HC Deb 04 July 1956 vol 555 cc1312-4
24. Mr. Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will make a statement on his recent official visit to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the purposes of witnessing the Soviet Union's air display.

32. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will make a statement on his recent visit to Moscow.

Mr. Birch

I visited Russia from 23rd to 29th June, accompanied by a party of senior Royal Air Force officers. We attended the Soviet Air Day Display and paid visits to an operational airfield, the Zhukovsky Air Engineering Academy and to two factories. We were able to see something of the aircraft of the Soviet Air Force; of its personnel and of the technical and engineering training which they receive, and their industrial methods of production. We were entertained with traditional Russian hospitality.

Mr. Lewis

In view of the very regrettable incident which occurred affecting the batteries of the Comet, will the right hon. Gentleman not give some explanation or some information on that subject? Can we be assured that he took no batteries with him?

Mr. Birch

There is another Question on the Order Paper about the Comet.

Sir W. Anstruther-Gray

Can my right hon. Friend say which were the two factories he visited?

Mr. Birch

We visited two aircraft factories in Moscow, one making piston-engined transport aircraft and another a development of the Nene engine.

Mr. Hughes

Was it on the right hon. Gentleman's instructions that the Comet returned to Moscow? Is it true that a Russian pilot piloted the Comet, and will the right hon. Gentleman extend this practice so that Russian pilots fly all our aircraft and our pilots fly all Russian aircraft, because that would solve all our problems?

Mr. de Freitas

In view of the great hospitality received in Moscow, will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence to see whether Soviet Ministers can be invited to Farnborough in September? If they are, will he take them for a row on the Serpentine?

Mr. Birch

It is the intention to ask a party of Russian officers and industrialists over to this country at the time of the S.B.A.C. show, and I understand that the S.B.A.C. is willing and anxious for them to go to the Farnborough display.

30. Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas

asked the Secretary of State for Air what restrictions were placed upon him and his staff when they visited Soviet Air Force installations and aircraft factories.

Mr. Birch

The visits were in the nature of conducted tours. The restrictions placed upon us were not unreasonable.

Mr. de Freitas

Since that is so, will the Secretary of State consult his right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply to see if there cannot be a better adjustment of security restrictions on visits to airfields so far as Members of Parliament are concerned? Does he realise that journalists and foreign officers are allowed into aircraft access to which is forbidden to Members of Parliament?

Mr. Birch

I am very sorry to hear it. However, I understand that the hon. Gentleman had a satisfactory visit to a Javelin station the other day.

Mr. de Freitas

I did indeed. I was not complaining about that, but about the case, which the right hon. Gentleman knows well, of one of my hon. Friends.

31. Sir D. Gammans

asked the Secretary of State for Air if he will make a statement concerning the failure of the Comet aircraft in Moscow.

Mr. Birch

A connection inside one of the batteries fused and this resulted in there being insufficient power to start the engines. It was an unusual fault and one which could not have been detected during normal routine servicing. The fault was traced and rectified within one hour, but by that time there had been a deterioration in the weather and it was decided to abandon the flight.

A Comet flew to Moscow and back yesterday, and while there gave a 500 mile flight to a party of Russians.

Sir D. Gammans

Can my right hon. Friend say that he is satisfied with the general maintenance arrangements of this aeroplane, in view of the very unfortunate effect that this failure had at a time when he was trying to rehabilitate the reputation of the Comet?

Mr. Birch

It certainly was unfortunate, but I am satisfied that it was long odds against the chance and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, these things happen occasionally.

Mr. Stokes

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will make sure that the fantastic performance of the Comet yesterday receives wide publicity?

Mr. Birch

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving it.