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Airline Pilots (Service Conditions)

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 8 July 1954

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Studholme.]

10.10 p.m.

After the interesting discussions on rents and rabbits, I think that this is an appropriate moment to deal with a vital issue which this House does not often get the chance of touching. I refer to the problem of the service conditions of our airline pilots of the British airways corporations.

I should like to point out that I am not raising this matter from a party political point of view. This is a vital issue concerning Britain's economic prosperity and Britain's place in the flying world. There is, undoubtedly, a problem before us with regard to the service conditions of our B.O.A.C. pilots and possibly those employed on private lines. I think that it would be appropriate, in the 15 minutes for which I shall be speaking, first to pay tribute to these pilots who fly passengers all over the world.

We have in Britain pilots who have to get the highest possible navigational certificates in the world, and whose sense of responsibility and record of millions of miles of flying without major accidents is second to none. Too often this House, when debating the Civil Aviation Estimates and other Estimates, forgets that we may not be giving the best possible conditions to our pilots and, therefore, not getting the best type of recruitment.

On 17th March, 1954, the National Joint Council for Civil Air Transport, the employers' side of the Pilot Officers' Panel, and the employees' side of the Panel discussed the issue of wage increases. We are told in this House that this is a matter of nationalised corporations. I hope that we shall find some formula by means of which we can put down vital Questions about conditions in some of our nationalised industries. Difference existed for a long time between both sides, and eventually, an award was given to 1,241 pilot officers employed by the airways corporations. They received an award of some 8 per cent.

Claims had been put forward in June, 1947, December, 1950, and July, 1953, and another claim was put forward which was considered last March. In the trade union world we often deprecate long-drawn-out, squalid negotiations—as, for instance, on the conditions of Members of the House of Commons. In July, this claim was put forward, and the result of the claim was an increase of 8 per cent. I do not want to bore the House by giving the details of the pay rates of second officers, first officers, junior captains, senior captains and senior captains, first class. I will pick out one or two examples.

The claim would have meant that there would have been a minimum pay to the second officer of £1,220 a year, and minimum pay to the senior captain, first class—a very responsible highly-qualified individual—of £3,225. The award last March gave, instead of these claims, £995 for second officer and £2,395—I am talking of minima, not maxima—to a senior captain, first class.

To some people that may seem a remuneration commensurate with the job, but those of us who know anything about it or have had the privilege of flying behind "the man up front" many thousands of miles in various parts of the world, know that the payment is not commensurate with the responsibilities now needed by a civil aviation pilot. The emphasis of this debate, therefore, is on conditions and recruitment of men for the civil airline services.

Is the Minister satisfied that the supply of pilots for civil aviation is assured? Does he think that present pay and conditions are such as will encourage the very best type of recruit to this most important profession? Transport is civilisation, and in this modern shrinking world we want dependability, safety and rapidity of movement. We take the lead in aircraft design and in the type of man who flies those 'planes, but today he is not getting the encouragement that he should get.

Therefore, on the question of recruitment, I draw the Minister's attention to the memorandum on the supply of pilots for civil aviation which was prepared by the Air League of the British Empire, Airwork, B.E.A., B.O.A.C., the British Airline Pilots' Association and others. There is not the slightest doubt that there is an inadequacy of supply.

For several years civil operators have felt an increased anxiety concerning the future supply of commercial air pilots. As long ago as 1947, the Wilcock Committee on Recruitment, Training and Licensing of Personnel for Civil Aviation was set up. Events have proved that it is inadvisable for civil aviation to look exclusively to the Royal Air Force for its supply of pilots. That source of supply may have been adequate for civil aviation in its early days, but the Royal Air Force supply of pilots is now no longer satisfactory as the sole, or even the main, source of recruits to civil aviation.

After the last war, the Government then in power decided to train a large number of National Service men to be pilots. This policy has ceased and National Service men are no longer trained as pilots. Furthermore, during the last few months the situation has been aggravated because the discontinuation of the training of National Service men means that we cannot draw in on our wider pool of capable men. There is an interesting analogy. Because there is a certain snobbish bar about certain types of sport in Britain, like tennis and golf, we find that Britain is not able to draw on its resources. I believe that it is necessary to establish a scheme, and a subsidised scheme, to train men for the civil air services.

The modern civil pilot must be of a sufficiently high academic and intellectual standard to pass severe examinations. He must secure professional qualifications. He must get advanced licences, and during his progress up to, and even beyond, the rank of senior captain, he is required to have medical tests every six months. He must pass flight tests every six months. Because of the technical requirements of the profession, the pilot is becoming even more specialised. A man cannot move from one aeroplane to another—from a Viscount to a Comet or from an Elizabethan to another type—as a man can move from one motor car to another, and we are making of the pilot a highly trained, specialised individual.

One of the snags is that if at the six-monthly medical examination the pilot does not pass the doctor, a highly skilled and specialised man is suddenly cut 'ff from his livelihood. Are these things taken into consideration sufficiently in the consideration of pay and conditions of the men who fly our civil airline services?

I believe that a democratic system of flying training could be developed and that the Government—the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, together with the Ministry of Education—should work out a policy by which young boys between 16 and 18 years would be trained for flying these wonderful British planes which British designers put on the commercial airlines.

It would involve some expenditure. The son of an ordinary family cannot afford to be trained, for it costs too much. It costs £3 an hour to fly a single-engined plane and £15 an hour for a twin-engined plane. If, in training, a man wants to do 80 to 250 hours' flying, a colossal sum of money is involved—a sum which many people could not find for their sons. Why should we not be training these boys who want to go into this service?

There is an annual wastage of at least 5 per cent. among our civil pilots. This means that every year between 70 and 120 new pilots are wanted, which means that every year 400 young men should be trained for civil aviation. They should not be called up for National Service. To call them up would be penny wise and pound foolish, because it is no good suggesting that we should train them in National Service in the R.A.F. That is a completely different type of training.

Unfortunately, in this mad world in which we live, the R.A.F. need to train men in bomb-sighting. The type of training is different from that involved in the responsibility of a man taking an aeroplane worth nearly £1 million from one end of the earth to the other with people aboard. He must have a different type of training from that given to the brave boy who flies the R.A.F. aircraft of war—yet the civil aviation pilot will be there, when the hour comes, if the country needs him. Why put him into National Service in the interim? I hope some kind of scheme of training will be worked out.

As I said at the beginning of the debate, since 1947 there have been two alterations in the salary structure for pilots and yet a senior captain, with eight years' seniority, is £37 10s. worse off because of the changes in the pension scheme. This is ridiculous. It is time that Parliament and the public realised the importance of the British pilot in our commercial and industrial life.

The speed of change and improvement in aircraft has been higher since 1947 than in the previous 27 years. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is asking for productivity, and we have had no greater productivity than in the R.A.F. Let me give an example. The heaviest aircraft we were flying in 1947 was the York, weighing 66,500 1b., seating capacity 21, speed 200 miles per hour. In 1951 we were flying the Stratocruiser, weight 145,800 1b., capacity 70 people, speed over 300 miles per hour; and yet the size of the crew had been reduced while the responsibility of the captain had been increased.

In 1951 the Viking did 4,896 passenger miles per hour. The Viscount gives 14,194 passenger miles per hour and the Elizabethan 12,397 passenger miles per hour. There we see productivity as in no other branch of industry. The result has been that more passengers are being carried faster and more revenue is being taken by the corporations. In 1947 the route mileage of British airlines was 39,957,000 miles. In 1952–53 the mileage was 58,542,000, with less crew and greater responsibility than ever before.

The pilot has a medical examination every six months. He may be found to be suffering from a disease which he has contracted in the tropics. He has to eat many of his meals while in the air and he does an increasing amount of night flying. The more instruments he must carry, the more technical must be his training. He receives no payment for overtime and he is always on call. He spends a great deal of time out of the country but no recognition of this is made by the Inland Revenue in regard to his Income Tax.

British planes carry British mail cheaper than any other airline. If the mail were carried by foreign planes or by an American airline, the full rate would have to be paid. Why should not the British corporations get the full rate for mail? When British 'planes carry troops from Britain to Suez, the corporations are paid £23 per head. The shipping companies get £30. If those figures are correct, that is not right.

I think it time that this matter of a tax concession for pilots was considered. In the Royal Air Force officers receive a bounty of £3,000 after 12 years' service. I think that something similar should be given to the senior captains of B.O.A.C. and the other corporations who, at the age of 50, have finished their responsible flying life.

Recruitment is difficult, because training is so costly. Why should not the Government introduce a subsidised training scheme for airline pilots who must be 100 per cent, efficient? A pilot who makes an error does not get another chance. He must not make a mistake. I thought therefore that this was the right moment to rise this problem which will confront the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation and the corporations more and more as our efficiency in the air increases.

10.28 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation
(Mr. John Profumo)

I wish to apologise to the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) for having missed the opening sentences of his speech. I can assure him that it was not discourtesy on my part. It took me rather longer to get up the stairs than it did for the hon. Member to start off on his jet-propelled speech. But he was good enough to supply me in advance with, information about some of the matters he proposed to raise, which was of value because I wished to answer them to the best of my ability.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for having raised this important subject, and I have listened with interest to the lucid way in which he presented the problem. I readily recognise that his intention in ventilating this matter arises solely from his interest in the human aspects of those who work in the sphere of civil air transport.

I think that the arguments of the hon. Member may be divided into two parts. First, there is the remuneration which civil air transport pilots receive, and secondly the recruitment of an adequate number of new pilots to meet the requirements of this ever-expanding industry. I certainly cannot accept the suggestion that British civil air pilots are working under unsatisfactory terms and conditions of service, that is, if their terms and conditions of service were a matter of determination by Her Majesty's Government, which, of course, as I have already said, is not the case.

The Minister knows as well as I do that an American pilot in the same seniority as a British pilot has 114 per cent, more pay than a British captain of the same rank, and yet that British captain has had to pass the most difficult flying navigational test in the world today.

I readily recognise that, and I wish to be as generous as may be to the standards and achievements of the British air pilots. It is difficult trying to compare the pay of a British and American pilot.

The same argument might be applied to Service men. We must remember the standard of living and other considerations which go to make up the terms and conditions of people in any trade or industry.

The terms and conditions on which pilots are employed by the corporations and the independent companies are a matter for negotiation between the trade unions representing them, the British Air Line Pilots' Association, and the employers. These pilots are in no way Government employees, and the process of settling their terms and conditions is not one in which the Government have any standing. Section 20 of the Air Corporations Act, 1949, imposes on the corporations the duty of setting up joint machinery for the settlement by negotiation of terms and conditions of employment of persons employed by the corporation, with the provision for reference to arbitration in default of such settlement in such cases as may be determined by or under such agreements.

Both corporations have fulfilled the responsibility laid upon them by Section 20 of the Act by establishing, in collaboration with appropriate trade unions, the National Joint Council for Civil Air Transport, on which the British Air Line Pilots' Association is represented, and of which there is a special panel to discuss and negotiate the terms and conditions of employment of pilots.

The terms and conditions of employment by independent companies are governed by Section 15 of the Civil Aviation Act, 1949. This Section does not require the companies to participate in the National Joint Council for the industry, but they are, in fact, full members of the employers' side of that council, so that the same body is the forum for negotiations on the terms and conditions of employment of both the corporations and independent company pilots. I thought the hon. Member would like to know that.

The constitution of the National Joint Council for Civil Air Transport provides that its object shall be to secure the development of the largest possible measure of joint action between the employers and the employees with a view generally to the maintenance of good conditions in civil air transport. I think the hon. Member will already recognise that the council has so far had a very large measure of success in attaining its objective.

Moreover, it has provided in its constitution a procedure for the settling of differences on terms and conditions of employment which makes provision for the reference of disputes which cannot be settled within the industry to the industrial court, whose decision is final and binding on the parties if they differ. The British Air Line Pilots' Association recently made use of this procedure by taking a claim for an increase in the salaries of pilots employed by the corporations to the industrial court. As the hon. Member has pointed out, the court awarded that a certain increase in salary should be made and the two corporations have, in fact, already put the court's award into effect. Thus full use has been made of the established machinery for settling corporation pilots' salaries, and I must emphasise again that the Government have no standing in the matter.

The question of recruitment of pilots is receiving Government attention. The Wilcock Committee, which examined re cruitment, training and licensing of personnel for civil aviation in 1947, recommended that from the point of view of the national economy the fullest use should be made of ex-R.A.F. pilots. In addition, it recommended the adoption of a scheme of scholarships for training direct entry pilots to civil aviation because of an estimated shortfall of pilots from the Royal Air Force source from 1951 onwards, but events have shown that the figures on which the conclusions were based were over-estimated.

The policy of Her Majesty's Government continues for the present to be that ex-Service pilots provide a source of trained pilots for civil aviation. The effect of the change of policy in Royal Air Force pilot training is at present under examination with the Air Ministry with a view to ascertaining the extent to which pilots from the Services will meet the future needs of civil aviation. If the results of the examination with the Air Ministry show the need for an auxiliary scheme, the recent proposals made by the Air League of the British Empire will receive most careful and sympathetic attention from my Department.

However, the Government cannot commit themselves—I want to make this plain—in advance to accepting any scheme which involves a measure of Government subsidy. This would have to be most carefully examined in relation to the Government's policy in other comparable fields.

I ought here to utter a warning, that one of the difficult problems would be the question of the exemption of young men in this field from their ordinary National Service.

Lastly, the hon. Member asked certain specific questions. The difference between sea trooping and air trooping rates to the Canal Zone which he raised has, I assure him, no effect on the pay of pilots. The Government must endeavour to move troops by the most economic means, taking account of strategic and personnel considerations, and the fact that the Government pay less for air trooping per passenger to the Canal Zone than by sea trooping means only that the former is more economic as a means of transport on that route. As the hon. Member no doubt knows, air trooping contracts are awarded on the basis of competitive tendering, and I am sure that he will agree that no Government of any complexion would desire to pay a contractor more than he asks, particularly as they would be using taxpayers' money in doing so.

With regard to rewards on retirement of pilots, it is true that commissioned pilots in the Royal Air Force who have served on a 12-year basis receive on retirement a gratuity of £3,000, but it should be remembered that, just as Regular R.A.F. officers have pension arrangements which do not apply to those under the 12-year arrangement, so the corporations have a pension scheme which makes provision for early retirement. Under this scheme pilots may, with the consent of the corporations, and having completed 10 years' service, retire as early as 40 and draw an immediate pension. In addition, the scheme provides for accident and death benefits and premature withdrawal from service. I believe that the pension arrangements which exist are a substantial attraction to service with the corporations.

The hon. Member suggested that as pilots live abroad so much of their time they should be given some measure of tax concession. I am afraid that I am not able to answer him entirely on that matter, but I would point out that pilots do not have to bear overseas living costs out of their basic pay. Apart from amenities in kind, including meals and accommodation, they receive daily overseas allowances. In the case of the corporations, these allowances have been fixed at 19s. 6d. a day for captains and 15s. a day for first and second officers while flying on services to countries outside Europe.

I know that, but the hon. Member has been to New York and he will know how far 19s. 6d. a day will go in New York, Sydney and other places, with laundry and everything else to be taken into account.

I agree that, unfortunately, the situation is not as good as it used to be in the old days, for the £ does not go as far as it used to. However, under the present Government the £ is now very much stronger. We are dealing with all the points which the hon. Member has in mind, but I note the comment which he has made.

The hon. Member mentioned the payment to B.O.A.C. for carrying mail, but I think that he is under a misapprehension there. Foreign airlines do not receive a higher rate for carrying G.P.O. mails than does the B.O.A.C. I will gladly clear that matter up for the hon. Gentleman by correspondence with him if he desires more detail. There is not time to do so now.

However, I hope I have said enough to assure him of various things, first that we are most conscious of the services that these airline pilots give to the country, and of the tremendous importance and responsibility that rests on their shoulders; also that the Government are not directly concerned, and cannot, of course, be directly concerned, with the pay and conditions of airline pilots—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standby Order.

Adjourned at Twenty Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.