HC Deb 15 March 1956 vol 550 cc626-44

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £183,500,000, be granted to Her Majesty' to defray the expense of aircraft and stores, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. de Freitas

Since the earlier stage of these debates the Fairey Delta aircraft has staggered the world with its record, and I think that we should all like to congratulate those concerned—Mr. Twiss, and Fairey's and Rolls-Royce. But when we come to think of the achievement in terms of aircraft for the Royal Air Force we must get it into perspective.

Several years ago aircraft which we have discussed in the House many times—the Hunter and the Swift—both held the world's record for speed, I think. The Hunter is our fighter today, but in spite of that very great achievement of breaking and holding the world's record, the fact remains that today our fighters are greatly inferior to the American fighters. What this tremendous achievement of the Fairey Delta does is to reaffirm the excellence of our inventors, designers and test pilots, and shows that the Delta wing seems to be on the right lines, but it does nothing to prove that the operational aircraft which we shall get within a measurable distance of time will be world beaters, and does nothing to prove that our aircraft industry is capable of developing and producing modern fighters.

I still make the earnest plea that we should concentrate our design and development and concentrate our projects. We have about seven fighters in production today; the United States, with infinitely greater resources, has four, and I think it is right that we should think for a moment of the problems raised by our not concentrating. In the last stage of these debates we had reference to the firm that is making the Victor, but how can we really expect a small firm like Handley Page, with about 6,000 men, to develop and produce a bomber like the Victor, when everybody at the top of the industry believes that the unit of production for an airframe firm is much more likely to be 20,000 to 25,000 men?

I shall not repeat what I said about other aircraft and stores—aircraft and guided missiles—except once again to ask for an assurance that the money which we are voting here shall not be used to duplicate any of the work that the Americans are doing. So far as fighters are concerned, we may have to swallow our pride and try to get American aircraft. The Australians are doing that. They have the American Sabre with a Rolls-Royce engine.

When we are negotiating for American aircraft, I suggest that we should also investigate the question raised by the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) as to why the design and development of the F100, F102 and F104 was so much quicker than that of our own aircraft. We should then see if we can apply the lessons learnt to the field in which we are doing well and going ahead—the V-bombers, the super V-bombers, and, I hope, the intermediate ballistic missile.

The way in which the United States Air Force works with the firms shows, I think, our lack of technically-trained officers in the Royal Air Force, because it is extremely difficult to have teams working at the firms in the same way as the Americans do, right at the beginning. There, they have trained engineers as officers, and they go into the firm and into the team at the beginning. Our weakness is that we have not enough of such men in the Royal Air Force. If we cannot recruit them we must train them. We certainly cannot go on as we are doing now. While voting this money for aircraft we must not think that because we had this wonderful record-beating performance only a few days ago, such aircraft or anything like it are within measurable distance of operational service in the Air Force.

Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)

I have only one point to raise in relation to this particular Vote. In the debate last week my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, in reply to a Question by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wembley, North (Wing-Commander Bullus), referred to jet-training aircraft for the Service. In particular, he referred to the Miles 100 and the Jet Provost, and to the experiments being conducted … on whether pilots should be taught from the beginning to fly jets, as opposed to the present system of flying piston-engined aircraft first and then going on to jets."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 1892.] I remember very well, in 1950 and 1951, when we on this side of the House were in opposition, raising with the then Secretary of State for Air, the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) the need for an intermediate jet trainer. I raised that matter on several occasions. We did not get an intermediate jet trainer but we got a compromise. We got a compromise in the form of the dual Vampire—the Vampire T 11. I never thought that was really the right answer, but it was very much better than nothing, because it narrowed the gap between the piston-engined trainer and the operational aircraft in the squadrons.

The problem now centres not so much on the question of an intermediate training aircraft as on the best type of aeroplane on which a pilot should learn to fly. Should it be more—or less—advanced than the Jet Provost, with which many hon. Members will be familiar; or should it be a propeller-driven rather than a jet-engined aircraft? These and other questions are obviously controversial—questions which the Air Staff must now be considering very carefully.

As a small contribution to the controversy, may I say this? I am fully aware that there have been satisfactory reports from pilots about the handling qualities and characteristics of the Jet Provost, although I must say for myself that I find it difficult not to have some reservations about an aeroplane which was designed originally for a piston engine and which subsequently was modified to take a jet. But the question is really whether an aircraft of this character and specification represents a sufficiently advanced start for the modern Service pilot to make.

Would it perhaps not be better to consider starting a pilot on a rather more difficult, a more severe, aeroplane, so that the gap between that and an advanced training aircraft of the Hunter class would be substantially narrowed? If that were done, the gap between the original aircraft on which the pilot learned to fly and the advanced operational training aircraft would indeed be narrowed. Would it not be better to consider that?

I agree that that is a hard and almost brutal thought, and one which is apt to come rather more readily from a politician in the atmosphere of this Committee than from the more realistic mind of a pilot about to embark on his first solo flight. But these things generally are comparative, and I cannot help feeling that perhaps a more advanced start might in the end prove an advantage.

All I would ask is that when the Air Staff makes up its mind about the particular aeroplane which it wants, proper account shall be taken of the claims of the Miles Aircraft Company to provide that aircraft. I have seen at Shoreham the prototype of the M100, which is an entirely private venture; £20,000 to £30,000 of private money has gone into that venture, with no help from public funds. I believe that that design has definite possibilities, although I appreciate that it may not meet the requirements of the Service, in its present form, as a basic trainer. Nevertheless, when it flies later this year—I hope it will fly this summer—I trust that the Air Ministry will take due note of the results.

As I have no financial interest whatever in that company I can, I hope, say without fear of being misunderstood, that as designers of aircraft, and particularly light aircraft—and here perhaps the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) will agree—the Miles brothers have a remarkable record. I for one believe that they may well yet have some further and important contribution to make in the field of aircraft design. For a long time I have felt that the M52, the fast manned fighter on which they were working at the end of the war, and which was stopped by the Ministry of Supply in 1946–47—I think wrongly, but I do not want to make a party point—was perhaps at that time the most advanced aircraft of its kind in the world. I believe that it had tremendous possibilities.

The principle of the short, straight wing with the razor-sharp leading edge, which was embodied in that aeroplane and which now, interestingly, is being developed in certain of the latest American supersonic projects, was the product of the Miles mind. The conception was brilliant and it was, in my belief, ten years ahead of its time.

I therefore believe that it would be a great pity, and indeed a loss to the British aircraft industry, if we were to cast lightly aside or to ignore the design genius and aerodynamic knowledge which are to be associated with the name of the Miles Company. And so I conclude by asking my right hon. Friend to keep in mind, when the decision to embark upon a new basic trainer for the Service is being taken, the claims of the M100 and any subsequent developments which may flow from it.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

I want to support what the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) has said about the Miles Brothers. I have no interest in the firm other than my personal knowledge and contacts with the two Miles brothers and the visit which I paid to the factory at Reading, where I saw the work which they were doing. Personally, I am sorry that they were not able to continue in production. That was a very serious loss, not only to military but also to commercial aviation, on which they were doing great work, and I do not think it would be wrong to say that basically the reason they did not continue in production was that they had a most unfriendly reception from what we might call the "Big Five" in British aviation. Now that they have returned, I am sure to help us, I hope that they will have the support for which the hon. Member asked from the Mini-try of Supply and to which I should like to add my personal support.

I notice from Vote 7 that we spent £186 million last year. I think it is pertinent, in view of the many criticisms which have been made, that we should ask the Minister to tell us tonight exactly what we got for that money. A great deal of doubt has been expressed on different occasions and now is the Minister's opportunity to tell us clearly what we who furnished the £186 million got for it. I am sorry to interrupt a private conversation—

The Chairman

I, too, am sorry to interrupt. We are not dealing with the £186 million, but with the £165 million and what we are to get for that.

Mr. Rankin

I realise that, Sir Charles, but I thought there was no harm in casting an eye backward before we cast the same eye forward. We have spent £186 million and it is pertinent to ask what we got for it, because now we are to spend £165 million.

The Chairman

I said that that was not pertinent to our debate.

Mr. Rankin

I am now looking forward. We are hoping to spend £165 million, and I think the Minister might tell us exactly what he expects to get for it and how much will be absorbed by the enormous profits which are being made by the firms concerned in this industry. Are the big dividends to be maintained during the year and are the bonus distributions to continue? Not only are we hoping to produce aircraft for this £165 million, but we are also subsidising the extraordinary profit which is being made out of the manufacture of aircraft today.

Each of these firms which undertake this work goes ahead, as far as I know, with its own research and design. This is a national effort and it is important that we should know what co-operation exists between these aircraft manufacturers for the swopping of knowledge which each may derive in his own research. It seems to me a waste of money in the production and research associated with the manufacture of aircraft if every firm has to go ahead and learn its own lessons. There is no reason why the experience and knowledge gained by one firm ought not to be available in the defence of the country, because that is what we are trying to do. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that there is that co-operation at research and design level which in the future will help to save a great deal of the money now being spent.

7.30 p.m.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

It is very satisfactory that there has been a large decrease in this Vote over last year, but when we look to see the reason for it it gives cause for some disquiet. The decrease in the gross total of the Vote is due mainly, as the note explains, to a revised estimate of deliveries of aircraft, armament, ammunition, explosives and radar equipment. That means that the programme has been projected on the industrial resources of the country at too great a pace and we could not keep up with it. The Vote is lower, but I should like to ask whether this Estimate for this year is a realistic figure which is expected to be spent this year, or whether we shall see a future diminution of supplies during the course of this year. I wish to ask this question from two angles, first because I think it is bad accounting and bad estimating to produce a figure, as was the case last year, of £292 million and end up with £228 million, and secondly, and more importantly, because I hope there will be some very drastic economies in this Vote for the Air Force in the coming year.

It is all very nice to see this magnificent aircraft, the Fairey Aviation Company machine, with its 1,130 miles an hour. We throw our caps in the air and congratulate ourselves that we have defeated the United States, and the news makes headlines; but I suppose it is about the most inflationary thing this country could possibly do at present to spend that money on that aircraft. One wonders, with the pace at which inflation is going in the country and the hard-pressed needs of the community, whether we can really afford these extravagancies. We would afford them if they were really for the defence of this country, but when we look up in the air and see these giant fighters slicing the sky at enormous speeds we wonder whether they are at all applicable to modern conditions of warfare.

They are too fast for the cold war; nobody suggests that this Fairey Aviation machine will help us in the Middle East, and they are quite out of date when it comes to long-range ballistic projectiles with hydrogen-bomb warheads. We know that about eight such warheads would knock out this country entirely; there is no defence aginst them, and in a year or two that will be the realism of the matter.

We know that we are going to have our own fleet of fast bombers capable of carrying a hydrogen warhead to Russia or to any other great Continent of the world which is hostile to us, and those bombers will be located at different bases round the world so that we can make sure we can utilise them, and therefore the deterrent is fully there. But of what use to mankind, and at what frightful cost to the people of this country, are these experiments going forward year by year in fighter aircraft, radar and all the defence equipment, including civil defence at the present time?

Some drastic rethinking on this whole subject must be undertaken by the Government in the course of the next twelve months, because it is not fair to the people of this country, to the taxpayers, and to the many many people who are suffering hardly at the present time, to have the Ministry of Supply grossly overstaffed with these people who are working on projects of Wellsian conception, when we can see the facts staring us in the face—that in a hydrogen bomb war they are of no earthly use, and in the sort of colonial war we want to fight and must fight in the future they are of no use at all.

I beg my right hon. Friend, who is primarily an able economist and a very considerable financier as well, to look closely into these Estimates this year, and it we on this side of the Committee can help him to economise on these wasteful projects, we will certainly come to his aid.

Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)

The noble Lord, the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), has raised two points which I think deserve some reply. The first is about this short-fall on the expenditure. In the Explanatory Memorandum it is stated that, in addition to other aid given to us by the United States, we have received 100 Hunters. They have been made available to us free, and a tribute was paid to the generosity of the United States in this respect. I wonder if one reason why we have been unable to carry out our own programme is because superimposed upon the programme outlined in these Estimates has been this offshore programme financed by the United States. If it be the case that our industry is over stretched on the basis of the expenditure we are discussing, then it would seem to me that the additional aircraft mentioned, the 100 Hunter aircraft which now come into the programme, must have placed an additional strain upon the resources of the industry. I am surprised this matter has not been discussed at greater length in the previous debate.

The noble Lord also mentioned the continued expenditure on faster and faster types. I think he is right to ask to what use they are to be put. How are they to fit into our defensive system? That is really what we want to know before we agree to vote these sums of money, yet not a word has been said, in either this or the previous discussion on the Air Estimates, and I doubt whether we shall get much information today explaining how these are to fit into our defence arrangements.

My hon. Friend has called attention and paid a tribute to the feat of the industry and individuals connected with it in flying an aircraft over a measured distance at 1,100 miles an hour. I understand that included in these sums of money is a sum for research and preliminary work—certainly preliminary work for the contracts have been placed, I believe—for the machine which will be based upon this Fairey Aircraft, the DR11. How are we to fit this machine into the pattern of defence? How are we going to position this machine at that speed against an aircraft coming against these shores at the speed of sound? Are we going to get the radar equipment to put behind it? We know nothing at all about how radar is to assist the positioning of these aircraft, nor whether it is physically possible to manoeuvre at these speeds. I agree with the noble Lord that if we are to discuss these matters intelligently we ought to be given some information about how the articles of equipment for which we are paying are to be used and whether they will be worth the sums of money the nation is called to spend upon them.

In the discussion we had on these Estimates before, I mentioned the fact that no detailed information has been given about the aircraft and, moreover, that such information as has been given has been proven in the event to be inaccurate. That has given rise to what I would call a cynical unbelief on the part of hon. Members about the information given to us with reference to aircraft. That is one reason why there are so few hon. Members present tonight. We have nothing to discuss as we are not told about these matters. I asked one or two questions in the last debate, but not a single answer did I get to questions about operational techniques of the aircraft concerned. We read in the Explanatory Memorandum this sort of information: The English Electric P.1 flew at Farnborough and shows great promise. That really is treating us as children. It is a sort of schoolboy's descriptive piece. That cannot justify the expenditure of this money. We ought to know more about it than that. That sort of phrase has been applied to other aircraft. The Swift, for example, was described as the finest fighter in the world, but eventually it was scrapped. This P.1 flew at Farnborough, but no maiden has been so coy as the P.1 has been. I hope that it will prove a successful aircraft, but we are given very little information about it. Could we have a little more information about the Javelin? We are told that: we can look forward to a progressive buildup. I am sure the noble Lord will agree with me on this. As guardians of the taxpayers' money are we entitled to Vote sums for a machine on the basis that "we can look forward to a progressive build-up," when there are all kinds of doubts and there have been all manner of delays? We should be told in detail what is happening to it.

This unbelief about which I have been speaking is fostered in my mind by the story of the Comet II, an aircraft which I think I am right in saying comes under these Estimates. In the Explanatory Memorandum we are told: The Comet II's will also be a valuable addition to Transport Command. I wonder if the Under-Secretary can give unqualified support to that statement. Is the Comet II going to be a valuable addition to Transport Command in the light of what the Auditor-General has said in his Report for the year ending March, 1955?

I have asked one or two questions about the Comet II. I asked them because they were proper questions to ask in the public interest. We have not had a full and frank reply about this machine and about what it is to be used for. In last year's discussions of the Air Estimates on 10th March, 1955, I put a question to the then Under-Secretary about this machine. It followed a question put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) about the Comets and he was told: We are to get strengthened Comets II in Transport Command. I had the impression that at least some of those machines had been already built, or that the fuselages had been already built. One of the modification requirements stated after the inquiry was that the aircraft should have a heavier gauge metal in the fuselage. I could not honestly see how we could modify those fuselages without virtually rebuilding them. That was one reason why I put the questions to the Under-Secretary of State at the time.

7.45 p.m.

I asked the hon. Gentleman: … are the fuselages for delivery to the R.A.F. already built? I must say that I thought the hon. Gentleman a little cross with me as he said that there was nothing funny about this at all. I had not suggested that there was anything funny, but that there was something I could not understand. I asked what precisely was to be the use for these machines and the hon. Gentleman said: I do not propose to lay down any particular task for the Comet."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1955; Vol. 538, c. 637–8.] I put the same question to the present Under-Secretary the other day and he said that in addition to the modifications required by the Inquiry the military version was to be further strengthened by having a strengthened floor. We now find according to the Report of the Auditor General, in paragraph 42, that: Three unmodified aircraft for other duties in the R.A.F.… were to be purchased. I understand that is to be paid for out of the sums we are now discussing. The Report also stated that these unmodified aircraft were to have a minimum flying life of 2,000 flying hours at a limited pressurisation. I ask the question again and I think I am entitled to an answer. With limited pressurisation, what is to be the purpose for this aircraft. If they are to have a limit of 2,000 hours, are we really justified in paying for them the amount which was to be paid for them had they been fully operational as passenger carrying aircraft? That is what we understand, not from information given to us in these Estimates, but from what the Auditor-General has reported. We are told that we are to pay the same price for these machines with a flying life of only 2,000 hours—which, I suppose, in military utilisation probably represents about two years—as British Overseas Airways Corporation was to pay for unrestricted use on the civil air routes.

On the other modified aircraft we are to pay something extra. I do not get that information from the Air Estimates, although we ought to be given that information and there seems no reason why Members of Parliament should not be told as the information is given in the Report of the Auditor General. How much extra are we to pay and why are we to pay any extra at all in order that the machines should be brought up to the performance specifications originally laid down? This seems to be a story about which we should hear more. I shall not quote from the answers given me by the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, to whom I also addressed questions in an endeavour to get information. He said that he did not see why—as he nicely put it—I should be bothered about this matter. I think that as Members of Parliament we ought to be concerned with these matters.

I hope that we can get two pieces of information about these machines which are being taken into the Royal Air Force. First, what is the operational use envisaged for these unmodified machines? Is it proposed to take them up to this 2,000 hours' flying and then scrap them? What is proposed to be done about the flying time. How are we to test them for metal fatigue, and so on? How are we to reassure the crews who are expected to fly them? Are any passengers to be carried in them? We ought to have some information about this. Then there is the question of the additional amount of the taxpayer's money which is being paid in order that the ten modified machines can be brought up to the specification originally laid down.

It is sometimes asked in the country, and with increasing validity, whether the aircraft industry exists to serve the civil airlines and the Royal Air Force or whether the Royal Air Force and the civil airlines exist to provide customers for the aircraft manufacturing concerns. Certainly, when one sees what the Auditor-General has to say about this transaction, one is driven to the conclusion that in this case public money was paid out to support a private enterprise firm.

I do not want to say anything against that firm, for which I have great admiration. I know the energy and initiative which those people show. We can all cast our minds back to the Mosquito and we have very high regard for that product of the firm. Nevertheless, it seems that public money was paid out for this purpose—and we are being asked to vote it tonight—to help a private company out of its financial difficulties. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to tell us a little more about this tonight.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I am very glad to hear hon. Members posing questions tonight that I have been posing for years. There has always been very great difficulty in finding out what we are getting for these astronomical sums of public money.

In this Vote we are asked to spend £183,500,000 and there are hardly two dozen Members present. It is little wonder, because over and over again Members come to this Committee but simply come up against a blank wall. One only begins to find out facts about these aircraft when hon. and right hon. Members move over from one side of the Chamber to the other.

I remember asking questions about the cost of a bomber when the Labour Government were in power. I always received the same answer—that the question could not be answered for reasons of public security. But immediately the Secretary of State for Air in the previous Government came over to this side of the House, he proceeded to give an estimate of the cost of a bomber.

The House of Commons is entitled to have a rough estimate of the cost of a bomber, and this information could be given to the House without breaking rules of public security. After all, we are entitled to have some vague idea of how this money is being spent. I do not want to give any information to the enemy. I believe that the intelligence services of the potential enemy know far more about the expenditure of this money than we know in the House of Commons.

Why are we not told the cost of a bomber officially? The Minister who was responsible at the Air Ministry during the time of the last Labour Government has estimated the cost of a bomber at £500,000. By means of Parliamentary Question and Answer, I have succeeded in discovering that to train a pilot to fly a £500,000 bomber costs us £25,000. In times of economic stringency, how far can this nation go in for vast expenditure of this kind?

This is a question that is being discussed in articles in the papers by ex-Service men and authorities. I have with me an article written by Rear-Admiral G. P. Thompson (Rtd.). I do not know exactly what sort of authority he is, but I assume that he has some authority, otherwise he would not be writting in the daily Press. [Laughter.] I assume there is some sense of responsibility and that when a gentleman who is a high-ranking ex-officer—a rear-admiral—writes about strategy, he is to some extent informed. If he is not well informed, the laugh that greeted my remarks was a reflection either on the officer or on the newspaper. These newspaper articles are read by millions of people. If the facts are not right, the Minister should do something to correct the impression they convey.

Rear-Admiral Thompson talks about our £500,000 bomber again. Surely we are entitled to know whether this figure is approximate. He puts the argument this way: But our V-bombers each cost £500,000 and there is no sound reason why the force should be large, in view of the adequacy of the American deterrent. Within our limited resources we can manage £50 million for a token force of 100 bombers. What is a token force? If there is to be a force at all, what is the good of a token force? This military gentleman argues that it is quite impossible for this country to spend £500 million over the next few years on a worth-while force of 1,000 bombers if we are at the same time to have a sound home defence, large numbers of manned fighters and a network of ground-to-air guided missiles, which would cost little less.

We are responsible for the taxpayer's money. Any hon. Member can go to his constituency and be asked questions on the cost of this or that, but we must simply say, "We are just not told." I have tried over and over again to ascertain, from all kinds of Ministers, in both the previous and the present Governments, the cost of a helicopter. I have never been told yet. If we are responsible for spending the taxpayer's money, we should have some little information so that we can reply when asked questions by our constituents.

These are the days when the whole question of defence is being discussed by all kinds of people, because we do not know the answers to these questions. What we do know is that a vast sum for capital investment is contained in these Votes. After he had left the Treasury Bench, the previous Secretary of State for Air said: The veil of secrecy which I was accused of putting up in 1951 has, I am afraid, become an iron curtain solid and impenetrable. We know that behind that iron curtain there is a vast expenditure of public money. I suggest that, allowing for security reasons and for the fact that none of us wants to give information to the intelligence departments of other nations, the time has come when we should be told some elementary facts, such as the cost of this and that, so that we can explain to our constituents that we are careful guardians of public money.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Birch

A good number of points have been raised during the debate on this Vote, and I shall do my best to answer them. The hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) started by expressing his congratulations, as did other hon. Members, on the record-breaking by the Fairey Delta. I am grateful to him. He is absolutely right, of course, in saying that this is a pure research aircraft and is not intended to be a weapon carrier in any way. I might add that it is not covered by this Vote. It is borne under a Ministry of Supply Vote. Therefore. I do not think that it would be wise to pursue the matter further.

The hon. Member for Lincoln made the point, which was made several times in the debate on defence and on the Air Estimates, about the number of firms and number of projects. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply gave a long answer to that. He said that what really mattered was not the number of firms but the number of projects. He gave instances of the steps taken to reduce those projects. We shall certainly try to reduce them still further as time goes on.

The hon. Member also mentioned the question of officers in aircraft firms. We have such officers. We have, for instance, officers watching the development of the Vulcan and the Victor and, as I said in my speech on the Estimates, we are taking very active steps to increase and improve the education of officers, particularly by means of the cadet scheme that we have at Henlow, which I believe in the long run will pay considerable dividends.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) spoke about jet trainers and canvassed the rival merits of the Jet Provost and Miles 100. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air said during the debate on the Air Estimates, no decision has been reached whether to adopt one or the other, or indeed either. But my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick has great experience in this matter, and I naturally value the advice which he has to give.

My noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), who has left the Chamber, raised the same point as was raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick). He asked whether the reason for the under-spending of our Estimates was that we were overloading the industry and ordering too many aircraft. I do not think that that is the reason. The reason why we have not got the aircraft we have budgeted for has been, every time, the hold-ups in development and not in production. Once we have had the answers to the technical problems it has not been at all difficult to produce the aircraft. The bottlenecks are in research and development, not in production.

Mr. Beswick

The Minister of Supply told a somewhat different story before, when he said that there were certain materials in short supply and he was changing the super-priorities scheme to make certain that there was no overloading on these important but limited number of materials. I can give an example where men are now on short time and are redundant simply because there is not enough titanium to go into the products.

Mr. Birch

I think that that is a very small factor, and that the Minister of Supply said that he was altering the super-priorities scheme because there were only a few things which were in fact in short supply. I do not think that the question of materials really impinges at all upon the under-spending of my own Estimates. Every time it has been a question of difficulties with development.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) also raised once again the question why the House cannot be told more about how many aircraft we are getting and how much they cost. No Government has ever disclosed those facts, and I do not think that it would be right to do so. To the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, who asked what a bomber costs, I am afraid the, answer is a lemon, though perhaps an unstated number of lemons might be a more appropriate reply.

I was also asked about the P 1. We have not got that. It is still a Ministry of Supply aircraft but, so far as we know, the development seems to be going reasonably well. The Javelin, on the other hand, is covered by the Estimates which we are now considering. The Javelin has not long been delivered to the Air Force, but we have had fighter pilots from the Central Fighter Establishment flying Javelins for some time, and I have talked to pilots at Boscombe Down who have been flying the Javelin.

Reports, so far as they go, are satisfactory. They are more satisfactory on this aircraft at this early stage than they have been on other aircraft. In particular, there has been no difficulty with the guns, which has been the great trouble with the Hunters. I know that the hon. Member for Uxbridge is about to ask why an aircraft is mentioned in the Memorandum on the Air Estimates when no money is provided for it in this Vote.

Mr. Beswick

I am sure that the Minister is interested in this matter, just as I am, from the Parliamentary point of view, but I am wondering what an explanatory Memorandum covering the Estimates for 1956–57 is for. If it refers to aircraft which are not in fact paid for in these Estimates it is a waste of time to publish the Memorandum at all.

Mr. Birch

The object of the explanatory Memorandum is to explain. The point is that the Air Force does not pay for aircraft until they are delivered, and therefore no money is provided. The P1 is under development, and there is no question of it being delivered in the current financial year. Therefore, no money is provided for it in these Estimates. The money is provided for in the Ministry of Supply Estimates. That is a technical point. Because it is not in our Vote we are not precluded from offering information about it.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge also spoke of the Comet. Subject to a certificate of airworthiness, we are buying strengthened Comets, which will carry out the duties common to aircraft of that type in Transport Command that is, shifting both men and goods about in emergencies and for special reasons. The unstrengthened Comets are not for Transport Command but are for use in tests with radar training and calibration and so on. Therefore, they do not need strengthening. They are not subject to the same degree of pressures.

Mr. Beswick

Will the right hon. Gentleman go on to justify the price? A limited purpose has been found for the aircraft in calibration tests and the like, and they cannot be used for more than a limited length of time. How do we then justify the spending on them of the same sum of money as would be spent if they were aircraft with an unlimited certificate of airworthiness?

Mr. Birch

We at the Air Ministry do not negotiate the price, as the hon. Member knows. Perhaps the hon. Member will put a Question to the Minister of Supply.

Mr. Rankin

Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the correlation of information?

Mr. Birch

That is all organised under the Ministry of Supply. The development of all these aircraft depends partly on the manufacturers' own research and partly on research carried out in Government Departments. The information is centralised through Ministry of Supply channels, and I think that all that liaison is rather good.

Mr. de Freitas

My hon. Friends and I are not satisfied with the Secretary of State's answer to the question about the price paid for Comets. It should not be thought that because we shall not vote against the Estimate, we have found the right hon. Gentleman's answer satisfactory. We may return to the attack later.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum not exceeding £183,500,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of aircraft and stores, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957.