During the recent strike of porters, I found it much easier to get on and off the aeroplanes than when the porters were present. We did not have to wait while the oldest lady passenger, probably suffering from arthritis, got down from the aeroplane. One carried one's bag and was away in a matter of minutes.
Much has been said recently about landing fees. In an Adjournment debate recently I gave figures on this subject which the Minister said were not correct. But it has been more or less accepted that when a Boeing 707 lands at London Airport with 78 passengers the total charges amount to£361. I know it is a complicated arrangement, but at Idlewild the charges amount to£260. I think it very unfortunate that because London Airport has been badly run administratively over the years we have to hit the airlines with almost the top charge in the world to try to make ends meet. We shall have every other airport following suit and there will be a race to see which can charge the most. I have never been happy about this situation.
Remarks have been made about independent operators, and, as I said earlier, there are one or two which may be singled out as not being very good. But some of the independent operators have done a magnificent job. The public is sometimes confused about the age of an aeroplane. Although a Dakota may be twenty to twenty-five years old, it is probably the case that, apart from its registration marks, it is not the same aeroplane that it was twenty years ago. Practically every part will have been renewed over the years. But it is not a pressurised aircraft. It has a twin-engine performance. I question whether, at certain times of the year and with a full load, it is the right aeroplane for certain routes. It is a remarkably safe aeroplane for most routes, but when it is necessary to get above dirty weather it is questionable whether the Dakota is the right aeroplane for going over the Alps or for making similar journeys.
I take comfort from the fact that in Britain we have a pretty good aircraft industry. It has contracted because there are fewer orders for military aircraft. We are grateful for that because we do not wish to construct military aircraft for the sake of building them. We have some wonderful types coming into production. The VC10 is the most incredible aeroplane the world has ever seen, and I am sure that it will be a winner. We have other types coming on, and if B.O.A.C. can tidy up its affairs and get down to operating at a profit, with the other Corporation and with the good independent operators we shall have something to show the world. I wish my right hon. Friend and his new Parliamentary Secretary every success in the great enterprise ahead of them.
It is a pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), not because I necessarily agree with him, but because he knows his subject and always has something very interesting to contribute from practical knowledge.
I thought that in the speeches of some of my colleagues there was a very unfortunate inference—it was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey), who opened the debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason)—that there is some difference between the pilots and crews of independent companies and those of State Corporations. They said in a rather derogatory manner that the independent companies had taken on three pilots who had left the Corporations. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley even wanted an inquiry. He is very interested in coal. I do not know whether he wants an inquiry every time a coal miner goes from one coal mine to another. This is an absolute witch hunt.
Independent airline pilots have the same standing, the same knowledge and status, and, it may interest my hon. Friend to know, the same pay as those in the Corporations. They must qualify in the same manner. The majority of the pilots, either in the Corporations or in the independent companies, are, of course, even today, from the Royal Air Force, and I should like to give this comfort to the many people, including our constituents, who travel by independent airlines on holidays. I do not know what they will think if they read reports of the speeches of certain hon. Members in this debate. I do not propose to try to defend the policy of Her Majesty's Government. That will be done by the Ministers and hon. Members opposite. I do not agree with much that they do, but I should like to speak from the receiving end.
As I have not done so yet, I now declare a very personal interest in aviation, in an independent company. Therefore, may I, from the receiving end as it were, explain how the Act we are discussing is working. The question has been asked, are the independents financially stable? An inquiry is being held by the Ministry and by accountants, very astute ones, into every independent company. They are pulling every independent company's finances and balance sheets to pieces. As a result, in the last fortnight one or two of the companies concerned have found that it is not advisable to continue operating, presumably on advice or because they have had an idea that they might not be getting a favourable report. That inquiry is going on now, and it is an excellent thing, because it will mean that the companies which are left are stable and able to look after the public. If anything goes wrong with their operations they can guarantee passengers being brought back from the Continent.
I hope the Minister will note that this financial inquiry applies to aviation companies. I have not heard that Her Majesty's Government have the right to inquire minutely into the financial affairs of non-aviation concerns, even when they have Government contracts. I do not object to this being done, but it seems to be done only in aviation. Is it being done in the case of foreign aviation operators? Of course it is not. I hope that my hon. Friends who very severely criticise British independent operators will remember that foreign operators come to this country and take our passengers out and bring them back, yet presumably they are not under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Aviation and their finances are not questioned. I hope the Minister will give that matter some attention.
No independent operator can operate without a licence. That is mentioned in the Act. The obtaining of a licence is not easy and not automatic. Inspectors from the Ministry visit the organisation and investigate the pilots, the chartering arrangements and the briefing organisation, and assure themselves that there are the necessary number of technical personnel available in the various trades. If a company is successful in obtaining a licence it has a high standard. This was not so in the past. I address my remarks particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, because I agree that there may have been things in the past which were not satisfactory, but that is not the case today. Under the new Act, all this is well looked after.
Further, no independent operator can obtain a licence to maintain his aircraft unless it is granted by the Air Registration Board. There is another set of very skilful people who investigate everything, the kind of equipment, the quantity of the personnel and so on. I hope the House will realise that it is now far from easy to obtain these licences, and the inference that pilots may come from some other occupation and immediately take up flying is quite ridiculous.
I am peering into the mist while my hon. Friend may be in the light. Unlike my hon. Friend, I have no vested interest. In making my case, I would assume that many people would give me as good, if not more of, a hearing than would be given to one with a particular vested interest, but is it not true that some independent airlines are using in peak periods pilots who have not worked during the rest of the year?
That may be so, but nevertheless they have to be passed by the Ministry in precisely the same way as a B.O.A.C. pilot. Many B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. pilots are off duty for months in the winter. My hon. Friend will know that traffic is not as heavy for B.E.A. or B.O.A.C. in winter and, therefore, some of the pilots are not flying. There is no comparison he can make here which is to the detriment of the independent airline pilots. I should like to make clear to my hon. Friend—what has been said by the Minister—that there is absolutely no difference in the regulations governing aircrew, none whatever.
I hope the Minister will look at the question of foreign operators. It is becoming extremely difficult for an independent operator to operate successfully in this country today. Many regulations are in the interests of safety, and that is good, but the foreign operator comes in and how do we compete with him? Does he have flight limitations which the British operator has? No, he does not. Neither does he have to contend with inspections by these forty-seven or more inspectors referred to. Indeed, one does not know how the aircraft of a foreign operator are maintained. I am not referring particularly to the national State lines of Europe, but to the independent operators. I hope we do not drift into the position in which the air traffic of this country is captured by foreign operators whose standards are lower than those of British operators. I leave that point with the Minister, hoping that he will investigate this.
The question of safety has been mentioned very often today. Of course, safety is what we all aim at, operators and passengers. We strive for it and take every care to find it, but there is no rule, nothing we can grasp, to show Why there are accidents in the air. There have been accidents with Boeings, Comets, Viscounts, Caravelles. We do not think that age can be the answer. What is age? Is it years, the number of hours flying, the climate, the number of landings? How do we judge age? Is 10,000 hours flying at 150 miles an hour less or more dangerous than 1,000 hours at 500 miles an hour? Our passengers are protected because of the continual inspections which take place. There is an inspection after so many days and so many flying hours, and there is a very comprehensive inspection after six months. These inspections are under the supervision of the Ministry and the Air Registration Board. Passengers can be confident. We know that the aircraft is safe, and we know that the pilots and crews are proficient because they have to undergo tests by the Ministry, whether they are employed by B.E.A., B.O.A.C. or by an independent company.
A very interesting question is whether there is a particular hazard in charter flying. Charter flying must be divided into two categories, namely, inclusive tours and ordinary ad hoc charters. Reference was made to an accident at Perpignon, in which my company was unfortunately concerned. This was not a charter flight in that sense. It was one of a series of flights. The aircraft and the crew had been there many times and every week. The important question is: what is a charter flight and what is not a charter flight?
There may be risks in the ordinary ad hoc charter flight. I do not know, and I should not like to say. Perhaps the Minister will give this matter a thought. If one leaves the House and hails a taxi, one cannot ask the driver if he has been to the destination before. We cannot have a system in which aeroplanes and pilots can fly only to certain places. The difference between going by taxi and going by aeroplane is that the pilot has to hand in his route chart when he leaves the aerodrome. He has to obtain approval to fly at a certain height in a certain direction. The taxi driver does not have to do anything like that. That is where the safeguard is in flying.
None of us can put a finger on a certain aspect of flying and say that it is dangerous. There is an element of danger in flying. Unfortunately there always will be; but there are accidents on the road. There will always be accidents where there is speed. I am as anxious as all hon. Members to reduce the number of accidents to the minimum.
I want finally to talk about the Corporations. Independent operators are not against the Corporations. We know that they are State instruments. We want them to do well and compare favourably with other State instruments. This has always been our attitude. The Corporations do well. We think highly of them. We are not against them in any way, but there are some tasks they cannot do. Hon. Members should be very careful about criticising independent operators. Their constituents may not agree with them that they are not useful and not wanted. The hon. Member for Macclesfield spoke about flying to Manchester. Manchester is one of the worst places to get to by air via B.E.A. Every Member of Parliament who represents Manchester knows that this is true.
If my company failed and went the way some hon. Members may like to see it go, there would be no local flying from Nottingham, Leicester, Derby, Burton and Sheffield, because B.E.A. cannot fly from those places. Therefore, hon. Members should be careful and consider the interests of the general public when they criticise independent air operators.
Both Corporations are doing a sound job, but I wish that we had only one Corporation. If the Minister wants economy with efficiency, he should consider having only one Corporation. There is no reason why there should not be only one. The Corporations do not need to be in competition with each other. They do different jobs. They could form different sections of one Corporation. There is no point in having two.
The Corporations and the independents both have a vital place. They must both prosper, because we want a second line in the air. We must have that. It suits the requirements of the nation to have State Corporations and private independent concerns, and I hope that we shall continue this policy.
The hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) spoke with great moderation and conviction on behalf of the independent airlines. I am sure that the whole House was impressed by what he said. I am sure that it is his wish, as it is the wish of all hon. Members, that the travelling public should be reassured on this issue and not misled by some of the allegations which were made earlier on in the debate.
I will not follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman in his remarks about independent airlines generally. I want, first, briefly to dispose of the issue of the Minister's recent decision in the Cunard Eagle case. I do so because I want to clarify one point. It has been brought to my attention that in his report the Commissioner gave this as the first reason for his recommendation:
In my opinion the central feature of this Appeal is that…the Board accepted the evidence…that the Appellant had reasonably entered into financial commitments notably in regard to aircraft purchases, designed to cater for all the traffic which might reasonably have been expected on the route licensed and all other routes over the next five or six years.
In his letter upholding the Commissioner's decision, the Minister made considerable reference to this reason.
This aspect needs further clarification. I refer to the comments about
all other routes over the next five or six years
designed to cater for all the traffic which might reasonably have been expected".
What was not made clear earlier on in the debate was that the Cunard Company, for which I hold no brief whatsoever, had committed itself as early as March to the purchase of three Boeings. The Corporation in its evidence made it clear that it was only during the ten days ending 27th May, which was within one week of the hearing, that it committed itself to the purchase of three more Boeings.
This point should be emphasised and inquired into. The Cunard Company, before making the initial application, entered into commitments for the purchase of aircraft to cope with traffic on the route it was applying to fly. Yet its application was contested by the Corporation which, subsequent to the application and only one week before the hearing, itself purchased more aircraft and used that as a principal reason why its appeal should be upheld. This is not altogether satisfactory, and I put it no higher than that. We have heard no reference to this, but I hope to be assured that this aspect will be seriously considered, if it has not already been considered.
There are many other aspects of the Minister's decision with which I could deal, but I will not deal with them because I know that a number of hon. Gentlemen wish to take part in the debate. I will conclude this part of my remarks by asking the Minister, or my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, to give an assurance that the independents which are seeking to run parallel services with those of the Corporation will not have to wait until the Corporation's financial structure is sounder before they have a chance of getting their applications granted. There was a slight inference of that in my right hon. Friend's remarks, when he gave as one of the additional reasons for his upholding the Commissioner's decision the fact that the Corporation is today not in very good financial circumstances and that further competition would make those circumstances worse rather than better.
I take a much more hopeful view of the general expansion of traffic across the Atlantic and elsewhere. I believe that air traffic is likely to increase, and I hope that the independent companies get their share of that increase. It is important that they should not just take part of what is at present there but should aim to get a share of the increase in air traffic which is bound to come—
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that B.O.A.C. was applying for routes that it was operating, while Cunard Eagle proposed to purchase aircraft for routes it had not yet got?
Yes, I agree.
It will be well known to hon. Members that Bournemouth has a considerable interest in the development of flying and of the aircraft industry as a whole. Not only have we an airport, in whose future those of us in those parts are most closely concerned, but we have a number of branches of the aircraft factories. I want to refer to both of them, and in case my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle) does not have the good fortune to be called later I should like to make it quite clear that he is fully associated in my remarks and that we are together doing our utmost to try to present to the Minister and to the House the concern that our constituents now feel.
First, I shall make a few comments of my own about the Bournemouth airport and its future. The Minister will recall that this was one of the airports mentioned in Cmnd. 1547 as coming within category Group II; in other words, it is an airport that it is hoped will be taken over by either the Bournemouth and Christchurch local authorities together or by some consortium of interested local authorities in and around that area.
This was, and still is, legally, a Ministry airport, and the Ministry has for some time been considering building a new airport terminal. That project has been under consideration now for just over two years, and I understand that in that time the likely cost of the new building has risen from about£300,000 to about£600,000. It was hoped that this airport terminal building would be ready to cater for the travelling public in 1963. This is a very important factor, because not only is there the domestic traffic around Hurn, but the Bournemouth-Hurn airport is a vital second line of defence for aircraft which cannot, owing to weather conditions, make any of the London airports. On those occasions the aircraft very frequently come down at Hurn, where the weather is generally better and clearer.
My right hon. Friend will know that the airport's facilities are most inadequate. That is why it has long been planned to have a new terminal building there. I understand that this work is to be further delayed. Because there is to be a change in the ownership of the airport the Ministry has apparently dropped all its plans for the new buildings, and we will be lucky if the new building is begun in 1963, let alone completed by then. If my hon. Friend cannot refer to this in his reply tonight, perhaps he will look into it and let me have an answer in due course.
The other and most important aspect of the issues before the House concerns Bournemouth, Christchurch and neighbouring constituencies—
—and is similar to the problem touched on by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White). It also concerns other constituencies, as the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) has just mentioned. It relates to the future of the Hawker-Siddeley group and, in particular, to the factories of that group that are now working for the De Havilland Aircraft Company.
The group as a whole has quite clearly decided on a course of contraction. I am sure that the whole House will recognise that necessary and economically sound though that may well be, it will cause the greatest human disturbance to those who have been working in the outlying factories, and I want to put to the Minister some of the points of view that have been put to me and my hon. Friend—and, no doubt, to other hon. Members—by the representatives of the men who work in those factories.
Despite the possibly serious consequences for the men which might arise from the group's decision, they take an extremely adult and mature view of the situation. These men are knowledgeable and highly intelligent. They can sense what is happening, and their chief anxiety today is that they should be told quite clearly by the management exactly what is happening. I believe that, certainly in the Christchurch factory, the management will make a statement tomorrow. If that is the case, I hope that the management will take these men into their confidence and make abundantly clear to them what the future is for all of them—grim though that statement may be—because there is nothing more demoralising and discouraging than to have such a prospect hanging over one's head week after week without knowing exactly what will happen or how one will be able to face up to one's fate.
The men have also asked a number of extremely pertinent questions, some of which I want to try to put to the House.
De Havilland's Portsmouth factory makes the earlier stages of the Sea Vixen. It has been stated that that factory will close down early next year. Five hundred of the men have already, of their own volition, left that employment and, I am thankful to say, have managed to find alternative work in the area. What will happen to that work on the Sea Vixen when the factory closes? Will it be dispersed—with all respect to the hon. Member for Flint, East—to Broughton? Might it not be better dispersed to Christchurch, where de Havilland is already engaged in the manufacture of the Sea Vixen? The Sea Vixen is a fine aircraft in service with the Royal Navy and the Fleet Air Arm. In a de Havilland Company publication of last August it was referred to in these words:
With its Firestreak and other armament, the Sea Vixen is one of the most sophisticated integrated weapons system now available and one which has considerable scope for further development.
I should, therefore, like my right hon. Friend to look into what scope for further development exists for this sophisticated guided weapons system. What further demand is there for it by the Royal Navy, and will he examine what scope exists for a fixed wing version of the Sea Vixen in the R.A.F. which, I understand, will be a requirement of that Service and could provide sufficient work at least for a short time to come?
The factory at Christchurch should not be allowed to carry on at the present rate of producing one aircraft a month—an unsatisfactory and obviously uneconomic proposition, If a decision is made, either within the next few weeks or months to close this factory or a substantial part of it, the works programme should cater for at least three aircraft to be produced a month to make it worthwhile for the men to remain in the employ of that company.
The DH121 Trident, already mentioned in the debate, has been on order by B.E.A. It was tailor made for B.E.A. according to the specifications required, and it appears that it will be more difficult to sell it to other airlines than might have bean the case had this not been done. It is a fine looking aircraft, and that is as far as I am prepared to go today. There is a longer version of the DH121 Trident which might be suitable for other airlines, if the B.E.A. specification is not, and Christchurch would be interested to hear what comments the Minister might make on this matter.
Another aircraft on which we have placed a certain amount of hope is the small DH125—the "top brass" aircraft which was refereed to by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East. This small jet "Dove" replacement clearly has a great future and it is the type of aeroplane which would be especially suitable for a small factory like Christchurch, where about 2,000 people are employed and where a small landing ground or airstrip is available.
I put this point forward in the hope that the Minister, when replying, will say something generally about the future of the Hawker-Siddeley Group. One cannot help sympathising with the opinions of the men employed in the de Havilland companies. They are naturally dismayed at the consequences of the reorganisation which has been forced on them by Government policy. They were led to believe—and we all believed and still hope it to be so—that it was the Government's intention to stand behind the reorganised industry. In fact, my right hon. Friend referred to it in his speech earlier.
It may be that the reorganisation is not yet complete. If so, may we have a clear statement to that effect, if not from the Minister then from the company concerned? If it is felt necessary still further to contract the company in order to take advantage of such orders that come their way—initiated in the main by my right hon. Friend—the company must now give a clear statement of its intentions and aims.
It is with some justification that the representatives of the de Havilland part of the corporation, and perhaps of others, should ask what has happened, since the merger just over a year ago, that has so dramatically changed the position. Is it conceivable that had the merger not taken place the de Havilland Company would have been in a stronger position than it is today? Or is it the case that the merger—or the consequences we are now seeing of it—were in any way inevitable? If so, we should do well to hear just what is the forecast for the future and to face the realistic facts as we are told them, and not to delude ourselves into believing that we can limp on any longer with the group as it is, in its present size.
As to the future of the aircraft industry generally, my right hon. Friend has talked about the supersonic programme and the need for the inter-nationalisation of some of our aircraft manufacturing companies. This is a difficult one to swallow—the inter-nationalisation question—because it almost inevitably means that some parts of British aircraft will be built on the mainland of Europe. This is something which we may have to face, but perhaps my right hon. Friend can say more about it. Are we, in fact, now to start thinking in terms of the British domestic home market as being not just confined to these islands but to include the mainland of the Continent of Europe?
Do my right hon. Friend's remarks mean that in the days to come we shall not be exporting to the Continent of Europe but that that area will be part of our home market? If so, I can see a sort of argument for inter-nationalisation, but I can also see that further amalgamation and grouping are likely to take place. If that is correct, it raises the question of whether we are better served by two separate British air frame groups or whether we should amalgamate the British element into a single unit to give perhaps still greater strength. This may require further heart-searching decisions and even more contraction within the industry.
I agree that we must decide now what kind of industry we would like to have and what type of aircraft construction industry we wish to see develop in Britain. We should also consider what kind of aircraft industry we can afford. But perhaps even more important—in some cases certainly so—we should consider what we cannot afford to do without in the aircraft industry developments which are taking place. This is especially important, not just for the aircraft industry and for those at present employed in it but for the whole of Britain's engineering industry. The aircraft industry's research and development programmes are among the leading activities in the engineering field from which many other industries have benefited in the past and stand to benefit a great deal in the future.
In my opinion, it is vital for the economy of our country in all its aspects and ramifications that we should continue to have as strong an aircraft industry as we possibly can. What exactly should be its form and what precisely should be the nature of its structure, I am not at this point competent to say. I am aware only of the fact that in trying to secure the strength of the industry, which I am sure is the principle aim of my right hon. Friend, there will be involved the taking of some heart-aching human decisions. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not overlook them. More than that, I ask my hon. Friend to assure me and other hon. Members who are equally concerned in this aspect of the matter that he and his colleagues in the Ministry of Labour and the Board of Trade are not just watching but are anticipating what will take place and are ready to move in at a moment's notice to give the maximum assistance that Government Departments can and, indeed, ought to give in circumstances of this kind.
I could carry on almost from the point at which the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) ended, because I agree with him that what we need in the aviation industry today is a plan. The sooner we have that plan, the better will it be for the industry.
Today, the Minister has heard demands from certain parts of England. I shall add to those by making a demand from Scotland. Yesterday—I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is aware of its contents—we received copies of a Report by a Committee which met under the chairmanship of Mr. Toothill. In that Report we find emphasis placed on the need "for fast and frequent air services, with adequate accommodation available at reasonably short notice, to many parts of Britain and to the Continent, and for new services to potential growth-points within Scotland not at present served".
The Committee goes on to add the recommendation that, if necessary, there should be an
outright subsidy to provide these services".
All this is for the development of the Scottish economy. As we all know, the
Scottish economy is in a serious position. Unemployment in Scotland is as bad as, and in many places worse than, unemployment in certain parts of England which have been mentioned today. The Toot-hill Committee sought to devise a plan which would help towards the solution or, at least, the alleviation of our difficulties.
Having had those difficulties in mind for some considerable time, on 7th November I put a Question to the Prime Minister, asking him whether
he would instruct the Ministers of Transport and Aviation to consider in which sphere of overseas transport a subsidy from public funds could be most advantageously applied in view of the transition now taking place from surface to air transport, and to report to him accordingly".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1961; Vol. 648, c. 797.]
The transition is here. No one doubts that. It is happening not only on the overseas routes, but on our internal routes. One result is that British European Airways finds itself faced with opposition from the British Transport Commission because it is operating low fares and fast transit on the London-Glasgow and other routes. B.O.A.C., because of the high speed and great capacity of its latest aircraft adds to the problem of shipping and to some extent contributed to the abandonment of the Q.3. However, these speeds introduce a new factor into our economic problems which, if properly used, may help towards an easier solution.
Glasgow is no longer 400 miles away from London; it is only 1 hour and 15 minutes flying time away by the Vanguard. Paris and Brussels are little more than three hours away. Physical proximity to London is not now as important as it used to be, and, therefore, the dispersal of industry and the development of new industries should become more widespread, provided that air transport for persons and freight is made available.
The transition from surface to air is bringing difficulties to the production side of industry. Workers in shipbuilding, on the railways and in aviation are all affected. The two former categories, of course, do not enter into our consideration tonight, but the last one does and, from what we have heard so far, the problem is very serious.
In April this year, the Government published their White Paper on the Financial and Economic Obligations of the Nationalised Industries, and in it they asked the air Corporations to plan a financial programme for five years ahead. It is equally pertinent, I think, for me to ask the Minister whether he has a five years programme of development for the aviation industry. If he has not, why not? I go further and ask him to consider, in association with the Minister of Transport, what steps are necessary to safeguard the future of those employed in the three great industries I have mentioned. Apparently, the Prime Minister has not so far seen the need to institute such an inquiry. I hope that the Minister of Aviation will, before it is too late.
The Common Market is not the way out. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman telling us today about the possibilities of the future, the new types of aircraft, the VTOL, the Rotodyne, the supersonic, and so on. These are all developments of the future. But the Minister has linked them with Europe. He spoke about international developments because he felt that a group of nations could do the job far better than one nation could. But he was not thinking in international terms. He was thinking in European terms. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman is thinking against the background of our being already in the Common Market and whether the possibilities he envisaged today will be achieved only if we enter the Common Market. If that be the case, I should like to ask him who exactly will own the aircraft and who will operate them.
On Monday of this week, I asked the right hon. Gentleman to think of his own responsibilities to this country in these matters. The industry with which he is specially concerned faces serious unemployment. That has been made manifest to him today. In fact, in some cases, unemployment is here. So I asked him about the vertical take-off and landing aircraft. He agreed with me that the firms concerned in this development have done lots of research. He also agreed with me that we are far ahead of the rest of the world. But the industry cannot live on research and on the possibilities that the right hon. Gentleman outlined today. Industry must have orders, and evidently, as far as I am informed, those orders are not forthcoming. Are we subject to the Germans in that regard? Are we now passing under their control where orders are concerned? Can he be helpful in this matter and say why the Royal Air Force is prevented from ordering existing designs of the British VTOL aircraft? I am pressing him for an answer to that question.
Then, there is the Mach 2 supersonic machine, which has already been mentioned, and while it may offer no great help to alleviate our immediate industrial worry, because of the fact that it is a long-term proposition, nevertheless, the decision to proceed with its development will have a wonderful psychological effect on those who are now unemployed and on those who are fearing unemployment in the aviation industry.
Next, there is the contribution to production through the civil side of aviation. B.E.A. has its plans for new aircraft, but the applications of the independents to operate in parallel with it, sometimes by more than one airline over the same route, cover services to well over half the points served by B.E.A. That is from the Report. The applications currently under consideration represent passenger operations with a revenue-earning potential of over£7 million in 1965–66, so that the Corporation at the moment cannot feel sure that the aircraft which it already has on order will actually be required in the years that lie ahead.
This uncertainty is also affecting the employment situation, because, naturally, there is a tendency on the part of the operational Corporations to be restrictive in their attitude towards development. These words apply to B.O.A.C. In its Report, the Corporation emphasises that the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act does not require the Licensing Board to make room for independent companies at the expense of B.O.A.C. The Corporation believes that the Board is directed to exercise its functions in such a manner as to further the development of British civil aviation, so it properly points out in its Report that this would not be achieved by curtailing the Corporation's development of its routes.
Thinking thus and accepting the "assurances" given to it, the Corporation went ahead with its plans for Vickers VC10s to the value of over£150 million, with delivery between 1963 and 1966. These orders, if they mature, are bound to provide employment for thousands of British workers, but the importance of that statement is how did B.O.A.C. come to get the assurance and who gave it? If it got it, why was it broken before the Licensing Board?
However the Corporation's plans are not to be upset, and that is due to the Minister. I want to congratulate him on what he has done, and I trust that he will continue on the sensible course which he has set for himself. If we can add together all the sources of work which I have indicated for those engaged in the industry, spice it with the planning of Mr. Peter Masefield and serve it up with some thoughtful encouragement from the right hon. Gentleman and the Government, I think that the future of British aviation on the productive and operational sides should be a bright one indeed.
But I trust that if that position is achieved, the sun will shine not only in England. Scotland has long asked for a share in the building of aircraft. It does not want to be kept all the time merely as a little repair shop, doing the odd jobs of the industry. These are some of the things that are covered in the Report to which I have already referred. The Scottish economy today demands the consideration that I have indicated, and I hope that the Minister of Aviation will do his part and keep what I have said in mind if the industry does achieve a different sort of future.
I wonder whether the Minister realises that many apprentices in Scotland have to complete their apprenticeship training in Wales and in the south of England. Is it not rather far-fetched for the products of the finest educational system in Britain, because of the lack of an aviation industry in Scotland, to have to move to the South to complete their training?
May I now look briefly at the operational side of the industry. I have here a copy of the Glasgow Evening News of 22nd November, 1946, in which these words appear:
that was the Monday of the week ended 22nd November, 1946—
should have been a day of ceremony. There should have been lord provosts, flags and bands; cheering, waving, and 'happy landings'. But of these there were none. Just a drab, rainy, November day, illumined by an occasional flicker of sunshine. Yet the occasion was historic. Aberdeen was coming closer to London, Glasgow and Prestwick. Our pathway was the air; the Dakota our instrument; airborne from Northolt at 10.4 a.m., she slipped from her envelope of darkness, and settled on the same runway again at 5.49 p.m., smoothly and sweetly as a bird.
It was an historic occasion, and I described it in those words in that article. What I have read is only part of the article; I shall not read all of it.
B.E.A. has been criticised today. It has been criticised in the Toothill Report for not meeting the requirements of business and industry. Fifteen years ago, it started this service from Aberdeen to Glasgow and London, so that we were able to leave Aberdeen and return on the same day. The service could not continue because it did not receive support from the business community in Scotland to enable B.E.A. to go on with it. I am glad to say that recently a Viscount service has been established from Aberdeen to London. It is being well supported, and the president of the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce has complimented our nationalised Corporation on the efficiency and adequacy of the service.
I hope that business is now waking up to the fact that a good service is provided from Scotland to many parts of the United Kingdom and to the Continent, and that in Scotland we have 12 operating stations for aircraft as against three in England. London is a United Kingdom station. So we are adequately fitted on the aviation side to meet business developments in Scotland.
I said, on 1st March, 1949:
We have to think of a new type of air travel which I have called second-class air travel, although I do not like the phrase 'second class'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1949; Vol. 462, c. 291.]
In those days too many people thought of air transport as being above the heads of ordinary persons in every sense of the word. Now we approach it along different lines and seek to find fare structures which are acceptable to the great mass of people. We have economy, tourist, emigrant and excursion fares as well as first-class fares on the overseas routes, with the result that more than three-quarters of the 785,000 passengers carried on scheduled routes by B.O.A.C. in 1960–61 travelled either economy class or at some other cheaper rate. This was done on the very latest types of aircraft, and was made possible because of their high speed and great capacity.
What is true of B.O.A.C. is equally true of B.E.A. This organisation has given us excursion fares, off-peak fares, commodity rates for freight, eight-day week-end fares, inclusive tour fares, because of speedier and larger aircraft and to the advantage of the Corporation Whose domestic passenger traffic as a result increased by 27 per cent. this year over last year. In that respect, B.E.A. has done a splendid job. It provided services to the Western Isles which are indispensable, at a loss this year of£280,000. It can do this only if it makes profits on other routes. But these routes are the ones to which the independent companies are now laying claim, although in fairness, I should say that one of them sought to operate the Benbecula and Stornoway route with a six-seater aircraft. But I believe that it went bankrupt before its claim was reached.
Many applications remain. All of them wanting to share in the juicy parts of the roast. But if any decisions are taken which handicap B.E.A. in providing uneconomic though indispensable services to the Western Isles or on the Irish sea routes, then, in the long run, the Government, from the public purse, will require to rectify as best they can the economic and social disasters which follow. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will note that the£700,000 loss on the domestic routes is borne only because of the surplus obtained on the international routes.
I therefore feel that this House should pay tribute to the work of these great public Corporations. They have shown an admirable spirit of adventure. The reports before us fully demonstrate the truth of that. It is the duty of the Government to give them every support and encouragement to meet the tasks which lie before them.
So far in this debate, hon. Members have been primarily concerned with the provision of safe and efficient services and the effect of recent legislation upon the interests of the British air transport industry. Air safety is a subject which can cover a large number of aspects. I think that they can be divided into two categories—first, the equipment element, and, secondly, the procedural element.
From the point of view of equipment, I think that the case is substantially proven that aircraft running on aviation kerosene show a considerable safety advantage when they have the misfortune to have an accident over aircraft running on gasolene. The case which immediately springs to mind is that of the Comet 4 operated by an Argentinian airline which hit the ground at about 130 knots in the Republic of Paraguay when the pilot misread the altimeter. Although the wing tanks burst all over the engines, there was no fire, with the result that all but one of the passengers who died of heart failure survived. There are numerous instances now of aircraft using kerosene having been involved in an accident without fire resulting.
This is a relatively new development in our aviation operations. Lord Brabazon of Tara has alluded to this in his capacity on the Air Registration Board. Even if we are unable completely to prevent accidents from occurring, this is one manner in which it is reasonable to suppose that we can mitigate their effects when they do occur. A corollary of this is that all piston-engined aircraft operate on gasoline. They cannot operate on kerosene. Therefore, to start with, there is a fundamentally greater risk in the case of the piston-engined aircraft because of the nature of the fuel which is employed.
The second equipment aspect, excluding reliability, which is not a suitable subject for debate, is the provision of navigational aids. Although we are unlikely to be able to prevent all accidents on landing and take-off due to the time span in which they occur and in which a pilot error may be irrecoverable, or a minor equipment fault may manifest itself too rapidly for the pilot to take corrective action, nevertheless, in the case of collision with topographical objects, there is equipment which can be provided in the way of radar which should render this quite unnecessary.
In both the recent accident in the Pyrenees and the accident in Norway, the aircraft ran into a physical part of the ground which would have shown on a radar screen had the aircraft been equipped with it. This opens the question of what should be the minimum size of aircraft. If one uses very old and heavily depreciated—in the financial sense—aircraft, it may not pay financially to equip them with radar because of the loss of payload and the heavy expenditure involved. If, however, it were made a mandatory provision, a lot of these aircraft of somewhat dubious—
Age is not necessarily a controlling factor—of somewhat dubious status in the safety league tables, if I may put it that way, would go straight on to the scrap heap.
If we made it mandatory that all aircraft on which payment was accepted for passengers, whether on scheduled or charter flights, had to carry anti-collision radar, that is a way in which the accident rate could definitely be reduced. We should, of course, have to make exceptions in the case of services on which, say, 5 or 6-seater aircraft are used—for example, from Penzance to the Scilly Isles—where, obviously, it would be ridiculous to insist upon a tiny aircraft carrying radar. There are, however, definite means by which the risk in an accident can be minimised if it happens, and also the likelihood of an accident can be reduced, merely by altering the regulations governing the fuel and equipment which is carried.
Incidentally, there have been a number of accidents in the last few years which have been attributed to pilot error superficially but which it is arguable were equipment failures. Certainly, one Lockheed Electra was lost with a large proportion of its passengers because the pilot misread the altimeter. That is also believed to have happened in the case of the Comet to which I have referred. That can be called merely pilot error, because the pilot misread the altimeter. More constructively, one could think that a type of altimeter should be employed which could less easily be misread, because the human element will always be present. There are, however, equipment steps which we can take to mitigate the likelihood of error.
From the point of view of efficiency of service, I hold strongly the view, which may not be widely held on the other side of the House, that efficiency cannot start to be achieved until the basis of costs is established, because there can be no yardstick without a basis of cost. I have often heard it said, including, on one occasion, by the Chairman of British European Airways, that because B.E.A. runs services which by no stretch of the imagination can be described as remunerative—they are, in fact, social services—that is a good reason why there should be no competition with B.E.A. from other British airlines on routes exterior to the United Kingdom. This argument I am unable to accept. If B.E.A. has to provide uneconomic services, they should be financed by the Exchequer at an amount proportionate to the loss on those services, with the reservation that if other people can provide an equivalent service for less subsidy from the Exchequer they should be given the opportunity to do so. I stress "an equivalent service".
When we look at the Annual Report for British European Airways for the year ending 31st March, 1961, we see on page 7 what I regard as an extremely misleading indication of the efficiency of the airline. I refer to the bottom section, entitled "Staff and Productivity". This tells us that the average number of employees has gone up in the last year by 8·6 per cent., that the capacity ton-mile per employee has increased by 13·8 per cent. and that the revenue per employee has increased by 6·5 per cent. Nothing is said about the costs. Left on their own, the figures which I have quoted suggest that B.E.A. has good ground to congratulate itself.
This morning, I did a little figure work to discover how authentic is the basis for self-congratulation. If we use the same tables or the information appearing on page 6 and the same numbers of employees, we find that the operating account expenditure per employee has increased from£2,733 to£2,991, or an increase of 9·4 per cent., compared with the increase of revenue of 6·5 per cent. per employee which is quoted. The increase of total expenditure per employee—not simply on the operating account—is 8·7 per cent. compared with the previous year. The profit per employee before interest on capital is taken into consideration is down by 18·8 per cent., and the overall profit per employee is down by 32·9 per cent.
I do not consider that the entry "Staff and Productivity" can in any way be said to give a fair picture of the productivity of B.E.A. in comparing 1959–60 with 1960–61. I regret very much that the authorities in British European Airways did not think it right to be more frank in their disclosure in that manner, although, of course, one can work out the true position. The same restriction of information to only the revenue element is contained in the appropriate paragraph in Appendix 6.
Another example of extremely misleading, if not meaningless, information is contained on page 36 of the Annual Report, where we have an interesting table giving the various checks—checks 1, 2, 3 and 4—on the various aircraft employed by B.E.A. in each year for the different aircraft types.
That is very interesting information. What is utterly meaningless or quite ridiculous, or both, is that it then adds them all up. The fallacy, of course, is that check 1 or check 4 on one aircraft takes a completely different number of manhours from check 1 or check 4 on another aircraft. So to add up the total of the number of check carried out in 1960–61 and compare it with the number in the previous year is like adding oranges and lemons: it is adding completely dissimilar entities. The result, therefore, must be completely valueless. So I hope that in its presentation of its Report next year British European Airways Corporation will be a little more frank in the comparisons which it makes between one year and another and will save a certain amount of unnecessary reading by omitting information which is totally valueless.
There have been a number of misstatements made in this debate. There was a statement made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) that all the regular passenger traffic across the Atlantic was carried by I.A.T.A. members at agreed fare rates, and, therefore, the argument about what the effect of the reduced rates would be is highly hypothetical. Fortunately, the facts as the hon. Member stated them are incorrect, because for many years the Icelandic carrier Loftleidir, which is not a member of the International Air Transport Association, and whose fares are substantially below those of the I.A.T.A. members, has been carrying passengers across the Atlantic at cut rates with an absolutely 100 per cent. clean accident record. It has not crashed an aircraft or injured a passenger. It flew last year, to the best of my recollection, at a load factor of over 90 per cent.
This demonstrates that in fact there is an elasticity in the market for operators who are prepared to serve sandwiches instead of champagne and who cater for people spending their own money instead of companies' money. Therefore, the contention that the market in any one year is a market which can be distributed between one or more operators but cannot be increased by operating more efficient equipment or by offering a less expensive form of service is not a contention which is supported by the available evidence.
It was stated by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) that no independent operators in this country order British aircraft off the drawing board. When we look at the next generation of aircraft coming from the British aircraft industry I think it is unchallengeable that the best commercial prospect is the BAC 111. This is the first British aircraft which has ever been ordered off the drawing board by an American operator—by Braniff—and it has also been ordered off the drawing board, contrary to what the hon. Lady said, by British United Airlines. It has not been ordered by either of the two nationalised airline Corporations, and yet it is probably our best single chance of breathing new life into the aircraft producing industry in this country.
Moreover, it could well be an advantage that it has not received an order from B.E.A. or B.O.A.C.—it would not, I think, be suitable for B.O.A.C. routes—because the kiss of death has been given to more than one aircraft type. I would certainly not say that the kiss of death has been given to the Trident because I believe that the Trident will sell abroad. Indeed, I rather believe that Trans-World Airlines were showing some interest in it. There is, however, ground for believing that the kiss of death for the Vanguard was the order by two customers only, each of whom was able to stretch the design of that aircraft so as to suit his own route structure, but, alas, so that it suits nobody else's. That is probably the reason why the Vanguard has not sold.
No, that is not so. If we look at the order by T.C.A., that is so. T.C.A. ordered it long before the jet aircraft. I would grant that one reason why the Vanguard did not sell was that it was delivered later than the Lockheed Electra. Two plane loads of people were killed in Electras. They suffered failure of the wing. I think it is fair to point that out as well. The Vanguard has not as yet suffered—and, I hope, will not suffer—structural failure as the result of which a large number of passengers are killed.
When we look at the airline industry as a whole, we must bear in mind that the average profit on invested capital is under one per cent., and that a very large number of most reputable airlines have made very substantial losses. Indeed, Trans-World Airlines probably holds the prize for consistent substantial losses. The major problem posed by the Amendment is the effect of the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act, 1960, on the best interests of British aviation.
I have endeavoured to show one of the effects of an order by an independent operator upon what, I hope, will be a continuation of the export market of the British Aircraft industry. I want also to stress a point which is not universally known but which should be. When a firm sells an aircraft or an aero-engine abroad, then for at least the next five years—and often for up to ten or even 15 years—it generates about 10 per cent. of its initial sale price through following sales of spare parts and overhauls. Thus, when a firm has sold an aircraft or an aero-engine it has guaranteed for itself for a considerable period recurring income from the sale of spare parts.
It is also true that conversion ratio of aircraft and aero-engines is very high. By conversion ratio, I mean, the value added to the raw materials which have to be imported in the first place. I hazzard a guess that because of the tremendous expenditure on development work the conversion ratio on aircraft is very much higher than in the case of, say, motor cars, where a much higher proportion, I would guess, is that of imported raw materials.
I conclude by stressing that, just as the amount of traffic between various countries depends not only on the increase of population but upon such extraneous factors as whether they are going through boom or slump periods at the moment—and this is very demontrable in terms of domestic air traffic in the United States—so we must not be too discouraged about the volume of trans-atlantic traffic and by the halt in the upward sweep of the passenger-mile curve this year. Many reasons account for that. One is the recession which the United States has been going through, together with the "holidays at home" campaign run by the American Government this year.
I hope that both our nationalised Corporations will continue the same high standards of safety and service which they have demonstrated to date, but that they will be able to attach greater importance to a really accurate accounting system, which will show which of their services are losing money necessarily because they are of a social nature and could be subsidised directly by the State, and which are losing money in a way no business designed for profit-making would tolerate.
For instance, both Corporations fly Comets with Avon engines. For both to set up separate overhaul bases for those engines would be a chronic waste of public money. But B.O.A.C. overhauls its own engines and B.E.A. sends its engines back to the manufacturer for overhaul. If B.E.A. set up, as it has considered doing—and I understand that it has not yet excluded the possibility—its own bases to overhaul engines identical with those used by B.O.A.C., then that would be of no benefit to the people travelling on their services and the bill would, in the end, go to the taxpayer.
I hope that when we come to the end of the debate there will be a degree of unanimity, not that those who support a function for independent airlines are overtly or covertly trying to attack the record or the morale of the nationalised airline Corporations, but that many of us believe that there is a distinct function which both the public and the privately-owned undertakings can perform. Some of their services will be competitive: they will be in parallel. Some of them will not be competitive: they will be of different kinds. I hope that civil aviation in this country will develop in such a way as to provide safe and efficient services for people in this country, and for people flying outside it, and will also provide a reliable and large market which will act as the only stable basis there can ever be for a prosperous and exporting British aircraft industry.
This is the first opportunity that we have had for a long time for a full-scale debate on this important subject and it is, therefore, welcomed by those of us Who have always shown a great interest in civil aviation. Mention has been made of the Minister's decision to uphold the appeal of B.O.A.C. against Cunard Eagle. I think that he has made a correct and courageous decision. We all know that B.O.A.C. was worried about British competition on its North Atlantic route and I know that the staff of the Corporation were also concerned, feeling that it would affect their livelihood.
Many reasons have been given for the fall-off in North Atlantic air traffic this year. The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) said that Americans were spending their holidays in the United States. Both the Corporations and the independents have had a very disappointing year. Let us all hope that 1962 will see a growth in air traffic for all companies.
We are moving into an age in which air transport is important to all countries, and I am sure that all hon. Members wish Britain to remain a leading air Power. Therefore, the decisions which the Government make now are of major importance for tomorrow. Competition in air transport is keen and the margin of profit is small. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), who speaks with great knowledge on this subject, has said that 20 million dollars have been lost in air traffic on the North Atlantic route this year. Cunard Eagle, therefore, may come to feel in time that the Minister has done it a good turn.
We should remember that£300 million of the nation's money is invested in Britain's two main airlines, B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. B.O.A.C. claims to take second place only to Pan-American Airways in international operations, and B.E.A. carries the seventh largest number of passengers in the world and is the largest airline in Europe. Both airlines face international competition. Both have set a very high standard of safety and their courtesy and service is appreciated in all parts of the world. When I have travelled, whether in other airliners abroad or in the Corporation aircraft, I have always been treated with great courtesy and I think that the service all round is very good.
The continual success and expansion of the Corporations is important to Britain, as a great commercial nation. It is also essential to our aircraft industry. It is important to remember that only the aircraft Corporations can place the large orders with the aircraft manufacturers. I am making no attack on the independents, but it is quite obvious that they have not the capital to do so. A modern aircraft today costs£1 million or£1½million—
—the hon. Member for Macclesfield says£2 million, so it is quite obvious that the independents have not the money to give the big orders which will enable the aircraft manufacturers to maintain the industry and give full employment.
The order by B.E.A. for the Vanguard is quite a large one. When I was at Vickers, with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), we were told that the firm did not expect to sell many more Vanguards. Jet airliners were coming into the market and this would spoil its orders for Vanguards. This is an important point. With change in design and talk about faster-than-sound aircraft the demand in a few years' time will be for the faster aircraft. That is one of the difficulties under which the Corporations operate today.
The Corporations are also doing a vital work for civil aviation in addition to research. I have been to London Airport and have seen the training school there. It is a model training school. One can see the great care with which the pilots are being trained. That has been of enormous value not only to the pilots, but to the whole industry.
I turn to another matter in which I think that we can pay tribute to the Corporations. On the question of aircraft noise, which is of considerable concern to many of my constituents, the Parliamentary Secretary informed the House in a debate on 10th November that B.O.A.C., by installing silencers on its aircraft, had incurred an operational loss of£400,000, because of a reduction in power and efficiency, in the last complete financial year, and that the cost to B.E.A. was£100,000, so the Corporations had incurred a loss of£500,000 in the interest of public amenities. It is a tribute to the Corporations that they are attempting to help on this question of aircraft noise.
The Minister informed me by letter about the earth bank which has been built round part of London Airport by B.O.A.C. as a baffle of aircraft ground noise. So we can see that the Corporation is making great efforts to try to cure the problem. While on the subject, I plead with the Minister to encourage manufacturers to make further efforts to overcome the noise problem at source, in the construction of engines. That is where the real solution will be found. We must urge aircraft manufacturers to carry on with research in their design of aircraft engines, so that we can eventually eliminate the noise problem.
Air safety is a matter of concern to us all. It must be the first and overriding consideration. In this, the Corporations have an excellent record. I have mentioned their training of pilots, which is essential to safety and efficiency. Those who fly for Britain are as good as any in the world. Nevertheless, whether they be pilots of the Corporations or independent operators, they need an efficient engineering base. It may be that the trouble which caused a crash existed in the aircraft before it took off. It is not always possible to discover this. I know that the Corporations do all they can to ensure safety through the splendid engineering bases they provide at London Airport.
I now turn to the work of the Air Transport Licensing Board, set up under the 1960 Act. When it grants licences to independent operators it must be sure that they are efficient operators, with proper organisations and financial security. There is a temptation for independent operators to go for the holiday traffic only. We get peak periods in July, August and September, when hundreds of thousands of people go to Europe. These private operators are tempted to work simply for that traffic. We must have efficient and strong operators, and not those of a mushroom growth. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give serious consideration to the question of all-in holiday tours, and will make sure that only efficient and reliable independent operators are licensed.
Air travel demands the efficient organisation of aircraft, but I trust that the Minister will also safeguard the public in the matter of insurance. I understand from the Press that the Board has written to the Minister because it is not satisfied with the present position. I hope that the Minister will pay attention to the facts which the Board has brought to his notice. When the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act was in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) and I put down an Amendment, but withdrew it to allow the Minister to bring in his Amendment which, we understood, provided that licences would be granted only if the Board was satisfied that the operator concerned was in a sound financial position.
In August of this year one of the independent companies went into liquidation, owing Income Tax and money to the employees' pension fund. Other operators had the task of fetching back holiday makers who had been conveyed abroad by this company. I do not know about the insurance position, but had there been a crash there could have been a bill for hundreds of thousands of pounds. I hope that with the growth of our air transport services careful attention will be paid to the question of insurance so that passengers and aircrews and people on the ground, may be safeguarded.
The expansion of our air transport depends mainly on the two large Corporations. Independent companies, for whom a charter was given by a Labour Government, can do useful work. A vigorous air transport service will provide work for our aircraft industry. The aircraft of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A. have the Union Jack painted upon them and we should be proud that our flag is carried all over the world.
We have had an extremely useful debate which has well justified the decision of the Opposition to utilise this day to debate aviation matters for the first time for a long period. I am sorry that hon. Members from areas where there are redundancy problems, such as in Northern Ireland and in Gloucester, have not been able to take part, and I hope that I may be able to say something on their behalf.
This had been a timely debate, but I do not think that the Minister made the most of his opportunity. This is the first major occasion on which he could tell us what was in his mind regarding the aircraft industry and the Corporations, but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman dealt adequately with the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). The aircraft industry and the independent h companies are passing through a critical phase in their history, and it seems to me that there is a lack of overall direction and little signs of purpose from the Ministry.
The Minister has a duty to further the interest of British aviation. We may disagree on how to interpret that duty. Some may say that it means that the independent operators should have priority and others that priority should be accorded to the Corporations. I wish to make clear that I and my hon. Friends think that the maintenance of British aviation means supporting the Corporations in which so much public money has been invested. The Corporations have carried the flag well in the past years, and we have every right to be proud of their record, as was emphasised by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) and Feltham (Mr. Hunter).
Reference has been made to safety, and I do not wish to deal with that matter in any detail. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), for whom I have so much respect, seemed to think that my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) had some ulterior motive in raising this matter. I do not think that that was so. My hon. Friend is very keen to see that safety standards are high and we should be grateful to him for the interest he takes in this matter.
I did not suggest that the hon. Gentleman's motives were wrong. I said that he had exploited the situation and misrepresented the facts and that what he said had not helped the industry.
I think we shall have to differ on that. I am always a little loth to deal with accidents on the basis of who is the operator because tomorrow, who knows, it may be the turn of the other one. I think a case has been made that there is a need for more investigation into inclusive tours. I cannot see how forty-eight inspectors can do this job efficiently all the time and keep a constant check on what is happening. We need a lot more reassurance about that.
We do not make enough of the success of our publicly-owned Corporations. We tend to let that go by default. There are many criticisms but very little praise. We should use this debate to tell something of the success story of the air Corporations. The Minister paid a remarkable tribute to them. In our debate, B.E.A. seems to have come off better in this comparison, but I do not think we have been quite fair to B.O.A.C. In later years it has had tremendous problems due to the Comet failure, trade union disputes, and so on. Taking into account all the adverse world conditions of last year, its record, in practice, of putting this right has been quite good. I shall come to that in more detail later.
In dealing with B.E.A., we have to make quite clear that it is the largest airline in Europe, that it has put British aviation in the forefront of European air transport, that it has made a profit on its operations for seven years in succession—which is almost half its operational lifetime—and that last year, in difficult conditions, it made a profit, after paying interest on capital, of about£1½million. When we bear in mind that it is paying interest charges at an average rate of 4·8 per cent. on all capital employed, we must realise that this is extremely good business for the nation. Not only that, but it has continued its expansion well above the world airline average. It has been able to bring into operation further reductions in international and domestic passenger fares. It has continually improved the services offered to the public by introducing new aircraft. It is a prime example of a public corporation working in the national interest.
The Minister has given us a rather more gloomy picture for this year. One hopes that we are through the worst of this year. I do not know if we can have confirmation of this, but it seems that the traffic figures compared with the same period last year are getting back to the more normal form of increase, so, maybe, the worst is over for this year. I think that we have reason to be well satisfied with the position of B.E.A.
Although we on this side of the House more or less brought B.O.A.C. into its present shape, we do not take an uncritical view of its actions. Anyone viewing a Corporation which expects a loss this year of£10 million must be critical and in the best interests of the airline must ask some questions on how this comes about. I think that this£10 million should be broken down. I understand that about£2½million can be directly attributed to the strike in July, regrettable as that was. Part of the rest must be due to the fall in the North Atlantic traffic. I understand that for every one point fall in load factor on all flights the Corporation loses about£¾ million. It seems that£6 million of the loss can be attributed to the falloff in North Atlantic traffic.
Then there are the losses on the associates. This position needs careful analysis. We cannot just accept the position that all the associates which lose money are a dead loss. That just is not so. They are essential for part of the traffic pattern of B.O.A.C.—feeder services, and so on. Some of them, particularly the Kuwait one mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Govan, are there on the express orders of the Government. We must not take the axe to every one of them. We must be selective and make sure that where we retain an interest the utmost is done to make the associate pay. Finally, as part of B.O.A.C.'s loss there are the high interest rates which it has to pay on every pound of its borrowed capital.
In spite of all these difficulties, from 1955 to 1961 B.O.A.C.'s traffic revenue increased from£36·6 million to£88 million. During this time its operating costs were reduced by one-quarter. This is progress in the right direction. There are signs now that things are picking up for B.O.A.C. and there has been a closing of the gaps as regards associates.
Although we must look forward to more difficulties for B.O.A.C. than for B.E.A., nationalised undertakings can give a good account of themselves. We must bear in mind that if some hon. Members opposite had their way the position would be far more difficult. If it is difficult for B.O.A.C. to operate against all the foreign competition and make a go of things, how much more difficult it would be if it had to look over its shoulders and watch competition from a rival concern at home.
It is against this background that we have tabled the Amendment. We want to examine the work of the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act and the work of the Air Transport Licensing Board.
The hon. Member stated that the rate of interest paid by the Corporations was 4·8 per cent. He should mention that this is considerably lower than the rate at which any industrial company can borrow money today.
Yes, but we are not dealing with industrial companies. We are dealing with a business which at best in any country in the world is a marginal operation.
I come now to the main sector of my remarks concerning the work of the Board. We welcome the decision of the Minister with regard to Cunard Eagle. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman could have done nothing else. In view of the remarks of his Commissioner, it would have been absolutely impossible for him to have arrived at any other decision on the facts of the case. That alone justifies our comments on the uncertainty to which the working of this Act has given rise.
Those of the Minister's hon. Friends who have tended to complain about and be aggrieved at the Minister doing this ought not to direct their concern at the Board. The Board was doing its job, as it conceived it, under the terms of the Act. Hon. Members should be aggrieved at the Minister and the Government who put the Act through. If they had taken our advice on Second Reading, in Committee and on Report they could have incorporated provisions which would have prevented them having this embarrassment. We made it quite clear on the Bill, arising from the statement of the then Minister, the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, that we regarded the Bill as not providing adequate protection to secure its main purpose, which was, as the then Minister put it, to prevent the undermining of the Corporations.
We tried at every stage to incorporate into the Bill express provisions to make it mandatory on the Licensing Board to protect the position of the Corporations. That was not done. During the passage of the Bill the feeling was expressed that this would give the independents the chance of a lifetime; that this was the chance for which they had been waiting to break the Corporations' monopoly and to take the parts that suited them best. Therefore, when Cunard Eagle's attempt to take away traffic from B.O.A.C. on the Atlantic routes was dealt with, it was not surprising that the first judgment, if one may so call it, was in favour of Cunard Eagle.
At the same time, it was a most surprising result in view of the evidence adduced. At the end of its statement, the Board more or less came down on the side of the Corporation on the three important points of wasteful duplication, material diversion and financial commitments reasonably entered into. The Board said, in fact, that the decision would result in wasteful duplication—although it could not define that—and in material diversion, though, strangely enough, the Board stated that that did not stop it from giving the licence. Thirdly, it said that the fact that B.O.A.C. had entered into commitments of about£151 million would not deter the Board from granting the licence to Cunard Eagle.
It was very much like saying to a man, "On all these grounds I find you not guilty, but the majority of the jury think that you should be hanged. I therefore sentence you to death." That is more or less the analogy. The argument was conceded to B.O.A.C.; the decision was given against it.
This manifest injustice has been put right by the Minister on appeal, but the real weakness of the Act is that the Air Transport Licensing Board conceived that it had a positive duty to encourage independent operators to go alongside the Corporations, whereas our view was that all this Measure did was to make it possible for them to do so if they could prove their case—
I had intended to be kind and to make the hon. Gentleman's case for Northern Ireland later, but I might now change my mind.
We conceive the interests of British aviation to be bound up with the continued success of the Corporations, and the onus is on those who do not agree with this to prove otherwise. We have persisted in our Amendments in spite of the Minister's decision, because this is only one case of many. We are only at the beginning of a long period of settling the future framework of our aviation services, and we draw certain lessons from this case. The first lesson is that the chosen instrument policy must prevail where there is a clash of interest.
Secondly, we believe—and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West made it clear—that there is room for the independents to expand, but not at the expense of the Corporations. Indeed, if one looks at the figures for B.I.A.T.A. this year one finds that the independents had a considerable expansion without eating into B.E.A. or B.O.A.C. routes, by simply developing their existing routes and by increasing their charter and inclusive tours. We feel that where the independents can prove that they can operate and work up a new route, they are just as much entitled to have that protected from being eaten into by one of the Corporations. At the same time, we make it clear that where the Corporations, after many years of endeavour and expenditure, have built up a profitable route they should not be compelled to hand it over to private independent operators.
My hon. Friends and I believe that the best way to further the interests of British aviation is to back the Corporations and allow the others to develop their services in other spheres. There is just no sense in pushing everyone into bankruptcy, and that is what would happen if the independents were allowed to operate willy-nilly, more or less, on the same routes as the Corporations.
The Minister gave as one of his major reasons for the rejection of the licence that he agreed that B.O.A.C. had too many seats chasing too few passengers. In fact, the classical definition of air inflation is, "Too many seats chasing too few bottoms." That may be a polite way of putting it, for the airlines have another expression.
There is no point in making everyone bankrupt when, by the sensible use of the Act, each section can do reasonably well. I should have thought that Cunard have been done a service. The company can come again on other routes, and it will be able to use the aircraft it has on order. But we believe that the public interest goes hand in hand with the prosperity of the Corporations.
There were many occasions in Committee when we could have helped the Minister over his difficulties if he had let us. There was a provision whereby he would have been enabled to give advice and general directions to the Board. But for some unknown reason he dropped that provision. It would have prevented all this public embarrassment of the Board—and of the party opposite—if the Minister could have gone, privately and quietly, to the Board and said, "Under this Section you should not do this. The Corporations must not be threatened." And he could have given his reason.
That does not mean that the position would remain frozen, as it is now. It means that every case would be judged on its merits. My hon. Friends and raise this now because, although the threat may have been removed from B.O.A.C. at the moment, it still hangs over the Corporations. There are, I believe, about fifty applications by independents to get in on the existing international routes of B.E.A. and, as far as I can gather from the hearings, they have shown no proof of need. Meanwhile, B.E.A. has given figures of the estimated future traffic and orders of aircraft necessary to carry it out. It has not been proved that B.E.A.'s services are inadequate or that its fares are unreasonable.
As these cases are still before the court and since no decision has been given, is it not quite wrong that an hon. Member should refer to the details of a case at present under consideration?
The Board is not a judicial body and this is the only place in which we can have any influence over the Minister. If the Minister had not agreed to revoke the Cunard licence this would have been the only opportunity we should have had in public to make the case against it. I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman being so touchy about it.
The British European Airways Corporation stands to lose over£7 million if B.U.A. gets some of its licences. If all the licences that are asked for are granted, B.E.A. will have sixteen Tridents redundant. These aircraft have already been ordered and something like£20 million expenditure will be rendered nugatory. The Government would be faced with negotiating traffic rights, which might be extremely inconvenient and difficult for them to do. If the profitable routes were taken from B.E.A. the Corporation would have to curtail its operations, would not be able to pioneer new routes, fares would probably go up and the public interest would suffer. For all those reasons, we hope that the decision of the Air Transport Licensing Board will take into account the factors of material diversion of traffic, duplication and the fact that B.E.A. has committed itself to large expenditure on the purchase of aeroplanes.
We do not think very much of the tactics of B.U.A. in walking out of the hearing this morning. British United Airways has no need to imitate the Russians when things do not go quite its way. I believe the reason why B.U.A. went out was not to demonstrate its lack of confidence in the Board but the fact that it had such a weak case that it did not wish to expose it. However, there the matter rests; it is still in abeyance. I hope that we shall see less of the attempt to eat into the business of the Corporations because, in the long run, that can only result in a weakening of the national interest.
I thought that there would be criticism, and, indeed, some newspapers have made the criticism, of perpetuating the monopoly. But the Minister himself went out of his way to deny that the Corporations have a monopoly. He repeated that twice, making quite clear that a modern civil aviation undertaking has to face intense competition on the international routes and it has obligations outside normal commercial obligations, and that any idea that the Corporations are being mollycoddled by a monopoly is completely a myth. A reference to the statement of Lord Mills yesterday in another place shows quite clearly that he admits that the Corporations are facing fierce competition on the Atlantic route and that B.E.A., equally, is facing fierce competition in Europe. In fact, if one wants to fly to Rome from this country, one may choose between eighteen different airlines. That does not seem to support the argument that B.E.A. has a monopoly.
I turn now to the other part of the Amendment which refers to the effect of Government policy on the aircraft industry. Since the days of the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, there seems to have been a curious lack of decision in the Ministry of Aviation. The then Minister, when he went into office, made a tremendous fuss; he knocked everyone together, brought out certain matters very clearly, and made a number of decisions. We are still waiting for decisions from the present Minister on almost everything.
We still want a decision on supersonic aircraft. The French have given a decision, and I see no reason why we should fall behind the French in the race. It is time for a decision, mainly on psychological grounds, as my hon. Friend the Member for Govan pointed out, to give encouragement to the industry. We could no more think of dropping out of this race than we could have thought of not taking up jet propulsion because we were operating pistons. Had we done that, our industry would by now have been more or less derelict. If we drop out of the race for supersonic aircraft, there will, I believe, be little future for us in the aircraft world.
We are still awaiting a decision on helicopters. We are supposed to have a service operating fairly soon. I understand that arrangements have been settled for some time for B.E.A. to purchase three VTOL aircraft powered by de Havilland Gnome engines. We are still waiting for a decision about them. I hope that we can have it, because the future of inter-city travel and travel on the short continental routes will be bound up with the success of the helicopter.
On the state of the industry generally, many hon. Members have expressed real anxiety about present and threatened redundancies. The Whitworth Gloster concern in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond) is in difficulty.
It is understood that 4,000 workers there are redundant. At de Havilland at Christchurch there is the prospect of 1,600 redundancies. My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) gave details of the outlook in her own constituency.
Many aircraft workers—some have been to see us today—have really bleak prospects unless more aircraft orders are given. The aircraft manufacturers themselves have been very vocal about this, and they tend to blame the Minister for the shortfall. They say, "You compelled us to get together and merge, and the understanding was that substantial orders would follow to enable us to keep in operation". I gather that those orders have not followed. It is as if there had been a shotgun wedding—as, of course, it was—but the people concerned have refused to pay the dowry, and any moment now, I suppose, they are going to take the bride back. We shall have to see how things work out.
It gives us this remarkable result—that one of the consortia has plenty of work and the other one has very little. We have one group advertising for workers in large numbers, and the other group dismissing them. Then the Minister says, "Let us look for our planning to Europe". Why should he not look at home first? If we have to have an agreement between one of these groups and five or six Continental groups, why not investigate the possibility of amalgamating the two groups at home first to see how we can rationalise the industry and spread the work around on that basis?
It is quite clear that there has been no overall plan for the British aircraft industry both as regards operators and manufacturers. The promised Government aid has not been forthcoming in the amount in which it was expected. Now, there does seem to be a great need for some overall plan. The firms want orders, the men want jobs and the industry expects stability and the prospect of expansion. There is no room, I believe, in this business for faint hearts or defeatists who think that we are on the way out. We have confidence in our industry and in our skills. We can put ourselves once again in the forefront of aviation techniques and so on.
The Government must make up their mind what kind of industry they want and that they are going to get it out of the doldrums. We feel that the Minister has not been devoting all his attention to these matters but has been considering other things in Europe. Therefore, we think that we must go ahead with our Amendment on the Order Paper. The Minister has stated that he is going to be behind the organisation. It is no good being behind the organisation. He will have to be in it and part of it, and because we believe that the Minister has failed in that duty we shall divide the House tonight.
There have been moments in the last day or two when I feared that my right hon. Friend and myself would find ourselves alone in the Government Lobby tonight, and there have been moments during this debate when I thought there might be no occasion for us to go into the Lobby at all.
This has been a fluctuating debate, and it has covered an enormous amount of ground. There has been a common thread through everything that has been said, or most of what has been said—that everything that was wrong with the aircraft industry and its management and operation from beginning to end is due to my right hon. Friend and the Government, and that anything that, by a miracle, has gone right is due to the singular and exceptional merits of someone else in it. I am hoping to show that this is a travesty of the facts.
I cannot possibly answer every point that has been raised in this long debate I intend to concentrate mainly on those points that have been raised which bear most closely on the terms of the Amendment, but I should like to stray outside those limits for a moment to deal with one or two points that have been raised, incidentally, in a number of speeches on the subject of the operation of airports and air traffic systems. It had not been my intention to deal with this subject, because it has been recently the subject of a White Paper. In that White Paper, there are some provisions which require legislation, and some of that legislation is already under way.
I have in mind particularly the Civil Aviation (Eurocontrol) Bill, and, of course, at some future date there will have to be legislation relating to the creation of an airport authority. That will provide an opportunity for debating these points. The rest of the matters in the White Paper can be dealt with, and are being dealt with at the moment, administratively. The principal one is the sale of Government-owned airports. As the subject of airports was touched on by one or two hon. Members, I should like briefly to answer the points that they raised.
My hon. Friend for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) asked a question about our intentions with regard to Hurn Airport. This is one of the airports which the Government intend to sell to municipal ownership. We are in contact with the local authorities to do that, but the nature of the arrangements is bound to depend on what happens to the neighbouring airport of Eastleigh. There are applications before the Air Transport Licensing Board to renew services from Eastleigh. If those go through, the future of Hurn may be rather different and we shall consider whether to no ahead with plans for the new terminal building and on what scale in relation to the decisions about services.
The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) asked a question about an airport in North Wales. I remind her that under the terms of the White Paper it is open to the authority operating the airport that she has in mind to apply for Government assistance, subject to the criteria which are laid down in the White Paper. These are principally indispensability to the national system and the need for financial assistance in relation to the burden on the rates. I cannot encourage the authority to apply for assistance. I can only point out that these criteria will be strictly applied, but it is open to the operating authority to seek assistance if it wishes to do so.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) wished to know where I slept at London Airport. The simple answer is, in the general manager's flat—with the window open.
Points were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) about the future development of London (Heathrow) Airport. A number of complaints about the inadequacy of the airport were made. We are well aware that London (Heathrow) Airport continues to need improving. It always will. No airport can remain in a static condition for ever.. We are working hard in collaboration with the management of the airport to ensure that the necessary improvements are carried out. They are to a considerable extent already under way. Longer runways have been built, no doubt much to the annoyance of hon. Members' constituents who live in the neighbourhood.
The new long haul building is functioning. A multi-storey garage to ease the parking problem will be erected in the next year or two. When the South Wales Motorway is completed, there will be a spur from it to provide better access to London (Heathrow) Airport. Improvements in freight accommodation are in progress. We are also considering the future development of the present site of the northern terminal, which provides a big opportunity for improving the facilities of the airport.
I now turn to the substance of the arguments which have been put against the Government. They have dealt principally with the Minister's relations, first, with the independent air operators, secondly, with the Corporations, thirdly, with the manufacturing industry, and, fourthly, with other countries with whom we are in competition and, in some cases, collaboration.
To deal with the independent operators first, the main subject of debate has, of course, been their accident record. We have had this subject before the House once or twice fairly recently and I do not want to go over the whole ground again. In the interests of hon. Members who were not present on previous occasions, however, I think it right to repeat that the statistics which are used in different ways as the basis of criticism are open to a good deal of argument.
The statistics which I gave in reply to the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), although with many caveats, could be used to prove all sorts of things. They could be used, for example, to prove that in some of the years covered by the statistics it was more dangerous to travel by the Corporations than by the independent airlines. Nobody wants to suggest that. It is merely an index of the misleading character of the statistics.
The reasons why the statistics are misleading are several. One is that accidents to British aircraft, whether scheduled or non-scheduled, independent or Corporation, are, mercifully, so few that any accident is liable to give a severely distorting effect to the statistics. Another important factor is that the number of passengers involved in any crash is entirely fortuitous. It may be 60 in one crash and only two in another in aircraft of exactly the same type.
Another reason is that the lengths of stages flown by different operators vary greatly. On the whole, it tends to be the Corporations which fly the longer stages and the independent airlines which fly the shorter and more frequent stages. It is well known that among the potentially most dangerous moments in any flight are take-off and landing. Consequently, there may be more accidents in the case of operators who fly the shorter and more frequent stages than in the case of those who fly the longer ones.
Other bases of statistics could be used which would produce different results. I concede, however, that over the last two or three years, any basis of statistics would show the independent airlines to be less successful, on the whole, in avoiding accidents than the Corporations. This is common ground. What we have to consider in the light of this is how to remedy that situation.
The House is familiar with the instruments which my right hon. Friend has for that purpose. I should like to list them briefly, with the preliminary observation that the essential thing to have in mind is that all these instruments are applicable at the same time to everybody. These instruments are, first, the air operator's certificate, issued by the Director of Aviation Safety under the authority of my right hon. Friend; secondly, a certificate of airworthiness for each aircraft, issued by the Air Registration Board; thirdly, the pilot's licence, with suitable endorsements, issued by the Minister, entitling the pilot to fly particular aircraft; and fourthly, air service licences issued by the Air Transport Licensing Board in the case of United Kingdom operators, and under the control of the Minister in the case of foreign operators coming into this country. Any operator in this country must have all these requirements; they are not alternatives. No aircraft can fly on a civil transport flight unless it satisfies all the criteria requisite for all those permits to operate.
I do not think it necessary to go in detail over all the ground that has to be covered in inspections for each of those permits. I should, however, like to refer to the fact, which has been mentioned in the debate, that in the case of the air operator's certificate, for instance, the onus of responsibility for ensuring that the regulations are conformed to rests with the operator, subject to the perpetual continuing inspection by the Ministry's 48 inspectors. I am assured that they are confident that they can do the necessary work. There are only 40 independent operators to be inspected.
They have, in fact, during the eight months or so since the present system was brought into effect, carried out 330 visits to operators, of whom the great majority have been independent operators. They also inspect the Corporations, but they do not regard it as necessary at present to pay quite the same detailed attention to the Corporations as to the independents. In addition to the 330 visits which they have made, they have carried out 184 in-flight inspections. There is one section of the inspectors corps who are in-flight inspectors who go in the aircraft with the operators to see that they are conforming to the necessary standards.
I mentioned that only 40 operators exist which have to be inspected at the moment. There were originally 38 licences when the system came in; eight have been licensed since then; five licences have been withdrawn, even in the eight months since the system was operating; one lapsed, or was surrendered. Five have been withdrawn, not by any means in every case on the grounds of danger, but in several cases on grounds of the inadequate financial support of the operators concerned, which I mention to show that the conduct of this system of inspection pays the closest possible attention to the financial standing of the companies concerned.
As regards the airworthiness certificate, I think that I need only say, in addition to what has already been said tonight, that there has been no recent case of a crash which has been attributed on inquiry to a failure of airworthiness.
If the hon. Gentleman is leaving the question of the responsibility of the operators, may I put to him that the point which really concerns us is, will he consider again whether it is really satisfactory that the pilot has to satisfy, as to his route training and general efficiency, not the Minister but only the operator? This seems to me to be the difficulty.
We are always prepared to look at anything again, but although he has to satisfy the operator, the operator has to satisfy the Ministry's inspectors that this is being adequately taken care of, and it is done in exactly the same way and to exactly the same standards for the Corporations with their scheduled flights.
I need not go into detail on the issue of pilot's licences. It is certainly a travesty of the facts to suggest that any part-time pilot can jump into any plane at any time whether he knows it or not, and can fly where he likes. I de not think that the House has accepted that picture.
On the question of air service licences, I would repeat that the Air Transport Licensing Board is now looking very closely at the financial structure of the independents for whom it is responsible for issuing licences. It was not able to do so in the initial press of business at the beginning. Now it is paying very close attention to that.
A point was raised on the phrasing of the Civil Aviation (Licensing) Act, with comparison between Section 2 (2, a) and Section 2 (4) where the consideration of
matters in respect of which an air operator's certificate is required
was withdrawn from the competence of the Licensing Board when it was considering the experience or the financial resources of the companies. This is done quite simply in order not to have to do the same job twice over. The Board is entitled to assume that the air operators' certificates have been properly issued. It is not, therefore, obliged to consider the issue of the air operator's
certificate in passing judgment on the other aspects of issuing a licence. I do not think that the House need have any anxiety on that score.
The question of insurance was raised again in relation to the factors which the Board has to take into consideration, and on this I need only draw attention to the first report of the Licensing Board, in which it noted that it was aware of no case where the victims of accidents had failed to receive compensation in full because of lack of insurance. The Board said that this indicated a high standard of safety among operators and the general adequacy of insurance cover taken out, and that the insurers interpret their obligations liberally. These are reasons why it has never seemed necessary to introduce a compulsory third-party insurance system, although the power to do so has existed since 1936 under the Air Navigation Act.
I want to conclude this part of what I have to say with one or two general remarks. First, it is right that, before considering any further investigation of this question on a general front, we should await the conclusions of the current investigations into the recent crashes. The right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) referred to three crashes, but, unfortunately, there have been four within the last few weeks. I hope that he did not leave out the fourth merely because no passengers were killed. Two members of the crew were killed in that crash, and no one regards them as expendable, any more than passengers.
I want to say a word about these crashes. Even if the Minister had attempted an arbitrary stiffening of the regulations governing air operators' services or other forms of licensing in advance, this would have had no effect on these accidents, because they occurred in every case to firms of the highest standing which had previously had a very good accident record. Tightening the regulations would, perhaps, have caused one or two marginal firms to drop out at the bottom of the list, and that might or might not have been desirable. But it would certainly not have put Derby Aviation, or Silver City, or Cunard Eagle out of business and I doubt whether it would have been anybody's desire to do so.
My last point about accidents arises from the remarks made by the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) and others about publicity of investigations and their results. We believe strongly in this. The Minister, although he is not obliged to do so, has published every recent report of an investigation which has been given to him. The House will know of the publication Flight Safety Focus by the Flight Safety Committee, which is not a purely private enterprise body.
The Ministry of Aviation and other Government Departments are represented on it, and we make a financial contribution. We believe in the publication and circulation of this information. Shortly, the Minister hopes to make a statement of the policy we shall adopt on the basis of the Cairns Report, which suggests that there should be more investigation of incidents as well as accidents. We have already indicated our general approval of the main provisions of that Report. My right hon. Friend hopes to make a statement on it before long. I hope that I may now leave the subject of air accidents with the assurance that this matter is constantly in the minds of my right hon. Friend, of the officials of the Ministry, and of myself.
I will turn now to the relations of the Minister and the Corporations. It is common ground that the Corporations are having a difficult year. This can be seen by looking at their reports, which show a slightly different picture for the two Corporations. Things are disappointing for B.E.A. because it has been doing so extraordinarily well in recent years, whereas in the case of B.O.A.C. the situation has been a continuation of a long run of bad luck. The House will want to hear the prospects for the future of the Corporations with regard to the parts of their recent operations which have been unsuccessful.
I do not think that there has been any inclination on the part of either Corporation to blame their recent setbacks on Government policy. They have certainly had considerable losses on their subsidiaries over recent years, but there is only one case in which they are operating, at the direct request of the Government, a subsidiary that is losing money, and that is Kuwait Airways. Middle Eastern Airlines and British West Indian Airlines have recently been sold after many years of heavy losses and the Bahamas Airlines was bought back by the Corporation only because there was no alternative other than to allow it to go into liquidation with consequent loss of our own investments and our traffic rights on the other side of the Atlantic, and considerable damage to the good name of the Corporation which was closely linked with the Bahamas Airways in the minds of people living in the Bahamas.
The hon. Gentleman says that there is only one associated company which acts under Government direction. Will he also assure us that the Government have not any sort of influence on the others?
I said that there was only one that was losing heavily that was operating on a contract formed at the direct request of the Government and that was Kuwait Airways. There are some other lines among the subsidiaries of B.O.A.C. which are actually making small profits. Cathay Pacific and Gulf are at any rate out of the "red". The Corporation is looking carefully at its policies with regard to subsidiaries and two of the heaviest losers have been sold during the present year.
Neither of the Corporations has been inclined to blame the Government for its setbacks. There are some factors in their operating costs which are due to the Government. High landing fees have been referred to, but I remind the House that the Select Committee, in its report this year upon airports, said that although comparisons are extremely difficult to make, it considered that costs to operators using London Airport are not unreasonably high.
Noise regulations, which the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) mentioned, have also imposed costs on them, and the new long-haul terminal has temporarily split B.O.A.C. operations with some inconvenience to it. All this, of course, does not mean that Government policy has imposed any real hardship on the operations of the Corporations in recent years.
Hon. Members opposite may consider that, until the decision of two days ago, the operations of the Air Transport Licensing Board did impose such a handicap, but anyone who studies carefully the reports of the Corporations in the last year or two will see that they did not regard the operation of the Air Transport Licensing Board as liable in any way to curtail or inhibit their growth, with the one exception that they made of the Cunard Eagle decision which was reversed by my right hon. Friend on appeal.
British European Airways expressed considerable anxiety about how the Board would operate, but considering that the Board has now produced 850 decisions and has only been appealed against four times it is reasonable to say that the principles guiding it have become understood and accepted. The Board itself has said, quite correctly, and the Government agree, that
It appears to have been the intention of the legislature to leave the Board unfettered as regards the general policies they should pursue and, in particular, free to exercise their judgment with no predetermined preference for any particular classes of air transport operator or particular class of service.
That principle still holds.
That is how the Board understands its function and the Government agree with it. All this was properly done in the case of the present decision on Cunard Eagle. The decision was taken by my right hon. Friend, as he has told the House, not on any single decisive consideration, but on a balance of advantages and it was a very narrow and a very fine balance. Since it has been suggested in debate that the financial commitments undertaken by B.O.A.C. in advance of this decision were the decisive factor, I would like to point out that under Section 2 (2, g) of the Act commitments undertaken not merely by the Corporation but by any person, including the applicant, have to be taken into account by the Board in reaching its decision.
The commitments of B.O.A.C., therefore, could not in any case by themselves have been decisive, though they were an important feature in the present case. That does not mean that they would necessarily be of the same importance in any future case, because their commitments were undertaken before the present Licensing Act came into effect and in any future cases of such disputes they would be on all fours with any other applicant for a licence.
The second factor which made their financial commitments particularly weighty at the present time was, of course, the heavy reduction of traffic on the North American route this year. We hope that hon. Members are right in believing that it is picking up, but it would not have been right in the situation at the time to take any gamble on the prospect of present expectations proving to be pessimistic.
Finally, I should like to say one very brief word on the relation of the Ministry to the industry. Many details have been given in debate by my right hon. Friend and I shall not repeat them again. But I must emphasise that the processes of redistribution of resources was bound to be a lengthy one. It has been going on for only eighteen months and it could not have been expected to have reached finality yet. It is bound, in some cases, to be a hard process, but we believe that decisions on the execution of the policy must be left to the commercial judgment of the industry, tempered by our concern for the effects of employment about which we, as my right hon. Friend said, are in close touch with the Ministry of Labour and the Board of Trade, to make sure that any slack is taken up. We are, of course, also in touch with Members of Parliament who have constituency interests in the matter. It is natural this should be done, since in some cases we are the owners of the factories which are liable to be given up by their present operators, and in some cases we have a financial stake in the firms concerned.
What we cannot do is to force the industry to run itself uneconomically or to place Government orders merely to keep the industry going. We believe that the industry has a tremendous future still. It exports one-third of its products and averages 9 per cent. of the total United Kingdom engineering exports, and with the growth of mass markets in the future it certainly has a big prospect.
I have tried to show that everything that my right hon. Friend has had to decide has been decided on a balance between equally important and equally desirable ends, between public corporations and public enterprise, between what is desirable and what we can afford, between military and civil requirements, and so on. It is often a very fine balance, but when the decision is taken the decision cannot be a half and half decision, it has to go one way or the other. The Minister is constantly having to take such decisions on a very narrow margin of advantage. To reverse the decision of such a body as the Licencing Board is not in any way an impugnment of its judgment or discretion.
No one is infallible in this matter, but I hope that I have successfully argued that in recent years and especially since two years ago the balance has been
|Division No. 12.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Errington, Sir Eric||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)|
|Aitken, W. T.||Farey-Jones, F. W.||McMaster, Stanley R.|
|Allason, James||Fisher, Nigel||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)|
|Arbuthnot, John||Gammans, Lady||Maddan, Martin|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Gilmour, Sir John||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.|
|Barber, Anthony||Glover, Sir Douglas||Marshall, Douglas|
|Barlow, Sir John||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Marten, Neil|
|Barter, John||Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||Mawby, Ray|
|Batsford, Brian||Goodhart, Philip||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Gough, Frederick||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Bell, Ronald||Grant, Rt. Hon. William||Mills, Stratton|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Grimston, Sir Robert||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||More, Jasper (Ludlow)|
|Bidgood, John C.||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Neave, Airey|
|Biffen, John||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Noble, Michael|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf' d)||Nugent, Sir Richard|
|Bingham, R. M.||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.|
|Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hastings, Stephen||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)|
|Bossom, Clive||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Box, Donald||Hendry, Forbes||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Hiley, Joseph||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)|
|Braine, Bernard||Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Brewis, John||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Peel, John|
|Bromley-Davenport,Lt.-Col.Sir Walter||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Percival, Ian|
|Brooman-White, R.||Hirst, Geoffrey||Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Hobson, John||Pitman, Sir James|
|Browne, Percy (Torrington)||Holland, Philip||Pitt, Miss Edith|
|Bryan, Paul||Hollingworth, John||Pott, Percivall|
|Buck, Antony||Hopkins, Alan||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Hornby, R. P.||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia||Pym, Francis|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Ramsden, James|
|Chataway, Christopher||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral John||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hughes-Young, Michael||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Iremonger, T. L.||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Cole, Norman||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Robertson, Sir D. (C'thn's & S'th'ld)|
|Cooper, A. E.||James, David||Roots, William|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Jennings, J. C.||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard|
|Corfield, F. V.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Russell, Ronald|
|Costain, A. P.||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||St. Clair, M.|
|Coulson, J. M.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Sharples, Richard|
|Courtney, Cdr. Anthony||Leburn, Gilmour||Shaw, M.|
|Cunningham, Knox||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Shepherd, William|
|Dance, James||Lilley, F. J. P.||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|d'Avigdor Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Lindsay, Martin||Smith, Dudley (Br'ntfd & Chiswick)|
|Deedes, W. F.||Linstead, Sir Hugh||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|de Ferranti, Basil||Litchfield, Capt. John||Spearman, Sir Alexander|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Lloyd,Rt.Hn.Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)||Speir, Rupert|
|Doughty, Charles||Longbottom, Charles||Stanley, Hon. Richard|
|Drayson, G. B.||Loveys, Walter H.||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|du Cann, Edward||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Duncan, Sir James||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Talbot, John E.|
|Eden, John||MacArthur, Ian||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Elliot, Cant. Walter (Carshalton)||McLaren, Martin||Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)|
|Taylor, F. (M'ch'ter & Moss Side)||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Teeling, William||Vickers, Miss Joan||Wise, A. R.|
|Temple, John M.||Walder, David||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)||Walker, Peter||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. Peter||Wall, Patrick||Woollam, John|
|Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin||Ward, Dame Irene||Worsley, Marcus|
|Thorpe, Jeremy||Webster, David|
|Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.||Wells, John (Maidstone)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|van Straubenzee, W. R.||Whitelaw, William||Mr. Edward Wakefield and|
|vane, W. M. F.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)||Sir Harwood Harrison.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Oswald, Thomas|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Owen, Will|
|Baird, John||Hannan, William||Padley, W. E.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Paget, R. T.|
|Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Hayman, F. H.||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Benson, Sir George||Healey, Denis||Parker, John|
|Blackburn, F.||Henderson, Rt.Hn.Arthur(RwlyRegis)||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Blyton, William||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Peart, Frederick|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S.W.)||Hill, J. (Midlothian)||Prentice, R. E.|
|Bowles, Frank||Hilton, A. V.||Probert, Arthur|
|Boyden, James||Holman, Percy||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Houghton, Douglas||Randall, Harry|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Rankin, John|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hunter, A. E.||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Chapman, Donald||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Ross, William|
|Chetwynd, George||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Royle, Charles (Salford, West)|
|Cliffe, Michael||Jeger, George||Short, Edward|
|Collick, Percy||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Cronin, John||Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Cropland, Anthony||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Kenyan, Clifford||Small, William|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Snow, Julian|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||King, Dr. Horace||Steele, Thomas|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Deer, George||Loughlin, Charles||Stones, William|
|Dempsey, James||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Strachey, Rt. Hon. John|
|Diamond, John||MacColl, James||Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent,C.)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. C.||McInnes, James||Swingler, Stephen|
|Edelman, Maurice||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Symonds, J. B.|
|Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Evans, Albert||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Thornton, Ernest|
|Fitch, Alan||Marquand. Rt. Hon. H. A.||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Marsh, Richard||Warbey, William|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Mason, Roy||Weitzman, David|
|George,Lady MeganLloyet(Crmrthn)||Mendelson, J. J.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Ginsburg, David||Millan, Bruce||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Milne, Edward J.||Whitlock, William|
|Gourlay, Harry||Mitchison, G. R.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Moody, A. S.||Willey, Frederick|
|Grey, Charles||Morris, John||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Moyle, Arthur||Willis, E. G. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Mulley, Frederick||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Neat, Harold||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Gunter, Ray||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Oram, A. E.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Ifor Davies and Mr. Lawson.|