HC Deb 18 March 1965 vol 708 cc1471-3
Q4. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister what proposals he has for the future of the Ministry of Aviation.

The Prime Minister

I have at present no new proposals for the future of the Ministry of Aviation. For the time being, it will continue to fulfil the functions which it has fulfilled in the past. In the long run its military procurement functions should probably pass to the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Marten

Can the Prime Minister give an assurance that he has no intention of abolishing the Ministry? Would he remember when studying the question the great benefits which I think flowed from continuing an independent supply Department?

The Prime Minister

I cannot give such an assurance. I have always considered that when the Ministry of Defence was set up by the late Government in its present form it was unfortunate that no proper consideration was given to embodying the military procurement functions—and I stress those separately—of the Ministry of Aviation in the Defence Department. It may come to this, and I think that it is the right answer. The whole House will feel, I am sure, that one of our aims should be as quickly as possible to redeploy some of the resources at present controlled by the Ministry of Aviation, in the civil sense rather than the military sense, and, of course, this would mean a transfer to other Departments. I do not agree with the hon. Member about what he thinks has been the success of the Ministry of Aviation in recent years, certainly not as far as the taxpayer is concerned.

Mr. Rankin

Would my right hon. Friend remember that when civil aviation was associated with Transport we found that it did not work very successfully. Will he keep that point in mind?

The Prime Minister

I did not say anything about the civil aviation side, meaning the running of airlines. I was dealing with the procurement side, both military and civil. If it became desirable, as it may, though not immediately, to transfer the procurement functions to the Secretary of State for Defence we would have to give consideration to where the civilian airline functions should be. There is an obvious answer, but at the moment this is hypothetical.

Mr. Maude

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that there are considerable objections to the merging into the Ministry of Defence of all the procurement functions at present carried out by the Ministry of Aviation? [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up."] Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that there are very considerable dangers in the merging of the procurement agency into a Department which is itself a major customer for the goods being procured?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, But what we cannot get into the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite, even those on the Front Bench, is that under the administration of the Ministry of Aviation in recent years there has been a colossal imposition placed on the taxpayers with relatively little military consequences in terms of what the Forces need, and the whole history of the Ministry of Aviation, at any rate under the operation of the hon. Member's two right hon. Friends, has been deplorable. Certainly the answer cannot be sought in that direction.