Technology

Part of Orders of the Day — Queen's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th November 1964.

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Photo of Mr Edward Bishop Mr Edward Bishop , Newark 12:00 am, 5th November 1964

This is, I suppose, a maiden speech, although I think that on this occasion one may not claim the necessary indulgence because I want to make some observations which may or may not be challenged. I have the honour to be the Member for Newark, and I am sure many Members remember the work done by my predecessor, Mr. George Deer, who was well respected and loved as a Member of this House for many years. He made a notable contribution not only to the country through his work here but also to the constituency. I am also aware that I follow in the steps of several distinguished Members for the constituency, not forgetting William Ewart Gladstone, four times Prime Minister of this country.

This situation of having to make a maiden speech is always difficult for some people, in so far as we are told that such a speech should be brief and non-controversial. Indeed, if one wishes to be non-controversial it is essential sometimes to be very brief, but in so far as we seek to make changes one sometimes has to be controversial, since controversy is necessary for change and controversy helps us towards progressive policies through which we make changes.

The constituency which I represent covers an area of 300 square miles in Nottinghamshire, between Lincoln and Nottingham itself. It is a constituency with many interests, including mining, and it is one of the few constituencies with oil wells. Of course, we have the engineering industry of Newark-on-Trent itself, and we have the agricultural industry, too. This afternoon we have been debating technology and changes which technology will bring about, and in all those important industries, as a result of science and technology, many changes are being or will be made, as they have been made in the mining industry. Many of them are not easily accepted by the miners because of the fears which they have because of their memories of the years between the wars but, nevertheless, they have to accept that progress is necessary; and equally in farming also there are changes to ensure intensive husbandry. There, too, as in other industries, we have to get to know the facts of technological change and to know what changes are necessary.

The debate this afternoon about technology has been most concerned with the Concord. I am pleased to have been called to speak in this debate today because I have been engaged in the aircraft industry, on the design side, for most of my working life, and I think I can say that I know a little about it. I can also speak from some experience of the fears which are evident in the industry today.

Of the Concord, one can say that there are reasons in favour of cancelling the Concord; on the other hand, of course, there are very good reasons why we should be very reluctant to do so. When one speaks of the reasons which may be anticipated for cancelling it one can say that this enterprise was started some time ago in an air of controversy, for there was some doubt, I believe, at that time, about Treasury consent having been given to the project and the arrangements made with the French. I believe there was some doubt about any escape clauses in the agreement. I myself was amongst some who felt that we should want to be sure about this, so far as the French were concerned, anticipating that we should also want to know how we should be placed in the event of our wanting to get out of the deal.

The other point in favour of cancellation, or at least one which justifies it to some extent, is the kind of situation which faces all aircraft and other projects where immense costs are involved. We all know that when projects start estimates are produced, but quite often it is found that the final costs are very much greater than they were expected to be. Indeed, we know of four missile projects where the original estimates were for about £20 million, but the total cost at the end was about £170 million.

We all realise, too, that after the design stage costs rise quite enormously. In this project the design side is nearly complete, or at least it is in an advanced stage, and indeed some of the practical work is about to commence. Therefore, if it is expected that there will be any variation of policy, now is possibly the best time to consider it, because estimates have been given for the completion of this project which show that the costs in the end may treble or go even higher.

There have also been doubts about the operating costs, and there have been suggestions that subsidies will be necessary when the plane is operated. Here we meet the dilemma which has been facing us not only in the aircraft industry, but in many other industries. On many occasions we have been told that industry must pay its way. Indeed, that is some reason for the Beeching Plan which we felt to be ill-conceived because it ignored the need for an integrated transport system.

If one is going to take everything at its economic value from the point of view of costs, and have regard only for the balance sheet, one has to ignore other important issues which are concerned with the investment of men's lives in industry, and with other aspects which are even more important to industry as a whole and to our country in general.

We have to consider also on this occasion the need to keep Concord, and there may be various reasons which would justify that course of action. First, we have to realise that much of the preparatory work has been done and that Britain has gone into the lead on this work. I think that we can claim to be well ahead of the Americans. If we were to curtail the project at this stage, there is a danger that the Americans might benefit by it.

We also believe that in an industry such as the aircraft industry, where immense capital costs are involved and where the work, design and inventive skill of about 500,000 people are concerned, we have to ensure that the industry is broadly based. In that respect there is some good ground for saying that we must tie up our affairs in the industry with the European countries, the French in particular on this occasion, to compete with the United States.

The United States aircraft industry is in a very strong position compared with ours. First, we are a country with limited resources and we have to make the best use of what we have. In this connection the inventiveness, the skill, the knowledge and the experience of our technicians and design teams should help to keep us in the lead.

At the same time, we face grave competition from America, because, as the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said, they have a lead in that they can convert to civil use some of the military projects which give them a lead and thus help to cut their costs. Also, they have a far greater market for the sale of their aircraft when they are produced than we have in our country.

I believe that we cannot consider only the financial return on aircraft. I believe, as several hon. Members have said, that it is essential to regard the aircraft industry as one way of keeping Britain in the lead technologically, scientifically, industrially, and in other ways, too. I believe that one of the big question marks which will lie over the industry in future if the project is cancelled is the query of what will be done with the design teams and the people working in the industry. It is manifest that one cannot cancel a project of this sort and magnitude without creating grave fears about insecurity, redundancy and unemployment.

We have to make sure that if this project is cancelled or varied in any way there is some safeguard for those whose lives have been tied up in the industry. We want to keep these people in this country, because we shall have need of them even more in the future than we have had in the past. We want to make sure that if there is no immediate work available for them, the safeguards are adequate for redundancy, for retraining and for adaptation in other ways. Those are some of the points with which the Minister will undoubtedly deal when he makes his statement. There is no indication as yet that any decision has been taken on this project, although there are fears in this direction.

We are now in a technological age. Many people are saying that we are now starting on the scientific age, but in fact we have to appreciate that we have been in this age for a long time. I believe that it is the failure to accept this, and the failure to recognise the changing circumstances facing our country today, which have precipitated some of the problems facing us now. We are in an age of bewildering and great change, when great progress is being made in all directions, and we have to make sure that we can adapt our ways to avoid hardship and to make sure that benefits come to the whole nation.

I propose now to say a few words about the aircraft industry which is of such strategic importance to our country. First, this position has now come about—so many people claim—because we have inherited an economic crisis. We have to face that as the justification for a review at this time. It is manifest that on this occasion a review is necessary of all economic projects, and the aircraft industry, being a spending industry, employing great resources of capital, manpower, and materials, is an industry which must be reviewed from that basis.

I am not sure to what extent any curtailment of existing projects will help our balance of payments crisis. I am not sure to what extent foreign currency is involved. We have inherited a programme, and we have many existing projects. Some were started for good reasons, some for other reasons, and we have to appreciate that a review is necessary at this time. I believe that it is also true to suggest that if the party opposite was in power it may well be in the same position as we are as the Government.

We have to realise, too, that much research has been financed by the taxpayer, that costs rise enormously from time to time and that, eventually, the operating costs of an aircraft may well be uneconomic. A feature of the scientific and technological revolution is that progress can be so great that the plans that we have for aircraft—performance figures, and so on—can be out of date by the time the aircraft is off the drawing board.

Those are some of the problems of this industry, and we have to adapt ourselves to them. Thus, to anticipate the future, it is necessary to make reviews from time to time, but I suggest that these reviews should be made in good time to avoid any undue dislocation of the industry and the lives of those engaged in it.

We want to make sure that in future the aircraft industry is not hampered by the "stop-go-stop" methods of the past and that at all times we have real planning and a desire to see the achievement of projects which have been started. I believe that many in the industry, whether at the lower level of those employed or in management in charge of the industry, want to ensure that they can look forward to the time when projects are started and completed without undue dislocation. I think that those are matters of the utmost importance.

This country has the resources of manpower, inventiveness and genius to keep us ahead of our competitors in any part of the world. Our people need only the opportunities to use their inventiveness to the full. We are a country with limited resources, and I believe that the aircraft industry, by importing very limited amounts of raw materials and by fashioning them with our skill, inventiveness and experience, can export more than any other industry, taking value per ton. Despite the advantages which are obvious to American industry, if we are given the right help I think that we can compete on equal terms.

It is therefore absolutely essential to consider matters from the aspect in this technological and scientific age. We must realise that we need to spend more than we are spending today on research and development. I believe that at present about 60 per cent. of the money spent on research and development in this country comes from the taxpayers' purse. I would like to make sure that this money is well spent. Wherever possible private enterprise should be able to supply the goods that we all need. At the same time, if we have to finance these industries quite heavily by subsidies or by money spent on national research, we must make sure that there is accountability and stewardship, so that the situation which faced us with the Ferranti episode may be avoided in the future. These are some of the most important points to be made in this debate on the future of British technology and science.

We must also make sure that we have adequate facilities for training our people and that, where necessary, those made redundant in one area can be moved with as little trouble as possible to new areas, with the help of transport, houses and rehabilitation schemes. We must also make sure that our educational system is adapted to the changing circumstances.

Among the proposals in the Gracious Speech I was pleased to see mention of disarmament. Many of us feel that much money could be saved by a reduction in armaments, provided adequate safeguards can be arrived at with other nations, so that we could spend mare money on peaceful purposes. This is essential in an age when more and more money must be spent and more resources made available.

We must also look to our own strength, economically and industrially, in order that, being strong ourselves, we can lend a hand to under-developed nations by giving them technological advice and creating for them higher levels of prosperity. We must also review some of our overseas commitments in order to leave ourselves with greater resources.

The Gracious Speech is more than a programme of Government activity, or an outline of Government policy for the future. In many ways it shows a new attitude and outlook. As we have said on many occasions, what really matters is not what we have so much as what we are. We believe that the real reward of toil and service is not what we get for it but what we become by it, and I believe that in the future we must aim not at doing things for people so much as working with people. I believe that in the future we shall not only make realities of some of our election promises to give things to people but will also take the opportunity of saying to them, "We want to create the kind of environment in which people of all sorts can make their contribution to the community in which they live." It is on those grounds that I am proud to be a member of the Administration at this time and to play my part, with others, in helping our country to peace and prosperity.