Actions of Her Majesty's Government

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd February 1965.

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Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire 12:00 am, 2nd February 1965

The right hon. Gentleman will have his chance to speak, but I do not wonder that the Patronage Secretary was getting a little agitated, because he will have to arrange the demise when it comes.

The results of the Government's action will be felt in future, and for the rest of this year still further, because the right hon. Gentleman the First Secretary of State, in particular, must know that firm after firm—and local authorities, too—have had their plans for development held up. Already the country is saddled with increased debt, and if we are to avoid unemployment in the autumn—and every one of us in the House wants to do that—it will not be because of the Government's actions, but in spite of them.

This adverse position has been immensely aggravated by the Government's habit, apparently incurable, of announcing in principle—if that is the right word—what they want to do, without stopping to examine whether it is possible. They have done this time and again during the last 100 days. The first example I would give is that of the Concord. They first christened it a prestige programme. In doing so, and in the way they handled the matter, they laid themselves open to the accusation by a partner and ally of bad faith and breach of contract.

The Concord is saved, and the programme goes forward—at least, I assume that it does—but that is not because of the Government, but in spite of them and, in particular, because my right hon. and hon Friends insisted that this was not a prestige project but one that involved our aviation industry. I say that the whole of this operation on the Concord, as conducted by the Government, was unnecessary, and has been highly damaging to Britain.

The second example I would give is the aircraft industry. I think that the Prime Minister is making the aircraft industry a feature of his speech this afternoon—for transparent reasons. The Government are, of course, right to keep the development of these large aviation and aircraft programmes under constant review—no one would complain about that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is the method of handling all these matters that is so much at fault, and I want to make some very serious points to the right hon. Gentleman on our aviation and aircraft development.

Nobody has been pressing the Prime Minister to make announcements about this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]In fact, it is well within the recollection of the House that early in this Parliament I begged him not to make hasty judgments on these matters of defence and security. Indeed, I pressed him to take time. Yet, within a few weeks of the Government's coming into power, the rumours began to leak out in Government circles, and became more and more circumstantial, that this or that aircraft under development was to be scrapped.

Then we were told that the Plowden Committee was being set up to consider the future structure and rôle of the aircraft industry in Britain. The rumours multiplied until it was clear—and this was apparent to the workers in the factories—that the Government were preparing to scrap large parts of the aircraft development and production programme to an extent that would fundamentally affect the structure of the industry. This was the point at which everyone, including those in the factories, was alerted to the real danger. It was obvious that they were doing this before they had decided whether it was Government policy to sustain an aircraft industry in Britain and on what scale.

The reason why it is so vital to take the big decision first is that it is so very easy to create a situation in which design teams and technicians are disbanded because there is nothing worth while left for them to do. If that happens the country will be left without the ability to develop sophisticated aircraft of this kind at all. There would then be no alternative—let us face this—but to buy American at America's prices. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I am coming to the reason if hon. Members will keep quiet for a moment.

It is necessary sometimes, of course, if the price is right and it fulfils a need, to buy American aircraft, but there is all the difference in the world—I hope that hon. Members who interrupted will understand this—between that situation and one in which there is an American monopoly and nothing else. Nothing could be more expensive for this country than that.

We are a much smaller country and in that sense at a disadvantage with the United States both in the scale on which we can produce and the scale on which we can order the final product, but so, too, are France, Italy and Germany. The answer to this problem, I believe, is to exploit as far as we possibly can the joint development of aircraft and weapons in Europe with other Euporean countries. I can only say—and I believe that the Leader of the Liberal Party agrees with this part at least of what I am saying—that it is no preparation for future partnership with European countries, first, to throw away the asset of good will, which the Government did in the case of the Concord, and secondly, to abandon our ability to make a technical contribution through our design teams.

The Prime Minister has elected himself to announce the decisions, or some decisions, today in the middle of a Motion of censure debate. We shall, of course study his statement with the greatest care. I say to him now that it will clearly need a separate debate in which we can study these matters, and I hope very soon.

I make only two more points before I leave this question of aircraft and aircraft development and production. I hope that the Prime Minister will not be tempted to write down the aircraft and the weapons which are in service, or coming into service, as being obsolete or inadequate. The Lightnings, the Buccaneers in service, the VCIO in Transport Command, Blue Steel in Bomber Command and the new weapons of which the Prime Minister is aware, but which I shall not mention here—he knows that these are all of the highest quality. In addition, the TSR2, the P1154, the HS681 and the Belfasts will give the Royal Air Force a strength unexampled in its history.