§ It at any time the additional expenditure sanctioned under section 1 of this Act exceeds £300 million a Select Committee of the House of Commons shall be appointed to inquire into the generality of the Concorde project, the expenditure and Parliamentary control and scrutiny thereof.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I understand that with the clause we may discuss Amendment No. 2, Clause 1, in page 2, line 4, at end insert:'(4) Immediately upon the enactment of this Act the Government shall cause a White Paper to be published reviewing the history of the project, the current prospects, expectations and finance of the aircraft and thereafter shall cause such a White Paper to be published annually'.and Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 4, at end insert:(4) Within six months of the enactment of this Act the Secretary of State shall cause to be published his proposals for enabling the supply of information about the Concorde aircraft project to each House of Parliament 1496 to be improved in order that each House should properly scrutinize the manner in which the project is conducted'.The new clause and the amendments go over ground that has been covered in Committee. I do not think the House will want to devote a great deal of time to a re-examination of the questions they raise but it would be wrong to leave them without reiterating the Opposition's view that parliamentary supervision of the project is not adequate and that more information should be made available to the House.
The arguments advanced by the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping against yielding to our recommendations have been based on a number of factors, the biggest of which was his judgment that any further information the Government might be asked to give on the matter would endanger the commercial prospects of the aircraft. Having earlier shared the awesome responsibilities that the hon. Gentleman holds, I can well understand how attractive such an argument might be to a Minister looking for reasons why he should not give the House further information. As I said on Second Reading. I was rebuked by the Select Committee for failing to give adequate information. In accepting that rebuke, which was not far from my own feelings, I support the new Clause with added force.
Ministers' arguments against providing information to the House vary according to the issue being debated. In the case of the Atomic Energy Authority (Weapons Group) Bill, which we debated recently, the arguments were based on military security. When we discussed railways plans and the leakage of information to the Railway Gazette, the Prime Minister said that we could not have civil servants abstracting documents and giving them to outside interests to report, because that would not be conducive to good government.
None of those arguments applied to the hovertrain, which the Minister announced yesterday to the Select Committee had been cancelled on 29th January. The decision had been taken and there was 1497 no opportunity for the Select Committee or Parliament to review it.
The arguments advanced for Government secrecy no longer bear examination when considered in the way in which successive Ministers have argued them. When we are spending substantial sums of public money, where a large number of highly-skilled people are involved, where there are alternatives upon which it is open to the country to express itself through Parliament and Government, where there are alternatives open to us, we should be given more information. That statement applies with equal force to the Concorde aircraft, which we are now considering in the context of funds for production finance.
Curiously, that argument unites those who are critical of the aircraft and those who, on the Opposition side at any rate, hope that it will succeed and support the provision of further funds.
I should like to make a special case for more information about Concorde itself. When the Minister says—I have said it in my time—that the sale of the aircraft to the airlines is critically important, he is stating the truth. The sale of the aircraft is the thing upon which we rely to get back the investment we have put into the aircraft. But nothing could be clearer than that with Concorde we are not only engaged in a single commercial transaction, for two reasons. First, to be saleable Concorde must be acceptable not simply to the airlines, like Pan American, that might buy it but broadly to the whole American public, because it is they who, through their environmental and other lobbies, have campaigned so vigorously through Congress and elsewhere to prevent supersonic aircraft from landing. Therefore, we are dealing not just with an airline but with a customer country and all the people who live in it.
Similarly, although we may talk about its being a commercial transaction, that is not so from the point of view of the British public, because the investment in Concorde is public money. If we wish the aircraft to succeed, as I most certainly do, we must carry the British public with us to finance it, and sell it to the American public for it to be acceptable to the United States' or other airlines. It is a nation-to-nation exercise, which cannot 1498 be successful if an air of secrecy surrounds the whole operation.
Concorde's real prospect of success now depends upon one thing more than any other—the Government's determination to go through with it and make a success of it. While the Government and successive Ministers cover themselves with an aura of secrecy they create the impression that there is something to hide, when I believe that in essentials there is nothing to hide about the aircraft.
§ Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)
The right hon. Gentleman has just pronounced a rather curious proposition: that the success of the project depended on the determination with which the Government went through with it. Surely, it is not the Government's determination that will decide what sales are made to overseas airlines. That must depend upon the commercial judgment of those overseas airlines that are potential purchasers.
§ Mr. Benn
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman intervened, because I do not want anyone to be under any misapprehension about what I said. I want to amplify it, and perhaps return to it on Third Reading. I am saying that at this stage, when we have had the disappointment of the cancellation of the options of Pan American, American Airlines and TWA, and the unresolved questions of Japanese Airlines and so on, the key factor is the Government's steadiness of nerve and determination. We can only express our own views. I have no doubt that when Concorde enters into service under BOAC and Air France and, I hope, other colours in 1975, the aircraft will be acquired by other airlines.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
Does not my right hon. Friend think it disgraceful that the Government were so weak-kneed that they cancelled the hovertrain so quickly, because they did not have the guts to sell abroad?
§ Mr. Benn
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. He may have just entered the Chamber and so not have known that I referred to the hover-train a little earlier. I knew that the Chair would not allow me to carry that argument much further forward.
My hon. Friend's point is very important as it bears upon secrecy. We are 1499 told that there must be secrecy to preserve the prospects of the aircraft. In the case of the hovertrain there was secrecy until the final decision to cancel it had been taken. Both matters reinforce my view that secrecy is wrong when dealing with major technological projects. That view, certainly on the Opposition side, unites people who may have a different opinion on whether the Concorde project should have been undertaken or exactly what should be done now.
§ Sir Frederick Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)
Will the right hon. Gentleman elaborate on the factors about which he thinks there is secrecy, and where he thinks there should be more publicity? There is a distinction between technical factors and what, whether he likes it or not, are commercial factors.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Benn
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Gloucestershire, South (Sir F. Corfield), who is a member of the little inner club of Ministers who have shared these responsibilities.
The technical side of Concorde is a success. First, I do not think anybody has any doubt that it is the most highly tested aircraft ever to have been produced. Its fuselage has been broken to destruction in the great tank built at Farnborough for the purpose, its engines have been tested at Pyestock and elsewhere and it is undoubtedly the safest aircraft, if testing secures safety. Therefore, from the technical point of view, the more information we can make available to the world the better. Indeed, by deciding to sell the aircraft to China, where no doubt they will examine with great care its craftsmanship and design in order to advance their own aviation technology, we are of course making the aircraft available technically for inspection.
Now we come to what are called the commercial factors. Here I believe there is a genuine confusion which I was seeking to clear up. We cannot pretend with this aircraft that there is now, to be candid, any chance of recovering our research and development expenses in total. No one disputes this. I do not think there has ever been any argument about that, and my hon. Friend the Mem- 1500 ber for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) has never believed for one moment at any stage that there was. But it is still widely recognised that we have made a major national investment in a new generation of supersonic aircraft and high-powered engines. This is not a commercial exercise in that sense. It is not a commercial exercise in the sense that at this stage, if we were judging our capacity to recover our total investment, we could conceivably justify it. Everybody knows that.
What we have done as a nation—and whether it was right or wrong is an argument left far behind us in 1962 and I do not want to disinter it now—is to focus an enormous amount of effort, money and skill on producing something that is technically perfect and that we all know, on entry into service, will be in demand. But we also know, alas—it is sad but we now know it—that there have not been prospects of getting the orders early enough even to be confident of our production runs at this stage. Those orders have not been available.
I therefore say to the hon. Member, and I hope I have now made it clear, that at this moment we cannot judge the matter on a narrow accountancy cost-benefit basis. We have now to go forward and let the aircraft enter into service. It is the will of the Government that is really at issue, and by "at issue" I do not mean in doubt.
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
Is it the assertion of my right hon. Friend that the commercial success of Concorde is now doomed?
§ Mr. Benn
It depends on how one defines commercial success. If I were asked candidly to give the House my judgment as to whether there was a prospect, through the sales of Concorde that we have produced, of getting back all the research and development money that we have put in, I think I would have to say that those prospects do not exist or are very slight. Indeed, I think that as a Minister I used to give a figure of one-third recovery and the position has altered since then.
There are two things to say about this. One is that we are no longer discussing a theoretical aircraft. One of the curious things about our debates on Concorde is that they all tend to be, in some shape 1501 or form, a rehash of the 1962 debate. We are discussing a real aircraft made by real people with real skills, real pride and real determination, and it is there. Having devoted 10 years of effort to this aircraft, we now have to look at it from the point of view of the policies we adopt in the period between now and entry into service when the orders will come along.
In that connection I come back to what I said about the will of the Government. What will determine the attitude of the world's airlines towards Concorde above all else is their assessment of how serious we are about success.
I wish to offer the Minister—and he will not misunderstand me—my congratulations at the enormous vigour of the sales campaign in which he himself has participated since he took responsibility for this matter. I pay genuine tribute to him for his enthusiasm and to the Government for authorising what was a very deep personal, and hence governmental, commitment in the aircraft.
But if the Minister is to be successful in fighting such a battle for this aircraft—and not just for its continuation, because I hope, I believe and I am certain that that is beyond question, but for a production run adequate to meet the orders that will come after 1975—he has more deliberately to harness the support of the British people just as, if Pan American, Trans World and other American airlines are to buy it, the support of the American people as a whole has to be won.
To return to how I came in to this stage of the argument, I believe that the prospects of doing that are the greater if more information is made available and are the lesser if it is thought that somehow there is something to conceal and something that has to be protected from the public gaze, otherwise we reduce the sales prospects. I cannot do fairer than that.
I put to the Minister my view that he would be helped if he were able to be more candid. As a representative—we all are—of the taxpayers of this country, I believe that they are entitled to know, quite apart from the fact that I believe it would be advantageous for the aircraft for them to know the facts.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
Does not my right hon. Friend conceive it to be pos- 1502 sible that the reason why the Minister is being rather secretive about the commercial prospects of Concorde is that if they were fully revealed they would scupper the project altogether?
§ Mr. Benn
That rumour, I think, is bound to be current while the Minister remains silent. I am trying to strengthen the Minister by eliciting more facts. His silence gives credence to the Putney view, and the Putney view does more damage to the sales of Concorde than the revelation of the fact that this aircraft is there and, let us be candid, is being subsidised by the Government. Any airline that buys Concorde is buying an aircraft subsidised at any rate as to research and development. Of course it is subsidised. The manufacturers are getting marvellous value for money because they are paying the selling price and getting £1,000 million of research and development towards which they will be making a very small contribution.
I go further and say to the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. BruceGardyne), who takes an interest in these matters, that it is not possible to look at this merely in terms of the aircraft itself. This is a new generation of aircraft. It is a generation of aircraft, supersonic in character, that has already arrived. The Russians have it and there is no doubt whatsoever that the Americans will have it. The Americans cannot be left out of the supersonic race or out of the fast end of the market.
This aircraft, by the historical accident of our having produced it, gives us a chance to implant all over the world Anglo-French airframe and aero-engine technology possibly 10 years ahead of the Americans. This indeed is one reason why the Americans want to be in the field because one cannot be the biggest aircraft manufacturer in the world and then say "We have nothing to offer you at the fast end; you must go to Bristol or Toulouse if you want fast aircraft. All we can offer you is the airbus, Piper Cub or anything in the middle".
The national investment in this aircraft is one for this country in a whole range of technology that we know for a fact will be a part of the aviation business in the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s and the year 2000.
1503 I beg my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), who is a critic but a fair man, to recognise that even if he were by some astonishing chance able to realise his dreams and stop the Concorde, his Putney constituents would hear the TU144 rolling overhead and the Boeing 2707 rolling overhead and we would have done nothing but throw away what we have.
§ Mr. Benn
Of course they are not likely to throw it away, because their view of economics is rather different. Everybody selects his economic criteria according to his political will. The American space programme was not costed. The Americans spent 90,000 million dollars on their space programme and never got a penny back. Nobody ever asked when they landed on the moon where the economic justification was, because there was none.
I believe we must, therefore, be a little readier when we reach this stage, and I am talking now about 1973 and not 1962, to look more widely at what we have built, what we are buying and what we would lose by cancelling and by pulling out at this stage.
If the argument is that when the Government enter into a commercial arrangement there has to be a shroud of secrecy surrounding the project, we are saying something very serious indeed. We are saying that if the British taxpayer invests in something, unlike an ordinary shareholder who has rights at a shareholders' meeting he must stand back and decline to ask questions because it would in some way weaken the success of the project.
When one thinks of the problems of Lockheed and the uncertainty that surrounded it at the time of the difficulties over the C500, or when one thinks of the Rolls-Royce difficulties and the anxiety surrounding the TriStar, or the difficulties surrounding many advanced American aircraft, even the Boeing 2707 or the European A300 airbus, it is evident to any customer airline that where the Government are involved there is bound, by definition, to be a non-commercial element. When there is a noncommercial element, how does one judge whether the aircraft or project will come 1504 to the market place? One judges it by the will and determination of the Minister or the country that is subsidising it. That is how one tells.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman again but I wonder whether you would advise the House at this stage. It seems that the right hon. Gentleman is advancing a fairly broad argument on the new clause, and I am a little unclear about how we are to conduct the debate on the clause and in the subsequent Third Reading debate. I had it in mind that the broader arguments were perhaps more suitable for the Third Reading debate, but if those arguments should be advanced now it would help the House to be told that.
§ Mr. Speaker
This is a fairly wide clause, and I think that certain general arguments are admissible under it. At the same time, one has an idea of what would be more appropriate for a Third Reading speech. It is a matter which I must leave to the good sense of the House. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has been out of order so far, but he has been going rather wide.
§ Mr. Benn
If I have offended the House, Mr. Speaker, I apologise. In many ways the same points could be made in a brief Third Reading speech, but it might be for the convenience of the House if the points were encapsulated into a single debate and the Third Reading taken in a different way. All my arguments have been addressed to the element of secrecy and to whether it would be of advantage both to the House and to the project for more information to be made available.
§ The Minister for Aerospace and Shipping (Mr. Michael Heseltine)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that most of the arguments overlap considerably, and as I suspect that most hon. Members will want to cover various aspects of each of the problems in the various sub-divisions I think that it will be convenient to deal with as many as possible in one debate rather than divide the issues.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
However that may be, perhaps the time has come to get the debate into order. The Second Reading 1505 of the new clause has not been formally moved. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East is not entitled to move it because his name is not on the Amendment Paper. If the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) will move the new clause formally, we shall get into order in all respects.
§ Clause brought up, and read the First time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.—[Mr. Bishop.]
§ Mr. Benn
If we are to take this more broadly, may I try to look at the problem of information in terms of the immediate situation confronting the Government about the authorisation of the production programme? It is clear that however many wise Members of the House and former Ministers anticipated the Pan-Am decision before it occurred—and I heard the right hon. and learned Member for Gloucestershire, South (Sir F. Corfield) saying on television that by studying Pan American balance sheets over the years he had prepared himself for this disappointment—the plain fact is that we have not obtained the firm orders which we would like to have acquired for our production programme between now and 1975.
The Government are therefore faced with a very important decision about the phasing of the production programme. I leave out of account any possibility—because it is clearly excluded by ministerial statements which I welcome—that at this stage the Government will change their view about the whole project. What are the options open to the Government? There are two. My first is to cut back the production programme in line with the orders that have emerged from the options and produce at a less rapid rate than would otherwise have been the case. The other is to follow the advice of Kaiser Wilhelm when he sacked Bismarck and go "full steam ahead".
1506 There is a range of options between the two. The Government's decision is very important not only for the aircraft workers, who are adequately represented by many Members in the House this evening, but also from the point of view of the success of the project because if, as I believe it will be, the Concorde is ordered when it enters into service, we must be sure that the aircraft is there to meet those orders.
We have had experience of the VCIO where, years after the production line was closed, it may be opened again to meet the Chinese demand for the aircraft. I remember fighting a partially successful and partially unsuccessful battle to prevent the VC10 production line from being closed when I was the responsible Minister. When one looks at other aircraft, it becomes clear that were we to have the Hunter or the Spitfire still on offer there would still be a demand for them. The success of an aircraft industry policy depends at least as much, if not more, on developing and maintaining the aircraft that one has, rather than always thinking in terms of the next project. We have something to learn from Volkswagen when it comes to aircraft.
This is an important question because if the production line were cut back and after the aircraft entered into service orders came in and Concordes were not there to meet them we should have made the most foolish decision of all. On Monday I asked the Minister whether he had agreed with the French what the production programme should be, and he replied that he had not. Whether that was because he had not discussed it with them, or because there was some disagreement, I shall not probe, but here is where the anxiety of the aircraft workers comes into the picture.
I hope that without spreading any alarm or despondency I may convey to the Minister the anxieties of workers in the aircraft industry, particularly those at Bristol and Weybridge. The fear is that, whereas the French Government manifestly intend to go ahead with the full rate of production regardless of the nonappearance of the Pan-Am and other orders, the British Government may cut back their production programme in line with the orders that are there.
1507 Were that to happen, what would follow? It would follow that the Toulouse assembly line would be going flat out and the Bristol assembly line might be held back. The fear that has been expressed—and as one of the Members who have reason to be interested I must put it to the House—is that if that were to happen the argument for a single assembly line at Toulouse might become more powerful. A single assembly line there after all the effort at Bristol would be a terrible thing to contemplate because, having invested money in the aircraft, one would find that Bristol had again produced a prototype like the Brabazon, which is seared in everybody's memory, and production was being done in France.
Why should suspicion arise in the minds of the workers at Bristol? They arise for a number of reasons, one of which is that it is known that the Government are contemplating public expenditure economies.
§ Mr. Benn
I knew that the hon. Gentleman would cheer that. To cut back production in line with orders may seem a sensible short-term economy.
Secondly, anxiety arises because the hon. Gentleman has made vague speeches about a European aircraft industry. Indeed, if I do not misunderstand him, he has given vent at some stage to the view that maybe in the rationalisation there might have to be some rundown in manpower. With public expenditure economy combined with the fear that the Minister has some dream in mind of a European airframe and aero-engine industry, the anxieties in Bristol begin to grow. I have not had the privilege of seeing the Marshall Report on the future of the industry but I think I can guess what will be in it, a policy to bring about mergers in the airframe industry based on the new passion for having everything European.
I come back to the question of secrecy. The Marshall Report has not been published. Maybe criticisms of this or that firm might have to be excised. All I know is that civil servants would be opposed on general grounds to publishing the report. Here is a piece of secrecy which is feeding absolutely legitimate 1508 anxieties in the breast of people building the aircraft who passionately believe that they should be given the same production line as the French.
§ Mr. Michael Heseltine
I think I could clarify for the right hon. Gentleman a point which has often been dealt with by me in the House—why the Marshall Report has not been published. It was not published because it is a report by civil servants in the Department of Trade and Industry commissioned within the Department of Trade and Industry, and constitutionally it would be quite unthinkable that civil servants could have their views published and Ministers find themselves in a position of having to accept or reject the views of their departmental officials.
§ Mr. Benn
I do not accept that argument for an instant. It is a new argument, and yet civil servants appear before Select Committees and are examined by hon. Members, and their views may differ from a Minister's view. When I was a Minister they would say "What happens if we differ from you on policy?" I said that they should give their view, but I have to make the decision. Anyone with any knowledge of Whitehall knows that sometimes there are fierce arguments between Permanent Secretaries and Ministers. Why should Parliament not be brought into those discussions, particularly if the argument bears on the future of a major project?
That is a different argument from the one about not giving information about the tracked hovertrain. The Minister cancelled that project without telling anyone and without giving the Select Committee a chance to discuss it. That is a different argument from the one about not giving information relating to the Concorde. When one examines the arguments about secrecy one finds they are all different and are tailormade to offer specific reasons, but in every case they emerge from a genuine and continued reluctance by Whitehall to disclose its thinking so that it can be criticised for ministerial decisions.
§ Mr. Heseltine
This is a wide issue, but, to put the record straight, I think the matter was before the Select Committee on three occasions and I always revealed to it my complete thinking. In 1509 the case of the hovertrain the Select Committee did not ask for information and did not decide to set up an inquiry until the Government had taken the decision to close the project down, but the Committee could have asked for information.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman said a few moments ago that he would be out of order if he pursued this subject. He must abide by his own ruling.
§ Mr. Adley
May we go back to the question of the Concorde? The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) made the point a few minutes ago, and then passed on, about fears of aircraft workers in Bristol. I hope that he will not endeavour to imply that anything which has been said by my hon. Friend the Minister will leave his constituents and mine with the view that the Government may be wavering. I was a little surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not mention that Sir George Edwards, in response to a question at a Press conference, was the only person who had mentioned closing one or other production lines. This did not emanate from the Government. I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to continue on this line because he may be in danger of causing the very distress that he is seeking to avoid.
§ Mr. Benn
I am afraid that that simply will not wash. Neither the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) nor I would be doing our duty in the House if we failed to reflect anxieties in our constituencies, to bring them into the open and to seek from the Government a clear decision.
I said that the options open were a full production line or a modified limited production line, and that if the British Government have a different view from that of the French Government there might he a case for a single assembly line becoming powerful against the Minister's known desire for the British airframe industry. The hon. Member must not 1510 accuse me of inflaming anxieties. I have listened to the arguments and tried to give accurate information to the workers in Bristol and elsewhere who have asked me about this, but there is a genuine uncertainty on whether the Government adopt the same view as the French Government about full production and entry into service.
I must not overrule your Rulings, Mr. Speaker, nor mine, and I want to bring my speech to a conclusion. The Opposition support this Bill. I make that absolutely clear so that there may be no doubt about it. We support the Bill and support the production finance for this aircraft. We have carried forward in our support the same legislation as it was my privilege to introduce—the Industrial Expansion Act—which first provided for industrial finance. Coupled with that, we believe that more information should be made available on the grounds of public interest and parliamentary accountability, and because that is the best way to indicate the will of the Government that production of this aircraft should continue. The various arguments are contained in the amendments and new clause, which I commend to the House.
I want there to be no doubt—I speak as Opposition spokesman with the full support of my colleagues—that by the passage of this Bill the aircraft will get the support which it needs and enter into service and in time, in many ways not as yet clear to all of us, will reflect great credit on the country which has put so much skill, so much workmanship and so much vision into its manufacture.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I have listened with considerable interest to the comments made by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). I was hoping that he would explain the implications of the new clause, but I do not think he did. It would be very interesting to know, since the clause calls for the establishment of a Select Committee as and when the expenditure authorised under the Bill exceeds £300 million, when the Opposition think that that figure will be exceeded. I should have thought that to be of some relevance to the clause but it was not a matter which entered into the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
1511 The new clause seems to me to be fairly nugatory. I do not know how long my hon. Friend the Minister expects the first £300 million to last. I hope that it will not be a matter only of months, for various reasons which I shall come to. In this context, it is relevant to bear in mind that the Public Accounts Committee will, I understand, be analysing this great venture later this year, so that the new clause would presumably be left far behind by the considerations of the PAC.
On only one thing in the right hon. Gentleman's speech did I find myself in complete agreement. This was in his reference to the possibility of the assembly line for Concorde being concentrated at Toulouse. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) said, the only person who has made this suggestion is Sir George Edwards at his Press conference, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is very hard to accept Sir George's proposition, as reported in the Press, that we must demonstrate our absence of chauvinism in this project, if need be, by accepting that the concentration of airframe production, if concentration is needed, shall take place on the French side.
Internationalism with other people's money is a relatively painless virtue. I represent a development area on the east coast of Scotland, and if I had substantial reservations about the rectitude of expecting the taxpayers I represent to provide about £100 million a year for the growth and maintenance of unemployment in areas like Bristol and Weybridge, which are not in all conscience the most depressed areas of the United Kingdom, those doubts and reservations would be as nothing to the proposition that they should be expected to finance the provision of employment to this tune of money in Toulouse. To that extent I go along with the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
Taking the figures over the two countries, I do not think my hon. Friend would dissent from the proposition that there has been a certain acceleration in the escalation of costs.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Perhaps it would be more convenient if the hon. Gentleman were to use the figure, put by the Prime Minister, of £1½million a week, which is fairly easy to grasp.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I do not think one can totally dissent from that proposition. However, as I have said, this was the one point on which I found myself in complete agreement with the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East. With the other aspects of his argument I was in considerable perplexity. He seemed to be indulging, not for the first time, in supersonic cove-ism. He seemed to be saying that all that was needed to sell the aircraft throughout the length and breadth of the world was the determination of the Government.
Like my right hon. and hon. Friends, I have immensely admired the determination, enthusiasm and flair which my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping has put into his responsibilities for furthering the sales programme of this aircraft, but I cannot for one moment really accept that all that is required to persuade the airlines of the world to buy it as a commercial prospect is that the right hon. Gentleman or my right hon. and hon. Friends should show determination and conviction in its success. The truth, as surely the right hon. Gentleman, who I know has a rather romantic view of technology, might be prepared to accept, is that the willingness of every other airline in the world apart from Air France and BOAC to purchase this aircraft must depend fundamentally on their assessment of Concorde's commercial prospects.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
The hon. Gentleman should make himself aware that Pan-Am's original assessment was favourable and that eventually, when it decided otherwise, its decision coincided with the economic debacle of the United States. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would try to relate that factor to the figures.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I would not dream of overlooking that factor, but I think that the simple proposition I have put—that the decision of any individual airline to purchase this aircraft or not to purchase it will depend on its commercial assessment of Concorde's prospects and not on the determination by this or any other Government, British or French—is really hard in all sincerity for hon. Members to dispute.
§ Mr. Benn
Far from taking a romantic view of Concorde, I have said on many occasions—even during the last election campaign two days before polling day outside the factory—that Concorde's future will be determined in the market place. I was addressing myself today to the difficult two-year period between the cancellation of the Pan-Am order and entry into service, in which I believe that the determination of the Government to proceed will be the thing that will maintain the aircraft's availablility for airlines which will look at it later.
Concorde's early design stage began in 1955 and the aircraft will remain in service perhaps until the 1990s. To allow it to be cancelled because of the short-term economic difficulties of one or two airlines at present would be to misjudge the nature of this enormous enterprise. To say so is not to take a mystical view, but quite the reverse. It will in the end succeed or fail on the commercial calculations of the airlines.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
Perhaps mysticism is sometimes in the ear of the listener. Tonight, not for the first time, I found some of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks somewhat mystical. However, I do not want to press the argument on this point beyond what I have said. But I do not think we are any longer in dispute. The right hon. Gentleman has agreed that the decision on the project and purchase will depend on the commercial calculations of the potential purchasers among the airlines.
The right hon. Gentleman's proposition on determination led him today and earlier this week into putting to my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace a proposition which I find somewhat alarming. It was most clearly put last Monday when the right hon. Gentleman asked my hon. Friend whether he could 1514assure the House that he has reached full agreement with the French Government on the phasing of production orders beyond those which have already been authorised?I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend say in reply:No. I have not reached agreement because I have not sought agreement. We obviously have to deal with production orders in the light of sales circumstances at the time, and one cannot deal with this in advance of events."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 12th February 1973; Vol. 850, c. 968.]I could not agree more with my hon. Friend in that. It is one of the few comments I have heard in recent weeks which has somewhat strengthened my confidence in the wisdom of this House in giving the Bill its Third Reading.
The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East quoted the example of the Volkswagen. I remind him that we are not now talking about a model which costs £500, £600 or £700 apiece. We are talking about an aircraft costing tens of millions of £s apiece. For the House to ask the long-suffering British taxpayer to accept the stockpiling of this aircraft in the hope that orders will subsequently materialise would be absolutely intolerable. Therefore it was a considerable reassurance to me to hear the answer of my hon. Friend on Monday, and I hope that he will elaborate upon that answer when he replies to the debate.
Certain events have occurred since the Bill was given a Second Reading before Christmas which we cannot entirely ignore before we allow its passage to be concluded. As my hon. Friend indicated that it might be more convenient if we dealt with the broader aspects in this debate, I propose to say something about this now.
I said that various events had supervened. There are two. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East is oblivious to the first of these events. He said something which made me suspect that he was. He referred to the absolute determination of the French Government. I have news for the right hon. Gentleman. The French nation is currently engaged in a general election. The opinion polls suggest that the outcome of that general election may be to enable the centre party to hold the balance of power in the next French Assembly. I freely admit that opinion polls are often wrong, as we 1515 all know from our experience. Nevertheless, that is what the opinion polls say. One of the two leaders of the centre party, M. Servan-Schreiber, has already announced that it will be a precondition for his party on the formation of a Government in which it is a partner that the Concorde project should not be proceeded with. We cannot pretend that that statement has not been made. It is on the record. Therefore, we must not make the assumptions about the attitude of the French Government today that we were justified in making on Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the French Communist Party and Socialist Party are both firmly in favour of the continuation of Concorde? Even if M. Servan-Schreiber, as an isolated vote, were to put forward this precondition, it would be rejected by those parties, as L'Humanité has already stated, because they are firmly committed to the continuation of Concorde.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
The answer is that M. Servan-Schreiber does not have an isolated vote. He was speaking not on his own behalf but on behalf of his group.
Again for what it is worth, opinion polls suggest that the centre party will be in a position to choose its own partner and that neither of the other two groups will be able to form a new Government without it. In those circumstances, bargaining power is not to be entirely neglected.
I repeat that assumptions one could make in absolute confidence about the attitude of the French Government towards the prosecution of this project when the Bill was before us on Second Reading are no longer as entirely valid or as entirely unquestionable as they were then.
However, the more anxious development for many of us has been the decision of Pan-American, TWA and Sabena to cancel their options. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will shed a little further light on the state of the options. I have carefully studied the answers that he and his colleague have given to Questions in the House on this matter and I do not find them easy to reconcile one with another.
1516 The progress of events is fairly clear. We started with 74 options placed prior to the pricing formula with 16 airlines. On October 26th as reported at c. 439, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State announced that the 74 had come down to 54. On 30th November we were down to 48 including, among others, two for Sabena. We were not told whether the three outstanding options for BOAC and the four for Air France were still in existence. There has been no clear explanation of the position of these two options and I hope my hon. Friend will deal with this.
§ Mr. Michael Heseltine
In Committee I undertook—and I subsequently implemented the undertaking—to publish a full list of options existing. I did that recently for my lion. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), and the list did not include the options for BOAC and Air France to which my hon. Friend refers.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
Will my hon. Friend make it clear to the House? Are we to understand that these options have lapsed?
§ Mr. Heseltine
They are not included in the current list of options. Those options are in relation to aircraft which should be considered way down the production line, and it would be misleading to include them in the list of options on which there are current negotiations.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
In other words, I take it that for all practical purposes they have lapsed. It is helpful to the House to get that clear. Much the same situation occurred with Sabena. In the list given on 30th November Sabena was down for two options. In the list given on 1st February, in c. 468, Sabena had dropped out. Yesterday we were told that Sabena had cancelled.
To complete the series, by 1st February we were down to 33 options, and in the light—
§ Mr. Dan Jones
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), who complained about my hon. Friend making a Third Reading speech, is himself making a Third Reading speech. Should not his attention be directed to the new clause?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am glad to have the opportunity of saying this. There may be one or two right hon. and hon. Gentlemen here now who were not present when this matter was raised. It was agreed that the debate on new Clause 1 should go very wide on the understanding that that would restrict the time spent on Third Reading.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I am most grateful, Mr. Speaker. I had not intended to make this speech at this point, but in the light of the Ruling which you gave it seemed the right time for it.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I will give way later, but I want to complete the successive phases of our knowledge about the options. Prior to the pricing formula there were 74. On 26th October there were 54. On 30th November there were 48 plus seven—no doubt the BOAC and Air France options. On 1st February there were 33-plus, and we now know that the two Sabena options were in doubt. Now the figure is 27, in addition to which we have the preliminary purchase agreement with China for three and the letter of intent of Iran Air for two. Those have not changed from one day to the next.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I assure my hon. Friend that I no more dream of making a god of options than I do of making a god of Concorde. All I am saying is that certain disparities have arisen as we have advanced which should be illuminated before the House says farewell to the Bill. At least we have now established that to all intents and purposes the three options of BOAC and the four options of Air France have lapsed. This is at least helpful information for us to have.
This to my mind leads us to recognise—and I hope that my hon. Friend when he replies to this debate will recognise—that we are in a sense in a somewhat different ball game, to put it no higher, 1518 from what we were in when we discussed that Bill on Second Reading. The right hon. Gentleman argued tonight as I have heard many of my right hon. and hon. Friends from the Bristol area argue on numerous occasions, that once Air France and British Airways had put Concorde into service, once it was flying the colours of Air France and British Airways, the other major American airlines and others would be obliged to buy it and, therefore, we should not be too concerned about what was happening over the options. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman must agree that this must be a matter of judgment. He knows a very great deal more about it than I do and I would hesitate to question his judgment.
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely satisfied that the mere sight of a handful of Concordes being flown by Air France and British Airways across the Atlantic would be sufficient to bring in all the other airlines which, as he knows, have very substantial problems at the present time and will continue to have very substantial problems in financing the aircraft they have already purchased during the period up to 1975. All one can say at this point is that one must devoutly hope and pray that the right hon. Gentleman's confidence will be fully justified.
I return to the reply given by my hon. Friend the Minister on Monday. It is a little much to expect the long-suffering taxpayers of this country to accept that Concorde should be stockpiled on the conviction, at this stage, that the right hon. Gentleman's confidence in this matter is totally justified. Since the matter of employment created by the Concorde project has been raised by the right hon. Gentleman today and by numerous of my hon. Friends on other occasions, it is worth recalling an answer I obtained the other day from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. After all, issues of employment and jobs are traditionally clothed in a regional garb.
The answer I obtained from my hon. Friend was that 4 per cent. of the labour force is to be found in development areas, 1 per cent. being in special development areas; 96 per cent. of the labour force of Concorde is to be found outwith the development areas. So I do not believe that the employment argument as such is one that should be over-emphasised in our discussion.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
I have some difficulty in following the hon. Gentleman's argument. How does he think that employment in Scotland will be assisted by creating unemployment in Bristol?
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I would not have dreamed of advancing such a proposition. All I was saying was that my constituents and those of other hon. Members are asked to accept the responsibility for this very substantial expenditure, and we are tonight discussing a Bill which provides for up to an additional £350 million of expenditure on various grounds, some of which may be very good and sound and some of which arouse doubts in some of our minds; and one of those arguments advanced this evening by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, not for the first time, is the argument of employment. I was saying that the argument of employment was normally considered in this House, in recent years at any rate, on a regional basis. I was merely pointing out that on a regional basis, from the point of view of the consideration of regional development policy, I do not believe Concorde as such should be regarded as particularly relevant to that specific problem.
I do not wish to prolong my remarks further. I simply conclude on one point mentioned in the past by the right hon. Gentleman, the question of public expenditure. While I was delighted by the answer my hon. Friend gave to the right hon. Gentleman on Monday, I was a little concerned by an answer he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen). My hon. Friend had pointed out to the Ministerthat there are some hon. Members who are not so naive as to suppose that they can talk about the undesirable aggregate levels of public expenditure without drawing attention to certain components of public expenditure which have highly questionable economic and social implications".My hon. Friend said in reply:I do not think that my hon. Friend will dissent from the view that the responsibilities I have are those for giving every support possible to the Concorde programme. Obviously in any dialogue about public expenditure it is a matter for hon. Members to raise such matters as they wish."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February 1973; Vol. 849, c. 1615.]I hope that my hon. Friend will not for one moment imagine, and I am sure 1520 he would not, that ministerial responsibilities can be departmentalised between those whose duties are to spend the public money and those whose duties are to try to save it. We are all together in this business of public expenditure, backbenchers and Front Benchers alike. As my hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury pointed out to us the other day, we are all too often schizophrenic in these matters and cannot at the same time insist that the course of public expenditure is growing too fast and that the total take of the public sector from the nation's resources is growing dangerously and threatening the whole inflationary balance of the economy and then avert our faces from massive expenditure on projects such as this. I submit that this is a proposition which must be in the minds not only of back-benchers but also of Front Benchers on a night like this when we are discussing this Bill.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
Like the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), I can see certain objections to the particular drafting of the proposed clause. Nevertheless I rise to support it.
I am one of those who believe that the Concorde project was a major national mistake. I believe that the aircraft industry, and, indeed, air travel, has been bedevilled by false motives and particularly the motive of national prestige; and this is one of the most obvious examples of it. Nor have I been much impressed by the arguments for it today. I see no reason why we should be at the fast end of air travel. There are much more socially desirable things than being at the fast end. Nor do I think that Russia and the Kaiser are good examples to follow. I long not to go to the moon. I regard Concorde as being a relic of the time when we worshipped technology of any kind, the more expensive the better, the bigger the more desirable. I do not share that view.
One of my fundamental objections to Concorde is that, even if successful, it will be a success which only the rich of the world will enjoy. It will be a success for the expense-account traveller and the person who does not have to pay. It will make no contribution to the wellbeing of the poor of the world.
1521 I am suspicious of the arguments which divorce the technical from the commercial side of the project and which give the impression that we should spend a great deal of money on a marvellous technical toy. I know that this is putting the matter crudely but we have the right to examine the spending of these large sums of public money. I regard public money as being first earmarked for morally desirable ends, and I do not believe that Concorde falls into that category.
There is no doubt that this type of expenditure has added to the inflationary situation in which we now find ourselves, and has built up powerful vested interests in places such as Bristol. I accept that this is bound to happen, and no doubt I should be more inclined to argue for this project if the aircraft were being made in Orkney and Shetland. When one starts out on this sort of project, one encourages people to set up home in the area and to expect continuing employment there, and it is very hard if eventually the project has to be run down. However, I hope that there will be other more useful types of technology on which those who are now engaged on this project could be employed. We spend far too little time on research and development on intermediate technology which would be of some use to the majority of people in the world.
My first reason for supporting the clause is that the whole project was misconceived, and I believe it right that Parliament should inquire into its history. Even if one takes the view that it was rightly conceived, nobody can defend the estimating on the project. Parliament should look at its procedures to examine why the estimates were so widely adrift. I share the view that nearly all the arguments about secrecy are bogus, developed ad hoc because Whitehall naturally does not want to give information or to be cross-examined.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the debate in December 1962 in this House on the subject, and may I make one quotation from a speech by a Minister on that occasion? It was as follows:The estimated total development cost is £150 million to £170 million, to be divided between the two countries. In our estimating we have tried to be completely realistic …We have provided …for unforeseen problems and the consequent tendency for initial cost 1522 estimates to be exceeded…Some of the wilder estimates …may be dismissed out of hand."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December 1962; Vol. 669, c. 1652–3.]I was the Minister who made that speech, and I should like to apologise.
§ Mr. Grimond
On behalf of the whole House, I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman for making that announcement. It is a powerful argument on the subject of wrong estimating, and it proves that there is no justification for secrecy.
The House does not spend enough time considering alternatives. One day we debate Concorde, the next day we debate something else, and we seldom consider projects together. We should do so. If we are to do our job properly, we must have expert advice on a much higher level. I suspect that what happened over the hovertrain was that the Select Committee had no idea of Whitehall's thinking on this subject, because it was obvious that the news was just sprung on the Committee. When one serves on a Select Committee it is difficult to know how the Whitehall mind is working or moving, and often hon. Members are overtaken by events. Therefore, if this type of clause were passed it would give us an opportunity to look into this history of the project, to equip ourselves with more and better information and more efficient methods of controlling public expenditure, and to seek to arrive at better estimates.
In terms of the future I appreciate that, having made these aircraft, the Government must sell them if they possibly can, but I am a little nervous about this determination to sell. Does it mean that the aircraft should be sold at any price? I have a feeling that we shall soon be subsidising the buyers. I have even heard it suggested that we should give a subsidy to the American airlines to get them to buy the aircraft. This is the economics of Alice in Wonderland. For a country like ours, I find it alarming that such a course should even be thought of. Therefore, the House should be in a position to make its views known on this sort of situation.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Does the right hon. Gentleman also appreciate that if the aircraft goes into service with BOAC and Air France, not only will the buyers be subsidised but passengers too?
§ Mr. Grimond
Yes, and they will not be the poorest in the country; they will be the richest people in the country who will be subsidised by the general taxpayer, including many people who are poor. It will be for the purpose of enabling wealthy people to cross the Atlantic as a prestige operation faster than they can do now. The House should examine very carefully the question of subsidising airlines or passengers so that airline companies can buy an aircraft which is commercially non-viable.
The clause would give us an opportunity to take a further step towards our being able to cross-examine the Civil Service. The day has long passed when we can pretend that the Civil Service speaks only through the mouths of Ministers and is a neutral body which must be kept out of the public gaze. Civil servants regularly appear before House of Commons Committees, and they do an extremely useful job. It is a difficult job, but it is one which must be done in a modern democracy. I hope that this type of provision will mean that we shall have greater access to the real power in Whitehall and that we shall have time to act so that we know the sort of considerations that are operating in Whitehall.
Therefore, although I do not necessarily endorse the exact wording of the clause, I believe that the House should examine how this situation arose, that we should learn the lessons of the past, and that we should properly equip ourselves in future to deal with these very difficult technical decisions.
§ Sir F. Corfield
I am glad my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) managed to clarify the emphasis of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) on the Government's determination to continue their campaign for the sale of Concorde. In the interim until more orders are picked up, the Government's determination is a prerequisite. But we cannot emphasise too often, particularly in those areas where the aircraft is made and when the livelihood of so many people depends upon it, that the project will only succeed in the long term if the aircraft sells.
Whatever the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East says, this is a com- 1524 mercial transaction looked at from the point of view of the customer airline. The argument that because a very great deal of Government money is involved it ceases to be commercial is the most extraordinary argument I have ever heard from anywhere, let alone from the Opposition Front Bench.
If we determine to go ahead to provide BOAC and Air France with the aircraft which they have ordered and to allow for the intentions expressed by the Iranians and Chinese, making a total at the moment of some 12 aircraft, it is in my view wholly impracticable to consider a production run on the basis of stopping at the present target of 16 aircraft in Bristol, eight on each production line. I take it that if we go on—and we have been assured that the Government will go on, and I wholly agree with that decision—there can be no question of stopping production at the present 16 aircraft, or even the next six for which advance materials are being ordered.
Having said that, I think it is extremely misleading of the right hon. Gentleman to talk in terms of the Government's carrying on with full production. What on earth does "full production" mean in this context? I have no doubt that if we had a very long order book it would be perfectly possible to produce at each plant two aircraft a month—that is, 24 at each, 48 in the year. Does anybody really think that it would make sense to go ahead now with production at that sort of rate when the order book is as it is and to expect my hon. Friend to get up in this House when perhaps 20 of these aircraft have been built, at £13 million apiece at 1971 prices and about £20 million apiece with spares and so on and not be absolutely pulled to pieces by the people who are today advocating that that is what he should do? Of course he would be pulled to pieces. It would be outrageous for any Government to go ahead on this programme at any stage without making it clear that they are free to review, and indeed must review, the production schedule from time to time.
It is wholly unfair to the workers in my constituency whose anxieties of course I appreciate—these two factories are in my constituency, not in the right hon. Gentleman's—to say to them that they can expect production at the sort of rate that 1525 is meant when we talk about full production. Of course they cannot, and it is thoroughly unfair to suggest that they can and quite wrong to hold out the hope that any Government in the present circumstances would be in any sense responsible if they did not review the production from time to time—as indeed it has been reviewed over and over again in the past. It was reviewed when I was responsible; it was reviewed when the right hon. Gentleman was responsible; and I have no doubt that this is not the only review that my hon. Friend will be looking at. It is thoroughly misleading and, to put it mildly, thoroughly unkind to put forward the sort of proposition that the right hon. Gentleman has put forward.
I believe that at this stage it is much too early to take a decision to limit production below the rate at which we are going at the moment. I think it quite unreasonable to expect my hon. Friend at this stage to have had discussions with the French—as will be necessary—on which any final decision could be made. On the basis of review, and constant review, it would indeed be wrong to use the word "final" in that context.
But do not let there be any illusion about its being a disadvantage to have two lines of production. One has two learning curves, and one has lost a great deal of flexibility because there is a minimum rate of production below which one's costs per item go up very considerably indeed. So there is a disadvantage. Of course, I am not advocating for one moment that there should be only one. Certainly, if that turned out to be the sensible answer in the, I hope, fairly distant future, I would join wholeheartedly with other hon. Members here to ensure as far as we could that that line was in this country.
But I am bound to say that I would rather have one line than none because, when all is said and done, even one line, wherever it is, puts together the parts made more or less equally in both countries. Even that represents a great deal of work which we should be in danger of losing if there were any suggestion that we should try to stick to a particular rate of production, let alone that that should be supported by industrial action, which could only kill the project.
1526 With regard to secrecy, I really think that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen should be more specific on the points on which they think the Government are not giving them the information they ought to have. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that technically this is a first-class, indeed an astonishingly well-tested, aircraft, and he has not suggested for one moment that its technical qualities are not made fully known to prospective purchasers, to the House, or to anybody else. So I can only conclude that he is concentrating on the only two heads of information, on which I have any recollection that there has been criticism about lack of frankness—namely, the make-up of the costs, on the one hand, and the factors that go to deciding the rate of production at any given time, on the other.
If it is true that those who are pressing for greater frankness and less secrecy want a breakdown of the prices, do they really imagine that when that is available there are not going to be arguments about whether this tranche of the cost might not be cut in order to make the thing more attractive to the purchaser or increased in order to get more money back for the Government? Is it not abundantly clear that those arguments, taking place in public, as they are bound to do, in this House, will affect the potential purchasers' assessment, and be to the detriment of the project rather than the reverse? It is the same with the factors which are taken into account when considering the production programme. The principal factor there must be market assessment; if there is a discussion in public as to which airlines we think we can put the greatest reliance on to purchase this aircraft, we are inviting those airlines to play harder and harder to get.
§ Mr. Edelman
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is putting a very interesting argument. He is arguing in a sense in favour of secrecy. He has argued that hon. Members of this House cannot invite the Minister to give them information because in this case he might breach commercial trust. Equally, if one approached the company, it might argue that it might breach its confidentiality in relation to Whitehall. Is not the converse also true, that unless one knows exactly what are the factors which cause 1527 the escalation in cost there is no possible means of arresting it before the next stage in the escalation is reached?
§ Sir F. Corfield
I very much doubt whether even the most powerful Select Committee of this House would have the competence to do exactly that. I can only say that I have the pleasure of the acquaintance of extremely clever people in this field and they have been remarkably unsuccessful, but I do not believe that they have been any less devoted to the concept of economy than people in this House.
§ Mr. Michael Heseltine
I am sure my right hon. and learned Friend will also remember that the Public Accounts Committee has examined this project on five successive occasions and is about to do so again.
§ Sir F. Corfield
Yes indeed, but I believe that we in this House are in danger of forgetting that under our constitution there is a distinction between the executive and the legislature, and hon. Members are members of the latter. For the right hon. Gentleman to draw a parallel, as he did, with a company in the private sector and say that we are not being allowed the information that the directors get is to make a wholly false comparison. We are not directors. What the company does not do is discuss the break-down of the price of a particular item, whether a Volkswagen or anything else, in public session in the annual general meeting, inviting the shareholders to go into details. We are representative of the shareholders here, not the directors, if that parallel, which in many ways is a false one, must be drawn. It is members of the Government who are in this context analogous to directors—not back bench Members of Parliament.
I am saying on behalf of those of us who have had to try to negotiate these matters that there are certain aspects concerning which one has to use one's judgment as to how much of the breakdown behind the figure one makes known to the other negotiating parties. That, I would have thought, was the common experience of anyone who has ever sold even a sweetdrop.
§ Mr. E. S. Bishop (Newark)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the Sixth Report from the Public 1528 Accounts Committee. I refer to the Sixth Report from the Expenditure Committee, paragraph 86 of which says: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.This is a relevant point. Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware that a Select Committee for which we ask could go into secret session to allow certain information to be given. The fact that we would then have a group of people in the House who were on the same wavelength on such matters must benefit the House and the country.
§ Sir F. Corfield
The hon. Gentleman seems to be raising the question of defence interests being the only valid excuse for withholding information on his first point. He forgets that this is the first commercial project—I use the word deliberately—designed to sell aeroplanes to ordinary commercial operators wholly financed by Government money. This puts the Government in the driving seat during the selling negotiations. It would be wrong if my hon. Friend, with his responsibilities to the taxpayer, were not in the driving seat. This puts him in an entirely different position. It is certainly different from the situation which has existed in the past even when the Government have backed, with a proportion of the costs in the form of launching aid, an aero-engine project or computer or whatever it may be.
As for the point about the Select Committee in camera, I am not sure where that takes us. As I understand it, the object is that the House as a whole should know. If a few hon. Members who are interested in some particular subject get together and obtain information which others do not have, information which they would be bound to keep secret, I do not believe that that would fulfil the objective of the exercise as visualised by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East. Even if it did, I am bound to say, with all due respect to my colleagues, that I do not know of anything leakier than a Select Committee. It is hard enough in Government to keep these matters as close to one's chest as one would like. I cast my mind back to the occasion about three days after we had agreed with the French not to publish the price for the moment. Out it came from General 1529 Zeigler. We have quite enough to compete with by way of leaks without increasing the possibilities.
I beg hon. Members to realise that if they want this thing to succeed, Ministers—my hon. Friend in particular—must have discretion about what they make public, certainly under those two headings which I have mentioned. I do not believe that my hon. Friend—certainly it was never my intention when I had responsibility—has refused any information which he did not honestly believe, if given, would have a disadvantageous effect on the negotiations which all of us—including those who are not at all happy about the Concorde programme, such as my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus—wish to succeed. We want to sell this aircraft if we can. To do something which will make that less likely is irresponsible. It is wrong to dress it up as some constitutional right. That is a misunderstanding of our traditional division between the executive and the legislature.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
The right hon. and learned Member for Gloucestershire, South (Sir F. Corfield) drew a false analogy between the executive and the legislature. When he talks about the history of Parliament and the constitution does he remember precisely where the House of Commons exerted its authority over the executive? It was to do with the expenditure of money, during the "Caroline period". If it had followed his argument this House would never have attained the degree of control which it possesses. It would have said "No, it is not for us to do this; we are only a legislature to pass laws."
When the expenditure of public money on behalf of a nation is involved the chief responsibility of a Minister is accountability to the elected representatives. If, as the Sixth Report from the Expenditure Committee makes clear beyond peradventure, there is disquiet among those who have sought information, it is wholly to the good that amendments such as this should be moved.
The right hon. and learned Member might stop to ask himself why it is, when this is such a splendid technical achievement, to which we all accede, that this has been such a sober and mournful debate. The only air of jauntiness was exhibited by the hon. Member for Ban- 1530 bury (Mr. Marten) when he indulged in his breast-beating about the 1962 forecast. Otherwise it has been a sober debate. I do not think that is because the options are falling like autumn leaves and the Minister's air of confidence is becoming more and more forced every week.
I do not think it is simply because we are faced in this Bill, as we have been faced throughout the history of this project, with more and more expenditure. The sum of £300 million to £350 million is now being sanctioned by the House. I do not think it is primarily because of that, although I am bound to say that the way in which costs have escalated from the figure of £165 million—£170 million up to the £1,000 million plus has been a depressing experience.
It has been an experience which does not, with deference to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, make out a good case for the immaculate judgment or ability of Ministers. Perhaps there is a virtue in a robust back-bench examination of people, in public, exerting this kind of control. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to forget that it is public money which is at risk. Since the expenditure of all public money is carried out upon a system of priorities, what is devoted to this scheme is devoted at the expense of other schemes. Therefore, Parliament must be in a position to judge the comparative worth of each scheme.
§ Sir F. Corfield
I accept that. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, the Public Accounts Committee has already had a chance to look at the thing post hoc. The hands of any negotiator are tied if the negotiations are carried out in public. The hon. Member's party is fascinated by nationalisation. Is he really saying that every steel deal should be discussed in this House because it is public money, to the detriment of making a good deal with the Belgians or someone else?
§ Mr. John
It is hon. Members on this side of the House who have, in the Coal Industry Bill and elsewhere recently, pressed for parliamentary control of such expenditure. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman believes that the Public Accounts Committee has had adequate opportunity to discuss it, he is completely at variance with paragraph 91 of the Sixth 1531 Report from the Expenditure Committee, which says:It is our view that there has been inadequate Parliamentary control and too little information publicly given.My point to hon. Members opposite who merely feel that a sort of worship of this achievement in itself is enough is that the greatest source of depression in this House has been the feeling of helplessness with which we are faced in voting ever larger sums for this in ignorance of the true state of affairs. It is a feeling not only that we are being ignored but that the value of Members is being discounted. I am not making a party point; it is a point common to both Governments. It is right that we should say so. It is not a healthy state of affairs for Parliament when we get the feeling that we cannot control and have no hope of obtaining information.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)
Would the hon. Gentleman like to define what he means by control in these terms as a backbencher?
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. John
The ability to scrutinise and check those items in the project which are not absolutely barred on the ground of commercial secrecy; the ability to report to the House of Commons and the ability to make a valid judgment about whether the expenditure of the money envisaged is justified in the national interest. That is what I mean by parliamentary control.
It is not merely a matter of the machinery with which Parliament has been equipped to deal with the matter, although the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) and I had an interesting discussion in Committee about that matter. Also significant has been the reticence of Ministers and the failure to give information. If they were frank with the House now, as they have not been in the past, they would have to say that the failure to give information would not have broken commercial confidentiality.
The example which has been given of Parilament first learning the pricing from Ziegler at the French end does not show that there should have been less disclosure. It is a matter of shame for this 1532 Parliament that it should have been first forced to learn about it in that way.
The main disadvantage of the way in which Ministers and Governments have gone about the project is that we are unable to judge the merits of the scheme, and whether it represents the worthwhile expenditure of public money. The anti-Concorde lobby has been accused of everything from irresponsibility to lack of patriotism. However, if what it is saying is only rumour, as we are told, its ability to gain credence amongst the public is precisely because the public are denied from official sources any other information upon which to judge properly and adequately.
The machinery of Parliament has been totally inadequate to control the project. As Conservative hon. Members conceded in Committee, we should have had a Select Committee from the start of the project to examine the matter.
§ Mr. Michael Heseltine indicated dissent.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Cranley Onslow) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Heseltine rose——
§ Mr. John
Allow me to finish my sentence first. The Under-Secretary of State is as usual very vocal from a sedentary position. I will make my speech on my feet as I hope that he will make his speech on his feet later. I shall give way to the Minister when I finish my sentence. Ministerial control by the Ministers who have had control of the project has not been such as to enable them to sneer at the idea that the project should be examined by a Select Committee. There would be great advantages if that course were followed.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I can help the hon. Gentleman. I was trying to indicate that there may well have been a case for a Select Committee when the project was about to start. That was something about which we were open in Committee. I 1533 should be interested in the hon. Gentleman's assessment of the sort of help he would give to the people who are trying to sell the project today, and how the setting up of a Select Committee would help the sales negotiations flow?
§ Mr. John
I am puzzled. It seems that we are becoming a rubber stamp for the commercial efforts of the hon. Gentleman. That is not the purpose of a Select Committee. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, or as he would know if he spent more time at the House and less in Concorde, the purpose of a Select Committee is to monitor the expenditure of public money. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have been quick enough to mutter about the £5 million or £9 million which was spent on school milk and what a profligate measure that was. In pence the hon. Member is becoming extremely pernickety, and yet he has proceeded without let or hindrance, and without the scrutiny of the House of Commons, to expend more on this project. He is exhibiting a lack of confidence in the merits of the scheme and damaging it.
§ Mr. Palmer
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Minister spent an extremely uncomfortable half hour yesterday in front of a Select Committee. I think he now knows what Select Committees are about.
§ Mr. John
It is to be hoped that he does, but his intervention did not encourage me in that direction. We are putting ourselves to further massive expenditure when the Bill becomes an Act. At the moment we have no greater safeguard than the promise given in Committee by the sedentary hon. Member, the Under-Secretary of State, that he would like to look at the machinery. He has not given a blanket refusal to give further machinery to Parliament. We are unwilling to be regarded merely as rubber stamps for Concorde's engineering excellence. We oppose those who would take out of parliamentary control projects of high technology. There is a feeling abroad that we are in great danger of becoming subjugated to technology. It is high time that we reminded ourselves that technology was made for man and not vice versa.
There is a grave error in the thinking of those who initiated, for example, steel 1534 rationalisation. There is a real fear that people are being displaced without any opportunity to speak for themselves or for their voices to be heard by their elected representatives. If Parliament is to confine to itself the right to control the charges for false teeth, spectacles and school milk but is to deny itself the right to control the thousands of millions of pounds spent in the area of high technology, it is doing more than any of the Trotskyists are doing in this country to devalue the value of Parliament. I do not believe that that is what we should do or what Conservative hon. Members want to do. Therefore, we are disquieted about the way in which the matter has proceeded and the way in which Parliament has been completely unable to exercise its control over the project.
I invited the Minister to draw his attention to amendment No. 3. In paragraph 91 of the Sixth Report from the Expenditure Committee certain proposals were put forward to deal with the supply of information to Parliament. When I asked about that in Committee the Under-Secretary of State said:The recommendations of the Expenditure Committee is being considered. It raises many wide issues, and it would be wrong for us to be rushed by the amendment into a decision."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 25th January 1973; c. 197.]I asked the hon. Gentleman when we would know of the Government's decision. He said that the short answer was when the Government had made up their minds.
We are talking about a report published on 6th July last year. The Government have already had eight months in which to consider that point. The amendment calls upon the Government within six months of the enactment of the Bill to put before Parliament its proposals for ensuring the supply of the information that was called for by the Expenditure Committee's Sixth Report. It will mean that the Government will have a maximum of one year from the publication of the report to make up its mind. That is more than enough time to enable the Government to comment meaningfully and to set up the sort of machinery which will enable us to put this episode behind us. It will enable us to go forward to projects of high technology with some measure of parliamentary control, and 1535 to be able to say, as we are not able to do about this great project, that the House of Commons has been able to play a relevant and meaningful part in its development and in the control of the costings which the project provides and of which we are custodians.
§ Mr. Adley
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) mentioned the steel industry and made the point that the Government and the British Steel Corporation are insisting on putting efficiency before people. Is not the British Steel Corporation simply recognising that if it is not efficient, if it is unable to produce steel economically which it can sell in the world market, there will not be any jobs left for anybody in a few years' time? As we are unable to live in the delightful old world of cottage industries, we must make up our minds to take decisions which in the short term may be hard for the steel workers in Pontypridd but in the long term should create security of employment for many people throughout the country.
§ Mr. John
If that is so I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who knows that I am not fundamentally antagonistic to Concorde, should not adduce that argument to his constituency. It is easy to play away on the employment front but it is not so easy at home. My point was that because of the way in which steel decisions have been taken, many of those who are displaced—the hon. Member should not undervalue the pain that it causes—feel angry and frustrated that their voices could not be heard here he cause the decision was taken elsewhere without information being adduced here.
§ Mr. Adley
I understand the hon. Gentleman perfectly. I should not like him to think that I was undervaluing the feelings of people. It is not my impression that we have been lax in this House, in the two and a half years that the hon. Gentleman and I have been here, in discussing the problems of the steel industry. I think that the steel workers' problems have been frequently aired in this place and they can be content that they have a powerful and oft-heard voice in this House.
I do not want to make a long speech, because we have been over this ground a 1536 number of times. I should like to deal with some of the points which have been made. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) seemed to indicate that Concorde was solely a prestige project. This is patent nonsense. The aerospace industry is one of our major exporting industries. Unless we are prepared to invest money in manufacturing modern aircraft, which we recognise will go through good and bad times before reaching the sales point, we shall not have an aerospace industry in this country. It has nothing to do with blind prestige. It was a decision taken by Parliament to invest the country's resources in an industry which over the last 10 years has been responsible for a huge amount of exports and for which we would be hard put to find replacements were we not producing modern up-to-date aircraft.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) made much the same point. He could look at Concorde only as a large debit without looking forward to the time when we should reap the rewards, however long we may have to wait from the inception of the project until its eventual success.
I should like to deal in some detail with a question which has been raised tonight and on a number of occasions in the last two weeks—namely, the apparently changed situation caused by the failure of Pan American at this time—I stress "at this time"—to take up its options on Concorde. I am not alone in feeling that for too long now the options situation, which was initiated 10 years ago, has in many ways hung like a millstone round the project. All eyes have been riveted on the number of options to the exclusion of what the project was all about.
I should like to examine not only Pan American's situation today compared with what it was in 1963 and 1966, the two dates at which it placed its options, but the situation of the market as it was then concerning the new fast aircraft of that day. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Sir F. Corfield), in a speech a few months ago, let slip a remark which I have no reason to believe he has regretted when he said that Pan American at present 1537 could hardly afford to buy a bicycle. If some hon. Members were surprised when Pan American did not place firm orders for Concorde last week, they must be totally out of touch with what is going on in the boardrooms of Pan American, World Airways and a number of other world airlines.
Time magazine this week put the position quite simply:Last week's rejection is not a surprise.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
About a year ago, in answer to a Question by me, the Government said that they had not the slightest doubt that all the American options, including that of Pan American, would be converted into firm orders.
§ Mr. Adley
The hon. Gentleman makes the point only too well. I do not think that at that time my hon. Friend would have said that at 10.37 p.m. on 31st January 1973 the sky would open and it would happen. I am confident that in due course Pan American and Trans World Airlines will place orders for Concorde. Last week I had informal discussions with two major international airlines, both of which in the last few months have expressed their unwillingness at this time to place immediate orders for Concorde. I discussed with them not only Concorde but Foulness. The answer given to me by one airline, which has recently cancelled options, was short and simple: "We shall be flying Concordes long before we are landing aircraft at Foulness."
I should like to deal in some detail with the point I was trying to make about interaction between an airline and its finances and the state of the new aircraft market and the concurrent order books of the aircraft manufacturers.
On 3rd June 1963, when Pan American took out options for six Concordes, the long-range Boeing 707 had 152 orders, of which 127 had been delivered, and there was a lead time of 12 to 14 months. On 14th July 1966, when Pan American took out two further options for Concorde, the long-range Boeing 707 had 330 aircraft ordered, 250 delivered and a lead time of 18 months, whilst the long-range DC8 had a lead time of 24 months.
There has been a complete turn-around in the world aircraft manufacturing situation since that time. We have moved, in 1538 one of the periodic cycles of the aircraft manufacturing industry, from a seller's to a buyer's market. In these circumstances, I believe that an option position in a buyer's market is meaningless. The Boeing 747 has totally shattered the finances of most of the airlines that were placing options for Concorde, in completely different circumstances, seven to 10 years ago. In the four years before 1966 when Pan American concluded its final option position it had shown a profit of 209 million dollars. In the four years before cancellation of those options last week, the same airline was showing a deficit of 152 million dollars. That is the reality of the situation in which that airline—it is not alone—finds itself today.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus was reported to today's Daily Telegraph as saying that amongst the airlines of the countries that were likely to purchase Concorde only two, China and Iran, were likely at this moment to buy the aircraft other than BOAC and Air France. He said "only" as though China was unimportant. Here again, many people have fundamentally failed to understand the changed circumstances of today compared with the situation 10 years ago. China is already a major customer of the British aircraft manufacturing industry, a situation which could be described only as totally unforeseeable 10 years ago. Most people would admit that the chances are that the Chinese national airline is far more likely to expand more rapidly than any airline in the Western world which has or which had an option for Concorde. That being so, the words "only China", making it sound like an unimportant country without resources and one which is unlikely to expand, show a failure to appreciate the position.
The Russian supersonic TU144 is another factor which 10 years ago was not as widely foreseen as it might have been. The Financial Times today quoted Isvestia—I never thought that I should find myself quoting Isvestia with favour—as saying that the United States airlines had abandoned their options on Concorde because America wanted to retain its supremacy in aviation. That is not a point upon which I shall dwell. There seems little doubt, however, that the welfare of the American aircraft manufacturing industries is not totally absent 1539 from the formulation of policy which some of the American carriers have had thrust upon them in the last few weeks.
The next point I wish to raise was made to me by one of the two major international airlines to which I have been speaking this week. The airline has recently cancelled its Concorde options. One of the senior executives, who told me he thought his airline would be flying Concorde before it was landing aircraft at Foulness, said that now that Boeing was talking about a 1,000-seater aircraft it believed that the inevitable result would be more and more of the regular first-class passengers demanding segregation by both time and aircraft from the other passengers. They would want smaller, faster aircraft of the Concorde type when faced with the prospect not only of flying with 999 other people but also of taking off and landing with them. The thought of queueing with a thousand other people to get through Customs would horrify them. If there are to be first-class passengers and they were offered the chance of travelling at twice the speed and with one-tenth the number of fellow passengers, I cannot believe that they would refuse. Therefore, there will be a substantial market for this aircraft. The history of successful new aircraft has followed this pattern.
It has been difficult to know whether I have been making a Third Reading speech or speaking to amendments. The Government are to be thoroughly commended for their stand on Concorde. I support them wholeheartedly. We have learned enough lessons from our recent aircraft manufacturing history to know whether we should give way to weakness and fall down when the going gets tough or whether we should bite on the bullet in the belief that we have a project which in due course will commend itself to the world airlines. We must bite on the bullet and I am delighted that the Government are doing just that.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
The enthusiasm for Concorde of hon. Members representing Bristol constituencies and their somewhat blind faith in the project is entirely understandable. It cannot be despised but it is sad and perhaps a little shortsighted. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. 1540 Benn) was speaking it was ostensibly in support of the clause. A subsequent speech from the Conservative side seemed to be more in support of the clause than the speech by my right hon. Friend.
If my right hon. Friend had travelled through the Committee stage of the Bill, the blind enthusiasm that he continues to show for the project, admirable though it may be from a constituency point of view, would have been slightly dented. If the new clause is passed and the Select Committee is set up, that will serve only to carry further the process begun in Standing Committee of introducing an element of reality into the proceedings.
We fully understand the dilemma which faces right hon. and hon. Members from Bristol. The cancellation of Concorde, which I believe must come, will have substantial consequences for the town and that is why they cannot accept any such proposition and why they also feel that those of us who have held all along that the project is not viable are doing something which is damaging to their constituents and damaging to the country as a whole. If that appears to be the case it is a pity, because it does not appear so to us.
I have been opposed to Concorde from the beginning and if the advice which I tendered from the back benches—and advice given by back-benchers does not often receive the attention it deserves—throughout the years had been followed we should not be in the position we are in today. Our aircraft industry would be engaged on viable and saleable projects. We should have a thriving industry working on wide-bodied aircraft and the country would be able to afford to put much more money into projects like the RB211 engine instead of striving to sell a supersonic aircraft to people who do not want to buy it.
It is suggested that all sorts of mysterious agencies are at work causing airlines with options to change their minds and say that they do not want Concorde. It is suggested that the cancellations are due to the machinations of the American aircraft industry and to goodness knows what else. No one appears to take any notice of the sound commercial reasons advanced by the airlines for saying that they do not want to buy the aircraft.
1541 I wish to examine those reasons. One is that the airlines do not think that Concorde will pay. My right hon. Friend is following an argument now being put forward by the salesmen of Concorde. It is now being said that Concorde is a sort of loss leader, that the airline which has Concorde in its fleet will acquire prestige and standing in the world and that, although losing money heavily on the project, it will gain general prestige. That is the point to which the salesmen have been driven. They cannot sell the aircraft on its merits. We have to consider whether theirs is a valid argument, and I do not believe that it is.
The airline which flies Concorde will gain much more environmental criticism and disadvantage than it will gain prestige. The environmental argument has been pushed to one side during most of our discussions. I came into the critique of the Concorde project from the environmental angle. Although subsequently in examining the project over the years I became convinced that it was unviable economically, I still take the view that the basic reason why the project is objectionable is that it is the wrong type of project to embark upon and that even if it were commercially saleable it is not the sort of project into which the country should be putting all its eggs. We have to remember that practically all our aircraft eggs are in this one basket.
One has only to consider the test flights over this country and the fact that, in addition to the ordinary running of the aircraft, considerable compensation had to be paid for the damage done during those flights. Presumably the aircraft will be flown by commercial airlines over other countries. No one has suggested that it can be confined to the sea. No one has suggested that even when it is flying over the sea it will not pass over ships and perhaps damage them. No one has added up the consequences of flying over some inhabited countries and whether that would not add still further to the disadvantages of flying the aircraft.
Before citing the arguments which have been put forward by the airlines, perhaps I might add one word to what the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) said about the option position. He seemed to criticise the whole 1542 option proposition, and perhaps I ought to say a word on behalf of those who have been trying to sell the Concorde in the past. I believe that the hon. Gentleman was not in the House in 1964, 1965 and 1966. If he had been he would have known that the option proposition was the only basis on which the House could be persuaded to put the necessary money into the project. At the time the Government were selling options. That was the only way in which this House could be persuaded to find the money needed to advance the project. There was no alternative but to seek options and to argue for a number of years that an option more or less amounted to a firm order. For a long time the sharp distinction which we now see between an option and a firm order and the gradations which we now know to exist were blurred. It was suggested at one time that we should have a production line of some 200 aircraft. It was on that basis that the project went ahead. Now we find the situation sadly changed.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East seemed to be arguing against the new clause. What I thought he said was that, whether the expenditure exceeded £300 million or not, for the next two years we had to go full steam ahead. He seemed to be saying that we had to go on with blind faith and hope that as a result of selling the aircraft the consequences of having it in service would be that the aircraft would gain such prestige that further orders would flow in from America and elsewhere. However I do not think that my right hon. Friend can say that and simultaneously introduce a new clause which suggests the appointment of a Select Committee, because the consequence of that might be that the "full steam ahead with our eyes closed" which my right hon. Friend seems to suggest would be resisted by such a process.
§ Mr. Benn
I am sure that my hon. Friend wants to be fair. He will recall that on Second Reading I moved the Opposition's amendment that the Bill should go to a Select Committee forthwith. The new clause is slightly less powerful because we lost the main amendment. But I hope that my hon. Friend will acquit me of any desire to avoid full public discussion. I am firmly of the view that the House is entitled to 1543 know now more than it is allowed to know.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I accept my right hon. Friend's view about that and since my belief in the new clause is such that it is my intention not only to speak in favour of it but to vote for it, I hope that my right hon. Friend will join me in the Division Lobby as evidence of his belief in the clause. What my right hon. Friend has just said encourages me in the belief that we intend to divide the House on this issue and that we are serious in our attitude to the new clause. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that indication.
§ Mr. Adley
For the record, the hon. Gentleman is right when he says that I was not a Member of the House in 1964, 1965 or 1966. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's consistent opposition to the Concorde with which I do not agree. However, I hope he is not suggesting that it is purely because I represent a Bristol constituency that I am in favour of the project. That fact means that I have a chance fully and thoroughly to examine the situation and to spend a great deal of time looking at the project and trying to understand it. That is why I support it.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I am wholly opposed to aircraft noise, and it is coincidental that I happen to live in Putney where there is a great deal of it. My feeling against aircraft noise is just as firm as that of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East in favour of Concorde, and neither viewpoint has anything to do with the fact that the hon. Gentleman represents a Bristol constituency and that I am the Member for Putney. I quite accept that.
Why, then, is it that these airlines have not bought the Concorde if it is the development which it is said to be? It might be thought that the airlines would want to be in there among the first and showing the way. According to my information there are a number of reasons which have persuaded the American airlines that it is not a good idea. The purchase price per seat compared with a subsonic aircraft is between eight and 10 times as high. The operating costs per seat mile are about twice as high. The fuel consumption per seat is roughly 1544 three times as high. The range is not much more than half that of the ordinary average new subsonic jet. The payload is about one-quarter. The productivity in terms of miles flown per day is at best about 50 per cent. higher. The operating life is shorter. Those are some of the firm commercial considerations which I believe have brought about the decision of the airlines not to proceed with their options.
It is far from my wish that the British aerospace industry should not be successful. It is an industry which in terms of the quality of skills that it employs is unrivalled in the world. Unfortunately, it has been on a wrong course. It was very unfortunate that it did not get off that wrong course very much earlier. It used to be argued in 1965, 1966 and 1967 that having gone as far as we had, we could not get off now. It seems to me that now is precisely the time when it is necessary to get off. The aircraft has flown. It has proved that it can do all that it was said to do. It has shown that it is a fine aircraft. But it has also shown that at this stage it is not a commercially viable proposition. If we go on spending £1½million a week we shall not be doing our country any service and we shall not be doing the British aerospace industry any service either.
For those reasons it is my intention to record my firm conviction that a mistake is being made. I shall do that by voting in favour of the new clause. I am sure that those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are in favour of Concorde will have sufficient faith in the project to vote that it should be given that careful consideration to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East referred.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
The clause and the two amendments seem to me to cover different ground, and I must say that I would have no particular objection to a White Paper being published.
The debate has concerned itself with the need for greater knowledge being given to Parliament so that we can the better make up our minds about projects. To hear the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), we might think that Parliament does not have any say throughout the year. In fact, of course, we can stop 1545 projects simply by refusing to give them money. That right has always been ours. If either Government had wished to stop the Concorde project, they had the power to do so, always allowing for the treaty.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) will forgive my saying that it is wrong to suggest that Concorde is the first vehicle for rich men's travel, as if all other vehicles had been for poor men's travel. That is to stand an argument on its head. I cannot think of a single means of travel, except walking, that has not started as a vehicle for rich men and then become a vehicle for poor men.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
The right hon. Gentleman may suggest a horse, but as he is a human being I shall not put him in that category.
We are allowing ourselves to be mesmerised by the words "Select Committee", as if once it has been set up Parliament has a new instrument that will control projects with very fine tuning and will be able to stay the hand of the executive if the Select Committee so desires. That is not the case. Select Committees are still in an embryonic state, and I do not believe that we have yet created the right instrument for parliamentary control. We certainly have nothing like the control they have in the United States. For instance, a Select Committee can examine all sorts of witnesses, produce recommendations, and publish thick reports, but there is no requirement on the Government to debate its reports or accept the recommendations.
§ Mr. Palmer
Why does the hon. Gentleman say that Select Committees are in an embryonic stage? They are one of the oldest instruments the House possesses.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
My knowledge of Select Committees is somewhat embryonic, but I was under the impression that there were two types, and that the one we are discussing is quite a new idea in parliamentary terms. I shall not pursue the point, because I have only just been put on a Select Committee. But what I have said as criticism of the Select Committee procedure holds good, that there 1546 is no requirement for the Government to accept the Select Committees' recommendations, nor to find time for their reports to be debated. Those two checks could be introduced almost immediately without any loss to anyone. Indeed, I should like to feel that if a Government set up a Select Committee they are, at least to some extent, duty bound to accept its recommendations or find time for a more or less immediate debate once they have said whether they will accept the recommendations.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
My intervention will be brief. I hope that we shall all be brief, so that every hon. Member present may take part in the debate. I ask the hon. Gentleman to have greater respect for Select Committees. I do so not on behalf of Select Committees as such but because there is a strong anti-Concorde lobby, and if we turn down the suggestion we shall give it greater ammunition.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I was going on to say that I support the Bill unamended, and that I continue to object to the concept of a Select Committee to look into the project at this time. I am entirely behind the Concorde project, like the hon. Gentleman, I think, and, therefore, wish to give as much power to the Government's arm as I can.
Those of us who served on the Committee considering the Bill did so against the dismal background of the cancellation of the options. That should not cloud our judgment about the project. When we read the Press it is very easy to imagine that Pan-Am, TWA and all the great names in the airline business are living through fat years and, therefore, made the decision to cancel the options because the aircraft was not good enough. In fact, they are just emerging from some of the leanest years they can remember. Therefore, it was quite reasonable for them to cancel their option, as they know the aircraft will be around and they can buy it when they are rather more flush with cash. Indeed, cancelling the options now provides them with badly needed money that has been residing with BAC and Aerospatiale.
Therefore, I do not consider that the cancellation of the options is more than a temporary setback. I am firmly of the opinion that it is only when the aircraft 1547 is in service, proving its route viability and, no doubt, its profitability, that we can say whether those great airlines can afford to opt out of supersonic travel.
However, I want to return to the question of monitoring a project like Concorde. When I say that I accept the Bill without amendment and, therefore, that the Government should have the right to lend up to £350 million more to BAC and Rolls-Royce to complete the project, I include in my acceptance the willingness of the Government to monitor the programme on behalf of the taxpayer and Parliament to the best of their ability, using such monitoring skills as are possessed in Whitehall. Expenditure of such vast sums of money must require that monitoring.
But here I must refer to the report recently published by the Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir David Pitblado, about the project. He sets out in the greatest detail I have ever read most of the questions we have been talking about tonight. His strictures against BAC and Rolls-Royce deserve the most careful consideration by Parliament. He is obviously concerned about what he thinks was the faulty cost-estimating by BAC between March 1968 and November 1970, and about Rolls-Royce's excessive manufacturing and purchasing of engine spares and components up to 1970.
It is interesting that those are the years he chooses, because the Labour administration was then in power. Therefore, when I heard the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) telling us tonight that he has suddenly become converted to the concept of Government openness, I wondered whether he might not have allowed his conversion to come a few years before, when it would have meant something, rather than the slightly hollow phrases we heard tonight.
§ Mr. Bishop
Would the hon. Gentle man have appreciated my right hon. Friend's gesture if, feeling that a Select Committee might have been set up years ago and yet wanting to appear blameless, my right hon. Friend had gone on in the same blind way as the hon. Gentleman, saying that he did not think a Select Committee was therefore needed at any time? In many ways, at the start of a project 1548 when one is unaware of the extent of escalation one may not think of the need to have a Select Committee. But surely at the later stages, when spending has escalated enormously, it is to the credit of anyone who says "We need a Select Committee now". This is not a party point but merely a question of wise monitoring of money.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
In the eyes of the Church, I think, a conversion, even at the eleventh hour, is welcome. I am not quite certain whether we can bring the divine presence into Parliament to that extent. While I appreciate what the hon. Member has been saying in defence of his colleague, at the same time I think one may well wonder whether this conversion is not something else.
I want, curiously enough, for a moment to defend his right hon. Friend and to ask why it was that he did not then feel that a Select Committee or more openness would have been relevant to the project. I suggest that he had the responsibility for that project and he was responsible ultimately, as indeed is any Minister, for the project to the British taxpayer for the way the money is spent and the investment cared for. Is it not just possible that the reason his right hon. Friend did not give way to the concept of a Select Committee and the reason he was so reluctant to give very much information to Parliament was that he felt that such information as Parliament might have wanted would have done little to educate Parliament but might have given a great number of hostages to fortune for those who had another involvements in the project; namely, the desire to see how it was costed and generally to gain commercial knowledge at the expense of the project. Could he, therefore, not have been an honest husbandman taking care of something which had been entrusted to him, aware perhaps that, although Parliament might consider it had the right to this knowledge, it could do very little with the knowledge when it had it, but that that knowledge might be a very serious danger and threat to the overall success of the project?
§ Mr. Bishop
I hesitate to intervene, but I think the hon. Member is making a very important point, although I disagree with him. Surely, putting the argument the other way round, as one is entitled 1549 to do, we are saying to the world customers that we are in favour of the project going on only because they are kept in complete ignorance of all the important aspects about which they ought to know, and, indeed, if they had the facts, they might instead take a different view. Although I do not suggest that is the case, critics are entitled to put that kind of interpretation on it.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
One is perfectly entitled to that point of view, but, in fact, there is a great mass of information available about this aircraft if we want it and all sorts of arguments from every point of view. Mary Goldring of the Economist has been against the project almost from the word go and has always, because she is an extremely effective aviation correspondent, backed up her statements with facts and figures to prove them. Other people have been in favour of it. We ourselves in Parliament have a considerable freedom to ask questions. We have, therefore, to get this into perspective.
I want now to develop the point further. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East was, I think, right, just as I think my hon. Friend tonight will be right, in not wishing to give away more than certain information because he had the responsibility to the taxpayer and to Parliament to ensure that this project was brought to a successful conclusion.
I want for a moment to draw a parallel. Reference has already been made to security projects. It is the case that no military aircraft project is ever revealed in full to Parliament. Indeed, Parliament does not expect to know, because there is a security problem. But we would surely be very out of date if we did not realise that there is such a thing as commercial security. Indeed, we all know there is because on the television screen and in our national newspapers we read about commercial espionage and about people who are paid by firms to gain information about a competitor, with photographs, literature and so on. Are we, the Parliament of the United Kingdom, to be less careful with this great project which we are administering for the British taxpayer just because a few parliamentarians say "Oh, well, I do not know all I wanted to"? That would be foolish and reckless beyond belief.
1550 However, I believe sometimes that Whitehall and Parliament are unduly secretive. I have been lectured before now by civil servants on what they describe as "the need to know". Probably if one has got to that point one does not even need to know one's name, but it is a ridiculous argument because it means that the slightest probing for the most obvious fact creates all sorts of reservations as if somehow Whitehall had a greater responsibility than we have. If we believe in democracy, in the end it is we who have that responsibility and it is we who should be able to say to our Minister "No, please, do not give away that information—we do not want you to."
§ Mr. Edelman
In presenting his very interesting thesis that the limitation of information is somehow in the interests of any given aviation project, would the hon. Member apply the same criteria to, say, the RB211?
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I am glad the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) has raised that point because it brings me to my next point.
We are saying, I think, that Members of Parliament could have monitored Concorde more effectively if we had known over a period of time the sort of issues involved as to expenditure and so on; yet it was the right hon. Member for Bristol. South-East—and I fear I have quoted this many times but it struck me so forcibly that I shall never forget it while I live—who said during one of the RB211 debates—he admitted it—that no official in his Ministry of Technology had the knowledge of the advance technology of that engine to be able to monitor it against what Rolls-Royce said was the fact. That was a very honest statement and one to which we should all pay the greatest attention.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
The position to which I believe we are coming and which again in my view Sir David Pitblado has revealed is that there still probably exists a lack of ability in the Ministry for Aerospace and Shipping or the Department of Trade and Industry to monitor in the way which allows an official to 1551 say "You do not need to spend this; you should not have done that." I suspect they are still in a position where they can be led by the nose by the representatives of the companies concerned. The comments which he has made, to which I have already referred, on BAC and Rolls-Royce over expenditure bear out that point.
We should be concerning ourselves far more with how to get the skills into the Ministries than with whether we as Members of Parliament having all sorts of other interests can in any sense be merely amateur civil servants whose knowledge will be abysmal when compared with those officials whose job it is to do the task.
I suggest that if the instrument we choose is a Select Committee, despite what the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) has said, it is not enough to be able to say that the Committee can sit in camera from time to time. We must create something different, and when we have set up this Select Committee with Members from both sides of the House serving on it we should let those Members act on behalf of all of us without saying "I, too, must know". This will be difficult to carry out because, if I am right about the commercial security angle, the Committee will have to sit in camera far more than in open session. This in turn means that we must trust the way the Committee works and trust it totally if it says "You need not worry about Concorde: it is on the right lines." Something different from what we have at present will, therefore, be necessary. We must look at the whole question of Select Committees in terms of this sort of project.
I feel that we must not allow ourselves to become mesmerised by the idea that Concorde is an everyday happening where Parliament is concerned, because it is not. I cannot think of another great commercial aircraft project for which Parliament has had the responsibility that we have with Concorde. Indeed, I find it difficult to think of a commercial project of that type for which we have ever had a responsibility, and it is incredible to hear comparisons drawn between Concorde and the hovertrain. The hover-train is a research vehicle—therefore we should know about it. Concorde is a 1552 commercial project, and we are here to help it be a great success as I believe it will be in the air markets of the world.
In conclusion, on Tuesday I asked my hon. Friend whether he could tell us anything about the South African trials of the aircraft and the new noise levels of the engine. I should be grateful if he would say something about that when winding-up the debate tonight.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Palmer
I do not know why the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) should be quite so bitter about Select Committees. He spoke in a similar vein on Second Reading. When he said that Select Committees were embryonic on their development I thought that that was historically inaccurate. I remember reading that in the seventeenth century the House of Commons appointed a Select Committee to inquire into why General Waller, the Parliamentary General, lost the battle of Roundaway Down against the Loyalists. I cannot remember the conclusion to which that Committee came, but there is no doubt that Select Committees are old instruments and very powerful.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
Am I not right in thinking that Select Committees as we now operate them are meant to be more on the lines of a senatorial investigation rather than on the line the hon. Gentleman is suggesting?
§ Mr. Palmer
I do not wish to take up the time of the House by going into an historical digression. I merely say that, historically, Congressional Committees and British Select Committees came from the same root.
During part of the week at any rate I am a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins). I assure him that I sleep soundly at night —when I have a chance of getting to bed —in spite of the noise of aircraft overhead. Had my hon. Friend been here I should have told him that Bristol Members have faith in Concorde. We have an obvious constituency interest, but it would be wrong to suggest that we have a blind faith in the project. That would be wrong.
A Bristol Member inherits one-sixth of Burke's mantle, because there are six of us now. Burke was one of the two 1553 Members for Bristol at the time and it was his famous dictum that a Member is a representative and not a delegate. I accept that, and as an inheritor of one-sixth of Burke's mantle I have to tell the House that if I thought that Concorde was wrong for the country, I hope that I should have the courage to say so in spite of my constituency interest.
I support Concorde—and have done from the beginning—not merely because I am a Bristol Member but because I believe that the future of this country depends largely on its support for advanced technology and advanced high technology. I could not accept the somewhat "spinning wheel" approach of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), the former Leader of the Liberal Party, that we should in some way be doubtful about the virtues of technology. As a Socialist, I take the view that anti-technology is a profoundly reactionary slogan and would lead mankind backward rather than forward. Therefore my feeling about Concorde is that it is an aspect of high technology which must be kept to the forefront if the everyday living standards of people not only in Bristol but in Scotland and elsewhere are to be maintained. In addition, if we maintain our own standards of life by high technology we are thereby in a much stronger position to help those parts of the world where the standard of living is not as advanced as our own.
The other argument—used principally by the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne)—is the familiar taxpayer one that it costs a tremendous amount of money which the country cannot afford. The hon. Gentleman cannot see why his constituents who will not get any direct benefit should have to bear part of the cost of this project. That is broadly his argument.
That argument is based upon assuming an absolute division between public and private enterprise, but that cannot be done these days. It is all social expenditure in one form or another. If one considers the past development of the electricity supply industry, with which I am fairly well acquainted, one realises that the cost of the development of electricity was tremendous, but it was paid for differently. It was paid for directly by means of high prices charged to the early con- 1554 sumers of electricity, but the total social cost was enormous. An advanced aircraft project cannot be paid for on an "as-you-go" basis. The only way in which it can be paid for, if it is right to undertake it at all, is out of the public purse.
We as Bristol Members of Parliament have a very real Concorde employment interest on behalf of our constituents, but there is nevertheless resentment among Bristol aircraft workers at all levels that Bristol should be quite so dependent upon one particular project. There has not been a good, balanced development of the aircraft industry, but that is another argument. At the moment we have Concorde in the process of being made and it is obvious that it must now be sold.
As a supporter of Concorde, I wish to say why I should still like a Select Committee to be set up. I give three reasons for this. The first is that I believe that every Bill of a technological character in which party controversy does not enter very greatly should as a matter of course be referred not to a Standing Committee, where only the Minister answers and where outside experts must answer through the mouth of the Minister, but to a Select Committee. The great advantage of a Select Committee is that it can call witnesses before it. It can call not only Ministers but high-level civil servants—and for that matter low-level civil servants—trade unionists engaged on a project and independent outside experts.
One of the greatest frustrations in this House in my experience has been to serve on a Standing Committee and to be told by a Minister "The advice I am giving the Committee is based upon the best expert opinion I have been able to receive", yet members of the Standing Committee are not in a position to interview those same independent experts. I appreciate that we lost the best opportunity on Second Reading, but I support the present proposal that if the expenditure goes beyond a prescribed amount the question should go before a Select Committee. That is a much sounder approach than going before the conventional Standing Committee through which the Bill has already passed.
My second reason is this. Those of us who are Bristol Members of course keep closely in touch—particularly the 1555 Labour Members, although I make no party point there—with the workers concerned. That is certainly true of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks), my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and myself. We are continually in touch with trade unionists and their representatives at Filton. They bring to us a good deal of what appears to be convincing evidence that there is prodigious waste on Concorde. Money is being spent apparently wastefully on what one may describe only as the frills. It has been said, for instance, that more money has been spent on pilots' seats for Concorde than on the whole of the hover-train project.
There are allegations. Surely it should be possible for this House to say not that we are against production of this flying machine, but that we are against public money being wasted on what are perhaps non-essentials.
§ Mr. Michael Heseltine
The hon. Member will of course be fully aware that this matter is dealt with in the report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. It is fully dealt with, including the cost of seats and the final estimates. This is all available to Parliament and is also related in this week's Flight.
§ Mr. Palmer
I appreciate that the Public Accounts Committee has the power, the right and the duty to inquire into public expenditure, but the trouble is that it always does it when it is too late. There may be criticism or blame but it is not possible for the PAC to carry out checks during the course of a project. With heavy public technology expenditure of this kind, I believe that to have a Select Committee at an early stage is essential.
As I have said, hon. Members from Bristol get from trade union circles allegations of waste and I believe that these matters have to be looked into at the time. We should be able to ask why it is necessary, for example, to have such elaborate pilots' seats or, for that matter, passenger seats. Is it not possible to do it more cheaply? For the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East to say that this is a matter for the Government and not for the House means that he is abdi- 1556 cating his personal responsibility for the correct and economical use of public funds.
My final reason for advocating a Select Committee at this stage is that I have been irritated to read in our newspapers about the information, detailed and given in public, which has been put before the French Chamber of Deputies on the production of the Concorde. That information is not available, as far as I can judge, even after reading through the reports of the Standing Committee, to Members of this House. In this sense, perhaps the methods of French Chamber of Deputies in accounting for public money as it is being spent are superior to ours.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. William Rodgers), my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) and I put down the original motion which called for a Select Committee to consider the Concorde project. I am glad to say that our point of view was later adopted officially by the Opposition. But I very much regret that once again we have reached the point where the Government are still resisting our reasonable request. I hope that in future when Bills of this kind are being considered we shall have the good sense as parliamentarians to pass them to Committees which really can examine them properly.
§ Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)
The hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) and I share a joint interest, albeit at opposite ends, in the production line of the Concorde. He referred to lack of information, but the information is there if one looks for it. Particularly if one represents a constituency where the Concorde is produced, there is every opportunity to obtain the information one needs as a Member of Parliament.
I have great faith in the Concorde because I believe that the present vogue for wide-bodied aircraft will not be popular. Anyone who has travelled in the Boeing jumbo 747s on long journeys and has been through the difficulties of customs and security checks and of arriving at airports which have not the right facilities will feel naturally inclined to go back to smaller aircraft, particularly if we are, as my hon. Friend the Member 1557 for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Adley) suggests, to have larger aircraft with up to 1,000 seats. I think that the swing back to smaller faster aircraft will be very marked.
With the discomfort of ordinary aircraft, anything that will cut down the amount of time which people have to spend in the air is something which very many people will go for. So I have great faith in Concorde in the long term.
Amendment No. 2 suggests that on enactment of the Bill a White Paper shall be published. I do not understand that. If there is a horse that is likely to bolt, that would be closing the stable door after it had bolted. It is suggested that the White Paper should examine the history of the project, which is well known, the current prospects, which are discussed endlessly in the newspapers, and expectations, which are entirely a matter of judgment. Those are all matters that we could do without. Discussion of these subjects as a matter of course at the end of each year, when we are trying to sell the aircraft, would only be a self-inflicted wound.
The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins)—as he always has been —is motivated by the aircraft noise aspect. My constituency, Esher, shares a similar problem, but a large part of the aircraft industry is located in Weybridge, and that is where the Concorde is being made. Perhaps I take a more balanced view than he does on that aspect.
At Weybridge there is a work force of 7,000 men, almost all of whom are engaged on the Concorde project. We have had disappointments in the last few years over the BAC311 and in the last two and a half years there have been redundancies of 1,600 men, so we are sensitive to the prospects of Concorde. Anxiety is natural. There is anxiety about the future of the production line and where it will be located, as Sir George Edwards has said. Is it possible for two production lines to continue to run? If one production line is closed down, although that country is still able to make bits of the aircraft, there will be greater danger of dispersal of the working force and the design teams. That will affect not only the country's ability to 1558 get on with this aircraft in happier times but also its capability to build other aircraft projects.
On the prospects, paradoxically the cancellation of options has meant that the makers of Concorde are in a much better position to go out and sell it with the promise of early delivery, which they could not do before. Therefore, the ratio of customers available to aircraft available is now much more nearly in balance.
May I say a word on collaborative projects as a whole? If we are to retain and exploit our ability to make bits of aircraft, as we are doing with Concorde, we must also retain the ability to make complete aircraft, otherwise we shall not be able to make the bits. The motivation of the men working on building the aircraft is much greater if they can actually see the product at the end of the line as opposed to only a part of it.
It is important to my constituents that the House tonight should show its determination to continue this project which, unlike almost any other aircraft project, has been supported by successive Governments.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Edelman
The sub-title of this debate should perhaps be the question: Is the British taxpayer being gazumped by the aircraft industry?—because I believe the whole anxiety expressed both by those who are in favour of Concorde and by those who are opposed to it lies in the fact that, whenever the customer has gone to his supplier and asked him to deliver the goods, the supplier has repeatedly said "Yes, you can have them but you will have to pay more money." For my own part, I remain a committed supporter of Concorde. I support Concorde today as I did in 1964 when many of my hon. Friends were opposed to it.
The House will recall that in 1964 an economic White Paper was produced in which the Government of the day stated their opposition to prestige projects, including Concorde. For my part, even then I thought that a prestige project was not necessarily something to be dismissed. There was, I thought at the time, a cash value in prestige and something which could be compounded and translated into benefit for the country, not only in the technological advantage represented by an 1559 aircraft like Concorde, not only in the substantial subsidiary benefits which would arise from it, but also, ultimately, the fact that Britain would pioneer a supersonic aircraft was something which would remain to our credit and in future would bring the most valuable results. But at the time nobody could possibly have thought that the cost of Concorde would have risen by such extraordinary leaps and bounds to a position today in which we are now paying almost £500 million as our share of the aircraft, and even now we cannot be certain that the aircraft will be delivered as originally projected and thereafter go into production.
There is, therefore, a natural disquiet in the country, and even those who are most firmly committed to the continuing development—because, after all, the development is not yet complete—and the production of the aircraft, and among them I include myself, are concerned, anxious and disturbed about the way in which the cost of the aircraft has risen. There are today two extreme schools of thought. There are those who, like the sailors of Christopher Columbus when he was within 50 miles of the shores of America, say "turn back because we cannot see land." On the other hand, there are those who are rather like the man who fell from the top of a 20-storey skyscraper and as he was passing the tenth floor said "so far, so good."
I believe the feeling many of us have is that we ought really to have some idea of whether there is a safety net which will protect the taxpayer, who has been brought into the discussion so often tonight, which will make sure that we really can find some sound and safe basis for the whole project; because, although my right hon. Friend, using a current catch phrase, said we must keep our nerve, a term the Minister also used, and while it is a fine thing to keep one's nerve, one must realise where one is going. I am sure the Gadarene swine also kept their nerve but they did not realise where their journey would lead them.
That is why we on this side above all are concerned with establishing a Select Committee, which will inquire into the reasons why the cost of this aircraft has risen in such a dramatic way. For my own part, I would have preferred 1560 a tribunal of inquiry because I feel there are certain guilty men in this particular project who should be brought to book. When I describe them as "guilty men" I do not mean guilty in any criminal sense. But there is a degree of culpability involved in the use of public money without adequate return or proper accountancy. This has been established by the Public Accounts Committee and by the Expenditure Committee. There are those who are prepared, year in and year out, to use public money, to give hopelessly optimistic promises of what they will deliver, and in the end to come back to the House and say "You must go on paying because if you do not do so the project will fall to the ground, and you will have to spend not only the money you originally estimated but vast additional sums". In a sense this House has been blackmailed by those who are equally the debtors of this House.
In asking for a Select Committee we are merely underlining the need for public accountability. We are saying that, whatever the intra-ministerial or intra-company devices used for monitoring progress of the contract, more questions should be asked—and they are political rather than technical questions. Concorde has always been a political aircraft in the sense that by parliamentary decision we decided to go ahead on a basis of functional co-operation with the French to produce a joint pace-making European project. The majority of people regarded the aircraft as an innovating operation which went to the frontiers of scientific knowledge. It was looked upon as something which would redound to the prestige of Britain and our French partners. Therefore, the decision to manufacture the aircraft was a parliamentary and political decision.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) spoke about the technical ignorance of Members of Parliament and tended to underrate the fact that Parliament had a responsibility for making certain political judgments affecting projects which it sponsored and invited the taxpayer to pay for. Parliament is fully entitled to pose comprehensive questions such as the question "Why have costs escalated?" That is a basic question. We ask the Minister questions and he answers them extremely well, but he does not get to the root of the matter, namely, "Why have the costs 1561 increased in this dramatic way?" This question has never been adequately answered because the Minister knows only the accountancy statistics, but he does not know why the costs have risen in this way.
§ Mr. Michael Heseltine
There are two reasons why costs have risen. They have been explained many times, and have been inquired into by the Public Accounts Committee on many occasions. First, there is inflation which has contributed substantially to the situation. Secondly, there is the fact that nobody has yet found a way of pricing adequately in advance projects involving high technology exploration.
§ Mr. Edelman
With respect to the Minister, that is a glib answer and does not deal with the basic question of whether management has been at fault in allowing costs to rise in this way. Even taking inflation into account, the moment the Minister talks about the unknown, he is evading the question. The House is entitled to know why there has been a threefold increase in the cost of Concorde since the first estimates were made. The Public Accounts Committee has drawn attention to the fact that there has been an inadequate amount of information. It is not just a matter of a firm returning work sheets showing how many hours have been worked on any given operation, or how much material has been used, nor is it a question of the contractor showing how sums are made up.
What we want to know and are entitled to know is why these sums were inflated in this way. I will give one simple illustration. We want to know whether orders were given in time to contractors and sub-contractors to make sure that the flow of work was not interrupted and that men were not left without materials. We want to know whether management was effective in dealing with this particular project. We do not know that. Although the Minister can produce all the accounts, the debits, the credits and so on, he is not answering the fundamental question of whether management was effective in dealing with Concorde. That is something we are entitled to know.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I have been involved in many decisions recently of exactly the sort to which the hon. Gentleman draws the attention of the House and I know of no occasion on which the manufacturers have asked for authorisation for which certain decisions had to be taken and where they have been held up.
§ Mr. Edelman
I am inhibited from giving further examples, and that illustrates why we are asking for a Select Committee. When one approaches a company, it says "We have given this information privately but you cannot ask a question in the House because you will interfere with our relationship with Whitehall". The moment one asks the Minister whether something has taken place, he says "I cannot give you the answer to that because it will interfere with our confidential relationship with the company."
§ Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham)
Is my hon. Friend aware that unwittingly he is being much too kind to the predecessors of the Minister? Going back 10 years, I recollect that the estimates of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Julian Amery) were rather less than one-fifth of the present cost, not one-third.
§ Mr. Edelman
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I was being kind because I did not want to overstate the case.
We are dealing now not in millions but in hundreds of millions. In this very thin House tonight we are protesting at the way these millions have accumulated without adequate reference to this House, without adequate accountancy to this House and, above all, without an adequate explanation of how the project has increased in this way, which is sufficient entitlement for us to ask for a Select Committee.
I suspect—and again I make no attribution of ill intent to anybody—that in a sense projects such as this become a honeypot for those who are seeking easy money. They become a honeypot because once one has a project based on cost-plus or on price to be agreed, which has been the basis of the Concorde development, obviously it does not matter whether the job is finished tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. The contractors are being paid and 1563 although there are high-minded people involved who recognise the national importance of the Concorde—to which I subscribe, as I would emphasise tonight—there are others who are concerned only with their immediate frame of reference. Therefore, whether the work is delivered on time or is delayed is of no acute concern to them.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
I want to ask my hon. Friend, for whom I have great personal regard, not to press that statement about easy money too far. I have worked in the aircraft industry, I have worked for research and development people, I have worked in research and development with Millbank. So I know from first-hand experience that these are very decent people, who work very hard and indeed work to the advantage of the nation. Easy money is hardly a term that can be applied to them.
§ Mr. Edelman
My hon. Friend must not misrepresent me or unwittingly distort what I was saying. I think it was crystal clear to most of my hon. Friends that I was not talking of those concerned physically and actively in the production of the aircraft. My criticism is of management.
§ Mr. Edelman
In that case I say to my hon. Friend that while he is prepared to give this blank cheque to management, I am not prepared to do so.
§ Mr. Edelman
That is precisely why a Select Committee is necessary to examine the extraordinary enigma of why, despite inflation, despite the fact that in certain respects the contractors are working in unknown areas of technology, costs have risen in this way. To that question there has been no answer. The hon. Gentleman and many of his Friends are merely concerned with the mathematics of accountancy but not with the basis of those mathematics.
The accountant who sees a balance sheet or adds up the work sheets does not know what is going on in the factory, whether the processes of management have been such as to produce delays, whether they have interfered with the 1564 flow of work or whether management has in one way or another been extravagant. The Minister knows Coventry well because a few years ago we had some electoral co-operation. He also knows that the Olympus 593 was made there by skilled men, highly energetic men, devoted and dedicated men. The workers at Rolls-Royce have consistently upheld the production of Concorde. They have come to see me and some of my hon. Friends time after time, not seeking to avoid work as some have suggested the shop stewards were doing, but seeking to maintain the flow of work, seeking to make sure that they had the opportunity of participating in this great patriotic endeavour.
They have pointed out to me that there have been difficulties—I will not overstate the position—connected with management which led to the catastrophe of the collapse of Rolls-Royce and which must spill over, by way of rising costs, to the Olympus 593. What has happened in Coventry must, I am sure, have happened in Bristol. To say that is in no sense to cast any reflection on those operationally concerned in the manufacture of the aircraft. They are in the forefront of those who want to make the project succeed. It is they who come in deputations to this House, who form action committees and who apply themselves to the task of ensuring, if this project is to succeed, that they play their full part.
There remains the question, if we are to proceed with Concorde as I fervently hope we will, of whether some deal is to be done with the French behind our backs which will result in the closing of a production line in this country in favour of a production line in France. I can declare my own bona fides. I am a Francophile and strongly in favour of Franco-British co-operation. This is a Franco-British project based on equality of co-operation and contribution. To close down a British production line in favour of a French production line in the interests of some bogus form of rationalisation would be passionately resisted in this country, and not only by the aircraft workers.
Tonight I offer a warning to the Minister. If that were to happen it would be bitterly resented. It would darken still further the climate of industrial relations 1565 which is already obscured by the Government's policy. I hope we will be given an assurance that it will not.
We are now faced with certain critics of Concorde whose motives—I do not refer to any hon. Members—are impure. I have grave doubts about some of the American opposition to Concorde, which masquerades under the guise of environmentalism. I am not sure whether they are sincere environmentalists. I am sure that there are those who, with total sincerity, are opposed to the environmental pollution of the atmosphere and who believe that Concorde will add to it. I respect and acknowledge the sincerity and perhaps even the strength of some of their arguments. However, I have no regard for the anti-Concorde lobby which is merely concerned with motives such as possible commercial rivalry and which for parochial reasons is trying to protect some special interest. Such lobbies have done everything in their power to talk down the Concorde project and to make people dissatisfied who are ill informed about the project.
It is for these reasons that I advocate the setting up of a Select Committee. The anti-Concorde lobby has had its own way too long. I am talking not about hon. Members who have genuine doubts, such as the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), but about those whose motives are tainted. They have had their own way for too long. The moment has come when we must have a committee of inquiry which will have power to send for people and papers, a committee which can cross-examine not only civil servants but the contractors. We must know why costs have escalated and we must ensure that there is no further escalation to the detriment of the taxpayer and Great Britain.
§ Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings)
It is interesting to consider that while we have been debating Concorde today we could all have flown in a Concorde to New York and would now be on our way back. That is the mark of the achievement that we want to have in our minds as we debate the provision of large sums of money. It is of great consequence and needs to be seen in the perspective of the project's impact upon the development of technology in the Western world.
1566 The Bill is about the methods of finance of an advanced technology project. It is a difficult project on the frontiers of science and technology. This is very much a discussion about the way in which we should control the expenditure of large sums of money. There is no question in my mind that there is a need for Ministers concerned with any project with such a long time scale as this one to examine carefully their sources of information. They must then ask themselves "Am I getting all the information which I need to be able to make a quantitative and qualitative judgment about the merits of the project and the way the money is being spent?"
Ministers, who are taken from the back benches by merit and by opportunity, find themselves in the cloisters of their Ministries, excluded from the excellent benefit of practical advice from humble hon. Members like myself, who have to face day-to-day problems in other places, the realities of working in difficult projects on the frontiers of science. I believe that all too often Ministers find themselves closeted with civil servants who, God bless them in the time of the pay freeze, do not have the necessary experience to advise their masters of the type of information they need to make judgments on projects like Concorde.
I was always of the opinion, if I dare mention it, that the TSR2 or Concorde never would have cost any more than that which they would ultimately have cost, or in the case of Concorde would cost, but for the fact that at the very start no one got down to the basic problem of finding out how much they could cost. The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr), in an excellent aside, gave a multiplication factor of five times Concorde throughout its history over the last decade. With respect, although his comment was right, I think that his calculation was wrong if, in the first instance, he had been presented with a more rational and sensible estimate of what the cost was likely to be, excluding inflation. I have always believed that a project like the TSR2 or Concorde, or anything of that type, would cost as much as that which we are debating. It is not the fault of management, as the hon. Member for Coventry, North 1567 (Mr. Edelman)suggested, that that which we are talking about—
§ Mr. Warren
I am delighted to have got a dichotomy of opinion between two hon. Gentlemen opposite. One has only to consider the people engaged in management and technology to realise that it is not a question whether they are management or workers. The chaps who were on the laboratory bench yesterday find themselves at the management desk today. They are the same type of people. Within the technology of aerospace a man in management does not feel himself to be any different from the man on the production line, and the man on the production line knows that he is no different from the man in management. So it is no good blaming management. I suggest, without allocating responsibility at all over a decade which happily encompasses a number of Governments, that in the technique of management which the Government request of their employees—in this instance, primarily the British Aircraft Corporation and its subsidiaries and Sud Aviation on the French side—there has been inadequate management control.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr
As I agreed with the hon. Gentleman, will he now agree with me that none the less the supervision of certain things that the managers are about has in many instances been very lax, so that the taxpayer has been asked to pay more millions than he needs to have paid?
§ Mr. Warren
I could not answer that. I do not have the detailed knowledge that the hon. Gentleman obviously has. I know that this standard of cost control fought for by the customer—in this case Her Majesty's Government and the French Government—has not been of an order which would have given adequate cost control over something like Concorde on the frontiers of technology.
As an aside, I have never been able to accept that such control is not possible. There are many well proven methods of cost control of advanced technology available which, in other capacities, our colleagues have tried to press upon successive Ministers to try to 1568 make sure that value for money was achieved in very difficult areas. It does not mean that we can avoid escalation, because we are always dealing with the problems of the unknown. It is nothing that Mr. McNamara of the United States Defence Department identified the need to quantify everything possible within sight so that qualitative judgments were reduced to a minimum. With Concorde, which is probably the largest project undertaken in this country in the last 10 years, I have never felt that that has been done.
§ Mr. Bishop
The hon. Member started his speech by saying how far we might have gone with Concorde, and now he is discussing cost control. Is he aware that for some of the time that we have been meeting in the House a Committee upstairs has been discussing counter-inflation measures in what is a cost control Bill? Hon. Members have been spending hours in Committee considering how the public can control the price of a tin of beans by ringing up and complaining and getting something done about it, yet in the House the Government are saying that the public, who are paying £350 million on Concorde, have no right to question how the money is being spent.
§ Mr. Warren
I follow the hon. Member's point about the baked beans but I cannot see the comparison between what they are doing upstairs and what we are doing down here in the way that the hon. Member has sought to illustrate. Surely we are concerned with a particular project, not with a national problem. I am merely trying to demonstrate the problem of cost control on a project of this type. It is an extraordinarily difficult problem.
Unfortunately, I was not privileged to serve on that Committee, and I therefore had no chance of questioning the Minister, but I hope that now we may be given some information about Concorde cash. If we approve the Bill, will the money granted under it be matched pound for pound by the French? Where will our cash go? Will it go first to the British manufacturers and secondly to the sub-contractors, and where are the subcontractors—in which country? The taxpayer has a right to know the answers.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) referred to 1569 M. Servan-Schreiber and his comments about what he will do about Concorde. It is important to realise that neither Britain nor France alone can cancel the Concorde, and, whatever M. Servan-Schreiber may say, not only can he not cancel the project but he is not the boss. I always believe that the head man calls the tune. Britain and France have devoted themselves to Concorde because they think it is a good project. We must get comments like those of M. Servan-Schreiber into perspective. As for my hon. Friend saying that his constituents do not want to subscribe to Concorde, it seems like a question of sour grapes, where they are saying that because it is not stags and potatoes they do not want to know, but that where development aid is concerned they are on our side.
The whole issue of options is a load of rubbish. The important issue is whether anyone buys the aircraft. A would-be buyer may take out an option on a new car a year ahead but may never actually purchase it. With greatest respect to the British Aircraft Corporation, Sud Aviation, and the respective Governments, I believe that far too much emphasis has been put over the years on getting the options rather than on getting the sales. Pan American is a very fine airline, as it says in its advertisements. At the moment it has no money in the till and cannot afford to buy Concorde. It will not take up the option, because it cannot. It is selling that counts, and I am glad that Ross Stainton, the managing director of BOAC. has said that BOAC will be supersonic first and that it will cream off the world's first-class traffic across the Atlantic.
This is not just a matter of who buys the Concorde. It concerns the invisible exports which go with it like the sales of seats and of cargo space. I believe that BOAC and Air France, having creamed off the traffic and having seen that this will happen, will order the aircraft that Pan American has forfeited. If Pan American wants to abdicate the world scene, I say "Goodbye, and good luck to us".
One other point worth making is that if one looks at the Concorde as an item for debate we must recognise that devices like the Concorde demanding a very high investment of money have to be con- 1570 sidered by the Government because the Government are the only source of finance. There is no option. The people who want to make the Concorde may be told by the Government to get their money elsewhere. But they cannot get it. This fact has not only been recognised by successive Governments here. It has been recognised by France and it was recognised by the American Government when they tried to design their own supersonic transport. The Government are the only source of money for a project like the Concorde. For that reason it is in this place that we discuss projects like the Concorde.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that where public money goes, so also ought public policy to follow, especially in terms of public equity in the shares of those who will benefit from it?
§ Mr. Warren
That is a matter of opinion between political parties. I do not agree with that at all. I should like to be sure that we are investing in a project which will give a return to the Government through sales of the typical order demanded by the Government to invest in any project.
We are not merely investing in Concorde Mark I. We are investing in a technology of transportation which may last 20 or 30 years. Over that period we ought to get back the money.
§ Mr. Adley
Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that the Concorde is the first civil project which has not been funded out of defence expenditure naturally means that a great deal more attention is paid to it? Looking back, almost every major civil aircraft project has started with a military role. Had it been subject to the sort of scrutiny that the Concorde has, the Boeing 707, for instance, probably would never have been built.
§ Mr. Warren
My hon. Friend is right. The Boeing 707 was preceded by a device known as the KC135 which was a tanker aircraft ordered by the United States Air Force. It went into production in hundreds, and in that way the air force subsidised the 707. I am delighted to hear rumours that Boeing would very much like to collaborate with the British Aircraft Corporation in developments of 1571 the Concorde when the United States Government can get down to the reality that no one can avoid the demand for fast transportation. It has delighted me also to know that Boeing seems to need the help of Lockheed whose design it appears to have taken aboard.
The situation here is that at last the Americans are challenged in transportation in the air. I think my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping referred in another place to the fact that we had bought a ticket. We must not forfeit it. We must not confuse that which we have done with the right and proper demand made by the hon. Member for Coventry, North for accountability. But I hope that accountability is no reflection on the standard of the project, because the standard and the investment in it are completely commensurate with the safety demands of such an advanced transportation system. When the Americans were budgeting for what they wanted to put into their SST they found that they needed a good deal more money than we still believe we need to spend on the Concorde. Therefore we are discussing a purchase into world transportation to the year 2000.
§ Mr. Edelman
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the American SST and to Boeing. Is he aware that American congressional committees have been set up precisely to investigate the escalation of costs of the American aircraft industry and that those committees have condemned certain companies for the fact than many contractors used the occasion of the project to enrich themselves?
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Warren
I have had a certain amount of experience of exporting to North America, and I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman about the way in which the ghastly Americans will exploit every circumstance to enrich themselves. I know what the hon. Gentleman means. If they could climb aboard the SST project with Boeing, I should congratulate them on climbing the ladder, but unfortunately there could be only a cloud at the top. The ways in which the Americans do things and we do things are different. If they want to enrich themselves and can do so, that is entirely their business. I do not believe 1572 that anyone on this side of the Atlantic whether in France or the United Kingdom, has enriched himself. My plea was that we should exploit the known means of cost control much tighter to make sure that we have value for money.
§ Sir F. Corfield
Does my hon. Friend agree that whatever else the Americans do, they do not have public sittings of congressional committees to go into such matters while negotiations are in progress and about matters crucial to the negotiations?
§ Mr. Warren
My right hon. and learned Friend is right. He has extremely deep experience in such matters and I respect him, particularly for what he was able to achieve on behalf of this country in the RB211 situation. I hope he acknowledges what I said, that in the House we are really a committee debating how to finance a project because there is no other source of finance. But I hope that both sides of the House will differentiate between what we are asked to do in the Bill and the merits of the project.
I am happy to see that the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) has returned to the Chamber. He gave us a number of statistics which are very much at variance with the facts. What really matters in a project such as Concorde is the cost of a seat-mile. I was happy to press my hon. Friend the Minister about the matter somewhere else yesterday. What matters is how much a passenger has to pay to travel. There is no question but that in half the United States transatlantic travel market there is an extraordinary demand to have the opportunity to travel by Concorde. Over and over again the demand is shown. That is why BOAC and Air France will succeed.
It is not true that, as the hon. Gentleman said, Concorde's range is only half what was projected or that productivity is only 50 per cent. It is double that of a Boeing 707 and more than equal to that of a Boeing 747. It is not true that Concorde is a loss-leader. It is the beginning of a new scale of technology, and we in the House should recognise it as a point at which we go forward.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
The hon. Gentleman's assertions that what I said was untrue disprove nothing. I assert what 1573 I say to be correct, and he asserts the contrary. My assertion has equal value.
§ Mr. Warren
—which have been challenged by competent technical authorities in the world and not found wanting. It cannot be challenged that Concorde has the productivity of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet. That is very important, because that is how the profit is made, the return on the investment.
This is a time when we should have confidence in the men who gave us Concorde. The House should have confidence in the design offices and the production lines. I hope we shall give them our trust, because Concorde means employment and pleasure to many of our people. It is time we said that we are with them.
§ Mr. Dan Jones
I should very much like the Minister to accept the clause. If he cannot, will he tell us that he at least accepts its spirit?
There are those who are anti-Concorde for purely selfish reasons. As a consequence I ask the Minister not to give these people additional ammunition, and to think seriously about this matter.
I do not intend to make any kind of partisan contribution since both major parties are inextricably bound up in this. I repeat that this Anglo-French plane is an outstanding technical success. It is also one of the safest in the world.
Many Members have spoken about cost. For many years I worked in this industry, with research, in the toolroom, with those people who took these planes right through from design to the drawing board and through the toolroom on to the production floor.
If any hon. Member of the House cares to make a fair analysis of what has happened with Concorde, let him examine what happened through all the war years relative to the MAP and the projects that went before it: not one quotation was ever worked to successfully.
It is almost impossible to work to given quotations in the aircraft industry. This is no fault of the management, the technical staff or the men. I have seen tool- 1574 makers on the shop floor virtually crying because, in spite of the months they have devoted to it, a major assembly jig has not worked out.
It is not playing the game for hon. Members with but a superficial knowledge of this subject to cast doubt on the kind of people who through the years have made a vital contribution to the industrial well-being of our nation.
The former leader of the Liberal Party tried to dismiss Concorde as "an expensive toy". Had the former Leader of the Liberal Party shared my experiences from 1940–45, he would realise the tremendous work that Rolls-Royce did at that time on the engine that was the means of this country preserving its freedom. Let us never forget that the people who went up would never have done so successfully without that kind of expertise. Anybody can examine the records. These people during the '30s achieved virtually no profit return at all but ploughed it all back into research and development. In terms of fair play, if nothing else, let us accord them the merit they deserve.
The so-called environmentalists are prepared to say in defence of their arguments that the commercial prospects for the Concorde are doomed. They do not know. One can say the truth tonight, that, had Pan-Am not gone out, the old domino theory would not have applied. It was not that it wanted to opt out; it did not have the money to opt in, and that is the be-all and end-all of it.
We shall make a tragic mistake if we kid ourselves that this is the end of supersonic aircraft in the United States. Within the decade America will produce a supersonic aircraft and will be seeking landing rights in the United Kingdom. We shall hardly be in a position to deny it those rights. If the Government turn this project into the industrial gutter, in the years to come we shall find that we have given away our truly magnificent lead which will be exploited by our greatest enemy, our greatest competitor, who has no scruples when it comes to industrial strategy. We shall give away all the advantage that we have.
I speak as one with no pronounced constituency interest, but because I know this industry, and, knowing it, I want to encourage the Minister to look carefully at the clause and not turn this whole 1575 business into an empty Concorde project when, given proper encouragement, it could succeed.
It is not only a question of the Americans. Anyone who has any knowledge of the aviation industry knows that the Russians already have their Concordski, and nobody will deny that, apart from its civil capabilities, it has military potential. That has not so far been brought out in the debate, and I draw it to the attention of the Minister and the House. It is something about which we ought to think very seriously.
I believe that there should be public and parliamentary scrutiny of the financing of this project so that we can see that financial and economic justice is done. I have kept my contribution short because the debate has continued for some time and I know that the Minister is impatient to reply. I want to hear what he has to say. I hope the whole House agrees that we must scrutinise the spending of further public money on this brilliant project, but I hope that nothing will be said to cast doubt and suspicion on those who have been involved in the manufacture of this aircraft and have had the opportunity of being at Toulouse where there is a highly efficient organisation. Let us carry on with this project and ensure that what is today an undoubted technical success becomes in a few year's time an equally commercial success.
§ Mr. Joseph Harper (Pontefract)
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones) in asking the Minister to have a fresh look at the clause. We did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading. We put down a reasoned amendment relating to the setting up of a Select Committee, but that was turned down by the House. In Committee we debated a similar amendment and today we have debated the issue fairly exhaustively.
I get the feeling that the Government regard Select Committees—or the proposed one anyway—as anathema. The view seems to be that if the Minister were to accept the clause, on Monday morning the Patronage Secretary would declare to the House that a Select Committee was being set up to consider the Concorde Aircraft Bill and would name the Members to serve on it. But that 1576 is not so. The amendment does not say that.
The amendment is lucid and clear. It says:If at any time the additional expenditure sanctioned under section 1 of this Act exceeds £300 million a Select Committee…shall be appointed to inquire into the generality of the Concorde project, the expenditure and Parliamentary control and scrutiny thereof.So, although £370 million of good English money—
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Harper
—United Kingdom money has been spent on this project, another £300 million is to be spent before a Select Committee can be set up.
I hope that the Minister will have a fresh look at that. In matters such as the Concorde project in which vast sums are involved, there is a paramount need for and obligation on the Government to supply information. This they have not done. What information we have had has been sparingly supplied only after hon. Members on both sides of the House have asked questions. For example the Minister, in replying to a debate on a similar amendment on 19th December 1972, said:We are talking today about another £125 million."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 19th December 1972; c. 13.]The hon. Gentleman said that with much smug complacency because earlier the sum of £350 million had been bandied about in Committee. He appeared to think that because the amount would be £125 million, that was all right. One got the impression that this was chicken-feed and it did not matter much because the amount fell short of the amount about which everyone had been speaking.
I emphasise the point about setting up a Select Committee. The Minister said that the £125 million would be in loans, as if that could make any difference. It is public money, and if the project does not succeed we shall not get our money back. That is another reason why we should have a Select Committee. The Minister appeared to be of the opinion that to set up a Select Committee would be superfluous. We think it vitally important that the country should know how public money is spent and continues to be spent. Only by making this information 1577 available can people decide whether Concorde is a good investment and whether we should persevere with the project.
Of the £750 million, £370 million was our money. That is a lot of money by any calculation. If we are not in receipt of proper information, the result could be tantamount to throwing good money after bad. I am not personally of the opinion that we are doing so. I differ somewhat from the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) who played a vital part in the proceedings of the Standing Committee. I am sorry that the American airlines have decided not to follow up their options by placing firm orders for the aircraft. It may be that other airlines will follow suit.
It puzzled me when my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), who is very knowledgeable in these matters, called Concorde a "loss leader". I understand that loss leaders are employed when a vendor has a wide variety of goods; to encourage customers to come into his shop, he gives prominence to something which he deliberately offers for sale at a loss. The theory is that once the customer gets inside the shop, he will buy other goods as well. But I do not know that that is an apt analogy for the Concorde.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
I said that it had been argued and that Concorde salesmen were attempting to suggest that Concorde, if added to an airline fleet, would give it prestige and that this fulfilled the function of a loss leader. I do not believe it. I do not think it works that way at all. I do not think that the Concorde problem can be solved that way or any other way.
§ Mr. Harper
I am wiser now. Apparently my hon. Friend and I are on the same wavelength, which seems strange because he is anti-Concorde and I am pro-Concorde.
Another figure elicited from the Minister in Standing Committee was that 23,700 people work on Concorde on this side of the Channel, spread over 200 firms throughout the country. Thus, many hon. Members quite unknowingly are involved. In Bristol many thousands of people work on the Concorde, but the work as a whole covers a wide range of products, services, advanced techniques, plastics—which brings in my constituency—steel bearings, 1578 plant, equipment and many skills of management at all levels. If we can sell this aircraft and make a success of it, it will bring new work and a lot of hope for everybody.
My constituency, situated in mid-Yorkshire, must have its share of the project, although to a layman most of the work is unrecognised for what it is. Yet it is there. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us more about it tonight.
We are going through a prices and incomes policy phase, known as the "counter-inflation temporary provisions" phase. We are in phase 1, soon we shall have phase 2, and we are to have phase 3, and no doubt phase 4 in about 1980 —that is, if the present lot stay in power. This policy is applied everywhere, but not to the Concorde. The housewives in the supermarkets, the ordinary markets and the shop on the corner, turning every little penny—and it is little now—trying to make it go as far as possible, do not realise that successive Governments have taken £370 million in effect from their purses. Yet the Minister challenges our right to ask why this was, in effect suggesting that we are being cheeky, and have no right to ask such things.
The main reason behind our request for a Select Committee was that we should be able to satisfy the public that at the end of the day we shall have an aircraft efficient in every respect and based on strict financial security. I know that this does not always happen. In Standing Committee the hon. Member for Oswestry quoted from the Sixth Report of the Public Expenditure Committee. I remind the House what the Expenditure Committee said:It is our view that there has been inadequate Parliamentary control and too little information publicly given.'In its indictment of Government policy—the policy of successive Governments—the Expenditure Committee went on to say that with a project of this sizethere should have been, and should now be, an annual White Paper.That is what we are now advocating.
One of the main features of this whole affair is that we are producing an aircraft without a corresponding market. The recent decisions in the United States have caused great concern in this country, and this makes it all the more imperative 1579 that the public should be in full possession of all the facts. If when we start a project like Concorde, costing £1,000 million or more, anyone thinks that we shall get all the development costs back over a period of years during the life of the aircraft he is not "with it". It cannot be done on a project such as this.
It was not done when too much public money was spent in trying to gain experience in nuclear engineering in the form of Magnox stations. Those millions did not come back, and we did not expect them back. We shall need nuclear energy in the future. Coal has a long life but natural gas and oil have not, so we must have nuclear energy, and the vast amount spent was an investment for the future.
My argument is that the amount we are spending is out of proportion to the benefits that will accrue. I am pro-Concorde. We have spent the money and we must sell the damned thing. If we do not sell it, all that money will have been spent to no avail.
§ Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)
I apologise to the Minister and to the House for not having been here earlier. As I am sure my right hon. Friend will understand, it is because I have been doing service in Standing Committee H on the Counter-Inflation Bill, which may be somewhat bizarre when taken alongside what is proposed in connection with Concorde, but such are our obligations.
I feel some proprietorial claim on the debate, because the clause before the House reads:'If at any time the additional expenditure sanctioned under section 1 of this Act exceeds £300 million a Select Committee of the House of Commons shall be appointed to inquire into the generality of the Concorde project, the expenditure and Parliamentary control and scrutiny thereof'.We should not be having this debate had I not voted the way I did in Committee. I hope, therefore, that I shall be acquitted of discourtesy and permitted a proprietorial presence.
I have not had an opportunity to hear much of the debate, but I was intrigued by what was said by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones). Last night I had an evening off from feminism and went to see the film "The Ruling 1580 Classes" at the Odeon in Kensington. It was a useful therapy because everything redolent of the speech of the hon. Member for Burnley could have come from the cast in that film. We had talk about "fair play", "playing the game" and "our greatest enemy".
I was not clear who was our greatest enemy in the context of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I thought it was the Soviet supersonic airlines but now I understand it was the Americans. In certain circumstances of developed patriotism and xenophobia there are those in this country who would like to take on simultaneously the United States and the Soviet Union. Although the hon. Member for Burnley is in a sense the spiritual successor of the Earl of Cardigan, wanting to send us all in on the charge of the Light Brigade, this topic is of such substance that it deserves more detached consideration.
Like the hon. Gentleman. I have no constituency interest in this project. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping has had the most tortuous and tremendous problems in the project that he inherited. No one could have devoted himself with more skill and panache to making a success of it. None the less, we are where we are. We are at a point where we were not at the conclusion of the Standing Committee proceedings. The Pan American options have lapsed and there have been other consequential decisions. The House is entitled to inquire of my hon. Friend what will be the consequences, inasmuch as they are assessable by the Government.
We all know who will have to pick up the checks if things go awry. It will be our taxpayers. Although there may be a fair number of constituencies which have among their electorate manufacturers of either the Concorde or its components, I guarantee that 100 per cent. of the constituencies will provide those who have to finance the losses, if loss-making this project be.
The first question I wish to ask my hon. Friend is directly related to the speech of the hon. Member for Burnley—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.