In the period 1959 to 1963, total exports of aircraft, aero-engines, guided weapons and parts of these equipments, together with complete electronic equipments, were valued at £840 million, or an annual average of £168 million. During this period, exports of aero-engines and parts of aircraft and engines slowed a substantial rise.
Exports of complete electronic equipments have increased each year since 1960. It is estimated that in 1964, total exports will maintain the 1959–63 average, but next year should see a substantial increase, as large export orders for the latest: types of aircraft and guided weapons are then programmed for delivery.
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that this is a very fine achievement by the British Aircraft industry, and does he think that those figures could be sustained if our aircraft industry were nationalised? Further, what steps are the Government taking to deal with American competition in the N.A.T.O. countries, where more orders should be forthcoming?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that this is a creditable achievement. I think that it gives the lie to the persistent efforts of some hon. Members opposite to "knock" the efforts of tie British aircraft industry. We are doing our very best in N.A.T.O. and outside to support and encourage the export of British equipments. We face very serious competition, particularly from the United States We are doing our best to meet it, and meet it on the same terms
Can the Minister say who are the "hon Members opposite" who have been trying to "knock" the aircraft industry? Would he agree that in the years concerned in this Question there has been a rather disappointing response in the export of airframes—that, indeed, we owe a great deal to the export of aero engines and pay tribute to the firms concerned, but that if this complacent attitude towards airframes is to be adopted, when, in fact, exports are not increasing as they should, we cannot expect to get an adequate return on the great public expense incurred? As to nationalisation, to which the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) referred, perhaps the Minister can tell him that 75 per cent of the French aircraft industry, which has a far better export record than we have, is nationalised?
Am I to interpret the last part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question as an argument in favour of nationalisation? If so, I am grateful to him, and we shall proceed on the assumption that that is what he is maintaining. When the hon. Gentleman asks who has been "knocking" the industry, I would say that the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) himself has been fairly prominent in doing this, and even more prominent—though he is not here at the moment, and I have not been able to give him notice that I would mention this—is the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who never stops knocking the TSR2 and every other serious project on which we embark. It would not, I think, be difficult to find a list of substantial quotations from other hon. Members opposite. The right hon Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition himself has probably prejudiced the export of a substantial amount of equipment, particularly in regard to the Buccaneer aeroplane.
Does the Minister realise that there is a great difference between criticising, as is our right and duty, doubtful aspects of Government policy and being accused of "knocking" the industry? Is he aware that if he talks to any leading manufacturer in the industry he will find that he himself is the man whom they regard as the one who has done the most damage?
I am in pretty regular contact with the leaders of the industry. It is possible that they are very diplomatic because they are sure that we are going to win the next election, but they certainly do not speak in the kind of terms which the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has suggested. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there could be and should be a difference between legitimate criticism and knocking, but I fail to notice the distinction in the spokesmen of the party opposite.