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Ministry Of Supply

Volume 523: debated on Monday 1 February 1954

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Ordnance Factory Inspection (Inquiry Report)


asked the Minister of Supply whether he has yet received the report of the committee appointed by himself and the First Lord of the Admiralty to inquire into the duplication of inspection in Royal ordnance factories.

:Can the Minister say whether the committee has accepted the recommendation of the Select Committee on Estimates to abolish the duplication of inspections in Royal ordnance factories?

:The committee made a number of detailed recommendations designed to secure economy in the inspection staff, and, with very minor exceptions, these recommendations have been adopted. Its report does not reveal any actual duplication: that is to say, two people doing the same work in the same factory: but it shows that economies are possible, and account is being taken of the recommendations.

I do not think that this is the kind of report that should be published, although there is nothing very secret about it. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in this matter, and if he would like me to send him a summary of the action taken. I will gladly do so.

In view of the importance of the inspection of explosives for the Navy, will my right hon. Friend publish the report or make it available for those of us who take an interest in this matter?

Aircraft Industry (Machine Tools)


asked the Minister of Supply what steps he is taking to ensure the provision of large forging presses and the development of suitable machine tools for the aircraft industry.

The Ministry of Supply is constantly in touch with the aircraft constructors with regard to new production methods and the development of new plant. In view of the very high cost of these large forging presses, the possibility of Government assistance is being considered.

Has the Minister seen the report of the conference on aircraft production organised by the Institute of Production Engineers, at Southampton, and the remarks of Mr. Woodley, of Vickers Armstrong, about the inadequacy of the present arrangements for the development of machine tools for the aircraft industry? If so, will he consider using some of the vacant space at Woolwich Arsenal for their development instead of placing contracts with private industry?

I think that the last part of that question goes a little wide of the original Question. In general, I am well aware of the importance of these larger plants for production, but, on the other hand, we must bear in mind these heavy forging presses and ancilliary equipment cost about £10 million. We have also to consider other methods of achieving the same results; if we do not we are liable to get our fingers burned quite badly.

:Is the Minister not aware that practically the whole of the research and development by the aircraft industry is carried out on Government account? Is it not hard that the Government should also have to subsidise research and development for the manufacture of the machine tools which are to produce the aircraft?

Steel Plate (Production)


asked the Minister of Supply whether he is satisfied that existing capacity for the production of steel plate is adequate for the country's needs.

:Plate production in the United Kingdom increased by over 200,000 tons in 1953 and I expect some further increase this year. In the course of its study of the industry's development plans the Iron and Steel Board is considering what expansion of steel plate-making capacity is necessary to meet foreseeable demands.

Is it not a fact that in a situation in which we are still dependent on imports for some part of our supply of steel plates, the industry is showing reluctance to lay down another plate mill? Is this the way in which to make our balance of payments position more secure?

:You cannot erect this heavy steel plate plant overnight, as the hon. Member knows. There are a number of projects going forward which will take time to mature. With regard to being dependent on imports, he is probably aware that at the present time we are exporting more steel plates than we are importing.

:Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are now importing, at considerable expense, particular types of steel plate, particularly boiler plate? Is it not time that we found some way of expanding the production capacity of the firms concerned?

:If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the answer I gave, he would have heard that it was expanded last year. It is to expand further this year and the Iron and Steel Board is considering what further expansion is necessary. Meanwhile, I welcome the imports because they help to bridge the gap.

280 Rifle (Development Expenditure)


asked the Minister of Supply what expenditure has been incurred in the production and testing of the ·280 rifle.

:I regret that figures are not available. The ·280 rifle was developed, produced and tested at several establishments, together with various other weapon projects. It would be difficult to assess what proportion of the expenditure of these establishments was incurred in connection with this particular weapon. Nor would it be practicable to separate the cost of work on the ·280 rifle from the work on the later ·300 type.

Is it not a shocking thing that we are spending a great deal of time and money on producing the best rifle in the world only for it to be thrown overboard because of the Prime Minister's desire to have a rifle with a butt?

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to anticipate the debate which is about to take place. Whatever money may have been spent on development of the British version, there would, of course, be no economy in adopting it since the Belgian company does not intend to charge us any Royalty for the manufacturing rights of their rifle.

Belgian Fn Rifle


asked the Minister of Supply when it is proposed to produce the Belgian F.N. rifle in this country; and what orders have been placed for its purchase from Belgian sources.

It is still too early to give a precise answer to the first half of the hon. Member's Question. With regard to the second half, apart from a few samples, no orders have as yet been placed.

British Aero-Engines (United States Manufacture)


asked the Minister of Supply which types of British aeroplane engines are now being manufactured, under licence, in the United States of America; when the respective agreements were signed; and how many of each type of engine have so far been produced.

:Versions of the Tay and Sapphire aero-engines are now being manufactured under licence in the United States of America. The manufacturing licences were granted in 1947 and 1950, respectively. I cannot, of course, disclose production figures for American military engines.

:In view of the extraordinary effort and the huge sums of public money which went into the development of these engines, the details of which have been made known to our American competitors,is the right hon. Gentleman quite satisfied that these arrangements are working to the advantage of this country?

:The decisions on these two engines were made under the previous Government.

:Are the United States manufacturers of these engines charged a royalty in respect of licences?

I was not trying to lay blame on one Government or another. I asked a simple question, which is in the public interest, whether the right hon. Gentleman is quite satisfied that these arrangements are working out to the best advantage of this country?

I am quite sure that they are. There is a great deal of interchange of information and of development knowledge as between the Armed Forces of the United States and of the United Kingdom, and I am quite sure that it is to the mutual advantage of both countries that these arrangements should continue.

Aero-Engines (Research And Development Expenditure)


asked the Minister of Supply the total amount of money spent by his Department, since the war to the last convenient date, on research and development of aero-engines; and to what extent this money has been recovered by repayments after sales by manufacturers.

Almost all our expenditure on aero-engine development has been primarily for military purposes. Information cannot, therefore, be published. Until 1950, the amounts recovered from manufacturers in respect of the sales of engines were not kept separately. These repayments are at present running at the rate of about £1 million a year.

:Has the Minister seen the statement by the chairman of the biggest group of aircraft manufacturers, that we are not spending sufficient on research and development and that the Minister's Department is now actuated by timidity and complacency? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept these criticisms?

No, Sir. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the full answer which I gave on this subject last Monday to the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Donnelly). I will send the hon. Gentleman a copy.

:Would the Minister agree that the amount of public money which has been spent up to now has been very large indeed? Does he think that a return of £1 million a year is fair?

:The right hon. Gentleman evidently does not know what it is all about. I explained that this expenditure is almost entirely on military types. The return that we get is in the form of military aircraft for our Forces. It is purely a by-product ifwe get anything in the way of repayments in respect of engines developed for military purposes which are subsequently used for civil purposes and then sold abroad.

Piloted Supersonic Flight (Research)


asked the Minister of Supply what research is now being carried out, or is contemplated, in piloted super sonic flight.

A considerable programme of research into the problems of piloted supersonic flight is being undertaken and a number of different types of supersonic Service aircraft are in course of development. I am not, of course, free to give details.

Will the Minister make it clear: are we now engaged in research on piloted supersonic aircraft?