§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Godber.]
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Williams (Sunderland, South)
I wish this evening to raise the question of what is to me one of the most disgraceful, most disheartening and most unfortunate decisions that has been taken in relation to the British aircraft industry in recent years. I refer, as I think the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply will know, to the question of the cancellation of the contract for the Vickers V-1000 aircraft.
My first point is that it is vital to Britain in every sense, in aviation—in the field of industrial work and in the earning capacity of our industry—that we should be able to produce in our home industry a long-range pure jet aircraft which will be capable of coping with the first-class Trans-Atlantic passenger demand. It is, therefore, opportune to ask what are the likely developments in aviation over the next ten or fifteen years in the various aircraft groupings of which 666 we know—the long-range turbo-prop, the long-range pure jet, the medium-range jet and the medium range turbo-prop aircraft? I would have thought that it was almost inevitable that the long-range turbo-prop, which, even today, everyone admits will be able to cope in a few years' time only with the second-class traffic, will be swallowed up in the relatively near future by the pure jet aircraft.
Therefore, the medium-range jet, because of its specialised type of construction and because of the very decided limits of its range, will be superseded in its turn by the long-range pure jet. Meanwhile, the medium-range turbo-prop aircraft which is at present produced and marketed solely in this country will survive, but against inevitably increasing United States competition.
The conclusion I draw from these facts is that there is an urgent need for the British industry to be able to produce a long-range pure jet first-class trans-Atlantic aircraft. That can be produced by the British industry and, in fact, there is one potential aircraft available today. If my conclusion is right, that we shall see within the next ten to fifteen years developments to the point where the long-range pure jet aircraft scoops the pool, I would ask my hon. Friend what British aircraft is there which will be available in that period, other than the Vickers V-1000?
The Minister of Supply, outside this House, has stated recently that the Vickers V-1000 exists only on paper. Can my hon. Friend tell me where else the D.C.8, for example, exists today except on paper? One reads in the newspapers that there are orders in the region of 200 plus for this aircraft, which exists only on paper. Perhaps, in parenthesis, it is worth saying that of the £2,300,000 that has thus far been invested in the Vickers V-1000 aircraft not one penny has been spent on the civil version except by the firm itself.
For a few moments I want to deal with the criticisms which have been bandied about both in public and in private. The most obvious one, of which my hon. Friend will have heard so often, is the weight growth. I understand that the company concerned in making this aircraft originally estimated that the basic weight would be about 96,000 lb. That 667 has subsequently grown to about 112,000 lb. That sounds a rather surprising increase, but in heavy aircraft construction this growth, of about 20 per cent. is nothing unusual. It is in the normal form of aircraft development. There are, however, two points which are highly relevant upon this question. The first is that the weight growth has been completely matched, through the years, by an equal growth in the engine power needed to get this aircraft into the air
§ Mr. Williams
Yes. The original weight was about 96,000 lb. and the subsequent weight was about 112,000 lb.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Perhaps I may correct my hon. Friend. My information is that the original weight of the military type was 190,000 lb., and that it has risen to 210,000 lb.
§ Mr. Williams
I am speaking about the basic weight. My hon. and gallant Friend may be talking about the all-up weight. There is a very legitimate difference of opinion here. We are talking about slightly different things.
The weight growth has been completely matched by the growth of engine power. Secondly, the weight growth has nothing whatever to do with the military specification. The weight factor is the sole responsibility of the manufacturer, and is not part of the military specification. This aircraft still meets all the military specifications which were laid down.
I now turn to the question of performance. From all the figures I have been able to lay my hands on the Vickers V-1000 and the two comparable American types seem to be astonishingly similar. The civil version of the Vickers V-1000 will be lighter; it will have a similar range; it will perhaps be fractionally slower, and—this, perhaps, is in the normal line of British aircraft development—it will have an added safety factor which comes from the normal British practice of having a lower wing loading.
Further, on present calculations it will have an engine which will produce a greater thrust than the comparable American civil aircraft. While mentioning the engine it may be worth recalling 668 that this aircraft has been deliberately designed around the Rolls-Royce Conway engine. Because of its design that engine is both more efficient and more economical than any other in the world, on Transatlantic routes as well as others.
Are we, then, to throw away all the accumulated advantages which come from our engine lead in the world, and the lead which could come from allying the best engine to an aircraft designed to house it? In addition, are we to throw away, in this aircraft, the inevitable ability to carry a bigger payload across the ocean? "The industry cannot cope," say the critics. This is the sort of criticism that one so often hears from the people who find reasons for not doing things, rather than from the people who supply the drive to get things done. It so much savours of the attitude and the frame of mind of what I rather irreverently call the "can't-do-it boys."
If there were sufficient willpower to carry through this venture as a national effort the job would be done. I do not doubt that there is much misused capacity in the aircraft industry, often frittering away highly-trained and highly-qualified technicians on what we may irreverently call a series of trivialities. I believe that much of the aircraft industry could be better employed on this potential world-beater.
Even if the industry could not cope at its present strength, are we to accept the position that a limit was placed by the Almighty on this industry and that there is a maximum size beyond which it cannot expand? I believe that the industry can cope at its present strength, but if it could not, surely it is just the sort of industry which we want to see expanding. We have a potential world-beater in this aircraft, but we lack faith in it ourselves.
The other day the Minister of Supply referred to new and exciting developments that would be coming in the supersonic era. On the series of remarks which the Minister made in a speech outside this Chamber, I note two things. The first is the timing of his remarks in relation to this discussion on the Vickers V-1000 and his withdrawal across the Atlantic. The second is that pie in the sky is no substitute for jam today. If we reversed this decision we could do without pie in the sky and we could get 669 a British, first class, civil, pure jet, Transatlantic aircraft into the air in the relatively near future.
I would ask the Minister: how can we hope to compete in the supersonic era unless we have the kind of experience and the know-how both of building and of operating in the immediate subsonic field? This question of experience must be paramount in all considerations relating to aircraft development. Surely we must have learned something from the example of the troubles over the Comet I. I believe that de Havilland's were quite right, at the end of the Second World War, to jump a stage in aircraft development rather than chase other aircraft manufacturers who were working overseas; but in jumping that step they ran the inevitable risk which, unfortunately, has made great difficulties for them in their own aircraft development.
Are we to contract out of long-range, pure jet manufacture and thereby hamstring our ability, through gaining experience in that type of aircraft, to produce in the supersonic era? That is what this decision to cancel the V-1000 means. It means that if we cease to produce for the subsonic field we shall not have the experience to be able to produce without the danger that comes from the de Havillands' example and the experience of operating in the subsonic field. We may also run the danger of being chiselled out of the manufacturing industry in the supersonic era.
There is a tendency to look at this issue from too rigid, too narrow and too Departmental a point of view. We ought to look at rather broader horizons, and from the point of view of our balance of payments position and our ability to earn our daily bread. We all know of the effort that has been made by the motor manufacturing industry in production for sales abroad. We are told by car experts that their products shows a return of about 9s. 6d. per lb. weight. The comparable figure for aircraft is about £5 or £10. In other words, the value of aircraft exports may be stated as from ten or twenty times as valuable as the exports of the motor industry, which is so obviously one of our most valuable exports.
I am not suggesting that because of this difference the motor industry is wasting its time. I am suggesting that here is an 670 even more important industry to encourage, to develop and to try to assist in producing for both the home trade and for export. If we in this country have anything to sell it is our inherent ability and skill and knowledge, and to contract out of this vital field is dangerous in the extreme to our future earning capacity.
I turn to the home market. The home market is traditionally regarded as consisting of the Corporations and Transport Command. I always thought that there was some reference in the Corporations' charters to the fact that they should buy British wherever possible. I believe that, even now, it would be possible for the Government or for B.O.A.C. to save this aircraft. If this decision to cancel the Vickers V-1000 is confirmed, B.O.A.C. will be faced in the late 'fifties with a very difficult position, and by the early 'sixties it will inevitably have to buy American for its Transatlantic services.
From a national point of view that will be a tragedy when here, in almost completed form, we have a potential world-beater. I still say that, from the national point of view the Government should take courage and reverse this extremely unfortunate decision, but if the decision is to stand there are certain things which we should learn from our experience. The first is that there are not sufficient home operators. The second is that, as long as Britain continues to think of herself as a small nation of 48 million people she will be condemned inevitably to obscurity.
If we think in terms of a great Commonwealth our future can be bright. Can my hon. Friend tell me, for example, why we should not ask the representatives of Qantas, South African Airways and the other Commonwealth operators to come in on the early planning stages of new aircraft? In that way we could obtain the highest common factor of the needs of all the Commonwealth operators who, in addition, and in return, would get aircraft as nearly tailor made to their requirements as is humanly possible. We should also be able to expand the size of what we are pleased to call the home market.
I ask the Government to reconsider this vital decision. This is neither the time nor the occasion for narrow, short-sighted—I do not wish to be offensive to my hon. Friend—or Departmental views, 671 which are too influenced by the need for immediate economy. Now is the moment for a bold decision which can open up new avenues for producing aircraft here at home which we can sell throughout the world. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to assure us that the decision to cancel the contract for the Vickers V-1000 is not final and that the bridges have not finally been crossed. To that I add my hope that, at some time, the decision will be reversed.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Rankin
—for raising this matter tonight. I am sure he will recollect, as I think will the Minister, that when he asked a Question on this matter the other day, I, too, had a Question about it on the Order Paper.
This is an age of speed, but I am not primarily interested in speed. As one who uses aircraft regularly, my attitude is, safety first, safety second, and safety all the time. I always hope that safety will never be subordinated to speed, but I agree that they are not necessarily in conflict.
We are living in a world which demands speed, and if we are to live in that world we must trade in it and sell our machines to it. We have to meet the competition which faces us. If I had my way, I should like to see co-operation in design—and I am thinking primarily in terms of civil aircraft—not merely within this country but in the world. I should like to see a freezing of design and an agreed ceiling speed amongst the nations of the world. Since practically every machine being built today is built primarily for military purposes—with civil use as a secondary consideration—we are the victims of speed, because of the disagreements and discontents which exist in the world.
A week last Monday the Minister indicated that the V-1000 was more or less discarded. I agree with the appeal which has been made tonight, that, if it is not too late, he should reconsider the matter. Many of us have been disturbed by the fact that the engine which was to power that machine cannot find a market 672 here and is being sold abroad. If all I have heard about that power unit is true, it is unfortunate that it is not to be used at home.
Suppose we assume that the Ministry of Supply has finished with the V-1000. On the Order Paper in my hand there is a Question to the Minister for answer on Monday, 19th December, in which I pose to him the problem, assuming that nothing more will be heard of the V-1000, what does he intend to do next? I ask him whetherhe will authorise work to begin now for designs on purely commercial aircraft to meet the needs of the era of supersonic speeds.We have to do something about that. It is a challenge to the Minister; it is a challenge to the whole nation, which, in my view, possesses the finest designers in the world, the finest technicians, and the finest aircraft workers.
I have met many of them, and some of the prophecies made to me in 1946 and 1947 as to the future development of British aviation—particularly with regard to the helicopter—to cite an example, have been shown today to be exactly correct. I may not be able to develop that line too far, but I may say that one designer said to me in 1947, "It will be ten years at least before we can think of using a helicopter for civil aviation purposes." He said that in 1947, and no one today will deny that what that designer said is being shown to be absolutely correct.
I feel that the Question which I have put on the Order Paper and which I now pose to the Minister is apposite. If we are not to accept the V-1000, the problem is posed to every one of us, what are we going to do next? What is in the mind of the Government? If the Minister feels it is rather unfair of me to ask him now a Question I have put on the Order Paper for answer on Monday week, and tells the House that he would prefer to wait and answer it then, I shall accept his view, hoping—not against hope—that he will have the satisfactory answer that every hon. Member, on both sides of the House, would hope to hear.
I want to raise another matter which I think is consequent upon the Adjournment subject so ably spoken to by the hon. Member for Sunderland, East—
§ Mr. Rankin
I am sorry, I will put the hon. Member in the East. That is where the wise men are supposed have come from and it is rather mysterious that I should put the hon. Member there.
I want to raise another question which I think is consequent upon the problem placed before us tonight. I indicated that co-operation was necessary if we are to develop civil aviation, particularly to the peak we want to see it reach. So on Monday this week I asked another Question. That Question dealt with the issue of co-operation among the firms which are producing aircraft for our use today. Unfortunately, as a result of the Question I innocently posed and the replies which were given—I would hesitate to claim to be the instrument of this—a slight rupture occurred between the Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey).
I am not here tonight to pour oil—least of all diesel oil—on the breach which occurred on Monday between those two hon. Members. I am looking at the matter from the point of view of co-operation between the producers of the aircraft. I know that the benches opposite are thirled to the idea of competition. Hon. Members opposite say that there has to be competition amongst the manufacturers of aircraft and that, as a result, we are bound to produce better and better aircraft to meet the world demand.
I am not arguing that at the moment, but I do claim that there must be co-operation amongst the producers of the aircraft, for the simple reason that a vast amount of public money is being poured into this new, young industry. I entirely approve of that, but if public money is being poured in to sustain the industry, the public must have a voice in the results of its efforts.
The Minister disagreed with me when I used the word "subsidies." If I was guilty of a terminological inexactitude, would he accept instead the word "subventions"? It has been estimated that £800 million of public money has gone into the manufacturing side of the British aircraft industry over the last nine or ten years. Because public money is being invested in it, there should be co-operation.
674 The producers of the Brabazon, de Havilland, Vickers and all the other great firms should use the Ministry as the exchange whereby technical knowledge and information about designs can be passed round among them, so that the paying public does not pay for the acquisition of the same knowledge over and over again, as, for all we know, might well be the case if that co-operation in design and technical development is entirely lacking.
I recollect that the Minister turned to the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield and used a very equivocal sentence. Again, I do not seek to pour oil on troubled waters. The Parliamentary Secretary said:Yes, Sir. I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend's firm will give a lead in this respect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1955; Vol. 547, c. 4.]Quite frankly, that created a little sensation in the House on Monday afternoon.
§ Mr. Rankin
I thought everybody knew the firm. The hon. and gallant Member will not mind my mentioning it. The firm is de Havilland.
§ Mr. Rankin
Oh, yes; I am sorry. I had de Havilland in mind for another reason.
That Question and the interchange caused a little sensation in the House. One assumed that the co-operation that we wanted was in existence among all the manufacturers with the exception of Handley Page.
§ Mr. Hughes
My hon. Friend said £800 million of public money had been spent in the last ten years. Is his allegation that some of it has gone to Handley Page? Could he tell us something about the profits and dividends of Handley Page?
§ Mr. Rankin
I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield and the Parliamentary Secretary will dispute that these favours have been bestowed with reasonable equity among 675 all the manufacturers of aircraft, especially the big five, in the United Kingdom. From time to time the profits which have occurred have been stated in the Press. I have referred to them in the House, to dividends of about 17 per cent. and 20 per cent., the distribution of bonus shares—
§ Mr. P. Williams
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In accordance with what, I believe, is the custom, I wrote to advise you that the matter I wished to raise on the Adjournment was the development of the V-1000. Is it possible for us, in this debate, to range over the whole economy?
§ Mr. Speaker
The Question before the House is, "That this House do now adjourn," and it is permissible to raise anything involving Ministerial responsibility that does not involve legislation or taxation. However, previous Speakers have pointed out, with deprecation, that it is not proper to raise subjects unless there has been warning to Ministers who can reply to them, for otherwise those matters are not properly discussed.
§ Mr. Rankin
That part of my remarks was just a diversion, not an attempt to distract the House from the main subject of debate on this Motion. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) evinced his natural curiosity about all these matters, and I was momentarily replying, I hope not misguidedly.
I am seeking briefly to make two points. I am supporting generally the attitude of the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) by asking the Parliamentary Secretary whether the V-1000 is to go on to the scrap heap, and what is to be the next step the Minister plans to take to meet the demands of the supersonic era. Secondly, I am dealing with the need for co-operation, and I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield will agree with me about the need for cooperation among manufacturers of British aircraft—the need not merely for competition but for co-operation—if we are to produce the type of aircraft to meet the needs of the era to which we are all looking forward.
676 The Parliamentary Secretary assured me on Monday that that co-operation, that interchange of information essential for the development of aircraft, was taking place, that the Ministry was the radiating centre of it, that it all came to him, and was disseminated among those who wanted it. But he seemed to exclude from the pool or from the company the firm with which the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield is associated, and it is no secret to say that the hon. and gallant Member was grieved at his exclusion.
It is the concern of the House to know that that partnership amongst all these great firms exists, and that they are not merely competing but are all working together in harmony, and spending properly and for the benefit of civil aviation the huge amounts of money which have been given to them, either directly or indirectly, to see that British civil aviation flourishes.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
In these debates, as a rule, I declare my interest, which I think is well known to the House, and I do so again tonight. I would prefer to deal myself with the matter which the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) has raised, probably with the best intentions, because I feel that I am quite capable of dealing with my own affairs. Briefly, however, my own impression is that on Monday last the Minister gave a hurried answer to what I thought was a perfectly ordinary question, and what was meant to be a helpful question. I do not think that he thought about it perhaps as much as he is capable of doing. If he did think about it, then in the short time that he has been in the Ministry of Supply he has not become conversant with what is going on in the aircraft industry.
There is a great deal of co-operation, not only between different firms in the industry, but with Farnborough, the National Physical Laboratory, and various other establishments. There is co-operation particularly with my own firm. Nobody works more closely with my own firm than Vickers. The point that I was making on Monday was that there is room for more co-operation, which in turn would save taxpayers' money.
§ Mr. Rankin
The hon. and gallant Member will agree that the matter which I raised was not a matter which merely affected his firm. I was not raising it from that point of view but from the point of view of seeing that his firm was brought within the co-operative circle which the Minister told us was in existence.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I want to answer the interjection of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). He is always ready to discuss profits, which to him are quite immoral. We have had so many losses in nationalised industry that "profit" is an unknown word to the hon. Member. Let him visit an aircraft works and let him see the conditions in which the men work, the pensions schemes, the welfare schemes and so on. He may then have a better idea of what he is talking about.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The hon. and gallant Member assumes that I know nothing about the aircraft industry. I represented Prestwick for a long time, and many of my present constituents live there. I travel to and from London every week in B.E.A. or B.O.A.C. aircraft. The hon. and gallant Member must not assume that because he knows a lot about the profit-making side of the industry we do not know anything about the useful side.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
We have heard a great deal about Prestwick but there are other places than Prestwick in the aircraft industry. One does not learn much about the industry by flying in an armchair between London and Glasgow.
The country, and certainly the House, were disappointed and dismayed when the Minister made the announcement that this project was being disbanded. I have tried since then to keep an open mind, because I feel that the Government had good reasons for the decisions which they took. So far, I am not convinced of the correctness of that decision, certainly not from a technical point of view. I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply whether the Government are satisfied or not that this aircraft will meet its specifications. We have not yet been told whether or not the aircraft will perform what it is meant to do. I am told that it was required to take off within 2,000 yards in tropical conditions. I am assured 678 by the firm making it that it still stands by the claim that the aircraft has that standard of performance.
While the weight of the military type has gone up, the all-out weight of the civil version, the V.C.7, has gone down from 250,000 lb. to 248,000 lb., whereas the Boeing 707 and the Douglas D.C.8 are considerably heavier. So far as speed is concerned, the V.C.7 is estimated to be about 10 knots slower, because of its increased wing area compared with the others. Only last week, Boeings announced that the wing area of their aircraft was increased by 700 square feet.
Do not let us assume that the Americans will go straight ahead and build two wonderful aeroplanes to fly by the time they say they will, because there are many problems to be overcome. I feel that what the firm says is correct, and I have yet to be told otherwise—that Vickers could be two years ahead of either Douglas or Boeing in this project. Nearly £3 million has been spent already, and for the sake of perhaps another £11 million, we should have a Transatlantic aeroplane flying in 1959 or 1960.
It seems to me a most extraordinary decision to make, without explanation why it was taken. Is it a Treasury decision? I do not know, because it seems to me that Vickers are not just out for themselves, but here are cooperating. Even if the Government went ahead with the project, Vickers, having developed and made the prototype, would have to have it made by another firm, because they are so busy making the Viscount follow-on aircraft—the Vanguard. That is where the industry cooperates well.
We might ask why Vickers do not develop it themselves. I am told that, as far as the Vanguard is concerned, the firm will supply every penny required for the development of this great aeroplane, now under construction, which I think is a great achievement for free enterprise. It may cost £3 million, £4 million or £5 million, but it is going to earn a great deal of foreign currency for our country and provide employment for our workers. I thought the statement put out by the Minister last weekend really was not good enough. Here we have a new project which will probably be flying in the middle 'sixties. It struck me as being an airy-fairy specification 679 written by B.O.A.C. to let us feel that we have something to look forward to. I cannot believe that, having spent so much money, we can pin our hopes on a brand new specification which can give us an aircraft nine years' hence. That really is not good enough.
The Minister may have a reason, but if he does not tell us tonight, sooner or later the Minister of Supply will have to come to the House and give us the real facts about what is taking place. Vickers openly admit that they are a year behind with the V-1000. That is not unusual, when one considers the hundreds of thousands of man-hours spent in engineering design and development which have been put into the project. A year is really very little, and I ask the Minister not to rule it out on that account.
The American aircraft—the Boeing 707 and the D.C.8, I am told, cost about 41 million dollars—to be exact, 4,600,000 dollars—whereas the civil version of this aircraft could be produced for £1,300,000, and had the contract gone ahead, Trans-Canada Airways would have placed an order in dollars, which would have been coming to Britain. Naturally, though, we cannot proceed with a contract on a project of this type unless it is backed up by the industry at home. If we build one aircraft and send it out to Australia or Canada, we shall be out of touch with it. It has to be developed at home, primarily, with a home market for it. If it has received the blessing of the Ministry of Supply we are told we get facilities, but the manufacturer does not get the facilities of the wind tunnels at Farnborough and at the National Physical Laboratory and all the other advantages that go towards the production of an aeroplane capable of the performance which is intended.
I have a feeling that if this aircraft is dropped as proposed, it will be only a question of time before B.O.A.C. will come along asking for millions of dollars to place an order for D.C.8s. Already we have K.L.M. buying Viscounts, the first British aircraft which it has bought for many years, and if the V-1000 had gone ahead and proved successful I am told that K.L.M. would have been interested. After all, it is easier to deal with a country a hundred miles away than one thousands of miles away, particularly when its currency is not so hard.
680 I also believe that when the specification of this aircraft was written B.O.A.C. were in on the original discussions about operational requirements at the Air Ministry, and it was written into die contract that a certificate of airworthiness would have to be obtained. If there has been an error, it has been that the specification, as originally written, was for a military rather than a civil type. Had it been written for a civil type weight might have been saved, the performance might have been better and the Royal Air Force would have had to take it "off the peg." My impression is that there has not been sufficient co-operation between B.O.A.C. and the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply, but that is only guesswork up to a point.
I hope that we shall be given a better explanation than we have had so far. We are all disappointed, disheartened and unhappy about it. I still think that the Minister must have reasons other than those which we have been given. Vickers are very reputable people. They have already made a great contribution to our export trade of about 200 Viscounts sold abroad, many in America. They have broken into the dollar market, so we have to respect their point of view. It would seem that Vickers have had a raw deal, and I should like to see the matter cleared up once and for all. If there is doubt, let us ask an independent body, as opposed to the Ministry of Supply, to carry out an assessment of the V-1000. It is not that I doubt the Ministry, which has some very able people, but I should like to see an independent body check that assessment to see if the machine is capable of doing what was intended.
Britain has a great chance. Today this great industry is exporting £70 million worth of equipment, a total which could probably be increased in a short time to £100 million a year. I say that because not only is the aircraft itself concerned but in selling it we sell insurance and spare parts for 10 or 15 years, as well as many other things. Do not let us doubt what this great industry can do. If, however, it has to suffer under this handicap, and if the Government happen to be wrong, we have a great deal to lose. Therefore I beg the Minister to give us a frank explanation of what is taking place.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I admit at once that I have nothing like the technical experience of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), whose war record and technical knowledge we all appreciate. Yet I suggest that the ordinary citizen, although he may not be a mechanic or a pilot, is also interested in civil aviation. I represent a part of the country which is greatly interested in Prestwick, with which I have been associated for many years. In fact, I was a member of the county council which passed the plans for the first primitive aerodrome at Prestwick.
I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman what he would do if we had not provided aerodromes? It is useless to talk about long-range aircraft if they do not have suitable aerodromes. I submit that in supplying the great Transatlantic aerodrome at Prestwick we have done some service to the aircraft industry. If we had not provided aerodromes, the hon. and gallant Gentleman would not have any places from which to fly his aircraft, and there would not be so much profit in the aircraft companies.
I object to the rather slighting remarks which have been made about B.E.A.C. and B.O.A.C. The hon. and gallant Gentleman may remember that during the period when these Corporations were established I was a very faithful member of the Standing Committee concerned with the Bill. I suggest that it is, therefore, rather arrogant to assume that only an air commodore, or somebody engaged in making profits out of aircraft, is entitled to express his views on the all-important question of the development of civil aviation in this country.
§ Mr. Hughes
I assumed that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield thought that I know about aircraft only through sitting in an aeroplane flying between Prestwick and London. I have travelled over a great deal of the world in aircraft which, I am glad to say, start at Prestwick. I wish he would not assume that he is quite so omniscient, but would realise that we ordinary people who sometimes take an interest in the industry from the point of view of the taxpayers and the public are just as interested in 682 the development of the industry as are those who are interested in making profits.
I suggest that there is a rather curious liaison between the Minister of Supply and the various aircraft companies. I believe that the liaison is rather too intimate for the public interest. At least, I suggest that when we hear the Minister engage in a good deal of affectionate cross-talk with a representative of one of the big companies, we ought to take at least a philanthropic interest from the point of view of the ordinary taxpayer.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) raised the question about £800 million having been spent in the last few years in subsidising the aircraft industry, I believed I was entitled to show a little natural curiosity. I pursued the matter further and asked about dividends, and when the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield rose, I thought he was going to give us some facts about the profits of the various companies, of one of which he is, I believe, the chairman. I believe, from what I have recently been reading about certain of the big aircraft companies, that they are doing very well indeed. Therefore, I want to maintain a very vigilant interest to ensure that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield is really representing Macclesfield and that he is not taking too affectionate an interest in Handley Page.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Gentleman talks about subsidies to the aircraft industry. He is ignoring the fact that a great many aircraft of the figure mentioned have been delivered to the Royal Air Force. If he is interested in Macclesfield and would care to go there, he will find that my election majority has been increased on four different occasions.
§ Mr. Hughes
That is very interesting information, but I am interested not in the hon. and gallant Member's majority but in his profits. If he had been as communicative about his profits as he has been about his majority, I should have been much more satisfied.
§ Mr. Hughes
I suggest that the hon. and gallant Member has been singularly uncommunicative to the House on that question.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
As the hon. Gentleman has put the point again, perhaps I might say that it is a public company and its balance sheet is available. We are really very proud of it, and so are the workers. If the hon. Member had a little more interest in the workers, he would perhaps understand their point of view. They are sharing in it to a great extent, more than the hon. Member appreciates.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am very much interested in the workers. The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield now wants another diversion. I want to know whether he will tell us what his company has made in profits over the last three years.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The profit on a capital of £3 million or £4 million is about £500,000 per annum, of which 60 per cent. goes in taxation, a great percentage in wages, and the rest in the development of a new aircraft. Anyhow, it is public knowledge, and the hon. Member can get a copy of the balance sheet in the Library. I suggest that before he speaks in another debate he briefs himself rather better than he has done on this occasion, so that he will have the necessary knowledge and will not occupy valuable time in which other hon. Members wish to speak.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) must confine himself to matters which are within Ministerial responsibility. Anything which is not within Ministerial responsibility is out of order on the Adjournment. I would also ask the hon. Member to observe the courtesy of the House and not impute unavowed motives to any other hon. Member.
§ Mr. Hughes
I put a perfectly straightforward question to the hon. Gentleman and I fail to see that that is dishonourable, Sir. If it is not dishonourable to make profits, I should like to know—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am not easily put off. I assume that there is some Ministerial responsibility in agreeing to give contracts to big companies. I suggest that the time has come when the machinations of the different aircraft companies should be very carefully scrutinised 684 by Members of the House in order that people like the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield may become civil servants instead of shareholders in profit-making companies.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
Would the hon. Gentleman prefer that contracts for aircraft, whether civilian or military, were given to firms which through inefficiency consistently made losses instead of profits?
§ Mr. Hughes
I will answer the hon. Member very briefly. I want all these contracts to be dictated purely in the public interest and the interest of the nation as a whole, and not in any particular private vested interest. It is the relationship between the Minister of Supply and these particular vested interests which concerns me as an ordinary Member of the House of Commons.
I was alarmed by the kind of crosstalk that went on between the Minister and the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield. I suggest that the House of Commons should take an interest in these particular contracts, and should take a very great deal of interest in civil aviation not from the profit motive but from the point of view of developing this industry as a publicly-owned industry, serving the national interest and the national welfare.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
Since the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) seemed to pitch the whole tenor of his speech on looking after the taxpayers' interest, I think that it is worthy of comment that he did not mention the fact that the two State Corporations of B.O.A.C. and B.E.A., good as they are, have received over £40 million grant from the taxpayers since the war in order to put them in their present position. I feel that if he would direct his attention towards the £40 million, and not pursue this red herring of the dividends of the aircraft companies, which are very heavily taxed, it would perhaps be of more use to our debate.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
Would not the hon. Member agree that as a result of the research work of the two Corporations, the aircraft industry as a whole has benefited very considerably, and the nation has, too.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I must apologise for a heavy cold which gives me a slightly hoarse voice. I will deal later with this problem of those aircraft which get the benefit of the Corporations' support and those aircraft which, through no fault of their own, do not get the benefit of the Corporations' support.
I hope that when my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) speaks, he can perhaps draw the distinction—because there is a good deal of confusion—between the V.C.7, which is the civil version of this aircraft and the Vickers V-1000, which is the military version. As I understand it, £2.3 million has been spent so far on the military version, and although the civil version will have several common features, it is at the moment only a paper aircraft, and it would presumably entail the efforts of a great number of scientific staff and a great deal of money to transfer this paper version into an operational civil aircraft.
It has been said that the whole prestige of Britain will be affected by the decision not to go ahead with this aircraft. If I may use an un-Parilamentary term, that is poppycock. I do not think that the prestige of America has been completely upset in the world's eyes because, at this moment, there is flying on United States air lines a turbo-prop British aircraft, the Viscount. The world is not upset by the fact that we shall have the turbo-prop Britannia flying on the Transatlantic route long before America or any other nation can have an equivalent aircraft. The prestige of the United States has not been affected because they have come here and asked whether they can use some of our latest and best engines not only in the military versions but the civil versions of their aircraft. None of these facts has affected U.S.A. prestige.
The difficult question we have to decide is whether we should proceed with this aircraft in addition to the other projects which we have backed. Together with many of my hon. Friends, I have felt that, in the past, in both the military and civil field, we have tended to back too many projects and have thus spread our technical effort too thinly. The result has been that our aircraft, military and civil, have tended to come forward too slowly. It is therefore a courageous decision to make at this moment not to 686 go ahead with the V-1000. I only wish that hon. Members opposite—and I see that only three are present at the moment—had made a decision about the Brabazon very much earlier and saved some of the taxpayers' money.
We now have not only the Britannia 300 L.R., the Viscount, and its successor, the Vanguard, but also the Comet IV, which will be a Transatlantic aircraft of great merit. I have no doubt that during its development the improvement of its engines and the amount of stretch still available will allow the Comet eventually to do the West-to-East Transatlantic crossing without a stop and the East-to-West crossing with only one stop.
But in the eyes of the public the important question is not the speed of the aircraft, or the blue riband of the Atlantic, but the cost of flying from Britain to America or from America to Europe. The paramount consideration is how much this aircraft will cost to build and how much to operate. I say, without fear of contradiction, that the British aircraft at present envisaged—the Comet IV and the Britannia 300 L.R.—are going to be cheaper to buy and to operate than their equivalent American versions, the Boeing 707 and the D.C. 8.
§ Mr. P. Williams
Does not my hon. Friend agree that that will also be true of the Vickers V-1000 in the new era of immediately subsonic aircraft?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
It is probably true, and it is very difficult for us to judge questions of timing, the cost, and operational efficiency of the Vickers V-1000 when it is still only a paper aircraft.
I support the proposal of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), and ask for an independent judgment on this issue. The trouble is that, possibly through politics, we have got ourselves into a position in which a new aircraft cannot proceed unless it is backed either by B.E.A. or B.O.A.C. What does that mean in concrete terms? It means that an aircraft will find favour and proceed through development to production only if Sir Miles Thomas and his advisers happen to favour it. Sir Miles Thomas and his advisers are only human; they have made mistakes in the past, and it is quite possible that they are making another mistake this time. It seems to me eminently sensible to have 687 an independent judgment upon this issue, and I ask the Minister to think most seriously whether it would not be wise, at this stage, to bring in an independent judge to state whether the V.C.7—the civil version of the Vickers V-1000—is worth proceeding with.
I would only add that the company concerned has a great deal of work. It has the various versions of the Viscount, with which it has done magnificent work, and—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Barber.]
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I am absolutely convinced that when the Vanguard arrives it will be as good as its predecessor. I hope that this company, in its justifiable pride and ambition, does not take on too much, lest other aircraft, on which we rely on the short-haul routes, will fall behind in the world's race.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
The issue of this debate is perhaps one of the most important for the British aircraft industry. During the last ten years we have been inclined to do far too much. Even approaching supersonic speeds we are faced with a great many technical troubles. We have failed to deliver aircraft to the operating companies because we have attempted to do too many things.
I have no means of judging whether the decision to drop the V-1000 is correct, in the interests of the taxpayer and of the aircraft manufacturing industry, but it is clear that we must drop some projects if we are to attain an efficient industry. The position of this industry is extraordinary. It acts as a vacuum, sucking in labour from every industry around it. It employs them at an efficiency far below the general level of the British engineering industry, involving a great waste of manpower and skill. At this time we cannot afford, because of our balance of payments difficulties, to use our experienced and highly-skilled labour inefficiently. I do not think that I am being harsh and unfair.
I urge my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to try to satisfy the House 688 that the dropping of the V-1000 project was best in the national interest, so that the industry may have less to do and may do that less more efficiently.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply (Mr. F. J. Erroll)
In the course of an interesting debate we have heard, from the closely knit arguments, something of the nature of the problems which my right hon. Friend had to consider and reach a decision upon, when considering this particular aircraft, and, indeed, other aircraft. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) said that he was unhappy about the decision to cancel the V-1000 aircraft project. Sitting immediately behind him is my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) who, broadly, supported the decision. Both my hon. Friends have considerable expert knowledge and their arguments are based on a sound appreciation of the facts as known to them. I only mention that to show how complicated and difficult the issues can be.
I should like, first, to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) for his courtesy in giving me some indication of the lines of his speech so that I could, as far as possible, reply to the points he proposed to raise. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin), and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) will forgive me if I do not follow them in their rather wider excursion into the field of aircraft manufacture and financing, since these are not matters to which I expected to have to reply tonight.
I want to make clear from the very beginning the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North, namely, that the House has really been considering two separate aircraft—a military transport called the V-1000, and the civil aircraft to be developed from it called the civil version of the V-1000, or the V.C.7. My right hon. Friend decided to cancel the order for the military transport only after the most careful and anxious consideration and discussion with all concerned, including, of course, the company—Messrs. Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd.—who have co-operated fully in helping my right hon. Friend's advisers at all 689 stages. I should mention that the matter of the Treasury which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield raised, while, of course, in the mind of my right hon. Friend, was not one of the predominating factors in arriving at the decision.
Naturally, it is a disappointment to have to cancel a project before the prototype has flown. Engineers and design teams have, understandably, a very keen desire to see their efforts brought to a successful conclusion. In this case, however, a full and impartial assessment of the facts made cancellation the only possible course. Reference has been made to an independent inquiry. At first sight, that would seem to be an attractive proposal, but I can assure my hon. Friends who put forward that suggestion that, on the facts, an independent inquiry could not arrive at any different conclusion. It is the facts which my right hon. Friend has examined, and it is on the facts that he has arrived at his decision. I do not think that those facts are really in dispute.
From a mass of technical and other detail—with which I do not propose to burden the House tonight—three main facts emerge as decisive. The first is that the military aircraft could not meet the full specification in time. The second is, as an alternative, that it might just have met the full specification, but several years late. The third main fact is that the long-range Britannia has gone forward well, and, although not meeting the original military specification, it can be made available earlier, which is an important point.
§ Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing
Is my hon. Friend quite confident that there will not be any trouble with the 755 engine which is required to power the long-range Britannia or its successor—that the two Bristol engines which are required to power the long-range Britannia, the protos for the 755, will proceed without trouble?
§ Mr. Erroll
I think it is very difficult to be quite confident about the successful development of any engine. One can have reasonable confidence and one hopes that the experience which the manufacturer has gained will enable a successful engine to be produced. I should be glad to look into that matter 690 more carefully and inform my hon. Friend, but I can say no more than that at the moment.
Turning to the civil version, the V.C.7, I must explain to the House that this aircraft exists only on paper. The Ministry of Supply has never placed a development contract for this civil version. Even if a civil version were to be developed, it could not be ready for operation before 1960. Here again, without going into too much detail, I must point out that the civil version would have been substantially different in several important design features from the military prototype.
It was hoped, however, in the original conception, that the development and testing of the military version would reduce the time required to test and prove many of the features in the civil version. Without the military version to precede it, the civil version would absorb a correspondingly greater time in developing, testing and proving. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield said that the V.C.7 could be two years ahead. Without the military version to precede it, I think that would be most unlikely.
With no customer for the V-1000, my right hon. Friend had to consider the future of the projected civil version. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South made an important point when he referred to the export potential—and, of course, that is a very live factor. The industry has a good record in post-war exports and one naturally had hoped that such a civil version could add still further to our export trade.
Nevertheless, we must consider the civil version not only for export but for use by a home operator. The company itself has said that it could not successfully introduce an aircraft of this size in the absence of a home operator with whom it could collaborate in eliminating the inevitable teething troubles and other difficulties which unavoidably appear when a new design of aircraft is put into service.
The company—Vickers-Armstrongs—has had considerable experience, of course, of the value of a home operator since British European Airways provided this vital element in the successful development of the Viscount. The only possible home operator for the civil version was B.O.A.C., and B.O.A.C. decided that, in fact, it could not place an order for the 691 V.C.7 for a number of reasons which I will give the House in a moment.
Here, I should like to deal with an important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South, who suggested that Qantas or South African Airways, or some other Commonwealth operator, could fulfil that rôle. I am assured that that would not be practicable, because by a home operator is meant an operator whose main base is in the United Kingdom, who would return the aircraft to the United Kingdom for servicing and maintenance and who would thereby be able to keep in close touch with the manufacturer.
§ Mr. P. Williams
I am not concerned with the example of Qantas and South African Airways so much on this question as with ensuring that we should see whether we can get co-operation with Commonwealth operators at the design stage in future aircraft.
§ Mr. Erroll
I will try to deal with that point later in my remarks.
The fact remains that not only has there been no home operator for the V.C.7, but there has not been any particular foreign interest in purchasing that aircraft, for the very good reason that they would not consider doing so unless a home operator had shown a prior interest. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield referred to interest taken by T.C.A., but I am informed that latterly T.C.A. has withdrawn its interest, although it did express interest earlier.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
Only yesterday I was informed by a head man of Vickers that had V-1000 gone ahead Trans-Canadian Airways would have gone ahead and possibly K.L.M. as well.
§ Mr. Erroll
That may be so, but without a home operator they withdrew their interest. That is the dilemma, that without a home operator it is not possible to develop an aircraft of this size and so interest would-be foreign customers.
I now want to turn to some of the reasons why B.O.A.C. did not feel it could proceed with the purchase of the V.C.7. B.O.A.C. already has large outstanding orders and feels unable to commit itself to spending more money on V.C/'s for delivery in 1960. My hon. 692 and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield said that he would not be surprised if B.O.A.C. came along with a demand for dollars in 1960 with which to buy the D.C.8—
§ Mr. Erroll
—or, as my hon. and gallant Friend suggests, before then. It would seem at present that that is extremely unlikely because the capital resources of B.O.A.C. are already heavily committed to the purchase of British aircraft.
It is a very striking fact that B.O.A.C. is at present determined to buy British and to fly British and is committed up to the hilt in that wholly desirable policy. It is satisfied that it can hold its own commercially on the North Atlantic route until well into the 1960s with the Comet IV and the long-range Britannia. B.O.A.C. places great emphasis on the superior economy of turbine-propelled aircraft compared with jets. It does not feel that an aircraft capable of flying non-stop from London to New York will seriously damage British air traffic in the early years of the next decade.
Moreover, without the support of a B.O.A.C. order or R.A.F. demand for the military version, there is very little likelihood of any other foreign customer buying the V.C.7. So, with the powerful reasons put forward by B.O.A.C. and the absence of a likely foreign customer, in such circumstances, the Ministry of Supply cannot give any support to the development of this aircraft. The House should not accept the argument that Britain will have no first-class aircraft capable of carrying passengers across the Atlantic in 1958 to 1960, which is an argument that has been much put about in the Press as well as elsewhere. We shall have the Comet IV, which will need to make one stop and the Britannia 300 long-range which will cross the Atlantic without refuelling.
I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South that those two fine aircraft are surely a sufficient answer to his point, that we cannot hope to compete in the supersonic era if we do not do so now. We are competing now, and competing very successfully, with these aircraft which are building or in the course of development.
693 Another important point is economy of operation, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North has referred. The cost of the Britannia per passenger mile will, so far as we can estimate, be considerably less than for the American Boeing 707 or for the Douglas D.C.8. I should mention that these two American aircraft have still to be proved on Transatlantic flight. The first-class traffic is likely to be quite small across the Atlantic compared with the much larger tourist-class traffic. For this latter traffic, the Britannia has plenty of future work to do, and in the opinion of B.O.A.C. it will be extremely remunerative work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South referred also to the resources of the British aircraft industry. I must ask him, and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), to distinguish between productive capacity and design and development resources. It is the design and development resources which are strained at the moment—strained, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle might say, with too many projects; but I do not think that that is the case now. It might have been so in the past, but the number of projects now is more in line with the design and development resources of the industry. I am very glad indeed to have confirmation of this from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield.
I was sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle went on to make strictures about the aircraft industry, which I do not think are altogether borne out by the facts. He referred to an industry which was inefficient and was extravagant in its use of labour, and he made various other points. It may appear to be lavish in its use of labour to a person who does not fully appreciate how important it is to make sure that the aircraft are absolutely correctly constructed; for there is no room for error in such an important field of manufacture.
If we want to see whether the industry is efficient, we have only to look at its export record since the war. If it was a very inefficient industry, it could hardly have such a striking export record as it possesses. I can make only a brief reply on such a wide issue. Perhaps my hon. Friend will secure an Adjournment debate on the efficiency of the industry, when I 694 will do my best to deal with the points which, I know, he sincerely raises.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I do not want to debate the issue at this juncture, but surely my hon. Friend appreciates that when an industry is dependent to such a material extent on Government subvention, efficiency in the sense that other industries know it can hardly be expected to exist.
§ Mr. Erroll
That is precisely the kind of point I should like to deal with in another Adjournment debate. I could answer it fully, and, I think, to the complete satisfaction of my hon. Friend.
I appreciate very much what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield said about my rather hasty reply to his recent supplementary question. We are old friends. I was unnecessarily and unreasonably sharp on Monday afternoon, because I was thinking that if there was a possibility of improvement it could be allowed to come from the person who put the supplementary question. My hon. and gallant Friend and I have discussed the matter since and I have learnt a good deal from what he has told me. I am sure he will allow me to assure the House that I have benefited greatly from the opportunity of further words with him. We remain the close friends that we have always been, despite the attempts of those whom I would call my hon. Friends on the other side of the House to make far more of this matter than ever was intended.
§ Mr. Erroll
I am running short of time and hope that the hon. Member will not mind if I do not give way.
A number of my hon. Friends referred to the resources of the aircraft industry. It is the design and development resources of the industry which are strained at the moment. Military requirements are very heavy, and virtually all available design resources are fully employed. The development and production cycle for a large new aircraft is now so long—perhaps, eight years—that there is always a risk of working on an aircraft which is out of date by the time it is flying.
We have every hope of challenging our formidable American competitors with the next generation of British aircraft. 695 As my right hon. Friend has said, discussions are at present proceeding with airline operators on the sort of specification to which these aircraft should be designed. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South has suggested that we are to be chiselled out of manufacturing in the supersonic era. I can assure him that we are certainly not going to be chiselled out of our fine position in the design and development of aircraft. We are now looking ahead. I hope that the House will be patient with me when I say that I cannot say more just now.
696 I do not believe that our competitive position in the intervening period will be disastrously weakened by the absence of the V-1000 or its civil version, as has been suggested by so many critics. I do not think that that will be so. For the reasons which I have given, the withdrawal of financial support for the V-1000 became inevitable, but, as I have endeavoured to show, this is by no means the end of the story.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Ten o'clock.