asked the Minister of Supply, in view of the general uncertainty within the aircraft construction industry following the reduction of military contracts and the termination of development work, and the doubt about the present structure of the industry being suitable for the maximum development of the civil aircraft market, what measures he proposes to take to strengthen and stabilise the industry.
The aircraft industry faces a difficult and challenging period. On the one hand, the reduction in the demands for military aircraft since the height of the rearmament programme has been substantial. On the other hand, the volume of production of civil aircraft during the next few years depends on the success of the manufacturers in selling the aircraft which are at present in course of production or development; and while I am optimistic of their success, it is unlikely that any increase in civil production will wholly offset the decline in military production.
An inter-departmental examination of the problems involved in this transition, including the future of Government policy on aeronautical research, is now being made. The Transport Aircraft Requirements Committee, which keeps under constant review all possible outlets for British transport aircraft, is also in present circumstances inviting the Society of British Aircraft Constructors into its discussions.
Lastly, it is desirable that the industry should reshape itself into stronger units. I have accordingly intimated to the industry that in placing orders for further requirements the Government will be influenced not only by the quality of design but also by the resources, technical and financial, available to complete the project quickly and successfully; and that, in so far as these criteria are not met in isolation, the Government will require the chosen contractor to work in association with one or more other contractors.
I thank the Minister for that reply, which does something to offset the impression he has given in recent replies that he has washed his hands of this industry and is not really interested in its problems. I should like to ask him two questions. First, does he think that this negative approach to the industry, by withholding orders from certain firms, is a good enough method of planning? Secondly, is he satisfied that the inter-Departmental inquiry is on a high enough level? Would it not be better to get some outside people of the highest character to look into the affairs of this industry, as the people he is now getting are those who have been largely responsible for its present position?
I do not wish to give the impression of any ill-feeling, but I must say that I highly resent any suggestion that I have been washing my hands of this business. This is a highly important matter, and I think that scarcely anybody is more conscious of the importance of this on the future of the country than I am.
On the question of withholding orders, it is not a case of deliberately withholding them; there has been a decline in the total of military ordering. That is the essence of the problem. With regard to the second point, concerning whether I was satisfied that the inter-Departmental investigation was on a high enough level, the answer is, "Yes, I am". As for the suggestion that other outside people might be brought into it. I suggest that the important thing here is a speedy decision, and the wider these inquiries are made the less likely speedy decisions become.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour keeps on saying that whenever there is threatened redundancy the trade unions ought to be brought into consultation at the earliest possible moment? Is he aware that the aircraft manufacturers have been talking for a long time about joint arrangements for running down the industry, without having said anything to any trade union? Does he know that in one case a large group of technologists at one aircraft factory first learned of their redundancy through a B.B.C. news bulletin and not through their employers? Will he tell the S.B.A.C. that this idiotic behaviour, which is contrary to Government policy and commonsense, ought to cease at once?
May we turn to another aspect of this important question? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the substantial reduction in military contracts, not only in regard to aircraft contracts but contracts for another Service Department, has had any reaction upon the strength and personnel of his Department? In view of this substantial reduction—and I understand that more is contemplated—is it not about time that this expensive and useless Department of the Ministry of Supply was abolished?
I am well aware of the views of the right hon. Gentleman on this question. I can only say that I profoundly disagree with him. I would ask him to think twice before he suggests disbanding a highly important scientific organisation at this moment of time and in this age.