Aerospace Production Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th July 1978.

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Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Christchurch and Lymington 12:00 am, 10th July 1978

I, too, begin by thanking the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker) for his choice of subject and congratulating him on his good fortune in being able to give us the opportunity to talk about the future of the aerospace industry.

We have already seen this afternoon that many of the decisions which face the Government are not only difficult but can be reached across party lines, if there be any party lines in these matters. I agree with the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) in having serious reservations about the HS146 project. It is now many years out of date, and it would be idle to deny that the apparent unanimity of view within the board of British Aerospace about it is matched right the way down the line by those within the corporation who will be responsible for the day-to-day decisions and for building the plane. There are people within British Aerospace who have grave doubts about the project.

The hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) was rather scathing about the role of Sir Arnold Hall. His decision in 1974 on the HS146 may have been influenced, as I am sure it was to a degree, by the possibility of the future nationalisation of the industry. It was also influenced by the oil crisis. Now it is a decision which is four or five years out of date. Going back to an old project of that kind would cause many people to wonder and worry whether the Government, if they took the decision, were taking one that was strictly "commercial"—the word used in the motion.

In a short speech, one cannot deal m great detail with every possibility and prospect for the future of the British Aerospace industry, but some things are clear. The industry is a storehouse for the skill and ingenuity for which this country has always been renowned, but many skilled workers—and not only in the aerospace industry—are sullen and resentful over the way in which they have suffered under the Government's incomes policies. We have seen this in the motor industry and in many other industries. Therefore, the Government have a double duty, not only to the aerospace industry and to those who work in it but in the wider sphere, to those who earn their living by their skill, to see that a viable aerospace industry, with a design capacity, is retained for this country.

We know that we can no longer go it alone on any major new project. Therefore, the question is not "Do we need partners?" but "Who shall our partners be?" I am glad that tonight I think I have detected amongst hon. Members who have spoken the realisation that we are not faced with a simple choice between America and Europe. There is a good possibility of the British aerospace industry's becoming involved in two new projects. One could be a form of collaboration with Europe and one with the United States.

My view on co-operation with the Amercians is that co-operation with Boeing is rather like a mouse trying to co-operate with a cat. Partnership under those circumstances is extremely difficult. I suspect that the idea of Boeing is little more than, first, to pay lip service to the need to placate the British Government and British Aerospace in order to obtain an order from British Airways and, secondly, to further Boeing's long-term aims of destroying the independent design capability of the British areospace industry.

On that basis, Boeing has certainly found some remarkable and consistent allies within British Airways over the years. The hon. Member for Derby, North referred to that, and the hon. Member for Kingswood referred to the comments from British Airways. I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren) that when he and I first entered the House in 1970 the first public comment that I think either of us made was a joint comment addressed to Mr. Keith Stainton, who had produced a violently anti-Concorde statement.