Does not the Prime Minister realise that, whatever the Minister of Technology may have intended, passages in his speech were widely interpreted as yet another sign of the Government's hostility to the aircraft industry, and will he agree that, at a time when there is all too little mutual trust between the industry and the Government, it is up to Ministers to try to improve the situation and not to exacerbate it?
Nothing my right hon. Friend said was capable of having that interpretation put on it. He was referring to the activities of successive Ministers of Aviation over a period of years, not to activities of the aircraft industry. It will be generally agreed now that the aircraft industry is in a much healthier state, reducing its over-dependence on prestige projects which we cancelled two years ago, and the effect both on employment in the industry and on exports is exactly the opposite of what hon. Members opposite said it would be.
Will my right hon. Friend agree that the aircraft industry has been pampered for rather too long, that this industry like all others must learn to pay its way, and the more firmly that message is brought home to it the better able it will be to meet the formidable competition abroad which is now building up?
My hon. Friend will be as glad as other hon. Members to recognise that the aircraft industry is making great steps towards that. For example, last year it had record exports. This is the sort of thing we want to see. We want to see less dependence on military contracts which, as we know not only from the recent one but from cases over the years, are subject to cancellation creating difficulty in the industry.
Does not the Prime Minister realise that the record exports made by the aircraft industry last year were entirely on projects started by the Conservative Government? How can it be appropriate for a Minister of the Crown to suggest to a great industry with that tremendous export record that the money for investment which led to those exports was obtained in ways which made the great train robbers look like schoolboys pinching pennies from a tin?
In view of the period of gestation of aircraft, under the previous Government and the present one, it would be surprising if exports last year were not mainly related to aircraft designed many years ago. What we have to consider is whether it is worthwhile to pump in so many thousands of millions of £s of Government money for a particular export record, however gratifying. We believe that the way in which the aircraft industry is now deployed will be better for exports and for employment.
As regards the second point made by the right hon. Gentleman, my right hon. Friend, when he used the phrase "robber barons" and made a comparison with hospital developments, was referring to the predatory characteristics of Conservative Ministers of Aviation. The right hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that the hospital building programme has increased by 70 per cent. since he was in office.