§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)
I trust that the exchange which took place during the business questions does not mean that there is any doubt but that technology is a suitable and important subject to be debated on the occasion of the debate on the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech. Of course it is an extremely wide subject, ranging from the precise engineering of scientific machines like the giant accelerators of the present day down to the design and manufacture of articles of household use and the building and construction of houses.
It is not possible during the course of a debate to touch on more than a few of the subjects involved. Although, therefore, I hope the House will hear from the ample and almost unlimited talent at its disposal a number of speeches on various aspects of science and technology, I would wish to limit myself today to one or two specific questions arising within the ambit of the subject.
I want in particular to touch upon the wisdom or otherwise of appointing a separate Minister in charge of a separate Ministry of Technology, upon the wisdom or otherwise of dropping, or threatening or considering the dropping of, some of the advanced projects in the aircraft field—for instance, the Concord—or in the field of space research where we understand that similar projects are 371 in danger, upon the future of certain Government institutions under the new régimes, and also upon the desirability, as I see it, of adequate consultation with the responsible bodies and with both sides of the industries concerned before irrevocable decisions of any kind are taken.
Before I make this point, it would be discourteous of me not to welcome and congratulate the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who I understand is to speak after me in the debate. He will forgive me if I say that we have known each other for a very long time, in fact since we were very young men together. I hope that he will not mind me saying that, although deep political differences have always separated us, I have always considered him a personal friend, as I hope he will consider me.
§ Mr. Hogg
I wish the Secretary of State for Education and Science the very best of luck in his high office in every sense except the purely party political one. He brings—I think that it would be right for me to acknowledge that he brings—to his high office a very long experience of the House—longer, I fear, than my own. I think that I was elected a good deal before him, but there were some little constitutional difficulties which led to my temporary absence which now gives him the advantage of me. He brings a real love of education. He will forgive me if I say that I have sometimes detected in him a somewhat rigid outlook and a doctrinaire egalitarianism. I feel sure that he will be able to resist these tendencies. I assure him that he has the very greatest of good will from me, at any rate.
The right hon. Gentleman's presence on the Front Bench enables me to say one other thing about the Treasury Bench. In his opening speech the Prime Minister took particular pride in the fact that here we had the end of family connection and privilege and the old school tie. Instead of these things, there was a range of men, simple—minded[Laughter.]—but sternly devoted to the national interest, appointed solely on merit and coming from the widest possible and most representative range of family background.
372 I know that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I tell him that, in spite of this shining prospectus, as I contemplate the Treasury Bench I see a rather different aspect of affairs. The right hon. Gentleman himself was the successor to myself as President of the Oxford Union. One of my immediate predecessors was the hon. and learned Solicitor-General, then a Liberal, who has since, like so many of them, diverged either to the Right or to the Left from that upright, stony but somewhat unrewarding path of Liberalism. Side by side with him there is the Minister of Housing and Local Government, who at that time was studying with me at the same lectures. Then the Foreign Secretary—when he comes back amongst us, as I have no doubt he will very shortly, as we have heard that he will very shortly—was my next-door neighbour at the same scholars' table at the same college. The President of the Board of Trade has been a colleague of mine at another college for 20 years. The pretence that the Labour Party is more representative of the people at large than, say, my right hon. Friends the Members for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) and Bexley (Mr. Heath) is absurd, because although I never for a moment doubted that when we were at Oxford in the 'twenties and 'thirties we were members of a highly intelligent society it never occurred to me for a moment that we had not, all of us, including right hon. Members opposite, enjoyed a highly privileged system of education.
Let me say this plainly to the House. There never will be a party fully representative of all sections in the community until the revolution in education and technology which is now in progress is fully complete. It will not be fully complete, not merely until its products have gone through the schools and the colleges of further or higher education, but until in a few years' time they begin to enter the House and sit on both Front Benches, for the Government and for the Opposition. That is a process upon which I think we can all agree. In the meantime, neither party can claim an advantage over the other of the kind which the Prime Minister, with his divisive social philosophy, sought to claim.
I turn at once to the main subject of the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I do not think that there is a single subject upon which both parties 373 are more deeply agreed than the importance of science and technology to the country's future. It is a contentious subject, because it is one of those subjects upon every aspect of which, so far as I know, no two people can wholly agree, but there is no reason, I believe, why it should be the subject of party controversy in the sense of difference of political doctrine between us. Although I have criticisms to offer, as I know that my hon. Friends have, I think that both parties would do well to put on one side their preconceived political doctrines, because, as I believe, this is a field in which the rôle of the State is rapidly proving to be utterly different from what our predecessors in either the Conservative Party or the Socialist Party would have said 20 or 30 years ago.
I can sincerely say that I sought to pursue a bipartisan policy when I was in the office which the right hon. Gentleman now occupies. I appointed to the various research councils notable members of the party opposite, including the present Minister of Technology. As to the organisation of science and technology, I think that it can be said that we built up an organisation which has in many respects been a model for many other countries. It was not the device of any one Government. We have the nexus of the four research councils—the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Medical Research Council, the Nature Conservancy, and the Agricultural Research Council. We have the Atomic Energy Authority. We have the University Grants Committee. We have the special relationship with the Royal Society, formerly with the Treasury, but I hope soon to be continued with the Department of the right hon. Gentleman. We have a nexus of co-operative research through the research associations and a gradually growing chain of information services in the National Reference Library at Boston, Lincolnshire, and in the series of liaison officers based on technological colleges.
This nexus of related activities is, we believe, an indivisible unit. I do not believe it is possible, and if it were possible I should be quite sure that it was undesirable, to separate technology from science. Science is, so far as I can see, nothing else than the theoretical aspect of technology, and technology 374 is nothing else than the practical application of science.
Nor, as I believe it, is it at all possible to separate either science or technology from teaching in higher and further education, or even from teaching in the schools, especially nowadays when the extra year of school age is going to be developed more and more on technical and vocational lines and is ultimately going to match more and more the growing pattern of industrial training.
It is, I think, impossible to divide research from development. It is impossible to draw a rational division between industrial science and academic science. Industry again and again makes its grants to the universities. Universities again and again make their contributions to industry. It is for this reason that I am myself convinced that there is no place except the Department of Education and Science for the whole of this rapidly-developing nexus of related activity.
Of course, it has extended in scope and scale. I do not want to repeat figures that I gave to this House some months ago, but, to illustrate the size of our activities now, it will be remembered that whereas only 13 years ago we were spending something like 1½ per cent. of our national product on research and development, we are now spending something in the neighbourhood of 3 per cent. of a doubled national product. When one looks at the distribution of those sums one sees that they have moved from an expenditure mainly based on defence to an expenditure now increasingly based on civil science. To give one figure which I think is significant, instead of £30 million spent by the Government on civil science, the figure now is in the neighbourhood of £170 million.
Of course, the growth in scale which I have been trying to describe demands differences in organisation. Therefore, I make no complaint at all that the Prime Minister should have tackled the problem of organisation and considered the question of how it should be divided. But we had intended—and I still think it was the logical way in which to proceed—to build upon the existing organisations. We would, of course, have divided D.S.I.R., which had risen, I think, from a figure of under £10 million 375 to something over £27 million during my one tenure of office, into two or more research councils but we would have retained the research council system. We would have placed it under a single Minister and we would have kept it under a single advisory council on policy.
If I have correctly understood the new arrangements—and I certainly do not want to misrepresent anything; it is sometimes difficult to get the full flavour of the new arrangements from Press announcements—this new Ministry is to be created with a separate advisory council, and to take a part—although what part I do not think is yet clear, and this is one of the matters about which I desire to inquire—of the work of scientific and industrial research.
What is particularly disturbing about this is that it has already been greeted with a good deal of criticism from the bodies concerned, and that criticism is not an isolated criticism. It is precisely the same criticism of the right hon. Gentleman's actions which was made in another field about the imports levy, which was made in other fields, too, of the absence of consultation with the responsible bodies.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, before the Prime Minister decided to carve up his Department and to separate parts of the responsibilities which were formerly held under him, under a new Minister of Technology, what consultations he had with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. What consultations did he have with the Atomic Energy Authority; with, for instance, one of the principal Civil Service trade unions involved, the Institution of Professional Civil Servants? Did he consult the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy? Did he have any contact with the Royal Society? These are all bodies vitally concerned, and I would respectfully suggest to him that before a departure so radical had been adopted it would at least have been wise to take their opinions.
I know that there were people who claimed to want a Ministry of Technology, but I beg hon. Members to believe this: amongst those who took the other view from mine there was, I believe, no one—at least, no one I ever met 376 —who thought that there was room for a Ministry of Technology on the lines at present proposed. There were those—I remember that my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) was one of them who gave it public expression—who thought that the old Ministry of Supply, which became the Ministry of Aviation, ought to have been made the basis of a Ministry of Technology. I thought that was wrong. Technology is much wider than the subjects with which the Ministry of Aviation is familiar.
§ Mr. Robert Maxwell (Buckingham)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that I am in close touch with many leading scientists in this country, and I must tell him that they are of the opinion that only a Ministry of Technology could get our country to apply the results of known scientific principles to real industrial problems.
§ Mr. Hogg
I read the hon. Member's maiden speech the other day with appreciation and interest. It led me, and I believe the House, to wish to hear more from him, but I must point out to him, since he has intervened, that he is not dealing with the point that I am seeking to make. The point that I am seeking to make is this. The demand for a Ministry of Technology as it has hitherto been formulated took one or two forms neither of which is satisfied by the present arrangement. The first which I was discussing was the Ministry of Aviation as the basis of the new Ministry. Technology is too wide for that. It covers building technology. It covers the technologies of building and metal forming and all sorts of things outside the range of contracts and industries with which the Ministry of Aviation is concerned.
There were those who thought—again I was not one of them—that the Board of Trade ought to be a new Ministry of Technology. After all, the Board of Trade, it was argued, was excessively commercial and it ought to be made more technical. There was something in that, too. But I disagreed with it and I still think that was wrong. But again I point out—and this is the point which really must be made—that the Ministry of Technology, divorced from education, from the research-giving functions of D.S.I.R., from the 377 Edmonton would be passed over in Royal Society, from technical education, from research in the universities, from the two Ministries of the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Aviation—divorced, indeed, from all the other parts of the nexus—is nothing better than a fifth wheel to a coach. Nobody has asked for this, and I believe that it can do no good at all.
Although I welcome the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who is to reply to this speech, and much as I am attached to the right hon. Gentleman, I should very much rather be answered from that bench by the Minister of Technology himself. Why is he not in this House? Where is his Parliamentary Secretary? Was it really true that throughout the range of talent which I see on the benches opposite—these representatives of the skill and learning of the nation—there was not one man capable of fulfilling this vital function in Parliament except the gentleman who is not with us and whom the Prime Minister has appointed—the Prime Minister's landlord at Transport House, the secretary of the union which most conspicuously contributes to the Labour Party, an Aldermaston marcher, together with a distinguished and agreeable popular novelist?
I know and trust the integrity of both the gentlemen whom the Prime Minister has selected for this task, but they do not seem to me the kind of wheel horses who will harness Socialism to science and science to Socialism. They do not seem to me the kind of rocket launchers who will fling the new Britain into orbit. Has a greater affront ever been offered to the Parliamentary Labour Party than to say that there was nobody in either House of Parliament capable of fulfilling the task? Of course, the view of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) was that there was such a man. He may have been injudicious in giving vent to his disappointment quite so publicly, but I say frankly that I agree with him. In view of his chairmanship of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, of his long service in this House and of his close association with Imperial College, I cannot conceive how any responsible scientist, or, for that matter, any responsible Parliamentarian, could have believed that the hon. Member for 378 favour of Mr. Frank Cousins and Sir Charles Snow.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman was taking credit a few minutes ago for appointing Mr. Cousins one of his advisory scientists, will he take it from us that, since the Conservative Party would not allow the right hon. and learned Gentleman to form a Conservative Government, he is not going to pick the Labour Government either.
§ Mr. Hogg
I should not have picked the right hon. Gentleman as Prime Minister either. I should have chosen somebody else.
One is left to speculate as to what kind of offence, political or personal, the hon. Member for Edmonton caused the right hon. Gentleman in order to be passed over. One is left to brood darkly on the fact that Parliamentary untouchability—not to use the harsher word used against one of my hon. Friends—is not limited to the Conservative Party. Meantime, I can only express my regret that I am not facing the Minister of Technology. But this time it is not our fault. There is no miasma of leprosy emerging from these benches which is responsible for his absence. It is the Prime Minister himself who, by his own choice, has made his landlord the Minister of Technology.
I have indulged in what I think was a legitimate exchange with the right hon. Gentleman, but I think it right, and I believe the right hon. Gentleman thinks it right, that we should consider these matters in Parliament of Government machinery and Government structure. We discuss them too little. I think that they matter a great deal more than we are apt to assume. If I differ from the right hon. Gentleman, it is not because I do not think they are important, but because he has gone the wrong way about dealing with a genuine problem.
I want to move on to questions of policy. First among these is the threat to jettison the Concord project and E.L.D.O. and E.S.R.O. These are described, at least by the Government White Paper by implication, as prestige projects. The Royal Society and the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy advised us consistently—and I believe 379 that it was right advice which I sought to take—that the only things which bring a nation prestige in the long run are those which are scientifically and technologically correct. The only projects which I recognise as prestige projects are those which can be justified on technological or scientific grounds. If by "prestige projects" the Government mean projects based on any other basis of valuation than one which is sound technologically, educationally, economically, then I deny that these were prestige projects.
I was somewhat appalled at the sudden change which I seemed to detect in Government policy on this subject. During the election I had occasion to read some Labour election literature. The print which I have in my hand was circulated in Central Nottingham and printed in Bristol. It is entitled "Labour and the Aircraft Industry". It has on the back of it the thumbs-up sign andLet's go. Labour will get things done".The workers on the Concord project have no quarrel to make with the last sentence: they have been done.
I want to read one or two sentences from this pamphlet which was circulated to aircraft workers by the Labour Party candidates concerned in the constituencies where they were likely to be:What will a Labour Government do? In the first place, the aircraft industry above all needs long term planning—with the Concord we are already looking ahead to 1970, and for projects of this kind"—that is, the Concord project—working with Europe widens the initial market and spreads the cost.I agree with every word of that. I think that it was good stuff. But I wonder what the voters who may have voted Labour on the faith of this pamphlet will think of the voyage of the Minister of Aviation, whom we are glad to see back again to answer this debate, about the project which he tried to unveil to the French Government in the light of the pledges given here. They may even think that they were bonkers to do so. This is not a matter which they will take quite as lightly as hon. Members opposite.
Let me try to indicate what the justification for projects of this kind can be. It is true—and this is the point at which 380 I meant that the rôle of the State in modern technological society is, perhaps, a little different from what the doctrinaires of either side would have led us to believe—that each one of these projects when entered into has many rivals, of which we can choose only one or two. I shall not argue—others will be more competent than myself—which of a series of alternative projects of this kind should have been selected, whether mach 2 or mach 3, aluminium, titanium or stainless steel, whether one should have gone in for variable geometry or for supersonic flight by itself, vertical take-off and the rest. They are all vulnerable to the same kind of criticism. In the first place, they are extremely uncertain; secondly, return is extremely long-delayed and, thirdly, commercial profit is by no means certain. These are facts which have to be accepted by both sides of the House and they are one of the things which we have to look at.
There are very few technologically advanced countries. America, I think, is in front. I believe, although I do not want to enter into disputes about the Iron Curtain and what lies behind it, that we are second or very nearly second. France, Japan and other countries are catching up.
So far, those who have got way out in advance—and the Americans are easily the most advanced—have done so largely because of Government money spent on projects of this kind, sometimes 10 years in advance and usually, it must be said, and said, I think, with regret, defence money spent on the possibility of improving military projects. I do not approve of that but it is a fact. Jet travel, electronics, nuclear generation of electricity and aeroplanes of all kinds in two world wars all owe the technological break-through to investment of this kind.
The Concord and the space projects E.S.R.O. and E.L.D.O. also have their origins very largely in something similar, but they represented, and they represent now, an honest attempt to move away from the defence budget, to create technological fall-out and technological advance by means of a civilian project. I should have thought that for that reason they would have appealed to hon. Members opposite. They certainly appealed to us.
381 I say this to the right hon. Gentleman in all sincerity. The Americans are very good allies and, being half American, I trust and love them as no other foreign nation in the world. Make no mistake about it, however. When it comes to technological advance, they are not on the side of European technology. We need to recognise this fact. They will drive us out of the aircraft market if they can. They will drive us out of the space satellite market if they can and out of the generation of electricity by nuclear power if they can. They will do so, no doubt, by legitimate means, but if we care, as I care and as, I believe, hon. Members opposite care no less, for the real technological advance of this country, we are not going to let them do it.
Supersonic jet travel will come. The communications satellite will come and will multiply all over the face of the world the technological development and the commercial advance of mankind. Each time we talk of developing a new underdeveloped country, we are talking, if we are sincere—and I know that we are—about the industrialisation of that country. We are creating for ourselves potential commercial rivals in the field of conventional technology. The only way in which we can carry this thing through with honour, dignity and prosperity to our own people is in backing future enterprises of this kind, which cost hundreds of millions of £s, as they undoubtedly will, and some of which undoubtedly will fail. None the less, it is the greatest mistake to believe that the technological fall-out which ultimately we gain from such endeavours will not more than compensate us for those efforts.
If we are to abandon any one of these projects, the only thing with which it is legitimate to replace them is not something for the moment, not something in the short-term, not a device to get rid of some balance of payments crisis, but another project considered better in exactly the same class. I cannot help thinking that this decision was taken without adequate consultation. I do not like the way in which it was announced after literature of the kind to which I have referred was circulated during the election. I do not like the element of bad faith about it with regard to our French partner.
382 If we are to carry out projects of this kind, whether the Concord project or the E.S.R.O. or E.L.D.O. project, upon which much of the future of the aircraft and electronics industry will depend, it is no good believing that we can rely solely upon a market for the project when it is produced limited simply to this country. It is no good looking across the Atlantic in the hope that the United States may back us up, whether they will or not, 10 years from now. We have got to build upon the prospect of an assured market and the only place where we can look is the European Continent, where there are nations of equivalent or almost equivalent technological advance needing the same things in the same position vis-à-vis the United States and able to give us a joint market.
If we abandon this, if we abandon and tear up a contract which has been solemnly entered into, who will ever trust us again? Is it the French, the Germans or the Americans? Is it management or is it the trade unions who have been served up with stuff like this election literature? Who will trust us again? I beg the right hon. Gentleman to go back on his decision and think whether he has acted wisely.
I end with this simple reflection. There is a good deal more that I should like to say, but I do not wish to detain the House. I began by emphasising the economic importance of science and technology. It is not only a matter of economic importance. We are the heirs and guardians of a civilisation in which there are many different strands with their roots deeply sunk into the past. But rightly or wrongly, for good or for ill, science with technology is the one characteristic contribution to that civilisation which this generation has been able to make. It is not only an economic contribution. It is a contribution to the civilisation of our time. It is the spiritual insights, the academic disciplines, the honour and respect for truth, the ability dispassionately to weigh evidence, the refusal to sit down under practical failure which are part of our cultural as well as our economic heritage. By fragmenting it, the right hon. Gentleman has done no good service to the technology and science of this country.
It is not too late for the right hon. Gentleman to turn back. He knows that I am a critic of his, and I have made 383 no bones about it, but I beg him to turn back from the course which he has set himself. Let him realise, first, that much more depends upon personal relations in this matter than public relations. Let him do more consulting and please, less insulting. [Interruption.] I have never called anybody a leper yet. Let the right hon. Gentleman, above all things, realise that this country does not want a presidential system of Government. He has, I believe, brought chaos into the organisation of science and technology by ill-considered action, and he has at any rate jeopardised, and may have ruined, a large section of the aircraft and electronics industry.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Michael Stewart)
Let me begin by thanking the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) for his references to myself, though I am bound to say that at one stage when he was apparently claiming either that he was so firmly attached to me or I to him, I felt, Mr. Speaker, that if we were to have much more of this I should have to ask for your protection, if I were to maintain the good will of my hon. Friends.
Now the main question to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been concerned has been that of the creation of a Ministry of Technology, and he has made that the text for a general discussion of how education, science and the application of science in industry should be governmentally organised, and it is that question immediately that I wish to take up.
I put to him and to the House this proposition, that this process, which ends in the immense triumphs of science and technology, today begins in the schools, begins at the very earliest stage of education. We have to consider, therefore, what Government Department should be responsible for the schools. Then we have to consider universities and the varied field of further education, and we are drawn to the conclusion that there is a very close connection between the school and the university. Then, pursuing the thread further, we find that, if we want governmental activity in the field of basic scientific research, what the Government do in that field must be 384 closely connected with what they do in relation to universities. There is, I think, an indissoluble link between the universities and basic scientific research. So we have the school, the university and basic scientific research.
We then have the field which I think it may be most useful to distinguish as science in industry. It is not, I think, really accurate to describe it as a distinction between pure and applied science, because the person who is engaged in scientific activity in the industrial field will need to be interested also in basic scientific research if he is to do his work properly, but there is, I think, a difference of approach. One can say that we will pursue a particular field of scientific study in order to produce certain practical results which we desire and that we will conduct our work with that in view, or we can say that here is a man studying scientific truth and going down this path or that as the nature of his studies seems to lead him. That, I think, is the difference between what I have called science in industry, on the one hand, and basic scientific research on the other, though it is not a distinction which can be drawn with absolute rigidity.
I have suggested, then, that we have the continuation of school, university, basic scientific research, and science in industry, or technology. If I understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposition aright it was that all these were so closely connected that they ought to be in one Ministry. If he was not advancing that proposition I do not see what he was advancing, and I think that that is clearly what he was trying to argue—that all of those should be the responsibility of one Minister.
§ Mr. Stewart
Yes, it seems to me that the difference between "in one Ministry" and "under one Minister" is not as valid a distinction as all that. At any rate—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is very important."] Let us get this clear then. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was arguing that all these things should 385 be under one Minister, but surely he has noticed that he himself in another part of his speech was at great pains to emphasise the very wide range of technology, how it was concerned with building, with medicine, with a great range of other fields, so much so that it has been thought fit to devote a whole speech, perhaps a whole debate, to this aspect, which would be only one aspect of the multifarious responsibilities of a Minister who would have the total of responsibilities which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is asking for. Every-thing he said about the wide range of technology militated against the argument that these should be put under the same Minister who is responsible for the schools, for the universities and for basic scientific research as well. I do not believe any one man, not even, if I may say so, the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself, could discharge that range of responsibility properly.
What is more, the late Government did not believe that either. It was their proposal, for example, that the National Research Development Corporation should remain with the Board of Trade, but on all the arguments we have heard advanced from the right hon. and learned Gentleman this afternoon that would have been a totally illogical distinction. The fact that they made that decision meant that they had recognised that one could not put this whole range from nursery school to the development of science in industry under one Minister. That being accepted, as it must be accepted, and as the late Government, by their action if not by their words, did accept, we have to consider where best the break can be made.
Not, I think, between the schools and the university. Despite the view of the majority of the members of the Robbins Committee, neither this Government nor their predecessors thought it was right to put the schools and the universities under two separate Ministries. I believe very strongly that that was the right decision. I will not labour the point because this, I think, is common ground now between the parties. It is also accepted that it is not right to make the break between the universities and scientific research. I think it an equally impossible break to make. That I do not think will be disputed either.
386 We are left, therefore, with the alternative of making some break which puts scientific research, universities and schools on one side, and the application of science in industry on the other. We are left with the alternative either of making that break or of attempting to get this immense range of activities under one Minister, a decision which I do not believe is wise, and the logic of which, when it came to the point, the late Government were not prepared to accept, as was demonstrated by their decision concerning the National Research Development Corporation. That is why I cannot accept the main proposition of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there should have been this immense packing of responsibilities into one Ministry and under one Minister.
The decision that there should be a Ministry of Technology does present, of course, a problem of where one draws the line between the functions of the Department of Education and Science and those of the Ministry of Technology. I shall try not to weary the House with too many names of organisations and recitations of initials, and I shall try to make this part of my speech as brief and, I hope, as clear as it can be made. In the Department of Education and Science we have a group of research councils, the Medical Research Council and the Agricultural Research Council, which are and remain in the Department, and I think that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman applied to their work some of the logic he applied to science and technology he would have found himself accumulating to his Ministry some of the functions of the Ministry of Health and of the Ministry of Agriculture in addition.
Next there will be the Science Research Council, which will take up some of the functions formerly pursued by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and under the Council will be found one of the organisations to which I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, the European Space Research Organisation.
Then there will be a new council, the Natural Environment Research Council, which will bring together the activities of the Nature Conservancy, Geological Museum and various other groups of study—oceanography, and so on. That carries out the advice which we have been given, and which I think was tendered 387 to the late Government, about the importance of bringing together into one group what are sometimes called the earth sciences.
One has, then, in the Department of Education and Science, these four Research Councils, two older and two just coming into existence—the Science Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council. Also in the Department of Education and Science there is the Council for Scientific Policy which, among other duties, will be concerned with advising the Secretary of State on the allocation of resources between different fields of research. That seems to me to be a coherent and sensible arrangement of the functions of basic scientific research, and I do not believe that the late Government would really have disputed that.
I want to turn now to what will be the functions of the Ministry of Technology, but before doing so I think I should say that I deplored the reference made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the Minister of Technology and to his Parliamentary Secretary. I do not think that it is necessary to labour the point, because in due time the Minister of Technology will be able to deal with it himself. I merely say this for the time being, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be well advised not to continue on that tack. If we start inquiring into whether people's backgrounds make them suitable for jobs in the Government, people might inquire what there was in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's background to make anyone suggest that he was entitled to pontificate about science or technology, or indeed to be responsible for the schools which the majority of his fellow citizens attend.
We are concerned with more serious matters than the personal insults of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The high water mark of his speech was achieved when he advised my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister not to be insulting. May I advise the right hon. and learned Gentleman to read some of his own speeches before he gives advice of that kind. He urged upon us the importance of any Minister concerned with the responsibilities which he used to hold, and which I now hold, being 388 capable of calm, sober, scientific judgment. I will gladly endeavour to follow his advice, rather than his example.
I turn now to the serious question of the functions of the Ministry of Technology. It will have among its duties the Atomic Energy Authority, and the industrial side of the D.S.I.R. It will also have the work now being done by the National Research Development Corporation. On this point I think that I should take up something which genuinely worried the right hon. and learned Gentleman, namely, the anxieties of many scientific civil servants about this new arrangement.
Let us notice what the late Government proposed. They proposed to take the industrial side of the D.S.I.R. and create from it a new body called the Industrial Research Development Authority, which was to be not exactly a Government Department at all but more or less under the aegis of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The point that I want to make is that the dissolution of the D.S.I.R. was as much a part of the late Government's proposals as it is of the present Government's proposals. That is important, because the criticisms recently voiced by the Institution of Professional Civil Servants were criticisms against the dissolution of the D.S.I.R. at all, and I think that I should draw the attention of the members of that body—for whom anyone who has even the beginnings of an understanding of this work must have the greatest respect—to the fact that under the proposals of the late Government they would have ceased to be civil servants. They would have had greater cause for anxiety with regard to salary, status and prospects than they will have now, when they will have an assured Governmental status in the Ministry of Technology.
There was consultation, of course, between the late Government and all the persons concerned about the reorganisation which they proposed to make. While we were in Opposition a number of my hon. Friends also had consultations, though these of course had to be unofficial, and it was a widely held view that there should be established a Ministry of Technology. It seems to me that the worry which the Institution has, and rightly has, about the status of its members under the new 389 set-up is something about which there can be the very fullest consultations. A decision about the organisation of Government itself had to be taken soon after this Government came in, in view of the fact that there were proposals by the late Government and it was necessary to reach a firm and definite decision at the earliest possible moment.
I want to say just one other word about the work of the D.S.I.R. and its Council. The new arrangements which this Government are making, and the arrangements proposed by the late Government, both of which involve the breaking up of the D.S.I.R., should not be taken as in any way a reflection on the work or usefulness of that body—indeed, the reverse. It is because the work of that body has resulted in such a vast expansion in the field of science in industry that it has become necessary to make these new arrangements. I should like to make that very clear in case there is any doubt at all on that point.
I propose next to say a few words about other activities within the Ministry of Technology.
§ Mr. Hogg
I am very interested in, and grateful for, the detail which the right hon. Gentleman has given. Can he tell me two things which seem to be crucial to this part of the case? What is going to become of the National Physical Laboratory? Has the Royal Society been consulted about that? What is going to happen to the Atomic Energy Authority? Is it going to continue as a single body?
§ Mr. Stewart
The question of the National Physical Laboratory has still to be decided. That has been stated already in an official Government statement, and we shall have proper consultation and advice about that. Nor can I at this stage give the right hon. and learned Gentleman a precise answer to his second question. That is something on which a final decision will have to be taken a little later.
I was dealing with certain other functions of the Ministry of Technology. First, it will be concerned with trying to develop in the civilian field the kind of research and development contract with which we have been familiar so far in the military field. It will have to pursue 390 the line of thought which was put forward in an important memorandum prepared by the Federation of British Industries about civilian research, and it will have certain specific problems to pursue, for instance, in the computer and machine tool industries.
I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would dispute that any of those activities are necessary and desirable. Does he still stick to the view that they must all come under the same Minister who is to be responsible for universities, for higher and further education and for every school from the sixth form down to the nursery school? When he took that view, as he did in his speech, he had not fully weighed how great this field of science in industry would be, and I beg him to apply again to this question the careful scientific thought which' he urged upon us all and consider whether he may not have been mistaken in his view that this should all be in one Ministry.
§ Mr. Hogg
The right hon. Gentleman has appealed to me. My reply is that this has been very carefully considered, and what the right hon. Gentleman is overlooking is that, under the proposals of the late Government and, indeed, under the organisation which existed before, those proposals were carried into effect. All these multifarious activities were not conducted by the Minister. They were conducted by various councils, and the technological activities, in particular, were conducted by the D.S.I.R. and would have been conducted by the I.R.D.A.
§ Mr. Stewart
The trouble is that it any Government were to answer the kind of questions which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was firing off in his speech some Minister would have to know what was going on. He would not be in a position to say that something was not his responsibility but was the responsibility of some council or authority. Therefore, the remedy which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just advanced is really only a recipe for enabling Ministers to dodge responsibilities which this House would expect to be upon them.
§ Mr. Hogg
The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that. There were five Ministers who answered. Those 391 questions were never dodged in the last Parliament. They were answered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), by the Parliamentary Secretary or by myself.
§ Mr. Stewart
I must draw the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention again to the fact that this field will enlarge itself very greatly. It is to this that he has not paid sufficient attention and which I am begging him to consider again.
In addition, as has been announced, there will be in the Ministry of Technology an Advisory Council on Technology, with the Minister as chairman and with Professor Blackett as deputy chairman. I believe this to be an important part of the whole set-up because it is vital to assure the scientist who works in a Ministry of this kind that the work of scientific discovery will not be subject to day-to-day political requirements or expediencies and that the status of the scientist in the Department and his right of access to the Minister are such as to ensure the pursuit of his work in a scientific spirit.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
Does the establishment of the new Advisory Council on Technology mean that the work of the Council on Scientific Manpower will be split into two parts and that separate committees will be formed to report on technological manpower and scientific manpower to the two Ministers respectively?
§ Mr. Stewart
I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman at this stage on the exact future of that body. The question of manpower will be one of the most important points at which the Department of Education and Science and the Ministry of Technology come together. This must be so. The Ministry of Technology is in the most favourable position to ascertain what are likely to be the needs of industry for any particular kind of skilled or professional manpower, but meeting those needs, of course, means looking at the whole education system. To some extent, we already have to have comparable consultations between the Department of Education and Science and, say, the 392 Ministry of Health about the supply of doctors. The right hon. and learned Gentleman kept saying that things were divorced from one another. The fact that one puts one function in one Ministry and one in another does not mean that they are permanently divorced or not on speaking terms. A man and wife are two distinct persons and they are not necessarily divorced for that reason.
There is a considerable point of substance here, namely, that there must of necessity be close consultation between my Department and the Ministry of Technology. But this, after all, is true of my Department and a good many other Ministries because, as I just said in answer to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), the Department responsible for education is concerned in the provision of skilled and professional manpower in any number of fields and must have close relations with several other Ministries. It does not follow, because of that need for consultation, that the best result is produced by putting an impossibly large burden of work into one Ministry.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred repeatedly to the Concord project, and on this, no doubt, other hon. Members will have something to say during the debate. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation will be dealing very fully with the question. It was at this point in his speech that the right hon. and learned Gentleman set forth his general principles with regard to prestige and research projects generally. I accept entirely that one must be prepared, in scientific work, often to spend considerable sums of money when the result is uncertain. The pursuit of knowledge in one field may give a fall-out of knowledge in totally unexpected quarters. If one takes too narrow a view of what it is sensible to research into, one will ultimately dry up the whole fountain of knowledge.
That, I think, was the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. As far as it went, it was an astoundingly true argument, so true as to be almost platitudinous. What it stopped short of, of course, was this: given a certain amount of national resources, only a certain number of projects can be pursued. In the last resort, when one has taken the most generous view of the desirability of this 393 kind of research or that, there must be a decision dictated by resources and by priorities. It was at that crucial point in the argument that the right hon. and learned Gentleman stopped short.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
Will not the Minister agree that there is another factor which must always be given great weight, that is, the extent to which one is already in on a very good lead over other countries?
§ Mr. Stewart
I would not dispute that at all. As I have said, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation will be dealing very fully with that aspect of the matter.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred also to the organisation known as E.L.D.O. This also has fallen, and still falls, within my right hon. Friend's responsibilities.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
The right hon. Gentleman will facilitate the remainder of the debate if he gives the House an indication of the purpose and result of his right hon. Friend's visit to France. The House and the country are really in the dark, and it is difficult to discuss the merits of this most important matter unless one has a little more information.
§ Mr. Stewart
I am replying to a speech in which, I agree, this was an important point, but only one point in a very full review of the Government's whole attitude to science and technology. I have a good deal to say that must be said in that field. I think it is entirely reasonable that my right hon. Friend should deal with that matter at the end of the debate. If it had been the Opposition's wish to have this dealt with at the beginning of the debate they should clearly have indicated that preference earlier, and in that case I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have given it much greater prominence in his speech.
§ Mr. Stewart
No, I cannot give way. I think I have given way sufficiently.
394 I have tried to cover the various points covered by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his survey of the dividing line between the Ministry of Technology and the Department of Education and Science. There will remain, of course, certain sectors of the boundary that still have to be exactly plotted out, but I think I have referred to all the parts of it to which he referred.
I want in conclusion to invite the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House to consider this general point about the attitude of a Government towards education and science. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the development of science and technology was our generation's peculiar contribution to the civilisation in which we live. That is true; but I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not noticed a further fact, that when one lives in a highly scientific and technological civilisation it becomes necessary to take a rather broader view of the education process—for this reason, that every new scientific discovery and every application of science to industry affects very greatly the livelihoods of very large numbers of people. Part of the task of getting the full application of scientific knowledge in industry is making it clear to people whose livelihoods depend on present ways of making and producing things that scientific advance need not be a danger to them.
If one wants technological advance, therefore, it is not sufficient for one's education system to produce merely the brilliant worker in the laboratory. It must produce in the population as a whole a sufficient level of understanding of what a technological civilisation means for one to be able to carry one's whole population with one in the changes that a technological civilisation involves. That is why I would have regarded the appointment to the Ministry of Technology of somebody who understands that kind of problem and is so closely in touch with many of those whose lives will be affected by technological advance as an eminently suitable appointment.
The moral of this point goes a little further, too. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not refer at all to any of the work of my Department other than the technological questions. I do not quarrel with that. It only makes me 395 wonder how long some of his speeches would have been if there had been added into one Department under his control all the things he wants. The point I want to make about educational development in general is this. If we are to move properly into a technological age, we must ensure not only that we provide the opportunity for the exceptionally brilliant but that the level of understanding is raised in the whole population. Otherwise one will get such a resistance to technological advance as will frustrate the discoveries of the most brilliant.
There is, I think, no example in history of a civilisation having foundered because its most brilliant and exceptional citizens were denied opportunities, but there are several examples of a civilisation's development having been halted and frustrated and turned into reverse because it had managed to produce only a limited, elite, highly intelligent class but had not advanced sufficiently the education of all its people. That was the fate of the Greco-Roman civilisation. The invention of the steam engine and of many other things remained as models in the library at Alexandria because with the great mass of uneducated, unskilled labour it was not worth anyone's while to turn them into practical application. The context and the examples would be different today, but I believe that the same principle prevails.
There will, no doubt, be opportunities later in this Session for the right hon. and learned Gentleman and me to debate the other responsibilities of my Department, but if he is concerned, as I believe he is, in the advancement of scientific knowledge and in its application for the advancement of mankind, he must bear in mind that part of the mechanism necessary for that is an education which not merely concerns itself with a few who are chosen by wealth or birth or on judgments of intellectual merit but is determined to harness to its service the intellect and gifts, greater or smaller, of all its citizens.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
In the interests of time, I propose to confine myself to one aspect only of technology, and that is the aircraft industry, with particular reference to the question of the Concord, which is one of immense 396 importance and urgency and great anxiety to my constituency and the constituencies of a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
I know my right hon. and hon. Friends will agree with me in expressing very considerable disappointment that the Government did not think it right to tell us at a sufficiently early stage in this debate what the present position is. There has been great speculation in the newspapers, and, if one reads the French newspapers, there has been a great deal more than speculation, and our constituents are gravely anxious. I should have thought that it would have been the right thing for us to be given some indication of what the situation is so that we did not have to speak, as I do, completely in the dark. We shall hear something about it in the last speech in this debate, and if there is criticism to be made it will be too late. That surely is not a very usual way of conducting Parliamentary debates.
In my constituency, I have the responsibility of looking after the interests of at least 10,000 people who depend for their living on the aircraft industry and other industries connected with it, which are many and varied, and, as I have said, they are deeply anxious at the present time. They are entitled to know from the Government what the position is and what the Government's intentions are. I should have thought that they were entitled to hear from the man who is in charge of those interests in the Cabinet, but unfortunately they are unable to do so today because the responsible Minister is not here. At least, if he is here he is invisible. Where he is I do not know. Perhaps he is outside in the "Snow". I do not blame Mr. Cousins for that position. Apparently he was not asked to do the job earlier. Otherwise he would, no doubt, have thought it right to submit himself to the verdict of the electors. I blame the Prime Minister for his "high-handed" action. That phrase is not mine. It comes from a newspaper which was certainly not entirely unfavourable to the Prime Minister during the election—The Times..
Who was responsible for the way in which the matter was handled with the French? There again, we would like the opportunity to be told—[Interruption.] I do not think that General de Gaulle is 397 acting as the agent of Mr. Cousins. It may be, of course, that Mr. Cousins is now in Paris with the General. We do not know. Let me refer to what is said in the Gracious Speech:My Government … will seek to promote closer European co-operation.This is a rather remarkable example of how the Government have set about it. Whoever it was who did this, it is surely one of the most ham-fisted pieces of bungling in history.
What my constituents, and the constituents of many other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides, want to know is whether, in the opinion of the Government, we are to have an aircraft industry in Britain. What is the importance and value of the industry? What is its importance in the context of this debate? Again I refer to the Gracious Speech:Our industries will be helped to gain the full benefits of advances in scientific research and applied technology.I suggest that the leading industry in technology is the aircraft industry. It is a key defence industry. It is an ideal export industry because it uses very little raw material, and it has proved, during recent years, to be a very great earner of money through exports.
Technologically, the industry pioneers for practically the whole of the light engineering industry, particularly in its most modern applications, including such things as metallurgy, electronics and miniaturisation. May I remind the House of what was said about it recently by the Director of the National Research and Development Corporation? He said:Increasingly the Aircraft Industry first tackles, then solves and finally dominates the solution of problems which no other branch of engineering would have an incentive to attempt … Its results react back on and influence the general engineering industry so that by remaining in the forefront of aeronautical engineering we keep our position in the forefront of general engineering.That is what it does. If we are to have an aircraft industry at all—and I assume that the answer will be "Yes"—it must be a fury equipped spearhead industry.
It is no use trying to maintain an industry of second or third-class aircraft and trainers. Moreover, we cannot do it alone. I think that we all recognise that today. But we can do it in co-operation 398 with the European aircraft and space industries, and that is the line we have been working along during the last five or six years—a line upon which I thought both sides of the House were agreed, and certainly that it was agreed by the present Minister of Aviation.
If the United States were to gain domination in this key sector, we would lose our position in international technology once and for all and would never have an opportunity to regain it. We should end up as a third-rate technological power. Is that the kind of thing the Prime Minister had in mind when he made all those television boasts during the election about our great future in this wonderful field of technology? We have heard today that the Concord is only a prestige matter. There was plenty of prestige sought in those television broadcasts of the Prime Minister. But it was not for the aircraft industry perhaps. It was for the future Prime Minister.
The policy of the past few years has been coming to fruition. People like Sir George Edwards and others who have been engaged in encouraging co-operation for years have found recently that they were getting very much closer to the French. The Concord is not the only project involved. Many of these bright aeronautical writers write as if there was only the Concord. As hon. Members know, there are other agreements. I need not detail them but they include the air-to-surface weapons for the TSR2 and the Mirage. There are radar developments. There is the great work between Marconi and a French firm. There is the Bristol agreement with an organisation known as S.N.E.C.M.A., the Rolls Royce-Hispano Suiza set-up and the E.L.D.O. and the E.S.R.O. Research Centre.
Does anyone think that we can go on with these if we scrap Concord? Will there be much enthusiasm left for them? Perhaps the Minister of Aviation will be able to tell us. What about other further projects that we know lie ahead? What about the military fighter designed for both French and British use, of which there is great hope and which, if it meets a common requirement, could supply a very good outlet for us? Then there is the Galleon, a large short-range jet upon which there is to be co-operation, we hope—or we did hope—between B.A.C. and Sud-Aviation and B.E.A. and Air France. 399 What hope have these projects if we throw the Concord away?
The knock-out of the Concord would also, it is believed—and I am assured by people who know about these matters—be absolutely disastrous to the French aircraft industry. Indeed, it is already said in Paris that the name is being changed in Paris from Concord to perfide
There is a very sad matter which I must mention because we want a statement about it from the Government. There is a very sad story in the French Press, and going all over the aircraft industry, that there is an alleged deal with the United States under which, if we scrap the Concord, we shall get some benefits from the Americans. I do not believe this to be true but let us be assured in this House exactly what ground there is for the story.
§ Sir L. Heald
These things have to be brought out into the open and stamped upon. We do not want to have trouble with America, although there are people, as we know, who do and always have done.
It is said that the Concord is not viable. I do not believe that to be true. That is not a matter for me but there is technological evidence available. If there is to be an inquiry let it be an open one. What some people are afraid of is that we may be told that there has been an inquiry behind closed doors and that, by a curious coincidence, it has confirmed the Prime Minister's decision. We do not want that. We want full disclosure of any inquiries that are made and to know what has already been done in that way, if the decision has already been made. We also want to know what has happened in Paris. My friends at Vickers want to know about the TSR 2. Is that the next on the list? We want some information about that and I hope that we shall get it towards the end of the evening.
The rumours which I have mentioned are the kind of thing which greatly disturbs the aircraft workers. My friends the aircraft workers have had documents like that which the House has been shown. They have had visits from hon. Members who made speeches, which they told me were of the most encouraging character, about the Concord. We ought to have 400 some explanation about how the change came about between the views of the then shadow Minister of Aviation and the present Minister, because they do seem to have taken different views.
I apologise for detaining the House as long as I have, but I believe that this is a matter of very great importance. It certainly is to my constituents. I have always insisted that the aircraft industry and its problems are not a party political matter. It has certainly done me no harm to say so, because in my constituency there is the curious fact that although since 1951 the electorate has increased by more than 12,000, including several thousand who work at Vickers, the Labour vote this time was smaller than it was in 1951.
This is what was said by Sir George Edwards, one of our greatest men in the aircraft industry, a man for whom we all have the highest regard, when he spoke at the twenty-first Brancker Memorial Lecture:Apart from its impact on world communications, on travel and on trade patterns—Concord also represents the first full collaboration on such a venture by two great European powers. It may possibly represent the first step to a world rationalisation of civil aviation effort. In some ways Concord may go into the history books more on that account than because it is the world's first supersonic airliner.Let us hope that in spite of what has been done or said so far, Concord will go into the history books and not into the bonfire of the Labour Party.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
It is with a certain fear and trepidation that I have been sitting here, not just because I have been about to make a maiden speech but because, as a teacher of history, I have been acutely aware of the date—5th November—and it is a rather sombre thought that on a day on which we are discussing technology, what Guy Fawkes failed to do with several clumsy barrels of gunpowder can now be done by the touch of a button.
As many other new Members have, I have sought advice on the form of a maiden speech from many hon. Members. Some have drilled me well in the forms and conventions of a maiden speech. Others, I regret to say, have told me that I should ignore them. 401 Perhaps the best advice came from my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) who told me to ignore everyone's advice. As he follows that precept so resolutely himself, I am encouraged to do that.
There is one custom which it is not only a duty to carry out but which is a very great pleasure. It is to refer to the previous Member for Renfrewshire, West. All hon. Members knew him well. He was popular on both sides of the House, although I did not know him myself—Jack Maclay. The word I have heard used most commonly about him is "kindly" and those who know something of his circumstances over the last few years will add the word "courageous". All of us would wish his wife and himself health and many years to enjoy his well-earned retirement.
Today we are discussing technology and I should like to link it with yesterday's debate on economic affairs. Most hon. Members on this side of the House were pleased by two things yesterday. One was my right hon. Friend's statement on the controls over office building in London and the other was the decisive declaration of the establishment of regional planning. I am ware that both "planning" and "controls" are often regarded as dirty words in certain parts of the House. Sometimes hon. Members opposite make a serious philosophical error in this respect. They think of them as abstract terms, but control is a concrete term—all truth is concrete—and we see controls as bringing elements of freedom to the decaying areas of the country.
In passing, may I say that the same kind of sense of social purpose which was brought into those two statements was also in the statement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport yesterday. I welcomed it as bringing back a sense of social purpose into our transport instead of the narrow concept of profit. Someone has reminded us of the statement, "We are the masters now". Perhaps the Minister of Transport could change it to, "We are the station masters now," and thank goodness for that!
No area could be more pleased than my own to have some regional planning. 402 I do not wish to make a mere constituency speech, but West Renfrewshire is a kind of microcosm of Scotland. It contains the problems of Scotland, and to the extent that we can handle the problems of my constituency we can solve some of those of Scotland.
At one end of the constituency there is the shipbuilding area of Port Glasgow, with all the problems involved in that traditional industry in a decaying area. It is regrettable that throughout the lifetime of the last Parliament unemployment in the area of Port Glasgow never dropped below 7 or 8 per cent. The other end of the area contains the new industrial complex of Rootes and Pressed Steel.
This is not just the problem of Renfrewshire. Scotland is like a mining village. In a mining village, when the pit closes, the community dies. The same is true of Scotland. If the Clyde dies, Scotland dies, and the problem we are facing in my constituency is therefore the problem of the Clyde and the problem of Scotland. It is the problem of the survival of Scotland as an industrial nation.
Shipbuilding is one industry in which technology has never been fully harnessed. There are reasons for that, but we must be immediately seriously considering the expansion, with expenditure by industry, or Government, or both, of research facilities for the industry. The shortage of experimental tanks, for example, in this country is shocking. I have heard of firms having to go to Holland to get the right kind of experimental tank facilities because there were queues of other shipbuilding firms at Teddington and other places like that where the few tanks are.
I am sure that this is not part of the convention of a maiden speech, but I am a little worried about the retrospective effect of the 15 per cent. imports surcharge on the shipbuilding areas when contracts have already been placed—and I can think of several examples. The import duty will not prevent the purchase of ships, but it will add to costs and I should like the Government sympathetically to consider the effects of the import levy when it is handled retrospectively.
In shipbuilding, in addition to research and the technological aspect, I should like there to be a review of credit facilities and especially of Government underwriting of long-term loans. Hon. Members 403 will be aware of the loss of orders because of the previous Government's failure to underwrite long-term loans. There should also be a review of the shipping needs of under-developed areas—the rivers of Asia and the necessity for coastal shipping for Africa—which could be handled by the Government's underwriting of long-term loans. This is a way of solving industrial problems at the same time as acting in a humane way towards under-developed countries, two under-developed areas helping each other.
We need not only shipbuilding research in the narrow sense but commercial research in a wider sense, finding what needs exist in the world and what kinds of shipping can deal with them, as well as using technology in the building.
We cannot allow Scotland to lose those men of the Clyde who can take a 10-ton steel plate and turn it and twist it at their will. That way lies decay. We cannot tolerate it any longer. We must bring in work where necessary so that this skill can continue to be used.
We cannot afford the kind of decay that has gone on to the extent of one-third of the labour force over the last few years. The Local Employment Act is a vain whistling against the wind in this respect. We should do well to remind ourselves of the need for regional planning on a real scale. The Local Employment Act sets up development districts in localities in which a high rate of unemployment exists or is to be expected, and is likely to persist. This was the purpose in 1960, and the purpose of later developments in 1963. But by mid-1963 those districts where unemployment existed or was likely to persist already covered 65 per cent. of the insured population of Scotland.
Emigration is continuing at the rate of nearly 30,000 a year, and over 80 per cent, of the insured employees leaving Scotland are in the age group 21–24—the very cream of our young people, with all their skill and training. This is the kind of situation which regional planning must help. That is why I welcome the Rootes-Pressed Steel complex at the other end of my constituency. We welcome it, but it exists at the moment on a dangerously narrow basis. It is geared and tooled to the production 404 of one product—the light Imp motor car. A new town is being built around this complex. It would be a growth centre of immence importance, especially in the technological field, to the whole Clyde Valley, but it is on a dangerously narrow basis when the light car industry is already showing signs of shrinking. Volkswagen, Renault and Fiat are all feeling the pinch. We cannot allow it to remain on this narrow basis. We must ask for it to be treated as a proper growth point, with its existing industrial resources used as a centre for bringing in new component industries, ancillary industries and science-based industries, and, if necessary, publicly owned science-based industries.
Along with this we need the integration of the whole area of Renfrewshire in a proper replanning of the Clyde Valley and Scotland. In this connection, on the aspect of transport problems I would refer to what was said in the plan for Central Scotland which was produced last year. That plan said:It is also hoped that investment resources may permit a start to be made on the construction of a high level bridge at Erskine, subject to satisfactory arrangement being made with the local authorities concerned under which, in particular, the cost of the bridge itself and its subsequent maintenance would be fully met by toll receipts.We just cannot leave this large project to the two local authorities of Renfrew-shire and Dunbartonshire. It is a problem of planning and Government accounting among other things. Above all, I would have thought that in this year we would not be financing such a major project by the eighteenth century method of charging tolls. I am not charged anything to career round Marble Arch, and I cannot see why I should be charged a toll to cross a high level bridge at Erskine. Such an idea cannot do other than hold back the relocation of industry in this area.
Yesterday, during the reference to steel nationalisation, an hon. Member opposite shouted, "Will you pay us in cash?". It has been suggested to me that we could pay in pre-1945 railway shares. I cannot help thinking that this sort of idea is on the way out and that a new mood of social purpose is being created.
I want to make one point in this connection. After the Gracious Speech on Tuesday, reference was made from 405 the benches opposite to the question of the ban on arms to South Africa. It was suggested that the shipyard workers would not accept such a policy, and we were asked if we would be prepared to defend it before those shipyard workers. I would. I have—and they agree with me. I slightly resent the suggestion that our shipyard workers cannot raise their eyes about the level of bread and butter problems, and consider moral issues. They do so frequently.
I am pleased that I have had this opportunity to take part in the technological discussion today, even though my main academic interest has been the study of the traditional balladry of Scotland. I enjoyed the knockabout speech of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), but I would remind him and the House in general that a bigger question is involved in technology than merely the question of control. People are involved, and in this connection I welcome the appointment of the Minister of Technology. He is a man who understands and trusts British workers and British workers understand and trust him. I am confident that together they can create a second Industrial Revolution without all the squalor and hardship which characterised the first one.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
This is my first speech from this side of the House, and it therefore comes as a particularly pleasant duty to me to congratulate the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) on his excellent maiden speech. I was extremely interested to hear all that he said, especially about the shipping industry, with which I am now connected. I visited his area about two years ago when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation, and I hope that the new airport at Abbotsinch serves his constituents well.
I was also interested to learn that I have another recruit on the question of toll bridges. He will find me very sympathetic in trying to get these tolls abolished. There is one in my constituency. I am sure that the House will very much look forward to hearing the hon. Member again.
406 The other task which I want to perform is to congratulate the Minister of Aviation—who unfortunately is not here at the moment—on his appointment, and particularly the Parliamentary Secretary, who has succeeded me in my seat in that Ministry. I wish him well. If he enjoys his job as much as I enjoyed mine he will have a very pleasant time.
Finally, I want to thank publicly all the officials in the Ministry of Aviation, who have served this country so well and with whom I came into contact when I was there. They have given valuable and dedicated service to this country.
I hope that the Ministry of Aviation will continue as a Ministry, but I suspect that it is the determination of the Prime Minister ultimately to abolish it. I do not know, but I suspect that that is what he has in mind. If so, he should tell us, and tell us clearly. In that Ministry there is a magnificent team of people who have created, under my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery), a magnificent team spirit, and I do not want that to be destroyed.
I want to talk exclusively about the Concord. I am not quite sure where the original proposal to welsh on the Concord deal starts, but in the last aviation debate we had in this House, on the Thursday before we rose at the end of July, the then Leader of the Opposition—now the Prime Minister—launched into a bitter personal attack upon my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North. I remember it very vividly. Not only was it a rather cheap attack; it had in it a vindictive streak. I suspect that the damage which the Prime Minister now seems quite determined to do to the aircraft industry may be connected in some way with that bitter vindictiveness.
Another explanation for the proposal to welsh on the Concord is the fact that the Prime Minister is surrounding himself with a number of very unusual advisers. We know that he has pulled out of The Times newspaper its Liberal defence correspondent. We know that he has gathered round him two Hungarian emigrés. I wonder of what nationality his advisers are on the Concord project. Is one, perhaps, the aged and gloomy Mr. Bo Lundberg, of Sweden, who has for many years been openly against supersonic transport for 407 civil purposes? If this is so, it is understandable that he should wish to cancel the Concord project.
I suspect that Mr. Bo Lundberg is, in turn, influenced by the Americans. What advice did the Foreign Secretary get from the Americans on the question of the Concord, when he went over there? We all know that the Americans want to stop the Concord project. That is in no doubt, because if it is stopped it leaves the field wide open to the Americans. I like and admire the Americans in the way they do business, but I must say to the House that it is my firm belief that they would stop at absolutely nothing to beat Britain and France in the world of aviation. When I say "nothing", I really mean nothing.
The Anglo-French Concord project is a major threat to their own aircraft industry, and, alternatively, it is a golden opportunity for Europe. America knows this. I would say to the Government that they must always be alert to this fact of the Americans trying to drive us out of the aircraft industry. They will be fed, as no doubt the loser of the Smethwick constituency has already been fed, with lurid tales of the sonic boom. But the way the Americans are dishing it up is, I think, a calculated attempt to make us give up the Concord in order that they may seize the prize. If we give it up, then, of course, the sonic boom will turn out not to be, in the event, quite such a threat. Equally, the Government must beware of false facts being fed into them, in their innocence, about the economics of flying the Concord.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I do not know if my hon. Friend has noticed that neither the Minister of Aviation nor his Parliamentary Secretary is here. The point that my hon. Friend is making is extremely important, and we were told by the Minister who opened the debate for the Government today that the Minister of Aviation would be here to answer it. Where is he, and why is he not here now?.
§ Mr. Marten
I am very grateful for that intervention, but it is one which I cannot personally answer. Perhaps the Government can answer it. This debate will be largely, so far as I know, about the Concord. That not one of the Ministers concerned is here is rather a 408 disgraceful performance and no way to treat the House on this occasion.
I was trying to tell Ministers that the Government would be fed with all these lurid tales of the poor economics of supersonic transport. They must beware of this and not fall into the trap of believing all they hear. It appears that they might be falling into this very trap, and I beg the Prime Minister to heed British advice. I have referred to the Hungarian advisers and the adviser of The Times and the Swedish advice, and I beg of him to heed British advice on this question and to stand up courageously and say to the world that Britain is, in fact, not only interested in a better Welfare State for our people but is determined not only to survive but to lead in the world in advanced technology. The Prime Minister must stand up and say that clearly and courageously to the world. If he gives up the Concord he will not, of course, be believed.
The Prime Minister has made a fatal mistake in talking about his first hundred days of dynamic action because that has forced him into taking dramatic actions and rushing around like a bull in a china shop. That is clearly what he has done in Europe over the 15 per cent. surcharge. I think that the Prime Minister could have said to the Minister of Aviation, "Take a good long look at this question of the Concord by all means, and get to understand fully what all the implications of cancellation are." I do not believe at the moment that the country believes that this has been done. I think it believes that the issue has been prejudged, that it is classed as prestige and the Ministry of Aviation inquiry has to fit in with that classification.
I should like to ask the Minister of Aviation—if he only had the courtesy to be here—whether he has been down to Bristol yet and discussed the question of the Concord with the design team there and with the workers' representatives on the factory floor. If not, let him say that he has not. Does he consider their views quite irrelevant? What thought has he given to the effect of all this on the French industry? The workers in the French industry are equally important. And has he visited, for example, many of the British component manufacturers 409 engaged in the Concord development—automation, electronic, metallurgical, sealing, cooling, micro-miniaturisation—the whole range of things in the technological industries which are developing material for this aeroplane? He cannot possibly judge the question of whether or not to give up the Concord until he has seen all this, discussed it, and seen how it fits in with other technological advances in this country.
If the Government decide to cancel the Concord we must ask where the brilliant technicians working on this wide variety of subjects will go. My bet is—I would not necessarily say America—that they will go where there is interesting work—and probably go to America because it is the Americans who will be developing supersonic aircraft.
I have a tremendous admiration for the French people. I confess that I have a drop of French blood in me and that I did something during the war, I hope, to help them. I was not myself overenthusiastic, as hon. Members may remember, about going into the Common Market but I have always desired unity in Europe. After the breakdown of the Common Market, Britain set out to achieve a bridge towards the Common Market countries by a series of interlocking projects. My right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North have done an enormous amount to get ahead with projects such as the Concord, ELDO, and various defence projects which we are having with Europe. If we had continued in office, I think that we would have gone a long way towards achieving the unity which Europe must have, which is economic unity, out of which ultimately, I believe, would grow the sort of political unity which the people of Europe might well want.
Now, after the first 20 days of our pseudo-Napoleonic Prime Minister, all this valuable work is being undone. He has turned his back, I fear, on international technology, because—I am sorry to say this—I believe he thinks he can win more votes at the next election, which may not be too far off, by distributing more welfare and paying for it by cancelling capital projects. This is a very dangerous thing to start doing. I doubt whether the British people will 410 fall for it. They are sensible enough to know that, in the long term, if Britain is to remain "Great Britain", she must invest in great and imaginative projects like the Concord. Of course the Concord is a gamble—no one ever said that it was not a gamble—but it is by such reasonable gambles that wealth in a country like Britain is created.
Projects like the Concord—if ever we go in for them again—will demand co-operation between the countries of Europe to face competition from the huge industries in America, and in Russia, for the Russians, too, are developing a supersonic aircraft somewhat the equivalent of the Concord.
If the Concord project is cancelled—we shall hear more about that tonight— what possible chance is there that other countries will ever again join with this country in a joint project of that nature? Their trust in Britain will have gone completely. When the Minister of Power, as he now is, was Opposition spokesman on aviation, he spoke in a debate in this House on 17th February of honouring the Concord contract, and he hoped for great success with the aircraft.
I think that the French Government—it is the same Government now as it was then—might reasonably have taken that to mean that the Labour Party would go on with the Concord project. Yet the Government are proposing to welsh on the contract. If they do, I think that it will be a great tragedy. It will leave scars on Anglo-French relations which will last for a very long time.
But if the Government do this, it will be quite in line with their policy of abdication to the United States and Russia, the abdication of our military independence and the giving up of our nuclear deterrent. It is exactly the same thing.
I have made clear my views, but I wish to make one practical proposal. Clearly this problem, as the Labour Party see it, is one of finding cash and resources. We are told in the White Paper that the Government will carry out a strict review of Government expenditure and that their object will be to relieve the strain on the balance of payments. Clearly this is nothing to do with the balance of payments because our expenditure on it will be undertaken in this country. If that is accepted surely 411 we ought to look around in this country in search of a source from which a sum of money of this size may be found. I say to the party opposite that they should have the courage to look around to see whether they are able to raise something like £80 million to £100 million of Government money. I will give them an idea, which may not be developed immediately, but which might be considered in the not-too-distant future.
In this country we have a number of commercial airlines. In B.E.A. we possess one of the finest short-haul airlines in the world. It has been brought up to a wonderful pitch of efficiency with Government money. If the right hon. Gentleman consults the accounts he will see that £85 million to £100 million of capital is invested in B.E.A., and that the future of B.E.A. is good. The forecasts of operations, and so on, are good. Would not it be sensible for the Government, if they are short of cash and therefore may have to cancel the Concord project, to take the £100 million from B.E.A. where it is earning interest at the rate of only 5 per cent., and put that money into some really imaginative project like the Concord?
B.E.A. is doing well. It is a nationalised industry. The capital invested in B.E.A. could be substituted by public subscription, and that money could be used for the Concord. The airline would still be British European Airways, but this capital would be doing far finer work if used in connection with the Concord project. I put that forward to the right hon. Gentleman as something which he may think about, perhaps not now but later on.
§ The Minister of Aviation (Mr. Roy Jenkins)
I apologise to the hon. Member for having missed part of his speech, but what he has said has been reported to me exactly. In order to think over more carefully what he is putting forward, may I ask whether he would make absolutely clear what he is proposing? Am I right in thinking that his proposal is that because B.E.A. is doing very well at the present time, it should be sold to private interests and that the money which the Government would get as a result of the sale should be invested in what I understood the hon. Gentleman to regard—according 412 to the way he developed his argument—as a more risky project, like the Concord?
§ Mr. Marten
Very roughly, that was the broad outline of what I was saying. The Minister can read my speech tomorrow and study what I said. I should be happy to discuss this idea with him. To my mind, it would be a better use of the capital if it were invested in a technologically forward-looking project like the Concord, rather than if it were left—desirable as that may be on political grounds—in a company where it is earning only 5 per cent. Perhaps the Minister and I may have an opportunity to talk that matter over on another occasion.
I hope that the Minister of Aviation will think on what has been said in this debate. It is ironical, and it must be distasteful for one who was known as a great European, for him to be put in to bat at so early a stage in his Ministerial career on a matter such as this. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to be regarded as the man who, under instructions from a rather insular Prime Minister, was responsible for Britain coming to be regarded as the "leper of Europe".
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Buchanan (Glasgow, Springburn)
If it were within my power to introduce a new tradition to this House, it would be that hon. Members who are making their maiden speeches should do so from the Dispatch Box so that they might lay their trembling hands upon it and give some support to their quaking knees.
I succeed a man who served this House and his constituents since 1945, John Forman, a quiet, conscientious and courteous man. Much of the electoral majority which I enjoy is due to the work which he did in the constituency, and I am grateful to him for that. Spring-burn is a typically industrial constituency in Glasgow which is a typically industrial city. There we are suffering from what happened in the Industrial Revolution. The ancient industrial community of Springburn has a history which goes back a long way, just as does that of Glasgow. We were in tobacco before Bristol and in cotton before Lancashire and we led the world in engineering. Our factories and engineering works are growing old 413 and they are slowly dying. That is inevitable. It is the march of time. The advance in technology is responsible for much that is good and for one thing which is adverse for the young generation. The boys of future generations will no longer see those animated locomotives steaming through the countryside "loco's" that were built by the North British Locomotive Co. No more will boys have the joy of seeing such sights, they will simply see a coach that goes. Again, this is inevitable, because things must go on, but I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House must regret the passing of those noble iron horses.
Glasgow Corporation is preparing for the technological age. The whole city is being rebuilt and the decision to carry this out took courage and foresight. This project is going ahead very quickly, but during the period before its completion there will exist a hiatus before the engineering industry has moved into the technological age, and we are having a rather thin time in Glasgow. We are waiting anxiously, and I invite my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General, who also had a period of anxious waiting, to adopt the theme of this Government which is to get things done and speed up the transfer of the Post Office Savings Bank to Glasgow. The decision to transfer the Bank was one of the most enlightened of the decisions made by the former Government.
I was pleased to note in the Gracious Speech a reference to the need to… take action to improve the arrangements for industrial training and for the retraining of workers changing their employment.Much has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House about restrictive practices. Representing as I do a constituency such as Springburn, a constituency in a town like Glasgow, which has suffered more than most from unemployment, I, and many of my friends on this side of the House, feel that there is no more heartrending sight than a man who has trained for a particular task, trained for a job, being refused admission to that job or situation because of some archaic line of demarcation which keeps him from earning his living in a dignified way.
I am also pleased to see in the Gracious Speech that we intend to improve the penal system and the aftercare 414 of offenders. My right hon. Friend, in his excellent speech today, also said that we must build up the whole level of understanding. This takes me on to a part of the speech which might have been better if it had been made tomorrow. On the aftercare of offenders, let me say that if technology is going to do one thing, it will increase the amount of leisure time. This brings in its train certain problems, problems which achieve some notoriety in the Press but which nevertheless exist and are increasing.
One of the institutions which has suffered greatly because of the social problems is the approved school. I have served as a member of the board of governors of an approved school for 12 years. In this approved school—a senior school—the boys sleep in bunks one above the other because the school is approved for only a certain number and yet because of the increasing pressure on these schools, we have to put more and more boys in.
We have petitioned as managers for a new school, and we have always been told that, "We will find a place". We have looked at various houses up and down Scotland. I have spent hours travelling up and down Scotland looking at these old houses. We went to one at Bannockburn and the first thing I saw in the house was a notice to say, "Prince Charlie slept here." He had slept there when he was a very young man, which gives hon. Members an idea of the type and age of the house. Yet this is the type of house we were contemplating converting into an approved school. There would have been more "Charlies" sleeping there if we had fallen for that. In the same context, at a junior approved school the headmaster wished that the toilets should be altered. Because of the moral dangers he wanted separate stalls. On approach to Her Majesty's then Government he was told that the extra cost of separate stalls would be in the region of £60, and this was refused.
One cannot do anything other than keep these boys—and girls—out of circulation in such approved schools. These are the casualties of our system of society. They are the casualties of us as parents, as administrators, as legislators, as teachers. They demand a much more serious 415 approach than do the ordinary schools, and we are not giving it to them. I think that we have a social duty to ourselves and to these young people that they ought to be rehabilitated and retrained. What I said about restrictive practices still holds good in this context, because many of these young people cannot be trained, whether it be as joiners, painters or leatherworkers, for the simple reason that this period of training cannot be regarded as a start to their apprenticeships. This is something we ought to look at. If we do not go into this problem seriously and sincerely, if more help is not given to these dedicated men and women who man our approved schools—in equipment and service—then these casualties may so increase that we may yet regret the advance of technology, and the casualties may become the technological Luddites.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
I can assure the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) that the House thoroughly enjoyed his maiden speech. It was thoughtful and made a pleasant and sincere impression on the House. I hope that he will be successful in getting these approved schools improved in Scotland and that his efforts in this Parliament may also be successful in the other directions he mentioned.
He said that the Glasgow Corporation were entering the technological age. That is not the way Her Majesty's Government are going at the moment. The statements which we have had today have given us no assurance at all about the future of this white-hot technological revolution to which the Prime Minister referred some months ago.
Before I discuss the question of space research, which is one of the contributions of British technological effort which I understand is threatened by the actions of the present Government, I should like to refer to the question of Parliamentary interest in scientific matters, which I have often discussed in debates of this kind. The Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee is the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu). His non-inclusion in the present Government has been regretted. I regret it very much too. It seems a most extraordinary thing that the Minister of Technology and his Parliamentary 416 Secretary should have been drawn from outside, when there are certainly people inside the House who are more experienced in the ways of the House and who have a knowledge of the subject. Through its chairman and other members, the steering committee of the Parliamentary Scientific Committee put forward a Report, which was published towards the end of the last Session, suggesting that there should be a Select Committee of this House on scientific matters. I cannot go into this in detail today because time is short and it is a matter which will have to be considered, I hope by the House as a whole, during this Session. I hope that this matter will not be dropped simply because we are evenly divided after the last General Election.
During the election I met a large number of scientists—in fact I represent a large number in my constituency—and they were very concerned about the amount of technical information on scientific and technological matters available to hon. Members. For some time past hon. Members on both sides of the House have given their views on this. It seemed to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee that far the best way of doing this was to set up a Select Committee for that purpose. I mention this in order that it will not be forgotten among the other matters that come up this Session, for it is one of those things which would improve the work of hon. Members.
I turn to the subject of space research, very shortly because I know that a large number of other hon. Members wish to speak as well. One remark by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Education and Science struck me forcibly. Incidentally, I, too, congratulate him on his new office. He said that without wider education, the steam engine would have remained in the library of Alexandria and that without wider education there could be no wider technological development. But it looks as though the Concord, one of the most interesting technological developments of all time, is also to remain a model, in which library I do not know. It is apparently to be abandoned in the way about which he was complaining.
There were several fields in which it was clear to us in the last Parliament, and is clear to us now, that the Americans have great advantages, through their enormous resources, in competing with us. 417 Satellite communications and supersonic aircraft were some of the most important. The design of nuclear reactors was another. I hope that we shall hear more about then from the Government and about what choice they will make. A very difficult choice it is going to be.
I turn to space research and satellite communications. Ever since the publication of Labour's plan for science, the Labour Party has made out that it is the champion of the younger generation of scientists. It has been amazing even in the past fortnight—I said that I represented a large number of scientists in my constituency—to see how dismayed people are to discover that some of these major technological projects are to be abandoned. The authors of a white-hot technological revolution have certainly deceived some of their friends who supported them in the last General Election if they intend to abandon these projects. I implore them to reconsider the matter.
I want to speak only about space research. There are enormous technological advantages in space communications. There are also commercial advantages through the Post Office and through telecommunications, which we have discussed in the House on several occasions. I have no hesitation in criticising this Government on the matter because I criticised the last Government very strongly throughout the last Parliament, and with some of my hon. Friends and some hon. Members opposite I did my best to persuade the last Government to make the biggest contribution which they could afford to satellite communications. It was only at the very end of the last Parliament that we heard that our contribution was to be somewhat increased through the building up of a small satellite launcher based on Black Knight. This was apart from our contribution to E.L.D.O. and E.S.R.A. It was felt that we ought to make a bigger contribution. What will happen to that scheme? What will happen to all the scientists and technicians who are engaged in this development on Blue Streak and Black Knight?
§ Mr. Neave
My hon. Friend says that they will go to America. This reminds me that in March of this year there was a most extraordinary exploitation of the 418 so-called brain drain of scientists and technologists by the present Prime Minister. I shall never forget his extraordinary broadcast, with the present Minister of Housing, in which he accused the last Government of driving scientists to America. What better way of doing it than the new Government's decision to abandon the three major projects which the last Government started and which will employ a large number of scientists who already have a pride in their work and who foresee a great future for British technological advance? That is where the real brain drain will occur.
In any event, the brain drain to which they referred in February was greatly exaggerated by them. There is, of course, always an interchange of brains between this country and the United States. But there will be a real brain drain if the Government go on like this, and I hope that they will seriously reconsider their decision for that reason alone, otherwise they will allow our technology to stand still and will give no encouragement or incentive to scientists and technologists to continue in this country.
I hope that the new Parliamentary Secretary, whom I am glad to welcome and whom I congratulate, is listening very seriously to what I am saying about Blue Streak, Black Knight and satellite communications. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), I held that office some years ago. I hope that the new Parliamentary Secretary will taken an interest in this question of space research. For too long many hon. Members—and certainly there were some in the last Government—thought that this was an expensive idea rather in the schoolboy realm of science fiction. They mixed it up very much with lunar probes and exploration.
In fact, satellite communications have a great future. The Americans have already started with them. The American telephone companies will dominate the world in communications if we in Europe do not do something about it. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will ask his right hon. Friend tonight to give us an assurance that he realises the importance of this matter and will try to persuade the Government not to drop this project, not to limit their activities to a small field of research but to continue with the development of Black Knight and 419 Blue Streak as a major contribution to the E.L.D.O. rocket programme. This is not the only issue on which European co-operation is based. What will happen to the share which we have in the American global satellite corporation? What will happen to that? Will it be abandoned? We ought to be told about that, too.
Generally speaking, I feel that the Government have not lived up to their election promises over this matter. During the election many scientists were persuaded that a Labour Government would go ahead with a technological revolution and harness science to Socialism. Within a fortnight of taking office they have done exactly the opposite.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Fletcher (Darlington)
I address the House with a full sense of humility in this, my maiden speech, and I hope that my remarks will commend themselves to the House, if not on account of their content at least on account of their brevity.
I represent the town of Darlington in County Durham, and it is appropriate that I should speak in a debate on technology because many of the problems which are confronting the nation on a larger scale have been reflected in the town of Darlington. I need hardly remind hon. Members that Darlington is a railway town. Indeed, the railways were born in Darlington, and the people at the railway workshops have a traditional skill which has gone through four or five generations. Apart from the staff employed by British Railways on passenger and freight services, there have been some 3,000 workpeople employed in the railway workshops. Therefore, the decision to close the workshops, with the advent of Dr. Beeching—in the face of clear evidence that they were economic—was a tremendous blow to the town. The railway workshops are now in the process of being run down and the labour force has contracted from about 3,000 men to some 1,300.
Parallel with this development, another firm of locomotive engineers, an old-established firm in the town, was the subject of a take-over bid by the English Electric combine, and as a consequence it has closed down and a further 900 workpeople have become redundant. 420 Through the strenuous efforts of the Darlington Corporation it has been possible to bring some new industries to the town. Although the large-scale effects of redundancy have to some extent been avoided, in Darlington we still have a rate of unemployment higher than the national average. If ever there were an example of lack of planning and foresight on the part of the previous Government, one could see it reflected in Darlington where industries were closing down without preparations being made to introduce new industry to the town or to the locality.
The unemployment figures do not reflect the true position in the town. For instance, nearly 400 workpeople from the British railway workshops alone, most of them highly skilled, have left the town over the last two years to seek employment, in some cases on other railway work in Derby or Doncaster but in the main in the prosperous areas of the Midlands and the South. They have made their contribution to the 10,000 people who every year leave Northumberland and Durham to seek employment in the Midlands and the South.
Many skilled men who have served their time in the workshops—and this is an important factor—have obtained unskilled jobs. They are working as van drivers, ice cream salesmen, coach cleaners, and petrol pump attendants, and some are working on the new Darlington by-pass to the A.1 on labouring jobs. This is a disgraceful waste of the skill of our work-people when we are not exploiting their talents and their skills. It is perhaps difficult for hon. Members opposite to appreciate the frustration which results when a man is skilled but is able to get only unskilled work. Some hon. Members opposite are more used to making money than to earning it and it may, therefore, be a little difficult for them to understand the indignity felt by a skilled man who has served his time as an engineer and who suddenly finds himself in the position of an unskilled labourer. I mention this to illustrate that we are dealing not only with technical and economic problems but with human ones as well.
The running down of the Darlington railway workshops also means that about 150 youngsters from the local schools will be without apprenticeships and this, 421 naturally, must have a long-term effect on the number of skilled workers in the town. In view of these problems I was particularly pleased to hear the announcement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport yesterday that the closure of major rail lines will be halted. I am certain that his statement will be welcomed by the townspeople of Darlington because this should mean a consequent halt to the further run-down of the railway workshops there.
Another factor we must consider is the restrictions placed on the railway workshops by the former Minister of Transport, restrictions which stop the workshops from tendering for outside contracts or seeking export orders. I firmly believe that if these restrictions are removed we shall still be able to keep the railway workshops open in Darlington, and I hope that I will receive an assurance from my right hon. Friend to the effect that at least for an interim period further run-down and redundancies will be stopped until this matter has been examined.
I said at the outset of my remarks that my contribution today would be brief. I wish merely to add that as a humble back bencher I am more than pleased with the vigorous and constructive policies announced in the Gracious Speech. I hope that I will be able to make some small contribution during my membership of this House to creating the sort of just society based on the foundations and policies which appear in the Gracious Speech.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Darlington (Mr. Ted Fletcher), who has got his maiden speech over. That is a good thing for any hon. Member to have out of the way, and I am sure that he made a thoughtful and sincere speech. I disagree with one small point, about the way in which Tories make their money, because I have always found that it has never come from Heaven. I have had to work hard for anything I have received, and I am sure that when the hon. Member gets to know us a little better he will arrive at the same conclusion. I would merely remind him that there are some hon. Members on his side of the House to whom his remarks in this connection might be applied
422 His remarks will be much appreciated by his constituents in Darlington. He obviously has their interests at heart, and I am sure that the whole House looks forward to hearing from him on many future occasions, because sincerity in this House means more than anything else. If he is as sincere in his future remarks as I am sure he was today, there can be no doubt that his contributions in the future will be received with interest.
I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary on their appointments. They have extremely responsible jobs. I read the Minister's arguments in the Observer last July with interest, and it is obvious that he has interested himself in the subject of aviation. I must comment, nevertheless, that I gathered from those articles that he thought that the VC10 was rather behind the times. I was not sure what he meant by that; perhaps we shall be given the answer later in the day.
As I advised the former Minister, I hope that the present one will fight to keep his Ministry away from the Ministry of Defence. This is important from the export point of view, and in his position I would hesitate twice before allowing the Ministry of Aviation to be merged with the Ministry of Defence. By all means have co-operation, but, whatever happens, run the Ministry as a separate organisation. Our whole future in aviation exports hinges on the major decisions which take place in his Department.
I heard on the 8 o'clock news this morning that B.O.A.C. has been given permission to spend about £6 million on two Boeing freighters. This matter was discussed last summer. I would rather see British workmen making this equipment, and with VC10s and super VC10s in cold storage, as it were, I was surprised to learn, in view of the lack of foreign exchange and so on, that B.O.A.C. has been given permission to spend £6 million now, particularly considering its enormous losses, on two such freighter aircraft. The House is entitled to a further explanation of why this decision was made. The Minister appears to be looking rather confused. I take it that he is aware of this news?
423 The Minister was in Paris last week, and I was there the day after he left. I thought that he had been given an unenviable task. We do not yet know exactly what he had to do there, although we have read varying reports in the Press. I hope that we shall be told exactly what he said in France, because there can be no doubt that consternation was caused on the Continent. I spoke to several Frenchmen, including politicians, about this issue. Our relationship with France has been difficult for a great many years, and I consider, as they do, that the Concord project did more in the last two or three years than anything else—more than anything done by the diplomats in the last 50 years—to improve our relations with France. Similarly, trading with Russia does more good for East-West relations than anything the diplomats can do. Great strides forward in improved relations were achieved with the French, including mutual trust, and I hope that a full statement about the Concord situation will be made to the House.
This does not apply solely to France, for I do not see how any other nation can really trust Britain again to undertake a partnership deal. The way the Concord deal has been handled recently horrifies me more than anything else. I have in mind not merely the effect of the decision. I was told, for instance, that the British Ambassador or Chargé d'Affaires saw the French Minister at about 10.45 on the Monday, while the facts were made known in London by a Cabinet Minister the same day at about 11 o'clock. This is indeed disconcerting, particularly when we recall that the Foreign Secretary was in the United States during the latter part of the previous week. It is not my view, but that of the French, that some sort of deal was done between our Foreign Secretary and the United States over this matter.
The Americans are deeply embarrassed by the Concord project. There was a vague announcement in the Press about Lockheed's building a mach 3 aircraft, but let us remember that they are four or five years behind in this connection. It is unusual for America to find them-selves in this position, and they would 424 give anything to get out of their dilemma. I would like to be told whether or not Mr. Gordon Walker informed any high officials in Washington about this decision, or even whether he referred to it, because we must do all we can to bring about confidence in us on the part of our French friends, if that is possible.
Was the Minister, charged with this grave responsibility, brought into the picture along with the Cabinet, or was he merely told to go to Paris? Was he consulted, at least on the outline of the situation, and, possibly more important, were his officials at the Ministry of Aviation consulted? I very much question whether they were.
We all agree that the Concord project was far too expensive for Britain to tackle alone. The obvious thing was for us to collaborate with another power. That was done. I never thought that the French would agree to collaborate with us on it. To be frank, I did not think that they liked us sufficiently. These projects are extremely expensive, and it is almost impossible to fix budgets for them. To know within even reasonable limits what such projects are likely to cost at the beginning is virtually impossible. That has been recognised by the United States as well.
If our standards of living in Britain are to be held and improved these problems and difficulties must be tackled. The election is over and, with it out of the way—with the flush of victory now in the past—certain realities must be faced by hon. Members, the representatives of the public. We must try to ensure, for the sake of our children, that they have a future in a progressive nation, a nation in which their standards of living will continually rise. I hope that we are not sacrificing the future to expediency. It we are, it will impair the growth of our economy long term. I also hope that the Concord programme, even if it is kept on, will not be stretched out in order to save a little this year and a little next year, because then the ultimate bill would be considerably greater and we might lose the initiative to the United States when they get going.
Britain and France have a four or five-year lead of the United States who, if they start now with a mach 3—the 425 2,000-mile-an-hour model—will be confronted with the most terrific difficulties, such as the development of completely new materials and techniques. They have far more problems than Vickers, B.A.C. and Sud Aviation are facing at the present time. The noise of the American aircraft will be very much greater. I see that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough West (Dr. Bray) disagrees with me, as he disagreed with me when we debated aviation in July—
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Middlesbrough, West)
It also depends on the altitude, and this would more than compensate for the greater weight.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
But at very much greater expense for the whole project, which might make it impossible.
The saving in time on the London-New York route between mach 2 and mach 3 is almost negligible—probably 35 or 40 minutes—and as it sometimes takes 1 hour and 20 minutes now to get from here to the London Airport it is hardly worth while going in for mach 3 in order to save that amount of time.
I think it quite illogical that the world should want supersonic aircraft. I cannot think of a better ride than that provided by the VC10. One at least has time to sit back, have lunch, read, or have a snooze, and one is over the Atlantic in five or six hours. Why anybody should want a supersonic aircraft I do not know, but the fact remains that the world will want it, and these aircraft will arrive. If we do not provide them, someone else will—and, of course, it will he the Americans. I am sure that the Americans want us to drop out of this picture altogether.
We all know the Americans, and we all like them—they are very likeable people—but I think that any hon. Member who travels to Washington will know that the Americans want to kill the Western European aircraft industry and electronics industry. That is what they are out to do. I do business with them in the electronics industry and, talking privately with them, I am informed that that is their long-term intention. However much we may like them, we must realise they are very serious competitors of ours. We have seen that in oil from the time of Abadan, when the present Lord Morrison was Foreign Secretary. 426 The position today is that the Americans now own half the refineries in Abadan. They have the same policy for the aircraft and electronics industries. But we have to get along with them, and I find that the Americans do not resent the use of words such as I am using. They respect us if we say what is really on our minds.
The airlines, of course, do not want new types of aircraft. They do not want the supersonics but would rather keep on with the Boeings and the VC10 for quite a number of years, when they can keep on amortising and make greater profits. In the long run, however, it will be the world public that will have the say. The airlines did not at first want the Boeing 707, but they had to have it. They then spoke of the great losses they would make, but last year and this year, with the exception of B.A.O.C., practically all the world airlines have been making a good profit—which only shows how wrong the airline operators can be when it is a question of getting down to the practicalities of running an airline. I understand that the chairman of B.O.A.C. and the chairman of Air France have ganged up together over the Concord, and I should like to be told how far they have gone, and whether they think it a good opportunity to get new subsidies and new Government help in running the business.
The Concord is not an interim aircraft but, according to Sir George Edwards, quite the reverse. Everyone who knows Sir George knows that he is not just a salesman who puts over a lot of slick talk just to sell an aircraft; he is as honest as the day and as capable as any one in the world in his line of business. He tells me that he is confident that this aircraft will be a winner, and those who say that it is not an advanced type just do not understand the problems of building supersonic aircraft. According to his reckoning, the Concord seat cost at this stage is about 10 per cent. worse than that of the subsonic aircraft. I am told that the Corporations think that it is 35 per cent. or 40 per cent. worse, but it is well known with any new aeroplane, whether it be the Viscount, the Boeing or the VC10, that the initial figures are always pessimistic, and that until the aircraft is in service and one gets increased power and extra pay load in 427 freight and mail, the figures are not very good. The pattern of the Concord is exactly the same as that of all previous types of subsonic aircraft.
We were given the most dismal picture in July by the chairman of B.O.A.C. about the possibilities of making a profit on the VC10. I wonder what he says today when, in the intervening period, he has been operating that aircraft on 80 per cent. load factor for 10½ hours out of each 24? It took the Boeing 3½ years to do what the VC10 has achieved since April. It is the most remarkable achievement the industry has ever achieved—it is almost incredible—and we have to give weight to what is said by Sir George Edwards, who has built this aeroplane with his team of designers and workers.
I should like to know where we stand with regard to the VCI0. Does Sir Giles Guthrie intend to delay his future decisions until he has a financial settlement of this £80 million or £90 million deficit? He is running a nationalised industry, and must get on with the job and support a project which is doing him and his airline pretty well. If we want to raise foreign exchange, let us sell some of our second-hand Boeings to hard-currency areas and get the VC10 and the supersonic.
The great achievements in the aircraft industry have been in the engine sector. We should not forget that France bought the Rolls Royce Avon engine for the Caravelle. As over 200 Caravelles have been built, 500 Avon engines have been sold to France. Over the years, we have bought little from France—it has been pretty well a one-sided deal. What will happen in the future? If we stop Concord now and the French design another small military aircraft, will they come to us for engines? I doubt it. All these matters must be weighed up very carefully indeed. The Concord, which should have between 110 and 120 seats, has a safe range from Paris to New York with all the reserves of fuel that would be required, on the figures, to carry it on to 1970, and it has a 25,000 1b. pay load. That is really something, and it is net pay load. As I have said, it was the French who were unhappy at the beginning, but I would now like to read an extract from a speech made in this House by the present 428 Minister of Power on 17th February last. The right hon. Gentleman then said:We are glad the other day to have an assurance from the Minister that rumours that the French were thinking of breaking off were unfounded."—[OFFICIAI. REPORT, 17th February, 1964; Vol. 689, c. 861.]The right hon. Gentleman was then the Labour Party spokesman who, I thought, was to be the Minister—I know that the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) did not think so, but I did.
On the same day, the right hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Diamond), who is now at the Treasury, said:… I am sure that one of us on these benches should remind the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend said in specific terms, 'I hope the Concord is a great success '. That represents the view of these benches."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1964; Vol. 689, c. 944.]They were sitting on this side then. In the intervening time confidence has been built up between the British and the French. A high level of personal friendships has been made between the design teams. They have overcome the language problem. Even Mr. Halaby said the other day in New York that he was very impressed with the working arrangements and he did not know how they could have been achieved.
The overall cost is about £280 million, to be shared by the British and the French. For that money the two countries will get two prototypes, production tooling and preparations for production. Then £40 million to £60 million is allowed for development of the aircraft after it has a certificate of airworthiness. The total British cost is little more than one year's loss on British Railways. Hon. Members who are considering modernising Britain and who wish to see the railways modernised should review these figures because they are very relevant. The cost went up a few months ago. The reasons were that the larger engine has an additional thrust of 12 per cent. and a greater wing area to give it an extra range required by the airlines.
A great many of the doubts about Concord are grossly exaggerated. If hon. Members take the opportunity of speaking to men working in the design teams they will feel very reassured. What would be the consequences of the Government giving up this great project? It would practically kill the French aircraft 429 industry for good and all, unless they make a deal with the Americans or if de Gaulle decides to go it alone. I would not exclude that; I do not think it probable, but it is possible. In the airframe construction alone it would mean standing off 1,000 men next year and about 2,000 later in the year. In Bristol, several thousand employees would lose their jobs. The production line, if the project comes off, would give work to tens of thousands of men in both countries for many years.
What will happen if the project is cancelled? These are very skilled men and there will not be other jobs for them in the aircraft industry. I understand the right hon. Gentleman is examining the whole field and it is possible that other projects will be cancelled. Probably a great many of these men would go abroad. They would go to America and continue the brain drain. We would find ourselves in a few years, without one supersonic aircraft to fly, going to the United States with a begging bowl, which I am sure is not the wish of anyone.
We should not underrate the importance of prestige and the selling of Vickers VCIO and BAC 1–11 in the United States. That is a free enterprise aeroplane to the extent that the specification was thought out it was not built for B.E.A. but for B.U.A. If we say that this thing is finished we shall make Sir George Edwards' task very difficult. These questions ought to be gone into and fully considered before we kill the project.
What about vertical take-off? We have a lead in that. I say to my hon. Friends that they did not do enough about vertical take-off and we lost some of the lead, but for heaven's sake let us keep what is left of it in the 1154 and the TSR2, which has the same engine as Concord. My information is that if hon. Members opposite had shown more keenness about TSR2 the Austrailans might have ordered it instead of going to the United States. These things should be put into a pamphlet and circulated to the aircraft industry and its workers.
This matter rises above party politics. It is a matter which affects Britain. The fall-out in technology, metallurgy, hydraulics and so on to the general engineering trade is enormous. No one can put a value on it, but we should miss it 430 if we had not got it. I have been a Member for nearly 20 years and I have hardly missed a debate on this subject. I beg the Minister and the Prime Minister to ponder this matter and to think of the implications of killing the project—what it will do to Britain. It will set us back for years. They should think of what it will do to foreign relations.
After all, the Minister has not said that he will cancel the project. There would be no face lost if he said that we are to go on with it. If it is just a question of examination of the problem it is quite right that it should be looked at. If that was the purpose of the visit by the Minister to Paris, he was quite right to undertake it. I hope and pray that this project will be kept going by the Government.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)
So many varied experiences have been my lot during the few days since I came to this House that it is with great trepidation that I rise to make my maiden speech. The overwhelming reaction has been the kindness of everyone here towards those of us who are still finding difficulty in sensing our direction in the House.
I come from North-West Durham and have the honour to represent a very widespread constituency. It extends three miles from the City of Durham in the East right up the beautiful valley of Weardale to the borders of Cumberland. The most densely populated part of the constituency is the mining area. We are a very restless people; we are proud, sometimes obstinate, very friendly and not lacking in determination to assert our rights. Nor do I think we falter at any time in honouring our obligations.
I am very proud indeed to have been born and bred in the constituency and to be chosen to represent it. My predecessor was also born and bred in the constituency. Will Ainsley came to this House with a proud record in local government. He was an ex-chairman of Durham County Council and proud of his native county. He was a very hard working and good constituency man. He handed on to me a handsome majority and has been most helpful to me in the strange experiences through which I have gone in the past few days.
In my area of West Durham we have 431 very particular problems. From all the reports I have read and the expert forecasts we have been given it appears that almost every pit in the constituency will be closed in the foreseeable future. This afternoon some hon. Member referred to the consequences to a mining village of the closing of a pit. Nothing has less productive potential than a closed pit. In my area there are men in the prime of life, about 45 years of age, redundant with no hope of employment. In the proposals for the North-East four categories are assigned to various districts and areas. In this country we seem to have a mania for labels. We label our boys and girls. We begin to label some of them even in the infants' school. We label our villages and areas.
Four labels are assigned in the Report published under the direction of the responsible Minister. Those with the first three labels are entitled to some kind of assistance. The assistance varies from place to place. It is indicated that no kind of assistance—no public investment and no financial assistance of any kind—will be given to areas in the fourth category. The whole of my constituency is in that category.
One cannot really wonder that at the recent election there were 3,000 fewer electors than there were in 1959. During the whole of my lifetime there has been a migration from the area where I was born. Unfortunately, some of the greatest potential, some of our fine young men, even when they were employed have seen the future so grim that they felt compelled to move to other areas. At the moment we are classed as a travel-to-work area. In some of our towns and villages—there are no very large towns; there is no town with a population over 20,000—there are empty shops and houses. Local authorities are unable to provide the resources necessary to meet local needs.
This situation sets up a chain reaction. Industrialists are repelled from coming there. The unemployed are driven to other areas. All of them now have either to travel or to uproot themselves and their families and move to other parts of the country. My wonder is that they have retained their dignity and their independence and, indeed, their public spirit to the degree which is 432 manifest in the County of Durham at present. I know that there is no slick, easy solution to this tremendous problem. However, we have been heartened in the last few days by the proposals of the Government and by the assurance that everything will be done to revive vigorous community life in the area.
I do not want to be controversial today, but perhaps it would not be out of place for me to mention one or two of our very great needs. Our problem will never be solved by local authorities going to industrialists and begging them to come to the area. No local authorities have done more than local authorities in my constituency—by providing incentives, by bending over backwards and by stretching planning requirements, and so on—to attract new industry. There is no doubt that the assurance given by the Government, that public enterprise, and sometimes a partnership between public and private enterprise, will be used so that development may take place, is the kind of action that brings a lift of spirit to my constituency. We want to see more Government Departments transferred to that area. We want to see more Government contracts placed by the purchasing Departments.
Today we are discussing technology. The people in my constituency are as anxious as anybody to meet the needs of changing times. They would say, too, that science and technology have a contribution to make in ending the very unequal distribution of the facilities which go to make up good social living in this country. I ask hon. Members to think of the tremendous amount of initiative, effort, expense and human labour which are required to make life barely tolerable in some parts of the country—for instance, in the South-East. However, in my constituency, where the pits and allied works are closing, it is still possible to take a motor car out on a Sunday and enjoy a drive, because one does not become involved in a traffic jam.
I believe that modern science and technology should be applied to help the people I represent. This would encourage them to believe that there is a future in their own area and that the young people there can follow their careers in the area where they were born, if they wish to do so. We are not parochial. We 433 have no objection to people moving about the country or even going overseas. But we want them, if they desire, to follow their careers and use their skills in their own area. We want them to be able to build up a vigorous community life there. We believe that this can be done.
The Government's new proposals have given us great hope and lifted our spirits. We believe that the innate will and enthusiasm which our people have always possessed and, indeed, displayed, have now been given an opportunity fully to express themselves. I can assure the House that the response of those I represent will do justice to the lead which has been given from Westminster.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
It is a very great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong) and congratulate him on his speech. He spoke of the will and enthusiasm of the people of his constituency. He told us that he was born and bred there. We concede that he shares in the characteristics of his people and brings to his service in this House those characteristics which he values so much in his constituents. I am sure that we shall all sympathise with him and share his hope that the technological revolution will be harnessed to the solution of the problems which he described. We shall also share his hope that the benefits of the revolution will be applied in a humane manner and that we shall ensure that people such as those the hon. Gentleman mentioned, who have been working in the pits all their lives and have acquired skills in that trade, are provided with alternative means of livelihood which is meaningful and worthwhile to them, enables them to live the fullest possible life and prevents this continued concentration of population in some parts of the country and the denuding of opportunities for advancement in other parts. We shall all look forward to hearing the hon. Gentleman again many times in the future. I am sure that he will be successful in bringing the needs of his constituency to the attention of the House.
I want, first, to say a few words about the new Ministry of Technology. I must confess that I have some difficulty in preparing to say these few words, because the only indication we had of the function of the Ministry of Technology before the Secretary of State's speech this afternoon 434 was in a Press notice. I find it very difficult to see just how the new Ministry will work until we have had a chance to study in detail what the Secretary of State told us this afternoon.
I disagree with the criticisms which have been made of the appointment of Mr. Frank Cousins. I speak as a technologist. It might be thought that it would have been preferable to have had a technologist in this position. I think it vitally important that in applying the benefits of technology we should take people on the shop floor with us in what we are trying to do. I think that this was at the back of the Prime Minister's mind in appointing Mr. Frank Cousins to this position. We on these benches wish Mr. Cousins well in his task.
I am not altogether happy about the set-up in the new Ministry, because from what the Secretary of State said this afternoon it seemed to me that we have got the Trend proposals under a slightly different guise. I well remember the criticisms of the Trend proposals advanced from the Labour benches when we debated those proposals in the House. I think I am right in my recollection that Labour Members said that the splitting up of the D.S.I.R. would be harmful. They sympathised with the complaint of the Institution of Professional Civil Servants on this subject. Although the Secretary of State may say, as he did this afternoon, that these proposals are different, in that the people who are employed in those parts of the D.S.I.R. which are transferred to the new Department will still be civil servants, I do not think that this was the only aspect of the complaint. It was certainly one of them, but I am advised that the Institution of Professional Civil Servants objects to the present proposals, perhaps not quite as strongly as it did to those of the previous Government. It was certainly surprising to hear the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) criticising them and saying that it would be harmful to separate science from technology. This is my quarrel with the idea, but he was doing exactly the same thing when he sat on the benches opposite and proposed to set up this new Industrial Research and Development Authority. I blame the 435 previous Government and this Government for doing something which will be harmful in the long run.
It is impossible to separate science and technology. The two are so closely intertwined. For example, if we take the Atomic Energy Authority, which is one of the responsibilities of the new Department, we have the operation of experimental reactors in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. G. Y. Mackie). There is the experimental fast reactor and there is also the materials testing reactor. We are concerned, with the Atomic Energy Authority, with problems of technology and of physics. There are 200 trained engineers in the Atomic Energy Authority who are concerned with the application of fusion to the production of commercial nuclear power. At the moment this is still entirely a problem of physics and not one of technology. Even within the Atomic Energy Authority it is impossible to draw a hard and fast dividing line, and I think that to create this division in the Ministry, which is to some extent separate, however close the co-operation with the Secretary of State for Education and Science, could in the long run be harmful to the application of technology.
The rest of the set-up, as the Secretary of State explained today, is not very different from that which we had under the former Government. The Medical Research Council and the Agricultural Research Council continue to be responsible to the Department of Education and Science. The Science Research Council of which he spoke is precisely the same as that which is to be found in the Trend proposals, and the National Environment Council is the same as that which was called the National Resources Research Council. I should like to be confirmed in my supposition that these recommendations follow on precisely those of the Trend Committee with one exception, namely, that what is now the I.R.D.A. comes under the Ministry of Technology.
The Secretary of State mentioned that the application of research and development contracts in civilian industry is one of the most important functions of the new Ministry. I am heartily in favour of much more Government money being spent on these civilian contracts, as the 436 F.B.I. recommended, and I should like more information on how we are going to tackle this job. I think the previous Government found that one of the greatest difficulties is not in finding the money but in pinpointing the projects which would be most valuable in civilian industry to receive that Government support. I do not know how one goes about this and I should like some explanation of the method of tackling it. Perhaps this is one of the functions of the Advisory Council on Technology which is being set up under the Minister as chairman and with Professor Blackett as vice-chairman.
In this connection, I should like to ask what will be the rôle of the Council of Engineering Institutions. Will they be represented on this new Advisory Council? How will the Minister consult them? I think that now we have this body set up, it will be a very valuable source of advice of which he ought to take careful note.
The Secretary of State was also rather vague about the future of the Scientific Manpower Committee. He admitted that the supply of technological manpower was the key to the whole problem. He said that he could not tell us at this stage whether the Committee would be split into two and whether the Department of Education and Science would have one committee and the Department of Technology another. This is an idea that is worth considering. I put it up to the previous Secretary of State for Education and Science. The shortages of manpower that we shall face in the next few years, according to the last report of Sir Solly Zuckerman, are almost entirely in the fields of technology and not in those of pure science.
There is a very big public relations job to be done by this new Ministry. The reasons for the shortage go back to the prejudices of parents and teachers in the sixth forms of grammar schools and comprehensive schools where we find that most able young men and women are far more likely to take up careers in pure science than in technology because of the prestige attached to it in contrast to the latter, and the lack of prestige which engineering and associated studies at present enjoy.
I should now like to turn to the Concord. It is true that we do not 437 know yet whether the arrangement which we had with the French is to be cancelled or whether we are merely trying to modify it. To that extent, therefore, it is difficult to make any constructive comments. I think we were probably wrong to assume, as so many have done in the debate, that the deal has come to an end and that there is nothing to replace it. But I urge the Minister to make a very clear statement this evening because I am certain that grave anxiety has been created in the minds of workers of B.A.C. and Bristol Siddeley as to the future of their jobs. The sooner they are informed of what has happened to this project the better it will be.
We had very little information about the Concord project from the previous Government so I do not blame the present Minister for this. He has not yet had an opportunity of telling us. But I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) who said yesterday that whenever he heard the word "prestige" his heart sank. Mine does too, and I think that so much of what is said in this House about prestige in aviation or space research ignores economic realities. This Concord project should be re-examined and the Minister should satisfy himself that if it is constructed it will be able to fly passengers at no greater cost than in the subsonic airliners of the early 1970's. This is not my requirement. It was laid down by I.A.T.A. as one of its "ten commandments".
If one looks at the published brochures of the British Aircraft Corporation one sees that they are not making such a claim. Whereas the Super VC10 costs less than 1.2 cents per passenger mile to operate on all stage lengths upwards of 2,000 miles, the Concord never reaches anywhere near this figure. As one hon. Member has already mentioned, there is something like a 10 per cent. differential between even the Super VC10 and the Concord, putting the most favourable construction on the figures.
One has to remember that between now and the early 1970's there will be a great many improvements in the efficiency of subsonic aircraft. Already in the United States research is being carried out on modified versions of the Boeing 707 which will be a great deal cheaper 438 to operate than those at present in service with B.O.A.C. It is likely, therefore, that we may come to the conclusion that the Concord in its present form could not possibly be economic. If that is so, I do not think it would be wise to cancel the agreement and to put nothing in its place. We should try to negotiate with the French some kind of compromise which would enable us to continue with research into the problems of civil supersonic flying, perhaps even to go as far as the construction of one or two prototypes by "knife and fork" methods so that we do not have an enormous expenditure on tooling. Also we would continue to evaluate such problems as the effect of the sonic boom and the hazards of cosmic radiation. All that would be done for a very much smaller expenditure than the £300 million which it would take to carry the project to the production stage.
We are already co-operating with Sud Aviation in sub-contracting certain VC10 components to them. Perhaps we can take this a stage further. The Minister of Aviation, in the articles which he wrote in the Observer in July, suggested that it would be sensible for B.O.A.C., once the Super VC10 had proved itself, gradually to sell off the Boeings and replace them with the Super VC10, or a developed version of it. This was a very sound suggestion, and it might enable him, while telling the British Aircraft Corporation and Bristol Siddeley that there would be no production work on the Concord in the forseeable future, to explain that this would be replaced by further orders for the VCIO which were not at present anticipated.
This is an area, perhaps, in which co-operation with Sud Aviation could be extended to give them further contracts for the manufacture of components or whole assemblies on these remaining Super VC10s, which, I hope, might be ordered, and perhaps even the co-operation between B.A.C. and Sud Aviation might be extended to other civil projects under way at the British Aircraft Corporation, such as the BAC111. This question is bound up with the future procurement policy of B.O.A.C. It may be too early for the Minister to make a statement on it this evening. If so, I hope that he will come to the House at a very early date to make a statement because the problems of 439 B.O.A.C. are equally as important as those of the Concord which we have been discussing today.
I am very glad that so early in the lifetime of this Parliament we have been enabled to have a debate on the subject of technology. I hope that it will be the first of many during the next few months in which the great knowledge among the new Members of the House on the subject of technology will be deployed. I wish both the Minister of Aviation and the Minister of Technology well in the lifetime of this Parliament.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
I rise for my maiden speech with no less humility than those who have gone before me.
I was very pleased that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) dealt with the wider issues of technology and not only with the Concord, because technology goes somewhat more wider than this one aircraft.
The constituency of Ashton-under-Lyne may be thought to be a cotton constituency. On the contrary, it has a wide variety of industries. Engineering occupies a major part of it, but really it is the cotton industry to which my constituency is emotionally and historically tied. This was the greatest industry the world has even known. From the mills in Ashton-under-Lyne there was never any shortage of exports. From my area cotton goods went all over the world. For a time, nearly half the exports of this country came from the area which I represent. It financed great schemes of conquest and empire, and all this came from the region in which my constituency has played a predominant part.
This could not go on because industries in the countries to which we sold bought their own machinery and started manufacturing goods themselves. At one stage we sold and clothed whole countries and continents. China, India, the whole of Africa, South America and Australia were the markets of this great industry. The problem of my constituency, in its contracting phase, is one of the problems which the whole of this country will face as certain industries decline and others expand. This problem is well worth studying. The industry of my constituency 440 accepted its declining rôle and adapted itself, not without some uninformed criticism from outside. In a changing world of industry and technology, the cotton industry was the first and greatest example of a contracting industry, and if we are to see new industries rise, then others must decline. This lesson should be examined because it will well repay such examination.
In my constituency there are many people who have been declared redundant. Engineers and coal miners can move home and get jobs elsewhere. Their talents are still required and are of use. But there are men in the cotton industry, highly skilled at floor level, foreman level and managerial level, whose talents and abilities are no longer required by the community. These men have been offered compensation, but even though the compensation may be reasonable—it has not always been so—a lifetime of skilled service cannot adequately be bartered for a few months' wages. The only real solution is to retrain them in the new skills required by expanding industries.
There is also a related difficulty which we face. Traditionally, young men and women have found considerable opportunities in training and in apprenticeships. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) said yesterday, the story in my constituency also is one of apprenticeships drying up. So that the problem is one of training young people and retraining our older members. This is our problem, the country's problem, and we had better find a solution soon, because it will increase with time.
As an engineer with technological qualifications, I welcomed the Industrial Training Act. But this Act was a hope only. If skilled men, technicians and technologists, after years of training, find themselves without jobs, they will have been the victims of a miserable fraud. But I hope to see the fulfilment of this Act in the work of the regional planning boards outlined yesterday. These boards can advise on the industrial development within the region and the talents and skills which are likely to be most needed. The skills, or the understanding of those skills, must not be restricted to only a few. This is the point to which the Secretary of State referred slightly this afternoon, but to me it is a fundamental point. The basic 441 industrial processes of this country should be understood by the majority of the people in this country. The way in which this country earns its living is a subject not unworthy of study.
It always strikes me as odd that girls at school get instruction in cooking, embroidery and sewing and yet relatively few schoolboys and virtually no girls learn how to operate a lathe or a loom. The methods of manufacturing the simplest products are a complete mystery to far too many people in this country. Lord James of Rusholme once said that one had to go to a very good school to avoid learning science. The trouble is that at any respectable school one can avoid an acquaintance with technology and the simplest industrial processes of this country. Perhaps it is because modern science has been going for only 400 years, and the industrial revolution was even more recent.
If in this country we had such a general awareness of industry and its processes, we might have been able better to help at a critical time in the computer industry. As hon. Members may know, the computer, with its development potential, stands in almost precisely the same relationship to the new industrial revolution as the steam engine did 200 years ago. The tragedy was that within a few miles of my constituency development of the computer, or the electronic brain as it was then called, was the highest in the world and it was not exploited. It was not just a case of an invention being developed elsewhere. This was an invention invented here, developed here and starved by industry and by the Government of the massive assistance with which it should have been welcomed. Do not let us talk about the technological side-effects from the development of Concord. In the computer industry we were right at the beginning of an industrial miracle and it is to our lasting shame that we failed to recognise it.
This country depends upon its exports, upon its technologies and upon those who understand the importance of them. In the years ahead these will be the real makers of wealth and these are the men whom society should recognise and encourage. When we talk 442 about a new industrial Britain this is what some of us mean.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
It is a well-established precedent of this House for any hon. Member following a maiden speaker to make a few polite and appropriate remarks about the speech which he has just heard. Knowing that I should be following the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), I was terrified in case I did not feel inclined sincerely to make those remarks. I assure the hon. Member, however, as I know the House would agree, that the speech which we have heard was a speech of great force. The hon. Member spoke with a very real knowledge of and feeling for his subject.
I feel that no one was better fitted or more justified in speaking in a debate on general technology than the Parliamentary representative of Ashton-under-Lyne, with its great record in the cotton industry. I genuinely thank the hon. Member for what he has said, although, obviously, I did not agree with every aspect of it, and I will take him up gently on one or two of the points he made. I look forward to further occasions when the hon. Member speaks to us in this House, because it is evident that he speaks with conviction and from knowledge of his subject.
The cotton industry has had tremendous experience of technological advance. It is, perhaps, an experience that not many of us would wish to share. The hon. Member spoke about the need for training youth and for retraining older people. He went on to say that if skilled men find themselves without jobs they will be the victims of a fraud. The hon. Member pinned his hopes in the regional boards and the work that they will do. I do not in any way minimise the extremely important job that those boards will have to do in the way of training and retraining.
If, however, we are to ensure that the training of skilled men does not leave them without secure employment, we must now be initiating and taking steps to provide them with those opportunities. I regard the Concord project as just one example of this. That is why I attach great significance to it. It is quite proper that this debate has concentrated primarily on the Concord project in view 443 of the unfortunate statements which have been made and the most unfortunate doubt which has surrounded its future during the last few days.
In view of that, I regret, with others of my hon. Friends, that we were not able to hear the speech of the Minister of Aviation at the beginning of the debate. The speech to which we listened, interesting as it was, was a good ending speech rather than a good beginning speech. I hope that when we hear the Minister of Aviation, we shall find that many of our fears and doubts are completely unjustified and I hope that he will be able to dispel some of the aspects on which we are concerned. I have, however, found in the past, as hon. Members who formerly were in opposition also will have found, that the aircraft industry, the men employed in it and its leaders, are usually remarkably well-informed of Government intentions before they come to the notice of Members of the House.
When we are contemplating a possible cancellation of this great project, I cannot help reflecting that in speech after speech Members of the Labour Party in the House of Commons used to castigate and ridicule us for the total cost of cancelled aircraft and aviation projects. Now, perhaps, they are finding out for themselves that these things are not so easy to keep going indefinitely.
We all know that there have to be cancellations in the defence field, and, indeed, in civil aviation. The development of weapons systems in particular is highly complex and the time taken from the starting point to the initial testing stage usually covers a span of many years. It is not always possible to see what fresh developments might come to render obsolescent the even advanced stages which at one time these systems look like producing.
In the case of Concord and in the realm of space communications, however, there is a wholly different consideration. This is not simply a case of cancelling a project. This is a case of contracting out of a whole technology. That is the significance of it. That is why we are concerned about it. If this were a single weapons system, it would be clearly understood. If it were 444 a single aircraft and nothing more, it would be understood. We might have our regrets, we might have our reasons to consider it a mistake, but, at least, it would have been an understandable step to take. But to risk contracting this country out of a whole new technology for short-term financial reasons is a very shortsighted and damaging decision.
The economic problems of the country have, apparently, so beset the Government that we are to be inflicted next week with a Budget. The Government have already taken certain short-term steps to try to improve the balance of payments position. In the long term, however, the key to the situation in which we find ourselves lies in our ability to produce more sophisticated products. The key to our successes in exports lies in the degree to which we are able to export into the highly industrialised nations outside this country. We will never be able to do this unless we develop new technologies, unless we produce more sophisticated manufactures and strive to sell them overseas.
There was a great deal in what the Secretary of State for Education and Science said this afternoon about raising the general standard of education. Unless, however, the best brains in the country are offered the best opportunities, there will be no incentive for the second best to strive for better things. It is no good holding down the brilliant in order to boost the less brilliant. The only thing that will encourage the less brilliant is the prospect of the success of the more brilliant and the opportunities that they see in achieving their ambition by striving for and getting still better.
As has already been said during the debate, the aviation and electronics industries are key leader industries. They are working on the very fringe of knowledge. They present most exciting and challenging opportunities for the best brains and they appeal to the ambitions of young men. It will be no help whatever in raising our general standards of education or in raising the general technological level of our industry to cancel the Concord project and to halt the whole of this process. One of the immediate and first consequential effects of this will be to eat into the design and research staff in the aviation industry. Every one of us who is in any way associated with people in that industry is well aware of 445 the difficulties which they have had in the past. The great tribute earned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) during his tenure of office as Minister of Aviation was that he laid the foundations for long-term secure employment in the aircraft industry. He really established the foundations of this industry, got it organised and co-ordinated and offered opportunities for the best brains to come into it and, through their work, to bring benefit to the rest of industry. Unless we have advanced designs, unless we get new designs from research and development, we shall never produce the more sophisticated manufactures on which the future of this country depends.
But, of course, not only was this a most important project in itself, speaking in terms of technology and aerodynamics, but it was also a great experiment in international co-operation. This was a trend which also was forecast by my right hon. Friend the previous Minister. He saw what was happening in the aircraft industry. He knew full well the importance and significance for the future of this country of having a thriving industry in the aircraft and space field, and he knew perfectly well the limitations imposed on us due to our small production lines and our limited resources. He took steps to lay the foundations of international co-operation, of which the Concord was the greatest, the most daring and the most significant pilot project.
It would be a major tragedy if this were to be abandoned. Nothing positive would be gained by it, and nothing at all achieved by it: the loss would be very grave indeed. I would pay very great tribute to my right hon. Friend, who for many months had to sustain the most unpleasant personal attacks from members of the Labour Party, but he, more than any of his predecessors, has served well the aircraft industry and thus the economy of this country. He has done a great deal to lay the foundations which apparently are now, in one swift move, to be completely eroded.
I, too, should like to know more about the so-called package deal with the United States of America. I have heard about it. We all have. I have heard it put in this way, that we have agreed to get out of the nuclear defence field, we have agreed to get out of the supersonic 446 transport field, and we have agreed to get out of space communications, in exchange for American support for the 15 per cent. surcharge. What a miserable bargain.
§ Sir J. Eden
Let us hear what are the facts, what exactly have been the exchanges which have taken place between the Foreign Secretary and the United States of America. What is the truth of the matter? What has been said between the Minister of Aviation and his French opposite numbers? Time after time hon. and right hon. Members opposite have accused us of lacking in courtesy to the House in refusing to give them information that they required. Any greater effrontery than this it would be hard to imagine. Now the Minister of Aviation is leaving his statement till the end of the debate, when it will be impossible to discuss it. I hope that hon. Members opposite will see to it that at an early stage we have a full-fledged debate on this particular subject, and on the Minister's statement, so that we can take up some of the points he will be making.
I think that the foreign policy aspects of this decision are extremely worrying. It was done in the most offensive and damaging manner which could have been contrived. I do not understand the attitude of the Prime Minister of this country. Is he not a big enough man to have an element of statesmanship in him? He must have been aware of the offence this would give to the French. Even if one wanted to take such a decision, there are less offensive ways of doing it. It must seem the height of folly, and not only to us, to cancel a project of this kind, and not only that, but to kick our allies' teeth in the process of doing so.
Why has all this happened? Why, do hon. Members suppose, are we now debating this? Why is it that we are having to consider the cancellation of the Concord? Why is it that it was done in that way? Why is it that we have caused a crisis to the French and ourselves through the contemplated loss of this great venture? Why? I will tell hon. Members why. Because of the hurried, over-hasty way in which the whole of this programme was prepared. Because of the need to engender an atmosphere 447 of crisis and an appearance of urgency, everything has been done in a haphazard way without proper consideration, without proper care, without proper thought, without full appreciation of the consequences of what the Government themselves were saying. Also because the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, when he was Leader of the Opposition, during the election campaign, made one of the most irrelevant of his many boasts—about having a programme of intense activity—limited to a hundred days. Well, the boast may have been irrelevant, but the consequences of its fulfilment, in the manner in which we have so far experienced it, are all too gravely relevant to the future prosperity of this country. And we hold the Government to account.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. E. S. Bishop (Newark)
This is, I suppose, a maiden speech, although I think that on this occasion one may not claim the necessary indulgence because I want to make some observations which may or may not be challenged. I have the honour to be the Member for Newark, and I am sure many Members remember the work done by my predecessor, Mr. George Deer, who was well respected and loved as a Member of this House for many years. He made a notable contribution not only to the country through his work here but also to the constituency. I am also aware that I follow in the steps of several distinguished Members for the constituency, not forgetting William Ewart Gladstone, four times Prime Minister of this country.
This situation of having to make a maiden speech is always difficult for some people, in so far as we are told that such a speech should be brief and non-controversial. Indeed, if one wishes to be non-controversial it is essential sometimes to be very brief, but in so far as we seek to make changes one sometimes has to be controversial, since controversy is necessary for change and controversy helps us towards progressive policies through which we make changes.
The constituency which I represent covers an area of 300 square miles in Nottinghamshire, between Lincoln and Nottingham itself. It is a constituency with many interests, including mining, and it is one of the few constituencies with oil wells. Of course, we have the engineering 448 industry of Newark-on-Trent itself, and we have the agricultural industry, too. This afternoon we have been debating technology and changes which technology will bring about, and in all those important industries, as a result of science and technology, many changes are being or will be made, as they have been made in the mining industry. Many of them are not easily accepted by the miners because of the fears which they have because of their memories of the years between the wars but, nevertheless, they have to accept that progress is necessary; and equally in farming also there are changes to ensure intensive husbandry. There, too, as in other industries, we have to get to know the facts of technological change and to know what changes are necessary.
The debate this afternoon about technology has been most concerned with the Concord. I am pleased to have been called to speak in this debate today because I have been engaged in the aircraft industry, on the design side, for most of my working life, and I think I can say that I know a little about it. I can also speak from some experience of the fears which are evident in the industry today.
Of the Concord, one can say that there are reasons in favour of cancelling the Concord; on the other hand, of course, there are very good reasons why we should be very reluctant to do so. When one speaks of the reasons which may be anticipated for cancelling it one can say that this enterprise was started some time ago in an air of controversy, for there was some doubt, I believe, at that time, about Treasury consent having been given to the project and the arrangements made with the French. I believe there was some doubt about any escape clauses in the agreement. I myself was amongst some who felt that we should want to be sure about this, so far as the French were concerned, anticipating that we should also want to know how we should be placed in the event of our wanting to get out of the deal.
The other point in favour of cancellation, or at least one which justifies it to some extent, is the kind of situation which faces all aircraft and other projects where immense costs are involved. We all know that when projects start estimates are produced, but quite often it is found that the final costs are very much greater than they were expected 449 to be. Indeed, we know of four missile projects where the original estimates were for about £20 million, but the total cost at the end was about £170 million.
We all realise, too, that after the design stage costs rise quite enormously. In this project the design side is nearly complete, or at least it is in an advanced stage, and indeed some of the practical work is about to commence. Therefore, if it is expected that there will be any variation of policy, now is possibly the best time to consider it, because estimates have been given for the completion of this project which show that the costs in the end may treble or go even higher.
There have also been doubts about the operating costs, and there have been suggestions that subsidies will be necessary when the plane is operated. Here we meet the dilemma which has been facing us not only in the aircraft industry, but in many other industries. On many occasions we have been told that industry must pay its way. Indeed, that is some reason for the Beeching Plan which we felt to be ill-conceived because it ignored the need for an integrated transport system.
If one is going to take everything at its economic value from the point of view of costs, and have regard only for the balance sheet, one has to ignore other important issues which are concerned with the investment of men's lives in industry, and with other aspects which are even more important to industry as a whole and to our country in general.
We have to consider also on this occasion the need to keep Concord, and there may be various reasons which would justify that course of action. First, we have to realise that much of the preparatory work has been done and that Britain has gone into the lead on this work. I think that we can claim to be well ahead of the Americans. If we were to curtail the project at this stage, there is a danger that the Americans might benefit by it.
We also believe that in an industry such as the aircraft industry, where immense capital costs are involved and where the work, design and inventive skill of about 500,000 people are concerned, 450 we have to ensure that the industry is broadly based. In that respect there is some good ground for saying that we must tie up our affairs in the industry with the European countries, the French in particular on this occasion, to compete with the United States.
The United States aircraft industry is in a very strong position compared with ours. First, we are a country with limited resources and we have to make the best use of what we have. In this connection the inventiveness, the skill, the knowledge and the experience of our technicians and design teams should help to keep us in the lead.
At the same time, we face grave competition from America, because, as the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said, they have a lead in that they can convert to civil use some of the military projects which give them a lead and thus help to cut their costs. Also, they have a far greater market for the sale of their aircraft when they are produced than we have in our country.
I believe that we cannot consider only the financial return on aircraft. I believe, as several hon. Members have said, that it is essential to regard the aircraft industry as one way of keeping Britain in the lead technologically, scientifically, industrially, and in other ways, too. I believe that one of the big question marks which will lie over the industry in future if the project is cancelled is the query of what will be done with the design teams and the people working in the industry. It is manifest that one cannot cancel a project of this sort and magnitude without creating grave fears about insecurity, redundancy and unemployment.
We have to make sure that if this project is cancelled or varied in any way there is some safeguard for those whose lives have been tied up in the industry. We want to keep these people in this country, because we shall have need of them even more in the future than we have had in the past. We want to make sure that if there is no immediate work available for them, the safeguards are adequate for redundancy, for retraining and for adaptation in other ways. Those are some of the points with which the Minister will undoubtedly deal when he makes his statement. There is no indication as yet that any decision has been 451 taken on this project, although there are fears in this direction.
We are now in a technological age. Many people are saying that we are now starting on the scientific age, but in fact we have to appreciate that we have been in this age for a long time. I believe that it is the failure to accept this, and the failure to recognise the changing circumstances facing our country today, which have precipitated some of the problems facing us now. We are in an age of bewildering and great change, when great progress is being made in all directions, and we have to make sure that we can adapt our ways to avoid hardship and to make sure that benefits come to the whole nation.
I propose now to say a few words about the aircraft industry which is of such strategic importance to our country. First, this position has now come about—so many people claim—because we have inherited an economic crisis. We have to face that as the justification for a review at this time. It is manifest that on this occasion a review is necessary of all economic projects, and the aircraft industry, being a spending industry, employing great resources of capital, manpower, and materials, is an industry which must be reviewed from that basis.
I am not sure to what extent any curtailment of existing projects will help our balance of payments crisis. I am not sure to what extent foreign currency is involved. We have inherited a programme, and we have many existing projects. Some were started for good reasons, some for other reasons, and we have to appreciate that a review is necessary at this time. I believe that it is also true to suggest that if the party opposite was in power it may well be in the same position as we are as the Government.
We have to realise, too, that much research has been financed by the taxpayer, that costs rise enormously from time to time and that, eventually, the operating costs of an aircraft may well be uneconomic. A feature of the scientific and technological revolution is that progress can be so great that the plans that we have for aircraft—performance figures, and so on—can be out of date by the time the aircraft is off the drawing board.
452 Those are some of the problems of this industry, and we have to adapt ourselves to them. Thus, to anticipate the future, it is necessary to make reviews from time to time, but I suggest that these reviews should be made in good time to avoid any undue dislocation of the industry and the lives of those engaged in it.
We want to make sure that in future the aircraft industry is not hampered by the "stop-go-stop" methods of the past and that at all times we have real planning and a desire to see the achievement of projects which have been started. I believe that many in the industry, whether at the lower level of those employed or in management in charge of the industry, want to ensure that they can look forward to the time when projects are started and completed without undue dislocation. I think that those are matters of the utmost importance.
This country has the resources of manpower, inventiveness and genius to keep us ahead of our competitors in any part of the world. Our people need only the opportunities to use their inventiveness to the full. We are a country with limited resources, and I believe that the aircraft industry, by importing very limited amounts of raw materials and by fashioning them with our skill, inventiveness and experience, can export more than any other industry, taking value per ton. Despite the advantages which are obvious to American industry, if we are given the right help I think that we can compete on equal terms.
It is therefore absolutely essential to consider matters from the aspect in this technological and scientific age. We must realise that we need to spend more than we are spending today on research and development. I believe that at present about 60 per cent. of the money spent on research and development in this country comes from the taxpayers' purse. I would like to make sure that this money is well spent. Wherever possible private enterprise should be able to supply the goods that we all need. At the same time, if we have to finance these industries quite heavily by subsidies or by money spent on national research, we must make sure that there is accountability and stewardship, so that the situation which faced 453 us with the Ferranti episode may be avoided in the future. These are some of the most important points to be made in this debate on the future of British technology and science.
We must also make sure that we have adequate facilities for training our people and that, where necessary, those made redundant in one area can be moved with as little trouble as possible to new areas, with the help of transport, houses and rehabilitation schemes. We must also make sure that our educational system is adapted to the changing circumstances.
Among the proposals in the Gracious Speech I was pleased to see mention of disarmament. Many of us feel that much money could be saved by a reduction in armaments, provided adequate safeguards can be arrived at with other nations, so that we could spend mare money on peaceful purposes. This is essential in an age when more and more money must be spent and more resources made available.
We must also look to our own strength, economically and industrially, in order that, being strong ourselves, we can lend a hand to under-developed nations by giving them technological advice and creating for them higher levels of prosperity. We must also review some of our overseas commitments in order to leave ourselves with greater resources.
The Gracious Speech is more than a programme of Government activity, or an outline of Government policy for the future. In many ways it shows a new attitude and outlook. As we have said on many occasions, what really matters is not what we have so much as what we are. We believe that the real reward of toil and service is not what we get for it but what we become by it, and I believe that in the future we must aim not at doing things for people so much as working with people. I believe that in the future we shall not only make realities of some of our election promises to give things to people but will also take the opportunity of saying to them, "We want to create the kind of environment in which people of all sorts can make their contribution to the community in which they live." It is on those grounds that I am proud to be a member of the Administration 454 at this time and to play my part, with others, in helping our country to peace and prosperity.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
I am glad that it falls to me to welcome the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) and to congratulate him on his maiden speech. It can fairly seldom happen that this duty falls to an hon. Member in respect of a previous opponent. The hon. Member will perhaps not be surprised if I do not take him up on what I thought was his rather gallant implication that he would be prepared to waive some of the indulgences. Having battled with him in 1955, I feel that we might postpone further battles for the moment.
He spoke with considerable knowledge of certain aspects of the aircraft industry from an inside point of view, and certainly of the wider characteristics of this industry which make its future planning perhaps one of the most difficult within our economy. It so happens that when I made my maiden speech—and I was much less brave than the hon. Member and took very much longer to come round to it—we were faced with somewhat similar problems with regard to the Britannia. We also faced somewhat similar problems concerning employment and the future of the aircraft industry in my constituency, although on a very much smaller scale.
I rise today to attempt the very unwelcome task of trying to impress upon the Government the real shock that this mention of the Concord in the White Paper, followed by the Minister's visits to Paris and the speculation in the Press, has created in my constituency. The House may not know that in my constituency, despite the importation of I.C.I. and certain other firms, employment is still largely dominated by the successors to the old Bristol Aeroplane Company—the Filton division of the British Aircraft Corporation as far as airframes are concerned and the Patchway division of Bristol Siddeley Engines on the aeroengine side. These two firms are committed up to the hilt to the Concord project.
Looking at the engine side first, and bearing in mind that a threat also appears to hang over the P1157 and the TSR2, I hope that the Minister will do his best 455 tonight to give us something rather more definite than the rumours that are inevitably causing so much concern and anxiety to so many of my constituents. On the Bristol Siddeley side of the enterprise, out of a total labour force of about 17,500 at Patchway no less than 3,000 are engaged upon the Olympus 593, which is the engine for the Concord; a further 3,000 are engaged on the BS100, which is the engine for the P1157, and a further 5,000 on the Olympus 320, the engine for the TSR2. I am not suggesting—and I hope there is no question of this—that they will all be cancelled, or that the axe will fall quite so rapidly and viciously, but that is a total of 11,000 out of 17,500.
The picture from the point of view of the Filton division of the British Aircraft Corporation is very much more sombre. There we have a total labour force of just over 8,000, of which, by the end of next year, about 6,000 are expected to be exclusively employed on the Concord project. It is not my wish to say anything tonight which would unnecesarily increase the anxieties of my constituents, but I leave the House to judge from that situation the very real anxiety that is bound to exist with regard to the whole future of the Filton division of the B.A.C.
It is, therefore, not too much to say that in personal as well as in economic terms this threat to the Concord could be absolutely devastating to the people in my constituency. As many of my hon. Friends have pointed out, however, there are many wider implications. In the past the industry has made a valuable contribution to our exports. As far as I recollect, they ran at about £160 million a year in 1959, tailing off, admittedly, in the last few years to about £115 million, but rising again now, as we get American and other foreign orders for the BAC1-11, some of our missiles and some of our other projects. All the experience of the past should surely lead us to the conclusion that the commercial success of an aircraft, or any project in this field, goes hand in hand, and can only go hand in hand, with a technical break-through of a quite substantial nature. By and large, surely what sells an aircraft is a sufficient advance over the existing aircraft to make it impracticable for the manufacturers of the existing aircraft to produce further marks of comparable operational effectiveness; and again that the advance is 456 sufficient to make it impossible economically for the airlines of the world to contract out of that advance or to wait for some even further advance in another generation of aircraft.
I would have thought that, although the cost raises great problems for Governments, and, indeed, for firms, surely, almost by definition, the cost of a breakthrough of the unknown of this sort is almost inevitably impossible to predict with accuracy. Indeed I would have thought that it was almost true to say that if it were possible to predict the cost with accuracy, the project would not be worth undertaking, because that would imply merely a refinement of the existing technology available to our competitors, and when we think of the competitors in the aircraft industry we inevitably think of the United States with their vastly greater resources for developing existing technologies.
Purely from the point of view of both the British aircraft industry and the French aircraft industry, a lead such as we have at the moment is absolutely beyond price; we throw it away at our peril. Surely, too, in taking a step forward as we are, from subsonic to supersonic aircraft that lead in not only vital to the particular project but can be absolutely vital to the whole future of the aircraft industry in this country.
Certainly all the experts that I have consulted, and I have had the opportunity to consult a good many, assure me that the problems which arise in a mach 2.2 aircraft are well within our competence to solve; but it is a very questionable matter whether that can also be said of the problems that will arise in moving towards a mach 3 aircraft, which is the speed which the Americans are aiming at solely because they know that with the lead we have it is not the least bit of good for them to go for mach 2 to 2.2. I have no doubt, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) said, that there would be no one more delighted to see Concord out of the way than our American rivals. That would leave the much easier field open to them of a mach 2.2, producing something on the Concord lines, so that, in two or three years' time, perhaps a little longer, we would find ourselves, instead of exporting aircraft, having to raise immense sums in dollars to bring back to this 457 country American aircraft, simply to keep our airlines in operation and in competition with other airlines of the world.
Again, as my right hon. and learned Friend said earlier, it is not just the aircraft industry that is at stake. He was referring to the technological fall-out which I generously describe as the by-products of the research in this industry in the past. We have seen any number of examples of the enormous contribution made by that research to the electronics industry, an industry which I believe today has a total production to the value of about £500 million per annum. We have seen, too, the tremendous advances in metallurgy and in particular the studies with regard to heat resistance which I am told are absolutely vital to the advances we have made in nuclear energy and nuclear power.
There is also the immense importance of the foreign affairs aspect, the sphere of international co-operation where the Concord is really the first major step towards a genuine co-operation on the industrial side in Europe. I should have thought that economically that co-operation was of vital importance, certainly if we are ever to think of redressing the lack of balance in resources which exists between us on the one hand and the United States on the other. Surely it is equally important politically: if we back out of our commitments with France, as my hon. Friend has said, that would probably put an end to the French aircraft industry: but we would certainly appear on the Continent, in America and everywhere to confirm all the strictures of General de Gaulle about our inability to regard ourselves as a genuine European nation anxious to co-operate with Europe. We put paid, do we not, to the chances of successful co-operation in other spheres?
Here again, this is something which vitally affects my constituency, because I understand that the only projects coming along in the engine field that could even partially replace the loss of any of the three engines that I have mentioned are all matters which are subject of co-operation with either Germany or France. Do we really imagine that that cooperation can be built on running back from our commitments on Concord? To put it shortly to our Continental friends, would Albion have ever appeared quite so perfidious?
458 The Government have to face this: they fought the election very largely on the basis of putting technology right in the forefront of their programme; yet as their very first act within ten days of taking office, before they could conceivably have had the opportunity to make any detailed technological study of this immensely complex programme, the Concord appears specifically selected as a prestige project requiring urgent re-examination. We surely are right to say to ourselves: what is the context in which Concord appears, in the White Paper? It is surely in the context of the problems arising out of our balance of payments? I think that the hon. Member for Newark was right to question what relevance this has to the balance of payments, because our contribution is not substantially in imported materials or in sterling payments to France or anybody else; it is in sterling payments to British craftsmen in this country, and whatever cutting back we may do, it is not likely substantially to affect our balance of payments. All that is done is to shift the priorities, to provide money, which would otherwise be spent on the Concord, for some other projects. The Government say that the other projects have higher social priority, but we can not spend anything on social priorities, or have social expenditure of any sort, unless our industry preserves its competitive power in an extremely competitive world.
Perhaps the cruellest irony of all is the position of the present Minister of Aviation. Here is a man who certainly earned my considerable admiration when he spoke from these benches on the matter of the Common Market. No one spoke with more lucidity, more logically, or, indeed, with greater sincerity, on a matter with which I share with him a fervent support of the idea of European co-operation, and, if I may say so, in view of the attitude of so many of his colleagues, nobody spoke with greater courage. Yet as Minister of Aviation it falls to him to break up, or, at any rate to undermine, the one great industrial co-operative exercise which has arisen from the ashes of the Common Market.
I conclude by coming back to where I started, to the local level, the fears and anxieties of my constituents. Of course, I admit that any Government has the 459 right, indeed the duty, to review all its commitments from time to time, but how is this review being presented? It is being presented not as part of an overall review but picked out in such a way as to convey the impression, certainly to justify the Press in passing on the impression, that a decision has already been taken, at least a decision to cut back our contribution so seriously as to jeopardise the lead which we possess and which is so vital. Surely that is an approach which can hardly have been calculated more effectively to create the maximum of anxiety and uncertainty among the people concerned; in particular, because so much of this is concentrated in my constituency, among the workers at Filton and Patchway and indeed among all the other people whose prosperity depends on the prosperity of these great firms, and indeed upon the prosperity of the aircraft industry throughout the country.
It is no answer to say that these skills can be employed to better purpose elsewhere. If that be the argument of the Government, let us have the evidence that they can be employed to more value than in the aircraft industry, and in maintaining the lead which it is so vital that we should keep in the field of technology. Let us remember, also, that the men in this industry who have the greatest skills have a genuine sense of vocation. They have a devotion to the aircraft industry and the whole concept of aircraft development. I agree with my hon. Friend that to cancel the Concord project is surely to start a brain drain which would be without precedent in this country.
I wish finally to refer to the election as it was fought in my constituency. The yellow pamphlet which my right hon. and learned Friend produced was certainly not only printed in Bristol but circulated at every meeting held by the Labour Party at Patchway and Filton. I will not quote from it again. I leave it to the House to decide whether that pamphlet does not clearly give an impression that the last thing a Labour Government would dream of doing would be to cancel the Concord project. I have, too, a note from a supporter that was sent to me the day after a meeting was held in Filton, which was addressed by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin). He was introduced as an aviation expert and the leading spokesman 460 in the Labour Party of the aircraft industry. I am informed that, in reply to a question, the hon. Gentleman gave a categorical assurance against any suggestion of cancelling the Concord programme.
I can assure the Minister that when he speaks tonight he will have me, and I am sure all my constituents and the majority of my hon. Friends, hanging on his words; because this matter is absolutely vital, certainly in the short-term, but more particularly in the long-term, to the whole basis of the economy of my constituency.
The right hon. Gentleman will certainly have an attentive audience when he makes his maiden speech from the Government Front Bench. I beg him to give us an assurance that no decision will be taken which will undermine the technological break-through we have made, or destroy the lead which we have gained, or indeed any decision which will undermine the international co-operation of which the Concord project represents the first step and which has so much to offer us for the future.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
Like the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield) I, too, have a considerable constituency interest in the future of the Concord. I hope to address myself to some wider considerations, because I believe that the aircraft industry is the pacemaker of technology, and the Concord project I believe to be the pacemaker of the aircraft industry. I view with great concern the prospect—I hope that it is no more than a prospect—that a decision has already been taken. If that be the case, I hope very much that the weight of opinion which has been expressed and which will be expressed in this House will have the effect of making the Minister—and perhaps more than the Minister, the Cabinet—reconsider the decision, and decide to continue with this great and most hopeful development in the British aircraft industry.
I spoke of my constituency interest in the matter, but before turning to that perhaps I may say one thing about my interest in the future of Anglo-French relations. It has been said of me in this connection, almost as a term of abuse, 461 that I am a Francophile. I believe that every civilised man is a Francophile. I make no apology for that description. But in this matter my concern is for the British national interest. That is why tonight I speak in favour of continuing the Concord project and making sure that this great and hopeful development, which will keep the British aircraft industry in the forefront of world aviation, will be persevered in to the greater advantage of the workers in the industry and the prestige—I make no apology for using that word—of the British nation. I have received a telegram which perhaps I may read to the House:Hawker Siddeley aircraft joint shop stewards committee view with concern Government's reported intention abandon Concord. Aircraft industry welcome inquiry into waste and inefficiency in the industry but urge Government continue with Concord in interest of workers in British aviation.The senders of this telegram represent at least 5,000 of the 25,000 aircraft workers in and around Coventry. It has clearly been their interest that the Concord project should go ahead, not simply because some of them are employed at Siddeley's in machining certain parts of the Concord but because, as it seems to me, if a great project is annulled it will mean that Britain will lose her pre-eminence in the aircraft industry of the world. The death of the Concord project would result in the death of many other aircraft projects of great concern to the workers of Great Britain.
One of the matters which has been raised, and which has caused such concern, is the manner in which the prospect—I use no stronger word than that—of doing away with the Concord project was handled. As lately as 23rd October the rapporteur of the French Minister, addressing the Assemblee Nationale, said that there was absolutely no intention, either on the part of the French Government or the British Government, of abandoning the Concord project. Then, out of the blue, came the announcement in the White Paper that certain prestige contracts were to be reconsidered, and Concord was named. It may be said—no doubt it will be said—that Concord was mentioned merely by way of illustration. If that be so, I think the choice of illustration was singularly unfortunate.
462 In the first place, quite clearly prestige is attached to the Concord programme. The imagination, the vision of the men who conceived the project has won the admiration of people throughout the world of aviation. The fact that Britain was not satisfied to resign herself to being a second-rate Power in the world of civil aviation—I stress the word "civil"—won the admiration, and in many cases—particularly in the United States—the envy, of her competitors. Then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, came the announcement that the Minister of Aviation was to fly to France to see the French Minister with a view, presumably, of reviewing—I believe the word "reviewing" to be a euphemism for ultimately canceling—the Concord programme.
I have indicated the shock and concern which it has caused. Many aviation workers in this country, in my constituency and elsewhere will be made redundant if the Concord project is dropped or delayed—which would be really killing the project by slow starvation. I have figures from the British Aircraft Corporation which I imagine is the body best qualified to offer figures of potential redundancy, indicating that 2,000 workers would immediately be made redundant and that the total would rise to 6,000 by the end of 1965. In addition, about 1,200 technicians and draftsmen would be made redundant. It is quite certain that if there were a slowing up in the project, or if it were cancelled, these people, who have been doing the most advanced technological work in the aircraft industry, would not stay in Britain waiting for some other project which might turn up. They will not stay here, waiting to work some substitute project like the idea of a 500-seater subsonic jet which has been advocated. These people will go where there will be scope and scale and opportunity for their work, and there is only one place to which they can go and that is the United States of America. It is quite certain that they will find not only a welcome but scope for their talents.
It has been said that the brain drain occurred—and it was a reproach against previous Governments—because there were no facilities or opportunities for highly qualified technicians and technologists to work in this country. Clearly, if the death blow is delivered to Concord 463 it will mean that we shall lose some of the most fertile and qualified technicians in the aviation industry to the United States. We may be quite sure that, although the United States aviation people have shown a certain nonchalance and an apparent indifference to the Mach 2.2 project, if we do, in fact, finally contract out of Concord it will mean that very shortly—and I think that we can expect it pretty soon once the decision is taken not to proceed with Concord—after a decorous delay the United States aviation companies, perhaps Lockheed, will come along and decide that they will move not into the Mach 3 potentiality but into the Mach 2.2, taking the place which we have abandoned.
This has caused great anxiety, and not only to the aircraft industry but also to the ancillary industries. The hon. Member for Gloucester, South (Mr. Corfield) mentioned metallurgy. He spoke of electronics and the other associated industries which have been carried along in the wake of the aircraft industry and have risen to their eminence precisely because of the experiments and the explorations of the aircraft industry.
I was among the first to criticise successive Governments for the amount of unrequited money which they have poured into the aircraft industry. I think that in many directions there has been a failure of accounting. For these reasons I want to emphasise that I do not withdraw any of the major criticisms which I have directed both against previous Governments and against the aircraft industry. I think it absolutely wrong that the public exchequer should be the milch cow of the aircraft industry, as it appears to have been for many years in the past.
Having said that, I want to say that all of this money, although in many cases apparently unrequited, has produced returns which though not visible at first glance are nevertheless real. In electronics, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) will confirm that the aircraft industry has carried along some of the most important break-throughs. Because of that, although one can say that since 1945 189 projects have been started and only 10 have been successful in producing more than 500 off in any particular item—which superficially seems a very poor performance—nevertheless the fact is 464 that the whole of advanced technology in Britain has been stimulated and fertilised by the activities of the aircraft industry.
I say that in order to emphasise one point—that if the aircraft industry is mortally wounded by major decisions, which seem to me at any rate to have been taken precipitately, it will clearly affect not only the aircraft industry but all those associated industries which are supported by the aircraft industry. This may well do a grave injury to the economy as a whole. It is a very superficial view of the matter to say that just because one makes a major cut in expenditure to make a saving at one point, that will be the limit of loss.
I believe that the question before the House tonight is, will it be cheaper to do away with Concord than to keep it? I believe that the loss through doing away with Concord will be a much heavier burden than if we proceed with it. Let me say one thing about the right hon. Gentleman the former Minister of Aviation. I, in my time, have said some very harsh things about him, but I have always praised him—behind his back—for his imagination and vision in connection with the aircraft industry. I have not always thought that he has been right, but I have always thought that he has had the interests of the aviation industry at heart. He has been bold in his decisions, and with that boldness we have been carried forward towards the end of this century.
I believe in the idea of European cooperation, and I want to emphasise that he has had the imagination to deal with a technique of European unity which is the essential alternative to the concept of the Common Market. I have been opposed to the Common Market, but I have always believed in the idea of organic European unity. The right hon. Gentleman and myself, when the Council of Europe was first formed, both spoke on the theme of techniques of co-operation which could achieve a real integration of Europe. I think that the idea of a division of labour between the countries of Western Europe, of specialisation and co-operation, which he brought to a reality, is something from which the whole of Western Europe has benefited, and could benefit in future. It is the way to real European integration and unity.
465 If we do that I think that we can think in terms of a European technology in which all the resources which Western Europe can muster—not only Britain and France but all of Western Europe—can be associated together in order to encourage technologists and in order to produce results and to embark on projects from which the West will benefit. When Concord was first produced I welcomed it warmly because I believed that here was unity in action, here was an example of co-operation, of division of labour between the two countries, which could knit France and Britain together and perhaps, by its example, lead to further international co-operation between other Western countries and Great Britain.
If my hon. Friend is to announce tonight that Concord is cancelled, if he is to announce that as a decision of the Cabinet, then I am quite sure that he will be making an announcement which must be very painful to him. It has already been said that he, as a "leading European"—if I may use the term in inverted commas—is one who led the fight for Britain to enter the Common Market. He pointed out the importance of co-operation with Western Europe. I must say that he has my sympathy that instead of being handed an olive branch to enter France, he has been handed a hatchet. With that hatchet he has had to do a job of demolition when I am absolutely certain that his own inclination is for construction. Therefore, I sympathise with him in the dilemma in which he must have been placed.
In all of this there is one beneficiary, and that is certainly the United States of America. There is one who must look on this decision to wind up, for that is what it is, the Anglo-French aircraft industry with the thought that if this happens, the American aircraft industry will be the beneficiary.
It is very significant that some of those who have been most ardent in advocating the cancellation of Concord are those people—the hon. Member for Macclesfield will agree with me—who have been urging that we should either buy American aircraft or manufacture American aircraft under licence. My right hon. Friend said that in connection with Concord he has been engaging in a review of the aircraft industry. I have 466 said before, and I will repeat, that the way in which the matter has been approached has been rather like Alice in Wonderland, in which the Queen says, "Off with his head", and then asks that the trial should go on. It seems to me that that is putting the cart before the horse. What should have happened is that we should have had the review first and the decisions later. We should have decided what could be done in order to reduce expenditure within the aircraft industry and, with those savings in mind, we should have decided which projects should go ahead.
I warn my right hon. Friend—and the workers in my constituency are well aware of this—that this is the thin end of the wedge. I do not believe that it will stop with Concord. Already there are people who are talking about cutting out that great and imaginative aircraft, in respect of which, I am glad to say, the former Minister was an ally of the workers in Coventry—the HS681, short-take-off transport aircraft. It is being urged from interested quarters that it should be replaced by the American C141 made under licence. Once we break up our design teams, once we do away with the designers who are the heart of the technological process, we might as well wind up the aircraft industry. Indeed, if I may use the term, those in the British aircraft industry would become the hewers of wood and drawers of water for those who could supply the technological "know-how", and those people who had the knowledge would be able to switch employment on and off in this country. They would have the design and the authority to allow the design to be developed.
I will conclude with a positive suggestion to my right hon. Friend. I believe that it is possible to maintain Concord in existence. It is possible to undo some of the harm which has been done by what I have described as precipitate action. This could be done if my right hon. Friend, obviously with the approval of the Cabinet, told the French that we have great difficulties, but that we are prepared to go ahead with building two prototypes. I am told on excellent authority that two prototypes can be manufactured for a price, spread over five years, of £67½ million, which surely should not be beyond the means of a 467 great industrial country if spent in order to keep the technical teams going. If the production jigs are not laid down now, it will mean in the long term that the Concord will cost more, but at least if we do as I suggest, if we produce the aircraft and make it fly, as it can and certainly will fly, we shall first of all advertise to the world that we are able to produce an aircraft of that quality and, secondly, we shall keep our bond and our word with the French—and that seems to me to be a matter of great importance.
I do not believe that in a matter of this kind we can take a unilateral decision. Indeed, it will not stop there. Surely it was always a tradition, or has been ever since the nineteenth century when Britain became a great industrial nation, that an Englishman's word was his bond. This doctrine may have become too well handled so that we never refer to it here, but I can assure hon. Members that on the Continent it is a password and a byword.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I agree with every word that the hon. Member has said. I can well understand him putting forward a proposition which would save Concord to some extent, but the danger of his proposition is that if we sacrifice the time lead of four or five years by not preparing for production, and the Americans go into this enterprise, we may well lose that lead and the project may well be endangered.
§ Mr. Edelman
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. If I may again quote my authority, I am told that this suggestion would slow down the project by two years. This could indeed be two years lost. I am offering this proposal in order to make the best of what seems to me in present circumstances to be a bad job. It is not a proposal which I would recommend if I had to take the decision, but in a situation in which I must seek to offer a compromise, this is what I urge.
I would add only that if this course were followed, there would still be redundancy in the aircraft industry. It would not be quite of the order which I quoted originally, but it would mean a redundancy of about 1,200 now and probably 4,000 later. This would be 468 serious for those concerned, and many people would wonder whether the second industrial revolution simply means redundancy on half-pay. Surely that is not what we intend by the technological revolution.
Great measures have been proposed in the Queen's Speech, and I heartily endorse them. Great dynamism has been introduced in so many social proposals put forward in the Queen's Speech—proposals which I support without qualification at all. I hope that my right hon. Friend will recognise that this is a time for greatness. If I may quote a very eminent predecessor of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Technology, perhaps in a different field, I hope that my right hon. Friend will dare to be great.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin McLaren (Bristol, North-West)
I am very glad to follow in debate the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) because, like him, I represent an aircraft constituency. I agree with every word he said and congratulate him on his excellent speech. We all know how well qualified he is to speak on any matters concerning Anglo-French relations.
It seems to me that there is a good deal of unanimity this evening in various quarters of the House and that the people who are beginning to feel rather lonely are those on the Treasury Bench. I am also glad to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Corfield). He and I have a kind of partnership in this matter because we are next-door neighbours; in his constituency he has the works at Filton and Patchway to which he referred and I, just over the border, have in my constituency the homes of several thousands of those who work in those places. When I observe that he is in the House after the election and that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Hopkins) and I are also here, I begin to see that not everybody was taken in by the yellow pamphlet to which reference has been made.
Thousands of my constituents are very worried, and so am I, by the threat which has been presented to their livelihood by the suggestion that the Concord project might be postponed or 469 abandoned. Bristol Aircraft has long been famous in the history of the aircraft industry. It has been there since the industry's inception before the First World War over 50 years ago. I have been glad to think that in recent years it has had good times and that there has been considerable prosperity. I award a good deal of the credit for that to my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), because it was in his period of office that the aircraft industry was persuaded to reduce the numbers of firms within the industry by large amalgamations. Since then the security of employment has to my mind been very much safeguarded.
No firm has been more closely involved in the Concord project than Bristol Aircraft, because it is at Filton that the airframes will be made. We should look on the Concord project as the very linchpin of the civil aviation industry today and as the most imaginative and advanced project there is. It would indeed be a backward step if we were to abandon it.
Reference has been made to the sentence in the Gracious Speech about advances in scientific research and advanced technology. One cannot reconcile those aspirations with the suggestion that we should back pedal on the Concord. Reference has also been made to the election broadcast made by the Prime Minister about scientific programmes. I do not recall that his actual words have been quoted in the House and hon. Members may be interested to know that the right hon. Gentleman said:…Where we've sometimes fallen down is in our failure to give our scientists their heads and still more our failure to apply the results of scientific discovery in our industrial processes. Too often, you know, British discoveries have been developed overseas leaving us to pay royalties to their developers, or worse still, to import their products, or ask them to set up manufacturing subsidiaries in this country.Could he have been a better prophet than if he were seeking to describe the consequences that would flow if we were to abandon the Concord project?
Hon. Members opposite often refer to the brain drain. Could there be a development more calculated to lead to the acceleration of the brain drain than the matter we are discussing, bearing in mind that it is not only the aircraft industry which is affected but all the 470 ancillaries which go with it, such as electronics, aerodynamics, hydraulics and so on? The worst feature of all would be the dispersal of the design teams which have been brought together over the years. Once they are dispersed it will not be easy to reassemble them.
I have received a message from the Draughtsmen's and Allied Technicians' Association—D.A.T.A.—stating:As well over a half the total Design Staff at Filton are working on the Concord project, and as this number will progressively increase as the project reaches greater maturity, we deplore any cut that might be contemplated and insist that no steps be made in this direction, until sufficient alternative, and above all suitable, work be introduced into the area.Some hon. Members may have viewed the television broadcast the other night on this subject. They will have seen shots which were taken of the French aircraft industry in Toulouse and of the British industry in Bristol. I am sure that they will have realised the close co-operation and friendship which has been established between colleagues in those two towns and how it would be a thousand pities if that were now, at this late stage, to end.
The world will go into the supersonic aircraft age whether or not the Government like it. We all know that. Everyone knows that if we drop out, within a few years we will be going to the Americans, to use a rather unhappy phrase of the Prime Minister's, cap in hand, our begging bowl out, asking to be allowed to pay large sums in dollars to buy some of their aircraft.
We have established this priceless lead in this sphere, a lead worth several years. If we drop out now the Americans will be only too delighted to step into our place; my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) illustrated this vividly. Let us ask ourselves just what is this work which it is suggested should be modified or abandoned. It is not some pet theory of the Tory Party. It is eight years of work done by the wit, brains and devotion of thousands of men in Bristol, Coventry and Farnborough. If it is abandoned now my information is that 2,000 of those men will have to be dismissed in the next two months or so and that next year a further 6,000 will have to leave the industry. We are entitled to ask the Minister to state tonight what plans he has for Government contracts to be substituted and so to 471 provide these men with regular employment.
Much has been said about the unhappy political effects of all this. We made the Concord agreement with the French towards the end of 1962 and it is worth while looking at the way in which the matter has been put in the offending passage of the White Paper. There is a reference to… cutting out expenditure on items of low economic priority, such as 'prestige projects'".The next sentence states:The Government have already communicated to the French Government their wish to re-examine urgently the Concord project.The implication of that must be that the Concord project is singled out as being an example of a low economic priority. If so, I cannot agree. After all, progress in this country depends on technological advance and we must earn our wealth before we can distribute it. As for the expression "prestige projects", I do not agree with that in this instance. To my mind it takes a good project to be a prestige one and we should not sneer at prestige which is won. When I read the paragraph stating:The Government have already communicated to the French Government their wish to re-examine urgently the Concord project.I ask myself when that was done and how much notice the French Government were given before the White Paper was published. I would be prepared to bet my bottom dollar that that notice was on the short side.
As other hon. Members have said, it is so ironical that of all the Ministers opposite it should be the "best European" to whom it should fall to go to Paris instructed, apparently, to wriggle out of the Concord project. We should like him to explain his policies to the aircraft workers in Bristol. One cannot renegotiate a contract, as the euphemism is, unless the other side agrees, and there is every indication that the French are content with the contract as it stands, and are unwilling to alter it. If we tell them that we are not going through with it we shall be breaking our faith with them, and we know the kind of language they may use about the British people on the other side of the Channel.
472 In the short life of the present Government one of the disturbing features has been the way in which international agreements have been not observed. Only yesterday there appeared at the top of the correspondence column in The Times a letter headedMost Serious Aspect—Britain's Word Not Kept".The letter was written by a doctor in Edinburgh, who said:Surely the most serious aspect of the new Government's actions on economic policy is that agreements have been broken?The Government seems to be prepared to do the same over Concord.There was a time when we were famous for keeping our word.We have broken the E.F.T.A. Agreement and the G.A.T.T.
Only last night the Economic Secretary to the Treasury was talking about that, and made no bones about it at all. He said:… we are not in breach of any of these bodies by deciding to restrict imports. Where we are in breach is by deciding to do it by a charge on imports instead of by quantitative restrictions.A little later, he complained:There is something wrong with the rules of these bodies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1964; Vol. 701, c. 342–3.]That is the language of the man who sees the umpire's finger lifted and complains that the rules ought to be revised.
I say quite seriously that there will be a setback in the whole of our co-operation with Europe through trade if we do not keep our agreements and our faith. How important that is we all know since the breakdown of the Common Market negotiations. Ever since that day we have been trying to build up our contacts with Europe through just such measures as the Concord agreement. Only this evening I see that the evening newspapers report a suggestion that if our fears about the Concord are realised the French Government will go back on any preliminary arrangements made over the Channel Tunnel. Does not that show how this kind of business can grow?
We have listened to talk about the exciting "hundred days"; in just the first 10 days the British aircraft industry has been plunged into doubt and uncertainty. If the Government had deliberately set out to do the maximum damage to 473 applied technology and the aircraft industry within the shortest space of time this would have been the most suitable blueprint for it.
The City of Bristol is famous as a city of merchant adventurers. We have earned our living by international trade for several centuries. Our complaint tonight is that by these short-sighted policies the Government are trying to prevent us from merchanting and to cut us off from adventuring. I hope that they will have second thoughts.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Middlesbrough, West)
I very much appreciate the constituency concern of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman). It is interesting, however, to note that of those who have so far spoken about the Concord project probably the most moderate speeches have been made by those who have been personally involved in the industry—the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop), who made a most distinguished maiden speech.
From the opposite side we have had the same kind of hot air that preceded the Nassau Agreement. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden), who put down a resolution or was one of a number of signatories of a resolution deploring the cancellation of Skybolt, and said that adoption of Polaris would be the complete abandonment of Britain's independence, is now adopting precisely the same point of view. I well remember going with the hon. Gentleman and a number of other hon. Members opposite on a visit a few weeks afterwards to a Polaris submarine in the Holy Loch, when I think that I was the only member of that Parliamentary delegation who had the vaguest idea of what the electronic gadgetry was about. The other Members came back bamboozled by what they had seen, and we did not hear a bleat after that visit about the integrity and power of Polaris. We need to apply a somewhat better informed judgment to the issue that has been principally before the House this afternoon.
I must confess as a private Member that I had not thought that the Government would have the courage seriously 474 to re-examine the Concord project. When we raised this question, two thoughts are uppermost in the mind of anyone who has been concerned in the industry. The first is the deep disappointment—perhaps tragedy would not be too strong a word—to those whose brain child this has been in the aircraft industry, in the Royal Air Force Establishment at Farnborough, the Imperial College and elsewhere—the many friends I have who have been personally involved in the work; and in the electronics world, many of them my own colleagues.
The second thought that comes immediately to mind is the threat to employment. On the Tees-side we have known in my own immediate area 10,00 men redundant—we did not get a great deal of sympathy from hon. Members opposite at that time. We have known there the sheer incompetence of the management in the steel industry—we got scant encouragement from hon. Members opposite then. But, to-day, we on this side of the House certainly would not minimise the effects—the tragedy—of unemployment on any kind of worker, and especially the kind of worker who, in the aircraft industry, is quite vital to the development of technology and to our economy.
But, while being much moved by these two considerations, and without in any way minimising the seriousness of the disappointment to the technical men in the aircraft industry and the profound unease of the workers in that industry, I think that, on the publicly available evidence, it would be understandable if a re-examination of the full evidence which is not publicly available were to lead to the cancellation of the Concord project. I think that the point made by hon. Members opposite that a half-way stage would be unacceptable is wholly right, subject, of course, to fuller reexamination. If we were to decide to go only for the development stage now, with just two development models built, it would increase the total cost of the project. It would increase the delay. It is on these two considerations that we have the greatest unease about the whole project today. The rephasing of the project, the simple spreading out over a longer number of years, would have much the same objections to it.
475 What, then, are the reasons for thinking very seriously about the viability of the whole project today? First, the problems in cancelling the project would be very much greater in one or two years' time than they are today. The disappointment to the aircraft industry would be more bitter, the threat to employment in Weybridge, Bristol and Coventry would be far worse than if we were to act today. Today there is time to avoid the serious consequences which some hon. Members have feared may follow. We have time to avoid these consequences if we act now.
Secondly, the problem of the supersonic boom which follows the flight path of any supersonic plane has been swept under the mat during this debate by those who have supported wholeheartedly the continuation of the Concord project. It was also avoided by hon. Members opposite when they were in Government, by the Minister himself and by the Parliamentary Secretary, who, when I raised the matter on the Adjournment shortly before the Recess, ventured the view that people would grow used to the supersonic boom. This seems the most arrogant bit of technological 1984-ishness that we have heard in this House. Have we no respect for the social balance of people who will be disturbed by supersonic boom, or have we respect for the few businessmen who want to cut off a few hours in their journey to Istanbul?
There is no serious evidence on this question at all, but such as there is suggests that certainly people would be awakened from sleep and much disturbed, there would be in certain atmospheric conditions a danger of breaking glass, which in cities with skyscrapers makes a threat to life. The problems are frankly not known.
Most serious perhaps of all is the question of the balance of cost, the profitability of the project. Many estimates have been bandied about. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) produced perhaps the lowest, but there was one by Tom Margerison in an article in the Sunday Times, which some hon. Members may have read. Many hon. Members interested in the subject will have seen the statement from Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd., which is a principal contractor in the project. In the 476 arguments against the Concord project first is put the question of cost. It says that the latest cost is £300 million.
Later the article says that of course the cost is the gross figure and could be reduced only after undertaking the development stage. Some hon. Members opposite have used that as the text for their speeches. Perhaps it would have been better if they had thought of the project instead of letting other people write their speeches for them. Three hundred million pounds from this country and £300 million from France makes £600 million. It is estimated that one could not recoup more than about £1 million of development cost from each Concord actually sold. Therefore, on the sale of 100 Concords perhaps a conservative estimate would be that the manufacturing effects of 100 being actually built for sale at £5 million each would mean a net loss of £500 million.
Take the other extreme estimate by the hon. Member for Macclesfield. He estimated the total loss on the project might be £80 million and pointed out that that is the same as one year's deficit on British Railways. Divide that by the maximum number of workers whom we have been told might be made redundant at the end of 1965, 6,000. Perhaps someone will work that out for me. I think it is something over £12,000 per head. If we were offering redundancy pay of £12,000 a head I think we should take a rather different view of the seriousness of this matter. If we are to cancel this project I am quite sure the Government will make an extremely generous redundancy payment. I do not care a tuppenny damn about the obligations to other industries, including nationalised industries, if they have to increase redundancy payments. I would say that the redundancy pay offered by B.O.A.C. is somewhere approaching the right order of magnitude.
Whatever is fixed as the amount for redundancy pay, there is plenty in the kitty from the potential savings on this project to make it amply worth while for workers to go flocking into the aircraft industry in the hope that the Concord project would be cancelled.
Looking at the balance of advantage to the nation, one has to see that there 477 are enormous resources at stake which can be used. They could result in a technically viable aircraft, but if we were to cancel the project could those resources be used in any other way in the time available, which is not very long taking in to consideration the length of time taken in research, development and design studies?
We have to admit that there is no single project which would replace the Concord. One hon. Member opposite said that Concord could not be cancelled without being replaced by a comparable project. I should say that no Government fighting the kind of campaign we have fought could possibly avoid launching far more, and more major, projects in the next five years. It is not a matter of replacing Concord by its mirror image but of using these resources more purposefully for the benefit of the aircraft industry itself and for the whole economy. It could be argued that if we simply cancelled the project the resources could take care of themselves and they would be diffused into and be used in other parts of the economy. One does not think naturally of Coventry or Bristol as places of high unemployment. But this is not the solution to the problem because there are men there with special skills whose work is particularly valuable to the country.
Therefore, one has to ask for a very close study of specific substitutes, specific alternative uses, of these resources, taking into consideration the time in which these projects can be prepared. Of these projects—certainly some of them will be in the aircraft industry in research, production and possibly the changed ordering plans for the nationalised airlines and many altered defence requirements. These are factors which have to be taken into account. But this will not simply affect the aircraft industry. There needs to be a general shift of technological activity and research and development through the whole spectrum of research in universities, in Government institutions and industry. There has to be a shift so that a greater proportion of the technological effort of the country is applied to meeting the basic needs of the country for food, clothing, housing and exports.
What this means is obviously different for different kinds of workers involved 478 in such a project as the Concord. Consider first the scientists and the engineers. Obviously I can give only an example of the shift through the spectrum of technological activity. Research in the steel industry has been a pretty primitive non-scientific business up to the present. There are a few choice spirits who are trying to apply to research in the steel industry the principles of chemical engineering. Obviously there are immense advantages to be gained once we can get efficient instrumentation on to the blast furnaces, steel mills, and so on. Chemical engineering methods—I will not bore the House—using mass balance, heat balance, unit processes, and so on, in steel manufacture would lead to great advantages.
Chemical engineering, again, has been pretty much of a cookery science up to the present, although again there are a few choice spirits in the chemical engineering world who are trying to apply to this field the ideas of fluid dynamics which have so far been solely the province of the aero-space industries. What we must have is a shift gradually—not so gradually either—of the technological effort through the range of industries so that many of the skills that have been accumulated in one industry are brought into others, and many of the ideas and techniques developed elsewhere.
Another body of workers involved in the Concord project are the detail designers. There are all kinds of engineers involved—mechanical engineers, hydro-dynamicists, hydraulic engineers, and so on. Anyone who has read the Fielden Report cannot but have been impressed by the tremendous gains there would be to the engineering industry generally if some of the engineering standards which are essential in the aircraft industry were more widely spread in the engineering industry generally. There is great scope here for the quality control of both manufacture and of exports of engineering products, which we cannot launch at present because we have not got the mechanical and other kinds of engineers available to get down to writing the design manuals, applying the standards, and doing the inspecting.
Any designers who happen to become available from the aircraft industry 479 could be mopped up in this other work. It would require a degree of retraining. Many mature scientists and engineers might return to university to take Ph.Ds. That would be greatly to their own enjoyment, in many cases, and also for the benefit of the nation.
§ Dr. Bray
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. But I do not know how many aircraft designers he has talked to recently. I am sure that he has talked to the directors of the aircraft firms, the electronics firms and the aircraft engine firms. So have I. I have also talked to the men whom I meet at work in the laboratories, in design offices, and on the bench. I honestly think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not got the mood of industry today when he makes that kind of remark. There are people who do for their own particular needs—the right hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed this out often enough—need to go to the United Stares to carry on their particular interest. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has a long list of them, and so have I. I am convinced that, if we offer the right pay inducements and opportunities to work in other industries or in other projects in the aircraft industry, there would not be a serious brain drain problem.
I do not know if hon. Members opposite are in touch with the Royal Aeronautical Society Committee on the planning of aircraft projects or whether they are in touch with the Cranfield Society. These are the high-power boys in the aircraft industry today. They are the people who in the course of a few years will be replacing such distinguished men as Sir George Edwards and his colleagues. They are taking an altogether different view of the Concord project from that which has been presented by hon. Members opposite.
Above all, we on this side of the House would feel responsible for the manual workers in the industry, for those who finally use the tools and produce the product. As hon. Members have pointed 480 out, the effect will not be felt for a year or two yet. None the less, it is an extremely serious matter, and we must take our obligation seriously to the workers in Coventry and Bristol. I myself would hope that there would be other work for them in the aircraft industry.
Here we should take a really good look at the development potential of aircraft. I fully concede to hon. Members opposite that the VC10 is turning out very well and that it has a considerable development potential which could be exploited. There may well be work available within the industry. I personally would think that there is. If there is not, this is a new type of unemployment and redundancy situation which we must be able to deal with.
When we on this side of the House talk of planning, we mean identifying a problem like this, in the time needed to solve it, and getting on with the job of retraining, bringing in new industry, and maintaining earnings so that people are able to move productively and smoothly into the new work. Having worked in industry myself, I do not see any reason why this is not possible. There is ample time to act now. If I were in the Government, I would not have any hesitation—I hope that the Government will not have any hesitation—about giving guarantees of employment to those who are engaged in the Concord project or who would have been engaged on it this time next year.
What about the more general arguments, not the cost ones, not the employment ones, but the general matters of technological advance and prestige of the country as a whole? The overwhelming majority of hon. Members are concerned with the advance of technology. We in the House are rather in advance of feeling in the country on this matter, but we need to take a rather harder look at our enthusiasm on this and get a true view of it. After all, technology is the application of knowledge to useful ends. We measure the usefulness of those ends by social, economic and financial criteria. A very large part of the skill of the technologist is in analysing the social and economic factors in any project he undertakes. This is far more than a narrow accounting. It is the business of quantifying vague social, technical and scientific factors. And highly sophisticated analysis is coming to be applied to projects nowa- 481 days. It is far more than a mere adding up of a column of figures and giving a "yes" or "no" answer. A great deal of judgment is needed. One has to act when one has the minimum of necessary information to take a step. One always has to act with a considerable degree of uncertainty. There is no cut and dried solution. Leaps in the dark certainly have to be made.
On the Concord project, I would not in the least mind if there were a greater risk. I should be happy to take a far greater risk than the aircraft industry has itself been willing to incur in this case, providing that the chances of return were greater. Obviously there is no point at all in entering on a project which is an absolute certain technological winner if there is an equal certainty that a profit will not be made out of it. Risk has to be set off against profitability. That equation was not made by the hon. Member opposite who said that he was sure that the question of cost was not relevant as no assessment could be made because of the uncertainty of the whole project. A minimum estimate of cost can be made and that cost can turn out to be unprofitably high. In this state of affairs, where the essence of technology is the judgment of usefulness, are we going to set up as a sort of technological status symbol of this country a project which has at its heart a contradiction of the whole purpose and nature of technology? I can think of nothing more debilitating for the engineer, for the professional standing of not only the aeronautical engineer but of the whole engineering community, than deliberately to say that we are setting up as the symbol of our highest achievement something which denies the fundamental tenet of our profession—namely, the usefulness of what we do to the community as a whole.
I have a profound respect for the men who have put their hearts and lives into the Concord project. I certainly would not question their integrity as engineers. But I think that in the propaganda that is put out to hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side of the House, and in the way in which they have responded, there has been insufficient understanding of the dignity and integrity of the profession of engineer.
There are some vaguer arguments which have been used—fall-out, exports, 482 technological lead, prestige and political considerations. I propose to deal briefly with them. Let me deal first with the fall-out argument. It has been said that the electronics industry has gained, and that is true, but the attention of the electronics industry has been diverted from the serious matter of process control, for example, to the easy pickings which are available from the aero-space industry.
I remember a conversation that I had with a distinguished American control engineer in the St. George's Hall in the Kremlin. His work was obviously pointed directly at industrial process control. I asked him why he did not follow his interest and work on this subject, and he replied "Because defence contracts are so much plushier." The aircraft industry and the defence effort generally have, rightly or wrongly, diverted our best men and our biggest financial resources from tackling the fundamental technological problems of our industry to matters from which we have gained no benefit. We can see the contrast between the development of British exports and Japanese exports, from the days of our overwhelming prestige in the world when we clothed the world, as the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) said in his maiden speech, when our sewing machines were used in the heart of China as the sole trace of civilisation of any kind.
Today our share in engineering exports is falling. We find that if we want the best camera at the most competitive price in this country we buy a Japanese camera, as a result of the application to economically useful industries of the highest engineering skills and the most intense quality control in Japanese industry.
What about exports? It is argued that the aircraft industry has a very high content of skill, that its import requirements are small and the value per ton of an aircraft is high, and that for these reasons the aircraft industry is absolutely vital to our export trade. So, indeed, it should be. But what, in fact, has been the performance of the industry, conducted as it has been under the supervision of hon. Members opposite? In 1964 the Government's expenditure on research and development in the aero-space industry is likely to be £250 million. Our exports of this industry's exports are likely to be 483 only £110 million. The amount of the value of exports per £1 spent on research and development is lower in the aircraft industry than in any other British industry.
If our shortest commodity is engineering skill and research and development effort, then this industry is the poorest performer. This, I am persuaded, is not the fault of the industry itself. The whole issue has not been squarely faced by the preceding Government. I think we can do a great deal better in our export trade. We can certainly get a great deal better value out of research and development in the aircraft industry. But as it is today, I do not think we can just take the glib and purely verbal arguments which conceal numerical contradictions, when it is said that the export argument is a conclusive one for doing anything that the aircraft industry asks us to do.
Then again there is the question of technological aid. There is no point being in the lead if it is not in the right direction. I remember as a boy in the 1930's being terribly enthusiastic about that wonderful steam locomotive—I think it was King George V—that we sent to America, which broke all sorts of track records when other people were busy designing diesels and were electrifying their railway lines. We need to be a little less schoolboyish and a little more hard-headed in our assessment of the directions in which the economy is moving.
Then there is the question of prestige. Let me deal first with international prestige. Are we not, on the Concord, falling between two stools—that of sheer usefulness in the textile and sewing machine era of British exports on the one hand, where the prestige of this country, through its products sold abroad, was very high, and, on the other hand, the prestige of sheer technological virtuosity such as I have seen from the Russians goggling at British computers on exhibition in Moscow—such as, indeed, seems to attach to the status and achievements of both Russia and America?
The Concord does not have, and is not claimed to have, quite the same touch of technological virtuosity. Nor does it claim to have the same solid practical usefulness. Therefore, we need to modify 484 our view of the prestige attached to it. I admit that there would be prestige. It would be a splendid sight at the airports of the world. But we have to consider what price we are paying for this prestige and whether the achievement of this prestige is not diverting us from more important and more valuable achievements in this very field itself.
A more important question is not international prestige but domestic prestige, in the kind of image it sets before the public, including that vital person the schoolboy in his choice of career. Are we to set up as the aim for every schoolboy a technologically brilliant but economically unviable ideal? This is not the way to bring up our young people. We ought to select from the achievements in every profession those which are most useful. This is not inconsistent with scientific brilliance or with outstanding technological achievement. The outstanding scientific achievement of our day is the study of the origin of life, the organisation of a complex communications system. Why have we no serious research establishment in this country working in this field? The electronics industry, which hon. Members say is maintained by the aircraft industry, would be far more stimulated by such a research institute than by the pickings it is getting from the Concord project, and such an institute would cost far less.
There is an obita dictum in this Press release from Hawker Siddeley Engines which hon. Members did not include in their speeches. It states:British industry is not yet ready to absorb large numbers of technologists".This is a statement which comes from an aero-engine firm. In a sense, it is true. Certainly British industry is not prepared to accept technologists on a plate with no kind of struggle. But are technologists such mousy little creatures that they want ready-made jobs provided for them which have no element of pioneering achievement in them?
I remember going on to a chemical manufacturing site when I started work. I was the only mathematician on the site where 10,000 men were employed. Not through my efforts, but through the force of technological factors, there were on that site six years later two huge computers and a mathematical staff of 485 about 50. That is the rate at which one can introduce new technological disciplines and ideas into industry. It is not true that British industry could not absorb the technologists. It will need courage and fight on the part of the engineers and technologists, but I am convinced that that courage and fight is there to be brought out by the courageous action of a courageous Government.
Turning to the political considerations, I heartily agree with the many hon. Members who have sympathised with the difficult problem facing the Minister of Aviation in his approach to France. I hope that joint projects in the aviation field will be proposed and accepted. General de Gaulle is a realist, whatever else he is, and when he sees what the issues are we shall get constructive proposals from him.
Hon. Members opposite, when they talk about the attitude of France, should consider some of the things which France is saying to the European Economic Community, for example. Are these the signs of an altogether balanced Government? Is it altogether a dispassionate attitude to threaten to withdraw from N.A.T.O and from the Common Market because France is not getting its way with agricultural prices? Is it not possible that Concord is being used as a blind for some of the other things which France is trying to get away with?
There are problems on which hon. Members opposite refuse to co-operate with Europe. I do not want to raise the whole question of Euratom, but, nevertheless, it is true that during the summer Euratom approached us about an across-the-board sharing of information on fast breeder reactors. America had agreed to such a sharing of information. We refused to share our information, and I think that, although we may benefit from keeping our information to ourselves in the short run, it will not be long before we can no longer hold our own against the shared knowledge of the whole of Europe and America combined. It therefore seems to me that, on the fast breeder reactor in particular and possibly on atomic energy in general, we can take an initiative towards the Community and France in particular, which may well be welcomed. It would also help if we were to propose joint 486 institutes with France in pure research projects of many kinds which have been proposed both in France and in this country.
Finally, there are other technological points. Obviously we should look very hard, for the purposes not only of Europe but also of America and all large industrial communities, at the problems of land transport and communication within cities and high-speed land transport between cities. The 300 mile an hour tracked hovertrain is an example of the kind of project which is of immense social benefit. We should be taking a serious look at its possibilities.
Above all, however, the example which we can set in the international field is by conducting our affairs sensibly at home. If in this country we achieve something which is I admit very difficult, namely, a marrying of the tremendous potential of the scientific revolution with the social needs of the community and of the whole world, we shall have done a service, not only to those who sent us to this House but to the French and the rest of Europe and to the many millions of people in the world who perhaps deserve more consideration than any others we have been talking about today.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
I should begin by declaring an interest in that I earn my living, to some extent, in the aviation industry at Handley Page.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray) said at the beginning of his speech that those who had connections with the aviation industry seemed to have more reservations than anybody else about the main subject of debate today. I certainly do not share this view. Although I am no technician, I believe from the contacts which I have had with my colleagues and people working in aviation that there is very little doubt in their minds that a decision to do away with Concord would be wholly wrong.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West was listened to with respect, and rightly so, because he is a technician. He contributed an important speech. But I truly do not believe that he has answered the main burden of the argument as we on this side and some of his 487 hon. Friends as well have tried to put it this afternoon. The key proposition which has been mentioned more than once is this: the SST will come anyway. Nobody has denied this. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West did not deny it. Are we to be in this race or not?
We on this side contend that to opt out of the supersonic transport would probably spell death to our aviation industry, not only in this country but quite possibly in France and quite possibly in Europe as a whole, and that we will hand over the field entirely to the Americans. For all the very attractive arguments which the hon. Member adduced, he did not answer these points to my satisfaction.
In part of his speech he made a plea, as I understood it, for industrial research—research into control equipment for the steel industry, chemical plant, and so on. I agree that work on this should certainly be done. But is that any argument for killing the Concord project? Of course, we need to do more work on these things, and to follow up and probably spend more money on hover-trains and on other future means of land transport. I agree with this as well. But, at a time when on both sides of the House we are talking about technological advance, none of these is an argument for doing away with Concord, particularly if one accepts the two propositions which I put at the outset of my remarks.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West made one other remark which struck me. He said that the standards of control necessary in the aviation industry were such that they could be applied very widely in industry and that there were, therefore, ready vacancies for aviation technologists. I put to the hon. Member a word of caution, although I do so with respect because I am no technician and he is. The problem of diversification in the aircraft industry is a big one, it is part of the economics of every aircraft construction firm. It certainly affects us at Handley Page. We have been doing our level best, with one of the finest design teams in the country, to see how best to use our resources in other fields, to hold the design team together and make the maximum use of precisely the skills of which the hon. 488 Member spoke. It is difficult precisely because of the standards to which the hon. Member referred.
There are fields where these high standards are necessary and where the standard of control which exists today should be improved. But generally, in commerce, it can be as much of a disadvantage as an advantage if one is seeking profit. The hon. Member made it plain that profit should be at the root of any calculation of a project such as Concord.
There was one other remark which struck me as odd coming from the hon. Member. He talked of the dignity of an engineer, the need for an engineer to satisfy himself that what he was doing was useful to mankind, and he applied this specifically to the Concord project. One can imagine precisely the same argument being used when Bleriot went up in the first aeroplane. One can imagine somebody who was a good hand as a blacksmith saying, "What does this man mean by flying about? He will break his neck. It is not necessary. It is not useful. Stick to the horse and cart." The hon. Member used exactly the same argument tonight. It does not, and it should not, bear heavily upon the decision of the Government to do away with this project.
§ Dr. Bray
May I reply to one or two of the points made by the hon. Member? He states that the SST will come inevitably. I feel that it will come. I do not see any particular reason why it should come at Mach 2 or Mach 3. The problems might well be easier in a number of years' time if we go for a still higher Mach number and aim, not at London-New York as the Blue Riband route but at London to Australia as the Blue Riband route. This is going a long way ahead, I admit, but if we do not get either the Concord or the American project this might prove to be the stage to which we should go. As to Bleriot, I remind the hon. Member that he did not get £600 million from the British and French Governments to finance his work.
§ Mr. Hastings
I accept the second point that the hon. Member makes. What he says about the possibility of a Mach 4 aircraft, and so on, is arguable. These arguments were surely gone into in great detail by a number of people who have, perhaps, even a deeper knowledge than 489 has the hon. Member on aviation, eight years ago before the decision to go ahead with Concord was taken.
I refer the hon. Member to what his hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) has said. If we drop this project now—it is a commercial business—the most likely course of action for the Americans is to do precisely what the hon. Member said. After a decorous pause, they will come in at Mach 2 instead of Mach 3, for the simple reason, as the hon. Member knows, that it is a much more simple technological problem with Mach 2 than with Mach 3 because of the metal and other factors. That is what is likely to happen commercially. What I am saying is at least as arguable as what the hon. Member has suggested.
The hon. Member for Coventry, North made an important contribution to the debate and, I think, a more accurate and sound one. I was particularly impressed because he recognised the devastating blow which the dropping of the Concord could undoubtedly render to the aviation industry, and he balanced this with the effect upon Anglo-French relations as a whole. The hon. Member paid tribute, which I echo wholeheartedly, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery), the previous Minister of Aviation, who fought so hard in the face of the bitterest criticism to put across this project and to bring forward a real basis for functional co-operation in Europe. It is the only real advance that has been made since the end of the Common Market negotiations. The hon. Member for Coventry, North recognised this.
Already, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) said earlier—it is in the newspapers tonight and we shall hear more of it tomorrow—the evidence is coming that the ill will that this doubt about Concord has caused is having its effect and will isolate us from what will happen from now on politically in Europe. The Government do this at their peril and we must judge in the light of events. Nobody knows better than the Minister who is to reply to this debate that what I say has a basis in fact.
490 I turn for a moment to the decision itself. I should like to hear from the Minister to what extent there was consultation with Sir George Edwards, Sir Arnold Hall, other leaders in the industry, makers of control equipment, of weather radar, the engines, and so on.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West referred to an article in the Sunday Times by Tom Margerison who quoted a number of figures and who also referred to a report by a Mr. Worcester. He said that Mr. Worcester had been commissioned by the Labour Party some time ago to produce this report, that he is a consultant in aviation and that as a result of that report there were 96 decisions to be made, of which the Concord was the principal one, and that it was the evidence produced by Mr. Worcester which influenced the Prime Minister to take this supremely important decision.
Who is Mr. Worcester? Are we to be told? I have made a few inquiries about Mr. Worcester. It seems that he was a Fleet Air Arm pilot, and to that extent he certainly has some connection with aviation. He has been a journalist and is now running a sort of commercial gossip sheet known as "Aviation Studies". This is not particularly highly regarded in the industry. I have nothing personally against Mr. Worcester. Perhaps he did a good job, but, really, is this the basis of this decision? Was he consulted, more deeply and earlier, than the people I have just mentioned, the leaders in the industry? We would like to know.
The economics of the Concord are, of course, a complicated business, and it is impossible to guarantee a profit at this stage. The profit seems to me to depend entirely upon the extent to which R. and D. costs at the end of the road are to be borne by the Governments concerned or handed on to the customer. It is far too early to say to what extent that would be possible, but if they can be absorbed, then it seems to me, on the evidence I have found, that the operating costs of the Concord could compete well with subsonic jets, and because of its speed it would undoubtedly sell.
These points have been made already several times in the debate, I know, but 491 they are of the greatest importance. Was this decision really taken—this is a point about which we shall hope soon to learn—on the ground of the balance of payments? I really cannot believe that the right hon. Gentleman or the Government could lend themselves to that—to kill a 20-year project because of a temporary imbalance of visible trade. It does not make sense. If that is the reason, then it is folly. Secondly, has it been taken on the basis of what I have heard referred to as "social priorities"? Yesterday somebody on the other side of the House said during the debate that an increase in pensions could be financed out of the Concord. I heard that. It must be in the minds of one or two hon. Gentlemen opposite. Is this the reason? If it is, then equally it is folly.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
Surely the important fact about this is, is it commercially viable? Would it have to be subsidised by the State?
§ Mr. Hastings
I have said that I do not believe we can possibly say at this stage in the game to what extent it will make a profit, but the fall-out from this industry, to which the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West did not seem to attach much importance, is very considerable. We have already—it has been in the newspaper, and I think on television—lost a large contract for electronics in Germany since this decision to look into the Concord was announced. Elliott Automation lost a contract because of the doubt the Germans felt—immediately, in electronics, quite removed from the aviation field. This is the sort of way that profit could accrue, that exports could accrue. It is simply not valid to try to cost this project solely in terms of either operating costs or profit at the end of the road of the aircraft alone. There is far more to it than that.
It seems to me that the only way in which the damage can be mitigated, if a firm decision has been taken to cancel, is by immediately starting an aeronautical alternative to the Concord. There are arguments, there have been, of course, in the past, against the SST. Is there really still a chance to launch, for instance, a large laminarised subsonic jet at this stage after all the work which has been done on Concord? It may be possible. But even if an aeronautical 492 alternative could be found at this stage to keep the industry confident and flourishing, we should have to bear the risk entirely ourselves, and the cost entirely ourselves. The most important thing that we have given away, if we have taken the decision, is the market. If the market is sacrificed, there is little that one can do. If we have an alternative to the Concord but the market has gone—this is what would happen if aviation in Europe had to concede to the Americans—there would be little point in starting an alternative.
Only the Americans stand to gain by this, and it is no wonder that the American Government appear to condone the tariff surcharges which have recently been applied. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) raised the question of some kind of deal with the American Government over this. I think that it is legitimate for hon. Members on this side to question whether or not that has happened. I would be the first to be glad to hear that that is not so, but what are the facts? Sir Eric Roll was sent to the United States to announce these surcharges. Nobody in Europe was warned at all, in spite of the consequences for E.F.T.A., and so on. Since then it would appear that the Government's view of the multilateral force has shifted—one might say violently—from what it seemed to be when they were in opposition. Secondly, there is now a grave threat that we shall get out of supersonic transport, with all that that could mean, and which has been the main subject of the debate today.
Both these things are direct American interests. Has there been a deal or not? If there has, let us hear something about it tonight, because it will certainly explain the fact that the American Government condone a massive tariff surcharge which is in direct opposition to their own objectives. The Kennedy Round cannot possibly succeed if this is to be the future pattern. It cannot succeed if this country is to become a small protected economy of this kind. But they can see the writing on the wall, and I suggest that it must have something to do with it.
We have had two weeks of dynamic Government—14 of the first 100 days—and where has it got us? I suggest, 493 first, that it has got us into a position which can only benefit the Americans. Secondly, that we have virtually no friends left in Europe. They have all turned their backs on us, and in this country we appear as little Englanders crawling behind what is a nineteenth century tariff, while the rest of the Western world is steadily dismantling the barriers to trade and working towards a closer integration which will be the real pattern of the twentieth century. If the Government pursue the line they have followed in the last fortnight, we shall be left out of it altogether.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
It falls to me tonight to begin by referring to the fact that during this debate there have been no fewer than six maiden speeches from the other side of the House. Certainly in my short recollection of this House this is a record, but I am not sure whether it will stand as such, in view of the large number still to be made from the other side.
Both in quantity and in quality the new Members opposite gave a very good account of themselves this afternoon. The hon. Members for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan), Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan), Darlington (Mr. Fletcher), Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong), Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), and Newark (Mr. Bishop) not only had a great deal that was interesting and useful to say about their own constituencies, but some useful and interesting things to say about technology, and no doubt they will make a great contribution to our debates in this House.
The debate was opened this afternoon by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), who was followed by the Secretary of State for Education and Science. It began with a discussion of the Ministerial organisation of technology. I do not want to go over any of that again, except to say that I thought that the Secretary of State did not really succeed in meeting all the doubts expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend. I recognise that there are some points, however, in which final decisions have not yet been taken, and it may be that we shall have a further opportunity to discuss them.
In particular, I thought that the Minister was a little less than fair in quoting the 494 late Government's apportionment of responsibility for the N.R.D.C. as something which disproved the argument that my right hon. and learned Friend had been trying to make. The N.R.D.C. has an annual turnover of only about £1 million, which, in relation to the expenditure of research councils and on the main body of research, is very small. It is not an exception which can be held to prove the rule.
I will not say that it was the most disquieting thing about the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but perhaps the one which left the largest question mark was his statement that the future of the Atomic Energy Authority, and responsibility for it, was still undecided. We recognise that this question requires a considerable amount of thought, but many hon. Members on both sides of the House would be very disquieted if they thought that this meant that there was a likelihood that the Authority would be fragmented, with responsibility for it being split between various Departments.
§ Mr. M. Stewart indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Maude
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman seems to indicate that this is not so. Nearly all the speeches made by my hon. Friends, and several speeches of hon. Members opposite, have been devoted to the British aero-space industry and, in particular, the question of the Concord project and the space projects which have seemed to be threatened by various statements made by the Government—and some curious silences with which those statements have been interspersed. In addition to the speeches of my hon. Friends, there was a very courageous speech by the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), and a most interesting speech by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray) on this question.
Why has this alarm been caused? That is perhaps the most interesting question to be asked. This alarm dates back originally to the publication of the Government White Paper on the economic situation. We should be quite clear what the White Paper said which started all this flap. The quotation is in paragraph 13(6), and begins:The Government will carry out a strict review of all Government expenditure495 and it goes on to say:Their object will be to relieve the strain on the balance of payments and release resources for more productive purposes by cutting out expenditure on items of low economic priority, such as 'prestige projects'. The Government have already communicated to the French Government their wish to re-examine urgently the Concord project.This was followed up by the most extraordinary succession of Press stories. We very well remember the number of attacks which were made by hon. Members opposite—notably the present Prime Minister—on my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) on what were alleged to have been Press leaks about various activities of the Ministry of Aviation. I can only say that the apparently inspired or semi-inspired stories in the British Press during the last 10 days have made that leak look like a mere trickle.
I am not suggesting that these stories, any more than stories which occurred during the tenure of office of my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North, were leaks from the Ministry of Aviation. I do not believe that they were. I think that some of them were from sources nearer to the Treasury or the Ministry of Economic Affairs than that. Nevertheless, the impression that was given was that either a decision had been taken to cancel the Concord project, or that it was very soon going to be taken, and that such further projects as E.L.D.O. and various other aircraft projects were, if not at least on the list for the axe, being looked at with a very suspicious eye. It is the manner in which this question was first raised that, I think, caused so much concern and which did so much to worry not only our friends in Europe but people working in the British aerospace industry.
The very terms of the White Paper itself are a little peculiar. This was the first mention of a review of the Concord project. It talks of items oflow economic priority, such as 'prestige projects'".The mention of the Concord in the very next sentence, taken in conjunction with the implied sneer of the quotation marks around the words "prestige projects", caused considerable offence and obviously begged a great many questions. Lower economic priorities than what? One is 496 surely entitled to ask. This is, after all, a White Paper about the balance of payments. Cancelling the Concord project will make no direct impact on the balance of payments. There is no cross-currency transaction so far as I am aware—if there is, perhaps the Minister will tell us—which will affect the balance of payments. The only possible argument for saying that this would help in a balance of payments crisis would be if it were believed that the total of demand inside this country needed restraining in order to restrain the demand for imports. But, as I understand it, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has precisely said that that is not so, and that the total of demand in this country does not need cutting back.
The next question that arises is this: if this is not the reason, what are these more productive projects which are to be substituted for the Concord and for the other ones which are under threat? Are there any? If so, perhaps we may be told what is likely to be substituted for them. If there are not, what is the real object of the exercise? Is it only to save money to pay for the social programmes of the Government? Are we in fact going to save perhaps £20 million a year simply to enable the Government to abolish prescription charges under the National Health Service? If that is so, first, we ought to be told so, and, secondly, the Government should surely think twice about the long-term implications, from the point of view of a complete industry, on our technological lead in the world of substituting a long-term research project of this kind for an immediate social benefit, not, perhaps, unconnected with electoral considerations.
The next stage in this story was the visit of the Minister of Aviation to France. He is reported to have said that he had gone to find out what the French were thinking. Am I alone in thinking that this was rather an odd way of going about it? Surely we knew what the French were thinking. The French thought that they had a valid and enduring agreement to build the Concord with us. Had there ever been any suggestion that the French wanted to review this project? I do not think so. If there had been, the right hon. Gentleman will tell us. But this certainly caused a great deal of alarm in 497 France. I do not know whether the Minister has read a speech of M. Pompidou, the French Prime Minister. It is reported that he said at a lunch today:We are waiting for details on the British Government's decision which looks as if it will hold up and indeed abandon the Concord project—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—He went on to say and if the right hon. Gentleman is in any doubt about what the French are thinking, here is his answer—We deplore this decision which seems to be a sort of surrender of Europe to the Americans. It would be even more serious if this decision, as hinted, is linked to American pressure and their haste to complete their own plans".Hon. Members opposite shouted loudly when some of my hon. Friends suggested that there might have been an implied deal with the Americans over this cancellation; but the Prime Minister of France is voicing precisely the same suspicions, so it is clear that they are important enough to deserve a frank answer from the Minister of Aviation.
It may be that no decision has yet been taken. We hope that it has not, but we want as soon as possible—and so do the aircraft workers of this country—a clear statement of intention. Not one voice during the whole of this debate has been clearly raised in favour of a Government decision to cancel the Concord. The only one which came near to it was the hon. Member for Middlesborough, West, but he see-sawed about the question so much that I could not actually put him down as a firm supporter of a Government decision to cancel the Concord. From the rest of the debate it is clear that never has the House of Commons spoken so unanimously against a threatened Government policy as on this occasion. In these circumstances, it is really no good for the Government to think that if they make a statement tonight saying that this project is to be cancelled, it is something which can be forgotten and shuffled off, not to be mentioned again. This is something upon which, before the final decisions are implemented, we should certainly require a full-scale major debate.
What in fact is at stake in this issue? It is not just an aircraft. It is not just the future of a whole industry. It is, in fact, the international good name of 498 Britain—and something else as well which may be important to hon. Members opposite: the Government's good faith during the election campaign is also at stake. I am not going again into the details of the pamphlet which was circulated to aircraft workers, or even of the statement made by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin). These are questions which perhaps the Prime Minister will have to consider, but I should like to quote—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—I did give the hon. Member notice that I was going to mention this.
I should like at this stage to quote a couple of sentences from the television broadcast by the Prime Minister the other day. He said—he was addressing the people of the nation after the announcement of the Government's economic measures—Where we have sometimes fallen down is in our failure to give our scientists their heads and still more our failure to apply the results of scientific discovery in our industrial processes. Too often, you know, British discoveries have been developed overseas leaving us to pay royalties to their developers, or worse still, to import their products, or ask them to set up manufacturing subsidiaries in this country.If this project is cancelled, in 10 years' time we shall be acting as little more than sales agents for Douglas or Lockheed supersonic transport aircraft. The Prime Minister must make up his mind whether that sort of speech that he made so frequently in the past year was the purest humbug, or whether he really did mean it.
I think that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West was a little shortsighted on this point. He said that the exports of the aircraft industry had not been sufficient to justify a vast capital investment in it, but he entirely ignored the fact that when the supersonic transport aircraft comes, if it is not ours, not merely do we have no longer the potential exports, but we shall have to spend an enormous amount of money to import American products, which was precisely what the Prime Minister said he was trying to prevent.
The Minister of Aviation, for whom some of my hon. Friends have expressed a certain amount of sympathy—which I share, because he is an old friend of mine and I respect his ability very much—is—and I think he recognises this—not 499 only a customer, and the biggest customer, of the aircraft industry; he is also the guardian and the guide of that industry, as his predecessors have been. He is in fact the political spearhead of technology in this country, and this he must always be. He has a pretty good industry to guide and guard.
There are two things, I suppose, which this country may feel are most important to it—defence and exports. Aviation is a key factor in both of these, and has been for a very long time. The export side of aviation is beginning to, and will increasingly, take the place of the old shipping and shipbuilding industries. It was the pride of this country that as much world trade as possible should be carried in what are known as "British bottoms". This is a matter of pride which we should, I hope, continue to take in our own aviation industry. This is something for which the Ministry is in the last resort responsible.
There have been an enormous number of British break-throughs. We have been first in a very large number of important fields in the development of aviation. Variable pitch propellers, retractable undercarriages, the gas turbine engine, vector thrust for vertical and short takeoff—these are examples of what we have been able to do, so it is clear that we have the brains and the research and development organisation which can do these things.
I do not think anybody denies that we have the brains. What, as I understand it, is the argument is that this is a very expensive way of deploying those brains and that we might in fact find a less expensive way of deploying them to better economic advantage elsewhere. I think there are two answers to this criticism. One of these I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us. Is it in fact true that these brains can be deployed, either immediately or in the longer term, elsewhere inside British industry? If he thinks they can, I hope that he will tell us so; but I have, and so have most of the experts I have talked to, the gravest doubts about this. It is true that the skilled workers and technicians could probably be absorbed in some jobs or other, but not necessarily in the sort of jobs for which their rather specialised skills have qualified them.
500 It is true that there has always been a technological fall-out from aviation, direct from the aircraft industry into others, like gas turbine propulsion being used in electricity generation and marine propulsion. But this would not have occurred if there had not been the aero effort first. This is the point which we have to recognise in considering this project.
We remember the criticism about the brain drain in the last year of the last Government. We remember the criticism of the Government for allowing Dr. Barnes Wallis to go to America to develop variable geometry wings for possible use in the TFX. This brain drain would be as nothing to what would happen if the Concord and E.L.D.O. projects were abandoned. This would not be a question of killing the goose. It would be worse than that. It would be telling the goose to go and lay its golden eggs elsewhere because we did not want them. It would be telling the goose to go and lay its golden eggs in America so that, if we could afford them, we could buy them back.
There is no question but that this project will come. If we cannot do it, it will be done in America, and our workers and our technologists will go to America, where they will find a ready welcome awaiting them.
Of course we do not say, and it would be absurd to say, that no project in this field should ever be cancelled, let alone that no project should ever be reviewed. Of course they should. We do not question the Government's right to review this project, though I think we have some right to question the way in which they announced it beforehand. What we question is what in my opinion is an over-simple view—though it sounds at first hand self-evident—that the best time to cut is always before the money has been spent on development. It is simple to say, "Here is a project which may cost £340 million. Clearly the best time to cut it is now, when we have spent only about £20 million". That is not necessarily true at all. If this is research and development which must be done if we are not to lose a whole field of technology to the Americans, then certainly it is not better to cut it now. It is necessary to have the research and development 501 done and to get the break-through for ourselves.
I am rather surprised that no hon. Member opposite has yet asked, "What about Blue Streak?" As a matter of fact, Blue Streak is a project which it seems to me is threatened by this Government. Our Government did not cancel Blue Streak, except as a weapon. Development of Blue Streak is still going on in connection with the E.L.D.O. project. The point is that the real break-through on the rocket side of Blue Streak had been achieved before the cancellation of the weapon project took place. One of the questions with which I ask the right hon. Gentleman to deal in his reply is this: can he tell us whether there is any truth in the further rumours that the E.L.D.O. project, and with it the future of satellite communications as well as space launchers, is in danger in addition to the Concord programme?
Of course these things are always expensive. When we are operating on the frontiers of knowledge, the costs are never precisely predictable, except that they will always be large and will always be increasing. The point surely is this: when we are operating not only on the frontiers of knowledge but on the frontiers of practical experiment, we have to have a break-through or all we do is worth nothing. Unless we are prepared to go to the point of break-through, there is no point in going into this at all.
That is why, I confess, the talk about compromise solutions has rather alarmed me. I am not at all sure that there is any satisfactory compromise short of at least taking this aircraft to prototype stage. The hon. Member for Coventry, North mentioned this. I am inclined to doubt whether he is right in believing that that is a viable compromise even so, because I believe that we should possibly lose in the subsequent development too great a lead to the Americans.
I have promised the right hon. Gentleman that I will sit down at 9.25 p.m., and in conclusion I want to deal with some of the fears which have been expressed. There will always be fears expressed about projects of this kind. There always have been, and the loudest and most dismal noises will almost certainly be made by the airline Corporations.
502 I implore the right hon. Gentleman to listen to those with a somewhat sceptical ear. It would be going too far to say that no airline never wants to buy a new type of aircraft, although it is true that they much prefer to amortise the ones they have and go on using them as long as they can without having to go through the organisational and technical difficulties attendant on the introduction of a new aircraft.
No airline would willingly make the great jump from subsonic to supersonic passenger travel—that is, unless it thought that another airline would get in first. If they could put it off for another 10 years, with no airline jumping the gun on them, I believe that it is likely that most airlines would prefer to do this. So their evidence is not the best evidence here. We know what the American view is likely to be on this. I have heard it suggested that a sigh of relief would go up in America if we cancel the Concord project and that they would drop their own research and development. It would not be a sigh of relief. There would be a shout of joy. As was said by the hon. Member for Coventry, North, they would go straight back into the development of a Mach 2.2 aircraft of their own. There is no half-way house here.
We have this lead, which has been hard-earned by organisation, the confidence of the late Government and the work and inspiration of thousands of workers and technologists in the aerospace industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) was right when he said that the Americans will stop at nothing to get us and the French out of the aerospace industry; and when he said "stop at nothing" that was, if anything, an understatement.
I do not know whether the Minister has ever seen the American aircraft industry at close quarters working on the development of a market. I saw what the Lockheed company did in Australia to try to get a stranglehold on the Australian market. He may have seen in the newspapers in the last few days reports about the Douglas company's efforts in Argentina to keep out the VC 10 and get a stranglehold on that market. This is no kid glove job, I assure him.
The point, surely, is that this supersonic form of transport is going to come. 503 The question is whether not only this country but Western Europe is going to get there first, which it can now do, or whether it will hand this on a plate to the Americans. I would, therefore, ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will give us clear answers to several questions. We need to know more about the history of this thing. We want to know who was consulted before the original statement was made; on whose advice was the first step taken—was it his own Ministry's, the Treasury's, the Americans', or Mr. Worcester's; what has been the cost so far; what is the estimated cost to completion; and whether he agrees with his hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West that the amount of technological fall-out is insignificant? We would also like to know his estimate of the probable unemployment which cancellation would cause in the aircraft industry here; and whether E.L.D.O. and other space and aircraft projects are also threatened in his review.
These are the questions we need answered. Finally, if this decision has not been taken, we implore not only the Minister and the Prime Minister but the whole Government to show us that they really meant what they said when they talked about this advance into the great technological age of the new Britain. Let them show us whether this was more than sheer humbug or whether, really, they are —what, frankly, we have always suspected they were—rather reactionary, restrictionist little Englanders who, rather than adventure bravely on the frontiers of knowledge, would prefer to sit tight and do anything for a quiet life.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ The Minister of Aviation (Mr. Roy Jenkins)
Like the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude), I should like to begin by congratulating the six maiden speakers whom we have heard in this debate: the hon. Members for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan), Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan), Darlington (Mr. Fletcher), Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong), Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) and Newark (Mr. Bishop). They are all hon. Friends of mine, they all made early maiden speeches, and they all made speeches to which we greatly enjoyed listening. I presume that there are some new hon. Gentlemen on the other 504 side of the House, and we shall no doubt look forward very much to hearing from them.
I should also like to congratulate, if I may, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon on his appointment as my "shadow". He was kind enough to refer to me as an old friend, and I am very glad that after what was a somewhat checkered career both geographically and politically he has at last entered on to his party's Front Bench, where certainly by reason of his ability he deserves to be. I am the more glad to welcome him there as he concluded his speech by asking me a number of questions, all of which I think I should be able to answer this evening.
I cannot, however, welcome the hon. Gentleman without sparing a thought of regret that the right hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) has moved away to other fields, as I should like to have been able to have had some exchanges with him in the course of the debates we shall no doubt have on aviation matters in the future. Perhaps he will be here in spirit, even if not speaking in those debates—and perhaps in the flesh, too.
Perhaps I could begin by putting, as I have been asked this on a number of occasions in this debate, the situation about Concord as it is at the present time. The only decision that has been taken has been to ask for an urgent review of the project. This decision was announced in the White Paper, and conveyed in a personal message from the Prime Minister to M. Pompidou. I went to Paris three days later to explain to M. Jacquet, the French Minister of Transport, why we had asked for that review, to express some of our doubts about the project and to ask the French to tell us how they reacted to those expressions of view in order that we might take those into account at the next stage of our deliberations. That is what I went to Paris to do, and that is what I did in Paris.
I also had informal talks, as well as with M. Jacquet, with M. Messmer, the French Minister of Defence, and with M. Palewski, Minister of Science. M. Palewski has French responsibility for E.L.D.O. Let me say at once that there was no question of my raising with M. Palewski the question of a British wish to contract out of E.L.D.O. The position 505 indeed—and hon. Members opposite really must not be too eager to decry the British position in these respects—[Interruption.]—about E.L.D.O. is that a meeting has been arranged for January, at the request of the French and the Italian Governments, when the rising costs, and the allocation of those costs between the different participating countries, will be discussed—again at the request of these two Governments.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will accept that this meeting, to take place in January, is a routine meeting which was to happen in any case. No doubt the French and Italian Governments are anxious that it should take place, but all the Governments will review the E.L.D.O. phase postponed from October.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Yes, of course. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I did not suggest that it was other than a routine meeting, but the subject at the meeting is being raised at the request of the two Governments I have mentioned.
I turn to another point which has been raised by a great number of speeches from the benches opposite today. That is the suggestion, as it is put, that there is some sort of Anglo-American deal. I am sorry that—not by all hon. Members who have raised it but by some—it has been put in a bitterly anti-American way. It is no good the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon throwing charges of little Englandism across the Floor of the House, as he did at the end of his speech, when some of his hon. Friends speak about Anglo-American relations in the way they have done today.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) and the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) raised in varying ways the point that there had been some such deal. I can categorically deny that. The hon. Member for Macclesfield, embroidering his imagination I think, said that the Foreign Secretary—[Interruption.] I am replying directly to the point put to me by the hon. Member. If the Members of the Opposition Front Bench do not think that the points put by the hon. Member are worthy of reply, I think they should say so. The hon. Member for Macclesfield said that the Foreign Secretary had been 506 in Washington at the end of the previous week and had been talking to officials there.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Yes, he did. In fact, the Foreign Secretary did not arrive in Washington until the Sunday evening and he had no talks until after the White Paper was published and after the decision had been conveyed to M. Pompidou.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
What I said was not my doubts. I made it quite clear. I said that I was in France the day after the right hon. Gentleman and that those doubts were expressed to me by French politicians.
§ Mr. Jenkins
The hon. Member specifically raised the activity of the Foreign Secretary in Washington at the end of the week before. I have told him categorically that there could be no such activity because the Foreign Secretary was not there. I hope he will accept that.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I hope the hon. Member will accept that and withdraw any imputations he made on the basis of that false premise.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Sir Eric Roll went to Washington. So far as I am aware there has been a British Ambassador in Washington for a great number of years past. Is it suggested that because there are British officials in Washington that is prima facie evidence that a deal has been made behind the scenes between the British Government and the American Government? Unless the right hon. Member for Preston, North is arguing that, I do not know what he is arguing.
507 I turn to the broader question of whether the decision to ask for such a review was a reasonable one. Perhaps the House would forgive me if I begin with a personal word, because several hon. Members have offered me a choice of the happy alternatives either of disassociating myself from the desired review or of having betrayed on taking office my European past. May I say that I accept neither of these alternatives. Certainly as long as I am Minister of Aviation there is no question of my not being fully responsible for any decision touching that Ministry. Nor do I accept that the desire for a review is anti-European. I simply do not see how the long-term interest either of Anglo-French collaboration or of European unity would be served by refusing to ask for a review of a project about which we have legitimate doubts. I certainly expressed that point of view before taking office. In an article which I wrote in the Observer in July of last year, before any thought of taking office in this capacity had entered my head, I concluded by saying this:Neither B.O.A.C. nor the British aircraft industry can afford expensive status symbols. Flag flying is not a substitute"—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I hope that hon. Members will listen to me.Flag flying is not a substitute for economy in the air. This is so even if the Tricolor is blended with the Union Jack. The Concord may be a better project than the VC10. But it needs much harder economic analysis than it has ever received. And it needs it quickly.If that analysis was needed quickly in July, when current published estimates of our trading deficit were between £200 million and £300 million for the year, how much more quickly is it needed now when hon. Members opposite have left us with a deficit of between £700 million and £800 million.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the right hon. Gentleman who is addressing the House does not give way not only one but both hon. Members must not persist in seeking to intervene.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Mr. Speaker, I have already given way four or five times. I 508 would gladly give way again, but time is pressing and the hon. Member for Stratford-upon-Avon asked me a number of questions which I want to answer in the course of presenting my argument to the House. [Interruption.] I cannot hear what the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) is saying. He has been in a very ebullient mood all day, after his rather doubtful encounter with the electors of Monmouth. I was very interested to see him nodding vehemently in support when the hon. Member for Macclesfield earlier this afternoon was making some pretty sharp attacks on the administration of the right hon. Member for Preston, North of my Department. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was paying off some old scores in Whitehall.
There is another reason for urgency beyond this very large deficit indeed. [Interruption.] I will come on and explain in a little more detail in a moment or two what is the relationship between the longer-term economic difficulty and the short-term economic difficulty. I would beg hon. Members to allow me to proceed. Throughout the debate they have been asking for a statement, although they could have turned the debate round and had it in the other way and had these speeches at the beginning, had they so wished. Now I will endeavour to provide as much as I can to the House of what is in our mind in looking at this project.
The other reason for urgency is this. Neither on our side nor on the French side have vast sums of money been spent or committed on the Concord project. The same, indeed, applies to the labour force involved. At the present moment up to about 3,000 people are involved. The greater number of these are in Bristol In Coventry the number is much smaller, about 400. Of course, anything which involves redeployment of labour is a serious matter, but these are fairly limited numbers, and certainly in the case of Bristol Siddeley engines that company has a heavy work load at the present time, which we are very glad is the case.
§ Mr. Jenkins
From both these points of view, from the point of view of the financial commitment and of the labour 509 position, we are at the point where costs and the amount of labour involved would begin to rise fairly sharply. Therefore, if there is a case for a review at all, it is surely better to have the review now at this point rather than postponing it and getting, as we could so easily do, into the familiar but extremely uncomfortable position of being like a climber on a mountain ledge, having gone too far to get down easily, but with the costs soaring to such an extent that it is very difficult indeed to go on.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I am sorry. I would be very happy to give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but I have already explained the position. The House has constantly asked throughout the debate to have the Government's mind on this matter expressed to them, and I am endeavouring to do this. I cannot do that and answer a great number of questions. I am sorry about it.
These then are the reasons for urgency, but the reasons for desiring the review are longer-term ones, and the hon. Member who tried to interrupt was, of course, on a good point here. Our desire and determination is not merely to solve this balance of payments crisis but to prevent it recurring, and to break out of the dreary pattern which has bedevilled our economic performance in the past.
From this point of view we must look in this way at projects like the Concord. We must ask ourselves: will they help us and our partners to an extent commensurate with their cost to pay our way in the world of the future? If the answer to the question is "no", or even if it is "probably no", are there any worthwhile counterbalancing technological or social conditions?
This afternoon the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) set himself broadly these criteria. I got a little befogged by the force of his oratory later on. I did not quite follow it. I propose to try to stick to them. First of all, let me deal with the economic test. The original French estimate was £135 million. Ours was always 510 a little higher—we thought between £150 million and £170 million. We now know that it is to be at least £280 million. [An HON. MEMBER: "How does the right hon. Gentleman know?"] Because that is the decision arrived at and agreed with the French. We now know that it will be at least £280 million plus a substantial additional sum after the certificate of airworthiness stage. There is a great possibility of even this very high level of costs spiralling still further.
This so far is a question of the costs to the two Governments. On top of this there is the question of the cost of the aircraft itself to possible purchasers. Originally the estimate was between £3 million and £4 million and there was thought to be a possibility of a return to Governments of £1 million per aircraft sold. The estimate of the cost of one of these planes has now risen to £5 million and with it the hope of any proper return to Governments has greatly weakened. On the contrary, what we might face is the problem of having to subsidise even the national airlines, B.O.A.C. and Air France, to use the plane at all, because the operating costs were substantially higher than those for subsonic jets.
§ Mr. Jenkins
We do not know the cost of the American plane. We do not know what is happening in this field. The Americans are not going ahead. What I am discussing is the cost of operating this aircraft in relation to subsonic jets, which is a very important cost indeed that must be considered.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone said that we have to build on the prospects of an assured market. I took down his words. So far from this being the case, by 1971 we might easily find ourselves in a position in which, without any hope of return, we had spent many hundreds of millions, when we had to subsidise our own airline to take the planes produced, when we had, in consequence, to place still further burdens on the Exchequer, and when the resultant argument between the Treasury and the airlines gravely damaged the prospects of the plane in third markets. Does not that at least add up to a case for an economic review?
511 In addition, there are technical problems to be overcome relating to the Concord's range, payload, and so on. But I do not stress these tonight, real though they are. On the contrary, I am assuming for the purpose of all my calculations and argument that these problems will be solved. To that extent, I am giving a bonus to the project.
The only exception I make in this technical field is sonic bang. The estimated level of the bang is higher than that which was foreseen at the time of the agreement to go ahead with the project. This is a major worry; it cannot be otherwise. Apart from any question of loss of amenity, if the level of sonic bang proved to be such that operating restrictions became necessary, this would be bound to worsen the operating economics of the aircraft beyond those which I have discussed.
§ Mr. Jenkins
The Americans do not have such an airliner; they are not going ahead with it. The right hon. Member for Preston, North must learn to behave in opposition.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Are there substantial counterbalancing technological considerations? This argument is often grossly over-simplified. It was over-simplified by, for example, the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) this afternoon. Of course, there is a certain technological fall-out from highly advanced and adventurous projects like the Concord, but whether an economy which concentrates a very large part of its limited research and technical resources on projects of this sort is in fact securing the most widespread and economically advantageous use of advanced techniques throughout its industry is quite another matter.
I should like to quote one very brief sentence from the Financial Times' leading article on Monday:But the biggest weakness in Britain's efforts is the lack of balance between all these headline projects"—by which it meant projects like the Concord, as it made quite clear— 512and the equally risky but far less glamorous work of industrial research.The article went on to list engineering, furniture, machine tools, textile machinery and civil engineering as British industries which, compared with their American counterparts, were noticeably starved in this way.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone said that we were second to the United States in advanced projects and that Japan and France were some way, but not very far, behind us. What was significant was that he left out of his list Western Germany, which has not developed prestige projects of this sort, but which is, none the less, the country with the soundest balance of payments position in the West. The contrast between the performance of their machine tool and textile machinery industries and ours is worth noting, and so also is the amount of research that is devoted to them. "Frontiers of knowledge" projects are by no means the automatic key to the best employment of scarce resources throughout industry.
The next question to which I wish to apply myself, as I said I would, under the three points is whether there are counterbalancing social considerations. I do not think anybody will argue that the world is crying out for supersonic transport. There is no persistent consumer demand to get from London to New York or New York to London in 2½ hours as opposed to six hours. It was interesting that within the context of this subject the lion. Member for Macclesfield, when discussing today whether the Americans might switch from Mach 3 to Mach 2, said, "What does 40 minutes matter when it takes so long to get from London Airport to the centre of London?" That was an odd remark to make in a speech dealing with the great advantages of supersonic travel. There is, therefore, no urgent human need to be met, no human suffering to be eased.
That does not mean that the supersonic age will not happen or should not happen, but it does mean that whether or not we make it happen should be judged on the basis of hard-headed commercial considerations. There is a good deal of other work in aeronautics which might do far more to meet human needs and, at the same time, pay us bigger dividends—for example, improvements in 513 safety, improvements in air traffic control, the development of which is extremely important, and in aircraft offering really cheap mass travel to large numbers of people. All these are important developments and might offer a continuing prospect of collaboration with the French.
We have several existing military collaborative projects with the French. The right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey suggested that these would be automatically brought to an end because we wish to review the Concord project. That was a most irresponsible suggestion to make.
§ Sir L. Heald
The right hon. Gentleman should not introduce and invent words. I did not use the word "automatically".
§ Mr. Jenkins
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said something to the effect that they would certainly go and that this spelt the end of them. This point was certainly not made to me in Paris last week, and I very much hope that it will not be made, because whatever view we eventually take on the Concord—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Preston, North must recognise that people are entitled to take a different view from him on this and other projects. His administration at the Ministry of Aviation was not such that all his opinions are sacrosanct.
Whatever view we eventually take of the Concord project, it is, I am convinced in the interests of both the French and the British aircraft industry that we work as closely as possible alongside each other. The collaboration so far, as has been said, has been happy. Our doubts are entirely about the Concord project and not about the collaboration. It is not in the interests of anyone either in Britain or in France, to say that we cannot express these doubts which we have, and which I have tried to deploy to the House tonight, in a frank and friendly manner to the French without calling the whole future into question.
§ Mr. Jenkins
We are awaiting the French reply and we certainly want to discuss this with them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] The right hon. Member for Preston, North having concluded an agreement without a break clause, and having been harshly criticised by the Select Committee on Estimates for doing so, it does not lie in the mouth of his hon. Friend or anyone else to increase our difficulties in the situation which he has left us.
I finish as I began—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—that no decision has been taken—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I have answered. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I finish as I began, by saying that no decision has been taken beyond that to ask for an urgent review. I think that on the facts as they were available to us no other course was possible. I shall take into account all the points made in the debate. If we were convinced that the project were in both our best interests, those of both ourselves and the French, we would want to go ahead fully. Even if we were not so convinced, and there remains an area of legitimate doubt, it might be we could still find a solution which would keep open to us the possibility of developing a supersonic airliner which would be economic. But we must not automatically assume that everything which is new, everything which is advanced, everything which sounds exciting, is necessarily the best way to deploy our scarce resources.
The aircraft industry has in recent years absorbed a very large part of those scarce resources. It has had some triumphs, and it has made some considerable contribution to our exports, though its figures in this field have been falling for the past few years. One part of my job, as the hon. Member pointed out, is to have very close relations with the aircraft industry, and, indeed, to act as its sponsor. I will try to discharge that task. But another part of my job is to look at the position of the industry in relation to our economy as a whole. I know that the industry has forceful spokesmen and some who speak very clearly and persuasively for it in this House. I shall, of course, listen very carefully to everything they have to say, but my job is to look at the industry not only from the industry's point of view but from the nation's point of view as 515 well, and that, as far as I can, I propose to do.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not understand the behaviour of this House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—on both sides. What is required in the common interest is that when the Speaker is on his feet there should be silence.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Lawson.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.