§ Mr. Speaker
With Amendment No. 43 I have suggested that we may take the following Amendments: No. 44, in page 6, line 1, leave out subsection (2); No. 45, in line 2, leave out from 'loans' to second 'in' in line 4; No. 46, in line 495 5, leave out from 'aircraft' to end of line 6; No. 47, in line 21, leave out subsection (4).
§ Mr. Jenkins
The object of this Amendment and those which you, Mr. Speaker, have decided can be taken with it, is to remove from the Bill the Clause which enables the Government to provide expenditure for the financing of the Concorde project. What I seek to do is to make it impossible for that project to go into production. If I am successful with this Amendment and this is removed from the Bill, I think I shall be doing the Government a great service and saving the taxpayers of the country a very substantial sums of money. Therefore, it is with very great enthusiasm that I put forward the proposal—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Jenkins
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is with great enthusiasm that I give the House the opportunity of saving the taxpayers this substantial sum of money, a project which I am sure will endear itself to hon. Members opposite. The Clause provides that:There may be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament any expenditure incurred by the Minister of Technology under arrangements for providing financial support for the production in the United Kingdom of the supersonic aircraft known as the Concorde, being arrangements made with the approval of the Treasury.It will be noticed that there is no limitation on the moneys to be provided in that subsection.
Subsection (2) says:Any such arrangements may provide for financial support to be provided by the Minister by making loans, giving guarantees in respect of money borrowed, or underwriting in whole or in part any losses which may be incurred in connection with the production of the said aircraft, or by any other method which the Minister considers appropriate.It is a very wide provision. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friends wish to carry on a conversation, perhaps they would be kind enough to do so outside the Chamber and allow me to continue. This provision gives my right hon. Friend very substantial powers which I think that he should not have.
The reasons why I oppose the development and production of the Concorde have been described by the hon. Member 496 for Woking (Mr. Onslow) as those of the lunatic fringe of the anti-noise group. To support my argument, therefore, I want to make two quotations, one from the Air Correspondent of the Observer and the other from the Business Section of the same newspaper. Mr. Wilson, the Air Correspondent, wrote this in November and the figures that he gave at that time have escalated since then because the costs of the Concorde increase week by week:This question comes into focus only when one contemplates the £250 million earmarked as Britain's half share of the development costs of the Concorde, an economically unviable project whose slender social benefits—unlike its noise menace—can never reach more than a few.The Government's decision to carry on with the Concorde has always been reluctant. The decision to withdraw was nearly taken in 1964, after a study of the facts. It was dropped on the advice of the Law Officers (now widely regarded as having been ill-founded) that it would render Britain liable for compensation to France in the International Court.Mr. Wilson goes on to recommend that the Concorde should be stopped now and that we shoulddevote some of the millions which would otherwise be spent on it to rationalising air travel where the need is urgent—on the ground.This is my object in moving the Amendment.
In further support of my proposal, I quote from the Business Section of the Observer of 3rd March:If the final loss on the Concorde is anything less than £800 million it will be a miracle. This is because even if the maximum possible sales"—which the Observer puts at 100 aircraft; I would like my right hon. Friend to confirm or deny this figure—were achieved, the production cost would be £8 million each, to which must be added a £7 million share of research and development costt,—and the selling price is £7 million.If these figures are right, even with sales of 100 aircraft we should be dropping £8 million per aircraft. Is the Observer wrong in these estimates?
The makers of the aircraft still assume that Concorde will be allowed to fly over land at supersonic speeds. The Government still refuse to give any undertaking that Concorde will not be allowed to fly over land at supersonic speeds. What are the Government's intentions? Are we to be subjected to sonic booms?
497 9.45 p.m.
There has been experience of this already in the United States. In a previous debate on the subject, the hon. Member for Woking raised the question whether ability to sue had been of much value there. We have some evidence about it. A Mr. Bailey Smith wrote a letter to The Times not long ago, saying that he had won a suit for damages for 10,000 dollars. He said:I am the winner of that damage suit. The U.S. Government paid the claim in full without appealing to a higher court.It was a claim in respect of sonic boom damage caused by supersonic flying tests over Oklahoma City. He went on:When asked why no appeal was made, the U.S. Attorney said, 'When we have lost, Mr. Smith, we do not wish to have that loss underscored or put in parenthesis. We want you forgotten'.
§ Mr. Speaker
With all respect, we are debating the financing of the Concorde. What happens in the United States can hardly arise on this Amendment.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I unreservedly accept your Ruling, Sir, but the point I am making is that the enterprise is likely to be very costly for the Government. It is likely to go beyond the actual production and development costs of the aircraft itself. The Government are likely to be involved, directly or indirectly—they are very deep in this project—in further expense as a result of actions brought against them for damage caused by sonic booms. My understanding of the law in this country is that, while the citizen has no redress and cannot sue for injury, discomfort or nuisance caused by noise, he may protect himself under the law against actual damage caused to his dwelling or his person by sonic boom. Therefore, apart from the exorbitant cost of the aircraft itself and the continuing cost of running it, the Government may well have to face the payment of compensation as a result of the flying of the aircraft.
This is a leap in the dark. In this connection, I quote from the House of Commons Library Research Division "Science Digest, No. 21", in which there is a quotation from Nature about sonic booms and superbooms. I shall quote 498 only two sentences because I do not want to take too much time. First,The overall impression given by the report"—a report of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences entitled "Generation and Propagation of Sonic Boom"—is of the extent of the ignorance still surrounding the phenomenon.The article concludes:An extended research programme seems to be called for before it is too late.If this aircraft goes into production, it will already be too late. We shall be taking off into an entirely unknown area. It is an extraordinary project upon which the Government are embarked. A vast amount of public money is being invested in a project which is quite untested. All the knowledge about supersonic flying could be written on the back of a stamp. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There is a small amount of military supersonic flying. There has been some in France. A little has been done in this country. There has been some in the United States. But the extent of knowledge about the effects of supersonic flying is very small indeed. There is no doubt about that. If hon. Members have any doubt, they ought to do a little study of the subject.
I want my right hon. Friend to give us some assurances: first, that the Concorde will not go into production until the boom pattern of this particular aircraft has been thoroughly tested; second, that if it is satisfactory, and if the aircraft ultimately goes into service, it will not be permitted to fly over land in service. If my right hon. Friend can answer the questions I have put and give the assurances for which I have asked, it is possible that if the House felt so disposed I might not press the Amendment. But if he cannot give those assurances, I shall have to think again about precisely what action I shall take in the matter.
§ Mr. Onslow
We have some cause to be grateful to the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) for tabling the Amendments, because they give us a little more opportunity to debate this very important subject than has hitherto been provided. So far, we have had the magnificent total of 45 minutes to devote to this question of the Bill. That was an 499 interesting debate in which I do not recall, that the hon. Gentleman participated. But, as is so often the result of the reforms of the Leader of the House, it was by no means as satisfactory as hon. Members taking part would have wished.
The Minister made certain remarks about me then which showed that he had caught the general bad-tempered mood of that debate, and I suppose that we can also hold the Leader of the House to blame for that. The Minister accused me that evening of having been continually sniping at the project, of having attempted to undertake continual action designed to shake the confidence of the world's airlines in the likelihood of Concorde coming forward, and more in the same vein.
I know that it is the Minister's birthday today, so I hope that he is in a better mood. On that basis, I suggest that if he is really looking for somebody who has been continually sniping at the Concorde project and seeking to undermine the confidence of the world's airlines in it he should look behind him. He will find that he has no need to look further than his hon. Friend the Member for Putney, whose admitted aim in moving the Amendment has been to kill the Concorde project. He admits it, and we must at least give him credit for that.
But the hon. Gentleman has sought to do so on many previous occasions and in a numbers of ways which do not lend great credit to his logic or consistency. He has tried to imply that Concorde will not be able to get to the other side of the Atlantic, that passengers in it will be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, and that supersonic flight by Concorde will result in considerable damage and even death underneath its flight path. If those are not the actions of the lunatic fringe of the anti-noise lobby I must be greatly mistaken in my recognition charts, because I think that I know a lunatic fringe when I see one. The Amendment is a lunatic fringe Amendment if ever there was one. But I do not propose to devote a good deal of time to the arrant nonsense with which the hon. Gentleman has sought to bolster his case, because it would be appropriate for the Minister to shoot down his hon. Friend on this occasion and to recognise 500 that the sniping comes from not this side of the House but from his own benches.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
The hon. Gentleman may be an authority on the lunatic fringe, but I know rather more about flying than he does, as I did quite a lot of it during the war.
§ Mr. Onslow
I would, of course, yield that to the hon. Gentleman: and even when it comes to lunatic fringes, I am sure I make no pretensions which he cannot match and outweigh.
The Amendment happily gives us the opportunity of asking the Minister certain questions and putting to him certain points which are crucially important in the context of what we are considering, which is voting large sums of money to a project which we wish to succeed. I should like to ask him these questions in the expectation that he will be able to give me satisfactory answers and by so doing demonstrate his confidence in the project and carry the House with him. I believe that almost all hon. Members in the Chamber, on whichever side of the House they sit, share a desire to see it succeed and believe that it can succeed, but we have the right to make sure that all the necessary precautions are taken to ensure success, and that all the necessary thinking has been done to overcome the obstacles so far as they can be anticipated.
If some of what I have to say touches on the question of the noise Concorde makes in operation, this is perhaps partly due to the fact that, last Thursday, the House was denied an opportunity to air its views on the subject by a typically shabby device by the Government Whips, but I think that, on this occasion, I can still stay within the rules of order.
The economics of Concorde depend upon its acceptability in airline service and its viability in airline service depends largely on the social effects it will have, particularly the noise effect. There are two particular types of noise of special interest in this context. The first is environmental noise—the noise it is likely to make on the ground when engines are being run up and tested. Are adequate muffling devices being developed? Is money being allocated to see that these are installed at airports from which Concorde is likely to be flown?
501 Coupled with this, there is the question of the special take-off and approach techniques which will be necessary. We know from the Wilson Report on noise that this problem has been foreseen for some years. On page 72, it was said:In view of the much greater engine power in supersonic aircraft, careful planning of the take-off and initial flying techniques will be needed if noise is not to be spread over a considerably greater area.This point was also touched on in the Report of the International Conference on Aircraft Noise in London in 1966. There again, it was specifically commented thatSupersonic transport aircraft…require very large engine powers and cannot use the lower exhaust velocities appropriate to subsonic aircraft. In spite of certain compensating advantages, it should be recognised that these aircraft present a special problem, especially as regards lateral noise at take-off.What steps are being undertaken now to estimate the likely noise levels which will be caused by Concorde in normal operation? What attempts are being made to establish monitoring procedures and to see whether air traffic control procedures will have to be varied so that these aircraft become fully acceptable in normal airline service?
It is essential that airlines should know as far in advance as possible what modifications of procedure they may need and what additional training they may have to give their crews. Does the Minister expect Concorde's noise levels to fall within the 110 P.N. d B. by day and 102 P.N. d B. by night, which are the present accepted standards and which we may sec agreed internationally if the Government introduce noise certification?
There has been a good deal of alarmist propaganda on the question of the sonic boom and I am sure that the hon. Member for Putney could have quoted more examples if he had not wished, understandably, to be brief. The acknowledged prophet of boom is Dr. Bo Lundberg and I have here an article by him which purports to reproduce the sort of pattern of boom noise which the inhabitants of Southern England might expect if unrestricted supersonic flights were allowed to take place between continental airports and airports in the United States. The Minister should tell us what consideration he is giving to this question, of overflight and what planning is going 502 on to see how Concorde can be routed away from heavily populated land masses.
What talke are being held on an international level on the other side of the Atlantic, with the French and possibly also with the Irish Governments? We need to be assured that the issues are undersoood and that people are informed about what is involved and know what the Government are doing to undertake the necessary precautions. We had some tests last year which succeeded only in showing how tests should be run. Will the Minister be able to satisfy us that at an early stage in the Concorde flight programme proper noise tests will be undertaken to establish precisely what sort of noise is likely to be involved when the aircraft comes into airline service?
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Question again proposed, That the Amendment be made.
§ Mr. Onslow
I hope that the Minister will not make the same psychological mistake which he made last year, because it is most important that there should be an informed understanding of what is involved and that the people who wish to "knock" Concorde, those who are opposed to it, should be answered by reasoned, informed and carefully thought out information which those like the Minister are placed to give.
I want finally to deal with the slippage of the project, a subject which I discussed in the debate on the Money Resolution. I put it to the Minister then that it was the Government who were responsible for the apparent slippage of the first Concorde prototype, 001. The Minister seemed surprised that I should advance this line of argument, so I will expound it again very briefly. It is generally known that the Government have been less than enthusiastic about Concorde more than one since 1964. As a consequence, our French partners in the project set a date for the first flight of their prototype which was not realistic from an engineering point of view. 503 It was deliberately optimistic, perhaps as a means of showing the workers engaged in the project on the French side that the French Government at least meant business. When it was found, quite understandably, that this first date could not be met, there was an appearance of slippage in the project as a whole, and there have since been technical reasons for still further delay.
I hope that the Minister will tell us what I believe to be true—that this slippage is not crucial to the project as a whole, that although time may have been lost so far, it can and will be made up and that the project will come forward for a certificate of airworthiness and for production according to the time scale laid down by the manufacturers. There is no technical reason to expect further serious delays and the only important delay which might now happen would occur if the Government were to lose their nerve, if, when the first successful flight has taken place, there should come a point when the Treasury gets at it again to cause a change of mind and when there might be a situation in which the whole project could be in danger of cancellation.
This would be a tragedy and I hope that the Minister can assure us that in such a situation he would continue to fight for Concorde and that he sees no reason to suppose that anything is likely to occur which might sabotage the success of this great venture.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I should like to express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) for raising this subject again. He is doing us a service by giving us an opportunity, which has been denied to us all too often, to consider Concorde and to examine what is being said about it, and once again to hear Ministers express their confidence in its future.
On Friday, my hon. Friend chose as his theme the fact that Concorde will make noise which will not be acceptable to a great many people. Tonight he has raised the issue of costs. On Friday I pointed out that the noise problem with Concorde has been grossly exaggerated. It has been put out of perspective in my view for propaganda purposes, directed 504 towards stopping the production of one of the greatest adventures in civil aviation that this nation has ever undertaken. My hon. Friend should think of that aspect.
Today the whole of the Aviation Group on this side of the House, over which I have the privilege of presiding, spent its time at Southend. There we had a look into the research and experimentation work flowing from the construction of Concorde. This is intricate, highly scientific work, employing the skills, abilities and research intuition of some of the most distinguished scientists in Britain. They are trying to overcome some of the problems created by Concorde. Naturally it has created problems, but we are solving them. Noise is one such problem.
The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) referred to the 1966 conference which I had the privilege of attending, as I assume he did. In our spare time at the conference I discussed such problems as noise and cost with those at the conference. I asked them if noise could be reduced and their answer was, "Yes". But they said it would be at a price. We recognise that scientific development means, in many cases, an inevitable advance in prices.
How will this noise affect people? Will it deafen us, disturb us, waken us up at night and start the baby crying? I pointed out earlier that the answer to that is, "No". This is because there is only one airport in Europe which will fly Concorde over this country and that is Frankfurt Airport. That will be at supersonic speed. Everyone interested in the project knows this. Every other airport will send Concorde across the English Channel. The noise problem will not materially affect us. My hon. Friend said we were starting on this project ab initio, from the beginning, with no scientific knowledge behind us. That is not so, because we have a great deal of experience in manufacturing supersonic aircraft for military purposes. This is not the first aircraft derived from the knowledge which we acquired and expanded in producing military aircraft.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
The difference of view between the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend is interesting. As there are some definite 505 pieces of knowledge on the official records, would the hon. Gentleman be prepared to suggest to the Minister that, instead of following the normal procedure and answering the debate when all hon. Members have spoken, he should make his contribution next so that what he says can be examined by those who speak after him?
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) gave way to me, Mr. Speaker. I am saying to him that it would help us if the Minister would speak next, and the Minister of State could answer any further points which are raised.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I make again the point which I made just now. It is rot in order for the hon. Gentleman to attempt to arrange the debate.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
On a point of order. It has been shown that we are debating a very technical matter. To follow the normal course of the Minister answering at the end of the debate may not do justice to the subject. I think that it is perfectly in order to suggest to an hon. Member who has the Floor of the House that that new procedure may be followed.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am always ready to give way, but, when I do, I hope that the time which I yield is not abused, which the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) has done. Had I known his design was evil, I should not have given way to him.
506 The questions of cost and noise are hived off together. Noise can be mitigated by geographical considerations and the expenditure of more money. Most of those interested in this project do not want more money to be spent on its production. In my view, there is no need to spend more money when the glidepath of the aircraft will not be so closely related to the land journey.
The attitude of operators to this aircraft shows their confidence in it. I believe that there are 75 operators on the waiting list for this aircraft. Anyone in touch with the operating side of aviation knows that operators cannot afford to squander their money in any venture. Most of them are operating almost on a shoestring. The fact that operators are backing this aircraft shows that they have confidence in it. Since they are the people who must run it to produce a surplus, there is no reason why we should demean its qualities.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends will not be discouraged in forging ahead with this great venture. On Friday, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, in speaking on the noise aspect, was supported by some of my colleauges. There is a vast amount of propaganda about the cost of this aircraft. On Friday night, the Evening Standard published an article which was not helpful to the future prospects of Concorde. I do not suggest that my hon. Friend is allied with the Evening Standard, but he is part and parcel of a barrage of opinion which has been generated in this country by powerful influences to damn this great project. I hope that that will not in any way lessen the courage of my Government, and of my right hon. and hon. Friend in particular, to forge ahead with one of the greatest steps in aviation that we have ever taken.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I do not think that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) is quite right in saying that there has been a sustained propaganda campaign against the Concorde, if by that he means an article in the Evening Standard, a newspaper whose views do not echo those of the people as a whole, and one or two letters that one has had from people whose anxieties have been provoked by these articles. I think that the campaign is a trivial one, and it need not worry the Minister, the B.A.C., Sud-Aviation, or anyone else who is interested in promoting the future of this aircraft.
§ Mr. Rankin
I should have said that the newspaper article was merely one example, because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been continuous Press propaganda against this aircraft.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I do not think that there has been all that much of a Press campaign against the Concorde. I have not noticed it, and it has not added to my correspondence, as I find generally happens with campaigns which are well conducted and properly undertaken in the Press. There may have been an article or two, but it has not impinged on the consciousness of readers to the extent that they have taken up pen and paper and written to me about the implications of this project. I am glad that the influence of the few journalists who have written against the Concorde has not been more extensive, because I agree with the hon. Member for Govan that we must press on and complete this project if we are to derive any benefit from the large investment that we have made.
That is something which the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) tends to forget. If he wants us to stop at this point in time, he must be prepared to recognise that we would have to write off a large sum of money which has been put into the Concorde by British and French taxpapers.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
It is better to write off the large sum of money which has been put into this project now than to proceed and have to write off an even larger sum of money at a later date.
§ Mr. Lubbock
A calculation has been made of the benefits which we can expect to derive from the Concorde when it comes into production. Contrary to the view held by the hon. Gentleman, I believe that a large number of airlines will purchase this aircraft and that it will be operating all over the globe in successful competition with the subsonic jets which will be in existence at that time.
When the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC8 were introduced, everybody said that they could not operate in competition with the piston-engined aircraft of the time. They said that these aircraft would be too expensive, too noisy, and too sophisticated for the airlines to operate. They were proved wrong. The first Douglas pure jet aircraft was cheaper than the piston-engined aircraft, and cheaper than the turbo-prop aircraft which were operating at that time.
We had a long argument in the House about why the B.O.A.C. had to write off its investment in the Douglas DC7 and the Britannia aircraft, which were very fine in their time, but they were too late. After they came into operation, they were overtaken by this new advance, and they were not competitive. People wanted to fly in the new aircraft, and so we had to agree to write off a large sum from the B.O.A.C.'s capital investment so that it could start again on a new footing.
I will not be surprised if, when the Concorde begins to operate on the airline routes of the world, a great many passengers will want to travel in it. It will be a more modern aircraft, faster than other planes, in many ways more attractive than subsonic jets, and all these features will attract passengers. It will, therefore, have a high load factor, and this is the secret of success in airline operations.
Although the hon. Member for Putney considers that it will be more expensive, he is right if he is comparing it with other aircraft on the basis of the cost per seat mile. It will be more expensive than, for example, the Boeing 747, which will be introduced at about the same time or perhaps slightly earlier than the Concorde. However, if people would rather travel on the Concorde, as I have no doubt that they will, the cost per seat mile factor will not be the important consideration.
509 We have seen in the past how passengers prefer to travel in certain types of aircraft. We saw it with the Boeing 727. I wish to be impartial and mention American aircraft as well. We saw it happen with the B.A.C.111, the Boeing 737 and the Trident. The VC10 has been an outstanding example. As soon as these 'planes were introduced in competition with older equipment, passengers flocked to them, and we are witnessing that with the VC10.
The load factor on the VC10 services on the North Atlantic is fantastic. I do not know why Sir Giles Guthrie has stopped publishing the figures and some doubts have been expressed about his reasons. It has been suggested, for example, that as Sir Giles was not keen on the VC10, when it was first introduced, he is rather embarrassed by the success ii has achieved. I will not say whether that view is right or wrong. Sir Giles has always told me that he is keen on the VC10, and that he wanted it to succeed.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Without going into further detail, I hope I have said enough to show the enormous attraction of new equipment on any route compared with older aircraft. I hope that the hon. Member for Putney will now accept that it would not be unusual if the same thing happened to the Concorde; that as soon a,; it starts flying on the North Atlantic acid other routes the airlines which have ordered it—the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) referred to them and I will not repeat them—will tend to draw passengers from existing subsonic jets. The Concorde will, as a result, operate at a very high load factor, so that its cost of operation in terms of cost per seat mile will not be an important factor.
No reference has been made to the advantage we have over the Americans in terms of the years' lead we have over them in introducing a supersonic airliner. We read in both the technical Press and the national newspapers that the Americans have run into serious difficulties with the Boeing 2707 and that it has had to be substantially modified. This has put that aircraft perhaps two or three years 510 back on the date when it was supposed to come into operation. The British and French, with their Concorde, have an absolutely fantastic market opportunity, with a lead of as much as possibly five years.
While many people are reluctant to estimate the lead—they say that if we become too complacent and allow the Americans to catch up that would be dreadful, a view with which I agree—and while we do not want to exaggerate the lead we will have, I suggest that it appears that we will have a lead of about five years. If we can maintain this lead, sales for the Concorde—which in any case are much larger than the 100 mentioned by the hon. Member for Putney—will increase. The world's airlines which have placed orders for the Boeing 2707 thinking that they will not need an interim stage to a Mach 2 airliner such as the Concorde will, when told by the Americans that the delivery date of the S.S.T. has been pushed back, come on bended knee and beg to be included in the queue for the Concorde. I hope this will happen, and I sincerely believe it will, as the delivery dates of the Boeing 2707 become apparent to those airlines which have failed so far to place an order for Concorde.
The other thing the hon. Member for Putney has missed, which is of vital importance, is the employment Concorde will give to the aircraft industry, to workers in Bristol and other establishments of B.A.C. who are working on the frontiers of knowledge, although not quite to the same degree as the hon. Member for Putney suggested. Supersonic flight is not beyond our knowledge. For many years military aircraft have been flown at speeds of this order. The technological problems of making an aircraft fly at Mach 2 are well-known to the Royal Air Force, to the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, to the engine manufacturers and to thousands of people in the aircraft industry as a whole.
It is nonsense to suggest, as the hon. Gentleman has, that we are pushing so far beyond the frontiers of our existing knowledge that Concorde is likely to come unstuck. There will be technical problems, as there are with the introduction of any new aircraft, but they are not problems beyond the reach of existing technologies. The materials which we are using and the type of engine which 511 we have adopted are within the boundaries of our existing knowledge, which is not the case with the American S.S.T. All the materials and the technologies and the aerodynamics are quite different from anything which has gone before.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
If the hon. Gentleman had allowed me to intervene earlier, I could have saved him a lot of trouble. I was saying that we know very little about boom and its effects.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I was just coming to that. It is a great mistake to intervene, as I pointed out to the hon. Gentleman who intervened in the Minister's speech. It means that one's own speech continues longer because one is reminded of something which one had missed out.
The boom is of great interest to those people who live in the neigbourhood of airports. The hon. Member for Putney has given the general public the mistaken impression that the sonic boom will be a special problem in the neighbourhood of airports.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I entirely agree with the Minister. The hon. Member for Putney created the impression that anyone living in the neighbourhood of an airport would be subjected to sonic boom. I have had letters from people living in the neighbourhood of Heathrow and even Gatwick. They have read the hon. Gentleman's remarks and think that because they live in the vicinity of an airport they will be subjected to a nuisance far beyond that which others have to endure. This impression should be corrected. I am not saying that one speech from me will do it, but I hope that the Minister will underline this whenever he speaks of Concorde that he will recomend his hon. Friends to say, "You will not be disadvantaged by sonic boom just because you live in the neighbourhood of an airport".
§ Mr. Lubbock
It is the best place to be, because immediately after take-off and coming in to land these aircraft are bound to be flying at subsonic speeds, and it is only when they get to above 15,000 ft. that they will make the transition to beyond the sound barrier. It will be something like 130 miles from the starting point when it crosses the speed of sound, and at the very great heights at which the aircraft flies the effect is far less noticeable.
Of course, the hon. Member for Putney is right in saying that the flight paths from European terminals across the Atlantic must cross the British Isles if they start from Frankfurt or Brussels, but I do not think the hon. Member for Govan was right in saying that all these flights must be across the Channel unless there is some diversion of the Great Circle route which would be followed for maximum economy of operation. It would be better, if one can, to enable this aircraft to fly at supersonic speeds over land. Obviously, it would be more economic.
A point which needs underlining is that no one knows what the effects of the supersonic boom from the Concorde will be. A few experiments have been made with much smaller aircraft which, as is well known, cannot be scaled up to the equivalent of the size of the Concorde; and the Americans, who have attempted much more extensive tests than we have, have said that to fly at supersonic speed, the sound—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is not fair to an hon. Member who has the Floor for other hon. Members to carry on a steady conversation.
§ Mr. Lubbock
It does not bother me, Mr. Speaker, but I am grateful for your protection.
I was just saying that tests carried out by the Americans are admitted not to be a fair indication of what would happen with a much larger aircraft at a higher all-up weight flying at different altitudes. We have no idea, really, till the Concorde begins to fly what the effects of the supersonic boom will be under its flight path. I think, therefore, that the argument now is a waste of time.
513 One thing on which I would entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Putney is that we should not make a final decision on whether the Concorde should fly at supersonic speeds over land till we have had an opportunity of seeing how it works out in practice. We have not very long to wait. The aircraft will be flying towards the end of this year, and shortly after that, in 1969, I hope it will begin the supersonic phase of its testing. That will be the time for the hon. Gentleman the Member for Putney to express his opinion, in the light of the reactions he gets from his constituents, and no doubt all the rest of us, will be able to do the same.
For myself, I think Concorde will be an outstanding financial success for this country. I am a convinced believer that supersonic flight is going to come. I believe that many airlines will buy this pane, that it will bring immense profit to the people of this country from the investment which they will undertake under this Bill, that it will bring employment to many thousands of aircraft workers, and that it will keep Great Britain in the forefront of the technology of transport and communications.
§ Mr. Edwin Brooks (Bebington)
The trinity of hon. Gentlemen who so far have contributed to this important debate following its initiation by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) are entitled to claim they have given consistent and enthusiastic support to the Concorde project, as, indeed, have many hon. Members on both sides of the House. I yield to no one in my enthusiasm for and feeling of exhilaration at the ingenuity and skill shown by British engineering and technological expertise in this project, and I think all of us in this House, no matter what reservations we may have about its particular priority in our technological spending. are bound to feel we must wish this venture well now that we have embarked so far upon it. But, having said that, I feel that this sense of excitement at extending the frontiers of knowledge is a danger which we must particularly guard against at a moment like this.
At times, listening to some hon. Members, I have felt that they are having almost a love affair with Concorde, and there is nothing more sterile than a love 514 affair with a machine, no matter how beautiful it is in shape. I sometimes wonder, for example, if Concorde looked like a flying bedstead whether there would be quite the same sense of excitement about it. But no, we look at the models, at these sleek, smooth lines and have a sense almost of sensuous pleasure and gratification. In the House such moments come all too rarely.
Of course, this particular technological advance is, like many others, a matter on which we could easily be overcome by enthusiasm. We could no doubt talk just as enthusiastically about rockets to the moon. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the tunnel?"] I am not sure what curious Freudian train of thought is exciting my hon. Friend when he talks about tunnels. There have been similar ventures in the past, what appeared to be exciting ventures of great technological promise but which forfeited all public confidence. One example was the airship, perhaps the most obvious comparison, where a particular technique was applied in the field of aviation which was to prove disastrous. Therefore we must be on our guard at moments like this against too much flabby talk.
We are tonight in the position of shareholders being asked to look at a prospectus brought to us by a board of directors. They are a body of directors who in the past have been consistent in the respect that both they and their predecessors, whom they usurped in 1964, have shown a complete incapacity to tell what the cost of this venture will be. They have been consistently wrong in every major estimate they have brought to this House. I have no doubt that any estimates that we get tonight will similarly be proved wrong in the event. This would not necessarily matter if there were evidence that, no matter what we spend, the return will be such that the profit will be there for us, or at least our successors, to enjoy, but it is precisely this that we cannot be sure about. All the indications are at present that there will be no profit and that there will be a net loss at the end of day, or probably at the end of the 1970s.
The reasons are quite obvious. If we are claiming tonight—with such enthusiasm—that we are justified in spending £125 million of the taxpayers' money, in 515 addition to the £280 million already committed, using knowledge and facts which are incontrovertible, those facts would be as incontrovertible to a body of private shareholders in the aviation industry. Yet they do not come forward and express the same enthusiasm. There is no money coming from private industry.
One of the extraordinary things about this debate has been to listen to hon. Members opposite who are so often regarded as the guardians of the public purse, reluctant to buy a pig in a poke and wanting to know what is involved. They have been decrying those who want there to be some sense in the financing of this venture. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) is suffering from a form of verbal diarrhoea tonight. This constant flow of interruption which comes across the Chamber we could well do without.
I think we have a right and an obligation to put one or two questions to the Government. These fall into two parts. In the first place I ask for more details in the breakdown of the costs which have been incurred or are about to be incurred on the research and development side of the project.
Secondly, we have to ask certain questions about the implications of what we are doing in terms of production financing. Hon. Members have had figures flung back and forth for some years about the escalating costs of Concorde. We are all familiar with the way in which the figures have gone up steadily since that great dawn of expectation in 1962 when it was thought that the project would come to something less than £200 million in research and development costs. Hon. Gentlemen should ask themselves what they know about the breakdown of the global sums which we throw about this Chamber.
How many hon. Gentleman have any idea of what is involved in the £80 million which is put down to post-certification expenses? Is there a single hon. Member who can break down that figure one stage further? We have no idea of the calculations and the criteria involved. Is there a single hon. Member who knows the breakdown of the £50 million which was so gaily added in 1966 as an overall 516 contingency? Were any other contingency sums written into the project? If not, why not? If so, what were they? No one knows, and it is little short of scandalous that, when we are asked to discuss the addition of another £100 or £125 million to the venture, we should have no information on which we can assess the basis on which the earlier calculations of research and development costs were made.
I am concerned about this production financing, because it seems to me that the wording of subsection (2) is so open-ended that there is no control upon the Minister. I beg hon. Members, no matter how enthusiastic they are about the venture, not to allow their enthusiasm to betray them into abandoning all forms of control over Ministerial expenditure in the years ahead. It is wrong to see in proposed legislation such words asAny such arrangements may provide for financial support to be provided by the Minister…by any other method which the Minister considers appropriate.There is no check upon the Ministerial discretion in this regard.
One wants to know, for example, what will be the sort of return which will eventually come from the project. No one expects a precise figure. Clearly, that is impossible. But one wants to know if the Concorde will be sold at something like £5 million, £7 million, £10 million or £12 million. Surely we have the right to know, somewhere within these enormous orders of magnitude, what sort of price the aircraft will be to the world's airlines. When a body of shareholders is asked to put money into production financing, it has the right to know the market prospects for the commodity, and they cannot be assessed unless the envisaged selling price is known. Surely we have come to a point where we can begin to talk meaningfully of figures as important as these are.
The sum which we are discussing is almost equal to the total expenditure involved in the rest of the Bill. It is wrong that we should be asked to spend this enormous amount of money on a project about which we have such a basic lack of information. I have some symparty with the hon. Member for Peterborough, because he is right when he says that there is a remarkable lack of technical information about it.
517 It is extraordinary that, the night before this Clause was to be discussed in Committee, my right hon. Friend sought information from the Library on certain basic facts about the project. I have great admiration for the work being done by his Department in many spheres of activity, but it is not good enough for such essential information to be obtained literally at the eleventh hour so that the Committee could be placated into thinking that all the information was available. When one looks at the information, one finds that it is not particularly meaningful, in any case.
My final point, therefore, is a simple but obvious one. We have no alternative tonight but to support the venture. Like many other hon. Members, I have been suspicious of some of the objections to Concorde. Though I have often criticised it, I suspect that some of the objections to it may have been motivated by commercial considerations from across the Atlantic. I do not want to forfeit any opportunity for the country to gain the massive export potential which conceivably could come from Concorde in its present stage of development.
This House—and this is a question of Parliamentary democracy and control over the Executive—has a right to expect a vastly greater amount of information than has been offered. It is right to ask the Government, in consultation and collaboration with the French Government with whom they are so intimately linked i a this venture, to produce a complete and detailed breakdown, the sort of prospectus that a body of shareholders would have the right to expect at this stage. If the Government are as convinced as they claim to be about the success of the venture, this is a good opportunity for an explanation of the potential of the project. If we are serious now about stressing its commercial potential, now is the time to start selling hard, and to have done with the timorous, question-begging nonsense we have had to put up with in some of the Press.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) said something to the effect that the Government had been consistent on Concorde. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer went to Paris three years ago to try to cancel the project—
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I hope I did not misunderstand the hon. Member. That happened. It was one thing the Chancellor tried to do, but he failed in it. He could not get away with it. I agree with all previous speakers that the House needs more information about the vast sums that are being spent, and needs quarterly progress reports in a White Paper or in some other form on the figures, performance, and troubles, without knocking the project.
I think the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) had his tongue in his cheek when he spoke. I think he is concerned about votes at Putney, as he has every reason to be after seeing what happened here yesterday afternoon. I am sorry to hear him knocking Concorde, because some years ago we had many speeches about the VC 10 which did infinite harm to its prospects for overseas sales. It was said today by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) that it has the highest load factor on the North Atlantic. I hope we will not knock Concorde at this stage. We should back it. It is one of the few things about which I have agreed with this Government.
§ Mr. Jenkins
The hon. Member has made an assertion about me and should let me reply. There are no votes to be gained from knocking Concorde, but even if there were I would still knock it.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
We have heard the hon. Gentleman make many speeches and ask many Questions which have had publicity. He has done his best to knock Concorde, and it is regrettable.
Where a company or Government have a project of this magnitude, it is impossible to estmate what it will cost. We are nearly reaching the stage where this is too much for France and Britain together, but we have got to the point of no return and we have to go on with it. We should. It is the largest airframe venture we have today, and it is a tremendous thing for Britain that our technicians 519 should be involved. The Americans are worried and amazed at the progress being made, allowing for the difficulties of language, working with Sud-Aviation. I disagree with the reports that there is conflict between the two sides. I think that there is less conflict than there is sometimes between sub-contractors in this country. There must be friction over some things, but the project is a great thing for Britain.
Today we have a five-or six-year lead over the United States, and that is enormous. My biggest fear about Concorde is that if it is a success when B.O.A.C. or Air France want to fly from Europe to Kennedy Airport they will have troubles, because I believe that the Americans will do everything they can to stop the aircraft from landing in the United States, on that very question the hon. Member for Putney keeps advertising every few weeks, that of noise. The Minister must get close to his opposite numbers in the United States to try to get that problem sorted out, to see that there is not the lobbying and dirty work that can take place on these matters, for otherwise it would be a wasted effort to a large extent.
The Concorde will have a passenger appeal. The jumbo jets will carry 400 passengers, but people will not like flying in an airframe with 400 passengers. Imagine the difficulties of lavatories alone on a flight over the Atlantic, with 400 people queueing for the lavatory. It is quite a problem when people are being carried great distances, and the thin fuselage, such as Concorde, will have an appeal to passengers.
Have suitable arrangements been made for the insurance of the aircraft? Who will insure it? It is a problem that the insurance companies of Britain probably could not carry alone. Will the Government have to become involved?
People say that they would like to fly subsonic, and that it is enough to go along at 600 miles an hour, but that is not the case. People will fly in the fastest aircraft. I do now know that there are many volunteers here tonight to fly in the maiden flight across the Atlantic, but once it has been tried out it will be popular. Even flying up and down to my constituency, between London and 520 Ringwood, a journey on which I have done about 500 flights, if I can get on a Vanguard, which saves about 10 minutes as opposed to a Viscount, I am happy to do so. I think that there will be a similar preference for supersonic flights over the Atlantic and elsewhere.
Concorde has a great future and it behoves every Member of Parliament to be sincere in backing the project, now that it has reached its present stage, while recognising that there are problems with noise. The best service the Minister can do is to keep the House and public fully informed of all matters, good or bad, relating to it.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
I shall be as brief as I can be, and after some of the extremely erudite and high-falutin' aeronautical speeches I shall also try to be very simple.
The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) has done the House a considerable service in bringing before us a fundamental problem which will undoubtedly be created by the aircraft. To my mind, the purpose of all technological improvement and advance is to further civilisation. We were bored by a very lengthy speech by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), who has now left the Chamber. Whether the voter lives in Putney or Orpington the fact remains that the man in the street will suffer from increasing noise. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) pointed out some of our duties as Members, and at the same time the pitfalls that lie ahead of the Government. He was very right when he called on the Minister to give us progress reports and keep us informed of the steps he will take in his negotiations with the Americans to see that the noise is not looked on as a barrier to the aircraft's operating from Kennedy Airport. If aircraft of this sort are to take off from Frankfurt, they will be the ones which cross the southern English land mass, and we in this country will experience the worst of the German noise traffic. We must, therefore, protect our own interests. I hope that the Minister will look specifically at the overflying rules as they will apply to this aircraft.
The Ministry of Defence—I think particularly of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force— 521 has been extremely helpful to those hon. Members who have had constituency problems as a result of low-flying aircraft and damage to farm stock. I refer mainly to poultry, sheep and glass houses, those items which are physically damaged by aircraft. We are considering now the financing of the Concorde project. What will be the position as regards compensation? If German-owned aircraft overfly this country and do damage, will our own Ministry bear the consequences? Will there be the same degree of financial cooperation on claims from the Ministry of Technology as we have enjoyed from the Ministry of Defence in the past?
§ Mr. McMaster
We have heard Jeremiahs on both sides deploring the support provisions for the Concorde project. I imagine that in former days similar protests were made in the House about the steam engine, the internal combustion engine and even the development of the jet engine, all of which are noisy. Anyone living beside a motorway will admit that the ordinary motor car engine makes a tremendous noise. I say, without any particular slant at my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells), that the hon. Members for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) and for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) made me think that they would prefer to see the Government spending money breeding bigger and better T.U.C. cart horses rather than developing this modern exciting aircraft.
It is vital that Britain retains her industrial leadership in the world. There are few parts of the world as densely populated as the United Kingdom. We cannot hope to be self-sufficient. We must export in order to live. In order to export, we must be enterprising, we must spend money on research and development, retaining the technological leadership in the jet engine, in supersonic flight, and in any other modern advance which will enable us to compete with our rivals, whether they be the Americans, who are spending vast sums of money on aircraft development, whether they be in Europe, or whether they be in the Far East, the Japanese in particular.
We need a project like the Concorde in order to focus the enterprise of our young scientists and engineers. It is not enough simply to spend money in vacuo 522 on research and development. We must have a specific project like the Concorde project. I am glad that the hon. Member for Putney has given us an opportunity to debate the matter, because a vast sum of public money is being put into the project, but I deplore the proposal to cancel the support Clause in the Bill. The Bill is, perhaps, like the curate's egg—good in parts, and bad in parts. This is one of the better parts of it. I strongly oppose the Amendment.
§ Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)
I should first explain the brief absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). He has had to leave the Chamber to find out for how long he spoke.
I make no apology for speaking, despite the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington has spoken, particularly because hon. Members will recall that on Friday, when the House was engaged in discussing this very matter on a Private Member's Bill dealing with aircraft noise, the Government Whips saw fit to count out the House before a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and Woking (Mr. Onslow), had had an opportunity to speak and before the Minister of State, Board of Trade had had time to answer. It is therefore perhaps necessary that we should be delayed tonight so that we might have some of the answers which we could have easily had on Friday had the Government allowed the debate to continue so that the Minister of State could give the answers which I believe he was ready to give. I hope that the Minister tonight—at this later hour, for reasons which are not his fault—will deal with the points raised.
I do not propose to involve myself in the economic and aeronautical aspects of this matter, but I look forward to hearing answers to some of the questions put by the hon. Members for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) and Bebington (Mr. Brooks). I was particularly interested in the suggestion of the hon. Member for Macclesfield about having a regular report on progress.
A number of hon. Members have referred to the level of noise. Will it be acceptable? We have heard various 523 estimates of perceived noise decibels. Hon. Members asked what will be done about certification procedures. I urge hon. Members to accept that there are vast differences about the degree of tolerance exhibited to different levels of noise. We cannot fix' a level which will be satisfactory. It is important that hon. Members should realise that.
Some time ago I was concerned in a fairly detailed investigation into noise and its effects and the tolerance of noise by different people—not only traffic noise, but particularly aircraft noise. I interviewed many people living near airports. Their answers were the same as the answers we shall get on this problem of sonic boom. One would call at a house and ask about noise, and one of the occupants would say, "It is dreadful. My wife is in bed ill and I am nervous". At the next house one would say, "What about this noise?", and the answer would be, "What noise?".
We will not be able to establish a level and say, "This is tolerable and nobody will mind". Whatever the level established, people will mind. It would be a mistake for the House to assume that it can find a magic number and that as long as we stick to it everything will be all right.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
Could the hon. Gentleman say what amount of noise would keep the Leader of the House awake?
§ Dr. Winstanley
The answer to that question has been established on an experimental basis. We must now determine what noise will put him to sleep again.
It is a mistake for us to assume that this kind of noise will be more distressing than others. My view is that the evils and nuisance of conventional aircraft noise constitute a much greater problem than the kind of problems we are likely to have from supersonic aircraft noise. Therefore, we may not be subjecting the public to greater noise by this Clause but moving towards a situation in which we may be relieving them of some. Nevertheless, there are things to be said.
It is right to remind the House that those living near airports are probably going to be in a better position than 524 others. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us his thoughts in terms of over-flying, routes and so on. One would like to hear that in the end, the policy will be to site airports more and more at such places as estuaries.
When we look at the experience of supersonic booms in the United States and elsewhere, we know that in the end it is tolerated, but only because people are persuaded that it is inevitable. When people believe something to be inevitable they think that they must tolerate it, and in the end, they do. Probably they are right in a land mass such as the United States, where over flying cannot be avoided. The same will happen in the European land mass. But it need not happen here. The dimensions of these islands are such that there is no real necessity for any supersonic over-flying. It is extremely important that if we are to get proper advantage from what may be a worth-while and valuable project, the understandable anxieties in the country should be allayed, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to allay at least some of them.
§ Mr. Hastings
The hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks), in a most able speech, expressed the misgivings of a number of people who perhaps do not share the enthusiasm I hold for this project. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that perhaps one way of allaying public apprehension about the cost of this immense project might be for some Select Committee of this House to have a regular progress report, so that there is some sense of participation on a relatively expert level between the House and the management of the project? This might be a better and more satisfactory way of dealing with the question before us than on the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Benn
Clause 8 says, in effect, that, having built the Concorde, shall we make any for other people to buy? What we are really discussing is production finance for the aircraft. Although it is natural that hon. Members who are interested should want to broaden the theme a little, basically we are dealing with the next stage of Concorde. We have 001 and 002 almost complete and due to fly, and because of the importance in a matter of this kind of getting aircraft ready to sell as quickly 525 as possible we have to finance production before the proving flights of the prototypes.
Perhaps I can begin by helping with the mathematics of the project, because there has been, even in some quite responsible newspapers, a confusion between the cost of research and development and the cost of production. The breakdown of our commitment to Concorde at the moment is roughly as follows: first, £250 million at 1966 prices on research and development. This is the latest agreed figure between ourselves and the French. I cannot guarantee that it might not go above that figure. I will say why, in a minute, it is impossible to make any clearer statement than that.
In addition to this, £30 million has been or will be spent on intra-mural research at Government research and development establishments, broken down rounhly equally between the airframe and engine sides—that is to say, Farnborough and Pyestock.
The next item—this must not be added to the research and development costs but must be kept separately in our minds—is the £100 million or possibly £125 million loans for production, which is what this Clause provides, and which up to £25 million will be bank loans at ½ per cent. above Bank Rate, under Government guarantee, and the rest will be Government loans on the minimum payable under the National Loans Act.
In addition to this, there is £30 million for the purchase of special plant and tools which will be leased to the companies at the full economic rental.
I spell out these figures rather carefully because even the Economist—[Interruption.] I am not referring to its views, for which I share the hon Gentleman's displeasure; I am referring to its figures in a chart showing the supposed escalation, in which it adds the production finance to the last estimate for research and development, giving a wholly false impression. There may have been some confusion, but the Economist added all the production finance to research and development and arrived at a figure which was very deceptive.
The final point on financial liability is the possibility of some contingent liability arising in the event of a major failure at 526 a very late stage in production. It is very difficult to give any reasonable estimate of this. In the extreme circumstances of a catastrophe to the project at a late stage when deliveries of the aircraft off the production line had already started, the losses to be underwritten could exceed the amount of working capital of £100 million. Even assuming a coincidence of events which is highly improbable, there is no reason to believe that this total liability would exceed £200 million on the basis of the Concorde programme which we are now considering. Moreover, if anything of this kind were likely to go wrong, we would expect to detect it early enough and halt the programme before so much money had been spent.
I feel it my duty, in bringing this Bill to the House with this Clause in it, that I should tell the House plainly that in going in for a project of this kind one is not only paying a substantial sum of money but one is also carrying, and the House is carrying, a substantial risk arising on the technical and financial side. I say this because I think, from many of the speeches which were made during the course of the debate, that the House wants to be brought into the inside of this project and not be treated as if it were just to be told optimistic things and just left at that. If we are to enter into this type of project the House wants to feel that it is in the picture.
I find a little surprising the transformation of the party opposite when we come to an aircraft project as compared with other projects. Earlier we were told that civil servants were no good, that Ministers could not be relied upon and that lame ducks were about to be born. But when we come to this big aircraft project it is a matter of "Keep your nerve" and all these arguments are used on entirely different criteria.
I say this as a statement of fact. The cost of being in the aircraft business is far beyond the capacity of the capitalistic system to bear the risk. This is true not only of aircraft. It will be true of other high-cost systems. It is, in part, a justification for the Bill. I make no more of this beyond saying that this is now very big business into which we are entering, and that is why it is necessary to come to Parliament to ask for authorisation.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn
I was just coming to that.
The questions which are put to me by many hon. Members are whether I will estimate the cost of the aircraft, the date of its coming into service, the market for it, and so on. I want for a moment to describe the nature of the equation with which we are dealing. There are two sides of the equation. There are the problems connected with production—that is to say, the technical problems of weight, thrust, drag and systems development, the time for doing this and the cost of doing it.
On the other side, there is the market possibility for the project, which is affected by problems of airline demand, the prospects of airline demand, questions of sonic boom, to which reference has been made, engine noise and, of course, a factor which is entirely outside our control, namely, the progress being made by the Boeing 2707.
Therefore, in the circumstances—and no hon. Member will expect me to do more than present this position to the House—it is impossible to anticipate what the market for this aircraft may be. If I am asked whether we are confident that it is an outstanding aircraft, the answer is, "Yes". If somebody asks whether we are doing our best to make it succeed, the answer is manifestly, "Yes". If, however, I am asked what the market for it will be, it is very hard to say.
The reason why I mention this is that if, for some reason, the Boeing 2707 were to be withdrawn because of difficulties—and the Americans are operating in a higher range of technologies than we are—the whole world supersonic market might well be open to Concorde for an almost indefinite period.
I put these factors to the House because, if we are to do this sort of thing, we have to know what we are doing. There is a possibility of difficulty—I put it no higher than that; there is also a possibility of the most outstanding economic and financial success.
528 Having said that, I come to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins). He has been very frank about it. He is firmly opposed to Concorde. I do not see why objection to Concorde should merit the description of "lunatic fringe". Even though I take a contrary view, it is perfectly permissible for an hon. Member to say that, on reflection, he thinks that Concorde is a mistake; that he thinks that it is a wrong use of resources; that there are certain medical and technical difficulties, and he has an interest in the problem of noise, which he has had for some time. I do not believe that the argument is much improved by charges and counter-charges of "lunatic fringe" in this matter.
I would only say this about what my hon. Friend has said. In so far as he argues that over the years we have overemphasised research into air transportation at the expense of developments in surface transportation, he has a strong case to make. When he spoke of a wrong use of resources, he might well have argued that if we had spent more money on modernising the railway system, on introducing containerisation earlier or going in for fuel cell development or for the battery electric car, this might have brought a better return in terms of money or human enjoyment.
§ Mr. Benn
I had better not give way. Let me develop the point. I am only saying that it is certainly part of my purpose with research responsibility to tilt the balance a little more in favour of surface transportation and not to allow air transportation to be the only field in which major efforts are made. That is about all I will say in favour of my hon. Friend. Perhaps this is now a convenient moment to allow the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) to intervene.
§ Mr. Onslow
The fact that the right hon. Gentleman has had to put words into the mouth of his hon. Friend the Member for Putney which the hon. Gentleman did not use serves merely to underline that the Amendment is a lunatic fringe Amendment.
§ Mr. Benn
I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's own speech in a moment.
My hon. Friend asked me a number of questions and I think that I have been able to indicate why it is very difficult for me to answer them in detail now. He asked about the estimated cost of the aircraft to be sold to the airlines. This, of course, depends on the various proving flights yet to be held.
He asked whether the overland flight of supersonic aircraft would be permitted in Britain, that is to say, whether the sonic bang would be acceptable. The answer is that the Government have not decided this, but it would be quite absurd to decide until we have heard what the boom of the Concorde will be like. He also spoke about technical uncertainty, suggesting that this aircraft would in some way be untested when it went into service. The plain truth is that although it pioneers new techniques in civil airliner development, there will never have been an aircraft as completely tested in all its systems as Concorde when it goes into service. On the technical and medical grounds my hon. Friend's argument is at its weakest.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
I should like to make it absolutely clear that I have not suggested that it will not fly or will fly badly. My reference to its being untested is a reference to the effect of the boom, and on that I am basically correct.
§ Mr. Benn
I think that my hon. Friend underestimates the amount of supersonic flying which has been done by military aircraft. Until we know what the signature of the Concorde boom is, it will not be responsible for the Government to decide what action should be taken about it.
I had many letters about noise matters last summer when it was said that we were brainwashing people into accepting the boom of those days. The truth was that the Government had not decided. There was no brainwashing into acceptance, but a genuine first step to see whether these aircraft over-flying supersonically would be tolerable.
I come now to the speech of the Inn. Member for Woking. He asked a number of questions about the possibilities of muffling engine noise and about the noise of take-off. A great deal 530 of research has gone into this subject, but until we know the actual characteristics of a fully loaded Concorde with its engines at full stretch taking off in all appropriate conditions, we shall not be able to answer his questions authoritatively. This is obviously a matter of the greatest importance.
My criticism of him for sniping at Concorde was based on the fact that he was continually questioning, almost with a view to suggesting that the Government had not done as much as they could to make the project a success. He went to extraordinary lengths to attribute the slippage to the Government. He said that because the Government had assessed the economic value of the project, as they quite properly did when coming into office, the French engineers hurried forward their date in order to put our minds at rest, that British engineers somehow assented to this and then it was wholly unrealisable, and therefore the slippage was due to the British Government's lack of enthusiasm.
This argument does not stand a moment's examination and I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue it. There is no truth whatever in the suggestion that the date was advanced because we were having a technical and economic analysis of the project. If the French had wanted to advance the date, it would have been open to our engineers, who are consulted about the whole planning of the project, to make their own points. There is simply nothing whatever in the hon. Gentleman's contention.
I come, now, to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin). He is a passionate advocate of the Concorde, and what he says is read with keen interest outside the House.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) made a very important point in saying that in assessing the economic value one has to take into account the money already spent, and that we are discussing the deployment of future resources. He also made another point of great validity, that the passenger appeal of Concorde, like the VC 10, could make a substantial difference to its operating costs, and hence to its acceptability to the airlines. I thought that 531 the hon. Gentleman was rather nearer the mark than my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooke) who spoke in terms of the sexual symbolism of the relationship between the Government and the Concorde, and compared it with the airship, a symbol of pneumatic bliss which would have an appeal of a different kind.
I see the papers on this aircraft every day, I know the amount of work that is done by four companies and two Governments, and by the Treasuries of both countries as well, and by the Ministers and those who write about it, and I can say that there has never been a project so completely examined and re-examined in terms of its economic and technical possibilities as Concorde, and whoever else may be advocating this Clause on grounds of personal affection for Concorde in the sense that my hon. Friend suggested, I must not count myself among them.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) asked for quarterly progress reports. I think that there is a great deal of value in bringing forward information to the House as often as one can do so, but he will know from his business experience that shareholders do not hear of the ups and down, and hopes and fears, of major projects in the companies in which they have shares. We are here engaged in a commercial enterprise, and this conditions directly what it would be right or proper or sensible to make available to the House.
Either he or the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) suggested that there should be a Committee which could look at this quarterly. I think that the Public Accounts Committee's inquiries into the financing and development of the Concorde, and certainly other inquiries, such as that by the Select Committee on Science and Technology which will be looking at the defence establishments, and will therefore get some opportunity to study Concorde, provide as good an opportunity as one could hope for for studying the project. I also answer a number of Questions about it, but I shall look again to see whether we can give the House more information than we have in the past.
I come, finally, to the question of noise, in a rather different context, and that is 532 the attitude to noise. During the war when aircraft were heard, people asked, "Is it one of ours or not?" and there was this curious feeling that the off-beat rhythm must be the Germans. I think it was thought that this in some way escaped detection by our primitive detection system. The attitude to noise depends, as the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) said, on one's viewpoint. If people think of Concorde just as an imposition by the engineers on the privacy of their lives, they will be hostile to it. If they think of it as the way out of our balance of payments deficit, their attitude to it might be different. If they think of it as being a supreme example of European leadership in advanced technology, again they might think of it differently.
I conclude, I hope without any purple passages, by saying that the attitude of the public towards Concorde will in itself answer some of the questions which have been asked by hon. Members. We accept that annually thousands of people are killed on the roads, or are maimed and injured, because the motor car, even though we know the toll it takes, is regarded as a necessity, if not a pleasure, of modern life. There is no question of the toll of Concorde in terms of noise or damage approaching that which we have accepted from the mines, or from shiping disasters, or even from train disasters, and certainly not on the roads. But it is true that ultimately, whether we stop at the sub-sonic end, whether our dividing line is Mark 1, which is what my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington suggests—this is where he draws the line; at the speed of sound—or whether we go beyond it, will, in part, depend on the attitude of people to a development of this kind.
I happen to think that the House, though looking critically at the project—as it must because of the amount of money involved—can help by regarding it as a fine example of British technology which should command the interest of the community, from whose skill it comes to be made.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
Although I will not detain the House at this hour, I must remind the Minister that while he drew a contrast between the attitude of my hon. Friends 533 towards Concorde and such things as the Civil Service, we hope to make a profit out of the former though we have never made a profit out of bureaucracy.
The two themes which ran through the speech of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) as he attacked the Clause were noise and cost. In the past the hon. Gentleman has laid greater emphasis on the subject of noise. I accept that this is a serious problem, and nobody need apologise for emphasising it. However, the hon. Gentleman's argument in the past has usually been that we pay for these advanced aircraft at too high a price in terms of the damage caused by noise to amenities. But what price is he asking the country to pay for the standards he is setting?
I was not able to be present last Friday, when the House discussed what was basically the hon. Gentleman's Bill, although it was introduced by his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson). It was clear in that Measure that the hon. Member for Putney was aiming at standards which would put out of business every commercial aircraft coming to this country and would face British airlines and the airlines of every country using our airfields with phenomenal replacement costs. The secondary effects would be to drive traffic away from these islands, with consequent losses to our airlines, our tourist trade and our balance of payments. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is getting the problem out of all proportion compared with what this country can afford, bearing in mind that the aircraft industry has in the past contributed substantially both to import and export savings. That has been achieved only because we have been willing to take the sort of risks about which the Minister was speaking.
One cannot, whatever the cost, be certain how many of these 'planes we will sell. One cannot be certain of the conditions in which the first flights will be made or the first production models will come off. It is abundantly clear, however, that we are moving towards the production line, having made the aircraft, and that it would be crazy to hold back now. Although the cost has risen, so has the potential prize. This has happened for a number of reasons, not least of 534 which is the gradual widening of the gap between Concorde and the American SST.
I cannot conceive the possibility arising when, as some of the main transatlantic and long-distance airlines have the Concorde, the other main airlines will be able to hold back if they cannot see the American SST reasonably soon on the horizon to take its place. The potential is very great indeed and at this stage the right course for us can only be to back it to the hilt. We should avoid doing anything which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) pointed out, would in any way reduce the possibility of this aircraft being not only a great technological advance but a great profit-winner as well.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
My right hon. Friend has the unusual attribute of being able to be wrong more charmingly and convincingly than most people can be right.
It is a matter of opinion as to whether this is the right use of the fairly limited productive capacity of this country and of its substantial technological skill. On balance the facts add up to the proposition that this is a blind alley and a misuse of these resources, instead of a proper use of them. It is possible, of course, that I am wrong in this estimate, but what is abundantly apparent is that, even if I am right, I am not going to convince the House of that tonight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Brooks) has likened the attitude of the House to this project to a sort of sexual frenzy. I think it is nearer to a religious mania. The blind, touching faith of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) was, I think, very moving; the evangelical enthusiasm of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) was equally moving in its way. But these things are impervious: it is impossible to break through this sort of conviction, and I shall not attempt it tonight. Standing at a distance from that sort of orgiastic atmosphere it may seem, to those hon. Members involved in it, that one belongs to the lunatic fringe, but I feel that the reverse appears to be the case. However, as the House will not be moved on this subject tonight, I hope I may have its permission, as I beg 535 to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.