HC Deb 07 March 1977 vol 927 cc975-1011

6.17 p.m.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment has just spoken for 46 minutes, which is between a fifth and a quarter of the time that it would take Concorde to fly the Atlantic.

We are now to debate increased expenditure on the development and production of Concorde, having regard to landing rights at New York. The very wording of this topic shows that the British Government and the British taxpayer have been having to pay a considerable financial price for the deliberate delay to Concorde's entry into service to New York. The money spent during this time, and all the money spent on the development and production of Concorde, has been spent on the reasonable assumpton that treaties are worth the paper they are written on when they are signed on behalf of the Government of the United States of America. We shall see on Thursday whether that is so.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter. It is a happy coincidence—perhaps one of the few that we are likely to enjoy this week. Another is the timing of the visit of the Prime Minister to see President Carter. I pay tribute to the Prime Minister not only for deciding to fly to Washington in Concorde but for doing so with enthusiasm and élan. I am confident that he will do his utmost the promote the cause of Concorde while he is there.

The question is whether the Prime Minister of Britain and the President of France can persuade the President of the United States to abide by the treaty obligations entered into on behalf of the United States Government by the President's predecessors.

I shall do my best during this debate to keep in order. I realise that it is not appropriate at this stage to have a lengthy discussion on the question whether or not Concorde should have been built. It is not appropriate to review the progress of the whole project.

I should also like to declare an interest, in that a number of my constituents work at the British Aircraft Corporation factory at Hurn, where Concorde is being built. Although the numbers involved are comparatively small, nevertheless it is an important factor, naturally, in shaping my thinking on this subject.

I believe that Concorde has tremendous popular support, although it has its detractors and there are two sides to every argument. The Minister has occasionally chastised me for being outspoken and perhaps for being an over-enthusiastic supporter of the project. However, I have been at it rather longer than he has and I hope that the House will not consider it immodest if I quote from my maiden speech: I refuse to contemplate the possibility that a Government, my Government, elected to promote the individuality, energy and enthusiasm of the British people, and determined to accelerate the growth of European cooperation, could contemplate any course other than immediate, unequivocal and determined support for Concorde."—[Official Report, 6th July 1970; Vol. 803, c. 412.] As a result of my commitment to Concorde I have always been aware that the problem that the aeroplane faces on Thursday of this week would have to be faced eventually. For that reason I accompanied the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), now the Secretary of State for Energy, to Washington and New York as long ago as 1971 to do what we could to oppose the strong anti-Concorde campaign that even at that date was being waged against the aeroplane.

I greatly regret that the previous Conservative Government would not accept the suggestion that I put to them, as long ago as 1971, that a strong pro-Concorde campaign should be launched in New York all those years ago to combat the campaign that was being waged against the aeroplane at that time.

Perhaps I may be excused for making one or two further quotations. The Bristol Evening Post of 8th September 1970 said this: We must launch a major pro-Concorde exercise in the United States. On 5th December 1970 Air-Commodore Donaldson, the air correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, wrote: The Americans are also expected to use every means, fair or even foul, to eliminate Concorde's undisputed lead. The Financial Times of 23rd February 1971 reported the Secretary of State for Energy as he now is, as saying that: If the New York State Assembly took action which led to the cancellation of Concorde without really going into it the result would be a major political issue between the United Kingdom, France and America. So by way of apology to the Minister for being consistent on this issue I can claim that I have, perhaps, lived with it rather longer than he has. In fact, when I returned from that visit to the United States I wrote an article for the Sunday Telegraph of 28th February 1971. The article was entitled Fight for Concorde's entry right. I quote briefly from what I said then: Strong voices behind the scenes will go far to prevent a foreign company from winning a share of new aircraft orders from United States airlines. The 'business isolationists' are always at work here, as B.P. well know. But the environment can be a useful hat for some. The environment, of course, is the pretext which is being used by the anti-Concorde industry in New York. As I said earlier, Concorde has its opponents in Britain and it has its opponents m the United States. In Britain we have for years had to take highly critical comment from Andrew Wilson in the Observer, who has been proved wrong consistently. He said that the aeroplane would never fly. He then said that it would never fly across the North Atlantic. He said that customers would not pay excess fares to fly in it. It is noticeable how, when one argument has been disproved, Mr. Wilson has shifted to another.

Mary Goulding, ex-editor of the Economist, was another who for years waged a violent campaign against Concorde. One wonders how she must feel now when she sees the publication that she used to edit offering as a prize a trip across the Atlantic in the Concorde!

The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Jenkins), who has a strong constituency interest to prevent airport noise, has been a perfectly proper opponent of the aircraft, because he believed that it would add to the problems of his constituents.

A Mr. Richard Wiggs of the Anti-Concorde Society, which may or may not be still in existence, was for a time outspoken on the subject.

Even the Bishop of Kingston took the trouble to go to the United States recently and speak out against the aircraft, although his evidence was, I think, slightly less effective than it might have been when people realised that one of the other projects that he was promoting was the belief that Jesus Christ was a homosexual.

So we have a variety of opponents to face in this country. Their motives are perfectly respectable. We respect those who say that this aircraft should never have been built. But that is not the issue we face today.

We face today a vicious and determined battle in New York itself from people who have never hidden their determination to use any argument that came to hand to prevent this British-French aeroplane from landing in New York. People such as Mr. Andrew Stein and Mrs. Bella Abzug are a very different breed of people from the sort of people who in this country we are used to arguing with on political issues. For them, of course, the anti-Concorde debate is a Heaven-sent issue; it is long lasting, so they can constantly keep their names before their constituents. It has emotions of patriotism which they are able to bring into their speeches. They can claim to be "the voice of the people". They can use the environmental argument in any way they wish and, perhaps most attractive for them, the truth can very easily be bent. The bending of the truth in New York is not a new industry. However, Mrs. Abzug and Mr. Stein would, I think, get honours degrees in the art of bending figures.

For this reason, I deeply regret that the British Government did not five years ago launch the pro-Concorde campaign in New York which has now been mounted effectively in the past few months by the present British Government and particularly by the French Government.

To the Americans, and I suppose to anybody who is minded to take up the anti-Concorde cause, the name itself is an easy target. Perhaps if the aeroplane had been called the BAC169 nobody would have taken any notice of it. Nobody has yet answered the question that I have posed on many occasions to opponents of Concorde in the United States: what is it about a supersonic civil aircraft flying subsonically over the land but which happens to be operating under the colours of British Airways or Air France which is supposed to do things to the environment that supersonic military aircraft flying the colours of the United States Air Force do not do to the environment in the United States? As yet there has been no satisfactory answer.

We have an agreement between the British Government and the United States Government which allows Concorde to land in the United States. This agreement was not signed between Her Majesty's Government and the State of New Jersey or the State of New York; it was signed by the United States Federal Government.

It is shocking to think that an incoming United States President is unwilling, particularly in the light of the campaign he waged for honesty, fairness and decency, to stand up and support a commitment freely and openly entered into by his predecessors in office as Presidents of the United States.

Let us imagine a perhaps analogous situation—that the port authority at Dover decided that it did not want to have Germans landing at Dover because it did not like Germans. The German Government would make a complaint to Her Majesty's Government that German citizens were being prevented from landing at Dover. Is it conceivable that a British Prime Minister would say to the German Chancellor "I am terribly sorry, but this is a matter for the Kent County Council. You will have to take the matter up with the council. I cannot get involved in these details. It is nothing to do with me"? Of course it would be. It would be a matter that should be dealt with Government to Government. The Concorde question is one with which the United States Government should deal; they should honour a clear legal commitment entered into.

The opposition to Concorde in New York is political and has some really rather nasty overtones to it. Governor Carey of New York was quoted as say- ing—I believe only yesterday—that perhaps he would accept Concorde if Abu Daoud were to be the first to step off the aeroplane.

The implications of that are that the New York and New Jersey Governors and their supporters are prepared to use Concorde as a weapon with which to chastise the French Government for a recent political action that took place in France, which no doubt upset many of the Jewish voters in New York.

I have no intention of discussing that, but the mere fact that a Governor of New York could produce a remark like that as a reason for not allowing this aeroplane to land is quite intolerable. I recall that when I was over there discussing this issue, at a time when the pro-IRA lobby was active, it was openly stated that people who were anti-British and who were supporting the IRA felt that any stick was suitable to beat a dog, and I must say that I often wonder how much Senator Kennedy's opposition to Concorde has to do with his known support for the Irish nationalist cause.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

That is a grave misrepresentation of the statements of Senator Kennedy.

Mr. Adley

Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell me what Senator Kennedy's attitude to Concorde is now. He is known to have taken exception to the aircraft. All I am suggesting is that people's motives are often not so clear or quite so straightforward as they are supposed to be. I hope that my hon. Friend will not dispute that. I assure him that there are people who are not always as straightforward in stating their reasons for opposing Concorde as may appear at first sight.

The noise factor is often used as the main argument against Concorde. In fact, no case has ever been proved to show that Concorde is a noisier aircraft than other civil aircraft currently in service. I wonder how far President Carter has gone to check the facts. On our television screens last night we saw him talking about noise and the environment. It is all very well for these comments to be made, but I consider that the American Government should take the trouble to seek evidence with which to convince themselves that Concorde is the environmental disaster which its enemies claim it to be.

How far has President Carter studied the complaints that have been coming from Dulles Airport in Washington? Has he, or have his advisers, studied, for example, the facts at Heathrow? In a Written Answer to a Question put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope), it was stated on 28th February that the two occasions when the noise was greatest at Heathrow during 1976 were in February and June, and the guilty aircraft was a Boeing 707.

In my view, the argument based on the environment has been totally misrepresented in New York. It has been a convenient hat for Concorde's opponents to wear, and there is no statistical evidence to prove that Concorde is a noisier or environmentally less acceptable aircraft than many of the other jets flying into and out of Kennedy Airport or dozens or other airports in America and elsewhere in the world.

Of course, no one argues—at least, I trust not—in this country or in the House about the importance of the environment. But for New Yorkers I should have thought that the ability to walk the streets alone and in safety would be an environmental problem which they would regard as just as important as whether Concorde was more or less noisy than a Boeing 707. One can fly over Phoenix in Arizona and see the haze that has been created over a period of years by aircraft pollution—pollution that has nothing whatever to do with Concorde—and one might have thought that that was an environmental problem that could attract the attention of Americans. One recalls the river in Cleveland that caught fire not so long ago because it was so polluted. That, also, might be an issue that the American environment lobby could get its teeth into. The Great Lakes are so polluted as to be unspeakable. There is also the lack of planning controls, which has resulted in the defacing of thousands of miles of highway in the United States. I submit that there are many issues to which the American environmentalists could turn their attention instead of concentrating upon Concorde.

I do not believe that Britain and France have a bad record in promoting civilisation. One could speak at length about the contribution that both countries have made. I ask myself what contribution to civilisation and the environment the Americans are making. On my television screen I see "Kojak", "Starsky and Hutch", "Serpico", "Cannon" and "Columbo", and it seems that violence is part of the American way of life. Only this morning on the "Today" programme I listened to an interview about a Mr. Carmine Galanti, who appeared on the streets of New York—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would tell us how he gets the time to watch and listen to all these programmes.

Mr. Adley

I listened to the "Today" programme on my radio this morning before I left home at 7.25 a.m. The "Today" programme is a radio programme which I commend to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I believe that the opposition to Concorde, which uses the environment in New York as the peg on which to hang its campaign is, in fact, political. It is significant that the trade unions in New York, the institutions of commerce and industry and the authorities concerned with the development of tourism are well aware of the damage to New York which the ban on Concorde has already done and the damage to that city's commerce and industry that could be done if the aeroplane were not allowed its legitimate rights to land. The ports of Tyre and Sidon learned long ago that no city on earth can claim in perpetuity a position as a major international gateway.

I do not know whether the Minister is able to tell us anything about the proposition that Braniff Airways will want to fly Concorde subsonically onwards from Washington. I saw it reported the other day that a spokesman in the United States said that this proposal would be rigorously opposed, not because Concorde would be flown supersonically over the United States—no one has ever suggested that—but just because it was another weapon to use in the anti-Concorde battle.

I fear—I say this as one who has the closest of ties, commercially, with America and a great affection for and affinity with its people—that underneath all the anti-Concorde trouble there is an unspoken doctrine, which I may call the "Great America" doctrine—the doctrine —that says that Americans should go anywhere in the world in the interests of private enterprise, to develop their commerce and industry and, if possible, dominate and take over sections of industry however vital they may be to the host country concerned. That is all part of the freedom of private enterprise, which Americans support. But if any foreign company should actually dare not only to set foot in the United States but to obtain a major slice of a vital industry, or an industry that the Americans consider to be vital to their own national interests, all of a sudden the shutters go up.

It was significant in the early days of Concorde, when the Americans were still considering whether they should build a supersonic aircraft, that it was an open secret that the American aircraft manufacturers were hoping to get into production with their own supersonic transport, hoping to buy off Concorde until they were ready to sell their aeroplane to those whom they saw as their own customers.

Now, however, the situation has changed, and two of the main organisations that are worried about the entry of Concorde into the United States are Pan American and TWA. I remember the time in 1973 or 1974—I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will remember it, too—when Mr. Fred Corfield, now Sir Frederick Corfield, used a phrase that has stuck in my mind ever since—that "Pan American could not afford to buy a bicycle." That company's fortunes may have improved a little since then, but there is no doubt that Pan American and TWA do not want to face the competition of British Airways and Air France flying Concorde from New York to London and New York to Paris. Therefore, behind the scenes, they are, I suspect, doing their bit to aid and abet the anti-Concorde industry in New York.

Where does all this leave us now? On Thursday the British Government will be backing British Airways and Air France in the next stage of their battle with the Port of New York Authority. I hope that we win. I would be the happiest person in this House if it could be shown that everything that I have said was totally unjustified and unfair, and I am certain that many of my hon. Friends would join me in that pleasure.

But if the answer on Thursday is "No", we are likely to embark on a protracted legal battle in the courts of New York and New Jersey. If so, it will be an expensive lengthy and painful process. As I see it, Britain and France, through their airlines, will be arguing in court that the Federal Government have made a ruling for a trial for Concorde and that this is being opposed by the States of New York and New Jersey. So, in effect, these two European Governments will be fighting a battle against the States' rights of New York and New Jersey.

Not only would this process take years; the assumption leading from it is that the two airlines would be fighting on behalf of the Federal Government and of the rights of the Federal Government against the rights of State Governments. Yet we see the Federal Government in the shape of President Carter washing his hands of the issue and saying "I do not want to get involved". So long as he hides behind the skirts of the Port of New York Authority, I cannot see how such a legal battle could end in a victory for our airlines. Their position is nothing like as strong as that of our enemies.

I revert to the remark about "fair means or foul" which I quoted from the Daily Telegraph. I believe that the means being used in New York are far from fair. I believe that sooner or later the British and French Governments will have to recognise that diplomacy and the tactics employed so far have failed to preserve for our two nations the rights to which we are entitled. I want to ask three things of the Minister, although I do not expect categorical answers now.

First, I want an assurance that the Government will, inch for inch, match the determination of the French Government in standing up for the rights of Britain and France in this battle. Secondly, I want an assurance that if the answer on Thursday is "No", legal action, for what it is worth, will be started immediately.

Thirdly, I put a suggestion that the Minister may not welcome. I believe that we have to act. The time for words has gone on too long. If we identify the enemy of Concorde as the Port of New York Authority, and therefore New York itself, I believe that Britain and France jointly should be prepared to take specific action against the interests of New York.

I would like to see the British and French Governments getting together and withdrawing traffic rights between New York and Britain and New York and France. I am not suggesting the withdrawal of traffic rights between the United States and Britain and France but specifically from New York.

This move would harm British Airways and Air France, but it would also harm individual American carriers, as well as a number of international carriers with traffic rights between New York and London or Paris. I believe that the people in and around the New York area who have to come to Britain and France would continue to do so—they would fly first to Washington or Philadelphia or Boston and from there across the Atlantic.

The effect would be limited to New York. If those waging the anti-Concorde campaign in New York are really so concerned about the noise that they claim that Concorde would bring to Kennedy Airport, they must be aware that the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC8 are as noisy, and we would be doing a kindness in removing more aircraft from their overall environment.

I was sorry to read today that New York is again hovering on the verge of bankruptcy. I cannot believe that the proposition that Concorde should be denied traffic rights will help the city's financial circumstances. I have never been able to understand why, if those in New York waging the anti-Concorde campaign are so convinced that they are right and that Concorde is a noisy, dirty environmental monster, they do not want it to have a trial in order to prove that they are right. One would have thought that the first thing they wanted was a trial in which they could be proved right. The truth is that they are afraid that the trial would prove them wrong, and that is why they do not want it to take place.

6.46 p.m.

Mr. Terry Walker (Kingswood)

It is a pleasure to speak following the speech of the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) in this debate. I know that over the years he has done a great deal to promote the interests of Concorde. I have an interest also in that many of my constituents are employed at the aircraft works where Concorde is built. As a trade unionist and official of the Labour Party for many years before coming here, I helped to promote the interests of Concorde in and around Bristol.

I consider landing rights for Concorde into the Port of New York most important for the continued success of the Concorde project in general. The continued delay by the New York Port Authority in making up its mind one way or the other has created great uncertainty within the British aircraft manufacturing industry. A great many jobs are now at stake in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope). I am grateful for the stand now being taken by the British Government in making it clear to the New York Port Authority that they expect a decision one way or another on Thursday. I believe that the authority must not be allowed to delay the matter further.

I am grateful for the points made by the Minister in the Adjournment debate on Concorde on 24th February. He made it clear that the British Government contend that they have treaty rights entitling them to operate Concorde into the United States, including New York, that the air service agreements between the United States and Britain and France specify the requirements that aircraft must meet and that Concorde meets those requirements in full, and that the New York Port Authority is not entitled to withhold our rights to land Concorde at New York itself.

I believe that the Americans fear that once Concorde is on regular service across the North Atlantic, which is still the most lucrative route, their own airlines will be faced with supersonic competition and will either have to get hold of Concorde somehow—which means buying or leasing—or risk great financial consequences. For I believe that British Airways and Air France are going to steal a very lucrative market. I believe that they will soon cream off with their Concordes the high-yield markets on the North American routes. The American airlines will then have to go supersonic in order to survive.

I believe that the Americans are still bitter about the fact that they spent £655 million in an abortive attempt to develop a supersonic transport, only to find themselves, at the end of it all, with no actual aircraft to show for their trouble.

Concorde is a great British achievement. It is something that we can be proud of. I congratulate the Prime Minister on making his trip to Washington this week in Concorde in order to meet President Carter. I believe that is throwing down the gauntlet in the present situation. Many of my constituents, and those of other hon. Members, are pleased that the Prime Minister has shown his support for the Concorde project at this time. It is something that we are grateful for. But in the light of the treaty rights that we have with the American Government the American Government cannot stand by and say that it is not a federal matter. Here I agree with the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington. These points must be brought home to Governor Carey this week before a decision is made in New York.

The Americans have always said that their country is the land of the free. It appears to many of us that it is free to us no more and that future relations between the two countries are now under question. I believe that the American Government are responsible for the actions of the New York Port Authority this week. The American Government must get the authority into line if a confrontation between our two countries is to be avoided. I certainly hope that a confrontation will be avoided. It is the last thing that we want to happen, but to my mind it is coming to that stage.

A month ago the New York Port Authority asked for more time to evaluate data. I believe that was just a time-wasting exercise and that the authority is playing a waiting game. The opposition that we have experienced from the authority covers a large number of vested interests and lobbies in the United States. Pan American and TWA certainly do not want Concorde to survive. American aircraft constructors also have vital interests. I believe that they see those interests being hurt, and their sales being hit, once Concorde is in operation. This has caused the American Government to break an international treaty fully drawn up in good faith between our two countries. It is now a vital matter.

Mankind in future will want to travel safely and comfortably at more than the speed of sound. If for one reason or another we were to cancel Concorde at this stage Britain would have no influence whatever over this important aspect of mankind's future activities. That would please the enemies of Concorde. But supersonic travel is happening and it cannot fail to dominate the long-haul and, eventually, the medium-haul routes of the world for the remainder of this century and beyond. The New York Port Authority cannot end supersonic flying by taking punitive action against Concorde aircraft going into New York.

Hon. Members on all sides of the House will remember that 20 years ago the operating arguments that are now being hurled at Concorde were used against the pure jet. Those arguments were used to such a sad effect in this country that projects were cancelled that would have secured for Britain the world leadership, which later went to Boeing. That is what happened then. Pressure is certainly being put on us at this stage to do almost exactly the same thing.

The only serious question mark against our supersonic airlines is whether the same kind of spurious argument will result in the hand-over of Concorde and its technology to the United States. It is as easy as that. That is why the Americans hope that Concorde and its programme will fail. They were hoping all along that it would fail technically. But Concorde has proved itself fully. As a result they can only take power over our technology if they can get us to cancel the present Mark I in time to build the next generation of supersonic aircraft, which will surely come irrespective of what President Carter or the New York Port Authority do on Thursday.

Both know full well that supersonic flying, and the Concorde aircraft in particular, represent the aircraft of the future. The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington said that for many years military aircraft had been flying supersonic. That is so. That is why the environmental argument is such a spurious one and cannot really be taken seriously.

Britain and France have undertaken a huge investment in developing a supersonic aircraft. Whatever we say in this House, however far we go and however militant we are, we are but trying to protect the investment of this nation, the jobs of our people and the technology that has been the base on which the aircraft industry has developed.

I hope that we are all wrong about this. I hope that there will be a green light from New York on Thursday and that British Airways and Air France will be able to go into operation. But, at the same time, I hope that both airlines have sufficient trained crews to start flights immediately. We must start at once, because the plane makers have waited far too long for success. The development of Concorde has taken many long years. When the green light does come, I hope that we can move forward quickly.

It is only when Concorde is in regular service that we shall get the fresh orders necessary to keep the project teams together and the whole project alive. The continuation of the work is important. The present aircraft is, in my view, only the first step.

The determination that has been shown all along by the French Government, and is now being shown by the British Government, has been most encouraging. I myself have been to France on one occasion to talk to parliamentarians and on another occasion to speak to the manufacturers. The feeling there has always been that they foresaw this kind of situation arising and that there would be a confrontation with the Americans over landing rights into the USA. Certainly it was foreseen some 18 months ago, when a number of hon. Members formed an all-party group for the Concorde, and it is a matter on which we need to work closely in co-operation with the French if we are to crack this nut.

I should like to ask the Minister one question about British Airways. I hope that he will be able to give us an assurance that British Airways will be able to take advantage of the situation in flying to New York and Washington and will also be poised to take advantage of opening up the London to Australia route as well. There are rumours—and they are only rumours⁁that British Airways have had difficulties in training crews. It would be very sad if this were to hold back the implementation of the routes after we had negotiated them. We must be prepared to grasp the opportunities which we hope will be available to us, and British Airways must not be allowed to hold back for one reason or another. I hope that the Government will look at this to make sure that fully trained air crews are available to implement these services as soon as possible.

Concorde has great potential. I hope that the Government will keep a very close watch on what is going on because a great many of us who have had consultations about it are worried. There will be strong resentment in this country and in France if New York continues to delay the entry of Concordes, and it will be difficult for us to explain it to those many thousands of people who have contributed their skills and labour to this fine aircraft. All of us want to see British and French technology succeeding. The action in not allowing us a fair trial period is not what we would expect from a friendly nation. If that is friendship, I hate to think what our enemies may do to us.

To my mind, there is a growing volume of support, even in New York itself, for the entry of Concorde. Many important organizations, representing both labour and the business community, have come out in favour of the aircraft being allowed in. The common theme expressed by all of them is that New York needs Concorde's services to Europe, and there will be benefit for them in this happening. There will be benefit for us as well. We do not deny that. But they can see Concordes bringing more business to New York. We have to bear in mind that conferences are being moved to other places and that people are going to Washington just to fly in the Concorde. This is a very telling factor. The State of New York is in deep financial trouble.

I hope that, in conjunction with the French Government, we shall take whatever steps are necessary. I fear that the legal battle in this matter will not be the best way to resolve the difficulty. It will be long, and I believe that it will be unsuccessful. That means that a decision will have to be made about the work force. It means that a decision will have to be made about the future programme before the legal action is brought to a conclusion.

As I have said, the French have for a long time considered that this matter ought to be dealt with more quickly. Bearing in mind all the implications for us, at the end of the day we must consider retaliatory action against American interests in this country. I know that the Government hope very much that this will be unnecessary, because it would damage us as well. But the damage has already been done, and further damage may well be done on Thursday to Anglo-American and Franco-American relations. We have to show our resolve in standing firm on what we have said.

The decision must be made. We can no longer be fooled around with. But many of us in this House will not fudge the issue when it comes. To my mind, we are being dealt with unfairly, and we must be prepared to take action against New York and American interests generally if the United States Government refuse to back us up. Our investment, our technology and perhaps even Britain's role as an aircraft manufacturer are at risk. With the French Government, we must protect our interests and secure the future access of our supersonic aircraft, on which so many hopes and livelihoods depend.

I hope that the British Government will take the very strongest action, in consultation with the French, to make sure that the Americans know exactly where we stand.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. John Cope (Gloucestershire, South)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) and the hon. Member for Kings-wood (Mr. Walker), I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we are wasting your time, in the sense that the New York Port Authority will make the right decision on Thursday and come down on our side, thereby proving that we need not have held this debate at all.

. I want to refer briefly to one remark of the hon. Member for Kingswood about the training of air crews. By all means let the Government look at this, but I hope also that the unions involved will consider their position. If the opportunity occurs and if it is missed because of action of that kind, they will not lightly be forgiven.

I wish to make two points. The first is one of detail and, I am afraid, statistical. However, that befits my profession as an accountant. The second is a more general point.

I deal first with the detailed point. Which concerns noise and the controversy that I seem unwittingly to have caused by putting down a Written Question to the Under-Secretary for Trade last week, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington referred.

I asked the Minister whether he would list the noisiest aircraft at Heathrow and the noise that they made. The published answer did not show Concorde in the list. That was taken by some, notably the Earl of Kimberley in another place and my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington here, to mean that Concorde was not the noisiest aircraft at Heathrow in any month during the 13 months referred to in the answer. In fact, the Concorde figures were given recently in a CAA report—the so-called DORA report from the authority's Directorate of Operational Research and Analysis. Therefore, the Concorde figures can be compared with the figures for subsonic aircraft which were given in the Written Answer last week.

Blending the DORA information on the Concorde with the Written Answer's information on subsonic aircraft, it appears that only in three months during the 13-month period was Concorde the noisiest aircraft at Heathrow, as measured at the normal fixed monitoring points. 1 understand that this will be confirmed in a Written Answer to be given later on by the Department.

The figures also indicate that in the whole period during which the Concorde has been operating, in one month the Concorde and in two months a Boeing 707 made the loudest noise, of 124 PNdB. I am not sure why the answer was different from that. It has misled a number of people and upset a number of people, including Mr. Richard Wiggs, of the anti-Concorde project. I am sorry to have to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington that this organization is still in operation, because I had a letter from Mr. Wiggs this morning in connection with the Written Answer that I received. He sent me a copy of a letter that he has sent to the Department of Trade, to Governor Carey, and to the Chairman of the New York Port Authority, attacking the information given in the Written Answer.

In that respect his letter is correct but in other respects it is disgracefully misleading in the way that it misrepresents the DORA report on Concorde's operation from Heathrow. The DORA report makes clear on page 1 that it is comparing the performance of all the Concordes that flew out of Heathrow in the relevant period with the performance of some but by no means all subsonic aircraft. Page 1 of the report makes clear that it is concerned with only a sample of the other aircraft.

I also asked a parliamentary Question about the size of the sample, but I was told that information on the size of the sample in the DORA report was not readily available. I am not sure why the information should not be readily available. The numbers in the DORA sample are given in the report and are obvious from the tables. I cannot believe that the Government do not know the other figures needed to indicate the size of the total from which the sample was taken, namely, how many aircraft took off or landed at Heathrow.

I understand that in one representative week, from 6th to 12th September, there were four Concorde movements and 137 Boeing 707 movements. The DORA report deals with the noise from all the Concorde movements but less than one in 20 of the Boeing 707 movements. Mr. Wiggs and others, in considering the DORA report, tried to make out that the report deals with all subsonic flights, but in the Written Answer that I was given about the report, some of the noisiest flights in that period were not included. It is this kind of answer, concealing the size of sample, that gives some of us the idea that some people in Government are not as keen on Concorde as we are

. I am aware that the noise of different aircraft makes different patterns, different footprints and different graphs on the ground. One can measure any aircraft at different places, but the fact remains that according to the normal fixed monitoring stations at Heathrow Concorde is not the noisiest aircraft there. By a short head, the Boeing 707 is. That opens the door to retaliation.

I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington, am thinking of retaliation against New York rather than retaliation against the whole of America. The only thing that has brought us to discussing this problem at all is that we are fed up with being patient with the Americans.

That brings me to my general point. I have always counted myself a friend of the Americans. I like them, and my wife is partly American, but there is a limit to our patience, and we have reached it. [Interruption. ] I must tell the Under-Secretary that I was not talking about patience with my wife. Just because I have been married for seven years does not mean that anything else has happened. We have reached the limit of our patience with the Americans. If they decide against us and take the wrong decision on Thursday they must expect to have to deal with a belligerent and determined campaign.

It is sad to see New York, of all places, in this mood. I believe that New York is making a mistake not only from our point of view but from its own point of view. To single out Concorde would be a blunder. Already traffic is diverting to Washington—and there is also the Braniff application. Increasingly New York will find this sort of thing happening. New York has no prescriptive right to through traffic. Geography helps, but it does not guarantee New York's position as the main airport city of the East Coast. It seems that New York has been overtaken by a death wish, like an aged fighter who has outlived his strength but still thinks that he can throw his weight around without regard to the consequences.

I hope that the Government will make clear to the New York authorities that if they refuse Concorde it will not kill Concorde or kill its entry to America—it is already flying to Washington߲but it will cut New York off the supersonic map. That will be a self-inflicted wound. It will also start a landing rights war in which my hon. Friends and I will be firing some of the shots. Such a war will not be in anyone's interest, and I hope that it will not be necessary.

7.16 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

It is difficult to match the grasp of facts and the eloquence of the three preceding speakers, who have for long been acknowledged not as members of the pro-Concorde lobby but as leaders of the national movement for taking the frontiers of British and French—and that means European—aviation one critical step further forward for the benefit of mankind as a whole. If that sounds dramatic, it is deliberate, because that is just what is at stake in the decision that the New York Port Authority is to take on Thursday.

All the subordinate details and all the facts that we have had on Concorde over a number of years, despite ferocious and cruel opposition from all quarters—and the resistance continues beyond the bounds of all pragmatic fairness and natural justice—show that Concorde has progressed. I, like the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker), noted what a difference there was between the forceful posture of French Governments and the rather hesitant posture of British Governments. That is now being counteracted. A lot of that is due to the Under-Secretary of State for Trade. He and his colleagues know that there is now a more clear-cut realisation of the critical nature of the stage that we have reached. All those in the industry—employers and trade unions—see what a crucially important week this is.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)

wish to put the record straight on one comment made by the hon. Gentleman, in which he may have inadvertently made a misstatement. It was my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Industry who gave evidence at the Coleman hearings. He was the only Minister so to do on the part of either Government. The determination of the British Government was made patently obvious at those hearings.

Mr. Dykes

I did not want to give any impression that would cause anxiety in the Minister's mind. The realisation has grown that this matter has to be pushed forward. It is a very complicated scenario, as the localised resistance in New York has increased.

We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) for initiating the debate. My hon. Friends gave the impression that this ferocious resistance on the part of some malevolent people in New York and in New York State was universal, but that is not true. I have used the word "malevolent" reluctantly, but deliberately.

There is a growing lobby in New York, both numerically and in terms of central forcefulness, which is in favour of Concorde. The worst fears of the environmentalists in Washington, expressed when the Dulles experiment began, have been completely confirmed. There is no evidence that Concorde is any more of a nuisance than any other aircraft, in terms of noise and smoke emission. Smoke emission is still a bit of a problem, but noise is the main factor.

The statistics show that every aeroplane causes noise nuisance. What would have been the attitude of people in the United States if there had been an outcry here in Britain about noise when the Boeing 707 first came upon the scene? We can imagine what that reaction would have been. Over the last two decades the United States has made the running and dominated the world markets in avionics and aviation. It has done it for all sorts of reasons, fair and unfair. We could debate them at great length, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but not tonight. Now, however, it is time for Europe—represented in this case by France and Britain—to assert itself.

We have seen what happened recently when the French lost the "sale of the century" for the latest all-purpose aircraft ordered for NATO. There has been a saga of unfairness all through the years. Now it enters the field of the supersonic transport. There is a complicated political situation in New York, which it is impossible to analyse in my short speech today. There is an immensely complex web of interests, lobbies and sub-lobbies. The recently appointed Commissioners of the New York port authority had to give an undertaking to the State Traffic Commissioner, for example, that they were definitely anti-Concorde, and they made a number of speeches to that effect.

There is, therefore, the fear that Thursday's decision will not necessarily be fair. The Prime Minister has made his position clear on the matter. The Government's stance has been unequivocal and declared repeatedly on various occasions. The Prime Minister will be flying to the United States in Concorde on his official visit. We hope that President Carter will be courageous on this issue, and he has the opportunity now to be so.

There is an enormous complication between federal politics and local or state politics. In addition, the whole doctrine of interpositionism arises in this area, and it is difficult for us here in Britain with our different political patterns to analyse that. All these factors must be taken into account. If President Giscard d'Estaing makes a vital phone call to the President of the United States that plea is something that the Americans have to heed. The New York port authority does not have to give a final definitive "Yes" when it reaches its decision. It can endorse whatever is sought, which in this case is a trial period along the lines of that in Dulles, Washington.

Hon. Members are quite right to raise—I realise that they have done it reluctantly—the possibility of retaliatory action if the wrong decision is taken on Thursday. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that the British Government will apply every pressure on the Americans to make the right decision. A great deal will flow from what is decided on Thursday. A lot of money has been spent by Britain and France in this project on what is undoubtedly the most exciting frontier-breaking aircraft constructed for many years.

There are those in the American aircraft production lobby who wait with eagerness in the hope that the project will be killed at this stage. I do not know whether there is enough at stake here for it to be killed. Concorde has shown what it can do on other routes. Air France has done well with its route to South America. Once the Bahrein route is extended enormous progress will be made in that direction.

Concorde has had perhaps the most heartbreaking battle of any aircraft, civil or military, since the war. Complete victory is not in sight, or even round the corner. Thursday could provide not just one small additional step in the long path towards progress and success, but that decisive breakthrough that the Americans themselves will ignore at their peril.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

I rise to support by hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker). I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) for having raised the matter tonight and for giving us the opportunity to have this brief debate.

My hon. Friend said that he had been involved in this subject for many years. I have a tremendous feeling of déjà vue because when I was an official of this House I wrote the report of the Estimates Committee in 1962–63 at the beginning of the Concorde project. The Committee was chaired by the then Mr. Robert Carr, now Lord Carr, and it expressed considerable scepticism at the price estimates given to the House, about the break clause factor and over the proportion of investment to be made in relation to expenditure on subsonic aircraft.

Many of these apprehensions turned out to be true, but we are now in an entirely different situation. This technological triumph has created also a political triumph. One of the most fascinating and important aspects has been the unique agreement and understanding between British and French engineers, and it is in that respect that the project is the most impressive.

I would be unhappy if this debate were to conclude without some appreciation of the genuine difficulty which faces the United States Administration. Many people tend to underestimate the degree of autonomy given in the United States to individual States and even to authorities within States. The situation is not quite as simple as many people appear to think. However, I fully accept my hon. Friends' point about the degree of pressure and about the need for the United States Government to honour their responsibilities under the treaty. I should, however, be unhappy if we gave the impression that we did not understand or sympathise with the difficulties

which confront the Washington Administration.

I think that perhaps some of my hon Friends underestimate the power and sincerity of the environmental lobbies and groups in the United States. I have lived in New York State for the last four years. The concern and seriousness of those people, which might have been exploited, was a major factor in the destruction of the American SST. It would be slightly unfair to many of these sincere people if we gave the impression that this was entirely a power ploy.

I hope that the President realises more than almost anyone else the importance of appearances and of symbolism here. If the agreement does not go through and if Concorde is not allowed at least a brief, fair trial, the people in this country and in France will draw conclusions which may be harsh against the President and the administration and which may be slightly unfair, but which will nevertheless be drawn because Concorde asks and merits a fair trial in New York. I regret some of the language used by the French Government about retaliation. I do not think that this is the right way to talk to the United States Administration, particularly to a new Administration. However, I hope that the United States Government will be left in no doubt by the Prime Minister of the sincerity and the fervour of feeling which lies behind the wish to give Concorde a fair chance.

I hope that in replying to the debate the Minister will recognise the sincerity of us all in this matter. I have no strict constituency interest comparable to those interests held by my hon. Friends, but I believe that I have a national interest as someone who wishes that this remarkable aircraft and this remarkable example of Anglo-French co-operation may be given a fair chance.

7.29 p.m.

Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)

I have a great regard for Concorde. It is the plane of the future. Probably the American attitude is governed in the main by the fact that we and the French were the first to produce such an aircraft. There is, however, one thing which worries me considerably, and I have had correspon- dence with the Minister about it. It is the mysterious 9 o'clock boom which hits my constituency every evening. It coincides with the return of the French Concorde. If we are to convince the Americans that it is right and proper that they should accept the Concorde—and I believe that to be so—the French Concorde should go subsonic at the Scillies. That would leave the boom in the Atlantic and would not cause great problems to my constituents.

Mr. Adley

Would my hon. Friend confirm that that boom, which should be put in perspective, appears to be from a sideways direction of supersonic flight, as he has indicated, and that as there is no similar circumstance in the United States to the relationship of his constituents and mine to the English Channel, the situation is not one that could be used by Americans seeking to use his experience in the battle that they are waging?

Mr. Mawby

I shall be absolutely fair. My own experience of this was only last evening. As I was watching television I heard the boom, which sounded like someone blowing up a cooling tower. There was no rattling of windows, nor was there any damage to my property. But some of my constituents further west, about 30 miles beyond me, have put forward evidence that damage has been caused to their property.

The Minister has written to me giving me all the details of the investigations that have been made, which appear to be expert investigations, but there is no concrete evidence that the damage has been caused by the French Concorde. However, if Concorde went subsonic a mile earlier, we should have a better argument to put to the Americans.

It seems that most of these booms and most of the damage occurs at 9 o'clock at night. It could be just a coincidence or just one of those things. If we want to make certain that the Americans will accept this plane—which I believe they should, because it is a great plane and ought to be accepted, certainly on long flights over the Pacific in future—the French ought to co-operate in going subsonic a mile earlier and so protecting my constituents and all the constituents of Cornish Members.

7.33 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to my hon. Friends and to the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker) because my attendance on a Select Committee meant that I was unable to be here at the start of the debate. I gather that since the debate started word has come over the tapes that Governor Carey has repeated today his assertion that he does not want Concorde to land in New York. As he appoints half of the Port of New York Authority personnel, I do not think that we can be too optimistic about the decision later this week.

When I was in the United States a few months ago I talked to people in New York and in Washington about this problem. I was struck by the fact that a considerable body of opinion indicated that although many people were not necessarily all that keen on Concorde as a project they thought that their own Government were being unfair. If the Federal Government decided that Concorde should run for a trial period, it would be sensible to use that period to monitor the environmental impact. If the decision is adverse, there may be evidence that Concorde had an adverse effect on the environment in New York. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) was right to point out the problems, which anyone who has been to New York and seen people's proximity to the airport will recognise.

There is no argument that I can conceive in natural justice and equity for not allowing the trial to take place. If Concorde is allowed into Washington it should be allowed into New York as well. Many people in New York, particularly trade unionists and businessmen, are concerned about the loss of revenue from people who would otherwise have used New York in its historic rôle as a port of entry into the United States. In this context it is not insignificant to note that about 25 per cent. of the present Concorde passengers from Washington are travelling from New York to Washington to commence their journey. Admittedly, there is not an enormous number of people using that service, but it is a trend.

I hope that the Prime Minister will take a strong line with President Carter when he meets him this week. One cannot help but speculate about what might have been if the United States had had a supersonic aircraft which it was hoping would he allowed to land at Heathrow. One can imagine all the pressure that would have been brought to bear on us. We would have been told that we must be British, that it is a great British tradition to see fair play, and that surely they must be allowed to carry on with the test. All sorts of sinister things would happen and different moneys would not be available to us. Now that it is the other way round, the President is saying that the Americans have a federal structure and he cannot interfere with New York's decision.

New York—whatever semantic phrase one uses—is virtually bankrupt. It is looking to the Federal Government for cash. One does not have to be clairvoyant to see that the President has a certain amount of leverage which he could exercise over the New York authorities. It is not good enough for him to say that it is a decision just for the local authority concerned. That is the kind of statement which is made by people who do not want to get involved. It is always a decision for someone else when one wants them to make a rotten one, but it is something one will step into when one believes that one has the power.

I note with interest, and support, the pressure that is being exerted in typical Gallic fashion by the President of France. I wish that our own Prime Minister would be equally vigorous. Perhaps he is keeping his powder dry for the close confrontation. I hope that the Minister will take the message from this debate to the Prime Minister that those of us who have spoken represent many who feel that this superb technological achievement is being discriminated against by a country which feels a certain amount of sour grapes that it has no comparable project, and is doing everything it can by dragging its feet to stop our aircraft from getting in.

7.38 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade (Mr. Clinton Davis)

The House and the country will be grateful that the debate has taken place. I am obliged to the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) for taking this opportunity to raise it

Three days remain for a vital decision to be taken. As I said in the recent debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker), on the basis of the evidence available there is room for only one decision, a favourable one. The time for delaying ploys, for pretext, for politicking by the Port of New York Authority has come to an end. We have to take into account the possibility that the Port of New York Authority may place its own allegedly—I use that word advisedly—political interests ahead of the long-term interests of New York and will come to an adverse decision. We must be prepared for that possibility, and we are.

It is for that reason that we have fixed a hearing date for 15th March. That appeal to the courts should never be necessary where two countries have entered into treaty rights one with the other. We have always asserted that those rights are paramount, that it is not for a local authority to consider that it can override such rights. Therefore, we shall pursue our legal rights in the courts and at the same time—for these are not matters which are mutually exclusive—pursue our diplomatic rights.

Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)

In the event of a refusal by the New York authorities, would the hon. Gentleman regard the Americans as being in breach of the treaty?

Mr. Davis

That is obviously the view we take, otherwise we would not have embarked upon litigation in the first place. The matter has been raised before a Federal court on the basis of our treaty rights. All that has happened is that that has been adjourned generally, with liberty to restore, and we have taken advantage of the situation to fix the hearing date for 15th March. It will be heard if there is, unhappily, an adverse decision.

Hon Members have rightly asked during this debate what would have happened if the situation had been the reverse and we had excluded some American aircraft, perhaps a somewhat less remarkable American aircraft. I sense that there would have been a certain degree of trauma on the part of the American Government, and there might even have been a quiver here and there coming from New York. The Americans would have asserted that we had discriminated against their aircraft.

The hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington has from time to time made certain allegations which I have tried to temper a bit. When he has made them, the United States authorities have asserted that there is no discrimination, and they continue to assert that. One excuse after the other is put forward to justify what I consider to be a pose.

Another highly significant point has been made during this debate, and I believe that it is a view which is mirrored in many parts of the United States, including New York. It is that it is New York that will be disadvantaged by an adverse decision. I do not believe that New York is in a position to throw away this opportunity to take advantage of this great new technological achievement, which can bring immense benefit to that city.

During the Adjournment debate on 24th February I spelled out the importance of New York to the Concorde project. It is a reciprocal state of affairs. There are advantages both to the New Yorkers and to the project. I stated that New York represented the key to Concorde's success, because it is a tremendously important route. It is the route for which Concorde was primarily designed and which must be exploited by the French and British airlines if the investment in Concorde is to be paid off. It is a route which we are entitled to exploit.

The profound concern which has been expressed in the House about the possibility of an adverse decision has been mirrored in the personal messages from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the President of France to President Carter, who has several times stated his support for Mr. Secretary Coleman's decision. Indeed, he repeated it over the weekend. But President Carter has also asserted on equally numerous occasions that the decision is for the Port of New York Authority or the Governor of New York. President Carter has now added to the argument a new dimension which we must take seriously, that tighter noise standards may be unilaterally—I stress the word "unilaterally"—demanded and applied within the United States.

Let me deal with the two essential points separately, beginning with the treaty rights. The Governments of the United Kingdom and France have stated publicly that we regard the delay m allowing Concorde flights into New York as a serious violation of not only the spirit but the specific requirements of our bilateral air services agreements with the United States. The position we have taken with the administration and the court is that the airlines have satisfied all the conditions which may be imposed in regard to Concorde services by the United States under the respective bilateral agreements.

First, British Airways and Air France are designated airlines for the operation of commercial services to New York from London and Paris respectively. Secondly, these designations have been accepted by the United States Government. Thirdly, the United States Civil Aeronautics Board has concluded that the airlines are "fit, willing and able" to perform their functions under the meaning of United States law, and has therefore granted foreign air carrier permits for air services on these routes. Fourthly, the Secretary of Transportation concluded that Concorde would comply with all the rules and regulations which, under the bilateral agreements, affect air services into the United States.

It was in those circumstances that both airlines were authorised to conduct services to Kennedy Airport using Concorde. These findings have established completely the necessary compliance with all the relevant provisions of the bilateral agreements. These agreements also give the United States Government rights to revoke or limit the airlines' treaty rights to operate agreed services if a violation of United States laws or regulations occurs. But such action is reserved to " each Contracting Party "—that is on the United States side the Government of the United States. The Port of New York Authority is not a contracting party. It was never contemplated by either the British or French Governments—or, I believe, the United States Government—that local authorities could arrogate to themselves this power to limit landing rights as though they were contracting parties to the agreements.

That is the treaty rights position in a nutshell.

I deny President Carter's statement in the weekend phone-in programme that it is possible for the Federal Government of the United States to shuffle off on to the Port of New York Authority or Governor Carey the whole question of determining the treaty rights, or that those treaty rights can be subordinated to the diktat of a local authority.

On the facts of the matter, I stated the other day and I repeat—I need not rehearse them in detail—that we, the French and British Governments, Air France and British Airways, notwithstanding the view that we have taken on treaty rights and without prejudice to them, have co-operated in every possible way with the United States Government and the Port of New York Authority in determining whether Concorde ought to be admitted to New York. Notwithstanding the unprecedented severity of the tests to which Concorde was subjected, it has come out with flying colours. There is not a scintilla of evidence available which can lead to any other reasonable conclusion.

I turn to the second point made by President Carter concerning the capacity of the United States to administer tighter, more rigorous noise standards unilaterally. I believe that to be in flagrant contradiction of the views expressed by the United States representatives of ICAO, the international body which controls civil aviation operations by rules and procedures which are mutually agreed between its members. We trust that there is no question of the United States imposing new regulations unilaterally while discussions in ICAO—discussions which are proceeding under the co-chairmanship of the United States—on the question SST noise are still proceeding.

Having said that and, I hope, having disposed in essence of the two essential pillars of the arguments which have been relied on in the United States, I should point out that the facts to which hon. Members have alluded about the predictions concerning the performance of Concorde have been fulfilled in every way possible.

Hon. Members were right to refer to the unfortunately inflammatory way in which some of the fears and anxieties of people who live close to Kennedy Airport have been exploited. As Minister with responsibility for aviation, I know only

too well that it is easy for people justifiably to get anxious about noise which can sometimes be intolerable. However, I suspect that the impact of Concorde at New York—if and when we are able to use Kennedy Airport—will have a minimum effect in terms of the overall noise disturbance which is currently prevalent at that airport.

Judging from the propaganda which has emanated from the Port of New York Authority and from some of those in this country who bear Concorde ill will and have never been slow to produce their evidence to its enemies, one would have thought that the aircraft would dramatically change the whole picture of disturbance and environmental pollution at New York. Nothing could be further from the truth. Therefore, I state now, as I stated the other day—if necessary, I shall go on stating—that Concorde has fulfilled all the predictions which we said would occur and which Mr. Secretary Coleman indicated at the time of the important and profound investigation which he carried out.

Mr. Pattie

Would it support the Minister's point on the question of noise if he told the House about the impact of Concorde within the Heathrow context? I believe that some figures recently produced by his Department show that other aircraft have been noisier than Concorde on all occasions that it has been flying.

Mr. Davis

I was going to come to that point. The hon. Gentleman need have no fear on that score. I was invited to refer to that matter by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope). It may be convenient if now in parentheses I say that his question was unfortunately misunderstood. I accept responsibility for that. When the hon. Gentleman asked his question, we assumed that it referred to fixed monitoring points. Of course, the hon. Gentleman had noise infringements in mind. Indeed, I have answered a Question on this matter today. It may be for the convenience of the House if I refer to that Answer.

Concorde is, of course, exempt from the statutory noise limits. No mention of Concorde was made in the original Answer for that reason. I think that the hon. Gentleman wanted Concorde noise levels included, so we have put the record straight. We have set out a table which makes clear what the league results would have been had Concorde been included within the specification requested by the hon. Gentleman. Only in May, September and October was Concorde the noisiest aircraft. That is a relevant factor. It does not accord with the propaganda which the opponents of Concorde have been seeking to enlist on this matter.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Which aircraft were the noisiest for the other months?

Mr. Davis

I think that the hon. Gentleman had better look at the Answer. I do not want to weary the House with a catalogue of facts which will be available in Hansard tomorrow.

The hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) referred to the confirmation hearings of the Port of New York Authority Commissioners. I was deeply disturbed by some of the evidence which came out at those hearings. I believe that it is incumbent on the Port of New York Authority to view the evidence objectively in a judicial way. It is not a judicial authority. Nevertheless, in my view, it is required to do that. I do not believe that the confirmation hearings were an entirely happy augury. I have no doubt that the views of those who gave evidence were based on information provided by the Port of New York Authority itself. That worries me, because it was a decidedly one-sided version. The interrogation by Senator Caemerrar was clearly designed to secure a response to various anti-Concorde questions which he posed.

Mr. Adley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when the Secretary of State for Energy and I met officials of the Port of New York Authority way back in 1971, it was made clear to us that, from the evidence available to them, Concorde was going to be perfectly acceptable, but, as they told us, they were in the hands of the politicians, and the politicians would decide what the facts should look like and what the answer would be at the end of the day?

Mr. Davis

The hon. Member has reinforced my point and he has done so anecdotally. I am sure that his experiences in those days filled him with justification about his belief as to how the Port of New York Authority would handle the matter. I know that the hon. Member has had grave reservations about that.

We have tried constantly to encourage the Port of New York Authority to deal with the evidence objectively. If at the end of the day they decide not to do so, I have explained to the House some of the consequences. Even though there are only three days left, there is still time for that objective approach. I have not given up hope. Any negative decision based on the type of questioning with some of the answers that we read about the other day would constitute a perverse finding which is wholly against the weight of available evidence.

Hon. Members have raised the question of support for Concorde amongst the citizens of New York. That is right. It has been revealed not only through business interests, which are widely representative, but also by the New York Labour Council, which represents over 1 million members. Even more significantly, and perhaps even humorously in the context in which we are attacked on this matter, Kennedy Airport is in Long Island and the Long Island Association for Commerce and Industry has come out on our side. The members of that association know what they are talking about and what are the interests of Long Island. We and the French have spared no efforts to bring the true facts home to the ordinary New Yorker.

Hon. Members have raised the question of retaliation. I recognise the strength of feeling that has been expressed. No doubt hon. Members and the whole country would be embittered if it were decided on Thursday evening that Concorde should be denied entry into New York. I hope that the Port of New York Authority will have an opportunity of noting the feeling that has been expressed in the House.

More to the point, what we expect the United States to do is to meet the treaty obligations. If they fail to do that, we must reserve the right to take whatever action that we think most appropriate. It would be wrong for me at the Dispatch Box to disclose the hand of the British Government, and I certainly cannot disclose the hand of the French Government. It would be unhelpful to speculate on the form that any such retaliation might take. There can be no doubt about the impact of the message of President Giscard to President Carter the other day. I want to emphasise the close co-operation that we enjoy with the French Government.

The Prime Minister will be in the United States at the time that the decision is made by the Port of New York Authority. I can give the House a categorical assurance that he will take the opportunity to reaffirm the views that he has already made unmistakably to President Carter on this matter. A denial of our treaty rights would be regarded as grave. Should the decision be negative I expect the Prime Minister to restate that our treaty rights were being denied, particularly in the context of the United Kingdom-United States negotiations for a new air services agreement.

The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) raised the problem of the sonic boom. I have dealt with that in correspondence with a number of hon. Members who rightly raised the issue. There has been no parallel complaint in the United States as a result of flights into Washington or out of Washington. The Bristol University study has put the issue in its correct perspective. Having said that, I can assure the hon. Member for Totnes and the House that we take these matters very seriously. We are at present engaged in a joint investigation and monitoring exercise with the French. It is only by getting the evidence together and carefully analysing it that we can come to the right conclusions.

I have said that there are five reasons why Concorde should be admitted to New York. First, President Carter's own statements have said that Concorde should be allowed to enter New York. Second, the Port of New York Authority had every little bit of information that it could have required from us. We have co-operated to the full. Third, the experience at Washington shows that the information that we have given is totally correct. Fourth, New York will benefit from Concorde's services to Europe. Fifth, let no one misunderstand the depth of feeling both in this country and in France should Britain and France be denied their right to exploit this remarkable aircraft.

8.5 p.m.

Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)

It is right that I should welcome the vigorous and forceful statement by the Minister on this important issue. Not only is the future of Concorde vitally affected by the decision but our national interest is at stake. The Prime Minister should know that he has the support of both the major parties and, I believe, the support of the minority parties, when he goes to New York in a few days' time. The Conservative Party gives the fullest possible support to the Government and to the Prime Minister on this issue. As my hon. Friends have said, I hope that there will be a happy conclusion to this very important matter by the end of the week.