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British Overseas Airways Corporation And Raf Transport Command

Volume 387: debated on Wednesday 24 March 1943

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(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Air whether he can now make any further statement about the relationship between the British Overseas Airways Corporation and the Royal Air Force Transport Command?

Yes, Sir. As I informed the House on 11th March when announcing the decision to form the Royal Air Force Transport Command, it is the intention that the British Overseas Airways Corporation shall contine as a civil organisation. Some of its services terminate in, or pass through, neutral countries, and much of its work meets the essential communication needs of overseas civil administrations. Clearly, however, the services and requirements of the Corporation and those of the new Command must be co-ordinated if our air transport organisation is to be efficient and the most economical use—and the most effective for the conduct of the war—is to be made of our available resources.

In the discussions that ensued between the Air Ministry and the Corporation, general agreement was reached on the relationship which should obtain between the Corporation and the Command, save for one point of principle. The Corporation asked for an assurance that it would be responsible for all regular trunk services except those carrying exclusively R.A.F. loads. I was unable to give the Corporation this assurance, and the Corporation, to my regret, did not feel able to accept as adequate the form of understanding which I proposed as an alternative. In these circumstances, four of the five members, including the Chairman, felt obliged to offer their resignations.

For the convenience of hon. Members, I am issuing a White Paper which explains the point of difference between the Air Ministry and the Corporation and contains the letters which have been exchanged between the Chairman and myself. Copies of this White Paper are available in the Vote Office.

I have to-day appointed a new Board. Sir Harold Howitt, who has been a member of the Air Council since 1939, has accepted my invitation to become Chairman of the Corporation for the time being. I have also invited Mr. Simon Marks and Mr. John Marchbank to become members, and they have accepted. Mr. Gerard d'Erlanger, Commodore of the Air Transport Auxiliary, will continue to serve. These four members will, for the present, constitute the new Board. It will be for the new Board to appoint a Chief Executive and to arrange for the duties of that office to be discharged until the new appointment is made. Meanwhile, and at all times, the resources of my Department will be freely available.

Do I take it that the White Paper explains how it comes about that a public non-profit-making Corporation should be so much concerned about the allocation of these services as to lead to wholesale resignations?

The White Paper contains the draft agreement to which I have referred and the amendment which the Corporation proposed and which I was unable to accept. It also contains the letter which I received from the Chairman of the Corporation intimating his resignation and that of three of his colleagues, and the answer which I have sent him.

Will the new Board continue to negotiate with the British Airlines Pilots' Association as did the old Board?