HC Deb 28 February 1966 vol 725 cc901-3
Mr. Marples (by Private Notice)

asked the Minister of Technology whether he will make a statement about the resignation of Mr. Cockerell from the Board of Hovercraft Development Limited.

The Minister of Technology (Mr. Frank Cousins)

Hovercraft Development Limited is a subsidiary company of the National Research Development Corporation, and Mr. Cockerell's resignation is primarily a matter for the company and the Corporation.

I personally regret that Mr. Cockerell has taken this step and I have invited him to see me later this afternoon. I would prefer to await the outcome of our discussion before making any further statement.

Mr. Marples

After the right hon. Gentleman has seen Mr. Cockerell will he make a full statement to the House on the reasons why Mr. Cockerell resigned? Secondly, is he aware that a resignation of this nature by a preeminent inventor is something which causes a loss of confidence in technologically-based industry? What does he intend to do to minimise this?

Mr. Cousins

I shall wait till I have had discussions with Mr. Cockerell before I determine whether a statement is necessary. I think that that is a quite natural thing to do. I do not accept the right hon. Gentleman's point that this shows any loss of confidence in the technologically-based industries. Mr. Cockerell has made his point of view. He did not make it to me; he made it to the Press; I hope to find out what it is about.

Mr. Dalyell

Is not this a very strangely timed resignation?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] For what reasons was help from the National Research Development Corporation refused to Hovercraft Development Limited in 1961, in 1962 and in 1963?

Mr. Cousins

I would not accept any inferences that this is a strangely timed resignation. Mr. Cockerell is a very capable inventor. I think that some people in the National Research Development Corporation would not regard him as quite so high up in the business sense. He made the point that during this period, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, they were not able to get any money. But we have since made some money available.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Can the right hon. Gentleman give a categorical assurance that any steps which he takes in this matter will be entirely related to technological needs and the advice which he gets from his technological advisers, and not to political reasons?

Mr. Cousins

The hon. Gentleman will be aware, of course, that when the Development of Inventions Bill was before the House his side pressed very strongly that we should maintain the autonomy of the National Research Development Corporation. I was reminded, of course, that there were hard-headed businessmen on that body. We have taken their advice up to now, and intend to do so.

Sir A. V. Harvey

In view of the lead that this country has obtained in this development, would it not have been more fortunate if the right hon. Gentleman had kept in touch with Mr. Cockerell, when this situation would not have arisen?

Mr. Cousins

I am sure that the hon. Member's side of the House will not expect me to respect the Corporation's autonomy and, at the same time, to direct it. It has been my practice to keep in touch with the Corporation and to make clear the great support we intend to give that Corporation, and it has been given precedence.

Mr. Marples

Is it true, as Mr. Cockerell said, and as stated in The Times, that the National Research Development Corporation has quite suddenly changed its policy—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not in order to quote in Questions, The right hon. Gentleman must make himself responsible for everything he says.

Mr. Marples

May I summarise what Mr. Cockerell said and ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is his view that the National Research Development Corporation has quite suddenly changed its policy to one which stultifies the Hovercraft industry? If so, who changed that policy, the N.R.D.C. or the Minister?

Mr. Cousins

It seems to me rather unusual that I should be pressed upon what a newspaper says after I have said I shall await discussion on the matter with Mr. Cockerell.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the difficulty not primarily one of marketing? Will the right hon. Gentleman press British Rail to exploit this great British invention, and also his colleagues who are responsible for the Services, to make sure that Hovercraft are used there as well? It that not the important factor now, rather than the matter that Mr. Cockerell has raised?

Mr. Cousins

Certainly, yes; and I am sure that it will not have been forgotten that, late in the autumn of last year, I came to the House suggesting that we should spend considerable money on the SRN4.