HC Deb 05 May 1958 vol 587 cc819-21
1. Mr. Mason

asked the Minister of Supply how far he estimates that the present military aircraft programme is going to prove sufficient for the nation's defence requirements during the envisaged long transition period from manned aircraft to missiles; and whether he is now in a position to make a statement on his future policy in regard to aircraft research and development.

2. Sir P. Macdonald

asked the Minister of Supply if he is now in a position to make a statement regarding the Government's future policy for research and development in the aeronautical industry.

3. Mr. Beswick

asked the Minister of Supply what is the reason for the delay in announcing Government policy with regard to aviation research and development; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of Supply (Mr. Aubrey Jones)

The present military aircraft programme is intended to meet the needs of the defence policy outlined in Command Paper No. 363. A report on future policy in regard to aircraft research and development has been submitted by a working party of officials and is now being considered by Ministers. I hope to make a statement to the House in the near future.

Mr. Mason

Is that not exactly the trouble? Have we not been waiting too long for this inter-departmental report? Why the delays, which the Minister should realise are causing a great deal of anxiety and frustration in the aircraft industry? Is it not logical to assume from Ministerial comments in past months that we cannot envisage an expansion from the present position because the Government have no plans for maintaining the present productive capacity in the industry? What plans have the Government in the offing to allay the anxiety in the industry, and particularly to find jobs for the people who are to be unemployed?

Mr. Jones

I admit that there is a degree of uncertainty in the aircraft industry. It is the purpose of Her Majesty's Government to dissipate it as soon as possible. On the other hand, I really cannot think that the six weeks' or two months' delay which has taken place over this report, as against my earlier promise, is of that magnitude or is of the catastrophic nature which the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Sir P. Macdonald

Is it not only about a year since the White Paper on Defence was published? Curtailment of military aircraft was envisaged in it. Does that not make it all the more vital that we should have a policy of research and development in the aircraft industry? We have been promised a statement for a long time; when does the Minister think he will be able to tell the House the policy of the Government?

Mr. Jones

I agree that the industry ought to know where it stands, and I am genuinely sorry that I have fallen short of my promise. I really do think that in the near future I shall be able to make a statement.

Mr. Beswick

While accepting the Minister's apology and recognising that the delay has not been his fault, may I ask whether the Minister does not think that the House is entitled to know what is going on? Does he recall that he gave us a promise with some degree of scientific precision, defining exactly when the first day of spring falls, and stating that we could expect a policy statement before that date? What is the reason for the delay? Is it because the Government are going back on their defence policy? What is the reason?

Mr. Jones

As I happen to manage a scientific department, scientific precision is the last thing I should ever attempt. There are no sinister reasons behind the delay. The reason is that the machinery of government works a little more slowly than most of us like. If the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) has any strictures to make, I think he ought to reserve them until I make my statement.

9. Mr. de Freitas

asked the Minister of Supply how far the proposed changes in his relationship with the aviation industry will give greater control to the Royal Air Force over research in the various fields of military aviation.

Mr. Aubrey Jones

I know of no proposed changes in my relationship with the aircraft industry.

Mr. de Freitas

If there is a scheme by which there is greater devolution of research to the ordinary civilian firms, can the Minister assure us that the military aspects of this research will not be neglected, now that the civilian application of research is so much more profitable to the industry?

Mr. Jones

I think the hon. Gentleman had better await the statement which I have promised more than once, but I think I can assure him that there will be no neglect of research valuable for military purposes.