HL Deb 13 November 1962 vol 244 cc567-600

4.38 p.m.

LORD BRABAZON OF TARA rose to draw attention to the possibility of constructing supersonic aircraft and point out the threats and consequences arising therefrom; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name. I hope you will forgive me because I find myself in rather a curious role for me—the role of trying to stop what is, in fact, a very imaginative project. But trees do not grow to the skies, and you have to stop somewhere. If you wanted railways to run at 110 miles per hour between London and Edinburgh, no doubt you could do it for a few millions; but nobody seems to think it worth while, and I agree with that.

Civil Aviation to-day is in a very depressing situation. The airlines of the world have been helped by their respective Governments and given facilities for the production of giant aircraft, airports, and all the arrangements for landing and traffic. They agree their fares internationally; yet even with that they collectively lost £50 million last year. This I maintain is a problem which might be looked at through the whole business side, because there is much that can be done which of course requires money, and I think it would be well-spent. But here we have a proposition to spend £120 million of the taxpayers' money to produce a supersonic aircraft which will put civil aviation in the red forever. The Boeing 707 costs an operator £2 million. To buy one of these supersonic aircraft will cost about £6 million. Civil aviation cannot afford it.

Your Lordships may well ask: Is it wanted? I venture to say, and I do not think that anybody will contradict me, that if we introduce these aircraft, they will not carry one single extra passenger in the air. Those who go by these machines will be the people who would normally go by 707, and that type of machine to-day cannot get a load factor of 50 per cent. This is a prestige stunt, on the basis that if we do not do it, somebody else will do it. And the Government are about to make their decision upon it.

Here I would quote from the remarks made by Mr. Halaby, the F.A.A. Administrator, speaking in America. He says: We have to review our position in the light of any governmental announcement from England and France, and it is anticipated shortly. That is the trigger effect that any announcement from the Government will cause. I maintain that it is preposterous to indulge in this, for the only advantage that a few businessmen may arrive in New York two hours sooner than they do at present.

There will be advanced, no doubt, the wonderful word "productivity". Productivity means this. If you have an aeroplane which is very fast by virtue of its speed, you can get in more journeys per day and consequently take more money. We have had all this story with the 707. I would just say this. Even if we had a machine that was going at the speed of 3 mach, which is over 2,000 miles an hour, the journey from your house in New York to your house in London would take 5½ hours, only two of which would be in the air. Even to-day, in going to Paris, about three-quarters of an hour is spent in flying and 3 hours in messing about on the ground. It has been rightly said that the only thing fast about flight is flying. Nothing else. There is plenty of work to be done in other directions.

I should like now to say a word about prestige. What price prestige? I believe that one can do a tremendous lot in helping various things by Government assistance. Take the motor industry. There are millions of people throughout the world who are interested in racing motor cars. Have we ever given any assistance to that? Not a shilling. And yet some private firms, out of their meagre resources, have carried us to victory—a remarkable performance, for which they deserve our greatest credit. We are a maritime nation, so we say, and we have tried to get back the America's Cup for a hundred years. Would it be a good thing, from the point of view of prestige, to help, say, the great University at Southampton? If we gave them £1 million, they would get it back for us in two years easily. Is it worth it? I do not know. The point I am trying to make is this. Who decides how much money shall be spent for prestige purposes?—because in this case the Air Ministry are taking £120 million of our money for prestige.

I am somewhat surprised to hear that Her Majesty's Government are making an arrangement between the great French firm, SUD, and Bristol to join up in order to make this aeroplane. I am surprised that any French firm would have enough confidence to join with us in anything, for the reason that we have not a very good record in completing aeroplanes. We start them and we have a habit of not finishing them. May I quote just one or two examples? The great aeroplane which was named after me was, first of add, three years late and then the engines which it wanted did not arrive until three years after the aeroplane was scrapped. Transport Command ordered the V.1000. All the money was spent on the development side and then it was scrapped. Finally, there was the imaginative project of Brackley's to have great flying boats. They were very nearly built, and then scrapped. Altogether, I suppose we must have wasted about £80 million on not producing aeroplanes.

I want to know this from the Opposition. This is a ten-year project. Do we readily decide to go through with it from the point of view of the nation? And will the Opposition pledge themselves to continue to help right to the end? Beoause I should have thought that SUD would have been a little nervous, first, due to our past and, secondly, owing to the fact that we cannot guarantee a Government for ten years in the future. Consequently, I think that it would be almost dishonest of us to pledge to co-operate with this great French company unless the Opposition say that they will continue to back this project. I hope that whoever is going to reply will try to give an answer to that.

I am, of course, convinced that technically it could be produced. Supersonic flight is with us on the military side to-day and we are learning much about it. I want to say just one or two things about this machine, were it produced. I am told that the engines will make just about twice as much noise as the ordinary one of to-day. That would seem quite impossible, but I am told that it is the fact. I doubt very much whether the inhabitants of Staines can bear it. There comes an end to human endurance. Frankly, I am surprised that the citizens of Staines have not marched in their thousands and wrecked London Airport. It would be a splendid thing to do. I have always maintained, and others have agreed with me, that civil aviation should be civil. It is far from it to-day.

I want to talk for a moment about the technical side of things. There is the question of fatigue. I have now been on the Air Registration Board for something like twelve years and I have been through all the horrors of fatigue. When we passed the wonderful Comet, it was airworthy in three dimensions but not airworthy in four. In other words, when it was new, it was perfect, and yet, due to fatigue, after a certain number of hours it was not airworthy. We know little about that. We know still less about what will happen to these metals which in every flight will get heated up to high temperatures three or four times a day. That is something that will require a lot of investigation, and I am sure it will be given it. It is a technical problem of great complexity.

I now raise a question which is a new one in flight, and that is the effect on human beings of cosmic rays at 70,000 feet, which is the sort of height at which these machines will have to fly. There are various kinds of cosmic radiation. There is the galactic type and the solar primary radiation. They cannot be wholly imitated in the laboratory, and there are such things as solar flares which, if they occur during a flight at that height, will make things quite intolerable.

Here I should like to mention this fact. Nobody knows what the genetic effects will be on passengers subject to these conditions. We know that this type of radiation upsets the genes in chromosomes, and such disturbances may produce what are called mutants. We have been warned by people abroad that no young woman, especially if she is pregnant, should ever take the risk of going into such machines. There is no doubt that if these machines are to be made we shall have to indulge in countless long experiments on animals before we can say it is safe. It would be a tragic thing if you sent your best girl in a supersonic aeroplane and then found yourself the father of an orangoutang.

I now come to what I consider to be the most crucial part of the whole project, and that is the sonic boom. Your Lordships know that when the speed of sound is exceeded shock waves are generated and there is no possibility of silencing or stopping them. They are basic to the fact that you are going faster than the speed of sound. Some people say that at a low speed, Mach 1.2, the boom might be tolerable. Well, even at that speed, at 70,000 feet it is rather like a sudden clap of thunder—not very agreeable at any time of the day or night. This is not wholly understood, and I am told by the experts abroad that if you designed a machine which would give you a pressure of only 1 lb. per square foot there are conditions of air currents and meteorology which could easily turn that into a pressure of 10 lb. a square foot. That would smash your windows. From a political point of view, I cannot imagine a better vote-catching stunt that smashing all the windows of two or three streets in the middle of a cold winter's night: people would then really appreciate the advance of technology.

We are to be subject to this, with no warning, but just a bang at any time of the day or night if we accept supersonic aircraft. I believe that people will stop it. I know that it has been advanced that we shall fly these machines at this speed only over the sea. That sounds very nice to start with. But are we going to be the only people who fly them? The route from New York to Central Europe will be over England, and we shall get the sonic bangs here. Do not let us make any mistake about that.

I hope that I have not exaggerated this case. All I ask is that your Lordships should plead that we should wait. Could there not be some international agreement to delay at least for ten years this project while it is explored further? That would be an advantage to us all. We do not want one to take advantage of another. It has been said many times that technology is in advance of human wisdom. How true that is! How much better would it have been if inter- nationally we had stopped the development of nuclear fission! How much happier the world would be! Because a thing is possible is no reason for doing it. I should like to quote some words from Bo Lundberg. He says: How splendid would it not be if aviation took the lead in proving that spectacular technological advances could and should be balanced against the harms and hazards they might inflict, and that the balance should be guided by ethical rules and standards! This would indeed be an even greater service by aviation to mankind than the safe transportation of people.

Again I plead for a policy of hurrying slowly. We have a great Minister of Aviation, a young man capable and imaginative but if he pursues this policy, he will, as I believe, ruin civil aviation from the point of view of paying, for ever. He said the other day, in a great speech before the Society of Aircraft Constructors: Space beckons us with a golden finger". My Lords, it beckons us to the three brass balls of the pawnbroker.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, we expected an entertaining speech from the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, and we certainly got it. It was also a forceful speech, and one that ranged into technical questions to which it is difficult for us to find a final answer. But I must confess that I was surprised that he did not get a few of his facts a little more accurate. I must make clear that, although I speak from this Box, I cannot bind the Opposition to future policy in the matter of this or any other project that this Government start. We do not know what state we shall find the country in when we take over, although we are glad that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, obviously thinks that there will be a time in the near future when the continuance of this decision will rest with the Party on this side of the House.

I really find this argument that the Government should not subsidise developments because of certain technical difficulties one that is not entirely satisfactory. The noble Lord talked about the fact that airlines were in the red to the tune of £50 million. I might mention the fact that railways have been known to lose money also. But it is perfectly true that there is not enough international planning. I see little chance in a competitive world of an agreement on a standstill of technological advance.

If I had had my way—and perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, would have been with me on this—I would not have allowed the development of television, and certainly not commercial television, at the rate at which it has gone. This was essentially a matter within the control of this country. But I do not quite know what it is the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, is asking for. I do not know whether he is asking for a moratorium on the assumption that in twenty years' time these problems will be solved, or whether he is asking that we should not advance beyond the present speed and type of aircraft. There are not the signs at the moment that in another twenty years' time the problems to which he referred will be solved, and I should have thought that ten years was a reasonable period for development of an aircraft which, as I think must be appreciated, is not as revolutionary as many people think.

The supersonic transport aircraft is a natural development of existing types, and in the type in which the British Aircraft Corporation and Sud Aviation are co-operating we are operating in a field which is well known and, in fact, traversing a perfectly well-established path, flying no faster than many existing aircraft already fly, making their supersonic bangs, using the same sort of fuels and alloys and the same sort of engines. Not only is the present proposal, which is for a Mach 2.2 aircraft, possible, but the designers are confident that it can be achieved. I will add further that the same traffic control procedures will apply. I would remind your Lordships that there are aircraft in existence in the world to-day—conventional type aircraft—that have flown at greater speeds than this. They have flown at 1,600 miles per hour and, of course, there is an American research aircraft which has flown at 4,000 miles per hour. We are proposing, and the Government are supporting, a proposal for an aircraft to fly at Mach 2.2, which is considerably less than these figures.

The noble Lord did not refer to the controversy as to whether the Government are sponsoring, and whether the aircraft manufacturers should go in for, an even faster aircraft, the Mach 3 aircraft, which would go at a speed approaching 2,000 miles per hour. I am sure we are right not to consider this, because the developments in fuel and safety, and the consideration of the different problems, have not gone far enough. Indeed, there is not a fuel in existence that could be readily made available against the problems of heating that would arise. But when we come to this aircraft, we do not find that the difficulties are insuperable. The noble Lord referred to fatigue. We are well aware, from the tragedies of the Comet aircraft and of the difficulties that have confronted aircraft designers, that this is a problem, but a problem which the manufacturers, the Ministry, and Farn-borough in particular, reckon can be overcome.

As to the subject of cosmic radiation, I hope we shall hear from the Government what the dangers are. I would only say to the noble Lord that radiation is not the only danger which threatens him. He probably at the moment has in his liver quite a considerable amount of D.D.T., dieldrin, and other toxic chemicals, the effect of which is almost identical to radiation. This is a matter which perhaps I should not develop now. If he will join with me in reducing the amount of toxic chemicals we throw around, I shall be very pleased indeed. The risk of cosmic radiation, which some people have emphasised, is undoubtedly one of the things to be answered. I am told that it is not a serious difficulty, and that certainly a number of people are already flying at greater heights and that anxiety has not arisen on this matter. But we shall look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, what he has to say on it.

This particular aircraft is not something that is being hurried. Design studies have been going on already for several years, and it will probably take anything up to fifteen years or more from the time the original work was begun on it with the 300 models they have made at Farnborough, and it seems to me that fifteen years is a reasonable time with-out hurrying too much. One of the main objections of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, was that of cost. I am assured—and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, can answer this—that in fact the cost of these aircraft will not be significantly greater than the cost of the existing types of aircraft that are operating to-day. How far the Boeing 707 has been Government financed from line original development from defence work, and so on, I do not know, but there is little doubt that a great deal of the development costs in the past has been paid for by Governments in one way or another. The actual operating costs are likely to be not significantly higher, and may be even lower, with the sheer cost advantage of the extra speed. To this country, with its Commonwealth interests and our world-wide interests, speed is not unimportant. The fact that people will be able to get to Sydney in twelve or thir-teen hours is something which will help again to bring the world closer together. The time to New York will be quite fantastically small—it will in fact be only three hours.

It has been suggested that we should do well to wait and see what others do. One thing I should have thought for certain was that whether we go ahead with this, and whether the Americans go ahead, General de Gaulle certainly will go ahead. The decision has already been taken in France, and the problem which confronts us is whether or not we are going to opt out of this business entirely. If we are not, the Government must take a decision—a decision which they have taken a good deal of time over already. I should like to remind the House of a quotation from the former Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Supply. Mr. Erroll said in 1955 that the Corporation were satisfied that they could hold their own commitments on the North Atlantic route well into the 1960s with the Comet IV and the long-range Britannia, and that they placed great emphasis on the superior performance of turbine-propeller aircraft compared with jets, and did not envisage that the absence of jet aircraft would seriously endanger Britain's air traffic in the early 1960s. When the time came we had to use a considerable amount of foreign exchange in buying Boeing 707s.

I should like now to turn to this question of noise. I am told—and perhaps the Government will tell us whether it is correct—that whereas the noise on the ground may be slightly higher, it will in fact be less once the aircraft gets airborne and beyond the runway. Indeed, the existing calculations are that the inhabitants of Staines will be less bothered by these supersonic aircraft than they are by the existing aircraft. These aircraft have a shorter take-off, and they will climb more quickly. The calculations suggest that at the existing check point, which is just over four miles from the beginning of the runway, the noise will be slightly less than it is with existing aircraft. This matter is a matter of profound importance. There is no doubt that noble Lords who have interested themselves in it have real reasons for concern. What the inhabitants of these areas have to suffer is intolerable, but they will have to go on suffering, whether we have a supersonic aircraft or not. They may even look for some slight relief on this matter.

On the question of sonic booms, I can only say that these are going on all the time. Aircraft are flying over this country, and many other countries of the world, at supersonic speeds, and for the most part we are not bothered with them at all. What Is quite certain is that the flight plans of these aircraft will have to be designed in such a way as to minimise this. Even if we get these peculiar meteorological effects to which the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, referred, I am told—and this again is a conflict of technical arguments—that they are likely only to have the effect of producing the noise of rather distant thunder and that the risk of breaking windows during an election is one that any Government of the day will not have to worry about very seriously.

I should like to put the arguments in purely national economic terms in favour of this. We know that, whether or not we go into the Common Market, our national existence and progress will depend on our ability to make the best use of our brains and produce products of a kind we are better at producing than other countries. We shall not be able to rely to the same extent on our natural resources. We must get into the lead in that most advanced technical field, and we must capture markets in it. There is every chance that if we go ahead now, we shall be well ahead, along with the French, of the rest of the world; and this may make a difference to our balance of payments to the tune of possibly over £100 million in the first five years of the 1970s.

We have gone—and I think it is something which we should welcome—a long way to achieving excellent cooperation with the French over this. I am told that the present President of Sud Aviation, General Pouget, has excellent relationships with the British end of this joint project and that there is a measure of agreement and of operational unanimity. It is perhaps interesting that the independent design studies of the aircraft, when they were operating separately, were rather similar. I myself think that if this country is to maintain any technological lead in the world—and this is a field in which we have to compete; it is not just a question of seeking prestige or of seeking power; it is a question of the living standards of this country—the Government must help. The Ministry of Aircraft Production at Farnborough have already given a great deal of help, but again speaking personally—obviously I cannot bind my noble friends on this side of the House, and there may be many other people who will not be bound by what may be said by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham—I am convinced that we ought to go ahead with this project.

If the present Government improve their record in regard to the cancellation of aircraft contracts of one kind or another, no one will be better pleased than us on this side of the House. But I do beg the Government not just to listen to the anxieties of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara without producing counter arguments. If we lived in a perfect Socialist world, in which we planned all our resources, then no doubt we should be able to avoid this sort of competition. But we still live in a pretty competitive world, and although there are many things to which I should certainly give much higher priority than this if I were in a position to plan them, in the present circumstances as we find them I believe we ought to go ahead.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, it is characteristic and one of the great values of this House that we can have a debate so authoritatively argued, in such a balanced manner, on a subject upon which, as I understand it, no final decision has been taken. We have all been greatly interested in both the speeches which have been delivered. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I thought, put the issue a little too much on one side, as possibly, he may say, my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara did on the other.

I would say that the issue which is before us now, and which must be before the Government is this: is it wise to embark on this project now? The noble Lord said that it will take a very long time; and I think he is probably right. It took quite a long time to produce Spitfires and Hurricanes off the drawing board. Some of my noble friends may say it is rather odd that somebody who did that kind of perhaps not wholly unimaginative thing should have hesitated today about the Government's doing something in the same field. Indeed they may be surprised that my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara, who certainly has never been unimaginative, unconstructive or unforward-looking in these matters, should feel his difficulties

Once we take this decision—though it may take a long time to carry it out, just as it did to produce the Spitfires—we are committed to it. I do not say that it is impossible to draw back—it is not. Both this Government and other Governments have drawn back from projects after a very great deal of money had been spent, but it is always much more difficult to do so—if hopes are dupes; fears may be liars. You hope that the thing is going to turn out all right—it requires only another few million pounds more. After all, in these days we think in millions, and tens of millions of pounds, when in old days a Spitfire cost £10,000, or less, to produce. But the fact that the costs are so colossal ought surely to make us think all the more. I do not think there has ever been a time when it is more difficult to know and to decide what to do. It is very important that we should be in the van of progress, but the cost of any undertaking of this sort is so colossal that we cannot do everything.

It was easy in the old days to build the Spitfire, the Hurricane and the Mosquito, and to set scientists out on the hunt for radar and all that sort of thing. But now we have to balance, and it is only one or two projects which can possibly be embarked upon. That makes it all the more necessary to make sure that we make the right selection. I am not sure about this myself. I have not the knowledge to be dogmatic about it, but I would put two or three questions to the Government. I must say that as a commercial proposition this seems to me to be singularly unattractive. What aircraft construction company would go into this? It is true, I suppose, that they must have Government subsidies in any project of this kind. But how confident are they, and what proportion of the money is the construction company going to put up?

This is a commercial aeroplane in which people are going to fly and which is going to be run by airlines. What is the view of the airlines about this? They have had some uncomfortable experiences. If you are going to make an aircraft you have to sell something, in the way that the Viscount was sold; you have to sell a great quantity of it to make the thing worth while at all. Both the constructors and the airlines themselves are anxious about that. We must not, I think, be just led away on imaginative flights about doing something scientifically rather wonderful if it is not going to produce in this aircraft a commercial result.

I am speaking from a business point of view with some experience of having had to—not run airlines commercially, I am glad to say, but help with the running of them as a Minister, and I have travelled a great deal by air and have been in touch with all the people who have made a success or a failure out of running airlines, whether in America or on the Continent. I remember that M. Perrier, I think it was, the very able chairman of Sabena, some years ago put on a service from Brussels; it was not a very fast service but it was a service that left Brussels at 12 noon or half-past twelve; it gave two excellent meals on board. It landed in New York at half-past nine or ten in the evening, so that you could drive to your hotel for a good night before you went into your business or social enterprises the following day. He found it was exactly what both the business and the social world needed. He told me that it was booked up for weeks ahead. He had the greatest difficulty in getting on it himself if he wanted to go to New York. He said to me, "I will give you the V.I.P. precedence, but you will have to let me know some weeks in advance if you want to travel by it". It was not very fast but it was enormously successful from a commercial point of view.

This is a thing on which we can all have our own opinion; but, after all, most of us have had to travel a good deal across the Atlantic. Is it really going to be so attractive, and are we—unless the cost comes out of a nice expense account, which again means that it comes from the Chancellor of the Exchequer—going to be prepared to pay an enormous amount more money to get to New York in two and a half hours instead of five or six hours? Quite frankly, I do not believe it, and I am not impressed by the sort of idea that if somebody else goes in for this we must go in for it, too. I know that if in business my competitor goes and sinks a few millions in something I think is likely to be a loser, I do not, for the sake of prestige or because he has done it, go running to spend a few millions on something, I will not say equally foolish but with about the same sort of prospects.


My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves this question of operating cost, why does he think this aircraft is going to be so much more costly? He must have read all the technical papers on this question which argue that it is not going to cost the passenger any more at all, or has he some figures to suggest it is?


I have read a good many of these things and I have seen a good many estimates. I have seen estimates made in Government Departments and commercial airlines, and they have not always come out quite right. But let me make the noble Lord a present of it. Suppose you can run it at the same price as now. As the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, pointed out, all the subsidised airlines of the world are running at a loss at the present time, certainly all those on these transatlantic routes. I do not believe you are going to attract any more people by having this supersonic airliner. I think the only hope of getting more people is to have very cheap fares, which is what some airlines are now undertaking. I do not want to put my case too high. Let me accept that the running costs will not be greater, although it is going to cost heaven knows how much to build it.

I would put this point. We have not an unlimited amount of money to spend. I am all in favour of spending absolutely the maximum amount we can spend on research, but surely we cannot just take these items of research in watertight compartments. We cannot say, "Here is this air proposition. Let us go and spend £50 million upon it." Surely we have to take the whole of development in the whole field of industry, in the air, on the ground, at sea, and see how we can best spend our money. I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that we have to be as efficient as we possibly can. We have to develop research. We have to make industry as efficient as we can, whether we go into the Common Market or not—and I think it will be a good deal easier, although the competition will be keen, if we do go into the Common Market. But I would put this question. Would it not be much wiser for us to take another look at the whole of this, and, whatever the figure is—be it £50 million, be it £100 million: take £50 million—would you rather have it spent on this project—which may turn out all right; I do not know—or would you have that £50 million spent on universities, on the technical colleges, on helping research, development, expenditure for making more efficient industries in which we know we can make a great success?

Then I would ask this. I have not heard the answer; I did not hear it from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. If this succeeds you will produce a very good supersonic airliner. What indirect benefits are there going to be got out of this—I do not know, but I want the Government to tell me—for the Royal Air Force? I have always taken the view in this House, very often against others, that the aeroplane in defence is going to have a much longer life than people thought, and that view I think has turned out to be right. But it is a limited life, and, even so, if you go on with this experiment, what are you going to get by way of indirect value in aviation or outside? That seems to me most important. When you come to all the nuclear developments, of course you get these terrible weapons developed, but at the same time you get fascinating and fruitful developments which can be used in civil life. The same is true over a wide field of industrial development. I do not know whether this is going to have any result of that kind.

That is what makes me doubtful about whether we should commit ourselves definitely to this project if we are asked to do so. When Lord Melbourne's colleagues wanted to do something which he regarded as singularly unwise he had a habit of saying, "If only they would have the goodness to leave it alone." Well, while I do not go so far as that—I have read what I can but I am not an expert—I have remembered all the other claims that are going to come, or ought to come, for this £50 million; and, frankly, I am most doubtful whether it is a good bet for us to commit ourselves to go right ahead.

5.32 p.m.


My Lords, my admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, is second to none. He is our number one aviator, as his licence tells us; his advice has always been sound, and he is the father confessor in more ways than one of our civil aviation. But I am afraid that on this occasion he sounded to me much more like the advisers of Canute. This type of airliner about which we are talking to-day is the inevitable next step in the progress of civil aviation, and to have doubts about it, or to think that we can prevent it from happening, is to be, as I have said, like the advisers of Canute.

We have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that this type of aircraft is not so revolutionary as is often thought. It is the inevitable next step. I for one do not believe the horrors that the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, painted for us of the progeny that we are likely to get as the result of our wives flying in such aircraft. Our aircraft industry has been in the vanguard of civil aviation right from the beginning. We have already heard from Lord Shackleton that the aircraft industry is one of our biggest exporting industries. It seems to me that this is something the Government must continue to support; they should see that this industry of ours, which has been and still is in the vanguard of the world, continues to be so.

We missed the boat over teaming up with the French in the production of the Caravelle. I will not go into the reasons for this, but it seems to me that some of the advice which the Government and the industry received at that time smacked a little of what we have already heard here to-day. If we had taken the right initiative at that time we could have shared in the success of that most successful aircraft. We have now been asked to team up with the French in a similar and more forward-looking project. I am glad to see that my right honourable friend the Minister of Aviation has been to France to discuss the subject with his opposite numbers.

It has been said to-day by my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara, and I think by my noble friend Lord Swinton, that people will not travel in this new type of aircraft but prefer the slower ones. That was said about the jets, and look at what has happened to the Britannias.


I said that I did not think it would attract any more people.


That, I think, will remain to be seen. The fact remains that the trend of flying passengers is always—or has been so far, and there is no reason to believe that it will be otherwise—towards the latest type of aircraft. My noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara, I think unfortunately, rather played down the success of our aircraft industry in citing an aircraft the name of which we know well. It seems to me that he has forgotten the success of the Britannia, that of the Viscount, that of the Vanguard, and also the orders that have already come for the VC.10, the Trident and so on. It seems a pity that he should have pushed doubt into the minds of the French as to our abilities in regard to producing successful aircraft. They are there for us all to see. The Viscount has been one of the most successful aircraft ever produced. This project is a logical step into the future. I commend the Government for the steps that they have already taken; I commend the aircraft industry; and I only hope that nothing will deter them from going forward to keep us, as we always have been in the forefront of aviation.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene with some trepidation because all the speakers hitherto have spoken with so much authority, whilst I have no technical knowledge or great experience of aviation. But I am encouraged greatly by finding myself in such close agreement with my noble friend Lord Swinton; and, just as he has not finally made up his mind, I find myself in a similar position. It may be that the Government have some overwhelming grounds about which we have not yet heard for supporting this venture. But I beg the House to consider—this was put, I think, both by my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara and by my noble friend Lord Swinton—that it is proposed to spend great sums on this venture, and if those sums are spent on it they will not be available for various other ventures, because there is a limit to what the Government can spend.

The next thing I would say is that I have observed that in the field of transport Governments are capable of more insanity than in almost any other field of action to which they devote themselves. It was not many years ago that we were told that it was necessary and desirable to spend a vast sum of public money on a new Cunarder. That is now universally admitted to be nonsense. That gives me some encouragement to examine this project a little more closely. I am unimpressed by the argument of my noble friend, Lord Gosford, when he says that this in an inevitable next step. If this can be proved to be a wise one, let us take it, but do not let us say that it is inevitable merely because a lot of people shout that it is progress. If on examination it appears to be fairly silly, then it will not be inevitable and, if we are wise, we can avoid it. Even if it were inevitable that somebody should build an aircraft of this type, it would not be necessary that the British Government should spend a vast amount of money in making it possible in this country unless that happened to be the best use of the money. By a curious coincidence, before I had noticed the Motion of my noble friend, Lord Brabazon of Tara, on the Order Paper, I had actually drafted a Question which I was going to put down to Her Majesty's Government, and it was roughly in this form: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they agree that supersonic aircraft would add to the danger of flying, would increase nuisance by noise to the detriment of the health and happiness of our people and would cause our airlines to be even less profitable than they would otherwise be; and, if not, whether they will publish the evidence that leads them to a different conclusion. My Lords, I think all those questions are worth putting.


Hear, hear! Put it down.


My noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara says, "Put it down"; but that would be unfair to my noble friend Lord Chesham, who is about to give us the answer to all these points. It is only after we have carefully considered his answer that we must all think of what further Questions we should put down.

Is it not true that it will add to the danger of flying? Is it not true, notwith standing what was said in his most inter esting speech by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that it will increase nuisance by noise to the detriment of the health and happiness of our people? Finally, is it not true, as suggested as at least possible by my noble friend Lord Swinton, that it will cause our airlines to be even less profitable than they would otherwise be? But should the Government dispute all or any of those propositions, could they not publish the evidence which brings them to a different conclusion, or at least tell us Where that evidence is to be found? My Lords, I hold a very old-fashioned view—


Hear, hear!


It is possible that my noble friend may agree with this old-fashioned view. The very old-fashioned view I hold is that, if vast sums of public money are to be spent, it is on the whole better that they should be spent in promoting, rather than in injuring, the public interest. It is a very simple, old-fashioned proposition, but it is not demonstrably nonsensical.

My Lords, let me mention one or two things in the field of transport. I gather that it is very important to close certain canals because they might Jose a little money; but I also gather from some speeches that it is vastly important to give huge sums to the air corporations on the ground that they lose a great dead of money.

Then I remember a matter on which I co-operated with my great friend the late Lord Birkett, the debate on saving the Lake District. My Lords, many of us know that there is an enormous increase in the demands for water from our great cities, from agriculture and from a number of other users. We all know that this threatens the survival of things that are very important to all of us—the greatest beauty of some of the most priceless areas of our small country. What are we told when it is suggested that we might get fresh water from the sea? That it would be rather more expensive—it would be cheaper to take the Lakes. My Lords, is it not conceivable that money would be better spent on converting salt water to fresh water than on producing a supersonic aircraft? Is it not at least deserving of consideration?

My noble friend Lord Swinton mentioned the universities, a subject very near to the heart of my noble and learned friend Viscount Hailsham. The Government cannot afford to give all the money to the universities that I am sure they would like to devote to them. It might produce a tremendous return; it might keep a lot of first-rate scientists in this country—scientists who will almost inevitably, as things are, transfer their activities abroad.

My Lords, there are so many alternative uses for the money. Against all this there may be overwhelming reasons for backing this particular project, but I do beg the Government not to back it merely because somebody says, "This step is inevitable". There is nothing whatever inevitable about it. Let us go into it, if it is wise. And let us refuse to go into it, if to go into it at this moment would be foolish.

5.46 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry I was not in your Lordships' House at the beginning of this debate because I agree very much with certain things the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, has said, and I particularly agree with much of what my noble friend Lord Swinton has said and which I am glad to see has been supported by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, who seemed to be a little upset when I said, "Hear, hear!". The noble Lord spoke about danger. He apparently worked on the assumption that there was more danger in the air than in any other form of transport, which, according to factual figures, is quite untrue.


My Lords, I was not saying that. I thought that this aircraft was going to be rather more dangerous than the existing aircraft. I travel by air quite cheerfully, and I hope to continue to do so in any aircraft.


I am glad to hear that the noble Lord was not basing his assumption on the basis that the air as a form of transport was dangerous—more dangerous than any other form of transport.

My Lords, I do not think—and I said this in your Lordships' House earlier this year—that any operator wants to change his present equipment. I do not believe any operator wants to have to get new aircraft if he has not amortised his present aircraft. I think I said at the time that the only people who were doing so were the United States of America, and I said—and it is in Hansard—that I thought they were trying to keep up with the Joneses because Russia might produce a supersonic aircraft.

We in this country are talking about joining with France in a Mach 2.2 aircraft. The Americans are thinking in terms of Mach 3. A very eminent designer in this country put it very nicely when he said that our present techniques melt at 2.4. I believe that what the Americans are trying to do, and will do, is to design the shape of the aircraft for Mach 3, make it in our present materials and fly it at Mach 2.2, until they get the techniques of the materials to be able to make it fit to fly at Mach 3. Therefore I think it is an entire waste of time to make a, thing for Mach 2.2. If France wishes to do it, let her do it. Why not? We are researching down at Filton with steels and that sort of thing. Surely it is sensible to design in that, as the Americans are doing, even though France wishes to go and make something at vast cost.

As my noble friend Lord Conesford and my noble friend Lord Swinton have said, let us keep in advance. Let us design the right way. But also let us not forget this point, which was made by my noble friend Lord Swinton, of the scheduling of the aircraft. When we want it to leave at a specific time, in comfortable time to get to our destination, we do not want to get there at the wrong hour. Let us think of this, and let us think of the possibilities which have already been announced in the Press, of making an aeroplane that will fly us over the right period of time to get to another place at half the cost.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, does he seriously argue that the best form of design for a Mach 3 aircraft is suitable for a 2.2?—because this is the basis of the whole argument. The slender Delta is the type for 2.2, and not the other one.


My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord opposite will realise I am no technician in this matter. But I should have thought it was quite possible to design an aircraft in the materials available which would fly at Mach 2.2 and which if you had the right materials would fly at Mach 3. I am not excluding variable geometry.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, the House will have listened, as I have done, to the noble Lord who moved this Motion with both respect and attention. We listened knowing that he speaks on such matters with great authority born of long experience, and this time we have heard him put forward his various reasons why he can find no good thing in the project to develop supersonic civil aircraft. Now, my Lords, I think it is for me not only to say something on the points that he and other noble Lords have raised, but also to add a little on the other side of the picture. If the picture was as he painted it, anyone would think that Her Majesty's Government must be completely mad to consider having anything to do with the project at all; and that is not a fact, as it happens. In explaining something of it, I think I had better begin for a moment right at the beginning.

My Lords, since the early days of flying, with which the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, was himself very much concerned, civil aviation has almost always benefited from major increases of speed, achieved through the design of military aircraft. The rate of replacement of aircraft types has on occasion been slightly embarrassing, but the pros, in the shape of saving journey time, making possible lower fares, and helping the expansion of traffic, have outweighed the cons. I do not think, for instance, that anyone would deny that the long-range jets now cruising at over 500 miles an hour are probably some of the most commercially successful aircraft flying to-day. Equally clearly, I think, there must be some limit to the process, and until a few years ago there was considerable doubt as to whether the knowledge gained from supersonic flight could, in fact, be usefully applied to civil aircraft, because it was thought operating costs would be too high. Since 1956 there has been an intensive programme of applied research, itself costing over £3 million, carried out in industry and Government establishments, and the French have been engaged on a similar kind of programme. Since 1960 the British Aircraft Corporation have been working on detailed, designed study contracts, and the result of all this has been to establish the technical basis of the project thoroughly, so that we can see it is in no sense speculative in that respect.

Recent advances in aerodynamics and aero-engine technology arising both from these studies and in parallel with them, and the detailed studies themselves, have, persuaded us of the feasibility of producing a civil airliner which would cruise at about 1,400 miles an hour. But what, my Lords, is just as important, is that there is every indication that the operating costs that it will have on medium and long-range services—please remember that, my Lords; on medium and long-range services; that is, services of stage length of about 1,000 miles—are certainly not out of line with those of the best subsonic jet airliners at present in service. The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, who made a point of the cost, will forgive me if at this stage I do not adduce all the evidence which has been taken into consideration' in these studies, because I should be speaking here very technically for a week if I were to do that. But I think that noble Lords will wish to know—and I should like to make this point—that, as I have said, the operating costs are not out of line, provided that the development cost of the aircraft is supported, and does not have to be spread over the cost of the aircraft themselves when they come to go into service. I make that point, because I think it is one of considerable importance.

I do not think either, my Lords, that it is at all unreasonable to predict that, in the next twenty years or so, super sonic flight will be the normal thing over that sort of range. I say that with the more confidence because all countries which have a major aircraft industry have been carrying out extensive studies of the various possible forms which supersonic transport might take. The United States have; Russia has; France has, as well as we ourselves. And, my Lords, it is certainly not possible——


My Lords, might I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? He has mentioned operating costs. But, as I know the published figures of this research in America, it is load factor cost that has gone up. The number of passengers who have to be carried to make the aeroplane economical, is a good deal greater than with the present aircraft now flying.


My Lords, I have not been in a position to study the figures in America——


They are published.


I still have not studied them, whether they are published or not.


It is your job.


Whether it is my job or not, I still have not studied those figures; and, as the figures published in America must presumably apply to a different project——




The noble Lord says, "No", but, as I say, I have not seen these figures and I was not aware that the Americans were engaged on the same project. They may be; perhaps the noble Lord knows better than I. But I really cannot make very much of a sensible comment on what he has said. What I was going to say, my Lords, is that it is not within our power unilaterally to decide whether there should or should not be supersonic transports. As my noble friend Lord Gosford said, if we decide not to produce them we can be quite sure that somebody else will. To that extent, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, is right—to that extent; and I am going to come, in a few minutes, to the exact significance of that as we see it.

Like other noble Lords I was a little surprised to hear the view put forward that this aircraft would be of no benefit or appeal to passengers, because I should have thought that they would have liked it very much. A Mach 2.2 aircraft would, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned, cut the present Atlantic crossing time from eight hours to something less than four, and, for example, the trip from London to Sydney from 27 hours to about 13. Those cannot be described as just marginal benefits; and if, as I say, the costs are comparable, or are anything like comparable, I cannot believe that they will not appeal to any travellers other than businessmen, and fairly successful businessmen at that.

My Lords, I know, as the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, pointed out to us, that there is a great potential market for low-cost travel, unspectacular as it may perhaps be, and certainly subsonic, and therefore, in the terms in which we are talking, relatively slow. I cannot see that there is anything inconsistent here, because over the long ranges slow aircraft are by no means necessarily low cost, and it is in the shorter ranges that the slower and more modest aircraft will be able to exploit the market to which the noble Earl referred. It is not right to look at the matter as if there were a choice, or had to be a choice, between the two, because the short-range subsonic aircraft and the long-rang supersonic aircraft are quite complementary develop- ments. There is room (a matter on which my noble friend Lord Waleran expressed some doubt, in view of the likely coming into service of the supersonic aircraft in the seventies) for the necessary rundown of present aircraft, and there is still room for their further development for the short-haul jobs which they can do best. So we really are not wasting our time and resources at the present moment.

We are convinced that the need for speed on the longer-range routes exists and will remain, and that the supersonic airliner will inevitably come to dominate those ranges. I apologise to my noble friend Lord Conesford for the use of the word "inevitable", but I hope he will take it in the context in which I said it—that it will inevitably come to dominate those ranges: not that it is inevitable that it comes, but that it will, I am sure, do that. When it does that, the major airlines of the world, including our own, I have no doubt, being engaged in an industry which is extremely competitive, will feel the need—not just the need, my Lords; I think they will feel the obligation—to re-equip with these aircraft. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, and other noble Lords, were worried that if they did so they would be even further in the red. All I want to say is: are they likely to get out of the red, operating over the years as airlines, if they are not equipped with up-to-date aircraft?

The major question then arises, whether we should participate in the development and production of these supersonic airliners with which they will all need to re-equip. We know—this is undeniable—that it will be extremely costly, far beyond the resources of private industry. It is with such considerations as this high cost in mind, and such considerations as noble Lords have mentioned, that we have carefully explored the possibilities of international collaboration on the project. We have set up helpful arrangements with the United States for exchanging information on what I might call the environmental aspects of the project, sonic boom, air traffic control and matters like that, but the indications are that they will prefer to develop an aircraft of their own, although they have not yet, as I understand it, reached any decision on it. They hold different views about the objectives, and are believed to be pinning their faith to Mach 3 aircraft—which, as my noble friend Lord Waleran pointed out, considerably increases the cost, poses problems of construction in steel or titanium, and increases the operating problems of sonic boom and cosmic radiation quite considerably. I am coming back to those in a minute; but what seems to me still more important is that a Mach 3 aircraft would knock only about another quarter of an hour off the trans-Atlantic flight time. What seems to me to be important, and where I think the benefit lies, is in cutting the time from eight hours to four hours, and not in knocking another fifteen minutes off the four hours.

With the French, the situation has been rather different, and our contacts have been most encouraging. It became clear very early in our discussions that there was a great deal of common ground between us, both in general objectives and in ideas on how the project ought to be tackled, and for a year now there has been very close contact between airframe and aero-engine firms on both sides of the Channel. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned, the British Aircraft Corporation and Sud-Aviation have jointly produced a basic design for a slender-wing, light-alloy aircraft with a cruising speed of Mach 2.2, powered by four Bristol-Siddeley turbo-jet engines. There would be two versions of it, one for the longer ranges and one for medium-long range, with only minor structural modifications separating them. The firms have also put forward proposals for the management of a joint project covering development and production, the essence of which would be equal sharing by the two countries of costs, work and returns on the whole project. That, quite frankly, does not sound like lack of confidence in us on the part of the French.


My Lords, I do not want to interfere with the sequence of my noble friend's argument, but is he going to tell us at the appropriate moment, within a million or two, what he estimates the commitments and cost to this Government will be?


Yes, my Lords, I will do so right away, since the noble Earl mentioned it. The figure is £80 million to £85 million, spread over ten years.


For us and the French?


No, for us; that is our share of it. My Lords, if I say that that is about the figure the noble Earl will take it that is all I can say at the moment, because there have been the series of negotiations at Government level between the two Governments. As the noble Earl no doubt knows, my right honourable friend the Minister of Aviation met the French Minister for Transport and Public Works in Paris and they reviewed in detail the various problems affecting the joint project. And I find it encouraging (again it does not seem to me to indicate lack of confidence on the part of the French) to tell you that both Ministers agreed on the full report they would make out to their respective Governments with a view to an early decision.


My Lords, is it not the case, in matters of this kind, that in the past, when this kind of estimate, difficult to make, has been put forward, it has sometimes been exceeded—even up to double or more? I cannot imagine, from what has been said about the general difficulty, that a sum of £80 million to £85 million is going to cover the cost in ten years from now.


Five years.


Ten years. Yes, my Lords; to do other than to estimate as you can see at the time of the estimate is to make nonsense of the whole business of estimating. If the noble Viscount is going to take the last 30 years and to ask if we are going over that estimate, we can only go seriously into the project or estimate of what we think it will possibly be rather than what we think it will cost. You cannot do better than to take the estimate honestly made at the time of doing it. I cannot stand at this Box and say the estimate will not be exceeded or that it would be jolly good to put another £100 million on for luck, because the noble Viscount would not be satisfied with our accuracy if the Government were to estimate in that way.


I think I said it is difficult to make estimates at all, but in the programme of certain aircraft developments in the past thirty or forty years I seem to see that figures for these projects are put up with great hopefulness and they prove to be quite inaccurate as in fact they cost a very great deal more money.


That may be, but I do not think I could get away with standing up here and saying that that is our estimate but it is completely inaccurate. The noble Viscount would not be very pleased if I said that.


My Lords, may I interrupt?


I should like to finish my sentence. What I am trying to say to the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, is that when I say that figure of money which I mentioned I have to say it with some proviso because, as I have just said, the Government are considering the Report of the Minister of Aviation with a view to coming to a decision very soon.


If we are talking about estimates misleading, I would mention the quarter-hour difference in time between the Mach 2 and the Mach 3 aeroplane flying between here and New York. My noble friend Lord Gosford, with his slide rule, has made it a matter of 45 minutes and that is not allowing the holding time at either end. There is not only the flying time but the holding time at each end.


The holding time for aircraft and the time taken in taxiing and getting passengers out does not vary greatly with the cruising speed of the aircraft. I think I was perfectly correct to talk about flying time. I do not think it alters the tune of my argument very much—it does not alter it at all. It is a much more complex and difficult-to-operate aeroplane and is not worth the modest amount which is sawn off the time.

My Lords, I should like to go on to two other matters of considerable importance: first, noise, including the question of sonic boom, and then radiation. So far as noise is concerned, one of the factors which the airframe designer was specifically required to bear in mind from the outset of the design study was the need to keep noise level of the aircraft as low as reasonably possible. This has already had considerable influence on the design. I think that what has been said on the subject of take-off is right, except that at the moment of take-off the noise level may be expected to increase on the sides of the runway and it is reasonable to say that, otherwise, what has been already said on the subject of noise is right. Later on the noise level will certainly not be designed to be anything other than on the level which is imposed on subsonic jets.

So far as sonic boom is concerned, of course, I realise that aircraft cannot be allowed to go about our skies or anyone else's skies breaking windows or blasting off roofs, but the present indications are that there is a good prospect of keeping the limit of flying noise within those limits which are also imposed on subsonic jets. We have a lot more research work to do into the effects of supersonic boom, but we are in close touch with the programmes that are engaged on in the United States and in France. I think I can say with some emphasis that there are means of minimising the effect of the boom by adopting special operational techniques and by not flying supersonically below certain levels. From the evidence we have so far, we can conclude that it would be possible to confine the disturbance to a level that will not be unacceptable, because if it were otherwise, the whole project would appear in a very different light.

The possible effects of radiation—because of the height to which the aircraft will fly—is another matter which we are going into very carefully indeed, because, as has been properly said, it is something on which the Government would naturally not wish any risk to be taken. The subject has been reviewed by the Aeronautical Research Council, and the Royal Aeronautical Establishment has collated the results. Generally, they point to the conclusion that for passengers the risks involved at flying, not at 70.000 feet but at 55,000 to 60,000 feet, which would be the height this aircraft is intended to fly, are really negligible. At greater heights, where, for instance, a Mach. 3 aircraft might be expected to operate, it might well be different, but as things are the evidence would certainly not support the dire results the noble Lord predicted. That would be no reason for not continuing research, but so far the evidence does not support the noble Lord's prediction.

On the question of solar flares when radiation is increased, there seems to be every prospect that by the installation of suitable appliances in flying control and in the aircraft, these can be predicted with sufficient warning to enable the aircraft to descend out of the danger area—it probably does not have to come down more than 10,000 or 20,000 feet, which it can do in a reasonable time compared with the warning it is likely to get. In the normal way, solar flares do not occur often, but when one does, it can be powerful. I think the plans to cope with this should obviate any unreasonable danger of this kind. The dangerous effect of cosmic radiation is cumulative, and therefore further investigations are being made into possible hazards to members of crews Up to now it seems unlikely that the conclusion will point to the need for reduction in the normal total of hours they fly.

I realise quite well that there are financial risks involved in a project so large and advanced as this one, but they have to be weighed against the advantages. We believe that at present we have a lead over the rest of the world in this field, perhaps of several years, and that we should think most carefully before we decide not to participate in the production of the first supersonic civil airliner to go into service. If we did so decide, we should no longer be in the front rank of aircraft constructors, and to that extent I will admit the element of prestige to which the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, called our attention, as did my noble friend Lord Swinton. But that much-maligned word goes far beyond the mere waving of the national flag, because the specific project before the Government offers a unique opportunity for collaboration with France on a major industrial undertaking and harnessing for a common purpose the skill, resources, and experience of the combined French and British aircraft industries. Perhaps it is even a shape of things to come. I was extremely glad to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, had to say about this.

So far as our domestic aircraft industry is concerned, our declared policy is to maintain a strong and healthy industry, for both strategic and general economic reasons, and to assist the manufacturers to increase their share of the world market for a transport aircraft. If we were to abandon this project, it would indeed be a grave set-back to our hopes of remaining a major supplier of civil aircraft to the world's airlines in the 1970s.

Finally—and I should like the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, to listen to this——


My Lords, I am listening to all of it with great care.


My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Earl. I should have said, "listen especially". This project would present a major programme of advanced technology, from which benefits would flow to many other allied industries, in the fields of metals, non-metallic materials and fluids, electrics and electronics. That we should remain in the forefront of technological progress is not a matter of prestige, but a matter of survival; and this, too, is a most important consideration which the Government must weigh in reaching their decision.

The Anglo-French design has progressed to a degree unequalled by any other proposal that we know of in the world. We have a unique opportunity to exploit it. Even if the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, is right when he says that there must come a point when someone has to call, "Stop", this is not it. If we are going to exploit this, the time to do so is now.

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, I must thank everybody who has taken part in this debate, whether they agreed with me or not, because I have been interested in every point of view. Of course, if the Government had proposed to spend a lot of money on short-range aircraft, I should have been enthusiastically on their side, because nothing is more to my heart than making flying popular. But in this particular machine we have chosen a long-range machine; and it is in the long-range aircraft that civil aviation has failed. The people in the business never assessed how many people wanted to do these long journeys across the Atlantic, and we have ordered 707s costing £2 million each—with what result? There is not the traffic, and they cannot fill their machines even 50 per cent. That is the very traffic you are asking for this supersonic machine, because it is not a short-range machine; it must be automatically a long-range aeroplane.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the design actually calls for fewer passengers than the Boeing 707 and that the "breakeven" point comes with a considerably smaller number of passengers?


My Lords, operators want as many passengers as they can get in order to get a pay-load which will try to wipe out these enormous overhead costs. But never mind.

The noble Lord's reply was extremely interesting, I must say, and I cordially agree that along the allied investigations into metal and that sort of thing there is great benefit in going on with an enterprise like this. Of course, he was only guessing over the cosmic light situation, because it cannot be imitated on the ground. The people on that side who are keen on this always forget that it is impossible to imitate a cosmic situation. Also, what are we to say on sonic boom? Everybody who is keen on designing this machine makes out that it is going to be a delightful experience to hear it in the middle of the night or at any time. We are guessing—we do not know. I do not mind guessing, but you are guessing with the taxpayers' money. You are going to make this machine. Good luck to it! I only regret that when it is finished I shall not have the privilege of saying, because people will not listen to me, "I told you so". I beg leave of the House to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, much as I should have liked to take part in this debate, I beg leave to move that this House do now adjourn.

Moved, That this House do now adjourn.—(Viscount Hailsham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and House adjourned accordingly at half past six o'clock.