HC Deb 16 December 1954 vol 535 cc1976-8
48. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Prime Minister whether he will recommend the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the delays in the deliveries of new fighter aircraft ordered by Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister

Her Majesty's Government are well aware of the facts, and are giving careful consideration to the important lessons to be learnt from experience in the development and production of new fighter aircraft. I cannot feel that the appointment of a Royal Commission would be helpful, and my answer to the hon. Member's Question is therefore in the negative.

Mr. Wyatt

Is it not a scandal that, over three years after these lighter aircraft were ordered, they are still not ready; and is it not also a scandal that the Government have refused to buy the Folland Gnat, a plane which is a quarter of the price, has a greater speed, better manoeuvrability and a higher altitude because they are already committed to the Hunter and the Swift, which do not come up to the original expectations?

The Prime Minister

That seems to me to be a point which would play a valuable part in the debate on the Estimates which will take place next year.

Mr. Langford-Holt

While a Royal Commission may not be the best way of dealing with this matter, is my right hon. Friend aware that it was investigated by the Select Committee on Estimates two years ago, when the position was found to be unsatisfactory, and that there appears to be little improvement since that time?

The Prime Minister

I think the matter well deserves the attention of the House. There is a change in the process of manufacturing aeroplanes through their entire alteration in complexity. A generation was missed out around the M.i.G.15 and before the new ones that we are building, and there is no doubt that they are much more difficult to make. Also, the fact that there were so few prototypes has greatly hampered development. But the matter is one to which the House should give its attention, and I am sure no one will welcome it more than the Ministers representing the Air Department and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Supply.

Mr. Beswick

Is the Prime Minister aware that one reason why this House cannot give proper attention to this matter is that it is denied the facts, and whilst agreeing with the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. Langford-Holt) that a Royal Commission is not necessarily the proper form of inquiry, or that it should be limited to fighter aircraft, the case for an independent inquiry now is overwhelming? Will the Prime Minister look at this matter again?

The Prime Minister

I take a great interest in this matter, I have had a monthly report made to me for a long time past and have studied it each time, not without anxiety and regret at the accidents that have taken place. I think it is very proper that this should be presented to the House by the responsible Ministers on the Estimates, and that the House should make its full contribution to our thought upon the subject.