We give significant support to flying clubs, principally by placing with them substantial contracts for the flying training of cadets and technical personnel, by providing free landing facilities at State-owned aerodromes, and now by helping to finance the development of new British light aircraft.
Is the Minister aware that the Government give very much less support to flying clubs than practically every other country? Does not he realise that a lot of flying clubs had financial trouble even before the withdrawal of the fuel rebate? Should not his right hon. Friend be encouraging flying clubs and young air-minded people instead of making their activities extremely difficult?
I do not wish to be drawn into these comparisons—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—because I am satisfied, having gone into the facts, that we give very important assistance to these clubs. If there are any further suggestions which the clubs wish to make to me they can do so through a Committee which will meet in a few weeks' time.
Is the Minister aware that it is no earthly use for the Government to give £600,000 to the only British light aircraft manufacturer and at the same time abolish the Junior Wing Scheme, take off the petrol rebate and, generally speaking, put flying clubs out of business?
As the hon. and gallant Member, who is very well experienced in these matters, knows, there are many other ways in which we can assist these clubs and we are doing that. We want to continue with constructive assistance.
The rebate question cannot be re-examined at this stage. We are prepared to look at any further constructive suggestions for assistance to these clubs. In fact, we provide free facilities for them at State-owned aerodromes, and I am proposing to ask the British Airports Authority, when it is set up, to continue the facilities for these clubs.
Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that if evidence is produced to show that the withdrawal of the fuel rebate is causing grave hardship, it cannot conceivably be re-examined? Is that what he really meant to say?
What I said was that it cannot be re-examined for this year. If in future years it is shown beyond doubt that any undue hardship is being caused, we will re-examine it. That is not the position at this stage.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, while we must bear in mind the defence aspects of training pilots, there are also the interests of the economy to bear in mind and that we should not necessarily subsidise people who regard this just as a weekend sport?
We are aware of those considerations. I ask the House to bear in mind that we are spending over £120,000 in financial assistance to clubs which undertake training schemes on our behalf.