HL Deb 15 March 1973 vol 340 cc450-75

4.23 p.m.

Debate on Second Reading resumed.


My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, said quite rightly that Concorde is a great technological achievement, and he gave some illustrations which were followed up by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. It is a remarkable accomplishment that a considerable period of time before the aircraft is due to enter service it has already attained a level of performance much better than the manufacturers had undertaken to the purchasers. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, pointed out, the Concorde carried 28,000 lb. over 3,750 miles; the figure which has been quoted in the manufacturers' literature is 20,000 lb. over that distance. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, rightly pointed to the success of the hot and high trials. From all the evidence, we can be certain that Concorde is technologically successful and that it will do even better than the manufacturers have claimed for it in the past. That is not the same as saying that it is going to be an economic success if and when it enters airline service. At this stage in the life of the project, when we are committing ourselves to spending a very large additional sum of money, we ought to take a hard look at the prospects for sales to the airlines in the light of the most recent developments—the cancellation of options by a number of airlines, and the prospect that only a small number of aircraft will actually be produced in the end.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I have gone on record over this project for more than ten years. The first speech I made on it was on December 21, 1962, when I said that the important factor was how much the final development costs would be, because that matter would enter into the operating costs of the aircraft if those development costs were to be recovered. I said that past experience showed that in the development of new aircraft, invariably the costs were more than the figure given at the beginning. I went on: I am prepared to bet a monkey to a mousetrap that future Ministers will have to come back and ask for a tot more money before the prototype even gets off the ground". By the time the prototype flew the figure had escalated from £150 million, which was the amount quoted in 1962, to something like £730 million, an escalation of aboue five to one. That trend has continued since then. The Estimates Committee has drawn up a table showing how these development costs have risen right up to the present day. I realise that in this Bill we are talking about production costs. Nevertheless, the matter is relevant, because the sale price of the aircraft must include an element of repayment of the development costs. I should like to hear something from the noble Earl this afternoon as to what is the latest plan regarding the recovery of some, or all, of this large sum of money which has been committed by the taxpayer over the past 12 years.

I said that the economics of the aircraft were the crucial matter that we should be looking at this afternoon, because that determines how many aircraft are going to be sold. The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, thinks that people are going to be prepared to pay for this speed bonus. I agree with the striking illustration he produced of the reduction in travelling time between Tokyo and London. But perhaps he could tell us whether this assumes that Concorde will be able to over-fly the Soviet Union, or the United States, at supersonic speeds. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, nobody is going to tolerate the boom over inhabited areas, and while it may be possible to go over some parts of the northern U.S.S.R. without causing annoyance to the inhabitants, there may be certain parts of the journey which have to be undertaken at subsonic speed, so the benefit of the time saving that he quoted would be only a theoretical one, not a change in airline service. I agree that if that were the case, if we could reduce the journey time to Tokyo by a factor of 50 per cent., then certainly the industrialists, businessmen, Ministers, and anybody else who does not have to pay for his ticket, will use the aircraft. It is going to be an expensive journey, and I do not suppose Lord Jellicoe's wife would take kindly to going to Tokyo on Concorde if she had to pay the fare herself.


My Lords, nor would the noble Lord take kindly to it if he had to pay the fare himself.


Certainly not; that is what I am saying. Because the aircraft will be entirely first-class, and because on top of that there will be an additional 10 per cent. surcharge, its passengers are virtually going to be limited to people whose fares will be paid for by their employers, or by some other philanthropist who is prepared to subsidise their travel.

The mass market of air transport is not as critically dependent on speed as the noble Earl has told the House. If we look at the past few years we see that the enormous growth has been in the inclusive tour market, which does not depend on aircraft like the Concorde; it depends mainly for its continued reduction in real costs on the development of the wide-bodied jets, such as the Lockheed 10.11 which is being introduced into service this year by Court Line on the inclusive tours which they are operating. That is where the real growth in air traffic has taken place in the past and there is no reason to assume that it will not continue in the future. If there is this big premium market, which both noble Lords have envisaged, why is it that the only airlines who have placed firm orders for Concorde so far are B.O.A.C. and Air France?

The situation in the past few months has changed drastically with the cancellation of some of the options. At the time when the Bill was going through another place extreme reticence was needed because those options were coming up for consideration, particularly those for Pan Am and T.W.A. The Minister for Aerospace said it would be unwise for any Minister to start down the road of becoming involved in the dissemination of information to people determined to use it for the wrong purposes. That is a rather wide generalisation, but I accept that it could have been true in this case; if there was the remotest prospect of Pan Am or T.W.A. taking up those options, nothing ought to have been said, and nothing was said, which might have jeopardised negotiations. But now this is water under the bridge and I think we are entitled to have some prognostications from the Minister as to what will happen with the rest of the options that are still pending, particularly, for example, the J.A.L. option which has been extended but on which the Press comment was that this was out of politeness rather than any real intention of going ahead with an order for the aircraft in future. If the orders have been scaled down to a very small number—B.O.A.C., Air France, perhaps M.E.A., who certainly made encouraging noises—then we ought not to be speaking about a sum of £350 million. Probably this is a matter that we could explore on Committee stage possibly we could limit it to the amount which is not covered by the additional Statutory Instrument. As I understand it, we have already spent the whole of the amount which was originally committed under the Industrial Expansion Act and we have to provide some more money to enable the production line to be continued. The figure might be £250 million rather than £350 million. We should then have a more comprehensive opportunity of reviewing the financing than if that amount could be raised simply by Ministerial order.

As I understand the position the amount committed covers 16 aircraft, which is more than have been ordered by B.O.A.C. and Air France; but Mr. Heseltine, the Minister for Aerospace, said in Standing Committee in the Commons that we shall not be using the money unless we are selling the aircraft. Can the noble Earl explain that statement? If we have not sold those aircraft but we have started to build the first 16, and presumably we are also ordering long dated materials for a further batch, then of course we are using the money for aircraft which have not been sold. I should like to know whether the Government have any contingency plans for using those Concordes which might be produced and not taken up in the form of orders by the airlines.

Of course this money is being advanced by way of loan, and the intention is for it ultimately to be recovered when the State receives payment from the airlines, but I think it rather odd that there is no mention in the Bill of security. If the security was the aircraft, then clearly in the circumstances I am envisaging it would be impossible to recover if there was no customer. Or is it secured by a technical floating charge on the undertaking of the manufacturers, in this country B.A.C. and Rolls-Royce? Certainly taxpayers are entitled to some degree of security if very large sums of money are to be lent, as in this Bill.

It would be useful, too, if the Minister, in winding up the debate, could give us a list of those options which are still pending and some slight indication of when they are likely to reach a conclusion. At least we could then see the time-scale within which some firm decision has to be reached. In spite of my criticism I am certainly not saying that we should stop the Concorde project at this stage. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. We have spent a great deal of money on it and it would be catastrophic as far as the employment of the manufacturers and sub-contractors was concerned if we had to put an end to it at this moment. But we are already having to talk about the scaling down of the commitment to production. As I understand it, there has been some discussion as to whether there should be a single manufacturing line instead of the two we have at present. If so, we are faced with the thorny question of whether that line should be in this country or in France. I should be grateful if the Minister could say something about the progress of discussions on that subject.

In conclusion, I hope very much that my fears are misplaced and that the Concorde will be as much an economic success as it has been a technical success. When we think of all the effort and scientific and technological expertise that has gone into it we realise that it would be a tragedy if, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said, like the Comet 1 it blazed a trail into supersonic flight leaving others to reap the benefit. I certainly hope that does not occur.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, my first wish is to echo what the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, has said, in admiration for all those from the lowest to the highest who have been engaged for a good many years now in the development of this remarkable aircraft. Particularly my mind goes to those who are usually known as the "front end"—the test pilots and the air crew—for the really remarkable achievements of their test work.

In my view the Concorde opens up a great and exciting prospect for the future of Britain and France. One may argue about the economics of the Concorde, about its operational costs, operational revenue and whether it will ever be a viable proposition. One may argue that question for many hours, and various people come to different conclusions, according to their particular point of view on the project. But even if the Concorde was never what we call a strictly viable proposition, even if some of the more optimistic financial forecasts were not achieved, I think its development is absolutely essential in this technological age. With the start of the Concorde Britain and France enter the new supersonic era with a lead, and I believe the supersonic era may contain developments which our finite and limited minds cannot to-day envisage.

Aviation history is fascinating. If your Lordships will cast your minds back, it has gone in certain positive great stages. We are, I think, in the sixth stage now. The first stage was the Wright Brothers; the second stage was the development, in about 1909, of something which your Lordships may or may not know about—the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, does, as well as one or two other noble Lords—the rotary engine which made flying practical and which we used right up to the end of World War I. The third great development was metal construction. I can remember going to an aero exhibition at Olympia in 1920 and seeing an ordinary conventional aeroplane made in metal by Short Brothers. The fourth was the development, in the early 1930s, of what are called "skin stressed wings"—wings covered with metal; variable pitch airscrews, undercarriages tucked up. The fifth was the jet age, which we had after World War II. Now we have the supersonic age, which is Stage 6; and maybe there will be a seventh stage, the interplanetary age, which I shall not see but some of your Lordships who are younger may yet see.

But here we are, Britain and France, the leaders of one of the new stages of aviation, and I cannot over-emphasise to your Lordships the importance of the position which Britain and France have managed to achieve in the start of this sixth stage. If order prospects were bleak I do not believe the Government policy should be to slow down production. The noble Earl the Leader of the House told us that the present programme is for 16. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was rather depressing in thinking that we might be building Concordes which might be unsold. If the Concorde failed and our faith was false, by producing unwanted aircraft we should add individual aircraft costs only to a far greater development cost which we have already spent. But against this we have faith. With our faith strong I would prefer to see the production line doubled rather than halved. Build and sell, or build and offer to lease to the world's airlines which are too timorous to buy until they have seen the product and have the faith in its operations that we have had from the beginning. That may be over-bold, but that is something I should dearly like to be considered.


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me? The manufacturers offered to lease or rent the aircraft to Pan Am on almost any terms Pan Am might have demanded, and they still were not prepared to take up their options.


But they have not seen the final product operating. It is better to build on and on and be willing to lease rather than to cut down on something in which we have faith. If we have not complete and absolute faith then the policy of the noble Lord governs the position; but most of us, certainly those concerned with aviation, have faith in the product and its final conquest in this new era.

I should say only one more thing. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in the course of his speech, with which I completely agreed, mentioned Comet 1. Let us appreciate that when we pass the Bill we are all bumping along the roof, as it were, of our technical knowledge. We are not taking risks, but we are bumping along right at the top; and when you do that, inevitably things could happen in the future. If new aircraft are produced there are, broadly speaking, three matters that must run parallel: design, construction and operation. If one of those things gets out of phase as it did in Comet 1 then you meet disaster. I pray that we shall have no disaster, but I have known many types of aircraft in America and Britain which have had to face setbacks, usually rather early in their career. I repeat, I pray that there will be no setback; but if there were such a setback, let us face it as setbacks have been faced in the past and let us be quite sure that our faith is sufficient to overcome such things if they ever happened.

My Lords, I support the Bill, having admiration and confidence in those who have brought us thus far that they will bring us (Britain and France) to a position where, on the initiative and faith of these two countries, the rest of the world will say "Well done!".

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, may I first say with what pleasure I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. He gave some indication of knowing that I am also a very old hand in this field. I like to remember him also in his earlier phase as Captain Balfour, and I remember the many things he did for aviation then. Like the noble Earl the Leader of the House, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I too have had the privilege of travelling in Concorde and my trip confirmed what my specialised position as Chairman of the Air Registration Board had led me to conclude over nearly a decade, that this was not only one of the most remarkable technological advances in the whole history of aviation but it was an aeroplane which had incredible merits from the point of view of safety. In the whole of my time with that organisation, the Air Registration Board, while we had never had anything quite so complex to consider we had never had anything which gave us more confidence in its ultimate success. I thought it was a splendid aeroplane and my trip in it confirmed that.

May I say that travelling in Concorde is unsensational. I remember that because we had a short take-off and on a very small airfield a short landing, and there was a very noticeably powerful acceleration and a very noticeably strong deceleration. But in the air the aeroplane was quite ordinary and one was forced to conclude that travelling at Mach No. 2 and at 60,000 feet was very much the same as travelling much slower and much lower down on much more ordinary aeroplanes. For the passengers it was quiet, and it is now clear that the production Concorde will be quieter than aeroplanes like the D.C.8, the 707–420 and the V.C.10, aeroplanes which we more than tolerate to-day. Not only that, it will emit less smoke. Indeed, if your Lordships are interested in the quantitative data on these points, they were given in Written Answers in another place on December 6 last and are worth looking at.

I agree wholeheartedly with what has been said about the merits of high speed. Perhaps we are not always entirely sensible in the way we rush about. But there is not the slightest doubt that it there are two aeroplanes and aeroplane A can get to New York in six hours and the second, aeroplane B, can get there in three and a half hours, there will be a scramble and a queue to get on the faster aeroplane. It is my belief that Concorde will be flying full and doing a lot of good for France and the United Kingdom for a long time to come. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to the high load factor. I believe that this aeroplane will have a high load factor and in that will lie its ultimate economic success.

While we are in the habit of thinking of aeroplanes on the trans-Atlantic route almost to the exclusion of aeroplanes going in other directions I believe that in the future we shall be more concerned about how long it takes to get to the Antipodes. There I think this aeroplane is going to be a great boon. I am not, any more than the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, particularly worried about the decision of certain North American airlines to surrender their options to buy Concorde. It has been unkindly suggested that perhaps they hoped that B.O.A.C., Air France and Iranair (which has not been mentioned so far but which has ordered three planes) would get cold feet and would follow suit, and that that would have been absolutely disastrous. As has been said this afternoon, not only would a lot of people be out of work but the way would have been clear for the American S.S.T. to go forward again and ultimately scoop the pool. In the case of Qantas and Lufthansa I believe that the chief difficulty is that of range. I believe that that is something that will be overcome. But my prophesy is that these airlines will indeed take the aeroplane and that it is far too soon to be pessimistic about Japan Air Lines and Middle East Airlines.

Thus, it seems to me that the way ahead is clear; and I must say that for one who from time to time has been depressed at some vacillations in Government policy, the confident way in which the noble Earl the Leader of the House spoke was a tremendous comfort. I feel now that we can go forward with tremendous confidence; with the B.O.A.C., the Air France and the Iranair orders there is certainly enough to go on with, and we shall, I think, between us put a girdle about the earth that will make Pan American and T.W.A.'s mouths water, if your Lordships will permit a slight change of metaphor. They and many others will be coming along with their cheque books, or their Barclaycards, or whatever they use, pleading to be allowed to join the Concorde club, and I think we shall be glad to have them. The Concorde will soon be part of the world's way of living. Over the years it will be stretched and expanded; it will be updated and up-rated. I think it will probably be with us until the end of the century, and those of your Lordships who are still around then will, I think, be proud of the part this country has played with France in bringing it into being.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords. I should like briefly to intervene to welcome this Bill, and indeed I would welcome any Bill which assists the Concorde programme. Apart from possibly the noble Lord, Lord Avebury (who is not here, unfortunately) most of us are devotees of the Concorde. I am for that reason always amazed by the anti-Concorde campaign, what one might call the Goldring set, who claim on economic grounds that Concorde will become the most expensive blunder of the decade. I am amazed because it seems they have reached the completely opposite conclusion not only to the manufacturers' calculations, which no doubt they would claim to be biased, but also a number of surveys, particularly the Flight magazine survey, and, lastly, the critical review—I presume it came down this way—of the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, who advises the Government. I am very glad that my noble friend the Leader of the House introduced the Bill with such a great deal of support for Concorde.

I believe that the Concorde project has become something of a symbol, indeed part of our spirit of national achievement. It is a project whose physical influence alone spreads to the constituencies of one in four of the Members of another place. It is a project which, as my noble friend has said, in size of programme and technical know-how comes second only to the American space programme in the last decade. And it is a project in which British aviation has again given the world, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, reminded us, a technical lead. Finally, it is a project which has clearly cemented European co-operation, and I believe it is a great and brilliant tribute both to Sud Aviation and B.A.C.

As to the cost of the programme so far, it is, I think, comforting to note that the late American S.S.T. programme, which was subsequently cancelled, and which had spent over £1.000 million at the time of cancellation, had succeeded in getting only to the mock-up stage. If one compares the present Concorde programme, this would seem very good value. I am interested in the environmental statistics that have been published about the Concorde on its present performance: that at present it is quieter on take-off than the VC 10, quieter on landing than the Boeing 707 and quieter in fly-over noise than the Boeing 747.

The recent cancellations of the options for sale clearly are a setback to the production line programme, but one notices that practically no airline—I was going to say none of the airlines until the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned Pan Am—condemned Concorde on its operating economics. What is abundantly clear is that at the present time, in the present financial climate of airlines, it is virtually impossible for any airline to purchase Concorde. Indeed, as I understand it, by cancelling the options many of these airlines were able to recoup capital payments they had put down.

That brings me to the first question I should like to put to my noble friend. If he accepts that airlines generally at present are financially powerless; if he accepts that the success of Concorde depends wholly on getting it into service, and if he accepts that the present high rate of interest means a number of the leasing companies have set up terms unattractive to airlines, why could not the British and French Governments, in the long-term interest of Concorde, set up a Government lend-leasing organisation? Surely this would boost Concorde and get it into service.

The second point I would put to my noble friend is on the question of the proposed routes. I am still personally a little befogged as to exactly what progress has been made and by whom over negotiations on both landing rights and overflying rights. Is it up to the operators, B.O.A.C. and Air France at the moment, or the respective Governments to become involved, and has America agreed to anything at the moment? On fares, one would be interested to know whether IATA will eventually be the final arbiter as to the rate.

The third point I should like to put to my noble friend is how the Government see the future development of Concorde. Is it not perhaps time for the European partners to discuss American participation? It is, I believe, very clear that at some time America will want to come hack into the supersonic market, particularly with the Russian "Konkordski" on the way. Would it not be an advantage all round to invite the vast American resources to play a part now, or do we want to see the Americans setting up their own Concorde programme?

In conclusion, I would again welcome the Bill and welcome the Government's support, and indeed the personal interest of my noble friend, who has given support both in the air and on the ground. I would also add my congratulations to both manufacturers, to the 600 British sub-contractors and 30,000 British people involved in the programme, for the brilliant achievement, and for bringing Concorde to the threshold of an exciting era of supersonic travel.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, it may seem that in this late stage of a debate that already comes late in the Concorde argument there is very little left to say. None the less, those of us, and as it seems most of your Lordships, who are interested in the pursuit and success of this project have a certain duty to pronounce themselves in the atmosphere where, outside your Lordships' House, so much of the media are at present the victims of the negative point of view. I feel that we all help this project if, although we say things which have been said before, at least we say them.

I should also like to add my voice in support of the Bill in a somewhat different capacity from anyone who has spoken, and that is as one who, since the Chicago Conference of 1944, spent 25 years at least part of the time on the fringes or in air diplomacy and such efforts as diplomacy could give to British manufacturers to sell British aircraft. If one looks over that period it is a slightly sad one. True, we had a few great world successes, notably the Vickers Viscount, and I hope that from that period will grow world success in our vertical takeoff effort, provided the disagreements between progressives and environmentalists do not prevent it. I shall come back to that point in a moment. But the period is sadly full of high ideals, brilliant experiments and then, somhow, failure.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, spoke of the Comet, as did the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. We somehow never got that going again properly after its initial world success and disaster. Again, there was the VC.10—the best aircraft of its kind in its generation, without any doubt—which suddenly failed to become a world success because we failed to support it. Again, in a different sphere we might have had a similar success with the TSR 2. I do not comment or blame anyone for the discontinuance of that programme, but it adds an air of sadness to the efforts of this nation which, if it has brilliance, has particular brilliance in aircraft technology. So when one has been thinking about the Concorde project over all these years, all the time this pattern has been in one's mind, that if we get so far, for goodness' sake! let us then not once again falter and say, "Well, we tried hard but it is really too bad."

The noble Earl who introduced the debate emphasised—and I thought very rightly—two features of this programme which give the present moment a very special importance. He mentioned it as a symbol of co-operation with our French friends and neighbours. But, if I may say so, I thought he understated that a little, because it is not just a symbol of Europe and of Anglo-French co-operation; it is a symbol that, in the worst years of Anglo-French relations in this century, we had faith enough in the ultimate validity of Anglo-French friendship and capability to go on with this project, despite all political disagreements. The other point which the noble Earl made, which was to my mind of an extremely valid nature, was his reference to this new Bill's being essentially a production Bill as opposed to an R. and D. Bill, because that is really the key of the argument against those who still want us to stop. Certainly, during the 1960s, it was entirely legitimate to criticise, to oppose the programme, to hope that it would not happen because the amounts of money involved were unforeseeable. But now that we are actually at the stage of this plane's flying—and noble Lords have flown in it and have expressed the kind of sentiments that we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton—that is no longer valid as an argument.

Quite apart from anything else, we have a great national product which it is now our job as a nation, and a French job as the French nation, to sell. It is no longer a question of saying that we should stop; it is a question of getting on with the job when, if we look at it in perspective, we have really reached the point of no return. I found this sentiment very much when I was on a recent visit to Australia and Japan. I found that our salesmen had been to both countries, and were going again, and there was a sort of mutter going on in the atmosphere, "Why do we have to try to sell this brilliant creation to people who are asking us very profound questions, with the background of a barrage of denigration from people in our own country?" That seemed to me to be not only regrettable in itself but totally mistimed as a way of going on.

Now we are reaching the stage of accomplishment—and, indeed, we have reached it—I think it is important not to oversell in this sense: we must recognise the environmental difficulties. I have studied to some extent the "anti" literature, but I found, to my encouragement, that even that literature does not say, "This cannot be done." If I understood the diagrams aright, they seem to show that you can go to Australia without a desperate effect on environment as you go. Like other noble Lords, I hope that the noble Earl will say just a word on the environmental factor and the degree to which, week by week, the prospects of overcoming that grow greater. In particular, I noticed that his honourable friend in another place was not able to say anything about developments in regard to noise, but I hope that what the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, had to say can be confirmed.

Taking this apparent conflict a little deeper, I would suggest that the Concorde debate is something of a symbol of the cease fire which will have to take place some day between what I have called the progressives and the environmentalists. I think there is a disposition on both sides to make war, and I am quite sure that the future of our country and the future of the human race is hound up in a conscious effort to reconcile positive elements of progress, technologically and otherwise, with the very welcome necessity to protect the environment where we can. If both sides can only approach this project in that spirit, I feel that a great deal will have been learned about the relationship between progress and environment which we still need to learn.

In the meantime, I agree very strongly with those noble Lords who have suggested that we may now, with the French, have produced the definitive plane for some time to come. There is only one proviso about this—a proviso which has been mentioned by several noble Lords, notably the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye—that we do not have a kind of Comet disaster; and of course we cannot guarantee its avoidance. One can only express the hope that the combined design and technological skill of the French and British aircraft industries, plus the work of those who test this aircraft, will be such that any such disaster is very much less likely; and if there were to be any such, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, is right in saying that we must regard it as one of those things which happen when we are on the fringes of science, and that we must not be deterred even by that.

In a poem written over a hundred years ago by a strange poet, Arthur Hugh Clough, he used in a stanza the word "fliers", though not in the sense that we are using it now. In the same stanza he said, If hopes are dupes, fears may be liars". I think we have got beyond the stage of hopes being dupes, and I feel sure that fears are now liars. It is in that spirit that I join with other noble Lords in supporting the Bill and in expressing the hope that we are now on the threshold of a great and long-lasting success.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene only briefly, but I think it would be an act of cowardice on my part if I did not, since I am so far the only opponent of the Concorde project who has ventured to speak. May I say at once that of course I do not oppose this Bill. This Bill is a Money Bill, it has passed another place and, of course, will not be opposed in this House. I wish I could share the enthusiasm of so many of my noble friends. I think particularly of the splendid enthusiasm shown by my old friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I do not know whether he recollects it, but over 30 years ago he, as a pilot—he was also Under-Secretary of State for Air at the time—flew me to my constituency and I have never had more confidence in any pilot. I also heard with sympathy the expert views of the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, and, in spite of my disapproval and opposition to the Concorde project, I confess freely that if in spite of all the opposition to this project it eventually goes through and it is possible to fly to Australia in the short time that the Concorde may make possible, I may well be a passenger.

My Lords, the reason I am opposed to the Concorde project is, first of all, that I am convinced it will not bring the material rewards of which the supporters of this project are so confident. I also believe it will do so much damage to other values that it will in fact make the world a rather poorer place. But, my Lords, neither of those facts con- stitutes my main objection to the Concorde. My main objection to the Concorde is the frightful misuse of scarce resources. What is so often ignored by my enthusiastic friends, when they advocate throwing ever-increasing millions into this project, is that if all these millions are thrown into this prospect then great sums, or even far lesser sums, cannot be thrown into other projects which I think are of much more value. I shall not trouble the House to develop that argument now, because my sole purpose in rising is to say that of course we do not oppose this Bill, a Money Bill approved by another place, but I do not want it to be assumed that, because all those who have spoken have been in favour of the project, there are not a great many people who are convinced—and I hope it will not surprise noble Lords if I say convinced from motives of what appears to them to be patriotism—that it is not a good cause, but a bad one. With the possible exception of the last speaker, I think nobody has suggested that opposition to the Concorde must be unpatriotic. I have forgotten the noble Lord's exact words, but in his admirably clear speech, which I enjoyed as did every other Member, he had one phrase which obviously showed that he thought the people who took my sort of view deplorable people—and that, of course, may be so.

My Lords, I may say that I am not wholly taking this view after the event. I expressed my doubts in a debate already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in his speech this afternoon. He said that it was a debate of nearly ten years ago: it was actually a little more. It was a debate in this House on November 13, 1962, and it arose on a Motion for Papers by the late Lord Brabazon of Tara. In that debate Lord Brabazon, who was a great friend of aviation and not at all ignorant on the subject (as I know everybody who knew him will remember I rather think he was the first airman in this country to get his flying certificate) expressed his great doubts about this Concorde project before the vital agreement had been signed. I intervened in that debate to express my doubts about it; but I followed somebody who spoke with as much authority as Lord Brabazon on the subject of aviation, and that was the late Lord Swinton. In that debate both Lord Brabazon and Lord Swinton expressed their great doubts about this project. Lord Swinton said that he would not say that this project must not go ahead, but he explained his doubts and asked the Government for arguments on the other side which would persuade him to the contrary. I took the same line. I thought it was a bad project, and I ventured to say various things which I still think to-day; and I think that events in the interval have strengthened my opinion.

What I want to say to the House is that the anti-Concorde line is not something confined to a few cranks. It was argued with conviction by my friend the late Lord Brabazon of Tara and by my friend the late Lord Swinton. Neither of them can be described as wholly ignorant of the subject, or as lukewarm on aviation. I believe that their doubts were right; I believe that the doubts I then expressed are right; and I believe it would be quite wrong if the impression were given in this House that there was only one view possible on this matter of the development of the Concorde. The object of my intervening is that I wish that to be made clear. But I want to make equally clear that, of course, I offer no opposition whatever to the passage of this Bill.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I make a comment? I certainly respect the motives of all those who are or have been against this project, and certainly accept that they are entirely sincere. What I was intending to say—and I thank the noble Lord for his kind comment on my speech—was that a certain point comes when it is no longer in the interests of our industry, or of those engaged in the project, to take up very strongly attitudes which obstruct our salesmen, but that the moment has come to do our best for it.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord.

5.18 p.m.


My Lords, I think there has been agreement—and I am quite certain that I would carry my noble friend Lord Conesford with me here—on a number of matters, but on two matters above all. One is a personal factor and one a technical factor. The personal factor is a general consent, I feel, and a general feeling of deep admiration for all those who are involved in this great project. I should like again to express my admiration. I have seen something of those involved in what I think my noble friend Lord Balfour called "the front end of the project", and I have seldom seen such dedication in human beings as that in those who are involved in the front end of this project. Secondly, I believe there is universal agreement in your Lordships' House, from which my noble friend Lord Conesford would not dissent—he was right to give expression to his sincerely held contrary view, but I think he would also agree with me here —that this is a remarkable technical achievement. I would agree with what has been said by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury: that Concorde at the present time is up to, or indeed in certain respects beyond, the expectations of the design which were originally held out.


My Lords, I was remiss. I wonder whether I might interrupt and echo the noble Earl's remarks of congratulation for the team, and in particular for that remarkable character, Sir George Edwards.


I very much accept that, my Lords. We all admire one of the very great men of our aviation industry.

I would also agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, speaking from a background of very wide experience of the aviation industry, that in this plane, as in almost all planes, there is a considerable degree of potential stretch, be it in matters such as the reduction of engine noise or in capacity or in range. Range may be crucial as the manufacturers continue their sales campaign which will go on over the years. It is crucial on certain routes, as the noble Lord knows—for example, Singapore, Sydney, Anchorage, Tokyo, and one can think of many others. It is my understanding here that these questions of stretch and development are under consideration by the manufacturers on both sides of the Channel but as yet they have not agreed on formulated proposals in these respects to put to the two Governments concerned. But there is inevitably a price tag attached to all developments.

The noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, rather invited me to say something about some of the environmental factors—the agonising environmental factors, as I think they were termed by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps I should, briefly, as a layman, respond to that invitation: I say, "as a layman", and I mean it, but as a layman who has had some personal experience of this aircraft and has also made a point of getting as much understanding as a layman can of these environmental factors. They are indeed important, and I speak as one who is as deeply concerned, and has been over a rather long period of time, with environmental questions as are most Members of your Lordships' House; I think I may claim that.

Four areas are usually involved here, and the first is the area of smoke. I know only too well (and here again I speak from some personal experience) that the prototype Concordes, 002 for example, in which I flew to the Far East, are very smoky indeed in their engines. I also happen to know, however, that the engines of the production aircraft will be virtually smoke-free and as good as the best—and this is putting it mildly—of any of the large, subsonic civil aircraft either flying at the present time or to fly. All this has been confirmed by the flights of the first pre-production aircraft based at Toulouse. Its performance hitherto has confirmed in practice what I think most of us knew to be the case in theory.

So far as supersonic overflight is concerned, this is essentially a matter for the individual Governments to decide on the basis of their own situation, their own geography and the benefits they feel they stand to gain from supersonic travel. Here, speaking personally, I would say that I have always held it to be inconceivable that there would be any question of Concorde's operating over any substantial centres of population. However, we all know that some two-thirds of the world's surface is covered by sea and that many of the most profitable air routes lie over the oceans. The fact that some 400 hours of supersonic flying have taken place over busy sea lanes without causing any com- plaint confirms, I believe, that no problems will arise certainly in the maritime environment. When prototype 002 went out to Australia last summer, with the agreement of the Australian authorities it flew supersonic over a large chunk of Australia, and, rightly, elaborate tests were laid on by the Australian authorities. But to me the clinching test was the answer given by an outspoken female of one of those small hamlets over which we flew. The lady in question was eight months pregnant, and she was quoted on the Australian wireless as saying, in the inimitable Australian way, "I don't know what all the fuss was about. Concorde flew over me and my baby, and the little devil didn't even give a kick!" Then there have been fears expressed that Concorde's operation might reduce the ozone content of the upper atmosphere and even put life at risk on this planet. Again, all this has been carefully examined and considered by our Meteoro- logical Office; and I think, it is generally considered that in meteorology we are ahead or abreast of the best in the world. Our studies have made it clear that the effects of operating even a large number of Concorde aircraft would not lead to any harmful effects. Again, I know from personal knowledge how carefully all this has been examined and monitored.

Finally, there is the question of engine noise, the fourth of these environmental factors. I should like once again to make it clear that the Government fully share the general concern about aircraft noise and the need to reduce it to the lowest possible level. We must recognise that the special requirements of a supersonic aircraft necessarily impose constraints upon manufacturers; notably engines of high bypass ratio, such as the Rolls-Royce RB 211, and those used in other recent wide-bodied aircraft are potentially very quiet, but they could not be used in an aircraft such as Concorde. But the technical attack upon Concorde's noise, both in landing and in take-off, is being strenuously pursued, and I can confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, and what my noble friend Lord Kinnoull have said: that there is no reason to believe that when Concorde comes into operation it will be any noisier than existing subsonic jets. Perhaps in this connection I should mention that when my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and my right honourable friend the Minister for Aerospace were in Washington recently they had long discussions with the United States Administration at the highest level, and it was confirmed to them in this context that the United States Administration had no intention of placing obstacles in the way of Concorde so far as operation into and out of the United States was concerned.


My Lords, is it not possible that the Federal authorities would place no obstacles in our way but individual airport authorities, particularly in New York, might decide not to allow Concorde to land? I know it has never arisen, because we have not asked for permission, but is not this a theoretical danger?


My Lords, that is a theoretical possibility, yes. But I think the attitude of the United States Administration is very important in this respect and it has been clearly expressed.

May I turn from the environmental factors, which I have looked into rather carefully, to the commercial and financial aspects of this subject—and I must accelerate, like Concorde, as otherwise I shall be detaining your Lordships too long. I should like first of all to say that there was possibly a slight misunderstanding between me and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I would be the first to concede the enormous growth potential of the mass air travel market, and that that market will, broadly speaking, be catered for in the existing or the new generation of wide-bodied subsonic aircraft—I thought I had said that, and think I have. But, by the same token, I am utterly convinced there is a very good market indeed in the higher bracket, as it were, for the type of executive travel which we have been speaking about in fast supersonic aircraft of the Concorde type. That is, for the reasons which have been given, among them the extraordinary cut in travelling time and all that that means, graphically illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. And I absolutely agree here with what the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, said, that sometimes here we are too mesmerised by the North Atlantic route—very important, three hours or three hours plus as compared with seven—but there are the South Atlantic route and all the wide reaches of the Pacific. This was very evident to me—and perhaps I am "banging on" too long about my personal experience—when flying from Singapore through the Philippines to Tokyo, seeing what Tokyo/London would be, and then Tokyo South. As I say, this became very evident to me, and I think we should keep our horizon rather wide here in thinking of the market opportunities of this aircraft. May I again confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, said so far as comfort is concerned. Concorde is certainly as comfortable as any other aircraft in which I have flown; and I can only say that I found air travel in Concorde as boring as air travel in any other aircraft, apart from the advantage of taking about half the time.

My Lords, so far as the routes are concerned, I can confirm to my noble friend Lord Kinnoull that the central operators are examining the route pattern but B.O.A.C., for example, are still formulating the best routes to meet the services on which they consider Concorde could be most profitably operated. Preliminary talks have, of course, been held with some of the interested Governments but I think it is too early yet to indicate what the precise routes will be. This is a very important aspect of the matter. It is certainly one which the Government have under very close attention indeed. My noble friend was right to touch on that.

So far as IATA fares are concerned—again a question asked of me by my noble friend—the fares to be charged by airlines operating Concorde will have to be discussed in the usual way within IATA and with other Governments, but with services not due to start until 1975 B.O.A.C. has yet to embark on these talks.

So far as options are concerned, the present position, which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me about, is that there are 30 minus options held and of course the 9 existing orders by B.O.A.C., 4 Air France, 3 Continental, 6 Eastern, 3 Braniff (who have, of course, a route pattern to South America which on the face of it looks extremely suitable for supersonic operation); Qantas 4, J.A.L. 3—and I think one should not be unduly impressed one way or the other by the newspaper reports on the J.A.L. position; Lufthansa 3, India 2, Middle East 2—and the noble Lord quite rightly drew attention to the keen interest expressed by M.E.A.—and Iranair 1. In addition Iranair have signed a letter of intent to purchase two aircraft and the Chinese National Airline has signed a preliminary purchase agreement for three aircraft. I would only endorse in addition what the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, has said, that one should not be unduly impressed by the action of those airlines, including a number of very important ones, who have cancelled or not taken up their options. It is only natural that some should wait until the last possible moment, and perhaps some of the more experienced will wait until the last possible moment.

My Lords, turning to finance, I should like to repeat the precise position as I understand it. Not all the £150 million has been spent; £45 million has been spent, but something approaching £125 million has been committed. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked me: if no orders, or no further orders, were placed, why should we need sums of the type envisaged in the Bill before your Lordships? First of all, I would not accept any suggestion that there will be no further orders; but I would say again, which is implicit in my earlier words, that manufacturing advanced aircraft efficiently necessarily depends on maintaining a steady flow of work and the commitments apparently incurred by the manufacturers will shortly exceed the limits. Consequently, not to approve an increase in the financial limits would have the effect of bringing production, even taking into account the aircraft for present customers and those who have expressed a firm intention, to a halt and any lower limit than the one proposed would inhibit the ability of our manufacturers to respond with their French partners to further orders as they are placed.

My Lords, it is quite clear to me that in the highly competitive ambiance of the aviation industry we could not expect to exploit the aircraft fully if key and critical sales had to be held up while Parliament went through the process of affirming an order. I would agree, of course, that this matter needs very careful watching, and this it will receive from the two Governments. The precise rate of production can only be decided, in view of the number of variables involved, in the light of circumstances as they develop; but I hope that your Lordships will accept that it is our intention to keep a very close watch with our French partners and in conjunction with the manufacturers on this aspect of the matter.

I think we should be realistic so far as security on the loans is concerned, and we should also remember that the previous Administration accepted that the order of resources required to finance Concorde in advance of payment from customers was too great for British manufacturers to bear, and the present Bill accepts this premise which was spelt out clearly by the then Minister. But as I have said, arrangements have been negotiated with the manufacturers whereby they will share profits and losses with the Government and so provide them with the incentive to achieve the best out-turn on this investment. I think this is a fair position, my Lords, and I am sure it is a realistic position for the Government to have adopted. As for the single production line, which I think was a point which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, put to me, there has been no proposal, as far as I know, for such a concentration of production. Clearly it will be looked at if one is received but I know of no such proposal at the present time.

My Lords, regarding the question of leasing arrangements raised by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull, I would only say that Concorde is being offered for sale with the normal credit support of export credit guarantee agencies both in this country and in France; but we do not exclude airlines wishing to purchase through leasing organisations if that is what they want and provided this does not increase the Government's liabilities. A number of such schemes are, I know, being prepared and it is for those concerned to advance their proposals to the airline and the manufacturers. This, again, is something which we have, and will keep, under very close review.

My Lords, I have spoken long enough, but I should like to say that I believe that this debate, despite the sturdy, robust opposition of my noble friend Lord Conesford, will give great encouragement to those who have confidence in this great project. Above all, it will give great confidence and encouragement to those most closely involved, be it in the board room, in the pilot's seat or the shop floor, with the "sharp end" of this project.

In conclusion, my Lords, I would say that whatever we or others may decide to do, I think we should be wise to remember that already there are some 10 T.U.144s, the Soviet supersonic civil air transport, flying, or in advanced stages of production—a point that was hardly mentioned in this debate, but one I think worth bearing in mind. It is a point which bears on the question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about over-flying the great reaches of the Soviet Union. Undoubtedly, the United States has the capacity to enter this field and is at present pursuing research in a not inexpensive form towards the American S.S.T. Anyone advocating that we, having set our hands to this plough, should, at the moment when we are ready to drive a furrow, abandon it, must, I think, ponder the advisability of Britain, France and Western Europe opting out of a dimension of human transportation which I believe could well be crucial for the next 50 or, indeed, 100 years. I believe those who oppose this project should ponder that consideration.

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.