HC Deb 28 November 1955 vol 546 cc1921-4
32. Mr. P. Williams

asked the Minister of Supply for how many Vickers 1000 aircraft a Government contract has now been placed.

33. Mr. Rankin

asked the Minister of Supply why he has decided to discontinue backing the production of the V.1000 transport aircraft.

34. Mr. Peyton

asked the Minister of Supply the grounds for the decision not to develop the Vickers 1000 and its civil equivalent.

The Minister of Supply (Mr. R. Maudling)

It has taken longer than was hoped to overcome some of the problems of meeting the specification laid down for the V.1000. In these circumstances, and in view of the urgency of the need to re-equip Transport Command, it has been decided to take the long-range Britannia which has been developing well and which can be made available earlier. The contracts for one prototype and six production aircraft have, accordingly, been cancelled. It is not intended to provide public funds for the development of a civil version of the V.1000, since British Overseas Airways Corporation have no requirement for it.

Mr. Williams

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the free enterprise of America finds it necessary to subsidise civil air development, and would he not agree that, unless this country can find some suitable method of assisting civil aircraft development, it may well be that there will be no first-class British trans-Atlantic aircraft operating in the late 1960's or early 1970's.

Mr. Maudling

The Government do a great deal to assist the development of civil aircraft, and I think rightly, but the point in this case is that they cannot support the development of an aircraft when there is no home operator willing to purchase it.

Mr. Rankin

Is the Minister aware that, when the Brabazon was scrapped, the manufacturers defended the amount of money that had been spent on her on the ground that it had provided them with the knowledge that would solve all the problems associated with the building of heavy aircraft of this nature in the future, and when we faced these problems in the V.1000, where had that knowledge fled?

Mr. Maudling

I think that a great deal of the work done on the Brabazon has gone into the development of the Britannia as the first long-range trans-Atlantic turbo-prop aircraft.

Mr. Peyton

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the widespread concern at this disappointing and retrograde decision? Would he look at it again, particularly in the light of the fact that the decision is welcomed only by competitors in the United States of America and that it is a great advantage to the United States industry and a great loss to ours?

Mr. Maudling

This was not an easy decision to take, and I can assure my hon. Friend that it was the subject of a great deal of thought before it was reached. However, for the reasons I have made clear in my Answer, I cannot accept that Her Majesty's Government should support the civil version of this aircraft from public funds.

Mr. G. Brown

But is it not rather unfair to lay this decision on an alleged lateness by the firm, in that, although the prototpye is a year late, the firm still claims that it can deliver the aircraft by the original flying date, namely, 1960 or 1961? Secondly, does not this decision mean that the American companies, the Douglas and the Boeing, will, in effect, be so far ahead of us in the next development of the pure jet that we shall have 10 or 20 years to make up at some stage afterwards? Thirdly, is not the real point this, that the right hon. Gentleman was told that he had to economise in his Department's expenditure?

Mr. Maudling

The third point is certainly not true. The reasons why we cancelled the military version I made clear, also the reasons for not supporting the civil version. I do not accept the gloomy view of the right hon. Gentleman about the future prospects of jet air transport, and on the point about the date I cannot accept that either. The original date was well before 1960 and cannot be met.

Air Commodore Harvey

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that, since he made his original statement, the Dutch airlines have ordered a large number of the D.C.8, that this aircraft will be sold all over the world and that Britain will be left behind? Is he further aware that there is great disquiet in many circles in Britain about his decision on this matter? In the interests of all concerned, would he review it again, taking into account what the managing director and designer of Vickers, Mr. Edwards, has said, which is contrary to what my right hon. Friend has said?

Mr. Maudling

I do not accept that this decision leaves Britain far behind on the Atlantic air route. So far as the decision is concerned, everyone concerned accepts that we cannot launch an aircraft of this category into the markets of the world unless we first have a home purchaser who will buy and operate it, which is not so in this case.

Mr. Strachey

I appreciate that there may have been difficulties about this machine earlier, but would not the Minister agree that from a military point of view also it is a serious decision for the future of this country to abandon all attempt in the sphere of straight-jet transport airliners, and will he not reconsider the question of developing something of this kind—whether the V.1000 or some other—because otherwise I agree with my right hon. Friend that we shall be in great danger of being left completely behind in this respect?

Mr. Maudling

I think the right hon. Gentleman is misinformed, because R.A.F. Transport Command will be operating the jet transport Comet.

Mr. Williams

In view of the nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.

44. Mr. Robson Brown

asked the Minister of Supply whether he will review his decision to abandon his support for the development of the V.1000 in view of the new performance figures just released by the manufacturers, since these reveal that the civil version of this aircraft is potentially superior to any projected United States long-range jet transport, in that it has more power, shorter take-off, better operating economy, and is designed round the most suitable type of engine for this work yet produced.

Mr. Maudling

No, Sir. I have already explained the reasons for the cancellation of this aircraft. There is always room for differing views about the eventual performance of an aircraft which has not yet flown.

Mr. Robson Brown

Might I beg the Minister to reconsider his decision, having regard to the modified designs submitted by the makers? At this moment we have £2.3 million invested in developing the aircraft. The carcase is very nearly completed and the prototype could be finished within twelve months. It is the only aircraft of its type available in the world and the only British pure jet transport aircraft which can compete with the Americans and keep Great Britain in her proper place and maintain her prestige in world affairs. I really beg my right hon. Friend to reconsider the matter and consult the Minister of Transport about the civil development of this machine.

Mr. Maudling

I can only repeat that this is a question of putting public money behind the development of an aircraft, and I cannot do that in the absence of evidence of a British purchaser.