HL Deb 02 August 1962 vol 243 cc401-3

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have now decided to place a further order for a version of the Belfast aircraft with Short Bros. and Harland, of Belfast.]


My Lords, as I told the noble Lord in the debate on the Air Estimates on 4th April, it seems unlikely that Her Majesty's Government will have a requirement for more of the present version of the Belfast than the ten already on order for R.A.F. Transport Command. There is a Service requirement for a tactical transport aircraft to replace the Beverley and Hastings, for which Messrs. Shorts have offered a modified version of the Belfast. This requirement is now being examined; but I cannot say whether the modified Belfast will be found to be the best means of meeting the requirement. Her Majesty's Government are well aware of the importance to the aircraft industry of an early decision.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that this matter has been under active consideration since last March, when Mr. Butler visited the works and announced that the matter was urgent and that a decision must be made soon? Is it not possible for the Government to make an announcement that an order will be placed, and that precise details will be announced later? If that were done it would have a tremendous effect on the morale, not only of the people who work there, but of the whole of the people of Northern Ireland.


I am afraid that I cannot do that, my Lords; but I would emphasise to the noble Lord that the Government are well aware of the situation at Shorts, and we will try to give a clear indication of our future requirements as soon as possible.


My Lords, will the noble Lord keep in mind that unemployment in Northern Ireland is, I think, higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom, and that Northern Ireland is a very loyal part of the United Kingdom? They might, incidentally, remember that it is all too loyal to the Conservative Party in House of Commons elections. May I ask him to give favourable consideration to doing anything that is possible to improve the industrial situation in Northern Ireland?


Yes, my Lords, this is one of the considerations which will be borne in mind before a decision is reached.


My Lords, as the Government must know what they require with reference to transport aircraft, could the noble Lord tell us what is the reason for the delay?


There are other designs to be examined before it is settled which particular one we choose.


My Lords, in considering these general matters of unemployment, would the Government say what their opinion is about joining up the German firm of Krupp's with an English firm in order to help matters?


My Lords, I should be extremely grateful if the noble Lord would put that Question down.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty whether Her Majesty's Government will take into account the great techniques that have been built up in Northern Ireland due to Shorts' Apprentice School? Not only have tradesmen learned a lot—you can see that in what they do and in the manufacture of guided weapons—but the number of people they supply from their Apprentice School who become lecturers at universities is quite astonishing. I should like to put a point to Her Majesty's Government—and perhaps I might, by leave of the House, apologise for the rather hasty remarks I made in the Air Estimates debate in April about four propellers on the end of an aeroplane looking old-fashioned. Will the noble Lord realise that "handsome is as handsome does," and that if the thing does its job, even if it does look old-fashioned, it does not matter? The third point on which I would ask a question, is very simple. Could my noble friend tell me why he classes the Belfast as a tactical transport? I always understood that it was a strategical transport.


My Lords, in answer to the last question of the noble Lord, Shorts have a modified design of the Belfast which is a tactical transport aircraft and which they say would suit the requirements of the Government. The sort of considerations that the noble Lord raised in his first two supplementary questions are, of course, and will be, borne in mind by the Government.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that since 1958 repeated assurances have been given by responsible Ministers that it was the policy of Her Majesty's Government to continue Shorts as a viable progressive aircraft unit? Can he say if that remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government?


I think it has been said—it was said by my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence—that it was the aim of the Government to do that.

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