HC Deb 02 May 1960 vol 622 cc675-9
12. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of Aviation what further increase there has been in the estimates of each of the three types of guided missile since the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report showing a rise from £8 to £110 million on the original estimates; and which of these has now been discontinued.

Mr. Rippon

There has been no increase in the estimated cost of the missiles referred to since the Comptroller and Auditor-General reported; and none of them has been discontinued.

Mr. Allaun

Since the weapons are useless against missiles and are therefore already obsolete, why not cut the losses by stopping further production? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one expert estimates that the cost so far is about £160 million, and that even on the figures of £110 million this makes it a bigger scandal than Blue Streak?

Mr. Rippon

I do not accept the hon. Member's premises nor the estimate of his expert.

13. Mr. Warbey

asked the Minister of Aviation what saving will be effected in the military portion of his Department's expenditure for the year 1960–61 as a result of the decision to stop development of Blue Streak as a military weapon.

Mr. Sandys

I cannot estimate expenditure on this project in the current financial year until it is decided whether Blue Streak is to be continued as a satellite launcher and until the cancellation charges have been negotiated with the firms concerned.

Mr. Warbey

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance now that the cancellation of Blue Streak as a military project will result in an appropriate cut in defence expenditure and that the savings effected will not be frittered away on further costly adventures?

Mr. Sandys

Of course, it will result in a very large saving to defence expenditure. What I cannot say is what the expenditure will be during the present financial year, which is what the hon. Member asks in his Question.

Mr. Strauss

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is in the estimates this year for Blue Streak, and secondly, in view of the talk which has taken place and the thought given to turning Blue Streak into a vehicle for launching satellites, how it is that the Government have not got further information already and why no estimate is before them of whether this is feasible or what the cost will be? This is not a new subject. It has been thought of for a very long time.

Mr. Sandys

We know perfectly well that Blue Streak is entirely suitable as a satellite launcher. What we do not know yet, until we have discussed the matter further with the firms, is what will be the cost of this part of the programme isolated from the weapon side of the programme, which naturally we had not gone into. We could not discuss it with the firms before the announcement was made in the House because, obviously, there would have been a leak.

Mr. Strauss

And the cost?

Mr. Sandys

As for the cost of Blue Streak this year, I cannot say until I know exactly whether we are going on with the satellite programme or exactly what cancellation charges will have to be met during the current year.

Mr. Rankin

Can the right hon. Gentleman now tell me what thought he has given to the position of those men who were employed on this project prior to its cancellation and are now losing their jobs because of it and will continue to lose them in bigger and bigger numbers?

Mr. Sandys

That is right outside the scope of this Question, but I gladly say that, of course, we are concerned about this. Every possible step will be taken to help them to get alternative work, although I am assured that in the case of a very high proportion of skilled men we shall not have much difficulty in finding alternative jobs.

Mr. Wyatt

I have several times tried to ask a supplementary question, Mr. Speaker, but I have not yet been called. May I have the opportunity?

Mr. Speaker

I have observed that the hon. Member has tried. He will remember that the House has resolved to help me about the number of supplementary questions.

16. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of Aviation if he will state the total expenditure to date, plus the estimated future expenditure, on Type C guided weapon, estimated in 1952 to cost £4,000,000 spread over five years; and when it is now likely to be completed.

Mr. Rippon

£23 million. In addition, £20 million is being spent on developing another weapon which incorporates a number of elements of the earlier system. The first weapon is already in service. It would not be in the public interest to say when the second will be completed.

Mr. Allaun

Is the Minister aware that the main contractors of missiles A, B and C, that is to say, Seaslug, Thun-derbird and Fire Streak, the three contractors being Hawkers, English Electric and de Havillands, made £15 million net profit last year through Government laxity on cost-plus contracts, and does he not think it is time that he should name these? That is why I have done so this afternoon.

Mr. Rippon

Once again, I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's premises. It is not customary to give the names of contractors in the House in connection with these matters, although, as I have said from the outset, it is not very difficult for hon. Members to identify them.

Mr. Chetwynd

What action is being taken to prevent this kind of thing happening in future?

Mr. Rippon

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means by "this kind of thing". The mere fact that expenditure over the years has increased on some of these weapons for a variety of reasons does not imply that there has been any so-called waste.

20. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Minister of Aviation if he will give an approximate estimate of the amount of money spent during the last 10 years on projects for military aircraft and missiles, etc., which have been started and abandoned after it has been decided that they are not likely to be effective for defence purposes.

Mr. Sandys

The money spent on the development and production of military aircraft and missiles which have been stopped during the last ten years because they were unlikely to be effective for defence purposes amounts to about £55 million.

Mr. Hughes

Is that in addition to Blue Streak? Can the Minister assure us that there has been no further waste in this direction and that the public interest has been carefully safeguarded?

Mr. Sandys

The public interest is being carefully safeguarded. As was explained in the debate last week, Blue Streak has been stopped not because it was likely to be ineffective, but because we now see the prospect of obtaining a suitable mobile alternative at much lower cost?

Mr. Burden

Will my right hon. Friend say how much of the £55 million was spent on the Swift, which was started by the Labour Government?

Mr. Sandys

About £42 million.

Mr. de Freitas

Is it not a fact that it was a Select Committee which criticised the right hon. Gentleman for not stopping the Swift in time? The blame is on him and not on anybody who started it.

Mr. Sandys

I answered the Question. When we stopped the Swift, I was Minister of Supply. I am not criticising the Labour Government for starting the Swift, because my experience is that we do not know at an early stage which of two projects will be successful. Quite a short time before the Swift was cancelled—about a year or eighteen months before—the experts advised me that the Swift might turn out to be better than the Hunter.