§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ The Minister for Aerospace and Shipping (Mr. Michael Heseltine)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
There will be many hon. Members who will remember the discussion that took place originally on 27th February 1968, when the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) made a statement informing the House of the additional 104 powers to be included in the Industrial Expansion Act to empower the Government to advance or underwrite £100 million in the first case, rising after affirmative Resolution of the House to £125 million, to the companies responsible for the Concorde production programme in this country.
On 21st July this year, I asked the House for agreement to move to that second step envisaged in 1968, and said at that time that I should have to come back in the autumn to amend the original legislation to take account of the changed circumstances since 1968.
The position is clearly set out in paragraph 1 of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum:The purpose of the Bill is to extend the duration, and increase the amount, of the financial support which the Secretary of State may provide under section 8 of the Industrial Expansion Act 1968 for the production in the United Kingdom of the Concorde aircraft.105 I have found myself faced with the problems that faced the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East in 1968. Having considered very carefully all the circumstances and all the comment on the methods he chose then, I have concluded that it is right now to ask the House to recognise that the circumstances of 1972 are with us and that we should deal with them as the present Opposition dealt with identical circumstances as a Government in 1968.
The circumstances in general are that both Governments have in their time decided to provide the financial resources in large measure that are necessary to meet the bills of the individual Concordes as they are constructed. Government support for aircraft development is well known in one form or another to the aerospace industry. On Concorde, both the previous Administration and this Government recognise that the sums required for Concorde production are beyond the resources of the manufacturers. We all understood this, we have always understood it, and we are faced with the ultimate need to decide on the best ways to solve the issues of scale involved. Both Governments have chosen the same method.
Sales of Concorde have now got off to a good start. BOAC and Air France have placed orders for a total of nine aircraft. The Chinese national airline has signed a preliminary purchase agreement for three aircraft, and the national airline of Iran has signed a letter of intent to purchase two aircraft, with an option on a third.
The manufacturers have now begun negotiations with other option-holding airlines, and these can be expected to result in further orders in 1973. Anyone who knows the terms of the original options will understand that there was always bound to be a considerable time lapse between the signing of the first orders and moving to the stage when the other original option holders then found it necessary to make up their minds.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
So that the House may appraise the full situation, may we know what options have been cancelled?
§ Mr. Heseltine
That is the very next point to which I was coming. The num- 106 ber of orders has now been established, as I have indicated. There has always been knowledge that in the original options there was a time delay within which other option holders had to make up their minds, and that delay was linked to the date of the signing of the original BOAC and Air France orders. Everybody always knew that, following the BOAC and Air France orders, there would be this delay, and that is the position in which we now find ourselves.
It is true that two airlines have formally cancelled their options, not because they were dissatisfied with the aircraft but because their route networks nave not developed as they had expected them to do when they originally took out their options. It was only to be expected that some airlines might not decide to place orders at this stage. But the advantages which Concorde offers to airlines are clearly demonstrated by the fact that the Chinese national airline and Iran Air, which did not hold options, have been the first to follow BOAC and Air France and move into a buying position.
§ Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the question of cancelled options, will he tell us which airlines cancelled their options, and how many aircraft are involved?
§ Mr. Heseltine
United Airlines of America had options. Perhaps I could ask my hon. Friend who is to wind up to give the precise number of aircraft involved in the cancellation of options. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Minister does not know."] It is not a question of not knowing; it is a question of my not wishing to mislead the House, which I might do if I were to get a figure wrong. [HON. MEMBERS "He does not know."] It would seem far better for me to allow my hon. Friend to give the figures rather than give them now because, if I were to get them wrong—
§ Mr. Heseltine
It is not a matter of not being knowledgeable; it is simply a question of my not wishing to give the House a figure which, if I were to get it wrong, would be misleading. It would be much better if my hon. Friend were to give 107 the figure when he deals with the precise number of options which were held by United Airlines of America and by Air Canada—the two companies which have cancelled the options which they held. It is true that a number of other airlines have said that they have no intention of actually buying Concorde, but these were not airlines which held options. It was never expected that E1 A1, for example, would become a purchaser of the aircraft, so the announcement that it will not buy does not add anything to the information we already had.
May I say a word about options in general? In the main these options were taken up in the early 1960s. I do not need to tell the House that the pattern of air transport has changed in the decade out of all recognition. Nor do I need to tell any hon. Member who has a knowledge of and is interested in civil aviation that even in the much more familiar region of subsonic aircraft, options are cancelled, delayed, and varied as a matter of common form. I know from my own experience as Minister responsible for the manufacturing side of the industry just how true that is. But no option variation or cancellation in the subsonic world rates more than a line in the Press. That is in a situation where the time scales are a matter of only a few years. How could anyone have had the slightest doubt that in a new world of supersonic manufacture the same fluidity of options would exist? New purchasers would appear, some options would lapse or be delayed. Already that pattern—the standard time-honoured pattern of this industry—has emerged. It would be a cause for surprise if it had not.
As for the financial requirements for production, the airlines will in the normal way make advance payments on the aircraft they order. The bulk of the purchase price will, however, become payable on delivery of their aircraft. The finance required to support the production line and to bridge the gap between the launching of production and final payments from the airlines is substantial.
The Government accept, as did the previous Administration, that the manufacturers cannot be expected to finance the production line out of their own resources. The Government intend to use 108 the powers contained in Section 8 of the Industrial Expansion Act 1968 to guarantee loans from the company's bankers and to make loans themselves to finance production of Concorde in this country. These loans will be repaid by the manufacturers from the sales revenue from Concorde in future years. Similar arrangements are being made in France to finance the French share of Concorde production through French banking institutions.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
Are those loans secured on the assets of the company or on the production line of Concorde alone?
§ Mr. Heseltine
The hon. Member will know that for many years a whole range of contracts has been entered into with manufacturing companies by all Governments and that details of those contracts have never been published. Like other Ministers I was faced with this situation and, like other Ministers, I decided that it would not be in the interest of the industries at large or the companies in particular that such contracts should be published. That has been the practice of all Governments with contracts of this sort, and there is no point in hon. Members opposite—[Interruption.] I notice that hon. Members opposite are not offering examples of cases where such contracts have been published. Doubtless if such examples exist they will wish to make them available. Generally, however, such contracts have not been published.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Is it not the case that since the total asset value of BAC is about £20 million it is quite impossible for that company to carry that burden and, therefore, that it must be carried by the public purse? There is no alternative.
§ Mr. Heseltine
The hon. Member will have been following my argument for not publishing the contract. This was exactly the dilemma which faced the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East. This is a project where the Government have had to face up to the nature and scale of the financial requirement and to the limitation of the resources of any company. That is why the Labour Government took the powers which we are now extending. The arguments were right then as they are right now.
§ Mr. Joel Barnett
Is the Minister really saying that commercial usage does not enter into it? When a company borrows money against any or all of its assets that fact is publicly known. Under the Bill we will lend up to a possible £350 million but the Minister is not even prepared to reveal against what assets that is secured.
§ Mr. Heseltine
On numerous occasions the hon. Member has supported precisely that procedure when his Government made this decision on project after project throughout their entire period in office. The only issue is whether Concorde should be singled out for special treatment. I have been unable to find any reasons why it should, in the same way that his right hon. Friend was unable to find such reasons when he took an identical decision in 1968.
When the House dealt with this matter in 1968 I do not remember any Labour Members arguing that the £125 million provided for under the Industrial Expansion Act should in some way be secured by the assets of the companies concerned. The principle was established in 1968 and I am merely applying it in the new circumstances of 1972. There was no change of principle, and the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Joel Barnett) knows that as well as I do.
When I asked the House last August to approve the order increasing the amounts that could be advanced or guaranteed under Section 8 of the Industrial Expansion Act 1968 from £100 million to £125 million, I explained that this was an interim measure and that more permanent arrangements would in due course be laid before the House. That is the purpose of the Bill. The Bill does not in principle change the scope or ambit of Section 8 of the Industrial Expansion Act 1968, which was a Labour measure. It increases the amount and duration of the finance that may be advanced or guaranteed by the Government to support Concorde production in this country.
At this stage in the programme the commitments the manufacturers have entered into exceed actual expenditure because they always order before spending the money. The present limit of £125 million is likely to be reached in terms of commitment by March 1973, when expenditure is likely to amount to some £45 million. It is now estimated 110 that the total amount of bridging finance required by BAC and Rolls-Royce (1971) Ltd, after taking account of anticipated payments from airlines, may amount to £250 million. The bankers of British Aircraft Corporation and Rolls-Royce (1971) have agreed to provide £25 million of this amount against a Government guarantee. The remainder will be provided by the Government in the form of loans attracting the 1–5 year Government interest rate. The estimate of £250 million assumes that the first Concorde services, those by BOAC and Air France, will be started in 1975.
The House will ask why the original limits written in Section 8 of the Industrial Expansion Act 1968 have proved inadequate. There are two main reasons. First, the programme has taken longer than then anticipated, with the result that deliveries to airlines and hence payments from them will be considerably later than was estimated in 1968. Secondly, the last four years has been a period of sharp inflation. Inflationary effects alone would increase the 1968 estimate by some £50 million.
§ Mr. Heseltine
No I am not. I said that one of the reasons was that inflation alone had contributed to the extent of £50 million but that does not explain the increase from £125 million to £250 million. The additional increase is caused because of slippage, and technological development.
The Bill provides that sums may be loaned or guaranteed up to £250 million over the period of the production programme. The amount of money that will in fact need to be loaned or guaranteed will depend on a number of factors, many of which are inevitably uncertain at this stage. The unfamiliarities have always been there. May I quote from the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East when he expressed this dilemma to the House in 1968, when the original powers were granted:There are all sorts of responsibility which may be affected by the complexities of production and the uncertainties of marketing which are connected with things over which the Government have no control which make this an uncertain project, and that is why the 111 Government have to assume special responsibility for it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 1545.]I have exactly the same problem. It will depend, for example, on the total number of aircraft built, the number of sales, the selling price achieved and the size of advance payments airlines are prepared to make, and £250 million is the best estimate that can be made at this stage of the amounts that will need to be loaned or guaranteed. But it is possible that substanially less will be needed. Equally it is possible that more than £250 million will be needed. The Bill therefore provides for the amount to be extended—[Interruption]—I have followed the precedent set so clearly in the 1968 Act, when exactly the same dilemma existed. I nut this to the House as honestly, I hope, as the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East did in 1968 when he first presented the House with these difficult dilemmas.
The Bill therefore provides for the amount to be extended by order to £350 million if necessary. The order would be subject to the affirmative Resolution of the House, and therefore there would be a full opportunity for the House to examine the situation before any increase above the new limit sought in the Bill was sanctioned.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
The hon. Gentleman used the phrase "the advance payments which airlines are prepared to make". On what basis will that matter be discussed? Is it really up to the airlines to name a sum? I do not quite understand the words "prepared to make".
§ Mr. Heseltine
That is a very fair point. Part of the dilemma faced by the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend and any Minister responsible for the project is that we are not the companies responsible for manufacturing or selling the aircraft. It is the job of engineers and the salesmen to make and then to go out and sell the project. They must conclude commercial arrangements with airlines across the world in the way that every manufacturer of airlines must. Every contract is specifically negotiated. The terms are reached after careful negotiations by the companies concerned. Therefore, it is for the companies, upon which we rely in the sales effort which 112 lies ahead and which is now under way, to conclude the negotiations in the light of their full normal commercial experience. The question of down payments, interim payments and final payments is part of the commercial contract that an airline seeks and negotiates, depending on its individual circumstances, with the manufacturers.
The uncertainties that I have described make it difficult at this stage to forecast the date by which the loans will be repaid. This will depend very much on the exact timing and profitability of the programme. The Bill therefore removes the provision in the 1968 Act that the loans and guarantees must be repaid by mid-1979. This in no way absolves the manufacturers from repaying the loans, and this will be done automatically as the sales revenue builds up.
As with all advanced projects, the financial risks involved are considerable however great one's confidence in the outcome. The manufacturers do not have the resources and cannot be expected to bear all these risks. We have therefore agreed in principle with the companies arrangements which will give them a strong incentive to make a success of the project. Profits will be shared between the manufacturers and the Government. The manufacturers' level of profit will depend on the results achieved. The manufacturers have also accepted to bear a risk of loss. They will be indemnified against the risks of loss above the agreed levels.
None of this will come as a surprise to the House. Once again, the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East explained the position in 1968, when he said:The degree to financial risk involved is also inevitably large. The need to invest large sums of money before success is assured is inescapable in any aircraft project. The risks with Concorde are being reduced as much as possible by a comprehensive ground and flight test programme, but they are still there, and are too great for the manufacturers to bear unaided—a fact which they have made clear to Me."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 1232–3.]The situation has in no way changed.
But while the financial risks are great so are the prizes at stake. The history of air transport shows that people are prepared to pay for speed. A spectacular demonstration of Concorde's speed advantage over other aircraft was provided by 113 last summer's tour of the prototype to the Far East. There is no doubt that airlines were greatly impressed by this tour, which showed how flight times could be halved on many long-haul sectors.
Commercial supersonic flight is beyond doubt here to stay, and the British and French aerospace industries have a great opportunity to exploit the clear lead they have established with Concorde. In doing so they have the potential to make an enormous contribution to the balance of payments of our two countries.
I therefore ask for the support of the House in giving a Second Reading to the Bill.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I find myself in a slightly unusual position tonight in listening to all the friendly references to ministerial statements that I made, and hearing a retrospective blessing of the Industrial Expansion Act, which featured specially for repeal in the Conservative election manifesto of 1970. But I pass from that, except to say that I now understand the phrase about a drunk turning to a lamp post more for support than illumination—[Interruption.] In terms of the number of friendly references in the Minister's speech, it clearly was his intention to lean on me.
I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman for having introduced his Bill. The Opposition do not propose to divide the House against it, although we will vote for examination and have an opportunity to know more about some of the calculations, admittedly complicated, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. We shall offer all possible facilities to speed the hearings and report back quickly to the House. In summary, that is what I want to say in speaking on the Second Reading.
The whole history of the Concorde justifies the view that this is the moment when we should look at it again in greater detail. It is 17 years since the Concorde was first mooted in 1955; it is 13½ years since the feasibility studies were commissioned; it is 10 years since the Anglo-French treaty was signed; and it is 2½ years before entry in service. Perhaps 10–15 years of airline service lie ahead, with the possibility that a project begun in the 1950s will continue in operation into the early 1990s. This Bill therefore 114 offers us a rare opportunity to consider the project halfway through its 35-year span. We should take this opportunity of looking at it.
In 1962 the original estimate of research and development costs was £150 million-£170 million, with a British share of £75 million-£85 million. The research and development estimate now stands at or near—or perhaps just above —£1,000 million. I think that £970 million was the last figure revealed to the House, of which the United Kingdom share is £500 million.
In addition, authority for production and finance—assuming that the French figure is the same as the British figure, which is now brought up to a higher level by the Bill—is £700 million; that is, £350 million for each country.
With the best will in the world, the commitment of resources of men and money on such a scale justifies and requires further information than the Minister was able to give us in his speech. Outside the space programmes of the super powers Concorde is the largest and most expensive project undertaken in the world, and also one of the most controversial.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
What about the coal industry? Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the Coal Industry Bill, which was presented in the House today and which will produce subventions to the nationalised coal industry amounting to £850 million, is in a comparable spending bracket?
§ Mr. Benn
First of all, the coal industry is not a project. Secondly, the distribution of resources among the people involved in the coal industry is rather greater than it is in terms of the numbers involved in the aircraft industry —[Interruption.] The House has not been slow to examine in Committees other items of expenditure on a scale much lower than that with which we are now dealing. We should be foolish if we were to overlook some of the experience involved in the production of this aircraft. I say that as somebody who shares part of the responsibility for it.
If we look back at the 1962 decision we see there were undoubtedly five serious defects in that decision, and I 115 shall list them for the House. One was the fact that the environmental aspects—boom, noise and pollution—were not considered or discussed at that time. Even if they had been discussed, I do not know whether there would have been as much public furore about them as we experience today. But it is quite astonishing that there were no tests, in terms of sonic boom, on the flights authorised before the decision was taken. Secondly, the estimates of costs were wildly wrong and the Treasury at that time did not even discuss them with the French Ministry of Finance before the treaty was signed. Thirdly, the treaty provided for no break clause, and it was for each country to continue regardless of the doubts one or other might have.
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who is now a Minister of State in the Foreign Office, said this in a recent speech in Bristol—and I quote his words from the Bristol Evening Post of 29th November:Perhaps the most important personal contribution I made was to insist that there should be no break clause in the treaty;—that neither side could get out of it only by agreement.I believe that was an error which got into the treaty in 1962.
The next error was that the motivation was too political in character. The right hon. Gentleman also said that he believed that it was a very significant part of the contribution towards the building of the new Europe.
Next, there was no parliamentry scrutiny, or any opportunity to consider the implications or alternatives in terms of other types of aircraft or of other developments which might have been considered instead. Had there been a proper public scrutiny, it is unlikely—in view of the figures of cost which we now have before us—that the project would or should have been started. This is the background against which must discuss the aircraft.
The secrecy has continued ever since. This secrecy is still being preserved by the refusal of the Government to publish the White Paper for which I recently asked in the House, and their evident intention to resist the motion to commit this Bill to a Select Committee.
I shall go through the story briefly, for I believe that there are many lessons to 116 be learned. In 1964 the Labour Government decided to review the project as part of their review of public expenditure. Only at that time did it come to light that the treaty was unbreakable in international law. It was learned at that time that if there were to be a unilateral breach of the contract it might become subject to an action in the International Court, and that very much changed the capacity of the then Government to consider whether or not it was wise to proceed. However the project was reviewed with the French and on 20th January 1965 my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins)—the then Minister of Aviation—said:Now that the uncertainty over the future of this project has been removed I am sure that all those concerned with it on both sides of the Channel will press forward with a real sense of purpose. In this, they will have the full backing of Her Majesty's Government." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January 1965; Vol. 705, c. 197.]
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Bristol, North-East)
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) is not notorious as being the greatest friend of the British aircraft industry, as his action over TSR2 illustrated. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would be wise not to try to convince the House that his right hon. Friend was the saviour of Concorde.
§ Mr. Benn
I am trying to set before the House the record of this project, from which we may learn lessons. I quoted the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stechford because he was then speaking for the Government. I shared this responsibility, since I was involved in these matter in 1967 and share with the present Minister for Aerospace and Shipping, who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, the sense of awesome responsibility in dealing with a project of this complexity, with all the uncertainty that is associated with it. Development costs were rising, and still are; the programme was slipping—and, although there is not much left to slip at present, there is still some slippage with which the Minister must cope. It was necessary to "renegotiate" the treaty with the French. I must make the situation quite clear to the House.
117 In September 1968 we established criteria with the French, and dates by which they should be applied. We also outlined the procedures to be followed which, in effect, would free each Government to consider what action they should take either by agreeing to continue or by deciding not to do so. Since 1969 the Government, in effect, have had freedom of action restored to them for this purpose.
Meanwhile, throughout that period the Government made every effort to see that Concorde should succeed. The references made by the Minister to my own statements were part of the efforts aimed at enabling the project to succeed.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Epping)
The right hon. Gentleman said something which caused me some surprise. He implied that since 1969 the treaty has not been one which could be broken only by mutual consent, but that since 1969 each Government had a right to break the treaty and be master if its own house. Is that so?
§ Mr. Benn
I am not a lawyer and therefore, in using the term "breaking of the treaty", I am not using it in a legal sense. I am saying that in 1968 and in 1969 the effective freedom of action was recognised by both Government in continuing the project. I am anxious that this point should be clear. This was and remains an important element, and it means that both the Labour Government and the present Government have had a degree of freedom which did not exist before 1964.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)
This is an important point. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can say exactly what this freedom was. I understood that the contract took us up to certification of airworthiness. Is he saying that we should have decided to pull out of the project, or that we could have bought our way out—or what?
§ Mr. Benn
I am saying that we established criteria and the dates for the application of them, and an outline of the procedure to be followed, and that the Government were free to consider their action. They could have agreed to continue or they could have decided not to do so. This is not new. I have referred to this matter elsewhere. It is important 118 to make this clear to the House because we are reviewing a long-term project. I shall come to the contribution on parliamentary control of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who no doubt will be interested to hear what he said in 1966.
§ Mr. Heseltine
Will the right hon. Gentleman say when, as Minister, he told the House of the arrangement which he had reached with the French?
§ Mr. Benn
I should have to look to see what reports I made to the House on ministerial discussions, but part of my argument—and the Minister will know this very well—is that in order to gain control of this project it was necessary to establish that there were certain criteria by which it should be judged. This was done in discussions with the French Minister.
§ Mr. Heseltine
But if the argument is that we should have White Papers and full freedom of discussion, would it not have been reasonable that the House should have known what the criteria were so that if the then Government were thinking of cancellation they could have had the advice of the House on whether the criteria should be accepted?
§ Mr. Benn
The Minister should not read into what I say any implication that the Labour Cabinet decided to cancel Concorde. It did not do so at any time. However, it was felt that the British Government should have some capacity—and the French had equal anxieties on this score—to set criteria by which they would judge the implications of the treaty if the development costs rose beyond a certain level. If the Minister is saying that a charge can be made against the Labour Government for secrecy, he will not find me trying to escape my responsibility. I am trying fairly to go back over the history and to re-examine the case for greater publicity.
§ Mr. Heseltine
Am I to understand that the purpose of the right hon. Gentleman's request to send the Bill to a Select Committee is to enable the criteria to be discussed so that the Opposition can consider whether they wish the Concorde project to be cancelled?
§ Mr. Benn
I hope that the Minister will not return to the old question whether 119 one would cancel. The Labour Cabinet never decided to cancel Concorde. If the charge is made that ample statements were not made to the House at the time, I am not disposed to resist it, because the case for more information is strong. But the Minister must also bear in mind —and I do not make this point in any party spirit—that there was never any official statement made at that time that the treaty was unbreakable. It was only when we came to office in 1964 that we discovered, on the best legal advice we would get, that the treaty was, in effect, unbreakable, and we extricated ourselves from that position. I do not regard that as being anything other than a rational way for a Government to control a project to which, apparently, no escalation limit was set under the treaty about which a Conservative Minister boasted as recently as 29th November. I am trying genuinely to throw light on the problem of the control of projects of this magnitude.
I believe—and the House will not be surprised to hear me say this—that our policy of full support for Concorde was right. We wished—and this was why I resented the suggestion that we might wish now to cancel it—to give the aircraft a chance to prove itself.
I turn from that historical record, which I felt I owed the House and which the House was entitled to have, to consider the prospects. In some respects they are very much brighter than they were when we were in charge. First, the aircraft is unquestionably a technical success. The present Minister has not had to live with some of the technical reports available to me, from time to time, which suggested that very difficult problems were still unresolved—as one would have expected at that early stage. The aircraft is the most carefully tested aircraft ever produced, which is a most important factor from the point of view not only of speed but of safety and the advance of aero-technology generally.
Secondly, Concorde is the only supersonic passenger aircraft available in the west. Another anxiety which I had to live with was that the Boeing 2707, which was larger and faster, was, with the American's capacity for production, pressing on Concorde and possibly limiting the period in which we would have 120 the opportunity of selling Concorde to world airlines. Now only the TU144 is left. That is not thought to be a serious competitor in the Western world, and—dare I say it?—it is not thought to be a competitor at all in the Chinese market.
The third reason for optimism is that the Government and the firms have at last undertaken a serious sales campaign. I congratulate the Minister on the active rôle that he has played in promoting an aircraft in which so much public money is invested.
Finally, some orders have been placed —for example, by BOAC and Air France. There is also the Chinese intention to purchase. That was a possibility which I canvassed with the Chinese Minister at Peking when I was there last year. There is also the Iranian order.
It would, however, be foolish not to recognise that there are still serious problems affecting Concorde, which the House must take into account. First, the environmental problems of boom, noise and pollution are serious problems, which have not been fully overcome. I do not mean that technical skill has not been applied in the best way possible, but the environmental problems are not just technical problems; they also relate to the acceptability by the public of certain types of equipment and aircraft.
Secondly, turning to the question of operating economics, the airlines are not all absolutely satisfied about the way in which they would fit Concorde into their fleets, although BOAC has done excellent work in trying to achieve a mixed operating pattern which will make sense.
Thirdly—and I must be candid about this—the cancellation of some options, by Air Canada and United Airlines, has been a disappointment, although we all understand that there are reasons which explain this in a way not altogether unfavourable to Concorde. Fourthly—and this is much the most serious problem—the rate of ordering is below the optimum rate of production.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I refused to rely on my memory in case I got the figures wrong, but I am now able to tell the House that the United Airlines options were six and the Air Canada options 121 were four. Therefore, the total of options cancelled is 10.
§ Mr. Benn
The Minister has denied me the opportunity of giving the figures, but I am grateful to him for intervening as soon as he received the message from the official box.
The rate of ordering bears on the production finance bill and the employment position at Filton and Weybridge, where a dangerous and costly production gap could easily open. The question is: will the orders come in quickly enough to ensure that production takes place at an optimum level?
Therefore, the future is still full of uncertainties. On the question of ordering prospects, at the top end of the sales forecasts we have the companies' estimates, which they have resolutely presented as being between 200 and 250 aircraft, and which—the Minister will not dissent from this—are hopelessly unrealistic. Were they to be accurate, there would be an income of £5,750 million, and that would be full justification of all the expenditure made. However, I hope that the companies' estimates bear a closer relationship to the final outcome than does the present figure of nine.
When it passes the Bill the House must be aware that, at worst, orders might not come forward on the hoped-for scale and we could be left with orders so low that the massive expenditure, both on research and development and on production finance, would not bring a commensurate return, and the aircraft, from that point of view, would therefore not be a success.
I have quoted the figure of £1,700 million which is the total provision made for Anglo-French research, development and production finance. With the magnitude of the sums involved it is not unreasonable to demand a Select Committee to look at the Bill at this stage.
The Estimates Committee looked at the Concorde in 1963–64, as did the Public Accounts Committee in 1966–67—which criticised me as Minister for the secrecy that we had followed—and as did the Expenditure Committee in 1972. Every Committee that has looked at the Concorde has been critical about four matters: the faulty estimating; the 122 apparent lack at different periods of cost control; the contract arrangements and, above all, about the inadequate information made available to the House—
§ Sir Robin Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
In the right hon. Gentleman's suggested procedure can he explain how he would propose getting over the difficulty that without some amendment of Standing Orders he is merely adding an extra stage to the consideration of the Bill—which would be a delaying tactic? I have sympathy with his suggestion but until Standing Orders are amended the report of any Select Committee would have to go to a Standing Committee or a Committee of the whole House.
§ Mr. Benn
I shall come to that in a moment. The right hon. Gentleman is right to ask whether what I am proposing is a delaying tactic which would have adverse effects. It is not, or I should not advocate it. He wonders whether he can support my proposal without endangering the prospects for the Bill or for the aircraft. He need have no anxiety on that score.
I was dealing with the cloak of secrecy which surrounded the aircraft from the outset. I share responsibility for it, though in self-defence I might say that when my right hon. Friends and I were dealing with it there was a competitor, which there is not now.
Many Commons Committees have reported on the Concorde. Let me invite the House to look at some of the comments of the latest one—the Expenditure Committee—in 1972. First, the Committee quoted the Public Accounts Committee in 1969, which gave it as its opinion that when so much public money was at stake Parliament should have been made aware at more frequent intervals of the escalating estimates and slippage in the programme. It appeared to the PAC that…the large increases in cost which have repeatedly proved necessary because of major design changes must throw doubt on the validity of the information on which, at each stage, decisions were based.That is fair criticism. Secondly, the Committee commented:We were not permitted to know the breakdown of future development costs as between the Olympus 593 engine and the remainder of the aircraft…".123 In paragraph 82 of its Report the Committee said:The danger is that assumptions about production costs and sales may be as optimistic as the estimates of development costs made ten years ago.Next the Committee said:We appreciate the problems of agreed confidentiality that arise from our partnership with the French Government in this enterprise and sympathise with the difficulties that have faced British Ministers from time to time. However, Governments cannot be absolved from their duty to the House and we strongly believe that increased openness is in the public interest.The Committee reported that the DTI argued that any disclosure of the component elements of the selling price of Concorde could be damaging to the public interest in so far as it might weaken the hands of the manufacturers in bargaining with the airlines.
In paragraph 86 the Committee reported:In his evidence Sir Robert Marshall was unable to quote a parallel in any other field where national security was not at stake and where Parliament had been denied such information. He said that the information was likely to be withheld for 'a long period of time'.Finally, the Committee came out with its recommendation for at least an annual White Paper.
In quoting those comments I must accept an element of blame, having handled the matter for a period. But this does not acquit us from looking at it in the light of a request for money on the scale proposed.
If I have the words correctly, the Select Committee procedure provides specifically for what I have in mind. According to the Second Clerk Assistant and Clerk of Public Bills:Bills were committed to Select Committees principally in cases where additional information was required for socially or technically complicated situations.This has been done regularly, and I can think of no better description of the Concorde than a matter which is socially and technically complicated.
On 9th February, 1966, the Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Wok ing—said:Half the money involved is not ours but French, but our 50 per cent. share adds up 124 to many millions of pounds. Although we must here believe—and I do believe—in the fundamental soundness of the Concord project, that belief would be still firmer, as would the public's, if the Minister now agreed to take whatever steps are necessary to secure the setting up of a specialist Parliamentary committee to keep this great but expensive venture under strict and public control."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th February, 1966; Vol. 724, c. 494.]
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Cranley Onslow)
That was before the right hon. Gentleman was responsible.
§ Mr. Benn
I agree that that was before I had ministerial responsibility. However, the quotation is as valid six years later as it was when it was first delivered on 9th February of that year.
The proposal that I make is one first put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) and other of my hon. Friends, and it has been adopted as an official motion by the Opposition.
If the House agrees tonight—as I hope it will—to put this matter to a Select Committee, what are the questions the answers to which Parliament and the public are entitled to know? They are simple and legitimate questions. The first is what is the Government's own best estimate about the likelihood of orders for the Concorde, on what basis is the estimate made, and how does it compare with the industry's estimate?
Secondly, by what dates must orders be received to achieve the optimum production flow in terms of cost and employment?
Thirdly, what return on research and development is expected on the basis of what orders when they are received? Is there now any likelihood of any return on the research and development investment?
Fourthly, at what stage are international negotiations about environmental factors which could restrict airline use and what is the Government's policy in the United Kingdom?
Fifthly, what is the best estimate now of the environmental effects of the boom, noise and pollution and what is now known about the effect on the stratosphere?
Sixthly, what are the manpower forecasts of BAC and Rolls-Royce?
125 Seventhly, what contingency plans have the Government in the event of a slowing down or collapse of ordering for alternative projects or work? In my constituency, this is a matter of great and continuing anxiety.
Eighthly, will the money be adequate?
Ninthly, how do the Government see the future of the British aircraft industry, especially BAC's rôle after the Concorde aircraft has been completed?
I read the hon. Gentleman's recent speech, reported in yesterday's Sunday Times, in which he talked about further international collaboration. If so it must be on a better basis than the 1962 treaty. He talked about slimming down to some extent, and there is anxiety on that score too.
These are fair questions to put to the Minister, and the Public might want to ask the Government whether their future concept of the aircraft industry includes plans for a further SST, either Anglo-French or bringing in the Americans as well.
These questions are not hostile, nor is the spirit in which I shall move the motion to set up a Select Committee. We want to put questions to the Minister and the industrialists. We would like independent commentators. I have a feeling in my heart for Mr. Richard Wiggs, although I have been the victim of his attacks for many years—
§ Mr. Benn
I am not after his vote, and it would be a curious view of society if it were suggested that I might be. But it is odd that the only hearing on the Concorde that he has had has been in the New York State Assembly. He has not been heard by a Committee of this House. In addition, there is a strong case for publishing a White Paper.
I come to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir Robin Turton). We promise full cooperation in speeding the Select Committee through its business. Sitting three days a week for three or four weeks, most of the evidence could be gathered by it. If it were referred to a Committee of the whole House once it had gone through the Select Committee, it could be done in half a day or perhaps less, 126 because all the real examination would have gone on in the Select Committee. So far as I was able I would pledge the Opposition not to allow that to be delayed.
Meanwhile, there is no anxiety on the grounds of time because the Second Reading gives the Government the authority to go ahead with some releases of money now. The Industry Act and other funds give the Government the power they need. The Government's problem is not one of time. Let us be candid; it is a reluctance to share the facts more generally within the Department and within Whitehall.
Speaking for myself—I make no apologies for this, although I have been criticised for saying it—I desperately want the Concorde to succeed. Of course I do. It has been built with the finest skills and the greatest dedication, and the people in my own city have played a major part in it. It has great political importance in cutting the world in half and bringing people closer together, and it has created techniques of international co-operation which we shall need in other fields.
But the greatest gain which should have flowed from the Concorde project in giving us experience from which we could have learned in decision making and the control of scientific projects—this greatest lesson of all—has been partly denied us because of the secrecy which has surrounded these decision.
The control of science and large projects requires open government, the right to know, and the accountability of Ministers and industrialists and scientists. Alas, Concorde was started, developed and produced under a cloak of secrecy covering every sort of error of forecasting, which has helped us not at all to learn from the experience of what we have done. So, in supporting the Bill, we are insisting on further information, and I shall advise my hon. Friends to vote for the motion.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
It might assist the House if I made a short statement. Hon. Members will have noticed that we shall be hoping to suspend the rule at Ten o'clock and go on until 11 o'clock. The Front Benches have told me that they would like to take about 40 minutes between them to wind up, which leaves just over 127 two hours for back benchers. If all those are to speak who have intimated to me that they would like to, I must ask them to restrict their remarks to 10 minutes each.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Bristol, North-East)
It is difficult to make in 10 minutes the speech which one has been waiting 2½ years to make. The one thing that I have in common with the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) is that, considering the magnitude of the project, it would have been a good thing if we had had more opportunities to debate it.
I do not support the amendment for reference to a Select Committee. If I may say so without being offensive, there are forces on the Opposition benches that would probably like to register a vote in some way against Concorde without expressing a wish to cancel it, and, in the manner in which the Opposition have become adept in the last few months, they have found a way to put words together which will enable them to vote against anything without that vote being effective.
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Member is most unfair. He knows perfectly well that the Opposition are supporting the Second Reading of the Bill and asking for further information. I cannot allow to go on the record unchallenged the suggestion that this is a way of showing our opposition to the Bill by suggesting that Parliament looks at it. That is not worthy of the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he withdraws it.
§ Mr. Adley
With great respect, my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit), I think, pointed out carefully and conclusively the bogus way in which the arguments are being put forward now by the Opposition for open examination of the project, which was never done during their six years of Government.
There may be an argument against any Government becoming openly involved in the actual marketing and selling of a project of this size. It is not an argument that appeals to me. I have believed with all my heart that if the Government were financing the project it was essential that they should take a positive and active role in its marketing. I should 128 like to add my congratulations to the Minister for the positive and active rôle that he has taken in the last few months in promoting the sales of the Concorde.
The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East referred to Sir Robert Marshall's evidence, and national security. Surely, the difference which we find with Concorde is that it is probably the first time that a non-security project has been handled in the way that the Government are handling it. Of course it is throwing up new problems. The whole problem of Government involvement in the marketing of Government-financed, yet commercially-orientated, projects is entirely new. We must recognise that once we have Government involvement with a commercial project this will give rise to certain conflicts.
There are, of course, commercial rules when one is handling a commercial project, which do not apply to the normal defence or Government project. I have been in business myself for many years. I would find it extremely unhelpful if, halfway through a complicated and major negotiation, someone suddenly told me that I had to expose myself publicly and that my entire negotiating position had to be laid on the table—
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will spare us any further exposure. Will it be a part of future Conservative Government policy to be deeply involved in business? If so, at what point did the party adopt this programme, and when did it place it before the electorate?
§ Mr. Adley
The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been on the record ever since I came to this House as saying that the Government should be involved in the marketing as they were involved in the financing of Concorde. That is nothing over which I hesitate. I know that some of my hon. Friends will not altogether agree with that.
If I have any interest to declare, it is one on behalf of my constituents. Although their jobs may be of little consequence to many people, not necessarily in this House, who would be happy to see the Concorde cancelled, we must consider it not just as a single project but 129 as a project on which the future aerospace industry in this country depends and on which both employment and our export potential will be largely dependent in the years ahead.
The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East mentioned Mr. Wiggs. Concorde has many enemies. Many of them are ill-informed and do not seem to be particularly averse to distortion. I am sure that they must be bitterly disappointed at Concorde's technical success, while no doubt delighting in the occasional cancelled option. But we must recognise—this is one reason why the amendment should be defeated—that every adverse comment about Concorde would be duplicated and placed in front of every official of every major airline with an option on Concorde or with a future intention to purchase. If it is a national project, undertaken in the national interest, it cannot be in the interests of this country to take any action which we know would simply give ammunition to Concorde's enemies.
The argument of Concorde's enemies has changed. First, it was that the aircraft would not fly. Then it was that it would never fly the Atlantic. Now it is that it will never pay. The arguments are similar to those made at the time of the invention of the steam engine. The biography of George and Robert Stephenson by L. T. C. Rolt contains this quotation about the 1830 opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway:It is safe to say that of the many people who travelled from afar to watch the chief actress—the locomotive—play her part in this novel drama, only one in ten wished her a long run. The rest…hoped for, and indeed confidently forecast, her speedy failure. Rumours that the locomotives had not proved as economical as horses, and that the Company was about to abandon them, were circulated so assiduously that years afterwards, writers of railway history would give them fresh currency.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
In quoting that piece of engineering history, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not overlook the fact that these railway projects were often carefully examined by Select Committees of this House.
§ Mr. Adley
The hon. Gentleman, who has much more experience than I have in Parliament, may well be right. I 130 would not seek to argue with him on that point.
Taking the point concerning distortion, many hon. Members will have received a document issued by the Anti-Concorde Project which is entitled "Concorde—10 Years and One Billion Pounds Later". If one is talking about money one cannot help but wonder where the Anti-Concorde Project gets its money from. Whether any of it finds its way to the United Kingdom from Seattle has bothered me. Those people have a vested interest in the failure of the project.
I must offer two or three quotations from this latest publication which arrived last week. Paragraph 4,1. page 30, readsThe widespread operation of the aircraft may, it is believed, cause air pollution.The language is getting a lot more hesitant than it used to be.
To refute that argument I quote from an answer which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gave me last week when I asked him whether he would state in statistical form the measurable smoke emission of certain aircraft. He said:Smoke emissions from the engines of these aircraft, measured in Hartridge smoke units, are as follows:
I hope that effectively kills one myth concerning the smoke emission of Concorde.
approximately Boeing 707 6 Douglas DC8 Boeing 727 13 Boeing 727 (with modified engine) 3 VC10 9 Concorde (production engine) 2"
The second quotation from the Anti-Concorde Project publication is:Concorde is at present noisier than all subsonics in commercial operation.Again, that is untrue.
On the same day my hon. Friend provided me with some further information. I asked him to state the latest measurements of noise at statistically measurable points of fly-over and approach of various aircraft. His answer was:
"Take-Off (Flyover) Approach EPNdB DC8–50 (JT3D) 115 116 DC8–50 (JT3D-3) 115 116 DC8–50 (JT3D-3B) 114 118 Boeing 707—320C 114 120 Concorde 114 115"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th December 1972; Vol. 847, c. 450, 451.]131 In other words, Concorde's noise level on approach was lower than any of the other aircraft.
If one is to base one's evidence against Concorde on the sort of information put out by the Anti-Concorde Project, this is tantamount to giving up the case against Concorde before one starts.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Will the hon. Member not agree that the sort of comparisons in which he has been indulging are very difficult to prove? Would one not be able to satisfy this point more carefully if one were to agree to the proposal of the Select Committee? Will he also agree that since the advisory committee of the Anti-Concorde Project consists of extremely distinguished people it is in order for him to doubt their facts but he should not impute their motives?
§ Mr. Adley
The hon. Gentleman says that these facts are difficult to prove. That does not stop the Anti-Concorde Project making categorical statements. They are making cast-iron statements which according to them are beyond refutation.
I turn to consider Concorde within the context of the British aerospace industry. I do not believe it is sensible or right to isolate the Concorde from that industry. May I consider Concorde, its export potential, and as a utiliser of public funds, alongside two other consumers of public funds which are also exporters although to a very much smaller degree. I shall take the figures, which I have extracted with some care, and which are based on Parliamentary answers, for civil aircraft, the National Coal Board and British Rail.
Aid for the civil aerospace industry for 1962–1971 was £730 million, from which must be deducted the repaid launching aid. During that period the National Coal Board received £702 million and British Rail £3,160 million of public money.
For 1972 the civil aerospace industry received £66 million, the NCB £120 million, excluding the monumental sums added today, and British Rail £123 million.
The exports for the three industries in 1962–71 are as follows: for the civil aerospace industry, £2,176 million ex- 132 ports; the NCB £292 million; British Rail, for the years 1968–71, £3 million. If we take this year, 1972, up to the end of October, civil aerospace exports were £326 million, the National Coal Board £13 million, British Rail £3 million.
§ Mr. Adley
Of course they are as important. Their value to the British economy is the point I am trying to make; the hon. Gentleman has very kindly made it for me. One needs to manufacture modern aircraft if one is going to export civil aerospace equipment. It would be pleasant to think that we could go on manufacturing Viscounts. I do not believe our aerospace equipment manufacturers would get very far if they were to live off an aircraft industry in this country which was not producing aircraft which are technologically in the lead.
Aerospace exports and employees are figures of great importance and potential to this country. Yet the figures for the United States show clearly that if we think we are doing well they, with their massive production of aircraft, are doing much better. I quote from the figures given to me recently in Parliamentary Answers referring to the year 1970. In the United Kingdom 228,000 employees achieved exports of £260 million worth of aerospace equipment. In the United States 783,000 employees exported $3,084 million worth of equipment. Those figures show that making planes means building exports.
What are we doing with Concorde? For the first time we are getting into the big league in exports of aircraft from this country. It would be unfair of me to suggest that one can expect the National Coal Board or British Rail to reach anything like the proportions of exports of the aerospace industry, but someone must carry out the exporting in this country. We must find something to export. The aerospace industry has a vital role to play.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In view of your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I rise to state that the hon. Member has been speaking five minutes over the allotted time.
§ The Deputy Speaker
I cannot rule on that. It is impossible for the Chair to rule for how long speeches will last. It can only pray that they will be brief.
§ Mr. Adley
The Front Benches between them took nearly one hour. I shall try to speak as quickly as I can.
One of the lessons we must learn from Concorde is the lesson of the Brabazon and that of the Comet. The Brabazon was 20 years ahead of its time. We never had the foresight to press ahead with the Jumbo Brabazon then. In the case of the Comet we did nothing like the testing of aircraft which we have been able to do with the Concorde.
The introduction of Concorde will mean that first-class, in aircraft terms, will mean exclusive and fast, while second-class will mean mass, slow travel. We can look forward to the ending of the days when first-class simply means a large supply of free gins.
I am conscious of the time factor but should like to make a point about the rôle of the United States. The Anti-Concorde Project, in a misleading quotation, stated thatThe Americans realised their supersonic transport project was a mistake and cancelled it last year.The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East and I were together in North America. We know that that decision was not taken by people connected with the aerospace industry, because they recognised it was a mistake; it was a political decision forced extremely unwillingly on the aircraft manufacturing industry. To suggest that the United States cancelled its supersonic aircraft because it was thought to be a mistake is a distortion or is made in ignorance.
We would be unwise to think that we are for ever going to find ourselves free of United States competition in the supersonic field. I should not be the least surprised to find that within the next 12 months the Americans have revived their supersonic programme. My hon. Friend the Minister could tell me, hopefully, but I think I am right in saying that the Americans, with their supersonic transport, spent more money without getting one aircraft off the ground than the British and French Governments have spent in 10 years, having reached the 134 production level of 16 aircraft under construction. This is a great achievement.
Those who make Concorde, those who work for the airlines and those who will fly in the aircraft look to us to do everything possible to speed the Bill through Parliament. A Select Committee would simply delay the project and would do nothing helpful for it or for the British taxpayer who pays for it. As The Times said on 28th November:Concorde suffers the loneliness of a pace setter.It is our duty to make sure that she goes as fast as she can.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
The hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) made a speech which will go down very well in his constituency, but I doubt whether it will help a very worried House of Commons because the first thing we have to understand is that hon. Members on both sides of the House are extremely worried about this project. I do not think that the Minister really helped. His speech was a typical example—I do not see what else he could have done, under the circumstances—of a speech designed to convey no information whatever.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has admitted that sometimes in the past he may have done something similar although, perhaps, that was not the right way to handle the House of Commons, and that changes have now got to be made.
I speak not as an opponent of the aerospace industry. Like the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East I agree that it is a very important industry indeed, especially for our exports. Nor am I an inveterate opponent of Concorde. I speak rather as a sceptical agnostic. Most of the information which could change me from an agnostic to a gnostic is unfortunately provided by glossy advertising by public relations firms, whether for or against—and that includes the Government's propaganda, which is of a similar character.
This is not the way in which we should make up our minds. It may be the way for some minor projects or decisions to be taken by the House, but on a great project of this sort, with vast sums of 135 money involved, it is wrong that Members of Parliament should have to make up their minds on the basis of this extremely expensive propaganda especially as there can be no doubt that this propaganda is indirectly paid for by Government.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
I happen to be in public relations, and I rather dislike that sort of remark, especially as the hon. Member must have received the recent article from Flight International, putting forward Concorde economics and showing them as likely to be most beneficial.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I should point out to the hon. Member that one of the most penetrating analyses of Concorde economics is by Peter Masefield in Flight International, and he is not a public relations man but a professional aviator.
§ Mr. Albu
If the hon. Gentleman had not interrupted, he would see that I should have been perfectly fair in the arguments for and against. I have said that I am not against Concorde. But I want to know the facts, and I cannot obtain the facts simply from the glossy public relations material that I receive. It is wrong that we should continue to vote vast sums of money without any attempt in the House of Commons to assess the economics of a project of this sort.
The originator of this project was a very profligate Tory Minister, now in the Foreign Office. He was heavily criticised by the Estimates Committee in 1963–64 and by subsequent Public Accounts Committees. That was at a period when public expenditure got completely out of control, at the end of the Tory Government, I believe in 1964. But public expenditure is now again out of control, in a way that we have not seen for many years previously. When vast sums of money are voted, or put at risk—whatever one likes to call it on this particular project—and when these sums are often subject to no parliamentary scrutiny and 136 involve open-ended subsidies, it seems that the political duty of deciding the priorities of public expenditure, which is our duty in the House of Commons, is made impossible.
That is why the Select Committee on Procedure, 1969–70 recommended new forms of publication of the Estimates, and a new committee to scrutinise them. This Bill does not ostensibly vote any new money; it merely increases the guarantees of loans. Therefore, I come to my first question, which I have already asked the Minister but which, as with many other questions he has been asked, he has carefully dodged. Is this a loan to the BAC or is it a loan to produce Concorde? On what security is the loan based? That makes a great deal of difference to the rates of interest which ought to be charged on such a loan. What is the security for the loan?
Secondly, if it is to be a loan made on the security of the production of Concorde, how soon is it to be repaid? That leads to the question of the period of depreciation of the aircraft on which the the Government have based their repayment. The two are intimately connected.
When we turn to the profitability of the aircraft we are on extremely slippery ground. There is no such thing as cost from the point of view of fixing a price. You do not know what subsidy the Government will provide. When the Minister says that it is up to the company to negotiate the price that it will obtain and the sales and so forth, that is all nonsense. The company must return to the Government and ask them, "Can we accept it at that price? Will you subsidise us if the cost is too high?"
The price is on an extraordinary escalator. Only last year the figure was £13 million, and now we are talking about £23 million. These are figures which we should know something about. We want to know about the elasticity of demand for the aircraft, and whether the difference between £13 million and £23 million makes a difference to the airlines' interest in the aircraft. The estimates which have been made about the profitability of the aircraft must presumably have been made on some guess of the price. But we have only read in the newspapers what that figure might possibly be.
I have read Sir Peter Masefield's article about profitability, Sir Peter argued 137 for the aircraft. Of course, he is a respected member of the airlines, aircraft manufacturing and airports professions. But his arguments were fairly thin. No doubt he could expand them if asked to do so. On the other hand, Mr. Lundberg's argument is put forward in great detail; in such detail that it may confuse hon. Members. Mr. Lundberg comes out against the aircraft.
These are the two most objective studies which I have seen using arguments which come down for and against the profitability of Concorde. But the arguments are circular. The price must depend on the numbers made and sold and those figures must depend on the flight economics. That situation is extremely depressing and confused. As we know, sales are slow and airlines are very reluctant. It seems as if BOAC and Air France have gone along with their Governments, or believe in the prestige value of being the first and possibly the last to fly supersonic. Are they looking for, or have they been given, a Government guarantee in addition to the many guarantees which the manufacturers now have?
It is a question not only of the cost or the balance of the cost and benefit of Concorde but of the effect on the economics of the current subsonic fleets. I have read several very complicated articles about that and I should like to cross-examine some witnesses on the problem. What are the route patterns assumed? Is Concorde, as Mr. Peter Masefield appears to believe, a medium-to long-range aircraft, or is it intended to fly Concorde to Australia? It seems that there is a difference, and such a difference would make a very great difference to the economics of the aircraft.
My right hon. Friend asked about the effect of giving priority to Concorde over other aircraft projects, to which the Expenditure Committee in its sixth report last Session, after a report of its subcommittee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers), drew attention.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East asked about the effects of this aircraft on employment. What will happen, for instance, not if we cancel it but if it gets no orders? It may not be for us to cancel it; it may cancel 138 itself. It is important to know something about this.
My right hon. Friend was attacked because the last Government cancelled the TSR2. We were right to do so. It was another open-ended project for which there were no orders, except a few orders from the RAF which would not have covered the costs.
§ Mr. Albu
I should rather not give way in view of the time, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. I went into the question of the effect of our cancellation on employment. In spite of all the gloomy prognostication, the cancellation of the TSR2 had very little effect on employment in the aircraft industry or anywhere else. We must be careful not to be too gloomy about the possible effect of the run down of the Concorde project.
The House of Commons has a right to make up its mind on these points. It can do so only by the procedure of a Select Committee, as recommended by the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Session. It is not a new procedure. As has been pointed out, it was used throughout the technological revolution of the nineteenth century and right up to quite modern times for many technical non-political subjects. I say "non-political" about this project, because both parties are equally involved. It is a question of the examination of the facts and the effect on the taxpayers and so on.
Select Committees in general operate in a non-partisan spirit. They try to get at the facts, and usually do so successfully. They can operate in secret, if necessary; evidence can be sidelined and not published, if commercial danger would arise from its disclosure. There is a perfectly good safeguard for those who suggest that a Select Committee might act in an unpatriotic way and so prejudice the sales of this aircraft. Why should a Select Committee be unpatriotic, and why should any hon. Member not want to sell an aircraft at a price of £23 million? It is nonsense to suggest so.
If the Government continue to advise their supporters to vote down our proposal for a Select Committee to examine the Bill the Expenditure Committee or the Select Committee on Science and 139 Technology can do the job—but they would take longer and they have other matters to consider. But I hope that one or other will take up the subject if the Government defeat our motion. If they do, they will get a lot of support in the country, judging by the many letters I have received—most of them copies of letters addressed to hon. Members opposite asking them to support reference to a Select Committee. In the interests of open government, I beg the Government to think again before they vote against our proposal to commit the Bill to a Select Committee.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Epping)
I intend to keep my remarks brief, as you have requested, Mr. Speaker, and shall make only two points. The first relates to the question of whether we should go on with the project. We must all be fair about it. There are right hon. and hon. Members on both sides in favour and there are other right hon. and hon. Members on both sides who are against. There always has been such a division of opinion. The second point concerns whether we should send the Bill to a Select Committee.
But before I come to discuss these two questions I want to comment on the news given us by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn)—it was news to me and, I think, to several of my colleagues, as well as to some hon. Members opposite—that the treaty which was once unbreakable now has "break" clauses in it, and those clauses are provided for and are stated in relation to specific objectives throughout the course of the aircraft's career. I hope I have not misinterpreted what the right hon. Gentleman said and that this will be referred to in a good deal more detail in whatever kind of committee we send the Bill to.
First, should we go on with the project? I believe that to most of us the answer must be "Yes", and for several reasons, not least because I doubt whether the world at large would ever again believe that we would carry through such a major technological project. We have, after all, proved the technical competence of the teams; we have proved that we can achieve this kind of 140 objective, even with all the difficulties of the form of co-operation laid down. If, therefore, at this stage, we suddenly said to the world "We have lost interest; we are not terribly impressed by the project, which has become rather difficult and expensive, and we do not think it worth pressing on with, but we have another idea which we want you to consider and place orders for", I do not think we should stand a cat in hell's chance of attracting world interest or support for further projects such as atomic power stations or other very advanced projects. I doubt if anyone would believe our case on even the advance passenger train.
We must also go ahead on grounds of employment. I accept that if the aircraft does not sell there will be employment problems, but it would be an incredible mistake for the House to decide at this stage to put 40,000 men in the industry out of work for producing an aircraft which has worked, which may well yet sell and which I believe will sell.
We must say "Yes" on the ground that the technical development of our aircraft industry requires that we continue with it and that, if Britain is to mean anything to anybody, it must stay in industries which are capable of taking low-cost raw materials and using sheer skill to make them into high-priced exports.
The only industry which carries out this process better than the aircraft industry is the City of London, which manages to run round with small pieces of paper and turn them into money. Sometimes it does it too cleverly, but it is the only other industry which uses so little raw material to create wealth.
We must carry on also because the aircraft is in the main stream of development in the industry. The problems in the operating industry are over-capacity and dilution of revenue. The reverse of the old classic definition of inflation, today the industry suffers from too many seats chasing too much money.
Concorde is the first aircraft since the VC10/707/DC8 era, which began over 12 years ago, which improves the product offered to the customer. It offers a rather small capacity and a high quality product. It is twice as fast as contemporary aircraft. Speed is what sells air 141 transport, not champagne or old Hollywood films or anything else.
The economic case for Concorde has been made clearly in Flight both in Sir Peter Masefield's article in August and in the later one in October.
I correct the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu). There is no conflict between this aircraft being an Atlantic range aeroplane and also an Australian aeroplane. All that one requires of the aeroplane to operate to Australia is that it has Atlantic range if one wants to go that way and it fits fully and completely into both routes.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the 707 is transatlantic and fits extraordinarily well into the route pattern to Australia.
Nobody would suggest that the aircraft does not have to come down anywhere. Indeed, it would pick up singularly few passengers to carry to Australia if it did not come down en route. The pattern of airline travel reveals that an aircraft carries very few passengers all the way at one shot from London to Australia. The whole concept is that for many years the so-called cannonball services with only two or three stops have failed and multi-stop services have been successful. Concorde will not be supersonic for all the way, but it can be supersonic for much of the way, particularly if the route is chosen carefully.
The rôle of speed in air transport is that it attracts premium fares, as it always has. We have found historically that traffic expands as journey times decrease, as British Railways have discovered again recently.
I turn briefly to the question of the Select Committee, because the question of Concorde's economics has been dealt with in an unbiased and reasoned manner many times in public. On the question of the Select Committee, there is a genuine conflict between the needs of the project, the jobs of the men who have been involved with the project for many years, and the rights of the House to discover 142 what exactly is happening to the money it is voting and what the prospects are for the money it is to vote. I think this is a genuine need. I am sure that we need to obtain every single fact that we possibly can about these matters. But while it would undoubtedly be right, it we wanted to decide whether or not to launch such a project, that we should consider seriously a Select Committee procedure, I have my doubts about referring this Bill to a Select Committee at this time.
First, I think there is no doubt that what is said in a Select Committee becomes the property of at least those who are very interested in the matter, and we would be very foolish indeed if we were to think otherwise. Everything that was said would be public property. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is there to hide?"] I have nothing to hide in this matter, but when a project has been constructed in the way that this project has been, and when there are many matters of commercial arrangement between Governments and companies which it would not be in the commercial interest of this project to reveal, we would be very unwise to have a Select Committee on this Bill at this stage.
The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East must feel, as many of us have felt about this project for many years, that it was an act of faith to start it, that it was an act of faith to go on with it, and that acts of faith should not suddenly be subjected to the reasoning of those who oppose the very idea, because they have been built up on the understanding that this type of exposure would not be allowed. Although I would welcome far more intervention by Select Committees in major technical matters where large amounts of money are going to be spent, I would be extremely wary at this stage of taking apart, in public, a project in front of those who want to oppose the project.
§ Mr. E. S. Bishop (Newark)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Select Committees can meet in private and that they can withhold information if they so wish? Indeed, they do so. Surely in those circumstances the fact that some people in this House who are specialists in these matters have been given information would give far more assurance to the 143 rest of the House, who may have to rely on their judgment anyway?
§ Mr. Tebbit
The hon. Gentleman must admit that if a Select Committee of this House came back and said "We have investigated the matter; we think it is terribly secret and we should not tell you about it, but it is a jolly good thing", it would not satisfy any Member of this House who was sceptical about the project in the first place, and I am certain that whatever is done in a Select Committee in order to keep the meeting private, human nature being what it is, part of the story would inevitably come out, which would be worse than the whole story coming out.
I support this Bill, and I would hesitate a long time before sending it to a Select Committee.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. William Rodgers (Stockton-on-Tees)
When I say that I thought that the Minister made a brilliant speech, I mean that he made a speech brilliantly illustrating the need for the sort of Select Committee which my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) proposed originally, and which was proposed tonight by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). The problem in this debate, as we have seen, and as we shall see further before it closes, is that there are many questions to which the House legitimately requires answers, but this sort of forum and the Committee stage to follow simply do not provide the means for the House to discover the information which it would like to have.
I well remember the date on the Consolidated Fund on 16th December last year—the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) was there—when I asked a number of questions about Concorde which, I think it fair to say, hon. Members on both sides regarded as relevant but which, at the end of the debate, the Minister did not answer simply because it was impossible in the circumstances, given the difficulty of obtaining information in the form in which I had asked for it. It was unreasonable of me to expect a detailed reply at that time, but, in the absence of any better forum, that is all that hon. Members can do.
144 The hon. Member for Epping in, as always, an effective and knowledgeable speech, raised the genuine dilemma of the circumstances in which probing by Members of Parliament might produce information which in some way would be indirectly destructive or damaging to the project. But this dilemma is one which the House always faces when it sets up Select Committees to examine projects of this kind. My guess—hon. Members can tell me whether I am wrong—is that the Sixth Report of the Expenditure Committee, from the Sub-Committee on Trade and Industry of which I am Chairman, which looked at the Concorde project, has been welcomed. It has provided some information which the House requires. If that Select Committee could provide information relevant to our discussion, how much more could some other Select Committee appointed explicitly for this purpose do the same.
We found in our Committee—those who read the evidence will see the extent to which the Committee was irritated by it—that there were times when we were not given information for which we asked. This was the case, as my right hon. Friend said, over the Olympus engine. We were not wholly satisfied that our inquiry was allowed to go as far as it might. But, as I say, despite that, it went a long way, and those of us who support the motion for reference to a Select Committee tonight do so not because we are hostile to Concorde but because we consider that more ought to be known.
I shall refer to the report to which I have already alluded, the Sixth Report of the Expenditure Committee. In so far as I quote from it I shall be quoting from a report which is the property of the House, but in so far as I depart from it I shall be expressing my own opinions.
I understand the attitude of Ministers and officials on occasions like this. The Minister wants to get on with things, and officials are apprehensive of unreasonable exposure. No doubt the view is taken that if the request for a Select Committee is successfully resisted tonight the Bill will be through shortly afterwards. However, I think it fair to give a warning, speaking for myself, that if the Select Committee is not conceded I shall wonder after all whether it may 145 be right to divide the House against the Bill as a gesture of dissatisfaction; and if the Bill is then carried and reaches Standing Committee, I shall consider whether it may be right to extend that Committee as long as may be necessary to obtain the information which the House has a right to acquire. Reference to a Select Committee now, therefore, would be not only in the interests of the House but in the interests of the Government, too.
§ Mr. Onslow
As far as I am concerned, there is no disposition to hustle anything through Committee, and there is no justification for seeking to draw that kind of conclusion.
§ Mr. Rodgers
I am delighted with the assurance from the Under-Secretary that we shall have unlimited time to debate the Bill in Committee and that he will be able then to answer all the questions which, no doubt, he will fail to answer this evening.
Whatever happens to the suggestion that we should take the Bill to a Select Committee, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not divide the House on the principle of the Bill. I think that that would be most regrettable. However, I assure him that, if he and I find ourselves on the Standing Committee, he will not be alone in pressing for more information about the project from the Ministers involved.
§ Mr. Rodgers
All I can say now is that I shall give no undertaking about seeking to divide the House but I should certainly not attempt to divide the House if we have an undertaking that the Bill will go to a Select Committee. Nevertheless, I welcome the assurance by the hon. Member that in a Standing Committee he would seek to pursue the matter in detail.
May I quote briefly from parts of the Select Committee Report because that would put more vividly than anything I could say the case for a Select Committee. In paragraph 78 we say:We do not accept that Parliament can abdicate its duty to scrutinise expenditure on Concorde or should mute such criticism as it may consider proper. Nor do we share the view sometimes expressed that announcements of anticipated escalations in cost were better withheld or minimised because they might have 146 frightened Parliament into abandoning the project.We go on then to discuss the need for continuing safeguards for the taxpayer. In paragraph 87 we say, after considering the pricing formula,We accept that our witnesses are anxious that Concorde should be sold at the best price and that they believe that to conceal the pricing formula is to retain a useful bargaining hand.… We judge that the public interest is best served by the facts being known.In paragraph 91 we review what we called the "many lessons" of Concorde, and say:It is our view that there has been inadequate parliamentary control and too little information publicly given.…Continuous and informed parliamentary and public comment is essential to the proper control of future large-scale projects of this kind.I would have thought that, having had time to consider the report, the Government would make a gesture today, such as we asked for in the Committee, and establish a new principle which would be in the interests of controlling public expenditure. A year ago we had a classic example of concealment. In the debate on the Consolidated Fund I pressed urgently and repeatedly that the pricing formula for Concorde should be revealed to the House. The Minister who wound up the debate was put in a difficult and embarrassing position and was unable to give the information. I argued that the information had been given in Paris that very day but he still felt bound to respond that he did not have the agreement either of his Minister or the French to make clear to the House what was by then clear to all others. It was on 22nd December last year that the House was finally given the information in column 393 for HANSARD of that day, information which it was denied seven days before and which had been revealed to a much larger audience less concerned than we were with cost control.
I have one or two questions associated with the price. Will the Minister in winding up confirm that the figure given on 22nd December last year still stands and that the basic price for Concorde in the early sales is £13 million. Will he then say whether this is based on estimates of sales of 150, which is the minimum assessment hitherto maintained, or sales of 100, or sales of 50? Will he make more explicit the remarks of the 147 Minister who opened the debate on how the cost is to be borne if the selling price is based on a larger estimate of sales than is eventually achieved? Will he also tell the House, as he must feel it right to do, what the development levy is? Surely the best safeguard for the Government in seeking to get the best price in selling Concorde is to say that there is an element in every price which is represented by the development levy. If he will tell the House now we shall be better able to see how much is likely to come back, not to take, perhaps, a different view of how large that sum shall be but as a proper safeguard for the taxpayer.
I would also refer to Command Paper No. 4829, the White Paper on public expenditure published a year ago. In paragraph 81 of the Sixth Report of the Select Committee to which I have referred we asked that future projections of expenditure for Concorde should show the difference between development costs and production loans. In Table 2.7 in the White Paper, at page 25, is a series of figures covering the provisional outturn for Concorde for 1970–71 up to the estimate for 1975–76 under the headingAircraft projects & assistance".Will the Minister please spell out how those figures must now be amended in the light of the Bill, and make the division between production loans and development costs for which the subcommittee asked?
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East and my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton said, the concern of many of us about Concorde is twofold. It is, first, that in the long run the only safeguard for the taxpayer in such projects, whether in the aviation industry or elsewhere, is information given to the House which we can debate and upon which we can decide. Secondly, and more narrowly, it may well be that Concorde must be continued to the bitter end, and that the House will be asked at some stage to agree to a further substantial sum of development costs to produce a stretched version. I shall not predict the view the House may then take, but in the meantime we all know—Sir Arnold Hall said it to the Select Committee—that there are many worthy projects in the aircraft industry being 148 held back because of the open-ended commitment to Concorde.
The Government must surely withhold for the time being their agreement to research and development in a number of fields because they, and the Treasury in particular, do not know what Concorde will eventually cost. It may well be that this decision about the allocation of resources within the aircraft industry is right, but we cannot say. We cannot know whether it is right that the Government should put all their eggs virtually in one basket. But it is right that we should be able to debate the issue with information freely available to us.
It has often been said in the House that to question these matters is to knock Concorde. I hope very much that that will not be the view of any further speakers this evening. It is surely possible to be as concerned as others about the project, to hope that it will succeed, and also to say that the House makes its decisions best not in ignorance but with knowledge of the facts.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)
I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers) with great care. He suggests that if there could be a Select Committee on the subject we should somehow have control over the costs of Concorde, and that this would obviously be good for the House and for the way in which we spend taxpayers' money.
But I well remember the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) saying in the RB211 debate that the reason why it was not possible to estimate how much the engine would cost was that his Department did not possess the ability to estimate an advanced technology project of the 211 kind. Therefore, if that statement is true, it seems to me impossible to argue that a Select Committe made up of Members of Parliament would be able to do the jobs suggested for it.
I have read much of the evidence given to the Public Expenditure Committee to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred. I think that he will recall some words of Sir Robert Marshall when he was asked about being accurate on costs, and how their accuracy could be 149 improved. He said—and this is important:What I wanted to say to the Committee in general was that if you are in this kind of business of designing and developing and producing advanced aircraft, whether civil or military, then you are in a very hazardous business and no men who have engaged on it have yet learnt how to do it without burning their fingers from time to time, and sometimes very heavily.It is open to us all to question whether Sir Robert Marshall should have the last word or whether, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees, the House should be the body to have the last word. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Concorde project has been controlled by no fewer than four Governments and by at least seven or eight Ministers. Are we to say that those Governments, their Cabinets and Ministers were unable to scrutinise this project with much more care and specialist knowledge than any of us? Are we to suggest for one moment that they have spent taxpayers' money without asking all the questions which a Select Committee would wish to ask?
I do not hold that view. I believe that they are honourable men of great integrity, and I am convinced that within their power they have done their best to monitor the programme in the hope that the taxpayer was getting value for money.
If that is the case, we come to the question: why, after 10 years, should we suddenly decide that this programme requires a Select Committee to look into it? It is true that tonight we are asking that more money should be made available for the project, and that could be reason enough. But I do not believe that it is reason enough. Concorde has now reached an important moment in its life. As we know, 16 production aircraft are in course of construction. As we also know, the Concorde sales team has gone out, and is going out to likely areas where the aircraft can be sold. It follows that this aircraft, at this moment of time, is going through a crucial phase.
We have to place in balance whether it is more useful for this House to set up a Select Committee to find out how the money has been spent—for we are talking about how the money has been spent and not how it will be spent, since pro- 150 bably the great bulk has already been expended—or whether we should take the view that the British taxpayer now owns a commercial project such as he has never owned before and that, as with all commercial projects which are owned by private enterprise, we should not divulge trade secrets but should accept the integrity of those who manage the project and say that what really matters is that the project called Concorde shall be a commercial success. Furthermore, we should be sure that nothing that we do or wish to do in this House will in any way harm the enormous investment of the British taxpayer in the project and that this should be the paramount consideration in our minds this evening.
Although I agree that in considering any future projects of this kind, we might set up some sort of procedure to monitor the project year by year from its inception, I do not think that we should jeopardise the future of Concorde by asking for the setting up of a Select Committee. Such a proposal would not do very much good to the House, and is likely to be of use only to those who want to knock the project, or wish to work out how the commercial assessments of projects are reached.
§ Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)
Having served on the Select Committee, I should like to ask my hon. Friend why he would be prepared to have a monitoring system through a Select Committee on future projects but not, apparently, on Concorde. Surely the commercial arguments about secrecy, and so on, apply as much to Concorde as they would apply in future. I do not follow my hon. Friend's argument.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
My point is that if we had been monitoring Concorde from its first year—1962—we would have set up procedure which would not have give information at a crucial moment in the projects life. I suspect that if Governments are to go in for essentially commercial projects we shall have to set up a procedure different from the ordinary Select Committee procedure. But now we are at a crucial moment, and the information which might he divulged in a Select Committee could harm the project just when it needed the confidence and support of the House, and when information should not be given to those 151 who might try to seize on it in order to gain commercial advantage.
Two factors are likely to be crucial to the success of the project. The first is the ability of the production aircraft, in service, to come up to the performance specifications laid down for it. If it justifies in service all that it has done when it has been tested, I believe that it has a very bright commercial future. Considered as a businessman's jet, which is surely how we should consider it—it will be the fastest civil aircraft ever made—we must realise that because speed is such a sales asset the aircraft is likely to cream off the first-class and business traffic. That traffic, which is increasing by approximately 10 per cent. a year, will produce considerable returns on our investment as the aircraft gains favour with the airlines.
The second question which I believe to be crucial is whether Concorde will be allowed to operate in the environment in which it was designed or whether environmental obstacles will be thrown across its course to such an extent that it will not be able to overcome them. What I have in mind is the question of noise. When the aircraft was started in 1962 it began with Olympus engines, and it still has Olympus engines. One of the design parameters missing from the design of the Olympus engine was that of quietness. Therefore, the aircraft has an engine which is now 10 years old and which will be 13 or 14 years old when it goes into service. Yet we are coming to the era of large, quiet airliners. If the noise lobby gains too much influence, noise obstacles could be put in the aircraft's way which might damage its sales prospects.
I well remember when the noise certification order was brought to the House during the time of the Labour Administration. It seemed to me a very fair document. It specifically exempted from its noise levels aircraft which had been designed before the order was introduced. Thus, it made a special exemption, for example, of a jumbo jet, because Boeing could not guarantee that its Pratt and Whitney engines would be able to conform to the level laid down in the order. I should like to think that other nations will give to Concorde the same considera- 152 tion that we gave to countries selling in competition with us.
At the moment, Concorde compares very favourably with aircraft like the DC8, the VC10 and the Boeing 707 at subsonic speeds. I believe that that will be the case for the next five years. What worries me is that some nation, pressed on by the noise lobby, will introduce noise levels which will make it impossible for the aircraft to operate sub-sonically in an ordinary civil airport environment. That would be an act of bad faith on the part of all those countries into which the Concorde is likely to operate, especially when, even on the basis of what are recognised to be the optimistic claims of its manufacturers, there are unlikely to be more than 250 Concorde Ones flying in the next 10 years. No one can tell me that 250 Concordes are likely to add very much to the noise problems at airports. So even if we have a mass of quieter aircraft coming in, and even if there are new noise levels, the same leniency and fair play as is shown in our own noise certification order should rule the thoughts of those wishing to introduce such noise levels.
I believe that Concorde One is the start of a family of supersonic aircraft. Britain and France have an enormous lead over any other competitor. As the aircraft goes into service and we learn the lessons that we shall learn from seeing it in service, no doubt we shall find ways of reducing the noise and making the aircraft much more acceptable environmentally. But because of the vast expenditure on it, Concorde One must not be the end of the family. It must be the start—and from Concorde One and its Anglo-French element it is to be hoped that we shall move on to a project which is Anglo-French and American and which will surely be a world beater.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
I hope that the hon. Member for Waltham-stow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) will forgive me if I do not pursue his arguments in detail. We must all make our speeches as briefly as possible in view of the number of hon. Members who wish to intervene in the debate. I intend to say a few words simply because when the treaty was first brought up in 153 this House about 10 years ago it fell to me as my party's Front Bench spokesman on aviation to give the approval of the Opposition to it.
I was a little alarmed when I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) say that the treaty was initiated by a profligate Minister. I want hastily to assure him and others of my hon. Friends that there was no profligacy on the part of their Front Bench spokesman since I stipulated all the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) as safeguards which it was essential to keep in mind when the Concorde project started. The most important one was the financial safeguard. I specified that there should be constant parliamentary supervision of all the financial aspects and that due attention should be paid to all the environmental difficulties which might arise.
I shall not dwell any longer on past history because to some extent perhaps that is past and forgotten—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) laughs. I seem to remember that he had some part in this himself.
However, the Government of that day must carry some criticism for having started a project and given us an estimate of £150 million to £170 million when it has now escalated to over £1,000 million. This shows a certain carelessness in estimating. Indeed, I think that the old maxim res ipsa loquitur—the thing itself speaks—covers the point. The Government of the day must have behaved with carelessness. Whether the word profligacy is the right one to apply I do not know, but certainly it is a matter for some censure.
Although most of us are appalled by the way that the figure has escalated and are unhappy about the lack of parliamentary control, I believe that we ought to get the figures into some sort of proportion. It might help us to consider what other projects have cost. For instance, the Boeing 747, which has been a great success commercially, cost £500 million to develop, without the engine. The VC10 cost £450 million to develop. When one turns to the United States, the figure for the supersonic transport, the Boeing 2707, given to the Senate Committee was £365 million in develop- 154 ment costs, plus £280 million in compensation for cancelled contracts.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that he meant the American DC10, the wide-bodied airliner, and not the British VC10, which cost only a few millions to develop?
§ Mr. Cronin
I am sorry: I may not have enunciated clearly enough. I meant the DC10. The important thing to remember is that the SST cost this astronomical sum of £365 million, plus £280 million, and that the only thing to be shown for this massive expenditure was one solitary mock-up of an aircraft. I understand that that mock-up is to be purchased by a restaurateur and transferred to Las Vegas to be a restaurant. So if some of us feel that we have a poor bargain in spending £1,000 million on these Concorde aircraft, which have had unquestioned success so far, the comparison is a happy one with the profit which may be derived by this restaurateur in Las Vegas for nearly £700 million.
There are obviously serious disadvantages with the Concorde, one of the most obvious of which is the noise. Admittedly, it will fly chiefly over sparsely populated areas and sea routes and will also land chiefly at coastal airports, but at the same time it will cause a great deal of nuisance to some people. It would be nice to have some reassurance that there will be some more intensive research on suppressing the noise of Concorde's engines.
There are now techniques of insulating noise and of using bypasses to reduce the turbulence caused by the effect of the hot jets on the outside cold air. Many techniques can reduce noise and I hope that the Minister will tell us that there will be a big improvement. It is perhaps unfortunate that the Government's concern did not take the shape of serious consideration of intensive research into noise until about 1969. It should have been done much earlier.
One would think that the prospects of marketing Concorde are excellent. I agree that the figure given by the salesmen of 200 to 250 aircraft is outrageously optimistic, but salesmen cannot sell unless they express extreme optimism. This is part of their trade. But I should have thought that about half that figure 155 will be sold. Obviously, the airlines which will fly this aircraft will subject it to intense scrutiny from the point of view of the financial return. The two articles in Flight which have been quoted today show that exhaustive analysis suggests that the financial return will be satisfactory.
The airlines will be anxious not to be inhibited from flying their aircraft by problems of noise causing countries to refuse the over-flight facilities. This is a dangerous question, but it is a matter for negotiation. There seem to be tremendous prospects for flying across the South Atlantic, to Australia and most of all to the Pacific. There seem to be tremendous sales opportunities with the United States, Australia, Japan and China. The immense distances in the Pacific are particularly suitable for Concorde operations. So the sales prospects seem good.
I would accept the suggestion of a Select Committee, but with some reservations. One of the problems is that it would be shutting the stable door not merely after the horse has left but after it has bolted right over the horizon. The sums involved at this stage have escalated so enormously—sums to which we are more or less committed—that the value of a Select Committee would be limited. There is a danger that the Select Committee would not be able to obtain all the information it wanted for the very good reason that the directors of companies involved would not possess all the information required by the Select Committee because so much of it is speculative.
When it got into acute difficulties with the RB211 Rolls-Royce was on the verge of bankruptcy, without its board of directors being aware of the fact. It seems possible that even the most well-informed staff members of Rolls-Royce, BAC and Aerospatiale could not give the Select Committee any information it required because so much of it is of a speculative nature. The important aspect is the question of commercial security. Negotiating contracts, particularly overseas contracts, is a most delicate and sensitive business. It necessitates playing one's cards very close against one's chest.
We want Concorde to be a commercial success. Nothing should be done to 156 jeopardise that, particularly in handing over to prospective buyers, or even to people who wish to prevent the sales taking place, information of a confidential nature.
Although I do not object to the Select Committee, it would be important that, if such a committee took place, there should be the most rigid precautions for ensuring complete security, but with complete privacy for confidential information and certainty that such information would not leak out. It is possible. There is no reason why confidential information in the hands of a Select Committee should leak out any more than confidential information in the hands of a board of directors. With that proviso, a Select Committee would probably go a long way to reassuring the very natural unrest felt on both sides of the House.
Concorde is one of the most thrilling technological projects this country has had up to the present. It is comparable with the Americans having put a man on the moon but very much more helpful in practical terms so far as we know.
§ Mr. Cronin
This is one of the most splendid projects with a great spin-off in this country not only in terms of technical know-how for other industries but in terms of prestige, which could make such a difference to our exports throughout the world in many forms of technology.
I hope that, whether we have a Select Committee or not, the House will continue to support this project and not draw back at this very important and crucial time.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin McLaren (Bristol, North-West)
I find myself agreeing with some of the points made by the hon. Member concerning the possible dangers of holding a Select Committee, with all the publicity involved.
Following what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson), it would in the eyes of the people of the world, who may not know our parliamentary procedure so well, raise a question-mark over the whole project. It might seem as if we had lost confidence in it.
157 If we assume, as hon. Members opposite will be ready to assume, that the figures in 1968 were about right, then it would seem to me, knowing the degree of inflation that has occurred since then, and in view of other factors to which I shall soon be referring, that the figures in the present Bill look to be about right. If they prove to be too high and less needs to be spent we shall all be very pleased. But if a Select Committee were appointed, there would be delay and a good deal of work. I cannot help thinking that ultimately it would come up with much the same figures we see enshrined in the Bill. I should have thought that a Standing Committee would be sufficient.
My special interest in the Bill is that I have several hundred constituents working to make Concorde at Filton, and I have had the opportunity to fly in Concorde. The Bill is very short and simple. The provision in the Industrial Expansion Act 1968 for financial support in connection with the production in the United Kingdom of Concorde has proved insufficient, and the Government now come to Parliament to ask that the figure should he increased, as set out in the Bill. The money is not required for outright grants but as loans or guarantees to commercial banks which have advanced large sums of money on overdraft.
The main reason for these increased sums is the effect of inflation. Ten years have now gone by since the signing of the Anglo-French agreement, and in that period money values have drastically changed. Just as each year, on a smaller scale, the benefit required for an individual retirement pensioner has had to be increased and we now have the £10 Christmas money in addition, so the amount of money needed for the Concorde project turns out to be considerably more than previously expected.
We are not concerned with research and development costs. We are concerned with the mere production costs, the payment for the materials and for the labour required for production of further Concordes, to be sold at about £22 million each. There are other factors besides mere inflation. A longer time, it is now seen, will be needed before the aircraft receives its eventual certificate of airworthiness; a year more than previously expected, so that, as it were, the aircraft will be in the chrysalis for a year more, at 158 higher expense. There is the provision of additional items since the 1962 schedule of costs was drawn up. Most important, there have been changes in the design, particularly of the power plant.
The question we have to consider tonight is whether, on behalf of the taxpayer, we are prepared to foot this large additional financial commitment. We are the guardians of the public purse and we recognise this to be a serious matter. But with all due sense of financial responsibility, my unhesitating answer is "Yes, we must be prepared to vote this additional money".
We have set our hand to the plough and it is far too late now for us to turn back. If we refuse to provide the money, the whole project would have to be abandoned, as the sums involved are far too large for any commercial firm to find without Government help. The huge sums already spent would then be altogether lost.
The questions we have to ask, therefore, are whether it looks now as if the project will be a success, whether it is worth further support, and whether Concorde is a thing that we want. My answer to all those questions is "Yes".
The British have had a long history of pioneering successes in transport. Macadam, from my constituency in Bristol, pioneered the roads. Stephenson invented the locomotive. We developed railways all over the world, and now we are developing—if we are allowed—the advanced passenger train.
We were in the van of the development of the motor car and of the aircraft. Whittle invented the jet engine and now Russell has designed the Concorde, which flies sucessfully at over 1,300 mph. There are doubting Thomases who say "We do not want it." But there always has been, and there always will be, a requirement for faster transport. It is still a long way to Australia, New Zealand, China or Japan. Those are long and tiring journeys by convential aircraft. There is a real demand for quicker and shorter flights.
The industrial lobby complains about noise and smoke and damage to the amenities of life, but much work has been specifically put in to eliminate these problems. Already 15 Concordes have been 159 sold or nearly sold to BOAC, Air France and airlines of Iran and China. We are hoping that other sales may soon be achieved, particularly to Pan-American, Japanese Airlines and Qantas. We can take pride and satisfaction that aerospace exports have just reached a record figure which will be most beneficial to our economy. There are 30,000 workers in Britain who depend for their livelihood on the Concorde project. Many of them are my constituents. This is not a time to hesitate or to become discouraged. It is a time to go forward and for that purpose we should support the Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The Front Bench speeches are to begin at twenty minutes past ten and at least five hon. Members wish to be called. I hope that the hon. Members who catch my eye will bear that in mind.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren). I am the fourth Bristol Member who has contributed to the debate. As a Bristol Member I am a full supporter of Concorde. I have for many years been an advocate of advanced technological projects as being of great value to our country.
The position in Bristol is that to us the Concorde projects means jobs—many jobs. But I find among many Bristol aircraft workers also a certain amount of resentment that we should be so dependent these days because of our special circumstances upon one aircraft project. There is a considerable amount of feeling on those lines among Bristol aircraft workers who need a greater variety of employment.
I do not intend now to advocate Concorde. I support the Bill—the House can take that for granted. I want instead to repeat, because it has not been dealt with for a few minutes now in positive advocacy, the case for having a Select Committee. I suppose that the obvious alternative under the Standing Orders to a Select Committee is a Standing Committee. I have had experience like many other right hon. and hon. Members of Standing Committees and Select Committees. The Standing Committee is about 160 the bluntest instrument for examination of legislation that any legislature could possibly devise. It may nevertheless serve reasonably well when an issue of violent political controversy comes between the parties and where, at the end of the day, it is votes that count. That is the function of the Standing Committee from the point of view of any Government. But when we have a Bill in which scientific, technical, administrative and financial questions predominate, my experience has been that Standing Committees become more or less talking shops. They discuss at great length, it is true, but often simply to obscure the truth rather than otherwise.
The weakness of a Standing Committee is that one cannot call the outside witnesses. One depends upon the Minister who has to take the responsibility for the information that is passed to a Standing Committee. On many occasions in Standing Committees considering a fuel and power Bill, for example, I have itched to have the opportunity of calling before the Committee expert opinion which I know has existed and which has often been in contradiction to the views being relayed to the Committee through the Minister. I say with complete impartiality that that applies to Ministers of all Governments. In other words, it is really impossible in Standing Committee to get at all the facts because, standing between the Committee and the facts, is the Government's majority.
Therefore, when we have a Bill like this one, which is not challenged by the Opposition in principle and which raises issues of intricate expert opinion, the case for the Select Committee procedure is overwhelming. One of the great problems of modern parliaments is to judge soundness and validity in scientific and technical matters where vast public expenditure is involved. It was a relatively easy matter in the 19th century for the House to make up its mind on whether, for example, there should be a loading line for ships, or on rail transport as against road transport. Yet those parliaments used the Select Committee procedure extensively. Today, with much vaster sums of money involved—and although the issues are so complex and so extraordinarily difficult—the House simply uses the clumsy Standing Committee procedure by which to make up its mind. We must have a sharper instrument, and although it is not perfect I 161 regard the Select Committee system as having enormous advantages over other systems.
§ Mr. Palmer
I would prefer a special committee. The existing Select Committees have their own courses to plot. They have other projects to consider. That particularly applies to the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I would prefer there to be a special Select Committee for this Bill. Not only would the House as a whole be reassured if we adopted the Select Committee procedure but so would the public, because a vast number of questions are being asked at this stage about the Concorde, some of them rather difficult to answer, as the Minister demonstrated tonight.
It has been said that the Select Committee procedure would take too long. Rut as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers) said, Standing Committees can also take a tremendous amount of time in some circumstances. My experience of the work of the Select Committee on Science and Technology convinces me that a hard working group of Members could do the work in about three weeks if they were provided with adequate clerical and secretarial assistance. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) made it clear that if a Select Committee were conceded the Opposition would co-operate to the full in getting the work of the committee done with the maximum speed.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) adduced the extraordinary argument against a Select Committee: that Ministers know best. The hon. Gentleman said that there had been so many Ministers explaining Concorde over such a long period that there could be no doubt. Such an argument would have appealed to Charles 1. Indeed, he used precisely that argument; he said, "What the people require is not self-government but good government and my Ministers provide that." Though the hon. Gentleman's argument would have been understood by Charles I, it has not been fashionable in the House for about 300 years.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
My point was that seven or eight Ministers with a technical staff that nobody here could have have had a chance to study the project and that they are therefore.Wore likely to know the realities of the problem than either the hon. Gentleman or 1.
§ Mr. Palmer
Surely the hon. Gentleman does not deny that the final responsibility for public money lies with the House alone. It cannot be anywhere else. That is the whole basis of parliamentary representation.
The third argument, which was advanced by the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbitt), was that if a Select Committee were to probe the matter and ask awkward questions in public—I should prefer to do as much of the work as possible in public—it would be bad for our sales and would lead foreign competitors to suppose that the Concorde was not sound.
The hon. Gentleman was on the Select Committee for Science and Technology in 1969 and 1970 when, against the then Government's advice, it was decided to look into the question of the failures of 500 megawatt generators. Precisely the same argument was used then as is now advanced by the hon. Gentleman against going thoroughly into the Concorde project. Sir Arnold Weinstock argued that he would lose foreign orders if the House of Commons looked into the question of why there had been so much expenditure on large electric generators that had not been particularly successful.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. There are four more hon. Members whom I very much want to call. I must ask that there be no more interruptions.
§ Mr. Palmer
I will conclude, Mr. Speaker. I believe that the arguments advanced by hon. Members opposite, without I thought, a great deal of conviction, against the appointment of a Select Committee are simple to demolish. I think that I have played some small part in demolishing them. I trust that the good sense of the House generally will lead it to accept the procedural motion and that the Bill, after it has been given an unopposed Second Reading, will be referred to a Select Committee.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
We have heard Members from Bristol and hon. Members on both sides with technical expertise. I speak as a Member from an industrial constituency in the north of England, an area which is directly affected by the component manufacturing elements of this programme.
The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) said at the beginning of his speech that it was time to look again at the project. As the project is on the threshold of success, that was a damaging statement to make, as was the speech of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) who even went so far as to suggest that Concorde was perhaps not just the first but the last supersonic airliner that would be created. I believe that by the end of the century we shall probably he flying in space shuttles let alone in supersonic airliners.
It is most important to get into perspective the amount of financing in question, and this my hon. Friends have attempted to do. My lion. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) spoke about the deficits of the National Coal Board, and that was a fitting analogy. It is also fitting to look at the likely expenditure for the development of Maplin Airport. The latest estimate is that £1,000 million is the total cost involved.
The hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) referred to the 2707 programme of Boeings, and in that respect it is worth noting that £250 million was the total expenditure for cancelling the project. So this is certainly not a time to cast doubts on this project.
The doubts which the right hon. Memmer for Bristol, South-East expressed about boom, noise and pollution were inappropriate because in all three areas progress has been made. On the question of boom, the overseas trip of the prototype aircraft showed that it is not nearly so severe a problem as people expected, because 75 per cent. of the intercontinental routes are transoceanic. On the question of noise, the statistics quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East were conclusive that Concorde is no worse than existing airliners. As for pollution, so far as 164 carbon dioxide and water vapour pollution are concerned, these are not to be feared. The only question concerns the effect on nitrogen oxide in the stratosphere, and even this is not now designated as a danger.
What is a danger—and this has caused me most anxiety—is the effect on the British Aircraft Corporation if the project were to be cancelled. BAC has suffered in the last seven years from the cancellation of the TSR2 in the first instance and, on the civil side, the cancellation of the 3–11. Both of these projects could probably have come to profitable fruition. and I hope my hon. Friend will be resolute at this stage.
I come from Bradford, a manufacturing city, and in the area we have Hepworth and Grandage, turbine blade manufacturers, who are the largest outside suppliers of turbine blades to Rolls-Royce. We also have Lucas Aerospace, the country's largest non-American manufacturers of aerospace equipment, whose electrical group in Bradford supplies the main electrical power systems for Concorde as well as for the TU 144, the MRCA and the Harrier. Any weakening of our resolve would have very serious regional development consequences right across the country.
I should like to say a few words about the economics of the airliner. It is a time when traffic growth has been entirely on the vacational, holiday and inclusive tour side of the market. But non-promotional—that is, business—traffic, which represents only a quarter numerically of the traffic, provides 40 per cent. of the revenue. To take the transatlantic route to New York, 30 per cent. of the passengers are business passengers, but they provide 60 per cent. of the revenue.
I am convinced that the arguments put forward by BAC and Sir Peter Masefield on this are absolutely right, that there will be a requirement for premium class specialist travel which will rejuvenate the finances of the scheduled carriers who have been particularly severely hit in recent years. It will also be beneficial at a time when the advance booking charter system will enable them to use their wide-body equipment more readily for the holiday market.
165 I support the Bill. I ask my hon. Friend to keep the amount of finance in perspective. On the question of the Select Committee, my hon. Friends the 166 Members for Bristol, North-East and for Walthamstow. East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) have demolished the arguments of lion. Members opposite.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
In effect, what the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) is saying is that if supersonic passenger transport aircraft go into service they will save a small amount of time for a few passengers. That is all. The rest is mere wind. For that small gain, the entire technological effort of this country is being distorted, social priorities are overridden, and huge sums are spent—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Huge sums are spent which ought to be devoted to the greater good of a much greater number of people. Yet, while millions of pounds are being thrown away on this project, the homeless proliferate on the ground.
For this huge outlay, not only has there been no return but, in my view, there can be no return. Fundamentally, this is why I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends who want the project examined much more closely than could be done in an ordinary Standing Committee. We should then be able to judge whether the arguments put by hon. Members opposite are as well founded as those who utter them sincerely believe them to be. I notice, however, a certain lack of confidence among hon. Members opposite in that they seem reluctant to subject the assertions which they so confidently make to the examination of a Committee which would be able to go into them in detail and find out whether they are supported by the facts.
As for the assertions made by the British Aircraft Corporation, over the eight years during which I have opposed this project outright Press statement after Press statement has been denied by the facts and assertions made have been contradicted. If the board of BAC had issued in a company prospectus the sort of estimates which they have given for this project they would all have been sent 168 down for 20 years, and that would have been lenient.
In 1962 the development costs were estimated at £150 million. We have already spent £670 million—£67 million a year—and now we need at least another £300 million. For what?—so as to continue to use our precious skills on this prestige venture, skills which could be devoted far more widely and sensibly in other ways in the British aerospace industry.
Why was the original figure estimated at £150 million? Was it incredible incompetence or deliberate deceipt? I prefer to use a milder term and call it excessive optimism, but culpable optimism nevertheless. I think it improbable that people skilled enough to build Concorde could have been so wrong about its costs if they were not deliberately careless in their estimating. Probably, they recognised that they were lucky in having a Minister of exceptional gullibility, and they relied upon him to deceive the rest of his ministerial colleagues without realising that he was doing so.
Deliberate misinformation has characterised the project throughout the whole of its history. First, there was the pretence that overland supersonic flight would be accepted. Second, there was the pretence that that assumption had not been made. Now, we have the pretence that Concorde will still sell in spite of being able to fly supersonically on very few overland routes.
The current false assumption is that only white urban populations will object to having their wits banged out of them, an assumption which, as the much maligned Richard Wiggs points out, is as disreputable as it is mistaken. Another persistent lie about Concorde has been the one about its subsonic noise. Ministers have recklessly passed on to the House the idea that Concorde with its new engines will be quiet, oblivious of the fact that the manufacturers themselves admit that the landing noise of even the new quieter model will be about 20 times as great as that of TriStar. Here is misuse of endeavour. The Tri-Star is an aircraft using a splendid British engine, and greater concentration upon the production of that engine would be far better than misappropriating funds for reckless use upon Concorde.
§ Mr. Michael Heseltine
The hon. Gentleman should be aware of the sort of effect which the points he is making have upon those who have to sell the Concorde project. He knows very well that no Minister has made any statement of that sort. Ministers have said repeatedly that Concorde will create noise of the order of the DC8, the VCIO or the Boeing 707, aircraft which in far larger numbers are already flying in and out of airports in the Western world. One of the arguments against the Select Committee is that the people who travel around the world do not repeat the ministerial statements, they repeat the sort of rubbish that the lion. Member is now talking.
§ Mr. Jenkins
If what I am saying is rubbish the Select Committee will prove it so and I therefore expect the Minister to give way on this point. He is admitting that I am right. He knows that the VCIO is 20 times noisier than TriStar. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The Minister knows that Concorde is of the same order but rather worse than the noisiest aircraft now landing. That is admitted by the British manufacturers. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Jenkins
Yes, let us have the Select Committee and then we shall find out the truth. In Standing Committee we shall be bandying about the arguments that we are putting forward here. Assertions will be made on both sides and there will be no opportunity of deciding who is right.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I am not proved wrong by the simple assertions of Conservative Members. If the hon. Member believes me to be wrong, let him put it to the test. This is why we must vote on this issue tonight and send the Bill to a Select Committee.
§ Mr. Heseltine
The manufacturers have to enter into sales contracts and give 170 guarantees about all the factors that the hon. Member has mentioned. The guarantees have to be met.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Indeed, but so far only France and Britain have placed firm orders, and to repeat what was said on one famous occasion:Well, they would, wouldn't them?The Minister and his colleagues have made sure that France and Britain will place firm orders, but there have been cancellations from very important airlines, and whether other options will be taken up and translated into firm orders remains to be seen.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I want a sensibly-directed British aerospace industry and not its misdirection into what I believe to be a wrongly conceived prestige project. I realise that this places Members with constituency interests who are committed to the project in very great difficulty. Throughout the time that I have opposed the project since 1964, Minister after Minister has said that he did not think it a very good idea, but it had been started and was on its way and could not be stopped. They could not stop in 1964, 1966 or 1968. All the time the costs have escalated, the environmental lobby has grown stronger, and the credibility of Concorde has evaporated.
In the interests of saving time I shall abandon the test of what I intended to say. There may be an opportunity for me to say it in Standing Committee, but I would much prefer to have the opportunity of hearing other people say it in Select Committee.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)
The Bill concerns a great deal of money, and we are 10 days short of the tenth anniversary on which this project was first debated—in the Christmas Adjournment debate in 1962. My hon. Friend the Minister a moment ago contrasted ministerial statements on the one hand with rubbish on the other. Just so that we can keep a sense of balance about this it is useful to reflect on the ministerial statement of 10 years ago.
171 When people said that the figure of £150 to £170 million might be a bit on the low side in view of experience of escalation of such costs, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) then a junior Minister, saidWe have certainly provided a margin … in our estimates for unforeseen problems and the consequent tendency for initial cost estimates to be exceeded."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1962; Vol. 669, c. 1653.]The whole experience of the 10 years has been that in this important respect the margin allowed for escalation was soon overtaken on a vast and almost unprecedented scale.
Now that the House stands at a point where the development costs and the development undertaking are coming to an end, and we move into a new situation where we are assessing the commercial prospects, we are in a much more businesslike and commercial sense than we were 10 years ago. We are no longer quite as preoccupied with the research and development. It is inevitable that the House will want to be more intimately informed on the progress of the project. All the evidence we have been able to cull from either the Expenditure Cornmittee—here I pay tribute to the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers)—or from the Public Accounts Committee has suggested that whenever the House is brought to face with the implications, the realities and the consequences of the Concorde project it is not entirely satisfied. Why should we be surprised, for we are moving into an area of high technology, a high technology that all too often presumes to have privileges that make it immune from popular pressures and mundane analysis?
These are the observations that have been made in many other countries, the kind of observations that led the late President Eisenhower, for example, to beware of a developing technological caste within the United States society. These views are by no means confined to people like President Eisenhower, coming from the political right, or Professor Jewkes of the Industrial Policy Group, who made a recent speech making exactly the same point. These are the issues where there are vast expenditures of public funds which receive nothing 172 like the proper and suitable scrutiny. These views are also echoed from the Left.
We, as a self-respecting House of Commons, must ask ourselves how, in the interests of the project itself, we can proceed on a more satisfactory basis than hitherto.
Many of the points I should like to make and many of the questions I should like to ask in a Second Reading debate are inappropriate at this time of the evening. Therefore, I hope that I shall have the opportunity to make them in Standing Committee.
I want to ask only one question. There is no doubt that the sales of Concorde have been somewhat disappointing. There must be anxiety to see further sales emanating from our prospective partners within the European Community, and particularly from Lufthansa. What is the Government's thinking on the whole question? To what extent will the prospect of sales to Lufthansa, with its eye on the North American route, be enhanced if we have a sonic boom corridor running across the less populated parts of Scotland? Then we touch on an issue that goes to the very heart of politics in this country. It is a subject that must be ventilated and discussed. Such decisions cannot be taken behind the backs of the British public. We do no credit to Concorde if we delude ourselves into thinking that we can. I know that it would not be the wish of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that we should.
With those remarks—and I hope I have been commendably brief—I conclude.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)
I am the fifth hon. Member from Bristol to speak. I hope that I shall be the briefest by far.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, in which I wish to express my support for Concorde. Some of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), whilst he has a perfect right to make them, are not helpful, because it is true that, as the Minister says, these are the things that are repeated abroad, and not the detailed statements which are made.
173 But the aircraft's prospects are good. As we are physically near Europe—I say "physically" only—we tend to think that the world has far more land surface than it has. The oceans of the world cover 70 per cent. of its surface. The western hemisphere is 90 per cent. covered by water, and this gives tremendous potential for this aircraft in long-distance flight at supersonic speeds. Since there is so much water and so little land over which to fly, this will overcome many of the problems to which reference has been made.
I wish to deal with one aspect which was emphasised by the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit); namely, the question of the employment that is tied up in this project. The employment position in the Bristol area is not a good one. In fact, it is at its worst since the end of the last war. For the first time the prospects for employment and worries about unemployment are serious matters in the minds of the Bristol people. The whole prosperity of Bristol and the surrounding areas of South Gloucestershire and, to some extent North Somerset is to a great extent tied up with the prosperity of the aircraft industry. There are tens of thousands of workers employed in the industry either directly, or indirectly on sub-contract work in manufacturing components, and so on. In particular, these people are employed on work associated with the Concorde aircraft on the airframe side of the British Aircraft Corporation, or on engine development and production for Rolls-Royce. It is true to say that in Bristol nearly 30,000 people are employed either directly or indirectly on this project, and throughout the country as a whole the figure approaches 250,000 people. These are very large figures indeed.
We must remember that these are highly skilled people. They are the sort of people to whom we must look in terms of any sort of industrial future for this country, because it is only in these industries that there is a high percentage of skill involved. These are the personnel we shall need if we wish to compete and prosper in competition with companies abroad.
Bristol has already sacrificed a tremendous amount of potential development and expansion to the development areas. There has been a great steering away of 174 industry from Bristol. We do not complain about this because we know about the grave needs in other parts of the country. For example, the ICI site at Severn-side has been developed to only a fraction of its full capacity because ICI has been induced to go to other parts of the country attracted by the financial incentives offered there because of the unemployment situation. We accept this situation, hut the Government must bear in mind that we are dependent on the Concorde project and if anything happens to it a very serious situation will occur. If the prosperity of Bristol is damaged, in my view the prosperity of the South-West will also be undermined because unemployment in the South-West is high and average wages are low.
If there were any likelihood of this project failing, this would lead to a shift of the centre of gravity and of economic activity away from the South-West. We are talking about a matter which is of key importance to the whole region.
I see one very great advantage in the proposal to send this Bill to a Select Committee. Such a committee would be able to discuss with workers in the industry the conditions relating to this project. It would be able to speak not only to management but to the people who work on the shop floor and in the various offices. These people have a great pride and confidence in the Concorde project, but they complain that there is a lack of information. They complain particularly about management changes which are not properly explained to them, and also about a lack of rapport and full understanding of any decisions that are taken. It would be a tremendous boost to morale in my area if the people there could be enabled to speak directly to members of this House through a Select Committee. For this reason alone—namely, that people could have direct access to Members of Parliament when they find it extremely difficult to have any official contact with the Government —I support the proposal that the Bill should go before a Select Committee.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Mr. E. S. Bishop (Newark)
I cannot claim to be a Bristol Member, although I lived in Bristol for many years, but I can claim to have worked on Concorde in Bristol for a short time. Indeed, I 175 was engaged in the aircraft industry for many years before I became a Member. However, this is not merely a Bristol matter, because the Concorde project affects thousands of firms throughout the country and in almost all our constituencies. The debate is not merely about Concorde but about the basis of the British aircraft industry and its future. I think that most of the important aspects of Concorde have been discussed. The isues which concern hon. Members most include the enormous cost of the project, noise, the environmental problems, doubts about sales, fare and tariff considerations, potential users and the possible alternatives if we do not proceed with the venture.
It is unusual for the House to discuss aerospace matters at length. The opportunities for this kind of debate are all too rare. That is one reason why there is so much uneasiness in the House on these all too infrequent but nevertheless important occasions. I last stood at this Dispatch Box discussing aerospace matters at 2.30 a.m. last Thursday when we debated the question of the Civil Aviation Authority, which was raised by a back-bench Member opposite, otherwise there would have been no debate on the authority which was set up last April. I initiated a debate on the Consolidated Fund in the early hours of the morning on 16th December last. The Government would do well to provide more time for debates on these matters, even if they cannot tonight accept our recommendation about a Select Committee.
The British people have an aerospace, aircraft and engine industry of which they can be proud. Its products have been notable in both world wars and since. The industry employs about 250,000 people and many thousands of workers in the subcontracting industries and other firms supplying the needs and services for the aircraft industry. The aerospace industries have helped our balance of payments to a considerable degree. Recently the Minister told us that in the first 10 months of this year aerospace exports were a record £339 million, and it has been estimated that by the 1980s — in less than 10 years—Western Europe will spend about £1,400 million annually on civil aviation projects. That illustrates the scope and potential we can expect, 176 provided that we maintain the basis of a strong British aerospace industry.
The aerospace industry has made a substantial contribution to the national economy. The prospects are encouraging in many ways, although there are areas in which we have been critical about possible shortcomings. But all this applies only if we stay in the aerospace business. There may be some people, perhaps in the House, who take the view that Britain has no need for an aerospace industry and that we can buy American aircraft, which probably would be cheaper, because they are financed from military budgets with the potential of selling to the many American airlines.
However, we in this country have a first-rate record in design and production, and if we are to ensure the work and future prosperity of thousands of workers here we must make sure that their skills and experience are used in order to proceed with the projects with which we are concerned tonight. Concorde and th,. RB211 of Rolls-Royce are the basis of our industrial prosperity in aerospace.
Suppose we do not proceed with the project. Are we to say that our designers are no longer to use their skills, that the technicians have no future work to do in research, that the manual workers need pot fashion exciting projects such as Concorde? Are we no longer to break into the new era with projects which excite and lead world interest? Britain must not only have an aircraft industry but must specialise in those aspects where British skill is paramount. In the Concorde we have a project which is giving a lead at present. We are passing through an era when technical progress is being made in many other ways—
§ Mr. Bishop
Technical progress is being made in transport, shipping of enormous tonnage, nuclear power, the advanced passenger train, housing and much more. Clearly, there will not be sufficient resources for all the demands unless we decide our priorities.
§ Mr. Bishop
I shall refer to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member 177 for the Western Isles (Mr. Donald Stewart) in a few moments.
We must co-operate with European countries as well, either inside or outside the Common Market—and we have the choice of either—-in order to share the resources. With the experience gained in that respect with the Concorde, in the years to come we shall have to make progress with the aspects of transport which will provide for our needs.
The aerospace industry has its special problems, as anyone who has worked in it and Ministers know. They are problems which are caused by technical success. The period of gestation of an aircraft is about 10 years, and giving birth to any aircraft is a very painful process—
§ Mr. Bishop
In 10 years a great deal of change will take place. A great deal of research and development will be achieved. There will be new ideas. New progress will be gained. The point is whether we embody these modifications to have the latest version and to have the technical superiority that we need or whether we say that we will take the project without these refinements. So costs escalate and the budget goes up. What is more, the programme is often delayed. However in the Concorde we have a project which has met all the technical specifications anticipated at the beginning, and it is on time.
The debate has been largely about not whether we should give a Second Reading to the Bill but whether we should refer it to a Select Committee for further deep consideration. The 1962 agreement on the Concorde provided that there should be a Standing Committee of officials from both countries tosupervise the progress of the work and report to the Governments and propose the necessary measures to ensure the carrying out of the programme.The Concorde Directing Committee is rather like a board of directors and the chairmanship alternates between the two countries each year. It is composed of senior officials with other non-Concorde responsibilities, and it has the support of another body which is closely and continuously in touch with the project. It is known as the Concorde Management Board, and a number of working groups with officials of both countries dealing 178 with a wide range of technical matters —operational, commercial and so on—report to it.
There are a number of co-ordinating bodies from director level downwards, and it has been stated that, compared with other collaborative projects such as the Jaguar which have been undertaken since between Britain and France and other countries, the Concorde project organisation is more diffuse and that if we were starting again a different structure might be adopted. Certainly that is the opinion of Philip Jones, the director-general of the Concorde Division of the DTI. Mr. Jones has also reminded us that the Concorde was one of the earliest ventures in collaboration. It was started at a time when British and French industries had very little experience of working together.
Therefore, there is a clear case for recognising that the rather involved structure of collaboration on the technical, operating and commercial fronts between the two countries lacks the vital link of parliamentary accountability. This is the answer to the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson), who claimed that Ministers and officials could well look after all the details of this great enterprise and that we could leave it to them. It is very important that this House should be responsible for all the money which it votes for use in various endeavours. I thought that the most fatuous comment in the debate—I am sorry to have to say this in his absence—was made by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren), when he said that this sum of £350 million looked to him about right. If any member of a board of directors said that that kind of money could be spent without further inquiry one would have real cause for concern.
The real basis of parliamentary democracy is that Parliament shall know the facts first of all on which to base decisions. Although the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit) said that he felt that there should be very close investigation of our spending on these projects, he did not think that a Select Committee was the right way. If that is so, then there is no other means of finding out the facts which the House needs.
§ Mr. Tebbit
It is not that I think that the Select Committee is necessarily the wrong format for this sort of inquiry but rather that I think that, having had this project managed so far in an air of secrecy under both Governments, it would be unwise at the moment, when commercial contracts are being negotiated, to start unravelling everything in public bit by bit so that those who are opposed to the project could make difficulties for the contract negotiators.
§ Mr. Bishop
I am afraid that I cannot accept that. I believe that the friends of Concorde here tonight are my hon. Friends, who, by asking for more and full information, can satisfy the world that what it is getting is something which is not only technically superior but able to stand up financially as well.
This sort of thing has been done by Select Committees. I was a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology when it was looking into the Torrey Canyon disaster. At the time that we were doing that very fully—technically, commercially, financially and legally as well—a court was sitting to hear claims against those who might have been responsible for the disaster. But that did not prevent the Committee from getting the information which we needed in secret session, and ensuring that there was no reference to it in the published version of the proceedings.
What my hon. Friends are saying tonight is that we can say to the world that we have people here who are technically competent to know the facts, who can get all the facts and who can satisfy the House generally that what we are achieving financially is at least equal to what we are achieving technically. If we can say that, we can take pride in the financial costings in the same way as we can on the technical level.
Fears have been expressed about noise levels. As the Minister said, much of the selective comment can be used against this project and against our interests generally. Noise and other environmental problems are, of course, of major concern if potential customers are not to be put off. That applies to passengers as well.
It was in 1962, 10 years ago, that the manufacturers accepted the requirement 180 that Concorde should not be any noisier than existing subsonic aircraft, such as the Boeing 707, the DC8 and the VC10. A weight increase was negotiated, and this was important because it meant that higher power was needed for takeoff and so on. SNECMA undertook to provide a suppression scheme, and the sideline noise problem has been largely tackled. It can be claimed that Concorde can now enter service within the noise limits.
However, this is not as satisfactory as it may seem. Since then, of course, subsonic aircraft have become less noisy, and the noise limits are now more closely defined, so that the noise requirements of 1962 are set against the quietness of such aircraft as the TriStar with the RB211, which has very impressive quietness levels.
Having heard how quiet aircraft can be, the public have a right to expect Concorde and other aircraft—subsonic as well—to meet those lower noise levels. I have heard the contrast between Concorde and the DC8, the Boeing 707 and the VC10, and the facts support the assertion that Concorde is no noisier. But that does not encourage the Government to sit back and say "All is well because Concorde is no worse than the rest". Immediately after take-off Concorde will hold half its power in reserve to minimise airport noise levels.
Another factor of importance is not the level of noise but the extent to which noise is heard. I would have thought that the continuous drone of many subsonic aircraft could be more of a nuisance to the public than a few passings-over by Concorde. It is not likely that SST aircraft will be used in such numbers as subsonic aircraft for many years to come. Concorde has achieved noise limitation requirements as laid down in the 1962 agreement.
There is still an enormous amount of work to be done. The public have a right to expect greater progress in noise reduction. I hope the Government will not only insist on improvements for Concorde but will demand that the noise levels are lowered for other aircraft.
With Concorde the Government and manufacturers on both sides of the channel now have the task of convincing 181 the public and possible buyers that the aircraft, which will cost about £1,000 million before the return on any money invested is seen, complies with the exacting demands which have been laid down.
The public in Britain and France have been paying about £1 million per week. This figure, which seems extraordinarily high, has to be set against the figure of over £8 million per week for unemployment and social security benefits which are necessary when unemployment occurs.
We must recognise the technical and social value of Concorde by the enormous amount of work which this project brings not only to those who work directly on it but to thousands of suppliers. The amount of work is enormous. It is estimated that 26,000 people are employed in Britain and the same number in France on this project. Despite that, there are some fears about the future of jobs in Bristol, Weybridge and elsewhere, with possible variations in the programme. The project brings work to many areas of the country. In my constituency there is the ball-bearing industry in Newark and a whole range of products, of tyres, hydraulics, bearings and many other resources which are used in many parts of the country to provide the things which the Concorde needs.
As the project continues successfully, as we anticipate, the need for more cash will become apparent whatever the commercial returns will be. As time goes on the public will be more and more critical about those demands unless Parliament, through a Select Committee or another independently-minded body outside Government influence, checks the demands and satisfies the public and Parliament of their justification.
There is no need for me to repeat some of the quotations from the Sixth Report of the Select Committee on Expenditure. I believe that a great deal of evidence has been given by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers), Chairman of that Committee, and others, regarding Concorde. The report says clearly that a Select Committee is the only way to deal with this problem. One hon. Member quoted Sir Robert Marshall, who said that he was unable to give a parallel in any other field where national security 182 was at stake and where Parliament had been denied such information.
When hon. Members ask why we need to be satisfied on this I think we should answer that anyone in receipt of public money has to be accountable for it. People applying for rent or rate rebates have to satisfy the authorities by filling in questionnaires. If people wish to avail themselves of social security benefits they have to do the same.
In many of our nationalised industries there are consumers' committees connected with gas, electricity and other boards, where the public have some say and can put the accounts to scrutiny. For the other nationalised industries there is the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries where persons can be questioned as to the way in which they spend their money. The case of a Select Committee is very strong.
Finally, the House and the country will support the continuation of spending on Concorde provided that they are satisfied that the project is under careful and continuous scrutiny. If the Government consider that a consumer watchdog is necessary to watch price variations on cabbages and cars, cradles and coffins, a Select Committee would be an appropriate watchdog to watch spending on Concorde.
As we end the debate, I am sure that the House has great faith and reason to be confident that Concorde can meet the demands placed on it, but it will get the future it deserves only if we can satisfy the country and the world on not only the technical aspects but the financial aspects.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Cranley Onslow)
This is the first opportunity I have had to confront the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) across the Dispatch Box. I have travelled around the world with him and I know his affection for and expertise in the industry. I commend him for the balance and good sense of much of what he has said—not all, but enough. I hope very much that that will be noted on the benches behind him. Unfortunately, time does not permit me to pass more compliments than that, because I have at once to turn to the more serious matter of the 183 right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn).
The right hon. Member for Bristol. South-East, made a truly remarkable speech. There seemed to be two elements of it which deserved special comment The first was his revelations about the events of 1969, and the second was his arguments in favour of a Select Committee.
On the first element, I heard the right hon. Gentleman, somewhat to my surprise, complain that secrecy has cloaked Concorde ever since its inception. Shortly after that, the right hon. Gentleman said that in September 1968 the then Government, of which he was an ornament, thought it necessary to renegotiate the treaty with the French. He continued further to say that freedom of action had effectively been restored to Governments of this country since 1969. I hope that I am not doing an injustice to the right hon. Gentleman in my summary.
I have no recollection that this fact was ever conveyed to the House at the time. When the right hon. Gentleman was asked if he would say whether it was, his memory failed him. I find that strange. I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman has been entirely frank even in what he has told the House, because he referred to some criteria, which he did not spell out, and I wonder whether it might not be that some of these criteria ceased to be effective conditions of the contract before his Government were defeated at the General Election in 1970.
The right hon. Gentleman stood there in his white sheet and said that he must accept some blame. He might well say that. He was kind enough to add a little spice to his remarks by quoting something I said on 9th February 1966, and he was generous enough to remind the House that the Public Accounts Committee, a body for which Ministers have some natural respect, had condemned the Government for secrecy in its 1966–67 report. It was good of the right hon. Gentleman to volunteer that information.
I should like to ask, however: what sort of repentance is this, to remind the House that he had been adjured by myself and others to give us more facts, to remind the House that he had been casti- 184 gated by the Public Accounts Committee for the excessive secrecy with which his Government had approached this project, and then to tell us three or four years later of what happened in September 1968? I find this extraordinary. It seems to be the merest opportunism in a man to say one thing when in office and another when he is out of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is not the first time that the right hon. Gentleman and I have crossed swords. I hope that he still remembers what I had to say to him at the time of the Beagle affair. I say to him now that what I have to say tonight seems to bear repetition of the Beagle remarks about a hundred-fold.
If I may interpolate on the question of the White Paper—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."]—the right hon. Gentleman said that he had been pressing for a White Paper. He has a short memory. We know that. Naturally enough, he has forgotten what he told the House on 26th January 1970. On 26th January 1970—[Interruption.] I know that right hon. and hon. Members do not like this, but if they make the kind of extravagant and opportunist accusations which they have been making this evening they must expect to be answered. If they want to know why their party has done so consistently badly each time it has put a candidate before the public, they might care to think that the reason could be that they behave in this cynical and reckless way when placed in a position where the public expect to be able to place trust in them.
The right hon. Member for Bristol. South-East will remember that he said on 26th January 1970:In practice, until we get to the point at which orders are forthcoming, it may not be possible to give firm estimates about the future of the project because in the end it will be decided in the market place.But he prefaced that remark by saying:We have published quite a lot of information".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th January 1970 Vol. 794, c. 993–4.]But he did not. So far as I and the House know, he had not revealed the information which he revealed this evening about what happened in September 1968.
The right hon. Gentleman's second main point concerned the committal of the Bill to a Select Committee. Other 185 hon. Members joined him in that, some advancing the same reason and some another. I will return to them later. But in farewell to the right hon. Gentleman I am amazed at his affrontery. He said in his opening that the whole history of Concorde justifies the view that this is the moment when we should look at it again in greater detail. But this is not the time. If ever there was such a time it was three or four years ago when the House was denied the opportunity and he is the man who denied it to us. [Interruption.]
Since it is a matter of such pain to the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues that I should speak so frankly, I will leave the matter and turn to other hon. Members who took part in the debate. There has been some complaint about the inadequacy of answers which time permits to be given to hon. Members who spoke in the debate, so I will try to answer some of the questions raised. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) asked about BOAC. I do not propose to go over the points again that were made in the BOAC order because they were fully explained to the House by my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace in May when he made his statement on the capital structure of the British Airways Board and its financial objectives. [HON. MEMBERS: "0h."] If hon. Members dispute that, I refer them to HANSARD for 25th May 1972, column 1646, where they will find the statement fully set out.
If the hon. Member for Edmonton is confused between the figures of £13 million and £23 million, then I point out to him that the cost of spares and associated equipment may be the reason why he has hit upon the larger figure. On the hon. Gentleman's second point about the security for loans, these loans are to be made to BOAC and Rolls-Royce and I can assure him that appropriate arrangements about security are being made.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks) and the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) in particular expressed anxiety about employment. Perhaps it would help if I quoted the exact figures of those employed in the Concorde project at this time. There is a total of 24,000. There are 9,800 working on the airframe in BAC and 3,700 working for sub-contractors. There are 186 6,400 employed on the engine work for Rolls-Royce and 3,800 working for subcontractors. Woking is not so far from Weybridge, and I know of the anxieties among the men who work on this great project. I accept that there is unease, but there was every reason to hope that these figures would tend to increase as production built up.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) asked about Lufthansa. We hope very much that it will order Concorde, for which it already has options. On the question of supersonic overflying, as we have said before we shall announce our decision in good time before Concorde enters service.
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers) asked about the price paid by the first three option holders, BOAC, Air France and, potentially, Pan-American. The price for their initial orders will be based on the £13 million at the price levels of 1971. The final price will also take account of any special requirements of those airlines and the effects of cost-inflation since 1971.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of the recommendation of the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee that in future the public expenditure figures should distinguish between Concorde development and production. I was aware of this recommendation and have given careful study to the report. The Government propose to reply to it, and I ask the House to await the terms of the reply. But I can tell the House that I have considerable sympathy with this recommendation and believe that in future this should be done.
The hon. Gentleman asked certain questions to which he really already knows the answers. He pressed the point about sales forecasts and the exact amount of the development levy. He did not tell us, although he must remember, that he has already sought this information and been denied it. The facts were set out fully, as he knows, in the report of his own Sub-Committee and the appendices to it which contain the evidence. I am not seeking to anticipate the departmental reply, but hearing him again on the subject I am left with the impression that there is a gulf here between himself and the Government which it is not possible to bridge.
§ Mr. Onslow
Once again the hon. Gentleman ignores the replies he has received to questions he has asked. Perhaps it would help the House if I said that I am not accusing him of knocking Concorde in returning to these accusations, but I believe that in some way he himself seems so obsessed with parliamentary control and frustrated by lack of responsibility that it makes him blind to the realities of the market.
§ Mr. Rodgers
The hon. Gentleman will know that the report to which he refers is a report of the Expenditure Committee—all of that Committee. Is he saying that first the Sub-Committee and then the Expenditure Committee itself were impudent in asking these questions and making a report?
§ Mr. Onslow
I am not saying either of those things. I am saying that in refusing to accept the answers which he has been given the hon. Gentleman shows failure to strike the correct balance between the situation as he chooses to set it out and the situation as it has been explained to him. I have not time to read to the House the full report, which contains the letter from the Department of Trade and Industry in full on page 604. Hon. Members who have not read it might care to do so. If the hon. Gentleman believes, like some latter-day Hampden, that he is prepared to pay a price, which, on his own calculations, could be 0200 millions of the taxpayer's money, simply in order to prove some theoretical point about parliamentary control, he must understand that in seeking to protect the taxpayer he is merely exploiting him.
Finally, many of those who have advocated that the Bill should be committed to a Select Committee cannot have read the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure. If they have read it they would have seen that the proposal relates to Bills of little political controversy but possibly some complexity which should be considered by a Select Committee. It goes on to say that Bills will be committed to Select Committees by agreement and that the likelihood of obstruction will be small because of this. It adds that historically those Bills 188 which have been referred to Select Committees have traditionally been those where additional consideration was required in socially or technically complicated cases.
The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East does not understand the English language. If he had taken pains to discover what kinds of Bills have been committed to Select Committees, which I do not believe he has, and what kind of practice it is he wishes the House to revert to he would have found that practically the only technical Bill in his terms which could be quoted is the Steam Engines and Boilers (Persons in Charge) Bill of 1901. There are other Bills like the Sweated Industries Bill 1908 and the Dormant Bank Balances and Unclaimed Securities Bill 1919. Since the last war only two Bills have been committed to Select Committees—the House of Commons Disqualification Bill and the Obscene Publications Bill.
If the right hon. Gentleman considers what the purpose of the recommendation of the Select Committee was, I think he will see clearly that the Bill now before us is unsuitable in almost every way for the kind of treatment he suggests. It is an urgent Bill. The right hon. Gentleman makes great promises not to delay it. The speeches of his hon. Friends cause me to wonder how those promises can be kept. We must have the Bill by March. It is not a complex Bill. It took a mere day in Committee on the Industrial Expansion Bill to deal with the whole matter. I believe that the committal of the Bill to a Select Committee would merely provide an opportunity of the right lion. Gentleman's hon. Friends to try to kill the whole project, as the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) admits.
This is a misconceived motion. It is a sort of pantomine horse motion taken on from the hon. Member for Edmonton, large enough, compendious enough and shabby enough to contain the front legs of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East and the back legs of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees, each proceeding in opposite directions. It does them no credit. It carries no conviction and should be voted down.
We are talking tonight about a project in which all of us should take pride, 189 and some of us are not ashamed to admit that we do take pride in it. We are talking about a project which has taken not only taxpayers' money but men's working lives, which has put Britain and France in a position of respect for their achievement which hon. Members opposite appear to be quite unable to understand, and which they seek constantly to devalue.
Hon. Members opposite must ask themselves whether we are to maintain a reputation in the world by always carping, nagging, casting doubt, using arguments based on malice, spite and ignorance, or whether we are to have confidence in ourselves. Does anyone
§ in the House believe that if we have a tree that is about to bear fruit we should dig it up? Hon. Members opposite do themselves, their constituents and the country no credit by the shabby and cynical arguments that they have deployed tonight, and they richly deserve to be, and shall be, defeated.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question put, That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee: —[Mr. Benn.]
§ The House divided: Ayes, 170, Noes, 189.191
|Division No. 31.]||AYES||[11.0 p.m.|
|Albu, Austen||Garrett, W. E.||Marshall, Dr. Edmund|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Gilbert, Dr. John||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy|
|Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)||Golding, John||Meacher, Michael|
|Ashton, Joe||Gourlay, Harry||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert|
|Atkinson, Norman||Grant, George (Morpeth)||Mendelson, John|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)||Millan), Bruce|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Hamling, William||Moyle, Roland|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Hardy, Peter||Murray, Ronald King|
|Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||O'Malley, Brian|
|Brown, Ronald(Shoreditch & F'bury)||Heffer, Eric S.||Oram, Bert|
|Buchan, Norman||Horam, John||Oswald, Thomas|
|Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Padley, Walter|
|Carmichael, Neil||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield)||Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Clark, David (Colne Valley)||Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.|
|Cohen, Stanley||Hunter, Adam||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Coleman, Donald||Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)||Probert, Arthur|
|Concannon, J. D.||Janner, Greville||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||John, Brynmor||Roberts, Rt.Hn.Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)||Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Brc'n&R'dnor)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Jones, Barry (Flint, E.)||Roper, John|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Jones,Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.)||Sandelson, Neville|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|Deakins, Eric||Kaufman, Gerald||Short,Rt.Hn.Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)|
|Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Kelley, Richard||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Dempsey, James||Kerr, Russell||Sillars, James|
|Doig, Peter||Lamborn, Harry||Silverman, Julius|
|Dormand, J. D.||Lamond, James||Skinner, Dennis|
|Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Latham, Arthur||Small, William|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Leadbitter, Ted||Spearing, Nigel|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Leonard, Dick||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dunn, James A.||Lestor, Miss Joan||Stallard, A. W.|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Steel, David|
|Eadie, Alex||Lipton, Marcus||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Edelman, Maurice||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)|
|English, Michael||McBride, Neil||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|Ewing, Harry||McElhone, Frank||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Faulds, Andrew||Mackenzie, Gregor||Thomas,Rt.Hn.George (Cardiff,W.)|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Mackintosh, John P.||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Foot, Michael||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Ford, Ben||McNamara, J. Kevin||Wainwrlght, Edwin|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Marsden, F.||Weitzman, David|
|Wells, William (Walsall, N.)||Whitlock, William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)||Mr. Joseph Harper and|
|Whitehead, Phillip||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)||Mr. Tom Penary.|
|Adley, Robert||Gray, Hamish||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Green, Alan||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Gummer, J. Selwyn||Peel, John|
|Archer, Geoffrey (Louth)||Gurden, Harold||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Awdry, Daniel||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Hannam, John (Exeter)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Batsford, Brian||Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Raison, Timothy|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Haselhurst, Alan||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Benyon, W.||Hastings, Stephen||Redmond, Robert|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Havers, Sir Michael||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)|
|Biffen, John||Hawkins, Paul||Rees, Peter (Dover)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hayhoe, Barney||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Blaker, Peter||Heseltine, Michael||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Body, Richard||Hiley, Joseph||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Bowden. Andrew||Holland. Philip||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Bray, Ronald||Holt, Miss Mary||Scott, Nicholas|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Hordern, Peter||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Hornsby-Smith.Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Howell, David (Guildford)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Buck, Antony||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.)||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mingtonJ|
|Burden, F. A.||Iremonger, T. L.||Soref, Harold|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||James, David||Speed, Keith|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn. G.(Moray & Nairn)||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Spence, John|
|King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)||Sproat, Iain|
|Carlisle, Mark||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Stainton, Keith|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Kinsey. J. R.||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Channon, Paul||Kirk, Peter||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Kitson, Timothy||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Stokes, John|
|Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Knox, David||Stuttaford, Dr. Tom|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Lamont, Norman||Sutcliffe, John|
|Clegg, Walter||Lane, David||Tapsell, Peter|
|Cordle, John||Le Marchant, Spencer||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)|
|Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Longden, Sir Gilbert||Tebbit, Norman|
|Costain, A. P.||Loveridge, John||Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)|
|Critchley, Julian||Luce, R. N.||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)|
|Crouch, David||MacArthur, Ian||Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||McLaren, Martin||Trafford, Dr. Anthony|
|Dean, Paul||McNair-Wilson, Michael||Trew, Peter|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Madel, David||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Maude, Angus||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)||Mawby, Ray||Vaughan, Dr. Gerard|
|Emery, Peter||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Farr, John||Mitchell, Lt. -Col. C.(Aberdeenshire, W)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Moate, Roger||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)||Molyneaux, James||White, Roger (Gravesend)|
|Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)||Monks, Mrs. Connie||Wilkinson, John|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Monro, Hector||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Montgomery, Fergus||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Fortescue, Tim||More, Jasper||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Fox, Marcus||Morrison, Charles||Worsley, Marcus|
|Fry, Peter||Nabarro, Sir Gerald|
|Goodhew, Victor||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.|
|Gorst, John||Normanton, Tom||Mr. Oscar Murton and|
|Gower, Raymond||Onslow, Cranley||Mr. Michael Jopling.|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||Osborn, John|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).