§ 3.33 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE EARL OF LONGFORD)
My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has just made in another place. I will now quote the Prime Minister's words:
"On June 16, 1966, I told the House that, whilst the greater part of the research and development work of the Ministry of Aviation would be transferred to the Ministry of Technology, a comprehensive examination was in hand to determine to what extent the procurement responsibilities of the Ministry of Aviation in the defence field might more appropriately be transferred to the Ministry of Defence.
"I have now studied the results of this examination, and have decided that the present responsibilities of the Ministry of Aviation (other than those already taken over by the Board of Trade) form a closely connected group that should not be divided but rather be transferred to the Ministry of Technology as a whole. The organisation for research, development and procurement on aircraft, guided weapons and electronic equipment, whether civil or military, will remain broadly in its present form; but under the Ministry of Technology it will make a significant contribution to achieving our aim that the Department should be a major instrument of progress in the engineering and electronic field. We are already reaching a situation where research in aeronautics and avionics is producing developments capable of much wider use, and the aircraft and associated industries will themselves gain also by the opportunity of participating in some of the wider fields of research sponsored by the Ministry.
"It is at the same time of the greatest importance, both militarily and financially, that Ministry of Defence 25 interest in the control of military projects should be fully safeguarded. Much has been done recently to improve co-ordination of the machinery of management between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Aviation, and the fruits of this must not be lost.
"I therefore intend that the existing Ministry of Aviation organisation for handling development and procurement will not be dismantled in its new home in the Ministry of Technology; that the Minister of Technology will be supported by a Minister who will be generally responsible for the functions to be transferred from the Minister of Aviation and will act as the normal link with the Secretary of State for Defence on matters of defence interest. The detailed arrangements will ensure also that the Secretary of State for Defence will continue to take the lead in all business with other countries on defence projects.
"These changes will take place very early in the New Year."
My Lords, that concludes the Prime Minister's Statement.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Earl the Leader of the House for himself repeating this Statement. I see his reason for doing so. It seems to many of us a grave Statement and a wrong answer to the problem, and, therefore, with his usual courage, he has taken it upon himself to deliver the Statement to this House. It seems to me that the confusion and uncertainty as to the future of the aircraft industry revealed in the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Brown, earlier to-day has been compounded rather than otherwise by this action.
I should like to ask the noble Earl one question. On June 16, following the Statement in another place to which the noble Earl has referred, Mr. Wilson said that he would be seeing representatives of the industry and that he thought, frankly, that they would be against such a transfer. He has seen those representatives, as we know. Could the noble Earl say to what extent his expectations were proved true? From such detail as the noble Earl has given us in the Statement, it seems to me that the Minister 26 who will be supporting the Minister of Technology and acting as the normal link with the Secretary of State for Defence on matters of Defence interest will be in a rather curious position. I cannot think of any precedent for such a post, although there may be one. However, the fact that it is a precedent, if it is, is not in itself wrong. He will not, presumably, sit physically in the Ministry of Technology. I should have thought that the Minister of Defence would be grateful to have the Minister sitting, as it were, geographically in the Ministry of Defence itself, with the duty of keeping the Minister of Technology in touch with these things.
It also seems to me that it is imposing very considerable difficulties on the Secretary of State for Defence that he will continue to take the lead in all business with other countries on defence projects. Without any responsibility for research or for procurement, he will none the less have to be the salesman for British armaments abroad. He has not proved a conspicuously successful salesman as it is; with this extra difficulty imposed upon him, I doubt whether he will even do as well as he has done up to now.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite entitled to offer his views, which can hardly be said to be very dispassionate, but I will try to answer the one particular question which he put among his various comments. He wants to know about the opinions of industry. The Prime Minister has met representatives of the aero-space industry, and officials have subsequently pursued discussions with that industry and also with the electronics engineering industry. It appears that the views held by these two industries, and to some extent within these industries, are by no means unanimous. The aero-space industry see some advantage in separating the sponsorship function from the responsibility for contractual relationships between the Government and industry. On the other hand, the electronics industry emphasises the importance of not separating development, design and production and favours associating this responsibility with general Government support for the industry. All these views were very carefully considered before we reached a final decision.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for repeating this important Statement. I must admit that I personally should have preferred the Ministry of Aviation to continue, but if it is not going to continue I think the Government are right in bringing the research and development work and the procurement responsibilities under the umbrella of one Ministry. I should like to ask the noble Earl, in view of his previous connection—as also mine—with the old Ministry of Civil Aviation, whether there is going to be any similar close liaison between the Ministry of Technology and the Board of Trade with regard to important functions relating to civil aviation.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that the contact will be close. It was good of him to remind me that both he and I were Ministers of Aviation. In that respect at least—and perhaps only in that respect—we have an advantage over the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald. But I should just point out that these are very difficult matters which I do not believe can ever be settled in any very dogmatic spirit. To take the history of civil aviation, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, will recall, at one moment it was part of the Air Ministry, then it was alone, then it was part of the Ministry of Transport, and then of the Ministry of Aviation. Now civil aviation is under the Board of Trade. On every occasion there was something to be said for the course taken by the Government concerned. I can only suggest that this has been gone into very carefully without any kind of Party bias, and this is the conclusion which seemed to be the best on the available information.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl one question? The answer would be one that needs careful study in some detail. The civil aviation operation industry is constantly engaged in research and development on its own, and accepting the results of research and development from various governmental bodies. While I do not disagree with the Minister that these things cannot be settled by a paper plan, will the Government consider some sort of machinery which will link together the triangle of civil aviation operators, the Board of Trade and the 28 Ministry of Technology so that these three bodies have a free interchange of information without undue delay for the benefits and results of research to come to the actual operator?
§ THE EARLOF LONGFORD
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that that observation, coming from him with his vast experience, will be carefully considered. Nothing can be worse than an inadequate relationship between what used to be the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Ministry of Supply. When I became Minister of Civil Aviation a good many years ago there was a moment when we were not officially on speaking terms with the Ministry of Supply. We all want to avoid that kind of situation in the future.
§ LORD ROWLEY
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether the Minister to be appointed to the Ministry of Technology and to have liaison with the Secretary of State for Defence will have a seat on the Defence Council?
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, may I follow up what the noble Lord has said? From the point of view of the Services themselves I do not think this makes all the difference because they have always had to deal with a third party, however much they disliked that, and they will still have to do so. But I should have thought from the point of view of the Minister of Defence and the Ministry of Defence that this might raise considerable problems; because the Ministry of Aviation was always the fourth wheel of the coach. There was the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and the fourth wheel was the Ministry of Aviation. More and more in recent years, the Ministry of Aviation has come under the ægis of the Secretary of State for Defence (or the Minister of Defence as he then was). It will be of the greatest importance that that control over expenditure of research and development is not lessened in the Ministry of Defence because so much of the defence budget derives from the workings of what was the Ministry of Aviation. I very much hope that this new Minister will be powerful enough sometimes to argue with his boss and that the Secretary of State for Defence will be able to control what 29 happens in what is, after all, very nearly his own Department.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I feel there is a lot of force in what the noble Lord has said. I am fortified in that feeling because my noble friend Lord Shackleton also considers that there will be a great deal to be looked into in that connection.