Woomera (Departmental Charter Flights)

Oral Answers to Questions — Technology – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1 December 1969.

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Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian 12:00, 1 December 1969

asked the Minister of Technology under what agreement with the International Air Transport Association Members of Parliament are prevented from occupying vacant seats in his Department's chartered flight to Adelaide and Woomera.

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

Her Majesty's Government are not a party to International Air Transport Association agreements. As a matter of policy, and in order to avoid prejudice to the interests of scheduled air services, Departmental charter flights are not made available to persons not travelling on business connected with the Department.

The Mintech charter service is to Adelaide and could of course be used by Members of Parliament travelling on business concerned with Woomera.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Desirable though it may be for Members of Parliament to visit Australia—[Laughter.]—laughing apart, should not there be more scrutiny of these issues? If Ministers want Members of Parliament to become better informed in what they say, should not such visits be made available?

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

My hon. Friend should know that my right hon. Friend is always willing to consider requests by hon. Members to be informed on subjects such as what is happening in Woomera. If my hon. Friend has any particular interest that he would like to follow up perhaps he will contact my right hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

May we be told in intelligible language what this is all about?

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

If the hon. Member had been following the Questions which have been put down by my hon. Friend during recent Question Times he might have followed the meaning of this. A charter flight leaves this country for Australia. The aircraft is chartered by the Ministry of Technology for technicians, scientists and cargo going to the test ranges at Woomera. My hon. Friend was asking whether any space could be made available on that aircraft for Members of Parliament who have a particular interest in travelling to Woomera.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

asked the Minister of Technology what is the net cost to public funds of a return journey to Woomera by a Member of Parliament, taking advantage of a seat on a Ministry of Technology chartered flight, which would otherwise be unoccupied.

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

The net cost to public funds of an authorised return journey on the Department's chartered service to Australia is £60.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Are my right hon. Friends aware that this is not an issue of jaunts for Members of Parliament; it is a fairly serious issue of scrutiny? Could not such places be made available?

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

I thank my hon. Friend for putting this matter in perspective. As he knows—and as I hope the House now knows—this charter flight is for cargo, scientists and technicians going to Australia, and any other authorised persons, going to visit the site at Woomera on business.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

Since the aircraft is going there anyhow, if the seat would otherwise not be occupied why should it cost £60 for a Member of Parliament to go?

Photo of Mr Neil Carmichael Mr Neil Carmichael , Glasgow Woodside

That is the cost that the charter undertaking charges to the Department when chartering this plane.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

Can the Minister say why this should be confined to Members of Parliament? Why should not some industrialists be allowed to participate in this cheap seats arrangement, in order to sell exports in Australia?

Photo of Mr Eric Varley Mr Eric Varley , Chesterfield

My hon. Friend asked specifically why Members of Parliament should not be allowed to use this flight. I think I said in my answer that any authorised journeys to study what is happening in Woomera would be accepted.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

On a point of order. Can you give us some guidance on this latest series of questions, Mr. Speaker? The questions answered from the other side were extremely difficult to hear, and we were left at the end of the exchanges with a sense of total confusion. We are wondering what has been going on.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I cannot help the hon. Member's confusion.