HL Deb 26 March 1947 vol 146 cc878-80

6.40 p.m.

LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE rose to ask His Majesty's Government, if purchase of further American civil airliners for use by any of the three Government-owned corporations is now being considered? The noble Lord said: My Lords, last week I asked the Minister a question dealing with delays in the construction of British civil airliners, and having given the House information of additional delays I then asked whether there was any further purchase of American aircraft in contemplation. I asked him, if I put down a question, would he give me an answer; and he indicated that he would. Since then we have had a rather intelligent anticipation in a newspaper of to-night, in which it is said, seemingly with a great deal of authority, that the Minister will announce the purchase of further Constellation Aircraft and (accord- ing to the Evening Standard) that they will have British Centaurus engines. I do not know what reply the Minister is going to make but I presume that information is fairly authentic, and on that basis I would like to say how on the one hand we welcome the much-needed replacement of the depleted fleet of British airliners and, on the other, how much we regret that British engines are not to be put into British aircraft, and how much we regret that foreign aircraft are to be purchased with our precious dollars, which are being exhausted at such a high rate.

The chances of further British aircraft are receding more and more into the background, and it looks as if it will be 1950 before we compete with British aircraft on the Atlantic lines. If the Minister is going to say we have had to take this step, could we ask him at the same time to look again at the reasons why there is delay in the production of British aircraft? The old statement that the war and the war effort is the reason has now grown stale, and we now must look for the months' delay to new reasons, and new reasons for which one holds the Government responsible. If the Minister to-night tells me we are going to purchase further American aircraft I would only say that I hope such purchases will turn out to the national interest, while, at the same time, deploring the necessity.

6.43 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord said, I indicated that I would reply to a question if he put one to me, and he has been good enough to put that question, and this is the reply. A proposal has recently been received, as the result of exploratory exchanges between the Bristol Aeroplane Company and the Lockheed Corporation, for the development of a new version of the Constellation aircraft type powered with Bristol Centaurus engines. The merits of the project, and the commitments which would be involved, are at present under examination by the Corporations concerned, in consultation with my Department and the Ministry of Supply. It would be premature to make any statement at the present time, but I need hardly repeat that it is the policy of His Majesty's Government that British aircraft should be employed on British airlines to the maximum extent practicable.