Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [1st February]:
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Ministry of Aviation (Dissolution) Order 1967 be made in the form of the draft laid before this House on 17th January.—[Mr. Stonehouse.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 10.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
It is an unusual experience to begin a speech on a Wednesday morning and not bring it to a conclusion until the following Monday; nearly five days will have elapsed between the start of my speech at 12.24 p.m. last Wednesday and the conclusion to which I hope to come shortly. I shall not abuse the privilege of beginning today's debate by speaking for a great time this morning, but I cannot forbear to draw to the attention of my ex-Tory opponent Mr. Norris McWhirter, who is editor of the "Guinness Book of Records", that the longest speech on record, according to the present edition of that book, lasted about 28 hours only, and considerably longer will have elapsed between the beginning and end of my speech. By a curious coincidence, the speech referred to by Mr. McWhirter was made by a senator from Lubbock, Texas.
I was saying last Wednesday that the questions raised by the Plowden Report have in a good many respects been answered in the seven and a half months which have elapsed since the announcement of the dissolution of the Ministry of Aviation. I shall refer to some of those recommendations because I noticed that the right hon. Member for Mitcham 1022 (Mr. R. Carr) said on Wednesday that, in his view, such a change in responsibilities should not take place until the Prime Minister's undertaking of 15th June, that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation would have time fully to deal with those recommendations, had been implemented.
I say in passing that the Plowden Report is not the tablets of stone handed down from Mount Sinai. It was a document prepared in a shorter time than the Committee itself would have wished, and I hope that the House will not treat the whole of that Report as though it necessarily had to be binding on this or any future Government.
For good or ill, however, the Government had accepted the most important of the recommendations of the Plowden Committee that there should be State participation in the equity of the new airframe group, which includes both British Aircraft Corporation and the airframe interests of Hawker Siddeley, although the exact way in which this is to be carried out has not yet been divulged to the House. The letter of the Prime Minister's statement of 15th June has in this respect been fulfilled. His right hon. Friend did have time to deal finally with the airframe interests of the industry, and it was not reasonable to expect that, in a complex issue of this kind, everything could be pushed through to a conclusion before the actual dissolution of the Ministry.
I remind the right hon. Member for Mitcham—or I would do so if he were here—that another of the important problems mentioned by Lord Plowden was the future of the Ministry itself. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have forgotten recommendation (xxi) of the detailed recommendations:The Government should undertake an early review of the future of the Ministry of Aviation.So what is he complaining about? This review has, in fact, been undertaken and brought to a successful conclusion by the Government.
Another recommendation, No. (xvii), has been implemented—that the Government should decide on their future helicopter requirements. We have arrived at what I consider to be a valuable agreement with the French embracing not only 1023 helicopters but the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft. I regretted the remarks made last Wednesday by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] Any suggestion that the British are not fully behind collaboration with Europe and, in particular, collaboration with the French aircraft industry is most deplorable. I am convinced that there is a military need for an aircraft such as the A.F.V.G., and it is vitally important that Europe should stay in the technology of variable geometry, which we stood every chance of losing to the Americans because of lack of interest in Dr. Barnes Wallis's ideas of a few years ago. It is not too late for us to restore our lead in that respect, but the only way is by cooperation with the French.
In the debate on 21st November last year, the right hon. Member for Mitcham made a good deal of the lack of progress on the A.F.V.G. and said that if it was to be… both operationally and industrially the core of our long-term aircraft programme,quoting the words of the Defence White Paper, it was most regrettable that no conclusion had been reached on it at that date. I was anxious at one time as to whether the French wanted to proceed, but I am now convinced that in both France and Britain it is seen as the cornerstone of our future aircraft programme.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I was only speaking of the A.F.V.G. because the right hon. Member for Mitcham said that a number of extremely important decisions remained to be made, and that the Prime Minister had given him an undertaking that they would be dealt with by the Minister of Aviation before the Ministry was dissolved. In his remarks on 21st November, he highlighted the decision on A.F.V.G. as being one of the most important. Last Wednesday, the hon. Member for West Lothian dealt with A.F.V.G. at some length. I do not propose to do that, but I thought that it might be in order to refer in passing to that project which is of outstanding importance.
I hope that I may also be allowed to refer to the procurement decision of the 1024 Corporations. Half of B.E.A.'s new procurement decisions have been made, and I am delighted that it has ordered the BAC111 500-series. I hope that it will not be long before it reaches a conclusion on the remainder of its aircraft requirements.
I agree that that leaves a number of important recommendations of Plowden that have not yet been dealt with by the Government. If one looks through the detailed recommendations—some 24—one is bound to agree that they are not so vital as those to which I have referred. For instance, it would be of value to the industry if 10-year credit terms were made universal for aircraft exports, as recommended in detailed recommendation (xiii).
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that this has been done. Would the hon. Member for Orpington not agree that that is the sort of point that strengthens the need for a White Paper following up Plowden as soon as possible?
§ Mr. Lubbock
I was coming to that point. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) for reminding me of it. My information is that discussions have been taking place with the aircraft industry on credit terms for smaller aircraft, but that the present position is that on, for example, the Handley Page Herald or HS 748 the maximum that can be offered is five years. But on the YS 11 the Japanese offer 10-year credit terms. This sort of thing could be harmful in the future to our turboprop aircraft export prospects. I know that the Minister has this very much in mind.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
My understanding is that if an exporter can show that a foreign competitor is having credit terms underwritten in excess of five years the Export Credits Guarantee Department is permitted to match those terms.
§ Mr. Lubbock
That may well be so. It is difficult to establish on exactly what terms the YS 11 is being exported. The only deal of which one has knowledge is that with Philippine Airlines, which was not a sale but a leasing arrangement. I am told that the Japanese manufacturers 1025 offer 10-year credit terms on those aircraft. I can see no logical reason why one should distinguish between turboprop aircraft and straight jets provided the value of the contract is similar. I hope that it will be possible to reach agreement on this matter in discussions with countries interested in aircraft exports.
Similarly, I would like to know, if no announcement has already been made, the Government's view of detailed recommendation (xiv) that they…should consider reducing the premium charged by E.C.G.D. for credit cover on aircraft deals".I agree that those points substantiate the plea made by the right hon. Member for Mitcham that a White Paper should be published by the Government, or that the information should be given in some other form to the House, so that we know exactly what view is taken of all these important but subsidiary recommendations of the Plowden Committee.
I do not believe that the dissolution of the Ministry will have any delaying effect on those decisions and that is why I support the Order, even though I agree with the right hon. Member for Mitcham on the need for fuller information. That is all part of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said on television last night. He said that decisions like these, important not only for the aircraft industry and the 250,000-odd people who work in it, but also for the future status of this country, should be worked out in the open. As far as possible, subject to the needs of security and commercial considerations, there should be discussions in the House, and the Government should give us information on all these important matters.
The last point that needs to be made in the debate is to expose the inconsistency of Tory reasoning on the Order, as on so many other subjects. When the present Government came to power in 1964 one of their first moves was to increase the number of Ministries—out of all reason, in my opinion—by the Ministers of the Crown Act, which began its progress through the House in November, 1964. The Government were rightly criticised then, not only by the Conservatives but also by my party. The now 1026 Lord Butler, winding up for the Opposition in the debate on Second Reading, made some interesting remarks. He echoed my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland in pointing out that towards the end of their period in office the Tories had tried to bring Ministries together and create, as it were, a federal structure of Government, and he gave some examples.
Surely that is precisely what the Government are trying to achieve by the Order? The Ministry of Aviation logically belongs with the rest of technology, and by bringing the two Ministries together we shall ensure a wide diffusion of the excellent work undertaken in the Ministry of Aviation establishments throughout the rest of industry—what the Americans call "spin-off". In the Royal Aircraft Establishment, for example, we have the finest materials testing laboratory in the whole of Europe. By bringing the Establishment under the roof of the Ministry of Technology that expertise can be much more widely applied than merely within the aircraft industry.
The other main objection the Conservatives made to the Machinery of Government Bill, as the Act was originally called, was the constitutional danger of swamping the House of Commons with obedient place men on the Government side thus stifling any pretence of free discussion in the House. I believed that that was indeed a serious possibility and agreed with the weighty arguments produced by the right hon. and learned Memfor Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) in this respect. But it is inconsistent for the Tories now to seek to retain a Department that has rightly been called "the unnecessary Ministry" by the Economist, multiplying the number of voices clamouring for money within the Government. An article from the Economist on 18th June last year said:When a government is spending as much as Britain on research, it needs a single Ministry to control where these research funds are going and hold the balance fairly between the glamour boys and the less articulate scientists".In the next paragraph it was even more precise:…there is a case for making candidates for the big money, like aviation, atomic energy, machine tools, computers, shipbuilding, argue their case to a common judge and jury.1027 I believe that we have not gone far enough in this direction and it may be that we shall have to consider bringing not only aviation within the responsibility of the Ministry of Technology but also, at a later date, perhaps the Ministry of Power as well. These are considerations which we should have in mind when voting on the Order.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
The hon. Gentleman has said several times that the Conservative Party is opposed to the dissolution of the Ministry of Aviation. What justification has he for saying so? No statement opposed to dissolution has been made by the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. Lubbock
There has not been any explicit voice from the Opposition Front Bench saying that the Order disapproved. I can only judge from the speeches. I listened to them not only last Wednesday but on the last occasions when aviation was debated, on 21st November, 1966. I have always understood it to be the attitude of the right hon. Member for Mitcham that, while he was not opposed to the dissolution of the Ministry of Aviation in principle, he wanted firm replies from the Government on the powers involved.
§ Mr. Onslow
I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman is, in effect, withdrawing the unjustifiable accusation against my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr). Our chief criticism has been on grounds of insufficient information and faulty timing; and we see the purpose of this debate as being to probe these matters.
§ Mr. Lubbock
As Mr. Bevins said in the Sunday Express> yesterday, one cannot understand what Tory policy is these days.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am only too glad that the Conservative Party is to support the Order in the end because it would be a pity if the Order, which will improve cross-fertilisation of new ideas, not only in the Government but beyond, were to be opposed for political reasons. The reasons given by the right hon. Member for Mitcham mainly in connection with 1028 the recommendations of the Plowden Report really do not stand up to examination. If the Tory Party really believes in efficient and vigorous management of technology by the Government let it endorse this logical and sensible move.
§ 10.23 a.m.
§ Mr. Tim Fortescue (Liverpool, Garston)
I want briefly to discuss those aspects of the Order which have not yet been touched on and I trust that I shall be in order in doing so. Nearly all the discussion so far has been on the transfer of functions from the dying Ministry of Aviation to the Ministry of Technology. As far as I am aware, we have not yet had an opportunity to discuss those functions which were transferred to the Board of Trade some months ago.
The Ministry of Aviation in its heyday was responsible for that aspect of the aviation complex which concerns the civil airlines, airports, the future of aircraft noise and such matters. Now, these aspects have gone to the Board of Trade, a Department which at the moment is not perhaps at its strongest or best. We are told by the heavy Sunday newspapers that morale in the Department has never been so low that none of the best applicants for the Civil Service wish to go there.
Yet the Government have transferred these functions to the Board of Trade at a time when the problems of the airlines and all that goes with them have never been so difficult or formidable. I wonder whether, within the Board of Trade, the group of able men who have been transferred will be able to find their feet and deal properly with these daunting problems in the years ahead. Time is very short. We are on the verge of breaks through in aviation which are unimaginable at present. We are on the verge of supersonic flight in enormous aircraft carrying up to 200 passengers. We are on the verge of having subsonic aircraft even larger. The idea of three or four of these vast aircraft arriving at the same time at any of our airports leaves the mind boggling in a state which only Dante could have described. The congestion of some of our airports today when a few of the present smaller planes arrive is a sight to make eyes sore. To have two or three jumbo jets or even 1029 Concords arriving even at Heathrow would mean pandemonium there in present circumstances.
Again, there is a rumble of discontent—rapidly growing into a roar—among the civil airlines at the antics of the Air Transport Licensing Board. Who can wonder when, in a recent judgment, the Board said that, if it had its way, the route it was being asked to re-authorise would be left to British Rail and not be flown at all? This was a domestic air service which had been in action for some time.
The problem of supersonic and even subsonic noise will, of course, fill our minds in the House for many months to come.
These are just a few of the problems which are now hidden deeply within the recesses of the Board of Trade, and one must beg leave to wonder whether the responsibility of a junior Minister, very far from the Cabinet room, within the caverns of this vast Department will be adequate to look after the interests and problems of civil aviation. I do not want to continue along these lines much longer because I appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that you have been indulgent with me but I hope that, when he replies, the Minister will be able to give a reassurance that the seniority and ability of his counterpart in the Board of Trade will be such that these very difficult questions will be adequately covered.
§ 10.29 a.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I should like to continue briefly from where the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Fortescue) left off, because, apart from anything that the hon. Member has said, I would have sought to refer to the problems of civil aviation. I understood that already civil aviation had been disposed of and that now we were dealing with an Order solely devoted to the remaining aspects of aviation.
I was interested, however, to hear the hon. Member refer to the "antics" of the Air Transport Licensing Board, because the Board is one of the creations of the Tory Government which we very strongly opposed. On various occasions I have asked the present Government whether they were prepared to put an 1030 end to these antics which have called for condemnation. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation, hearing support from the Opposition for the termination of the Board, will take some action. I agree about the problems of noise and the associated matters, following the increasing power and speed which people demand of aircraft.
The hon. Member for Garston might have said a word about the need for another airport. A third London airport is our greatest need. The present facilities at Heathrow are inadequate. At times the place is in a state of chaos, as all of us who use it know. I was intrigued to read in the Daily Express, I think last Friday, that the Government had come to a decision on this subject and that the third airport would be at Stansted. I have a Question down to the President of the Board of Trade for Wednesday, and I assume that if that information given to us by the Daily Express, and said to be from Government sources, is correct, the President will confirm it, and that hon. Members will be indebted to the Daily Express for the information.
§ Mr. Rankin
I do not mind giving way in the least, and I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I will not participate in the Punch and Judy performance which has been going on opposite ever since the debate started at 10 o'clock.
§ Mr. Onslow
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, although I do not understand his concluding remarks. Would he not say, in all seriousness, if he is correct in his interpretation of the item in the Daily Express, that it would be a good thing if the House could be told before the Express and not through that medium?
§ Mr. Rankin
That is the type of comment that I expected from the hon. Gentleman. I do not wish to pursue it because it has no relation to the Order. Having expressed the hope that the information contained in the Daily Express will be confirmed on Wednesday, I return to welcoming my hon. Friend the Minister to his new post. As Chairman of the Parliamentary Aviation Group I am sure that I speak for every member of that group in doing so. He shall have our support in all those things 1031 of good repute which he performs and, perhaps he will have a few inquiries on the things about which we are doubtful.
I am certain, from my long association with my hon. Friend in another important aspect of Parliamentary and commercial affairs, that the co-operation which has always existed between us will continue. When I first heard of this change, I was reminded of a book which was very popular particularly in Socialist circles a number of years ago, called "The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists". Its author was Robert Tressall, who was a foreman painter, and the principal character in the book was the foreman of a painting shop.
When the foreman found anything wrong he stormed in among the men, roaring out: "There'll 'ave to be an halteration". [An HON. MEMBER: "A what?"] "An halteration "—I am speaking in English now. That was the sign that there were going to be changes. I am not suggesting that this is in any way analogous to what happened when this change took place. Political parties sometimes delight in changes, and this is not the first change which has taken place in aviation.
In 1953, the party opposite, when in power, looked at the buses and the trains, moving along the surface of the earth, and at the aircraft, moving through the heavens above, and said, "There is a connection; there is movement above and movement below. We will put aviation in with transport." They created the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. After six years of trial and error, they wisely decided that it was a wrong thing to do. Aviation is not only a great Ministry, but also a great industry. Today about 300,000 people in Britain work in some aspect of aviation. The party opposite found from experience that aviation could not profitably, either to transport or to itself, be connected with the Ministry of Transport.
In 1959, therefore, the Government abandoned the experiment, which had run for too long, and returned to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Later, when my party came to power, we took the further step of creating the Ministry of Aviation. I have been identified with this part of Parliamentary work for nearly 20 years, and have certain thoughts about 1032 this change. Aviation is once again being taken from its roots and, like a coursing hare, torn apart, one piece gripped in the steely unfeeling jaws of technology and the other in the prosaic maw of the Board of Trade. What a desecration of all the euphony and poetry associated with aviation. What a fall is there. But the airmen remain with us, the air hostesses remain with us, the aircraft remain with us, and a whole lot of other things which cannot be hidden in the new set-up which we call technology.
I agree that there is a certain amount of reason for what has been done. I would mention as my approach our great new engine, the Olympus, which hon. Members from both sides of the House will have the opportunity of seeing in Westminster Hall on 14th February at 5 o'clock. This is not an advertisement, because all parties are concerned in it. There they will see genius wrapped up in mechanics, steel, technology, wires, and all those wonderful things which go to make up an engine, particularly an engine of this type.
The Olympus will drive an aircraft at speeds greater than sound over distances and within times that men a few years ago scarcely visualised. She is the engine for the supersonic aircraft. But she is not located just in the air, driving aircraft. She will also be used on the ground, in industrial work, creating electrical power. She will, too, be used in the sea and on the sea driving or propelling hovercraft. She has a trine function—earth, sea and air are within her province.
I agree that it would perhaps be difficult to continue calling that the function of aviation. We may go even further. I am credulous enough to believe—and I hope that it is correct—that the Olympus will be out-matched by the further development of the 100,000 horsepower giant which will when necessary drive our naval vessels through the seas. Technology, therefore, in the light of today's knowledge, however metallic and crude the word sounds, is nevertheless part and parcel of what is happening today in the world of aviation, in the world of sea power, and in the world of industrial power—and we have to live with those worlds.
Here is the problem: are we to add aviation to technology, and forget all 1033 about Euclid, who used to tell us that the greater includes the less? Is there any reason why, in the advance of science, we should not discard Euclid and say that the lesser will sometimes include the greater? However, I will not explore that point. It is an argument that will lead nowhere, and will delight the hearts of hon. Members opposite.
I should like to ask why, if we are adding aviation to the Ministry of Technology, we are still leaving science with the Ministry of Education. Surely if aviation is being added to Technology, then science should come from Education into Technology.
§ Mr. Speaker
I said that the hon. Gentleman must deal with that aspect of the broad question on another occasion.
§ Mr. Rankin
I want to make it clear that I am just using illustrations. I thought that illustrations were always pertinent to any argument. However, having mentioned science, and having looked at the Postmaster-General's Deppartment and the health services, I pass on to my next point.
Nobody knows better than the Minister that he has a big job to do. He was good enough not to diminish the size of that job. Like a good Socialist, he likes a big fight. He paid an important tribute to the departing Ministry, to the output of aircraft which it had achieved—the VC10, the Trident, and the BAC111. We all endorse that. He paid a tribute also to the value of exports—£200 million achieved last year—and to the great amount of money—£650 million—which the Ministry had spent last year.
I take it from what my hon. Friend said that he is out to produce even better aircraft under the new régime. He will try to increase exports, and in that he will have our support. He will not bicker at spending more than £650 million on this new job, provided, of course, that he can come to an understanding with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The Minister also stirred my imagination, because, during an excellent speech, he said: 1034Wherever possible, Ministry of Defence specifications again will be drawn with a view to achieving exports for the products developed by British industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February 1967; Vol. 740, c. 422.]In that we all applaud my hon. Friend. One way of achieving more exports for British industry, of giving British industry more work, is to give less work to the Americans in building F111s. These could become our exports instead of becoming a source of expenditure in America. When he makes his decision, I hope that the Minister will do everything possible to strengthen the new developments which are taking place with France and with other parts of Europe.
We have seen these developments take place in connection with the Concord 45. We have seen the excellent relations which exist between British and French workmen. We have seen how co-operation is proceeding smoothly, and we are firmly convinced that co-operation in Europe between equals can proceed even more happily in the future than it has in some cases done in the past, and that it will incorporate further progress, as instanced by the vertical geometry aircraft and the air bus. [An HON. MEMBER: "Variable."] Yes, I meant, of course, "variable", but that correction gives me the opportunity to say that we have also to think of the type of aircraft that will rise vertically. We have been experimenting with it for a long time. This is a new field, and a new temptation for me to continue speaking longer than I had planned, but I do not propose to do that.
My hon. Friend the Minister has set himself a big target and he has created high expectation in many of our minds, and in mine particularly. I have instanced some of the targets which he has set and I wish to draw his attention to something with which I am sure he must be familiar. I expect that he has studied Command Paper 3103 which was issued at the end of the year by a Committee over which Sir Willis Jackson presided. It gave us a warning. It was presented to the Secretary of State for Education and Science and to the Minister of Technology. Therefore, it must be in my hon. Friend's Department. It points out that Britain's stock of engineers, technologists and scientists rose from 273,000 to 1035 313,000 between 1962 and 1965 and that it is expected to rise to 360,000 in 1968.Nevertheless",says this expert Committee,British industry is expected to be seriously short of professional and technical engineers by 1968".
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must link his remarks to whether the Ministry of Aviation should be transferred to the Ministry of Technology.
§ Mr. Rankin
Yes, Mr. Speaker. I am about to conclude on that note.
This warning goes to the Minister who is engaged in creating the machinery for carrying out this Order. He has announced his hopes for future success in the aftermath of dissolution. I am merely pointing out to him this warning about the lack of the necessary personnel in making a success of the job which he has in hand. I conclude by telling him that I believe that he will achieve the success which I said, when I began my speech, I hoped he would achieve.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Hastings (Mid-Bedfordshire)
I am sure that we all listened with attention to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) and that we are grateful for the constant and faithful application which he has brought to this subject for many years. I think that, in particular, we on this side should welcome what he said about American purchases and British contracting for the F111. Equally, I was glad, and I am sure that my hon. Friends were glad, to hear that he and his Parliamentary Group would keep a constant eye on the Minister and that, although he would favour the things that he described as "actions of good repute", he would nevertheless be prepared—
§ Mr. Hastings
I was simply saying that I am sure that we were delighted to hear that he and his colleagues would be keeping an eye on what the Minister gets up to and that they would not be afraid to criticise him when they saw things going wrong. I assure him that the members of the Aviation Committee on this side of the House will do the same. I only wish that the enthusiasm 1036 and dedication which the hon. Gentleman brings to this subject was shown by a few more of his hon. Friends not conspicuous for their presence this morning. I am sure that we are all grateful for the hon. Gentleman's speech.
I hope that I shall not repeat too much what others have said. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) is not here, because it seems to me that he missed the point of these two important morning debates. In discussing this Order, what we are interested in is not simply the shuffling of responsibilities but improving functional efficiency. We are not so much interested in who is responsible for what but in how they will do it better. This is the point of our probing and of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) the other day. I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate we shall hear a little more about the functions which go with the transfer of responsibility.
One thing which strikes me as odd is the sequence of the Government's decisions. I think that a quotation which has been made already bears repeating. I refer to what the Plowden Committee had to say particularly about procurement:Whatever the merits and demerits of the present system. there is clearly a marked lack of confidence between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Aviation in the matter of aircraft procurement. Many of the witnesses from the industry, too, considered that the intermediary position of the Ministry of Aviation between customer and supplier incurred greater drawbacks than it offered advantages.The decision is taken to transfer the Ministry of Aviation and then an examination is set up which satisfies the Prime Minister that all will be well. He said on 21st November:I have now studied the results of this examination. and have decided that the present responsibilities of the Ministry of Aviation—other than those already taken over by the Board of Trade—form a closely connected group that should not be divided …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 940.]The right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that procurement will be properly handled if left in the Ministry of Technology; we do not know how. We know what the Plowden Report said and we know a good deal about how procurement has gone wrong in the past. I hope that the Minister will clear this up for us.
1037 I am sure that the Minister will agree that there must still be a danger of certain things happening. Suppose that a component on some project goes wrong and that the customer, which is the Service Ministry, complains about it and wants changes and modifications made. This is explained not to the maker but to the Ministry of Technology. The Ministry of Technology may make the same mistake as the Ministry of Aviation made from time to time—it either lays down the modification itself or adjusts it in some way before explaining it to the manufacturer. There is no discussion between the manufacturer and the customer, and a great deal of misunderstanding and muddle has occurred in this way.
I had hoped that we might have heard about how project management generally was to be improved and whether there were any plans for that and how as a result of the transfer the priorities were to be allocated as between the civil and military aspects. There is a vast difference between them, and it is fair to say that in the past the Ministry of Aviation has made a considerable achievement in the civil field. It salvaged the VC10, it sponsored the BAC111, it got the Concord going, and was responsible for rationalisation and the E.L.D.O. project. All these were considerable achievements. On the military side, I do not think that it was so successful. This probably stemmed from the complex of Service interests and inevitable rivalry for funds and the constant battle with the Treasury. How are these things to be improved by this Order?
It is also fair to say that in the past the Ministry has been open to criticism over forecasting costs. As a result of weakness there, the Royal Air Force and the Services have tended to overload their requirements with all sorts of detail which put them far outside the bounds of reason. Again, I hoped that within the context of the Order we should hear from the Minister about how cost forecasting will be improved.
The industry has felt from time to time that departmental functions in the old Ministry of Aviation were co-ordinated at far too high a level, with the result that decision-making generally has been slow and unnecessarily cumbersome. It has been felt that technical officials have 1038 lacked administrative and industrial experience. This also is something which must be improved. Again, industry has felt that the technical side generally has tended to be dominated by the administrative side and that administrative officials have sometimes lacked formal instruction in the fundamental technical aspects of the work with which they had to deal.
I should like to ask the Minister a question about dissemination. A number of hon. Members have said in the debate that the spin-off or dissemination of technical knowledge generated by the aerospace industries will be improved by the transfer. I accept that on the face of it this should be the result. It should always have been one of the principal responsibilities, if not the principal responsibility, of the Ministry of Technology. The fact that it had no idea what to do about this when first set up is another story. What plans are there for this?
In the United States, there are now some 26 information banks spread across the country in which data is stored on magnetic tape and microfilm in an easily duplicated form which is constantly used in research laboratories and throughout industry. N.A.S.A. maintains an Office of Technological Utilisation. This is a system which has been useful and has functioned for quite a long time. I hope that we shall hear something about how this problem is to be dealt with in this country as a result of the Order.
Equally, one particular source of weakness has for years been our inability to lay down a sensible system for incentive contracts. Is there to be an improvement in this direction as a result of the transfer?
I wish the Minister good fortune with his responsibilities and I congratulate him on his appointment. Nevertheless, I remind him of a speech which he made on 21st January at a Labour Party conference at Blyth, when he said that, as a result of these arrangements,The industry is in a more stable position than during the last year of Tory rule.I cannot accept that. During the last year of Tory rule there was a balanced and interdependent series of important military projects. Now, we have what one might well term a hotch-potch of foreign purchases and only half-negotiated 1039 agreements to manufacture in common with our European partners and with the French in particular. I welcome such progress as has been made in that direction, but it certainly is not as firm or as logical a position as existed during the last year of Tory rule.
How can the Minister represent that the position is satisfactory when the brain drain of technicians from this industry continues at the present rate? Only last week, the Evening Standard quoted the Ministry of Technology as saying that 1,300 technicians had left the aerospace industries in 1965. That figure included 613 engineers, 41 scientists, 208 technologists and 459 draughtsmen. That is an appalling picture. Only last week I was speaking to a constituent in a small aviation firm which is still losing about two draughtsmen a month to the United States. That is nothing on which the Minister can congratulate himself or the Government and something has got to be done about it.
I know that when the Minister was responsible earlier as Parliamentary Secretary, he did a great deal to assist exports in the industry and this was widely acknowledged on this side of the House. But before he gives himself or the Government any pats on the back, however, he should reflect on the facts which I have just quoted. What I hope that we shall hear from him now as a result of the Order is less talk about the juggling of Ministries and responsibility and more about how Whitehall is to be improved and fitted to cope with the administration of these vital technologies.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. R. F. H. Dobson (Bristol, North-East)
I ought to start by saying that not only was my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) speaking on behalf of the Labour Party Aviation Group, but that I also was hoping to speak on some of the points which have been made by hon. Members opposite and to put forward some of our thoughts.
I welcome the move from the Ministry of Aviation to the Ministry of Technology, but like, I suppose, a number of other hon. Members, I do so also with some regrets. This is inevitable if one sees a compact organisational group 1040 being first of all split up into several sections and then moved—as is the case, apparently, of the section which we are talking about today—into a very large homogeneous mass of an industry which prompted my hon. Friend the Minister to describe himself as a Minister for Industry. Once my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had made his announcement of the transfer, I would have been much more happy if the Ministry of Aviation had been moved en bloc so that it remained a section within this very large Ministry.
There are some cautionary remarks which we ought to make in this connection. I accept, for example, that the Ministry of Technology will probably make great use of the knowledge obtained from the aircraft sections within its ranks, but I hope that it does so against the background of the knowledge of the Plowden Committee, which said in its excellent Report that one of the differences between the advance of technology in the aircraft industry and in other parts of industry was the rapid advance which had been made in technology on the aircraft side. This was for the obvious reason that it was faced with the difficulty of time scales and time lags, causing pressure to be behind all its thinking in research and development and the advance of technology generally. I hope, therefore, that delays in that way will not be caused as a result of the transfer to the Ministry of Technology.
Last Wednesday, for instance, in introducing the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister said that, in short, more thought would be given to the industry inside the Ministry of Technology. I hope that he did not mean slower thought and more time before decisions were made.
§ The Minister of Aviation (Mr. John Stonehouse)
May I intervene and say that that was a mistake in HANSARD? It should be "more fall-out", not "more thought".
§ Mr. Dobson
I was a little concerned when I read that there would be more thought, and I welcome my hon. Friend's correction.
There are two or three small items of which I want to make particular point. The first is the problem of noise, to which the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has referred. It seems to me 1041 that this is one of the big problems of the future on the aircraft side. Indeed, any development, not only of aircraft but of airports, comes up against the tremendous problem of noise.
Many provincial airport authorities are thinking of developing their trade, quite rightly, into international or European centres. This is inevitable and is something that most people would probably welcome. It is a good thing in air policy generally from the pilots' view, if nothing else. This can be done effectively, however, only if we do something about the problem of noise which is made by aircraft either in flight or in take-off and landing. These are the main drawbacks.
We have a possible development in the Bristol area, but one of the main features about it has been that the noise which people fear so much from the reports they have read of the London area is making a reasonable approach to the development much more complicated. It makes it difficult for ordinary people to accept the development as a logical move. The problem of noise overrides every other factor in the development of airports. This is an important point and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to deal with it effectively.
The hon. Member for Orpington also mentioned the swing-wing aircraft, a matter which was also touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Govan. I hope that the Ministry will clarify some of the statements which were made at Question Time last Wednesday. I listened to them very carefully and read them afterwards in HANSARD. They still leave doubts in my mind. When I addressed a meeting of aircraft workers in Bristol on Friday evening, I pointed out that I read the Minister as saying that all was well with the A.F.V.G. project, but I was bound to add the cautionary note that it seemed to be cut across by some of the remarks which he added in reply to supplementary questions. I hope that today he will be able to give us a little more information about the actual position on this aircraft.
This is very important, because, in an intervention just now, an hon. Gentleman opposite spoke about the state of the industry in 1954 when there was a lack of projects looking ahead. It seems to me that one of the big essentials in 1042 the swing-wing A.F.V.G. aircraft is that it is a concept which many people would think is one of the future and, therefore, is probably going to help them to stay in the industry.
I know that there are doubts whether the A.F.V.G. is the right aircraft, and whether it should not be the Mirage 3. That is a very good technical argument which we could have, but certainly I will not get involved in it. However, in my view, some of the information about the A.F.V.G. should be clarified, and some of the arguments used in support of the Mirage 3 should be met with counter-arguments. A definite decision should be made, so that the industry knows where it is.
We have all been worried by the brain drain from the industry, and this is another area about which there is far too little information. One is conscious that, with accurate information, a situation can be met and dealt with. However, with brain-drain type figures coming from various sources, of which the old Ministry of Aviation was the channel, it can be disheartening for people in the industry who want to stay to have such figures thrown at them. We shall never stop people emigrating and gaining technical knowledge in other and more advanced countries overseas, but we should be able to get hold of information which makes it crystal clear how many people are going and how many are staying, otherwise people's morale gets very low, they begin to be dissatisfied, and that works right through the industry.
I hope that this move into the Ministry of Technology does not mean that we cannot have decisions at some stage or another on the Plowden Report with regard to more public control inside the industry. When the chairman of a very large company says that he is in favour of more public control than exists now, it is indicative of many of the views of other people in the industry. It is certainly indicative of the views of thousands of workers in the industry who would favour more control in that way.
I do not share the feelings of hon. Gentlemen opposite who, I understand, have said that their opposition is due to the faulty timing of and insufficient information about this proposal. There is a need for more information, and I have 1043 asked one or two questions myself. However, if at any point in time we need to make a move, this is it. We seem to have a programme for a few years ahead which might be interesting and useful for people working in the industry. It appears from a report in one of the London evening papers that, this year, the industry has had a very good year. That was the effect of the article, and it did not praise the Government for it, but the industry itself. That is very creditable, but it shows on the reverse side that the Government have not been a hindrance to the furthering of opportunities in the industry.
I welcome the fact that the industry is to be changed over, and, bearing in mind the cautionary words that we have heard today, we wish it well under the control of its new Minister.
§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)
I want to confine my remarks to the question of military procurement. It is rather whimsical that this Order is described as non-controversial, when it is well known that the Minister of Defence fought like a tiger against it and tried to get military procurement into his own hands. In my view, he was entirely right, but his technique is a little out of date. In Cairo, rioters drive women and children in front of them. In this Government, we have the Minister of Agriculture and the President of the Board of Trade driving their Parliamentary Secretaries in front of them as a cover when they attack the Government. The Minister of Defence, however, has not even bothered to put up one of his own Under-Secretaries and what I shall do is to make the speech which should have been made.
I have always believed that the Ministry of Aviation is a bad one. It is a direct descendant of the old Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Ministry of Supply. The record of bad judgment, bad estimating, bad security and general incompetence has been appalling. If this Ministry was dying, I should have to say something nice about it. The only nice thing that I could say about it in its obituary is to thank it for its prodigal generosity in supplying executives to the aircraft industry.
1044 However, it is not dying. It is carrying on. Why is it so damaging for the Armed Forces? First, there is the rather simple point that it is analogous to someone else ordering one's clothes and trying them on for one. That may be what happens to the clothes of the Leader of the House; I do not know. Certainly it is not a method which most of us would think sensible to adopt.
With a separate Ministry, what always happens is that it likes to have a policy of its own. The old Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aviation always had military ideas of their own, and were always able to switch money between their civil and their military sides. There have been cases where some device which no longer interested the military has been pursued because of the interest of the Ministry of Supply. When its history comes to be written, the Fairey Rotodyne will be an instance of that. A Ministry on its own, with many interests besides the military interest, will never put that absolute concentration and energy behind a project which is needed if it is to go through.
When I was Secretary of State for Air, there was the Hunter gun trouble. When the guns were fired, the engines flamed out, and the fighters were useless. I was conscious that if anything had happened where we needed our fighters and they all proved to be useless, it was likely that I should be torn to pieces by the mob. However, it was not my responsibility to cure the Hunter gun trouble, but that of the Minister of Supply. I should have pointed out to the mob that it would be more rational to tear the Minister of Supply to pieces, but I am not certain that I should have got away with it. One was conscious at the time of one's own anxieties, and the will to get it right was greater than that of the Minister of Supply, who had so many other things to do.
The same think will happen here. The vast number of bits and pieces that the Minister of Technology now has is enormous, in terms of computers, chemical engineering, and, one of the oddest ones, boat building. In addition, the Minister is now taking a personal interest in takeover bids. He interfered tremendously in Rootes and in Pye, and he has about 20 or 30 various other responsibilities. A 1045 keen application to the production of military matters, and particularly military aircraft, is necessary.
This would not matter so much if there was not this variable geometry project. I share the doubts of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson) whether either this Government or the French Government really mean this seriously. It is very doubtful indeed. But if they do mean it seriously, it is obviously something of immense importance. It will be a colossal expense but it will be useless unless it arrives on time.
Is it to be supposed that the Minister of Technology, who is not perhaps the greatest of our Ministers, responsible as he is for boat building, perhaps riding at anchor in the wind at Brighton, will really supply the single-minded energy and drive which are necessary to ensure that millions of £s are not wasted? I believe that the Minister of Defence was right to try to get military procurement into his hands, and I regret that an Under-Secretary has not turned up to fight the case for him.
§ 11.21 a.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
This has been an excellent debate. We have had an extremely interesting speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), and I think he will agree with me that for once the House owes a certain debt to the Leader of the House, whom we are sorry not to see here this morning, because we as a House of Commons appear to have been given back a right which we lost many years, the right to go on debating something until we are fairly satisfied about it. No doubt this was not in the right hon. Gentleman's mind when he introduced these ingenious and incomprehensible reforms, but I suppose that in a climate where we are so used to right hon. Gentlemen opposite saying one thing and doing another we should be grateful if they do the opposite of what they have said they meant to do and presented us—though no doubt this will soon be taken away again—with a measure of increased freedom.
I expect that when right hon. and hon. Members become familiar with the workings of the rules of order applying to these morning sittings we shall have increasing reason to be grateful for them, 1046 but it seems a pity that some hon. Members were a little slow to understand them. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) did not seem to be fully seized of the conditions in which we were operating when the debate opened last Wednesday, and I am sure that he will be the first to regret it if his inadvertent ignorance led him close to displaying bad Parliamentary manners.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) is not with us. I do not know what he would have made of the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), which was a little more than short. It is a pity—
§ Mr. Onslow
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish this. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Tottenham failed to take advantage, which no doubt he could have, of his good fortune in getting an opportunity to speak, because he failed to understand that there was no necessary Closure of the debate which opened on Wednesday morning.
I do not wish to detain the House for long—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) must not make interjections from a sedentary position.
§ Mr. Rankin
On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker, all I was saying was that hon. Gentlemen opposite were making far more noise than I was.
§ Mr. Onslow
I apologise if I disturbed the hon. Gentleman's slumbers.
The purpose of my intervention in this debate is to ask the Minister when he replies, today or on some future occasion, to give us a more precise idea of the attitude which he is taking with him on his translation from one function to another. What is his attitude towards manpower in the Department which is a large employer? I think we were told that the Ministry of Technology now ranks fifth in the growth stakes in Whitehall, and its projected curve shows that it may rapidly overhaul one or two Ministries at the moment ahead of it. We should like to hear from the Minister 1047 that economy in manpower is in prospect, and that we are not permanently doomed to watching the number of employees in Whitehall multiply as the number of employees in the industry dwindles.
That brings me to my second point. I hope very much that the Minister, having had some days to think about the brain drain figures which were produced by the S.B.A.C. last week, will be able to give us a clear idea whether he accepts their validity and what he intends to do about them.
Next, I should like to hear what the Minister's attitude is to certain projects. He has his red Concord tie on this morning. I am returning the compliment by having my blue one on. There is, of course, a green one. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) has one, but if not, no doubt he will obtain one in due course.
§ Mr. Onslow
I think the Minister will probably agree that at the moment the Concord project is the core of the British aircraft industry, and that the work and research effort involved in it and projected over the next five or six years represents this as being the major endeavour and consumer of this technological effort. I think, too, that the right hon. Gentleman will admit that Concord has its origins in the negotiations carried out, not by this Government, but by their predecessors, and that much of the reason for Concord being with us now rests in the very firm treaty which was concluded, and which, fortunately, made it impossible for this Government to wriggle out of it on the two occasions when they have sought to do so.
With regard to the airbus, I am not happy about the way in which the Minister still seems to be setting it up as project which he considers a serious one. I think that the technical difficulties involved in tri-national production must be at least twice as great as those involved in a bi-national project, as with Concord, and this is bound to increase costs and difficulties all round.
In his reply to a Parliamentary Question last Wednesday about the airbus the Minister said: 1048This project could be a very successful one and ensure that Britain remained in the subsonic aircraft field for the next 15 to 20 years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 1st February, 1967; Vol. 740, c. 487.]The right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that this was the only project which would achieve that aim. I do not believe that this is so. I believe that there are other projects which have a much greater chance of being brought to success in time, and which could achieve the aim of keeping Britain in the subsonic aircraft field more economically and more successfully, and I hope that the Minister is not wedded to the airbus. In short, I hope that he will not perpetuate a mistake which has bedevilled the last 15 to 20 years of the history of British aircraft production, namely, of the industry being forced to take part in a project in which it does not believe and which it would not, if left to itself, build.
I think that in research there is a tendency to work to too many places of decimals. Last Wednesday I asked the Minister a question about certain research at Farnborough. His answer shows that the tests in question have been carried out for more than six years, and that even this year they are estimated to cost about £60,000. But the technique involved, that of the low-level dropping of stores and vehicles from aircraft, was successfully demonstrated in public in this country about three or four years ago, and it has been applied operationally by the United States forces for some years. I ask the Minister to think carefully whether it is necessary to spend money on research, working to the third and fourth places of decimals, when we probably know 98 per cent. of what we need to know on such subjects and could go on to something more profitable.
The aspect where there is need for money to be spent on research is on the subject of noise. This matter concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House. They are anxious about the division of responsibility between the Ministry of Technology and the Board of Trade. The Minister may say that he does not think that this is a serious matter, but experience shows that divisions of responsibility are not advisable in research, and there is room for some unease on the question of the Government's future handling of this serious problem.
1049 The House is still far from satisfied with the degree of Parliamentary ability to inquire into and exercise control over the activities of the Ministry of Aviation, as it has been, and the Ministry of Technology, as it will be. We do not know enough about it. We want to hear the Minister's view on the proper function of the Ministry, or the attitude that he would expect it to take towards the activities of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, because many of my hon. Friends want to see this become an effective weapon of Parliamentary probing into the affairs of his Department. We would not be content to see this Committee sidetracked off into making duplicated inquiries of its own, into matters which the Government should be getting on with and which are not the prime responsibility of a Parliamentary Committee. The purpose of the Committee must be to see that the Government are doing their job.
I hope that we can have a better system of answering Parliamentary Questions—a subject referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr). Those of us who had down Questions to the Board of Trade on aviation matters last week were most disappointed at the understandable inability of the junior Minister of State replying to deal with matters which were probably not only new within his experience but only part of his total responsibility, and at the way in which these Questions are now scattered and fragmented amongst a whole series of Questions on other matters. This does not give me confidence in the House's future ability to bring a spotlight to bear on aviation matters.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that on the matter of Questions the Ministry of Technology should have at least the time which has been given to the Ministry of Aviation added to his own time?
§ Mr. Onslow
I would have added—so should the Board of Trade. Whether or not these are matters to which the Leader of the House—whose continued absence we go on deploring—will turn his attention, I do not know. Perhaps representations can be made to him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) has 1050 pointed out that the Government benches are astonishingly bare at the moment. I can see only one back bencher opposite. Where all those eager souls are who wanted so much for us to take part in these proceedings, I do not know. Contrasting the empty wastes of the Government benches with the many hon. Members on this side of the House, I am led to wonder—
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-superMare)
Can my hon. Friend say whether the sole surviving back bencher on the Government side is the P.P.S. to the Leader of the House? If so, he may be able to convey our grievance to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Onslow
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is irrelevant or not.
Tribute has rightly been paid to the export performance of British aircraft industry in recent years. The Minister knows that the good performance that it is putting up is based on decisions taken, investments made and research carried out years ago, in many cases, and certainly in almost all cases before this Government came to power. I do not claim any credit for the Government that was in power then; I simply stress the fact that if we have had a good year and want to look forward to more good years, they must be based on performance. The Government are not going to be able to force the industry to be prosperous. The industry will prosper only if the right decisions are taken and, broadly speaking, only if it is left alone as much as possible by the Government.
§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Certain aspects of this transfer of function give room for improvement, if we realise what improvements need to be made. I want to turn back five years to the then lamentable concept of the administrative hierarchy within the Civil Service. I turn back to the month of July, 1962, when I asked the Minister of Aviationwhat are the technical qualifications of the Permanent Secretary of his Department; and 1051 what is his previous experience in the field of aviation?I got the reply:The qualifications required of a Permanent Secretary of a Government Department are that he should have those qualities of mind and character and that breadth of managerial and administrative experience which fit a man for the highest posts.One might think that that was not a very direct answer. I then said:I thank my hon. Friend for that reply.Will he now do me the courtesy of answering the Question on the Order Paper?to which back came the response:The qualifications required of the head of a Civil Service Department are not technical in the sense of being related to aviation or whatever may be the particular function of the Department. They are administrative. The Department has a large number of very competent technical staff who work under the Permanent Secretary and technical problems are in their hands."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1962;Vol. 662, c. 98.]Among the technical problems within their hands was the Ferranti contract.
My point is that if we have a technically illiterate Minister with a technically illiterate Permanent Secretary, who is in a position to gauge the calibre of the technical advice on which both Permanent Secretary and Minister must rely? This is a point of substance, because it needs to be stressed that the calibre of the technical advice in the old Ministry of Aviation, open to the Minister, was of a lamentably low level. Why was this? It certainly was not because of any lack of integrity on the part of the people concerned. We must look elsewhere for the reasons.
On 18th July, 1962—five years ago—I endeavoured to suggest some reason why the calibre of the technical advice open to the Minister was inadequate. I said:The first is the internal policy of that Department because the days are really past when good advice can be given on a technical subject which emanates from a mind unclouded by knowledge. Such a mind can arise in one or two or both circumstances; first, because the person concerned has never been trained to appreciate the basic language of the scientific subjects, and secondly, because, with the best will in the world, if people have been out of contact with modern manufacturing and development processes in an industry in which the rate of technical development is very high indeed, it will be only good fortune if their technical judgment and advice is, in general terms, good and sound advice."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 18th July, 1962;Vol. 663, c. 511.]1052 This is the situation into which the Ministry of Aviation got itself. It took on to its technical staff people who were at one time very much up to date in the current problems and techniques in both industry and research. They were also, doubtless, men of integrity and competence. But, as the years went by, because of the seniority system within the Civil Service, these men achieved higher and higher status within the Department while their remoteness from reality increased in equal measure.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am having a little difficulty in relating the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the Order. His observations would, presumably, apply to either Ministry and have nothing directly to do with the Order, which relates to the dissolution of one.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
My hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that, in the knowledge that these problems exist, the opportunity will be taken, in re-forming the functions within the new Ministry of Technology, to overcome the problems which existed in the old Ministry. If all that happens is the grafting of the same unsatisfactory situation on to another Ministry, we shall not have used the opportunity as well as we might.
§ Mr. Dobson
Is not the hon. Gentleman's argument a very powerful one for the move from the Ministry of Aviation to the Ministry of Technology? Is not the Ministry of Technology much better able to meet commitments of the kind to which he is referring?
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I agree that an opportunity is given for curing these ills—I hope that it will be taken—but I do not agree that we have to dissolve one Ministry in order to cure them, although, on balance, I think that they are more likely to be cured if the opportunity is taken.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
My hon. Friend said that a Minister is advised by civil servants who, though they were once good, have got out of touch. Is he not aware that a Minister may be advised by them but that any Minister worth his salt also gets other advice from outside, from the industry? He will never make a decision without taking advice from experts in the industry who are "spot on", like my hon. Friend, to advise him.
1053 He does not rely only on his civil servants.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
I accept that, but, equally, if the Minister acts against the advice of his professional advisers and there is then, shall we say, an unfortunate financial incident, the Committee of Public Accounts is likely to censure him greatly. Moreover, I remind my hon. Friend of the reply which the Minister gave me:The Department have a large number of very competent technical staff who work under a Permanent Secretary and technical problems are in their hands.The cure for this situation is not for the Minister to have to resort, in order to make up his own mind, to going outside the Department, useful as such a process undoubtedly is. He should take into his Department on short-term contracts people from industry. I say "short-term contracts" because, if he engages them on long-term contracts, we shall after a number of years be back where we were; he will be relying on technical advice from people who are technically obsolescent.
Many Government Departments have members of their staff present in manufacturing companies. I once worked for a firm in the aircraft industry in which there were literally hundreds, not dozens, of representatives from various departments, from the A.R.B., the A.I.D., the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Aviation, the Admiralty—literally hundreds of them, and many were of technically uninspiring calibre. The Royal Swedish Air Board had two representatives with the company, both technical captains, who were of extremely high calibre. They knew just about everything that was going on in the company. This brought home to me that one gets very much better value, as well as value for money, by employing a comparatively small number of people of very high calibre rather than an army of people of low calibre.
I hope, therefore, that the Government will take this opportunity, when embodying within the Ministry of Technology the functions which have belonged to the Ministry of Aviation, to do more than just transfer the same people, possibly in the same office but with a different telephone extension to give the impression that an alteration has been made.
§ Sir John Eden) (Bournemouth, West)
One understands that there is to be no physical movement of any kind. There will just be a different label over the front of the door, and the men and women engaged in the Department will remain exactly where they are and doing the same job.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
This may well be so. It is what happened when the Ministry of Supply ended. The notepaper just had "xxx" over "Supply" and "Aviation" typed at the top. The room number was the same, so was the telephone extension, and so were the squiggles at the bottom of the letters.
I exhort the Minister to pass on the request that something fundamental should be done in transferring these functions instead of just putting "xxx" over "aviation" on the notepaper. The opportunity must be taken to reorganise the structure so that the best up-to-date technical advice is available to the Minister without his having to solicit hospitality outside or meet someone privately. There are disadvantages in obtaining private advice. This is the other side of the coin. The Department is not aware of the advice which the Minister is being given.
§ Mr. Marten
What I had in mind in intervening earlier is that a Minister making up his mind on a highly technical matter will take advice from his officials, and he will then have a meeting with the Ministry officials and the industry round the same table to thrash the matter out. In the second place, has not my hon. Friend left out of account the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and the Royal Radar Establishment at Malvern, the personnel at both of which are in direct touch with the industry, with a give and take and two-way traffic in ideas, all of which advice comes to the Ministry? It is by no means all out-of-date advice, though some of it may be.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
That is true, but the advice to which my hon. Friend refers is primarily research advice, not advice primarily concerned with manufacturing methods and costings, and it is on these latter questions that the contracting side of the Ministry in particular has got itself into such deep water. There have been many occasions on
1055 which it was, or would have been, obvious to anyone technically literate that the sums of money involved were totally of the wrong order. I am referring not to detailed criticisms but to the fact that the quantities involved were of the wrong order.
This situation will not be remedied by typing "xxx" over the name of one Ministry on the notepaper and replacing it with a new one.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
No, but I can tell my hon. Friend, pursuing the simile behind that thought, that the process was definitely "x" rather than "xxx", let alone "xxxxx".
I have made the point. It is the point which I wish to put most forcibly in this debate. It has been within the spending functions of the Ministry, on the equipment and procurement side, that the greatest number of mistakes has been made, whichever party has been in office. These mistakes will continue if we have what I categorise, or caricature, as the old doctrine that "gentlemen do not understand engines". This is what lies at the back of it, the idea that people who are technically literate are to be mistrusted because they have access to some magic processes to which the Minister and his Permanent Secretary do not have access. This was the old tradition both in politics and in the Civil Service, and it has cost this country and the taxpayer an amount of money and wasted effort which the country cannot afford.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
I do not often take part in aviation debates because, to quote my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), I have a mind unclouded by knowledge of that subject. It seems to me, however, that this moment of transfer of function provides a useful opportunity for the Minister to say a word or two of farewell and something about the future of Short Bros. and Harland in Belfast. I therefore want to ask him a question, the background to which is very serious in that unemployment in Northern
1056 Ireland has risen from 5.7 per cent. last August to 8 per cent. now.
The Plowden Committee said:If Shorts cannot survive as an aircraft unit without exceptional measures of support, then, in the Committee's view, they should cease to remain an independent company in the aircraft industry.But the Report went on:This conclusion ignores the wider economic, social, and political factors in Northern Ireland of which the Government has to take account. It is not for us to say how important these are.Now that the Ministry of Aviation is to be absorbed, this would be an appropriate moment for the Government to make an announcement about future policy, and to say how important those factors are.
I shall not take over the job of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) in this matter—he was here when the debate started five days ago but he has not been able to get here today—but I should not like to miss the opportunity of giving the Minister a peg on which to hang a statement about the future of Shorts. Against the background of 8 per cent. unemployment, the anxieties for Shorts assume alarming proportions.
The company has been reorganised, but there is considerable anxiety about its long-term future. Nothing has been said about the extent to which diversification has taken place, or is likely to take place. So far as I know, the Government have said nothing on whether they intend to retain Shorts within the aircraft industry as an aircraft producer, and nothing has been said about the company's long-term structure. When he winds up—perhaps next Wednesday—will the Minister take the opportunity to say something about the future of Short Bros. and Harland? That matter is very important to us, and I hope that he will take it seriously.
§ 11.53 a.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) who has had to leave the Chamber yet again—I do not know what is wrong with him—[An HON. MEMBER: "He has changed from green to orange."]—wondered why the Conservative Opposition were so worried about the change to be made by the Order. Surely anybody would recognise that a change of that magnitude takes
1057 place at a time of special importance for the aviation industry and the space industry?
Without necessarily being opposed in principle to the amalgamation of Ministries, we must therefore be satisfied by the questions we ask and the answers we receive what the real reason for it is, and whether the new system will work better than the old. This is a very difficult moment, because the aviation industry perhaps exemplifies one of the problems which beset us more than any other at present, that is, the brain drain, which has most sinister implications for our country for the future unless some-thing is done about it fairly soon.
Our debate also comes at a time when the Government have decided that they can afford £2,000 million in dollars for American aircraft—aircraft which we could have built ourselves—and they must justify that remarkable decision. It also comes at a time when the whole future of the aviation industry is bound up with Anglo-French co-operation, by which alone it seems possible that the industry in this country can survive.
No fewer than four Ministries will now be involved in Anglo-French co-operation—the Ministry of Technology, the Board of Trade, the Foreign Office, and the Defence Department. All those important Ministries are intimately and deeply involved in the collaboration with France, and I do not see how the changes which have been proposed will help their co-operation. There is no coordinating Ministry, though I presume that the Ministry of Aviation would at least have been able to do the work of co-ordination. It might not have done it ideally, but it was nevertheless one Ministry which, to judge from its title, had the capacity to co-ordinate the activities of all those important Ministries in dealing with the French. Therefore, this is a strange moment to abolish it.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Would not the hon. Member agree that this is a slightly bogus argument? Surely he does not suggest that the Ministry of Aviation can, for example, take over Foreign Office functions in this matter? And I doubt whether it could take over Board of Trade functions in it.
§ Mr. Kershaw
We are glad to welcome once again the hon. Member for West
1058 Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I can see that the journey from Scotland is very long, for he has just been able to join us. If he had listened to what I said with the attention he often gives to our proceedings, he would have realised that I was not suggesting that the Ministry of Aviation could take over the Foreign Office. I imagine that the Foreign Secretary would object to that, for a start. But I suggested that when a number of Ministries was involved in important negotiations it was important to have a co-ordinator to co-ordinate their activities. I believe that the Ministry of Aviation might have been able to do that.
§ Mr. Webster
On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) about Foreign Office functions, he is probably aware that most Ministries gave up their treaty-making powers to the Foreign Office. In that case, it might be a good thing if the Ministry of Aviation kept them. My hon. Friend is sitting next to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) who was a treaty-making Minister as Minister of Pensions. He signed a treaty with the Irish Free State in the presence of my hon. Friend and myself.
§ Mr. Kershaw
My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) made his intervention with such dazzling ingenuity that I am not sure that I could reply to it, but I entirely agree with every single word he has just said.
Anglo-French co-operation will obviously be the key to the future of the industry in this country. The United States at present provides over 50 per cent. of the aircraft used in Europe, but there are one or two hopeful signs, the most hopeful of which in Anglo-French co-operation is the Concord, predictably enough the one project the Government were determined to kill if they could, but they found that they could not get out of it. It has escalated in cost from £150 million to about £400 million but we have reason to suppose that we will be able to sell it all round the world.
This is the crux of the matter, because in Europe we have not enough buying power to be able to buy the products of collaboration between France and this country unless we also sell those products
1059 all over the world as well. A number of projects have been launched. There is the air-launched guided missile called "Martel" which is now complete and which I understand the Ministry of Aviation was to have responsibility for trying to sell. Who is to take over that responsibility and what likelihood is there of selling it to nations other than France and England? It is important to know, and I hope that we shall have some answer.
Then there is the Jaguar trainer. This involves a most complicated management machinery process. There is a joint managing committee, with four members from each side of the Channel. There are two executives, one for engine manufacture and the other for airframe manufacture, the former being appointed from the French side and the latter, I understand, from this side. Each executive has a jointly owned subsidiary company to carry out the work.
This complicated machinery is peculiar to the Jaguar and illustrates that if we are to set up an entirely different organisation for every project there is real need for a single political Minister to be able to have over all regard to what is going on. So far as I know, the abolition of the Ministry of Aviation will not bring that about but will substitute a number of Ministers for one to supervise these complicated projects.
Then there is the variable geometry project on which huge sums are to be spent—if they are spent—and the helicopters. But it is no good France and England thinking that we are going to make a viable aircraft industry out of selling the products of these projects merely to ourselves. What are the chances of selling these products to other European countries? If we do not sell them, all these things will cost a tremendous amount of money because it is no good France and England merely taking in each other's washing.
§ Mr. Kershaw
The United Kingdom.
Last year the United States sold more than 400 commercial aircraft.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I understand that, at our previous sitting, the occupant of the Chair ruled out of order the discussion of these aircraft and their sale. The hon. Gentleman must come closer to the terms of the Order.
§ Mr. Kershaw
There is perhaps a certain difficulty in sticking strictly to the Order. After the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) I thought that anything would go, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I may just point out that Europe sold less than 50 commercial aircraft last year. The two figures show the measure of difference between our two countries in this respect. Collaboration with another country—Britain with France or whatever it may be—costs a great deal more money than if only one agency is involved. It is calculated as a rough guide that Anglo-French projects cost 25 per cent. more than they would if only one country was engaged. Clearly this must be true.
What kind of rules is the Minister to lay down in future for collaboration? In the past, certain errors have been made and as experience grows doubtless these will be corrected. But it was suggested at one time that every project should be shared 50 per cent. by each country. With projects of small calibre, this is very unproductive and now that we have far bigger projects I understand that the view of sharing is that one country should do one task and that the other should do another task, bringing them into collaboration in the end. What is our rôle in this collaboration? Is it to be under one Ministry, as it was under aviation?
There might be a further solution, of course, which is to bring in yet a third country—say, Germany—to collaborate with us in aircraft projects, giving the Germans an interest in buying the products, but this would be terribly cumbersome and that would increase the 25 per cent. extra costs. The new Minister should bear in mind the possible need to set up some sort of European aircraft procurement agency, something that would have at least the central direction of affairs, which would give an order direct to a company for what was required.
1061 If the chain of command is to be as diffuse as it has been in the past, I do not think that we shall be able to compete with the American aircraft industry which is already far ahead of us, and I do not think that our making things together with France is enough. We must embroil other European countries which have orders to give, but we can only do so effectively if there is some European agency to do it.
I doubt whether the proposed set-up, with one Minister, and he not necessarily a very senior one, can possibly give a good result in this matter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) mentioned the problems of defence. I cannot restrain myself from thinking that the Minister of Technology is not necessarily the best person to have an intimate knowledge of defence. It will be within the recollection of the House that, many years ago, when the late Sir Thomas Inskip was appointed Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, Sir Winston Churchill congratulated him on his great responsibility for which, he said, Sir Thomas's eminent qualities and high legal career had in no way fitted him.
I cannot help thinking that something of the same sort could be said of the Minister of Technology. Will he be able to concentrate on problems of defence, for a start? It is not even within his rescript to do so. When the Prime Minister announced his reorganisation, he said:The organisation for research, development and procurement on aircraft, guided weapons and electronic equipment, whether civil or military will remain broadly in its present form; but under my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology it will make a significant contribution to achieving our aim that the department should be a major instrument of progress in the engineering and electronic field."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 940.]It is clear that the Minister of Technology has his orders to concentrate on" spin-off" rather than upon weapons, so far as defence is concerned, and is bound to give priority, according to the Prime Minister, to the industrial rather than the defence import of any particular item.
Mention has been made of control of research. This is extremely important. In visiting the Royal Aircraft Establishment and other establishments, which 1062 hon. Members have been able to do, I believe that some of us will have come away with the conclusion that, in a number of ways, we are falling behind the Americans in inventing the same things that they have. Sometimes it is necessary to do this, of course, because they cannot, because of their legislation, say what their secrets are.
There is, nevertheless, a tendency to try to improve on things which have already gone a long way and which absorb a large part of our resources. I believe that it was Sir Leon Bagrit, head of Elliott-Automation, who made the rule that one should never invent twice, or improve upon something already produced, because in the end it is a waste of time.
Are we to have any firm co-ordination of the variable geometry project by the new Ministry? One argument for the disappearance of the Ministry of Aviation is that the swing-wing project fills us all with the gravest possible doubts. It is not at all certain that the French want this; it is not certain that they can afford it. The communiqué issued the other day when the Secretary of State returned from Paris and announced that everything was now marvellous and that the future of the aircraft industry was assured, was by no means borne out by a statement from his French opposite number in Le Monde made on 17th January. Le Monde wrote, as a consequence of interviewing M. Bourges, that it would be decided at the end of the year whether to go on with the project or not. It is rather significant that in the English translation the words "or not" were omitted.
This makes us feel that it is extremely doubtful. One cannot blame the French too much for being a little chary about going ahead with this project. After all, they know what we tried to do over Concord and E.L.D.O. They have an aircraft and could possibly do this themselves. They are not sure that they want this aircraft or that they can pay for it. They want it much later than we do, and there are many break clauses in the contract negotiated by the Ministry of Aviation. I want to know whether the new Ministry will be able to sell this aircraft to the Germans.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I drew the attention of the hon. Gentleman to 1063 the fact that he was getting wide of order. He pointed out to me that the debate had gone rather wide earlier, but he has now exhausted the good will that he might have gained by that point. He must come back to the Order now.
§ Mr. Kershaw
I shall try to rebuild my balance of good will with you, Sir.
The new Ministry is in no way different from the Ministry of Aviation. The people are the same, just wearing different hats. It is remarkable to consider that we have about 6,000 of these worthy ladies and gentlemen whose sole project at the moment—the only order for military procurement—is for some Kestrels, and not many of those. This is an enormous administrative tail. All of these 6,000 civil servants stand between the user and the manufacturer. In the new set-up we have unfortunately perpetuated this arrangement. It has been pointed out that one of the Plowden recommendations was that there should be direct contact between the user and the Ministry, but here there will be this cushion of the new Ministry standing between these two parties. This is something that we must look at very closely.
In what way do the changes provide any likelihood that there will be better co-ordination than in the past? Another responsibility of this Ministry will be the work in space. The expenditure incurred in this respect is so immense that we must make very certain that the new organisation will be efficient. The most outstanding space project is E.L.D.O., which is a very sensible project. I have never been able to understand the criticisms of it from the other side of the House. It is true that it provided a convenient home for Blue Streak when it was no longer regarded as necessary for military purposes. But the Continental Europeans acquired the benefit of our "know-how" and this was a bargain in which both sides brought something and gained something.
Since those days this project has suffered from lack of supervision and co-ordination. Will the new Ministry be able to do any better than the old? The costs of the project have escalated from £70 million to £158 million. The reason for this is not only that technological costings were wrong and the 1064 scientific evaluation of what was to be done was below par, but that there was no clear aim to the project. The Ministry never said exactly what was wanted. I hope that the new Ministry will be able to back up E.L.D.O. now that greater precision has been brought about as a consequence of decisions taken last April.
§ Mr. Marten
When E.L.D.O. was created no one knew how space research would develop, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Ministry of Aviation had a very clear idea of what E.L.D.O. would eventually do. It was to have a civil use, for putting up scientific and communications satellites.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not go into too much detail on the question of co-ordination. He will be in order to make a reference to it.
§ Mr. Kershaw
The point is that while the Ministry of Aviation seems to have had a very good idea of what it wanted, I have no doubt that the machinery for putting its plans into operation with our European allies was not adequate, because the project ran away with money without any clear idea of exactly what it would do.
The co-ordination in the European project was made the more difficult because some countries concentrated their main effort on the national programme and others, such as ourselves, concentrated their main efforts upon the international programme. It is important for us to make up our minds about what our policy should be.
§ Sir J. Eden
Time is getting on, and I would like to put this question to the Minister through my hon. Friend. Is it likely to be the case that in future only the Minister of State will have Ministerial responsibility for all of these wide-ranging questions which in the past have been the responsibility of at least two Ministers in the Ministry of Aviation? There was a satisfactory division of Ministerial responsibility before, but I question whether under the new organisation the Minister of Technology will be directly concerned with these important matters to which my hon. Friend has referred.
§ Mr. Kershaw
That is a very important argument and I hope that we shall 1065 have an answer from the hon. Gentleman. To some extent we are under suspicion about E.L.D.O., because we tried to get cut of it. The Foreign Secretary went to Paris saying that he would try to get out of it because it no longer accorded with our interests. Now that we have returned to the project, and it has been more precisely defined, my hon. Friend's question is very important. We have to restore our credit with this organisation and I hope that the new Ministry will be able to do this. At the moment this appears to be one of those hasty decisions, taken without consultation, such as we have unfortunately seen in Aden, in Malta, over the Concord, and in other directions.
Mention has been made of the functions which are being transferred to the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is not in order to discuss the functions which are being transferred to the Board of. Trade.
§ Mr. Kershaw
Some of the functions of the Ministry of Aviation are being given to the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Kershaw
Various arguments were addressed to you earlier, Mr. Speaker, on this aspect of the question. I should like to know what the new Minister will do about the airport situation. Has the new Minister any responsibility for it under this Order? Presumably it is very important for the Minister of Technology to be fully consulted when we start to replan, as we are doing, our airports. Our international airport situation is absolutely chaotic at the moment. I blame no one for that. We are not the only country in the world that has this problem.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
This matter does not come within the question being discussed, namely, the functions being transferred to the Ministry of Technology.
§ Mr. Kershaw
I am obliged to the Minister. My point is not that it is not within the Order, but that it jolly well ought to be.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member cannot discuss what ought or ought not to be in the Order. He can discuss only what is in the Order.
§ Mr. Kershaw
Perhaps I phrased that rather unfortunately. I hope very much that the Minister of Technology, who has taken over new functions from the Ministry of Aviation, will be able to give his views on what is undoubtedly a very important matter for the future of the aviation industry.
§ Sir J. Eden
I should have thought that as the development of supersonic air transport is now the responsibility of the Board of Trade, that none the less—
§ Mr. Speaker
I thought that the hon. Member was intervening on the speech of the hon. Member who had the Floor?
§ Sir J. Eden
Surely, the whole question of the new radar controlled techniques and landing techniques, which would have to be developed to cope with supersonic transport, will be the responsibility of the Ministry of Technology? I think it is this aspect to which my hon. Friend is referring, and which is so particularly relevant to the Order.
§ Mr. Kershaw
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for calling attention to the matter. The airport situation in London is completely chaotic. Because the three possible airfields are so close together, the radar consideration is very important. There is no country in the world which 1067 has not an airport problem of great dimensions. We have all made the mistake of thinking that air traffic would not develop and expand as fast as it has done.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks to whether the House should transfer functions of the Ministry of Aviation to the Ministry of Technology.
§ Mr. Kershaw
I am trying to keep in order, Mr. Speaker. It is difficult to do so precisely with this Order because these technical matters are closely linked. Presumably I am in order, as the matter was raised by the hon. Member for Govan and he was in order in what he said. He pointed out that the Daily Express this morning reported that a decison had been reached about the new airfield. That was part of the hon. Member's speech. He said that the decision had been taken that Stansted should be the site of the new airport. If the hon. Member for Govan is right—and I have no doubt that he is, because he is never wrong—the new airport will be much closer than many people believe is technically desirable. What sort of control over the position will the Minister of Technology have?
§ Mr. Graham Page
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Having regard to the Government's keenness to have morning debates, is it in order for a backbencher to read a newspaper?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is not in order for an hon. Gentleman to read a newspaper in the House, unless he is preparing himself to participate in the debate.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I was reading an article in Le Monde of 17th January, to which the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) referred earlier.
§ Mr. Kershaw
I was about to say that if the hon. Member for West Lothian was reading Le Monde, then I congratulate him on his expertise in being able to read a newspaper whose language is also terribly out of order, in order to prepare a speech. However, it cannot be a speech in this debate, because he has already spoken.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not address himself to a point of order on which I have already ruled.
§ Mr. Kershaw
The Minister of Technology has a very great airport responsibility. We should like to know what are the possibilities, if the report in the Daily Express is not accurate, of the third airport for London being removed further away, perhaps down to the mouth of the Thames or to other places. The technical reasons for moving the airport further away from Heathrow and Gatwick are very strong indeed. Is the Minister of Technology taking any part in this decision? If he is not, it just shows that he has too much to do, that he has too many functions, that he is thinking of defence, of industry, of spin-off, or boat-building, and of all sorts of funny things. It shows that his mind is not centred upon what is, after all, the most important part of our national economic life today, namely, the advancement of technology.
§ Mr. Marten
Before my hon. Friend leaves this most interesting airport question, may I point out that what is in the mind of many of us is the question of the safety of aircraft? The Inspector of Accidents, as I understand it, goes—quite wrongly—to the Board of Trade, when all the advisers, who will advise him on the technicalities of the accidents and so on, are with the Ministry of Technology. By this dichotomy of responsibility for accidents, this movement of the Ministry of Aviation to the Ministry of Technology is thoroughly bad.
§ Mr. Kershaw
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) has drawn attention to a technically interesting and important question, and I hope that later in the debate he will have an opportunity of developing it. It is the sort of question to which we must have an answer. I hope that we shall have some pronouncement from the Minister. The hon. Gentleman has tried several times to intervene without success. He has either been counted out or has not been listened to. I hope, however, that he will be able to intervene before the debate ends in order to reply to the many queries which have been raised. We have many hours before us in which to debate this subject, and we would welcome at some time or other the intervention of the Minister so that we might be satisfied about the transfer being made from the Ministry of Aviation to the Ministry of Technology.
§ Sir J. Eden
May I make this point, because so far we have had only four and a half hours to debate this extremely important issue of dissolving a Ministry responsible for the expenditure of £650 million—
§ It being half-past Twelve o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.