HC Deb 25 January 1955 vol 536 cc26-9
48. Mr. de Freitas

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the arrangements which will in future operate between the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Supply and the private aircraft industry in connection with the development and production of aircraft.

49. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Prime Minister whether he is yet able to make a statement on the creation of a new Ministry to deal with the supply of military aircraft.

52. Mr. E. Fletcher

asked the Prime Minister if he will now make a statement on the Government's proposals for the improvement of the co-ordinating machinery for the production of military aircraft; and what changes in Departmental responsibility are proposed.

The Prime Minister

On 21st December I informed the House, in answer to a Question from the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) of the present arrangements for the development and procurement of aircraft, and I circulated a note in the OFFICIAL REPORT setting out the system in detail. These relationships between the Ministries concerned and between the Ministry of Supply and the aircraft industry are only one part of a much wider and more complex problem. I have already stated that in my view these matters are very suitable for further discussion in the debates on defence and on the Estimates which will take place during the coming weeks.

Mr. de Freitas

Will the Prime Minister see that we are provided soon with a statement from the Minister of Supply on which we can base our discussion and debate?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps if the hon. Member would explain privately what is the kind of statement he has in mind, I would ask my right hon. Friend to advise me on the matter.

Mr. Wyatt

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is great anxiety in the country at the terrible failure of the Government to provide modern operational aircraft after 3½ years? Is it not the case that we have been trying to make far too many types at once, probably because the Minister of Supply has been somewhat inefficient over the matter? Is it not an urgent case for the Government doing something either about creating a new Ministry, as the Prime Minister has already suggested, or of re-forming the Ministry of Supply? Will the right hon. Gentleman stop trying to conceal the facts from the public and make a clean breast of this appalling failure?

The Prime Minister

I certainly have not endeavoured to conceal any fact from the public. I think that when the debates come on this subject, that will be a very suitable occasion to discuss the whole matter.

Mr. A. Henderson

Is it not a fact that on two occasions before the Christmas Recess the Prime Minister, in reply to Questions I put to him, agreed that it might be very desirable to have a full statement on the aircraft production position before the Estimates debates come on later in the spring? Did not the Prime Minister promise a full statement?

The Prime Minister

The usual process will be followed this year as in other years.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

Does the reply of the right hon. Gentleman mean that he has come to the conclusion that the serious delays in obtaining modern aircraft required by the Royal Air Force are not due to any fault in the machinery of government, or any organisational lack?

The Prime Minister

If we are to apportion blame in the matter, of course this story goes a long way back. I have no doubt that that aspect of the topic will be done justice to when we reach the debates.

Mr. Shinwell

If that is the view of the right hon. Gentleman and he wants to proceed much further back than the last few years of Conservative Government, will he not proceed to prepare a White Paper giving all the facts in relation to this subject?

The Prime Minister

It really would not be treating the right hon. Member with sufficient respect if I were to answer on the spur of the moment a request for a White Paper coming from an ex-Minister in his position. I should like to consider the whole matter. There is to be a White Paper on Defence in any case, but I do not really think we should improve our methods of business if we multiplied the habit of spreading White Papers on every subject.

Mr. Rankin

On a point of order. Is it in order for the Prime Minister to conceal the fact that a "white paper" on defence has been issued by the "Daily Mirror"? Has he no reply to make to that?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Does not the Prime Minister think that, in view of the overriding national importance of this matter, a separate Ministry of Aircraft Production should be created? If he does not think so, would the Prime Minister see that the House has the fullest possible information before it to enable it to press that case when the debate on the Estimates takes place?

The Prime Minister

The fullest information which it is customary to give on these occasions will, of course, be given in the regular way when the Estimates are considered this present year.

Mr. Strachey

If the Prime Minister tells us that this and other equally important matters are to be debated on the Defence Estimates, will he this year grant at least two days for the Defence Estimates debate?

The Prime Minister

That is not a matter which I settle personally, but I certainly think there is very little doubt that a very strong case can be made for a two-day debate.