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Aviation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st November 1966.

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Photo of Mr Cranley Onslow Mr Cranley Onslow , Woking 12:00 am, 21st November 1966

Will the hon. Gentleman forgive me? I have only a few minutes left.

The main burden of the debate has been the attack on the tragic mishandling of the affairs of the British aerospace industry by the Government over the past two years, and it is because we believe this tragic mishandling to be so self-evident that we shall divide the House at the end of the debate. There is no time to go again over the whole dismal catalogue of muddle and mistake since October, 1964. Specific examples have been cited by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr), and also by my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Bedfordshire and Banbury (Mr. Marten). The particular criticism that my hon. Friend made of Government policy on space will, I hope, receive some answer.

To summarise, we attack the Government for decisions which were wrong in themselves, the cancellation decisions and the consequential commitments to American purchases, the near-cancellation of Concord, the cancellation of the B.O.A.C. Super VC10 order, the devaluation of the Saudi-Arabian order by its inclusion in the offset agreement, and so on. We attack them for their refusal to allow the Plowden Committee adequate time for its work—and I must say that I have not heard from the Minister of Aviation any convincing answer to the arguments put to him by my right hon. Friend.

We attack the Government for decisions taken in the wrong sequence, the announcement about the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft, which was declared to be the core of the British industry before there was any agreement with the French that it would, in fact, be built, and the announcement of the decision to disband the Ministry of Aviation before any final decision about what should take its place. The Prime Minister himself was once a civil servant, I believe. He must have known that if he took a decision of this kind the immediate reaction would be to set every civil servant defending his position and to make it impossible to get any policy decision out of the Whitehall machine.

We attack the Government for decisions which were gravely delayed or not taken at all. The orders for the P1127 were gravely delayed. Now we have a situation where, apparently, the negotiations on production contracts will go on at the same time as the negotiations for the forced merger of the industry. I do not believe that to be a very desirable situation.

We attack the Government for their delay in implementing the recommendations on the profit formula, because this is absolutely crucial to the industry, and it has been consistently ignored.

I think that we can also attack the Government for their defeatism. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury told the House on 5th August: In past years, a disproportionate share of the country's resources has been tied up in an industry which has been spiralling in its costs and has been suffering financial losses and falling exports."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th August, 1966; Vol. 733, c. 962.] We know much of the reason for the cost increases. We know that they have been largely due to the system of control.

But what about falling exports in 1966, when every other day the Government are boasting how high their exports are and are trying to get credit for that? It is a fundamental piece of defeatism to regard it as inevitable that the industry's exports will fall and to create a situation in which it is inevitable. The Minister was at Farnborough this year. Perhaps he would care to tell me what aircraft he saw flying there which will be earning hundreds of millions of pounds a year in exports for the British aircraft industry in 1970. The Britten-Norman Islander is a fine aircraft, but not in that class.

The Labour Party has always had a fundamental dislike and distrust of the aircraft industry. This was shown by the Minister of Defence in his reference to "overgrown and mentally retarded children". It was shown by the Minister's predecessor in the cynical and calculated way in which he set about dismembering the industry. With delight, he did it. He came in as the hired assassin, as the "Front Bench Bond", licensed to kill, and he did the job with such enthusiasm and skill that he earned himself the title not of 007, but 707, in recognition of his services to the American aircraft industry.

The cumulative effect of all this—the wrong decisions, the delayed decisions, the preoccupation with irrelevant dogma, the defeatism and the distrust on the Government's part—has been to create a continuing crisis of confidence in the industry's future. This has undermined sales prospects abroad. We all know how skilfully and insidiously the fears of potential customers for British aircraft have been exploited by our foreign competitors. We know, too, how grateful the Americans have been to this Government for this service rendered. The crisis of confidence has shaken the faith of Britain's prospective partners in Europe in the creation of a European aerospace industry. We know to what lengths the French have had to go to keep the Concord in being and it is not surprising if now they show signs of dragging their feet, in turn, over the future of the A.F.V.G.

Most serious of all, this crisis of confidence has had a disastrous effect upon the pride and self-respect of the men working at all levels in the industry.