Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 648: debated on Friday 10 November 1961

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Friday, 10th November 1961

The House met at Eleven o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Orders Of The Day

Tanganyika Independence Money

Resolution reported,

That, for the purposes of any Act of this Session to make provision for, and in connection with, the attainment by Tanganyika of fully responsible status within the Commonwealth, it is expedient to authorise such increases in the sums that may be paid out of the Consolidated Fund, raised by borrowing or paid into the Exchequer under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, 1959, as may result from applying the provisions of section two of that Act as to the making of loans to an authority established for two or more colonies to the making of loans to an organisation established for the purpose of providing or administering services common to, or relating to matters of common interest to, Tanganyika and one or more territories which are colonies within the meaning of that Act.

Resolution agreed to.

Tanganyika Independence

Considered in Committee.

[Major Sir WILLIAM ANSTRUTHER-GRAY in the Chair]

Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.

Clause 4—(Property Vested In, And Grants To Tanganyika Agricultural Corporation, And Loans Under Colonial Development And Welfare Act, 1959)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

11.7 a.m.

When we have considered other Measures of this kind affecting other countries we have been concerned about the position of colonial development welfare funds as well as of the Colonial Development Corporation in territories like Tanganyika after they attain independence. I have no intention of reiterating what we have said from this side of the Committee, that it is a short-sighted policy to cut off help from these sources. That remains our view. It is a matter to which the Government should give consideration.

As we have understood it, the policy of Her Majesty's Government has been that where the Colonial Development Corporation has established undertakings in a territory when it was dependent and it thereafter becomes independent, the Corporation is entitled to continue to provide capital and resources for such an undertaking if it was established before the day of independence, but is not entitled to establish new undertakings after independence. I should like to know whether in Tanganyika, where the Colonial Development Corporation already has established undertakings, it will, as in the other countries which we have considered before, be entitled to continue to sustain them.

My second point concerns subsection (3) of the Clause and the position of the East African High Commission. I am glad that this has been sustained. I gathered from what the Minister said the other day that it is proposed to establish a new kind of body, perhaps under a new name. The other two territories—Kenya and Uganda—associated with Tanganyika in the High Commission are not yet independent, but are on the way towards independence. Until such time as all three countries become independent, and whilst, in the interim, the East African High Commission is maintained under its present or some other name, will colonial development and welfare grants be made to it?

I do not know whether the Under-Secretary can tell us at this stage what will be the position of the High Commission, under its present or some other name, when the other two countries become independent. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) said the other day, we are greatly encouraged to know that there is a considerable movement and desire inside these three countries when they have attained independence to work together.

All of us who are familiar with these countries know that having built at least a kind of foundation upon co-operative undertakings—the railways, airways, postal services and the rest—it would be desirable for them to continue to work together. Many people are of the view that the ultimate solution for all these great multi-racial communities of East and Central Africa may well lie in larger federation. In these days when everybody is talking about integration, economic integration and common markets and all the rest, I think that we should do everything we possibly can to encourage our friends in Africa to think, too, of large-scale economic integration whenever it is possible.

I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will feel disposed to say some more about this Clause and the questions I have asked, first, about C.D.W. and also the East African High Commission, or whatever its name may be in the future when the three territories become independent.

If I may briefly reply to the right hon. Gentleman, I would say that one of the main points of this Clause is to see that the unexpired portion of the grants which were made available by us in the past to the Tanganyika Agricultural Corporation will continue.

The second point which the right hon. Gentleman raised was the vexed question of C.D.C. activities after independence. This is a very wide issue, but in this instance it is of interest to note—although it is not, of course, in the Bill—that about £750,000 will be allowed for new development which the C.D.C. is looking at in Tanganyika. So, although I cannot meet the right hon. Gentleman's point in principle, I can, in this instance, meet it in practice, and I think that perhaps he will be happy, because this is a rather exceptional arrangement.

The next point that the right hon. Gentleman raised was the question of subsection (3). He interpreted that perfectly correctly, that is to say, it is to cover the period during which Tanganyika is independent but the other territories are not independent. This is an ingenious provision of what will be called shortly the East African Common Services Organisation, enabling the organisation to raise money. This new association will come into force, I hope, almost immediately after the independance of Tanganyika with the signature of the agreement by the three Governments concerned.

What will happen beyond that point it is, of course, difficult to say. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we have great hope that the East African territories will come together in some form of federation, but as we have said again and again, this must come from the people themselves. I do not like counting federations before they are hatched. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with that, but, as he says, this new organisation will make a good railway along which this great idea can run.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

11.14 a.m.

I do not think that we ought to let the Third Reading of the Bill go without reiterating what we said before. That is that we should send the Government and people of Tanganyika our very good wishes from the whole House. We shall be rejoicing with them in December when they gain independence.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will convey to the Secretary of State that all of us hope that Her Majesty's Government will think again about the plea that we have made to the Secretary of State to grant additional aid to Tanganyika to help her overcome the difficulties caused by the famine. I would say, for, I think, the whole House, that we should not stand on protocol, but make a real gesture to Tanganyika. I am sure that it is the unanimous wish of the whole House today that we send our good wishes to the people of Tanganyika and that we should do so in a tangible way.

11.15 a.m.

I will certainly report to my right hon. Friend what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I, too, would like to join with him and the whole House in sending out our good wishes to Tanganyika and our congratulations to all those concerned, perhaps especially our congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. This is a great day and we look forward eagerly to 9th December, 1961.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Southern Rhodesia (Constitution) Bill

Considered in Committee.

[Major Sir WILLIAM ANSTRUTHERGRAY in the Chair.]

Clause 1—(Power To Provide A New Constitution For Southern Rhodesia By Order In Council)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

11.17 a.m.

I think it must give great satisfaction to Sir Roy Welensky that this Bill is likely to receive the assent of the Committee. I say that because ever since I have known him he has been most anxious that the last ties between Rhodesia and London be broken—at least, Whitehall control. This Clause achieves that purpose so far as Southern Rhodesia is concerned, and, therefore, it must be a matter of great gratification to him that the Government are putting through this Measure.

I still feel that these proposals are inadequate from the point of view of the Africans and of African interests. Some reference has been made to the fact that the existing reserve powers under the present arrangements have proved weak and inadequate, and I think that perhaps the Secretary of State's point on Second Reading was valid, that even in the days of a Labour Government there were discriminatory Acts passed at the expense of the African population. I can only say that right through the years long before the war I was a consistent opponent of the policies pursued by the Southern Rhodesian Government and myself made representations to the Prime Minister of the day about the policy of segregation and discrimination which was vigorously pursued in that country.

It may have been that in the preoccupations of the Labour Government the reserve powers Measures referred to by the Secretary of State went by unnoticed, but I should like to emphasise that the reserve powers which did exist were not altogether ineffective, and I would add that Lord Malvern on several occasions referred to the fact that the existence of those reserve powers acted as a check or restraint on the Southern Rhodesian Government in respect of certain of the acts which they might otherwise have taken.

Therefore, if the strength of this Bill is that the reserve powers were ineffective, that they were seldom if ever employed by the United Kingdom Government, nevertheless they did restrain unduly discriminatory measures and probably made measures less discriminatory than they otherwise might have been.

It is as a result of conversations I have had from time to time with Lord Malvern that I say this, and I think that Sir Roy Welensky would admit the truth of this. But the question arises whether by the abolition of these reserved powers the alternative arrangements are adequate. I can only repeat what my friends said during Second Reading. In their judgment and mine the compensating Clauses which will appear in the new Constitution for the abolition of the reserved powers, are altogether inadequate. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to suggest that there will probably be African political advancement, even beyond the figure of 15 seats in their Parliament, but the clauses of the new Constitution will place African representation in a straitjacket.

I judge from the speech which Sir Roy Welensky made to the Institute of Directors on Wednesday that there is no great enthusiasm on his part to promote further African political representation. I therefore can only console myself by the fact that Sir Edgar Whitehead has shown in the last year a much more progressive and enlightened approach to African issues. I hope that that will be a continuing attitude on the part of the Southern Rhodesian Government, though I confess that Sir Roy Welensky's speech does not encourage me in that hope.

The truth is that no effective checks can be applied to the spirit of African nationalism. The fact that Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland will very soon have African Governments must make its impact on African opinion and even European opinion in Southern Rhodesia itself. No restraints can contain the upsurge of the African spirit. Although the Bill tends as I have said to put African political representation in a strait-jacket, I believe that over a comparatively short period the Africans will press through the restraints which the new Constitution proposes to impose. That is how I see the situation, and I must express my very deep regret that the Bill is inadequate in the compensations it offers. I recognise, of course, the fact that African representation in the Southern Rhodesia Parliament has at last been conceded and is a substantial step forward.

I hope that Africans, rather than boycott the Constitution when it comes about, will themselves fight the elections, obtain representation, and make the Floor of the new Parliament the place where a great deal of their national aspirations can be expressed and the fight for political freedom won. I express my dislike of the Bill and hope that my own fears about its scope will not be fulfilled in the political life of Southern Rhodesia.

I welcome the Bill. I have great faith in the future of Rhodesia. Unlike the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones), I believe that this is a great experiment in multi-racial partnership. The British Commonwealth itself is a multi-racial partnership in which the whites are a very small minority. The right hon. Member for Wakefield referred in some detail to the problems of the reserved powers. I suggest that these powers are very much like a long-stop. We as a long-stop so far away on the boundary have failed to stop balls because we have not appreciated the speed of the pitch. By doing away with the long-stop, the wicket keeper will be able to keep a more careful eye on the balls that come through. The fundamental basis of good management in industry is to place responsibility and authority in the same hands, and I believe that the Bill does this.

Today we are discussing a coming of age party, or rather what is virtually a marriage. What sort of best man is it who gets up at the marriage ceremony and talks about how the bride and bridegroom cannot get on together? This Constitution must last a long time and, therefore, certain safeguards have to be written into it. I believe that these safeguards have been very adequately written in. The Declaration of Rights and the Constitutional Council give the needed protection.

Certain hon. Members think that the instruments are too blunt, but I would remind them that it is sometimes claimed that the delaying tactics in the other place in this Parliament are too restrictive. We should highlight the points in the new Constitution that join the multi-racial partners together. Those of us who have worked in Rhodesia and have walked round Salisbury and have seen the magnificent edifices there and the Kariba Dam know something of the monuments to co-operation between the two partners.

It is our duty in this Parliament to build confidence in Rhodesia. Her future depends on world confidence. How can we possibly expect the world to have confidence in Rhodesia if we in the House of Commons have no confidence in it ourselves? The future of Rhodesia depends on economic development, and economic development depends on world confidence. I hope that when the time comes the House of Commons will give unanimous support to a Third Reading of the Bill and show its confidence in the future of this multi-racial State.

We have discussed every aspect of this matter now several times. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) spoke with his accustomed clarity and moderation and went right into the heart of the matter in questioning whether the safeguards which are to be written into the new Constitution and which were described in detail in the White Papers compensate for the reserve powers which Her Majesty's Government are now giving up. I can only say what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said on numerous occasions and what I said on Second Reading—that it is our belief that the new safeguards will be more effective than the reserved powers.

We base our belief on the understanding, put very well indeed by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), that the reserved powers have a far less deterrent effect than the right of citizens in Southern Rhodesia to have recourse to the courts in defence of their rights.

11.30 a.m.

It is our belief that the new Constitution, which will be promulgated in the Order in Council shortly, represents a great step forward for all the people of Southern Rhodesia. The right hon. Member for Wakefield, in his generous remarks about Sir Edgar Whitehead, acknowledged the very great changes which have been sweeping over that country and give hope that the new Constitution will be a success and serve the interests of all the people there.

I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman called for Africans in Southern Rhodesia to take the opportunities which the new Constitution will give them of playing a fuller and more responsible part in the life and destiny of their country.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

11.32 a.m.

This is the fourth occasion on which the House has been confronted with the question whether in principle it approves the pro- posed Constitution. On the three previous occasions and again today our very keenly felt objections have been voiced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones). I do not think I should be serving a useful purpose in repeating what would have to be almost verbatim what I have already urged upon the House on the Second Reading. Indeed, my objections followed very closely those which had previously been put before the House. The House has thought right by a majority to reject them.

In those circumstances I will not again go over the question of principle, to which we nevertheless adhere. I should simply like to ask one rather technical question which arises out of a point which I put to the Government on Second Reading. I asked the Ministers in charge of the Bill what the intended scope of the anti-discriminatory provision was and whether it was intended to apply to Bills which as a result of their operation discriminated against a certain group or whether it had only the more limited effect of applying to Bills which in terms named a certain group as being subject to a certain restriction.

In replying to the debate, the Secretary of State said that it was the intention of the Government that the scope should be the wider of those two. However, he very kindly said that he would look again at the language in the White Paper, Cmnd. 1400, to make certain that the wider scope was indeed the scope embodied in the language of Appendix II of Cmnd. Paper 1400. I now simply ask the hon. Gentleman whether he has been able to give further consideration to that language and whether he feels that some alteration to it is necessary to achieve certainty where, in my submission, doubt now resides.

While I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to both Ministers for their very courteous speeches and their endeavours to allay our doubts and solace our anxieties, we nevertheless feel that they did not succeed in doing so, and, therefore, we oppose the Bill in principle as vigorously as we have done and with as deep feelings as we have entertained ever since we saw the original proposals which emerged from the Constitutional Conference.

11.35 a.m.

My right hon. Friend gave an assurance to the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) that he would have the point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised looked into further. I understand that what my right hon. Friend has said substantially represents the position, but I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we shall not leave the wording as it stands unless we are entirely satisfied that it carries out our intentions, on which my right hon. Friend and the right hon. and learned Gentleman are agreed. In other words, we shall look at the matter very carefully in the light of what my right hon. Friend said.

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, this is the fourth occasion on which we have discussed the principles involved in the Bill and in the Constitution. In commending the Bill to the House, I am sure that, whatever views may have been expressed during our debates, the whole House will now wish a smooth passage for the introduction of the new Constitution and an ordered progress for all the peoples of Southern Rhodesia. All that remains for me to do is to thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House for the way in which they have facilitated the passage of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Export Guarantees Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

11.37 a.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Export Credit Guarantees Department has for many years been carrying out an increasing volume of insurance business, and I am glad to say, since the country so desperately needs an increase in exports, that its business is steadily increasing today. I shall be mentioning considerable sums of money, but I should like to reassure the House straight away that the Bill should make no call whatsoever on the taxpayers' money.

The Department is a self-supporting institution taking one year with another. It has been successful in supporting itself over the years, but, whenever it ensures a policy, public funds are at risk if anything goes wrong with its self-balancing record, and so a limit is set to be approved by Parliament for the maximum amount which can be at risk. It has been the custom in the past not to try to estimate a limit which will cover the Department for very many years ahead, but to look only about three years ahead and set a limit to cover about that length of time, with the idea of reporting to Parliament when that looks like being exhausted.

I would briefly remind the House that the Department operates broadly through three Sections of the Export Guarantees Act, 1949, as amended. The first Section is the normal insurance of the vast bulk of the export business which is ensured through this country, I believe that last year it accounted for no less than 97 per cent. of the exports which were insured by the Department. This is business that is recommended as a sound commercial risk by the Advisory Council which gives its advice to the Department. For this Section 1 business there is already a £1,000 million limit, and there is no need, in the Government's opinion, to consider raising this at the moment.

Of the £1,000 million, £688 million is actually firmly insured at the moment, but a substantial amount of this will run off during the next three years, and against this run-off there has to be taken into account that there is, in addition to the £688 million, about £125 million of contingent insurance business. I give this only as background because, of course, Section 1 is not affected by the Bill. I thought the House would wish to know the reason why the Government are not dealing in this Bill with Section 1.

Section 2 covers business where the Advisory Council, because of political or economic uncertainties, does not regard exporting insurance to a particular market as being a good commercial risk. In such a situation, it is open to the Export Credits Guarantee Department and the Government to cover export insurance in the national interest, either by way of a standard comprehensive guarantee or by specific guarantees.

Also covered under Section 2 are the various relatively complex credit insurance operations, of which I will mention only the names—specific guarantees that cover individual longer term export projects; special guarantees—and there have been a number of these invented by the Department, such as the "Dollar Drive" policy, which has now been extended outside the dollar zone; small exporter policies, which were introduced only this year; and, as a final type of guarantee under Section 2, there is the newly introduced financial guarantee which is given not to the supplier, but to the lender of the money on which the supply is made. Those are all Section 2 operations.

But Section 2 of the original Act contains a limit up to which export insurance may be carried out, not only for all these types of export insurance I have mentioned as coming under Section 2, but also for Section 3 business. This business is really part of the assistance given by this country to underdeveloped countries, primarily to Commonwealth countries. It takes the form of economic assistance loans which are tied to projects in this country. It is the only form of aid given by this country which is invariably tied, and accounts for only about 25 per cent. of the assistance given to underdeveloped countries by the British taxpayer. It should not be taken as being anything like the whole of the aid we give to underdeveloped countries.

Sections 2 and 3 share a common limit, which stands at £400 million at the moment. At the end of September, £356 million was already at risk, of which £211 million was actually at risk and £145 million contingently at risk. That is why it seems to the Government that, in order not to slacken the rate of export insurance in these categories, and particularly of economic assistance loans under Section 3, it is important that Parliament should now be asked to authorise an increase in the limit of £400 million.

In judging the amount by whcih we should suggest raising the limit—and we are asking for an extra £400 million to double the present limit to £800 million—we have taken into account what we hope will be a steady and considerable increase in all normal export business under Section 2, associated with small exporters, dollar drives, specific guarantees and financial guarantees. We have also taken into account that we hope that export business will continue to increase, as far as is prudent, to the non-commercial markets where comprehensive and specific guarantees are given under Section 2, and naturally we also have to expect, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has explained, that, despite the difficulties facing the country at the moment, we shall continue economic assistance at about the present level.

For all these reasons, we think it sensible to suggest that, looking forward perhaps three years—and we cannot forecast exactly in these fields—we should raise the limit for Sections 2 and 3 from £400 million to £800 million.

We recognise that we shall have to come to Parliament again, as has happened in the past, to revise this limit as soon as it looks as if it is getting too close to the amount already at risk, but, subject to that, and subject to the warning that no one can predict whether this amount will last for three years, or for a trifle less or a trifle more, I commend the Bill to the House and hope that it will be given a Second Reading.

11.45 a.m.

I hope that I am not belated in congratulating the Minister on his appearance in his new office, where, I hope, we shall see him as often as his predecessor, even if he does not talk quite as fast. It is a real, if rather a rare, pleasure in the House, to welcome Conservative legislation enlarging the work of the Labour Government. We all agree that the Export Credits Guarantee Department is an extremely successful public enterprise. The total liabilities which it is now allowed to carry rise to the huge sum of £1,800 million. I believe that about 20 per cent, of our exports are now covered in this way. The Minister of State did not give that exact figure, but perhaps he can do so later.

The Department runs entirely without any subsidy from public money, as he said. I think that it is true that, throughout its history, the Exchequer has not been a penny worse off for the operations of the Department. Our exports are disappointing enough in total, but one wonders where they would be if it were not for the operations of the Department.

The history of the Department is interesting. It started originally in 1919 in one of those bursts of post-war constructive reform which are usually followed by long periods of stagnation in this country. It developed into its present form in, significantly, 1929 when, I believe, my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) had a hand in it. This enabled it to move forward, and the next idea came in 1949, when the whole scheme was greatly developed by the addition of special guarantees and the economic assistance loans with public money under section 3.

What the present Government have done is to build on these provisions since 1951 by raising the limit for liabilities from, I believe, £500 million under Section 1—where the figure stood in 1949—to £1,000 million in 1959. The Minister is maintaining that figure, and under Section 2 the figure has risen from £100 million in 1949 to £400 million two years ago and £800 million in the present Bill. There has thus been a formidable increase.

These figures, as I understand them, are, of course, of liabilities and not of expenditure, in any sense, of public money. One point I had not been clear about but it was made clear today that the limit we are discussing—£400 million rising to £800 million—covers not merely special guarantees under Section 2, but also money raised under Section 3, which may be public money, for the purpose of acquiring securities.

It is public money that is used, but it is repaid because it is only in the form of a loan under Section 3.

I realise that, but I want to be clear that the amounts used for the purpose of acquiring securities are contained in the £800 million.

The point was explained to us by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), when he was Minister of State, when my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes) said that it was as clear as mud. I think that the Minister of State has done very much better today. If my belief is correct, is it possible to be given the figure? I have not been able to discover the amount of public money advanced since 1959, nor of the actual amount outstanding now and not repaid. These figures might be of some interest.

Despite the success of the Department and its expansion today, I do not think that we should necessarily assume that we have reached the limit even now in the matter of public credit insurance. There is a rhythm in these things. Every two years we have a Bill to increase the limit. The Government say that everything possible is being done, and that any further concession would be a breach of the Berne Union. Then we have speeches by hon. Members suggesting further expansion. The Government usually tell us that it would be impracticable. Then, six or twelve months later, they come along with a statement proposing extensions very similar to those which have been proposed in this House. This has happened a good many times.

That leads me, being a little sceptically-minded, perhaps, to ask whether, even now, more could not be done. We all agree that our exports are still grievously inadequate. If it is the Government's policy not in any way to limit imports, to leave the job of exporting almost entirely to private enterprise and to turn down all suggestions to tax incentives for exports, surely export credit insurance becomes of cardinal importance to our whole economy. Indeed, in the economic debate on Tuesday, a number of hon. Members made suggestions for further developments.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself said that more was necessary. He used these words:
"I think there is room for improvement in our machinery."
He was talking about exports and he added:
"My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and I are now examining whether there are opportunities for further action over the provision of credit and whether our arrangements for the various types of credit needed for various periods meet the requirements."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1961; Vol. 648, c. 826.]
We would like to know what the Chancellor meant and whether the Government have come to any decisions. If so, what are they, or how soon will they be able to announce further progress?

Is it impossible, for instance, at least while we are to be burdened with 6 per cent. and 7 per cent. Bank Rates, to have a scheme by which we grant lower interest rates for export credits? Otherwise, British exporters suffer a handicap. In the United States, during the past year the authorities have successfully managed to make interest rates for external purposes to some extent independent of internal rates. We were told by an hon. Member on Tuesday that the Bank of France now rediscounts bills for exports at a specially low fixed rate of interest, and so, I believe, does the Bank of Belgium. Therefore, one feels bound to ask whether there is any reason why the Bank of England should not do the same thing.

Do the Government consider that it would be unladylike for the Bank of England to do that? Would this be, in their view, a breach of the Berne Agreement? If so, I should have thought that we should take action to stop it being done by other countries. If not, however, could we not do something similar ourselves? I am not as expert on these operations as some hon. Members opposite who follow them closely, but I should have thought that in the case of large capital projects like the building of ships the rate of interest on exports might be decisive. I agree that we export, not for the sake of exporting, but to get paid. Nevertheless, since the history of the Department shows that normally we are paid, it would be shortsighted to be too strict on the terms of one's credits.

Secondly, as the Department is normally a guaranteeing body and does not itself supply the funds, is there not evidence of the need for a new source of credit for loans for a period of over five years and less than, say, ten years? I know that the banks claim to provide all that is necessary up to five years. The insurance companies have arranged facilities for longer periods over ten years, but there is evidence of a gap in between. I wonder whether the Government think that there is a case for a new finance corporation, perhaps either Government sponsored or quasi-Government, to fill the gap, or do they favour another type of body? Could the Department itself, which has great experience in this field, possibly fill the gap?

Thirdly, does not the Minister agree that there is still an imperative need for assisting, encouraging and galvanising the smaller firms into a much greater export effort? If our balance of payments problem is to be solved, whatever else is done it is obvious that we must get the small firms organised into the export market.

I know that the Department introduced a small-exporter scheme, which was announced by the former President of the Board of Trade in April. I wonder how it has prospered. Has it been successful and has it had any noticeable effect—it may be too early to say, but one would like to know—on the volume of exports from small firms? There are signs that something more far-reaching than we have done yet will be necessary if the many thousands of small firms which have not yet got into the export effort are to be mobilised.

I wonder whether the Government have considered more unorthodox ideas—for instance, perhaps a central exporting agency, possibly Government-sponsored, which might develop the necessary expertise and "know-how" and, indeed, buy goods from small firms and itself do the job of selling overseas. There are a great many private organisations which do this, some more and some less successfully, but they do not yet seem effectively to have mobilised the small exporter. Therefore, in view of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said only this week to the effect that this machinery had still to be improved, I hope that the Minister may be able to give us a few more observations today and tell us what he thinks of these suggestions.

One thing of which I feel fairly sure is that we have not done enough either in the strict field of credit insurance or in the campaign to get the small firms into the export business. I also feel fairly sure that we must have new ideas and put them into effect. If nobody had had new ideas in 1919, 1929 or 1949 we should not have had the Export Credits Guarantee Department successfully dealing with hundreds of millions of pounds worth of business and we certainly should not be exporting on our present scale. I hope, therefore, that the Government will heed that moral, that they will not turn their face away from new ideas, however unorthodox, and that we shall even get a little more information about them this afternoon.

11.58 a.m.

I also warmly welcome the Bill, and I agree with much that the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has said. It is a tribute to the system of export credit guarantees that the limit has been increased from £200 million to £1,800 million in the short space of time since the war. That is the measure of the usefulness that this service provides.

In considering the limit of £1,800 million, we are, perhaps, approaching a stage when we shall have that figure or slightly less of capital invested in credit guarantees. Although this money does not come from the Export Credits Guarantee Department, it is lent to companies abroad. It is in itself an export, and it should in interest provide a help to our invisible export balance. I give great credit to the Export Credits Guarantee Department for the work it has done.

The only way that the Government can legitimately give financial assistance to our exports is by bolstering up the work of the Department and making sure that in every respect the service we provide is first class. I have heard it rumoured that some foreign Governments are offering honours to those who buy their exports. I would not suggest that we should go as far as that, but we should make sure that we match our foreign competitors in every possible field.

There are one or two points which I should like to raise concerning Section 2, particularly the long-term special guarantees for large capital projects such as ships, which are usually individually negotiated contracts. The problem which I have heard mentioned and which is a genuine one is that each case is taken on its merits by the Export Credits Guarantee Department, and in the case of some of our more dubious customers—I would be wrong to mention who they are—rather low percentages of the total credit required are offered for guarantee.

I have heard it said that only 70, 75 or 80 per cent. is offered for coverage. Very often, this leaves up to 30 per cent. of the risk to be borne by the manufacturing and exporting company making the item. This applies in those cases where the risk is greatest and where the instability of the régime to which we are selling is most severe. This has been a reason why some companies, particularly big ones, who are very busy, have not pursued export orders as often as they could.

If we wish to export to such countries—only the Government can take the final decision whether the risk should be undertaken—credit should be available up to the very maximum that the company requires. If this causes the possibility of a loss or a claim being made, the premium should be increased. That could be covered and allowed for in the price. Then there would be no fear of credit insurance not being forthcoming.

When, as at present, our more prosperous and forceful industries find themselves short of labour, of time and of manufacturing capacity, they will not pursue a difficult order unless they are absolutely certain that the credit insurance is tied up and safe. They will concentrate on easier markets which they can get, and the easier work, which is probably the home market work, at the expense of more difficult exports. That is not at all what our principal competitors do. They go all out for everything that is going in the world. There is certainly need, I think, for another look at the provision of this sort of credit—although this is not strictly to do with the present Bill—and I hope that my hon. Friend will take another look at the question of a possible Export Credit Finance Corporation, because I do not think that we should leave any stone unturned in trying to discover ways of helping in this matter.

The only other point that I should like to make concerns tendering for these projects. Very often busy companies have to do a large number of their big tenders every week, so to speak. They may put in prices for a much larger number of jobs than they are likely to obtain. Obviously it is a part of their effort on which they cannot spend too much time and energy. What rates of credit they will be able to obtain and what guarantees they will be able to get should be immediately available to such companies. I have heard exporters say, "We have put in a figure for the cost of the credit insurance and a figure for the cost of the credit, but we do not know whether those figures are right. We shall have to wait until we can get a direct answer from the E.C.G.D. and the City, because we cannot quite tell what the rate of credit will be if we get the contract and what the rate of credit insurance will be." It would be a great help if thought could be given to these problems of how to make easily quotable rates, both as regards interest rates and the percentage of total cost to be covered.

I hope that the Minister of State will take these two small points as constructive suggestions as to how our system can be improved without frustrating any of our international agreements. I should like once more to pay a tribute to this very vital and valuable service of the E.C.G.D.

12.5 p.m.

Perhaps I may begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Minister of State on filling the important post to which he has now moved. I can think of few of my colleagues who are better qualified to fill it or who have a wider experience of business, which he will find most useful and most necessary in his Department. The Department with which we are dealing today is not, perhaps, the most entertaining section of his work. It will provide him with more headaches than almost anything else. He will find himself studying briefs for which it is essential to have an ice pack on the head and aspirins to hand. They are technical, they are complicated and the problems are almost always insoluble.

This is a most important section of the Government machine. It does work of vital importance to us at this stage in our history, work which, by and large, I think, meets with the approval and acceptance of the overwhelming mass of the business community. There is a minority which complains, which, quite frankly, is sometimes unbridled and very unfair in its comments both to the officials of the Department and, when they are ultimately able to reach him, to the Minister of State who will have to handle the problems. I came to the conclusion when I filled my hon. Friend's post that the worse the case the louder the criticism, and I think he will find that that is a fairly good guide as to the merits of a case.

This is an astonishing success story of the way in which the expert credit system has grown to meet the changing needs of exporters. It was, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) said, first started in 1919 to provide for the distressed countries in the Baltic. I see that on the 3rd July, 1959, the then Minister of State was stated to have said that it was started to provide aid for the Balkans; he was wrong, it was the Baltic. Today, with our dire needs, it is taking on a new and greater importance. I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend and his predecessor and the Department on the successful improvements which they have been able to make. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North said how often it happens that when bright ideas are put forward in debate or in correspondence in the newspapers, or by other means that may be available to businessmen or Members of Parliament, they are usually turned down by the Minister and subsequently adopted six months later. He knows and I know, and my hon. Friend knows, that the reason is that this Department, although supreme in its own sphere, is largely—dare I say it?—at the mercy of the Treasury. The Treasury is the Department of State which calls the tune, and it is only within the limits allowed that the Department can relax its regulations and provide a better service.

Today we are dealing with Sections 2 and 3—covering what is usually known as national interest business. I would like to hear a little more from my hon. Friend as to how the Department stands in relation to Section 1. Two years ago, when the last Bill was put forward, the Minister of State said that it would be enough for the next two or three years. In the light of the fact that Section 1 is not mentioned today, does that mean that we shall have another Bill next year? If so, the time is coming when we ought to consider whether a Bill should be necessary each time for a relaxation of the limits under Section 1, 2 or 3.

I know that there are very strong arguments for this being done each time by a Parliamentary Bill. If my hon. Friend will turn to HANSARD of 3rd July he will find them very cogently put forward by me. But I am not certain whether those arguments apply now. If the Department continues to expand at its present rate it should not have to wait for time in the complicated Parliamentary machine for a Bill to meet its needs. I put forward, as a suggestion to the powers that be, that it might be a good thing to take—within limits which the House must lay down very carefully—powers to relax the limits either by affirmative Resolution or even by a Clause in the Finance Bill. Both those means would give the House what we are having today, and what we need—time to discuss the Department and its work. I suggest that, out of courtesy to the House, it would help not to overload our time table.

I hope that my hon. Friend will say a word about the position of the Berne Union. That Union—that most successful international cartel, operated by and with the approval of Her Majesty's Government and several other sovereign Governments, all of whom dislike and attack restrictive practices when practised within their own boundaries—has helped enormously to prevent the growth of a credit race. It is probably true to say that no trading nation in the world has more to fear from such a race than ours. While welcoming all the relaxations there have been, therefore, I should like my hon. Friend to say whether he is satisfied that there is no risk of the Berne Union breaking down, or of our being looked on as the black sheep of the flock and finding ourselves competing against others in the relaxation of credit.

There is much confusion about the borderline between credit insurance and credit, which is the cause of a good many of the criticisms, misapprehensions and misgivings about the work of the Department, but it is a very clear-cut boundary. Confusion is made worse by the fact that the Department is also engaged in export credit insurance, which is made by the Government the instrument or the means of providing export credits as well. In those circumstances, can one wonder that the average exporter who finds himself turned down on an insurance risk is utterly baffled by the fact that the Department is also a source of credit?

I am now in a position to complain of the grossly inadequate information given about what is being done under Section 2 and Section 3. I know that there are very good reasons, but we ought to have—in a rather more accessible form than at present—some idea of the amount of money which is out at risk, first, in Commonwealth assistance loans, secondly, in those countries where the commercial risk is too great for the Advisory Council—that admirable and shrewd body of men—to accept as an ordinary commercial risk, and, thirdly, the amounts which, whether under Section 2 or Section 3, are given as "political loans". They may be credits, but they are really loans, in the degree of ultimate risk involved.

The help Which we can give is enormously appreciated under that category, as is shown by the fact that the limits have grown in twelve years, from 1949, to the figure of £800 million now proposed. I am not in any way critical of the amount being given or the amount of work that is being done. In many ways we wish that it could be more. We know what a help it is to some countries at a critical period in their history.

If the House will forgive me, I should like to relate an anecdote. When I was Minister of State I went out on one of those very worth-while journeys which the present Minister of State will find himself taking, and on the way I called in at a certain country which had reached a very critical stage in its economic history and was very hard-up. We had agreed to give it a credit for £5 million, under Section 2 or Section 3, and I was the ambassador who bore this welcome gift.

When I arrived I was treated, not unnaturally, as a very honoured guest. Instead of staying at the British Embassy I was the guest of the Government, and I was feted. But during all my conversations with the Head of State and with all the Ministers singularly little was said about this generous gift, which I found very baffling. It was mentioned, but it was dealt with rather perfunctorily. Finally, on the last night of my three-day visit, a dinner was given in my honour and speeches were made. Again, very little reference was made to this handsome gift, and I found myself beginning to wonder whether our help was really appreciated.

Finally, when the hour for departure came, the last guests had gone, leaving me alone with the Minister of Finance, and I was about to fly off to other places, we said goodbye, and he took my hand in both of his and said, "Thanks awfully for the £5 million". Those words are engraved on my memory, and have been a great solace to me when I have had some painful interviews with my bank manager concerning rather smaller sums of money.

The amount which is out under Section 2 and Section 3 has grown, and is largely a measure of the uncertainties in the state of the world. My only plea is that the House should be given a little more information than it has been given so far. Again, I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) in all that has been said about the contribution which the Department is making to our economy.

12.20 p.m.

I join with other right hon. and hon. Members in paying tribute to the appointment of the Minister of State. I believe that he has all the qualifications necessary, and I am very thankful indeed to have him in this Ministry. The House demands a certain amount of information on this very important topic and that is why this debate is taking place today. My hon. Friend indicated that maximum liabilities stood at around the figure of £356 million and that, therefore, it was desirable to extend the ceiling to £800 million.

If we go back to 1949, we find that we started off with £100 million. The next step up was to £250 million in 1957 and the next was to £400 million in 1959, and the bill for this year will be £800 million. Looking at some of the figures, I think that the maximum liability outstanding at the end of the year 1960–61 for special guarantees is £225 million made up of a maximum liability in economic assistance—that is Section 3 largely—of £158 million and under special guarantees of £67 million in round figures.

I should like to know where we are going to find the allocations. Is the vast expenditure which the Minister has in mind to be on Section 3 loans or to be on guarantees under Section 2? Is this a belated recognition that credit is of great significance in the world and that whatever the price we shall not get orders unless we have the appropriate credit, and that therefore something more has to be done about this?

Is this entirely new thinking, and how far does it take us? I agree with the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) that we are well provided with details under Section 3 because we have tabulations in our records about them. But very little comes out under Section 2. Very recently there has been an endeavour to secure a contract with Yugoslavia which would involve the establishment of a steel mill costing £28 million. The preparatory negotiations has been conducted by the Metallurgical Equipment Export Company Limited. That, of course, is one of these doubtful cases, but it is of considerable interest to the national economy, and it falls within the class of Section 2 guarantees. Will the Minister give a little further information of what actually falls under this heading?

We know from the recent G.A.T.T. Report, which is indeed gloomy reading, that we have done rather badly in some aspects in international trade, Will the Minister indicate how our traders have been operating in Latin America? While I have been a little critical, I think that I should refer to the Radcliffe Report which goes a certain way in underlining precisely what the Minister has in mind. The Report said:
"If the Government considers that insufficient assistance is being given to Commonwealth or other overseas developments, or is looking for a means of stimulating international trade in a time of world recession, and is ready to use public money (or put it at risk) for this purpose, it can do so without bringing about a lengthening of the general run of export credits by making use of its existing powers in Sections 2 and 3 of the Export Guarantees Act, 1949, to give guarantees or lend money outside the normal credit insurance scheme; this would in our view be the right way for a Government to proceed in such circumstances."
That is what Radcliffe has indicated, and that is, as I understand it, the policy of the Government.

It is rather interesting to note the evolution of Government thinking. In April of this year the President of the Board of Trade brought to the House several proposals among which, of course, was the discounting of export paper within eighteen months of maturity. He also made provision for guaranteeing extended credit. It was not unexpected that when these proposals came before Berne in June of this year they did not receive the happiest reception.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Sir J, Vaughan-Morgan) indicated that there is a very clear line of distinction between general guarantees under Section 1, which are covered by the Berne Union, and long-term lending, whether by loan or guarantee. First of all, let us look and see what the Berne Union said on this matter. This is a statement which has been issued by the Department and, of course, it is issued on behalf of the Secretary-General of the Berne Union. It states:
"An important feature of the discussion was the consideration given to the measures devised by several governments for facilitating guarantees, in exceptional cases, for exports on terms exceeding five years. The Meeting recognised that these various Governmental measures would assist particularly the economic growth and stability of newly developing countries. The Meeting reaffirmed that Berne Union members would continue to co-operate in restricting any general lengthening of terms of credit beyond five years in their field of operation."
May we take it then that the Berne Union is limited in fact to Section 1 guarantees, and Section 1 guarantees only?

When it comes to a question of forming consortia around Lazards mobilising the resources of pension funds, insurance companies and others to raise the funds for the steel works in Yugoslavia, that is an entirely different question outside the Berne Union provisions. It is not a question of the suppliers' credit. It is a self-liquidating capital investment. It is in the form of a loan which is granted direct to the borrower, but in the course of the particular financing there is an E.C.G.D. guarantee.

If it is looked at in that way we can say perfectly clearly that when it comes to Sections 2 and 3 they have really nothing to do with the limitation imposed, viz 5 years from shipment laid down by the Berne Union. It is importtant to put this in perspective because I think that we can compare the Export-Import Bank of the United States with the facilities provided under Sections 2 and 3. If we appreciate that the United States is only an associate member of the Berne Union, it is only right that the E.C.G.D. should offer comparable facilities to our exporters.

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Export-Import Bank has done what he says. It has advanced money for major steel works in other countries over a considerable period of years.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and I think it is partly that which stimulated the Government to adopt the line of reasoning outlined in the Radcliffe Report and also to bring forward their measures in April this year. I think that without these we should have been in great difficulty when we came to the export of capital goods in the markets abroad.

One further point on export credit. There is difficulty here. It is not going to conduce to our balance of payments if credit terms are to be unduly lengthened. We are making a clear distinction between heavy capital items, which do not come every day, and the general run of business. Another way of looking at it is that debt liability can increase so substantially on developers abroad to such an extent that some South American States can hardly bear the burden.

I wish to indicate what I have in mind on this matter because I think it is important. It occurred to me when the right hon. Member for Battersea, North was speaking that he was pointing out another idea mentioned by Radcliffe, namely, the formation of an Export Finance Corporation as a separate entity. I remember that after these proposals were laid before the House by the President of the Board of Trade in April the various institutions in the city got together and established a consortium around Lazard Brothers. It is significant that no second consortium has been established, and that great difficulty has been experienced in raising the money.

I think that what Radcliffe indicated was that if the City failed something else would have to be done. I feel that when there is lending over five years up to the point of fifteen years and the like, there is an opportunity for the insurance companies to play their full part. This is a challenge to the insurance companies. The writing is clearly on the wall. If they are prepared to co-operate in this matter—and they are suppliers of long-term funds, with the pension funds and so on—they could provide the funds which are essential to enable our exporters to provide satisfactory credit for selling larger pieces of equipment.

Nothing could be better than having an association of the City and the State. On the other hand, I think it would be regrettable if it were a State institution alone. On the other hand, if one has a separate entity it may be practicable to have differential interest rates or a special rediscounting rate for export paper.

I think we should understand in this House that while credit is difficult to obtain in the United Kingdom, a large amount of it is available in Europe at preferential rates. I do not want to go too deeply into this, because some hon. Members may say that it is limited in volume. It is, but it is available in Belgium and West Germany. The Government should be prepared either to accept that interest rates should be kept low, or, if they are to be kept at a perpetually high level, then we should think in terms of having a lower rediscounting rate for export equipment if it happens to be of a capital nature. It would, however, be wise to provide that it does not extend to all items.

I therefore make this suggestion to the Minister. Will he contemplate sheering off Sections 2 and 3 from the E.C.G.D.? It seems that if a separate institution were to be established in partnership with the State and the City, this body would be the one which should operate them. It seems to me that Sections 2 and 3 are inextricably mixed, and that they should be administered by a separate body.

Shortly after the President's statement in April, an article appeared indicating that Lazard's were forming a consortium, with the banks to provide up to seven years, and the insurance companies beyond that. A day or two ago an article appeared in the Economist indicating that that consortium had functioned to the tune of projects involving £69 million, and had lost £53 million. There is, therefore, apparently something in existence.

I have already referred to the Lazard consortium being in existence, but when the President made his statement it was expected that other consortia would also come into existence, but so far no others have raised their head. It may be due to the difficulty of raising money.

It is significant that this money has been mobilised, but when one considers the requirements of international trade from this country's point of view, one appreciates that much more is required than is at present forthcoming. What is being considered now is whether an Export Finance Corporation should be run in conjunction with the City. One has to bear in mind that we are on the threshold of going into the Common Market, and these matters have to be looked at with some circumspection.

I now turn to the other limb, which is Section 3 financing, and find remarkable results. Between 1958 and 1961 India received funds or credit to the tune of £120·5 million. Between 1954 and 1961 Pakistan received £40 million. The interesting one is Yugoslavia. Between 1956 and 1961 she received £23·135 million. The Minister has rightly said that these are either guarantees under Section 2 or loans under Section 3. Under Section 2 they are risks which are not normally acceptable, but are undertaken in the national interest. It means that we are determined in expanding trade with Yugoslavia.

In view of our export performance, it looks as though we should be extremely assiduous in extending trade in Latin America. There is a lot to be gained, but a lot to be lost if we are not first in the field. Will the Minister, therefore, say that he contemplates a massive expenditure under Section 3, and that, as he is looking only three years ahead and is doubling the figure under Section 2, we may expect a considerable boost for the export trade?

If that is so, I ask exporters to note that the Government are doing considerable work in this field, and that money is being provided. Also, that they are being put in a position to enjoy the facilities which are currently being provided by West Germany, Belgium and certain other European countries.

I am concerned about the method of lending in the United Kingdom, and the Radcliffe Report, when dealing with the means of stimulating international trade, says:
"We do not think that longer export credits on a tied basis are the best means of doing this, so far as the United Kingdom are concerned. We believe th atour interests as a nation dependent on a high level of international trade lie in a policy of encouraging by word and deed the international provision of capital untied to specific purchases of goods."
I was surprised that the Minister said Section 3 was the only tied facility in the United Kingdom.

I am glad to hear that. There are other loans which are recognised as being tied and this, I think, is a great failing, as that policy is likely to lead us into serious difficulties. We are trying to do better than the Americans are doing. The Export-Import Bank loans have always been tied. It was only when the Americans fell into difficulties that they decided to tie all the lending and Development Loan Fund, and Mr. Dillon has indicated that whereas at the moment about 50 per cent. of the aid which comes out of the States is spent on American equipment and services, they look in future to 80 per cent. of it being tied.

That will present one of the greatest difficulties for a country like ours which depends on international trade. If we are to have substantial lending abroad, which I think is a good idea—though it may seem paradoxical that I should say this—should we not look into this matter carefully and have a little free thinking about whether we want tied or untied loans?

The I.B.R.D. and other international organisations operate on the system of free tenders. That is good for the trading country, and particularly good for the developer who may be short of foreign exchange and cannot afford to pay the high prices prevailing internationally. I therefore hope that the Minister will have something to say about the extent and scope of tied loans, particularly under Section 3, and other matters which may be relevant.

I welcome this Bill. It is a step forward, and possibly an indication of a lot more support to be given to the exporter. I should like to know, however, whether it will be the case that in two years' time application will be made in this House for another £600 million. But so far as it goes the Bill receives my support.

12.40 p.m.

It is pleasing to hon. Members on this side that such charming things should be said about a Measure which was essentially Socialist in its original conception. I do not think that the complaints about exports should be taken too far. Exporters are always complaining that they are handicapped in the world markets by inferior credit facilities. That complaint is made regularly in the United States, and was made recently in Germany. It has also been made in France.

I should like the Minister to say something about the operation and the future of the Berne Union. I think that the present limitation on export credit insurance to five years is becoming increasingly theoretical at a period when loans and the provision of credit should be for ten and fifteen years and countries are suffering from the problem of shortage of foreign exchange.

I wish to refer primarily to the question of interest rates. I do not think that there is any doubt that high interest rates impose a considerable handicap on export finance. Facilities which are available to British exporters at present are, in most ways, very good, but everybody can work out suggestions for their improvement. Perhaps something could be done about State assistance to exporters in special areas. But, be that as it may, I think that interest rates represent a very real problem.

Most hon. Members on this side of the House are against high interest rates in general. That has been argued elsewhere. It was argued in the economic debate and the issue is not one which primarily concerns us on this occasion. But the rates here, although higher in proportion to other countries in Europe, are not perhaps in many cases higher than the general interest rates in many foreign countries. What is becoming a problem is that most countries—this was referred to by the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet)—are offering special and favourable rates specifically for export credit. Recently, the West German Government were faced with a demand from the shipbuilders for credit for capital shipbuilding at the rate of 5 per cent. I should have thought that that would face the British shipbuilders with a serious problem. The Belgium National Bank operates two rates.

The point which I am making—this is an issue primarily concerned with large capital production—is that there is fast coming the time when we should examine the possibility of widening our views on this question of special export rates and lower rates of interest. It has been suggested that some competitors within G.A.T.T. would be unhappy about this, but, on the other hand, it should not be forgotten that many of them are operating the same sort of subsidy.

The case for an export finance corporation is becoming increasingly obvious, but it would be a pity if we had a situation—it sounds tragic to be supporting the City against anybody else—where the Government found themselves in the position of acting independently of the City. It would be even more tragic if a situation arose where the City decided that it could attempt to meet this problem by itself. There is obviously need for a real liaison and some fresh thinking on this issue.

I return to the primary point. This issue of high interest rates in the sphere of exports, while it is not the only problem, and not even the major problem, is one which at least in the most vulnerable areas—in regard to heavy capital production—we need to look at closely. I am not here raising the political issue. It is not a question of expecting the Government to lower interest rates in general. We have had that argument. But I think that there is a case for producing a special policy in relation to interest rates in the sphere of export credits.

12.45 p.m.

I should like to add my humble congratulations to my hon. Friend the Secretary of State—

It becomes immodest for me continually to accept the wrong appellation. I hope that my hon. Friend will correct himself.

I apologise, I should have known. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister of State, and I should also like to say a word of praise for the work of the Export Credits Guarantee Department. I have heard from many sources in the City, and from merchant banks, continuous praise for the speed and care with which the Department deals with the great volume of work which comes its way.

I should like to follow the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) and deal particularly with the question of rates. The Export Credits Guarantee Department manages to operate at a successful profit. I should like to hear a little more from my hon. Friend on this point. I should like to be assured that the Department is keeping its rates at the minimum and that it will cover as much as possible of any risk in a wide range of countries.

I should like to know whether the time has come when the Department would be prepared to cover individual transactions. There are many cases where exporters do not insure with the Department because for the greater part of their business they are satisfied to carry the risk themselves. Would not it be right, now that export credits are properly established, that exporters should have a choice and should be able to cover part of the risk or transaction, or the risks which they thought were not particularly perilous, at, of course, an appropriately high rate of interest? At least they should have the choice and the Export Credits Guarantee Department should be in a position to work out the odds and offer a price for any proposition which is made.

I wish to refer now to a subject mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet), the offering of longer-term cover. A great deal of the export business of this country relates to heavy articles, complicated machinery used in road construction in South America, for example, and such things as the steel mill which was referred to by my hon. Friend, the building of ships and even in an advancing technical age the exporting of such things as expensive jet aircraft. It includes the exporting of complicated machinery such as computer machinery which has a life very much longer than that of the smaller articles which formed the bulk of our export trade in the past.

Is it right that the limits, which I know have been recently extended, should be so short for the cover which the Department is prepared to give for exporting heavy and major items such as I have mentioned? I hope that the House will realise that I am aware of the distinction between guarantee and loan. I know that the distinction exists but, as has been already mentioned, the Bill does seem to confuse the two. However, I think that the Minister might consider that the present limits for guaranteeing a loan are inappropriate. Where a machine or a boat has an expected life of, let us say, thirty years, is it reasonable to expect the whole loan to be repaid in twelve or even fifteen years?

Could that loan not be extended so that we would be placed in a position comparable to that of other countries? A comparison has already been made in connection with credit with the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and with Germany, and a comparison might also be made with other countries, such as Sweden and Japan, with whom we compete for this export trade.

I am well aware of the difficulty, mentioned particularly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Sir J. Vaughan Morgan), arising from the Berne Union Agreement. That, I gather, is an informal and unwritten agreement. It is an agreement which is based on the idea that it would not suit any country to engage in a credit war. Nevertheless, the scope of this agreement is limited, I believe, to guarantees, and in addition there is much evidence available that other countries are prepared to offer better and longer terms than we are.

I do not know whether we are too fond of following the rule of law in this country, but it is undoubtedly a fact that once such a convention or agreement is made, other countries find ways round it. I ask my hon. Friend to deal with this point in his reply, and I hope that he will perhaps have a word to say on this comparison particularly with Germany, Belgium and the United States.

I should like to say a word on the subject which was dealt with so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East—the length of credit, the extension of credit to be provided by the Export Credits Guarantee Department from five to seven years, with the expectation that the City would be able to provide loans over that period.

Mention has also been made of the Lazard consortium. Is it reasonable to leave such important finances to City groups? At the moment we have only one such group. We know that the amount of money which the insurance companies have to use for this purpose is very great. Nevertheless, there are many calls on the capital of the insurance companies. They have to keep a proper balance in the use of their money. Moreover, a lot of it is used for financing large operations in this country, such as building. Is it right and reasonable to expect that in this vital operation they should be expected to cover entirely loans for more than seven years?

I conclude by mentioning the particular difficulties which, as a result of this limitation, have been faced in certain parts of the country. In my own constituency, in Northern Ireland, we are particularly concerned with this topic which has been so well debated today. We manufacture some of the computers which I have mentioned, as well as ships and aircraft. All of these are items which have an expected life not very much longer than the average and so face severe competition from abroad, including subsidies, which take the form of guarantees and more favourable loan and interest payments.

I should like my hon. Friend to deal with this, and especially the problems of the shipbuilding industry. I cannot go into this matter at any length in this debate, for I would not be in order, but the House is well aware of the difficulties which this industry is facing today, and it would be very much in the interests not only of the export trade of this country but of the welfare of the shipyard workers and others that our shipbuilding should enjoy terms at least comparable with those of Germany, Sweden and other shipbuilding countries.

Therefore, if there is any gap at all, or if the Government are not satisfied that City consortia can find the necessary finance and the Export Credits Guarantee Department the necessary cover, I urge the Government to look into this point and deal with it as a matter of great urgency.

12.55 p.m.

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to some of the points that have ben raised. First, may I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have been kind enough to congratulate me on my new office. It is indeed an extremely interesting and challenging one. As I have only been in this office four weeks, and as there are a number of obvious experts in this matter, I hope that I shall be excused if I have not mastered the entire esoteric lore on this subject.

Even to a layman it is obvious that the interest of hon. Members in this subject is extremely encouraging. This country is utterly dependent upon an increase in its exporters, and here we have constructive and detailed criticism which will be of great value to my right hon. Friend and myself. I should also like to say how much the tributes that have been paid from both sides of the House to the work of the officials and the advisers of the Export Credits Guarantee Department will hearten them. I think that they receive a fair meed of appreciation from their clients, but, obviously, any such enterprise is bound to receive a number of criticisms, and this measure of encouragement will do their morale much good.

I should like to say, in answer to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), that my right hon. Friend and I will listen eagerly to any suggestions, however unorthodox, that might possibly lead to an encouragement of exports. But I would say that that is subject to two reservations. First, it really is not good business for us—and I think that the House accepts this—to break international agreements which this country has been among the first to urge; and, secondly, while we—

What international obligations have been broken? Has my right hon. Friend in mind the arrangements which O.E.E.C. had?

I shall deal with these in turn. I am generalising for the moment.

The second reservation is that while we can encourage and help business enterprise, we must be careful not to tell these business people how to run their own affairs. What we can do—and I hope that we shall do it more and more—is to point out to some sections of business how other sections of business have successfully tackled individual export problems.

I hope I may be allowed to deal, first, with a number of detailed questions which were asked, and then to take up one or two of the other bigger subjects which have been raised. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North asked about the progress of the small export guarantee scheme. This is, of course, a counterpart of the direct mail campaign that my right hon. Friend, when he held my office, mounted to persuade small exporters or those firms which were not already exporting of the importance and practicability of exports.

One part of the campaign was to make available to them the small exporter guarantee, and I am glad to say that the present score, up to a week ago, was that 547 guarantees had been issued, and contracts declared amounted to about £250,000. It is to be hoped, although I cannot assure the House of this, that very large numbers of those were new exporters. Of course, the House will realise that we cannot expect these new initiatives to reflect themselves in the export figures for some time to come, but this scheme has had a healthy welcome and use, and I think that it is a growing use. The right hon. Gentleman asked me to confirm, as I gladly do, that about 20 per cent.—actually, it is 19 per cent.—of our total visible exports were covered by credit insurance last year.

I was asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan)—whose kind words, particularly, I appreciate—whether, although the Bill does not deal with Section 1, a Bill to extend the limit under Section 1 is to be expected next year. I think that I can firmly answer "No" and say that another Bill next year is out of the question. At the moment, there is £187 million headroom, even assuming that all contingent liabilities become actual, which, as my right hon. Friend knows, is most unlikely, particularly under Section 1, and as well as that £187 million headroom there will be a large run-off, probably at least £50 million a year or a sum of that magnitude, of existing guarantees. As the rate of growth in Section 1 applications was running at about £55 million during the first nine months of this year, I think that my right hon. Friend will agree that there is really no need to expect another Bill to raise the Section 1 limit next year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet) made a very interesting and expert speech, and he asked me several questions. He asked what the division was that the Government expect between the different uses for which the extra £400 million that the Bill is about will be used. I cannot answer that in actual figures, because we shall have to take a broad guess at what is sensible for the next three years or so, but I can say to him that, very roughly, we expect that about half of that sum will go in Section 3 economic assistance loans and, very approximately, the other half will go under Section 2 business.

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how that proportion compares with the actual proportion in recent years?

The actual proportion in recent years has been about two in Section 2 to every three in Section 3. That is very roughly the proportion. But we are dealing here, as the hon. and learned Gentleman realises, only with broad guesses, with recourse to come back to Parliament as necessary.

My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East and other hon. Members asked me about the South American markets. I am sure that the House will realise that we have to take the views of the Advisory Council on the capacity to repay of each individual market and, therefore, broad answers about whole continents cannot make much sense. If hon. Members have any particular subject in mind, I hope that they will understand that any detailed inquiries will be much welcomed.

My hon. Friend went on to ask about the breakdown of existing actual applications which have already been insured. I can tell him—this really confirms the broad figures which I gave a moment ago to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison)—that at the moment there are about £88 million of special guarantees in operation under Section 2 and about £123 million of economic assistance loans. But the broad picture of economic assistance loans—this answers a question put by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North—is that the Government have advanced or agreed to advance £208 million since the 1949 Act but, at the moment, of that £208 million only £123 million remains outstanding, that is to say, not repaid. It is a little difficult to be sure that one is comparing like with like, but I think that those figures are strictly comparable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East asked me about our future plans for Section 3. I repeat that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer did say that, despite our present difficulties, we propose to continue the rate at about the present level. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend say, as is perfectly true, that this does represent a great reinforcement to the exporting opportunties of our business, and I reinforce the trumpet call he gave to business enterprises to take advantage of Section 3 help. My hon. Friend asked also about a Yugoslavian scheme, and I can tell him that this is still very much alive.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Reigate asked several searching questions about the Berne Union, and other hon. Gentlemen took an interest in the same subject. It is a trade association of exporter's credit insurance organisations, and it covers Sections 1 and 2 only of the Export Credits Guarantee Department Statute. Its object is to serve as an information bureau. It has no mandatory powers over us whatever, but hon. Members will be glad to know, I think, that despite the frequent evidence which reaches the papers of credit insurance over more than five years, at least 75 per cent. of the business carried out by the countries forming part of the Berne Union comes within the maximum of five years credit insurance terms.

Only for the supplier. The Berne Union covers only supplier's credit. Other financing could not come under its auspices.

Yes, I was referring to credit insurance as opposed to financial guarantee.

Inasmuch as other members of the Berne Union are from time to time in breach of the understanding between the credit insuring companies, I remind the House that my right hon. Friend has introduced "matching guarantees", the matching services of the E.C.G.D., and, despite the difficulty of proving that other countries are in breach of the understanding, I am told that a number of cases have been proven to the satisfaction of the E.C.G.D. and matching terms have been agreed.

What we are dealing with here is the case where we are up against competition from another member of the Berne Union. What happens where we face—as happened some years ago in connection with aircraft—longer and better terms given by, as in that case, America, where we match those terms and we are thereby actually in breach of the Berne Union? Are there many cases of that, and how are we, so to speak, getting on in that respect?

The answer is, I regret, that I do not know at the moment, but I will find out and write to my right hon. Friend.

We understand that the rule of law is particularly prevalent in Ireland—we were told that by the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. McMaster) today—but how far does it prevail among members of the Berne Union? Is a special low discount rate for export paper a breach or not a breach of the Berne Union arrangements?

I shall come to that subject, which I regard as one of the most important in this debate.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Reigate and also, I think, the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) threw some doubt on the survival chances of the Berne Union and suggested, I think, that it might be approaching break-down.

I am glad that I misunderstood. In fact, it is in a very hearty condition.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) in, if I may say so, a most useful speech, took exception to the judgment sometimes reached by E.C.G.D. on the amount of risk it leaves with the exporter. He said that he understood that this is very much a matter of commercial judgment, and I think he will understand that the most we can do is to seek and take the advice of the Advisory Council, which is very well qualified to give us a judgment.

As a newcomer, I have been very impressed by the analysis done by and for the Advisory Council on the economic future of each market, on which, of course, any sensible business judgment must depend. Here, I will say—I think this covers other questions which were raised—that it is no good saying that we do not in every case give as good terms as some other countries.

Some other countries have much larger reserves than we have. Also, some other countries, as the hon. Member for Greenwich said, receive complaints that we out-do their credit in certain instances. We have to take a broad view and, in this matter, I think that our exporters are served admirably, on the whole. Of course, I am eagerly open to any suggestions that a particular judgment was wrong.

I wished only to suggest that the risk should be taken on an increase in the premium rates charged by the E.C.G.D. rather than by insuring a smaller proportion of the total guaranteed loan, which would mean that the contract could go ahead if the company were short of funds.

There are three variables here. There are the premium rates, the amount that we are willing to undertake in any particular market and the proportion of the risk that we leave with the exporter. If we increase any one of those, and particularly if we increase the amount of risk borne by the Department, then we shall more quickly consume the amount in total that it is acceptable to insure. This is a nice balance of judgment. I do not say that it is always perfect, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will bear those difficulties in mind.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East asked a number of major and searching questions, and I doubt whether I can deal with all of them to his satisfaction. In particular, he asked whether the Department might take on individual projects. I should like to hear from him about any particular project that he has in mind. The Department undertakes individual specific guarantees for the longer term projects, which involves special under-writing expertise and which is not a recurrent item and cannot be covered by a comprehensive guarantee.

I am aware that the Department covers long-term projects. I was asking whether that could be extended to medium or short-term transactions. If my hon. Friend is not in a position to answer that today, may I ask him to consider the point?

My task would be easier if my hon. Friend gave an individual example. We have to be careful that exporters do not select particularly bad risks against the Department as a whole. That is why, in general, in recurrent export operations the exporter is expected to go in for either a broad selection of risks or a comprehensive guarantee.

The point that I was seeking to make was a general one. The Department is in a monopoly position. It is the only place where exporters can obtain cover. Some large exporters who do not cover with the Department sometimes get a proposition put to them to export to a particularly hazardous market. They do not want to cover all their transactions because they are satisfied about the credit-worthiness of their purchasers in the main part of the market and about the political risk. It is in cases like that where the Department might be prepared, at an appropriately high rate, to insure and cover in the interests of the export trade.

I should like to think about that point. However, if it is anything which might be considered recurrent it would breach a principle which is vital to the Department as a self-supporting institution.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East asked about what he called the profit of the Department. It is a very modest profit, and I put it as much as a voice can in inverted commas. It is a notional accumulated balance and it has to meet a large outstanding liability. It is more in the nature of an aggregate of premiums which have been paid in advance on risks which may survive for many years. The House will know that, taken over its whole term under Section 1, the notional accumulation of reserves amounts to under half of 1 per cent. of turnover. This is as narrow a margin as an institution can be expected to have. The bulk of any over-assessment of premiums has been returned to exporters by way of lower premiums and improved conditions.

We hear a good deal about the investment of their funds by other insurance companies. What does this insurance institution do with its funds?

I have always expected to be caught out by the hon. and learned Gentleman. This is notional. It is money held by the Treasury and any obligations which the Department cannot meet at any one time are met by the Treasury and not from the Department's own reserve. There was a case in 1954 and 1955 when large obligations beyond the notional reserve had to be met. They were met by the Treasury and the reclaims made in due course were returned to the Treasury.

I now come to the most important individual point which has been made. It was particularly stressed by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East and the hon. Member for Greenwich said a number of most sensible things about it. It concerns the question of the availability and the rates of export finance. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North referred to a speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What my right hon. and learned Friend was referring to in his determination to search for improved export terms was finance for exports, both the availability and the rate, rather than credit insurance. While that is relevant to the whole subject, it is not particularly relevant to the Bill. It is true that some countries, particularly France and Belgium, have differential rates of interest for exports. It is also true, as the hon. Member for Greenwich said, that that is not an overwhelming factor in all exports. It is an important factor in a small range of exports.

I have been asked whether such differential rates of interest are a breach of the G.A.T.T. As I understand the position, they are not a breach of the G.A.T.T. provided that the rate of interest available for exporters is not lower than the rate of interest which the Government concerned has to pay in order to raise the necessary funds. I am informed that, subject to that, it is not a breach of the G.A.T.T. This is certainly an important subject, and it is also most important to know whether the funds, at whatever rate of interest, are available.

My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East gave examples of some successful consortia and suggested that there should be more. I am sorry, but I can say no more today than that this subject is under the most active review by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade. I am sure that they will welcome any evidence that right hon. and hon. Members can send about any cases in which individual contracts have been lost on export finance either through rates or availability alone. Granting that there is bound to be some export business which is lost for one or other of these reasons, it is difficult to find cases which depend on this alone.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East will remember that the shipbuilding inquiry failed to pinpoint any order which had been lost for that reason alone. We do not deny that this matter is important, but we think that it can be exaggerated, and it certainly cannot be made an alibi by a whole range of business.

Yes, certainly.

After all these technical comments, we should recognise that this country is achieving a certain satisfactory performance in an increasingly competitive world. We are exporting £10 million worth of goods each day, and I am sure that as markets improve in Europe and America, as they are doing, and, we hope, in the Commonwealth, more and more businessmen will realise that it is a sensible way to use resources freed at home to maintain and even increase their turnover and profits by exporting. We hope that they will do so and this Bill should be a great help to them.

1.19 p.m.

I should like to add my personal congratulations to the Minister of State on his appointment to the post which he now occupies. British arrangements are sometimes curious. The distinction between a Minister and a Parliamentary Secretary is not always as clear as it should be, and public Departments in which the principal is by no means the principal and the assistant principal by no means the second string are not rare.

Turning to what we have been discussing, may I be allowed one general observation. Looking at the Bill from the point of view of a lawyer, who, in the course of his searches among law reports, finds many odd things, it seems to me that the business of dealing with doubtful creditors, doubtful purchasers, shall we say, abroad used to depend on private enterprise with practically no State or institution intervention at all. I do not know how many del credere agents exist in the world nowadays, but it is perhaps a rather outmoded way of dealing with matters. This is one of those cases where private enterprise has had to deal with changing conditions, has found itself, as it has in the educational field, insufficient for the purpose, and has had to turn to public enterprise to complete the picture in modern terms.

This has certainly been a successful undertaking. Everyone would agree, not only in the praise that has been given to the ideas behind it but of the praise given of the practical execution, and the practical advice that has so obviously weighed with the Department in their operating. One is, however, entitled to make one general comment. It is perfectly true that this is called export credit insurance in some form or another, but the line gets very thin indeed between that and actual export credits, and what the Department is now providing is, at any rate, to some considerable extent, export credit.

When, in April last, the President of the Board of Trade announced the extension of the arrangements under, I think, Section 3, he spoke of the sale of steel works and ships and other things as the subject of insurance, but what is really happening there is not merely the extension of credit for export trade but the extension of credit for what is really investment abroad. That is one of the functions one must recognise that, acting within the terms of the Statute, the Department is carrying out.

As I see it, there is here a broad field of discussion, and today's discussion has certainly been broad. I would not claim to compete with the expert and learned—in the commercial sense—hon. Members opposite who have been talking on the subject, but it strikes me that the basis of all that we are discussing today is the distinction in Section 2 of something that is in the national interest, but is not within the usual scope of short term exportation and that, on a matter that is of national interest, the information we have is more scanty than it need be.

A report comes out from time to time showing the trade accounts and balance sheets of an odd mixture of bodies, including the Stationery Office, the Royal Mint, the Forestry Commission and the Department we are now discussing, but it is financial information in the very narrowest sense of the word. These are audited accounts, with very few comments on the nature of what is being done, and if what we are here considering are actions and transactions of the greatest importance to the country's position abroad and to its responsibility, for instance, towards the underdeveloped countries, we should be told a very great deal more.

Even from the narrower point of view, I hope that nothing the Minister said at the end of his speech will make anybody suppose that our present export and foreign trade position is at all satisfactory. It is most unsatisfactory. I have not yet been able to get a copy of the very recently published G.A.T.T. Report on international trade for 1960, but it has been summarised in a passage a couple of days ago written by the Geneva correspondent of the Financial Times, who points out what we have all elaborated, in the course of other discussions, that
"The U.K.'s share of world trade dropped in all major export markets compared with the pre-war period. …"
It is the long story we go through in other connections and more contentious debates quite frequently in the House. It is, therefore, a case of using this organisation, and of seeing, not only that it is used in the national interest but also how far it can be used to meet our export difficulties.

At intervals, the Government's export drive reminds me a little of their drive to remove the slums; there is a frightful amount of noise but the actual work is done by someone else, and the extent of Government encouragement and support is not always as clear as it might be. This is a case very much in point. I agree with what was said from the other side of the Chamber that there is a need for credits longer than the five-year term that was contemplated by the Berne Union and, secondly, that the consortium formed very soon after the statement made by the President of the Board of Trade in April—and possibly contemplated before that statement was made—is no doubt an excellent thing to have, but it is by no means the whole of the story.

I agree with the comment that there is room here for some form of Government institution to cover the same sort of field and, from that point of view, something like the Export-Import Bank—or, more fashionably, the Export-Import Corporation—is a matter which, I hope, the Government will consider very seriously. I hope that they will not hide their light under a bushel and wait until they come again in this way to the House before telling us more.

I disagree with the right hon. Member for Reigate (Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan), who said that he thought that there should be arrangements made under this Act for increasing limits either by means of Clauses in the Finance Bill, as was one suggestion, or by affirmative Resolution, which was another. I think that an affirmative Resolution would lead to too narrow a debate—we want occasions to review the operations of this Department at fairly short intervals. Such Clauses in the Finance Bill are not satisfactory, either. They come in the middle of a whole mass of stuff and, incidentally, they seem to be a subject only doubtfully appropriate to the Finance Bill.

I turn to one or two other suggestions and, knowing that the Minister may not be in a position to answer them today, I ask him only to do what he is doing in other cases, which is to take notice of them. I have already spoken of longer credits, and would only add that it cannot be right to leave that to Lazard's consortium, however respect- able that may be. I am glad to see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is, in the language of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Hale), up in the attic playing, not only with his regulators but also with his consortia. That is undoubtedly a good thing; a few more toys are needed in the export direction.

It is perfectly true that encouragement can and should be given to individual small exporters, and that where there is machinery available they should be induced to use it, but I cannot resist the conclusion that a good deal of the trouble about exports is not so much a matter of individual exporters as of whole industries or trades.

In my constituency we have a very high proportion of boot and shoe makers. I do not want to say anything nasty about them I think that they are a good crowd on the whole—but I always have a feeling, and I put it forward merely as a feeling and hope that it will not be taken as too violent or too detailed a criticism, that they complain overmuch about boots and shoes coming into this country from foreign countries, about competition from Switzerland or Czechoslovakia—we can all think of the names—and that, on the other side of the picture, they really do not do quite all they might to sell their own boots and shoes abroad. I must say at once that I put forward this very tentatively—I know that there are exceptions—but I think that it is much the same in a good many industries.

We find some firms quite enterprising over this sort of thing. I do not think that the real remedy is to try to persuade the others to do it. It is sometimes very difficult to do it. The remedy seems to me to be to have it considered for the industry as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) suggested the other day, in a slightly different connection, the advisability of working parties in some of these industries, and I think that it was a very good suggestion on the grounds he gave at the time. I think that it is also a very good suggestion in connection with the business of exports. After all, all of us can agree that there is nothing more vital for this country at present than that particular question.

I should, therefore, have liked to have seen the question, the effect, the sufficiency, if hon. Members like, of export credits and export credit insurance considered industry by industry where the occasion arose, and I am sure it must be an advantage in quite a number of industries to have working parties with, as part of their remit, the obligation to investigate possible export extensions or new export fields.

I turn from that to the question of information. I will not repeat what I said just now, that the present information is really rather sketchy. I certainly do not intend to try to extract figures which the hon. Gentleman has given us today out of the Estimates. The part of the Estimates which deals with the Export Credits Guarantee Department is about the most obscure part of that somewhat difficult tome which comprises the Civil Estimates. It is really, to me at any rate—I am sure it is the deficiencies of my own intellect—quite unintelligible.

Is there any real reason why we should not have a proper annual report from this body, telling us a good deal more about what it has done, telling us a good deal more, within the limits of confidence and—shall I call it—of commercial discretion, about the kind of long-term assistance which has been mentioned by one or two Members and is obviously a developing feature?

There is one final comment I want to make, and it is again on an aspect of information. The hon. Gentleman produced figures which showed the long-term assistance, the Section 3 as distinct from the Section 2 assistance, up to date in recent years to be rather more than the Section 2. He then said that it was contemplated that they would now roughly equate. If that is so, it does look as if, for one reason or another—it may be a reason beyond the hon. Gentleman's control; that I do not know—the effort is being directed a little into what I should have thought was slightly the less necessary of the two lines of advance.

I trust, therefore, that when we get a more suitable opportunity, or when the statement is made, we shall be told that the Government continue to attach the very greatest importance to Section 3 assistance, having regard to the two things which I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, the general need for investment from this country abroad, and the need to assist underdeveloped territories.

On the question of rates of interest, it will not do, it seems to me, to treat the rates of interest for export purposes as something which is related only to the general rate of interest in this country. I should have thought it would have to be considered, too, in relation to rates of interest which were being charged for services of this sort, whether credit or credit insurance—it really comes round to the same point in the long run—in other countries. If, as I understand, the Bank of France—or is it the Bank of Belgium?—is justified, under international agreements and subject to the paint the hon. Gentleman mentioned, in discounting at a lower rate what I would call export paper, something of the sort could well be considered here.

I appreciate the difficulty, and I appreciate the particular difficulty of the G.A.T.T. limit as long as the Government continue to have such a monstrously high Bank Rate by comparison with the rest of the world, but I do think the matter does merit further consideration and that it should be possible to find means of giving assistance of that sort in one way or another.

I have taken the time of the House quite a bit, and it is, I suppose, rather bad manners, in a way, to have waited until the hon. Gentleman had made his second speech and then got up, but I hope that he will believe me when I say that I really did want to hear what he was to say in respect of the very forceful but, on the whole, friendly criticisms and suggestions he received from both sides of the House, and that he must allow someone comparatively ignorant in this field to have all the advantage he can from other sources of information before exposing his own deficiencies.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. Gibson-Watt.]

Committee upon Monday next.

Export Guarantees Money

[ Queen's Recommendation signified.]

[Major Sir WILLIAM ANSTRUTHER-GRAY in the Chair]

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).


That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to increase the limit imposed by section two of the Export Guarantees Act, 1949, as amended by any subsequent enactment, on the liabilities which may be undertaken by the Board of Trade in respect of guarantees under that section and certain other transactions under the Export Guarantees Acts, 1949 to 1959, it is expedient to authorise any increase in the sums which, under section three or section four of the said Act of 1949, are to be or may be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament, charged on or issued out of the Consolidated Fund, raised by borrowing or paid into the Exchequer, being an increase attributable to the provisions of the said Act of the present Session raising the said limit to eight hundred million pounds.—[Sir K. Joseph.]

Resolution to be reported.

Report to be received upon Monday next.

Aircraft Noise

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Gibson-Watt.]

1.38 p.m.

I am glad to have this opportunity to raise on the Adjournment a question which is of very great concern to my constituents, namely, noise caused by aircraft flying into London Airport. Before I mention any details, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend on his new appointment as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation. I understand that this afternoon this is to be his maiden speech in replying to a debate, and I should like to wish him luck in his new job at the Ministry. I hope that my hon. Friend will take sympathetic interest in the problems of noise caused by aircraft, as, indeed, his predecessor did, and also, perhaps, find time to pay a visit to London Airport in the near future to see on the spot same of the problems involved.

This is, I understand, the first opportunity since the hon. Gentleman the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) raised this matter on the Adjournment in June, 1960, for us to have a further and, I hope, a fairly lengthy discussion on the subject. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) here, because he, too, takes a great interest in the subject, as, indeed, does the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton).

Those hon. Members who are deeply concerned about aircraft noise are perhaps considered by many people in aviation and even among the general public as reactionaries and people who are endeavouring to put the clock back. That is not so. There are around London Airport nearly 500,000 people who are disturbed by aircraft noise, and I think that it is my duty, and, of course, the duty of other hon. Members representing the people involved, to put forward the views of our constituents. It is my personal duty to put forward the views of my constituents living in Richmond and Barnes.

Before I do so, I must underline that I am most anxious that Britain continues to play a leading part in international aviation. I realise the importance of London Airport as an international air terminal. I realise that some disturbance to my constituents is inevitable and that we must balance against this the need for first-class communications which have an important role to play in the nation's economy.

I much appreciate the Ministry's cooperation on the matter with me personally on the many times that I have approached it over the past two years since I was first privileged to represent Richmond in the House. The Government's interest in the matter is underlined by the fact that the Ministry of Science has recently instituted a Gallup poll inquiry into the views and feelings of people living in Richmond and Barnes about aircraft noise. I am glad to hear of this, and I shall be interested in due course to hear the results of the survey.

The Noise Abatement Act expressly excluded noise caused by aircraft. There is, indeed, no redress for a member of the general public through the courts and, therefore, the only means the public have of complaining about this appalling nuisance is through their Members of Parliament and to the Ministry direct. I must emphasise that I felt somewhat disturbed to read of a letter which was sent to one of my constituents, Miss Poulton, though I realise that she telephoned the Ministry on many occasions.

I understand that over a long period well over 160 complaints were made by Miss Poulton to the Ministry, but I think it is unfortunate that a letter was sent to her which points out that if she carries on a nuisance campaign over the telephone she may make herself liable to proceedings under Section 56 of the Post Office Act, 1953. This is unfortunate, bearing in mind the great worry and, indeed, despair of many people who see no easing of this problem caused by aircraft flying into London Airport.

Perhaps I can best underline the nuisance by reading an extract from a letter from the Education Department of Surrey County Council in connection with Richmond County School for Girls. The governors of the school requested the Department to write to me concerning the
"frequent and serious disturbance to the work of the School caused by the excessive noise of some aircraft using London Airport."
The letter states that
"The governors themselves had an instance of the difficulty at their last meeting, when the noise of an aircraft passing overhead made it impossible for them to hear the report of the Headmistress which was being given at that time."
The governors added that
"It is quite impossible for teachers to continue aural lessons, and the necessity frequently to interrupt such a lesson must inevitably seriously disturb the concentration of the pupils. A further and equally serious problem arises especially in this and other grammar schools, in that the concentration of the pupils sitting for the General Certificate of Education and other examinations is disturbed."
This is just one of the scores of letters which I have received on this subject in recent months. I wish today to mention only the landing problems, because this is of particular interest to us in Richmond and Barnes.

The first point I should like to stress is that my constituency lies in a direct line with two of the main runways of London Airport, No. 1 and No. 5. The centre of my constituency is roughly 7½ miles from the threshold of No. 1 runway. I want to put forward five points which I hope are constructive, though I appreciate that, before any of them can be taken up or agreed to by my hon. Friend, safety considerations in respect of the aircraft, the crew and the passengers must be paramount in any decision taken on this matter.

I realise that it is impossible to eliminate this nuisance. All I hope to do is to suggest ideas that might be considered to reduce the noise and the nuisance caused to hundreds of thousands of people living under the glide path into London Airport. This path is at an angle of 3 degrees to the ground. The first point I want to make is the importance of aircraft keeping to the correct height of approach. It means that aircraft passing over the crossroads at East Sheen should keep to a height of 1,500 ft. and, as I have said, these crossroads are 7½ miles from the threshold of the runway. They should keep to this regulation, but I am not canvinced, nor are many of my constituents, that all the aircraft do so.

The previous Minister of Aviation, my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, at my request set up in January and February, 1960, a height check which lasted for 16 days. It checked the aircraft flying over these crossroads and it showed that 95 per cent. of the aircraft crossing my constituency were at a height of above 1,500 feet. But if one looks into the figures a little closer and breaks them down one discovers that the aircraft which come down below 1,500 feet were the very aircraft that caused the maximum noise, the Comets and Boeing 707's.

The results show that 11·1 per cent. of the Comets were below 1,500 feet and 13·6 per cent. of the Boeing 707's were below that height. If these are the two aircraft which are causing the maximum amount of nuisance to residents living under the glide path, it is surely important that they should be checked particularly carefully and that we should not worry so much about the pistonengined aircraft or the Viscount, which is a turbo-prop aircraft.

The Minister of Aviation set up in October, 1960, another regular height-check system. It was regular in that it operated for two-hour periods each week. I do not know what the results have been, and I should be grateful if my hon. Friend could publish the results of this check which has been going on for some time now, and also, perhaps, extend it in future over a longer period than two hours. I do not know whether this is possible, but I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. D. Smith) would also like to see it extended.

My second point relates to the enforcement of operating procedures. I understand that there are certain penalties for breaches of procedure. Will my hon. Friend give the House details of pilots and airlines involved in breaches of the height regulations during the past 12 months and state what penalties have been exacted? We have never been able to discover this from the Ministry, although on many occasions it has told us that it keeps a very strict watch on airlines and pilots in connection with operating procedures.

My third point concerns night flying. I understand that aircraft which have permission from the Minister—certain airlines have such permission—are allowed to use London Airport between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. What is the up-to-date position of airlines using the airport? What airlines at present have the Minister's permission, and what is the average number of movements per night in and out of London Airport for scheduled and unscheduled flights?

My fourth point is one of the most important of all. It is the need for fundamental research for quieter aircraft engines. This is something constructive which is, I know, under way at present, and it gives hope to many of an improvement in the future. I know that the Department is investigating the reduction of noise at source, and that not only the Ministry but the aircraft industry is making great efforts on this account. Can my hon. Friend tell us how much is being spent on research at present and what success is being achieved? In ten or fifteen years' time we may have vertical take-off lift aircraft. This would solve our problem in Richmond and Barnes, but it would no doubt make life unbearable for hon. Members who represent constituencies around the airport itself, such as Hayes and Harlington and Feltham. Nevertheless, that prospect would be of interest to me and my constituents in Richmond and Barnes.

I am convinced that a great deal more can be done by the Department to improve public relations. I would ask my hon. Friend to consider the appointment of a special commissioner with responsibilities within the Ministry for co-ordinating aircraft noise research and information. He should be a senior civil servant. He should have several duties to perform. The first would be to publicise efforts by the Government on this issue. I appreciate that the Department has spent a great deal of time and done a lot of work in trying to reduce aircraft noise, but it is not being publicised enough.

Secondly, the commissioner would act as a two-way channel between the public and the Ministry. In other words, he would receive the complaints of the public and issue details of what the Ministry was doing. Thirdly, the commissioner's task would be to explain to the public the importance of the noise factor to the industry and other Government Departments, and to inspire and encourage more research work for quieter aircraft engines.

I should like the commissioner to play an important part in running the height checking system. Many of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite would like those systems to be extended, and perhaps the commissioner could be responsible for that, as well as advising the Minister on breaches of the regulations and whether prosecutions should be brought.

This final suggestion is to underline a need. I am certain that if the Ministry could put over to the public what it is doing it would create a feeling of greater confidence among the mass of people living around London Airport, many of whom feel that nothing whatsoever is being done about this by the Ministry.

To sum up, my suggestions are an extension of height checking, stricter enforcements of operating procedures and a special commissioner to improve public relations.

I apologise for delaying the House so long, but I would ask my hon. Friend to give most serious consideration to these suggestions to ease a nuisance that causes great concern to hundreds of thousands of people living in the London area around the Airport.

1.56 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) upon raising this important matter. Ever since he has been a Member of Parliament he has taken a keen interest in the efforts of hon. Members to help their constituents living around London Airport over the noise problem.

I join the hon. Member in wishing the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) well in his new post as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation. I trust that he will do well in tackling the problem of aircraft noise. He comes from the troubled waters of international affairs—from Chatham House—to the equally troubled waters of aircraft noise at London Airport. Many of my constituents feel keenly on both issues and hope for a solution to both problems.

In an effort to help our constituents we have debated this matter many times. It is a problem not easy of solution. The peak period for noise is the summer months. I get letters on this subject from my constituents mainly in July, August and September, which is the peak period for travel to Europe for continental holidays and also for air traffic from the U.S.A. That is also the period, especially during heat waves, when people want their bedroom windows open so that they may breathe fresh air. That also helps to make that period most annoying and irritating to people living close to London Airport.

The hon. Member for Richmond has a different problem from mine. Richmond is about 10 miles from the airport, but is under the glide path. I have spoken to people in Barnes and Richmond and know that they have an acute problem. But many of my constituents are living within 300 yards of some of the runways, and for them the problem is one of the limitation of the noise at its source.

I want to refer specially to night flying. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) and I have questioned strongly whether airline operators could not arrange their holiday tours so that their aircraft took off after 7 a.m. instead of between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. An enormous number of people undergo inconvenience at night because a small number of people travel these routes. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will go into that matter again.

I know that steps have been taken to try to combat or muffle the noise. B.O.A.C. has spent a considerable sum of money in building a large earth bank around part of the airport—I do not know whether it is yet completely finished—which should give some protection against the noise of the warming up of engines or of engine running during night maintenance. I know that the Minister has cut maintenance at night as much as possible, but emergencies do arise. The mufflers being used on the ground have helped slightly, but we still have a long way to go.

When the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations was Minister of Civil Aviation, he took a big interest in the problem. He did not like noise himself, and made some efforts to try to get at the root causes. He called a conference of all the leading aircraft manufacturers, the airline corporations, the independents and all those connected with the aircraft industry, and made a strong plea to the manufacturers to try to find a way to eliminate noise at its source. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary now whether any results have come from that conference.

I do not believe that the problem will be solved unless the manufacturers themselves solve it. Earth banks can be erected and regulations made about height—and I agree with the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey that these should be strictly carried out and no low flying allowed—but the solution lies in research by the manufacturers.

I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) here because he spoke to me today about an aircraft in the United States which may go into flight in a few years' time at six times faster than the speed of sound. I understand that the noise it makes is terrific. A firm stand must be taken with the manufacturers. We must insist that they eliminate this noise or reduce it to a low degree which people can bear. We shall have to be very firm. I remember remarks by Sir Miles Thomas, when he was Chairman of B.O.A.C., about manufacturers and the limitation of noise. We should not merely be content with the co-operation of British manufacturers. This is an international problem, and we should seek co-operation with the Americans, the French, the Germans, the Russians and all the other leading air powers.

I agree with the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey, in wanting Britain to be a leading air Power. I am proud of the progress that Britain has made. Many thousands of people in my constituency work at London Airport. A great change has taken place in my constituency in a short time. When I was a boy, the district consisted mainly of farms, with fruit and vegetables sent to Covent Garden by horse and cart. Now it helps to send jet airliners all over the world, and we are proud of the progress which Britain has made in this respect. We want to be the leading air Power.

At the same time, we must press forward towards a solution of the problem of aircraft noise. As airport traffic grows, so does the problem. Hundreds of thousands of people live round the airport. There may be more international airports in the future, and I join with the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey, in asking the Parliamentary Secretary to devote time to finding a solution to this major problem of noise, which is so important to those living round international airports. I feel that the solution must be with limitation of noise by aircraft manufacturers when designing their aircraft.

2.5 p.m.

I join with the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) on raising this very important matter and also on his good fortune in choosing a day when Government business has ended early enough to give those of us equally concerned with this problem a chance of getting into the debate.

When I saw the subject for this Adjournment debate, I thought that there would probably be only the normal half hour available, and that there would be no opportunity for others to join in the debate. My hon. Friend knows that we support him very much in his activities on this question of noise. We who represent constituencies which are affected have collectively tried over the years to get some improvement.

My constituency gets it both ways—on the ground and in the air. We have traffic going through the constituency along the Great West Road to the airport and back, and then there is the unpleasantness of the noise of airliners taking off or landing. This is a considerable problem. It is important that we should, from time to time, debate the subject, if only to keep the authorities on their toes and let them see that we are watching them closely. It is a non-political matter, which affects any politician who has a constituency within the vicinity of any airport, not only London's.

London Airport is the one with which I am concerned. It is one of the hazards of living in the London area that one not only has to put up with traffic conditions on the ground, but also with the perils of continuous aircraft noise. I am impressed with the consistency of the complaints which have reached me in the time I have been in the House. Like my hon. Friend, I get regular letters, and I tend to get more in summer, when noise seems to travel further. The letters arrive with regularity, and they are not from hare-brained, silly people with an axe to grind, but are sensible and intelligent.

The Minister of Aviation treats them fairly on the whole. He is always courteous and helpful in his replies, but I sometimes fail to be reassured that everything is being done that could be done to improve the situation. It is distressing to people to hear sudden aircraft noise, particularly at night. It affects people who are in general ill-health, or who suffer from a bad heart condition. It must obviously be serious for hospitals, of which I have a number in and around my constituency, including a well-known maternity hospital. Noise is extremely bad for patients, and hospitals go to a great deal of trouble to put up notices asking traffic to be as silent as possible.

Aircraft noise is bad also for schools, because it not only disturbs lessons but tends to frighten children. On the whole, people do not like being disturbed late at night, when they are just off to bed, by sudden bursts of sound from some of the big jets coming over.

I wonder whether the height checks—which, I agree, should be more regular and intensified—are as accurate as they are made out to be. I have no technical knowledge on the subject, and it would be wrong of me to imply that some of the test results were inaccurate, but I have in my constituency a very experienced pilot who recently wrote to me complaining on this question. He gave me an estimate of the height of an aircraft which came over his house one Sunday afternoon. He went to the trouble of telephoning London Airport and getting the matter looked into. He also wrote to me. My right hon. Friend the Minister gave a careful reply, but the information supplied to him gave a height of 600 ft. or 700 ft. different from the estimate of this experienced pilot. The incident occurred on a clear afternoon when it was easy for an experienced person to estimate.

I wonder whether there does not tend to be a certain amount of "whitewashing" from time to time. Complaints are made, although not always with the same intensity as by the constituent of my hon. Friend who telephoned the Ministry over a hundred times. There are, however, constituents of ours who telephone to London Airport to register their protest. The authorities at London Airport are assiduous in their replies and try to follow them up, but I am inclined to think that there is a certain amount of "whitewashing" and that it is difficult to check back to find the exact height of an aircraft coming over, say, Brent-ford and Chiswick at 3.30 on a certain Sunday afternoon.

I support the plea that we should have more regular checks at different points throughout the whole of the London area and that these should be followed up. I agree with my hon. Friend that pilots who disobey these orders should be penalised effectively. Although it is not an offence against the law as such, like a motoring offence, in some ways it is just as serious as a bus driver or any other motorist who woefully disregards the law of the road. We should know exactly what sanctions are imposed on these people who infringe the height regulations and we should ensure that anybody who continues to do it persistently will be in danger of losing his pilot's licence.

I took part in the Adjournment debate which we were fortunate enough to have in June, 1960, which was initiated by the hon. Member for Feltham. Since then, there has been considerable activity, prompted not only by our letters and our Parliamentary Questions, but there seems to have been little improvement. There is a great deal of talk of research. I am fascinated that the Ministry of Science is conducting a Gallup poll into this question. I hope that its results will be more accurate than those of some of the electoral Gallup polls. I can fairly forecast that if it is conducted effectively throughout the London area, the result will be a 99 per cent. objection to aircraft noise. Nobody who is affected is prepared simply to shrug his shoulders and let it pass.

The suggestions put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond are admirable and I lend my full support to them. It would be a good idea to have some form of special commissioner to look into these complaints. I was thinking of a local consultative committee made up of representatives of the local authorities who are affected. We already have a consultative committee on general airport matters which sometimes tends to deal with aircraft noise, but a committee dealing with one subject alone would have greater chance of success. In some ways, however, my hon. Friend's idea might be a better one. Another possibility is to institute an official committee of inquiry into aircraft noise and to have a report similar to other reports which are submitted to Government Departments.

This is a growing problem. As the hon. Member for Feltham said, it will be with us for a long time and it will not ease as time passes. None of us would advocate the closing or moving of London Airport—that is unthinkable. We live in a modern age and subscribe to the progress that we achieve by modern methods of transportation. We must, however, make life tolerable for those who, either by chance or because of their work, are forced to live in the vicinity of a large airport.

Something could be done to put an official inquiry in hand to go into the whole question and realign our thinking on the subject of research into aircraft engine noise. I have no technical knowledge, but surely it is not beyond the wit of man to devise an engine which is not as noisy as those of the Boeing 707 and of the Comet. A little intensified applied research could do a great deal of good.

My hon. Friend mentioned an important point about public relations. Like other hon. Members, I receive a similar type of official letter. People say, "It is all very well for you to get a nice letter back from the Minister and to pass it on to us, but there the matter ends and the trouble continues." Better public relations from the Ministry of Aviation would help. If the Ministry announced that it was making regular height checks and would publish the results, at least the man in the street would feel that the Department was conscious of the matter and was pursuing it and doing what it could to alleviate the nuisance.

In this modern scientific age, we grow in some ways complacent about these things. Twenty-five or thirty years ago, this noise from aircraft engines simply would not have been tolerated. Today, however, because of modern conditions, it tends to be accepted. For everybody who writes to protest, there must be many others who feel similarly but who never get round to putting pen to paper.

It is another hazard of living in Londom that one has to weigh carefully the area in which to buy a house. There are other considerations too, such as the green belt and traffic. It is a very real consideration nowadays to buy a house which is not on one of the main landing routes, as is the case in Richmond and parts of Brentford and Chiswick. This factor detracts from the value of property in parts of the London area which are right in line with London Airport.

I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on his appointment to the Ministry of Aviation. I do not know whether in his constituency of Oxford he has had any problems of aircraft noise. I assure him, however, in common with other hon. Members who have spoken and who seek to speak today, that he will be getting plenty of letters from us in the months ahead. We welcome a new mind with a fresh approach to the problem. We hope that my hon. Friend will study it and will pay visits to London Airport to see whether anything can be done to improve the situation. If he can do something to make the lot of those who live in the area more tolerable, he will be achieving considerable success in first office of his as a member of Her Majesty's Government.

2.18 p.m.

I should like, first, to say how grateful we are to the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle), who has secured this opportunity of raising once again a problem which for countless thousands of people is, unfortunately, getting worse and not better.

Before I develop the points which I intend to make, I join also other hon. Members in congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary on his office. The first Adjournment debate that his immediate predecessor had was on noise. I assure the hon. Gentleman that as long as this severe disturbance and dislocation exists in the lives of many of our constituents, we shall be bound to be raising this matter continually with him. I am sure that he will understand.

I do not suppose that the constituents of the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey consider themselves at all fortunate, but they are fortunate compared with those who live right on the immediate perimeter of the airport. Bad as the disturbance is in Richmond, Twickenham and Brentford—I fully admit it, because one has had experience of it in those districts—the worst cases of all are the 50,000 families within the Ministry's check points, who get the full blast of any noise which is created, because it is said to be impossible to diminish noise and disturbance until certain heights have been reached.

This is a serious matter. It is not a minor matter affecting a few hundred people. At least the half million families to whom the hon. Member for Richmond referred within the greater distance are involved, in addition to the 50,000 families within the Minister's perimeter. With the increase in air traffic, many of these people are suffering disturbance, annoyance and acute nuisance on a scale which the community has no right to inflict upon them. Because we raise from time to time, and are bound to do so, the plight of our people, I hope that it will not be thought that we are in any way the enemies of aviation or, indeed, of the London Airport. We are certainly not hostile. We welcome its many achievements in all kinds of ways. We know that London Airport gives employment to many thousands, some of whom are our constituents, and we share the pride in the reputation of the airport for its courtesy and efficiency, which is recognised throughour the world.

We know, too—one has to be fair to all concerned—that there are many at the airport who do their utmost to try to meet the problems which have been created by the growth of traffic and of noise disturbance. There are many powerful interests which can speak for the airline operators and for the employers, but the residents must look to their Members of Parliament. They have no one else except their own organisation. We are the only people who can make representations to the Minister; therefore, we must and are glad to do so.

I do not think that there is any doubt that disturbance has got worse. I suppose that some people have become reconciled to it and given up writing or bothering either the airport or anyone else, but there is not much doubt from my post-bag or the reports that I get, in my case from the South Harlington Residents' Association, and the reports which other hon. Members get from their residents' associations, that aircraft noise has become even more acute.

At the last meeting of the London Airport (Heathrow) Standing Consultative Committee, a letter was received from a Mrs. Platt. The airport Commandant, commenting on this letter, said that Mrs. Platt lived about 4 miles south-east of Heathrow, so she cannot be one of the worst sufferers. She wrote to the London Airport Consultative Committee in these terms:
"I am writing to ask you if your Council has registered a protest with the Air Minister regarding the terrible noise one has to endure from aircraft leaving and entering London Airport. It is had enough for adults but now I have the unpleasant experience of seeing my small grandson, quite petrified, rush screaming in from the garden. He is only two years old. I have compared my experience with another mother in this road whose child is exactly the same. Surely this is a very sorry state of affairs when young children's nerves are being shattered at this early age."
We have all had letters of this kind, particularly about children. This not only happens in daytime when children are playing in the garden, but it is worse at night when they are wakened up and it is very often difficult to get them to sleep again. This is a dreadful experience for children.

Recently I was talking to a doctor in Harlington who was interviewing a patient just back from hospital after a leg amputation. Three times during the space of 20 minutes the doctor had to stop his consultation because of the noise from aircraft passing overhead. It is quite intolerable that citizens should be exposed to this constant, serious annoyance, particularly as many of the sufferers were living in the district before the airport was there. Bad enough as it may be by day, it is, of course, inevitably worse at night.

I greatly regret that the Minister ever gave his permission for scheduled services to start between midnight and 7 a.m. We know that two scheduled services, the Swissair and the Scandinavian Airlines, have been given permission, but, frankly, the way in which that permission appears to have been given created a good deal of uneasiness here and outside. It will be remembered that the times of the services appeared in the timetable before the Minister had finally given his permission and, indeed, before the tests had ever been undertaken. I do not say that anyone had a reliable tip-off that permission was to be given but, at any rate, it created a suspicious and uncertain feeling among constituents.

So we have already two services which are allowed night jet flights, and we know, from the details given, that if we take into account delayed starts and delayed arrivals, there may be six, seven or sometimes eight jet disturbances at night, quite apart from the normal aircraft coming in. To interfere with the night's peace and slumber of families living near the airport in that way appears to me to be very unfair. I do not understand why the convenience of a few hundred people should be considered before the normal peace and health and sleep of many thousands. I cannot think that there is any real commercial justification, and perhaps the Minister may feel that he can take a stronger line in future.

I have been dismayed and indignant by some of the suggestions that have been contained in the Fifth Report of the Estimates Committee concerning London Airport. In paragraphs 29, 30, 31 and 32 it is suggested that there should be a more flexible system of charges at the London Airport in order to secure greater use during the whole of the 24 hours of facilities there. If this means further jet flying at night, I am totally opposed to it, and I hope that the Minister and the House will take a very strong stand.

It is clear, of course, that the Estimates Committee knew what it was recommending, because paragraph 87, under the heading "Noise", states this:
"It is possible that as the proportion of jet aircraft increases rapidly within the next decade, a situation may be reached where the financial development of Heathrow would be hindered by the necessity to restrict operations of these aircraft by one means or another. From this standpoint,"—
the commercial standpoint—
"any limitation of the use of the airport by airlines is to be regretted,…"
I think it borders on impertinence for this suggestion to be made unless hon. Members who are members of the Estimates Committee had spent several nights around the airport and knew just what they were reporting. I was surprised to see—whether they supported the recommendations, I do not know—that at any rate two hon. Members, whose constituencies border on the airport, were parties to this recommendation. I think this is an unfortunate suggestion, and I hope that hon. Members will be vigilant in seeing that there will be no further jet flights from or into the London Airport at night, until something has been done about noise disturbance. I think that it is extremely unfortunate indeed. If the hon. Members who signed this Report had done what the reporter of the Daily Express did and actually spent a night or two there, then we would be inclined to give their recommendations greater weight.

It will be remembered that this reporter, who visited the London Airport and stayed a night in the district, on 25th May, 1960, wrote:
"At 1.15 in the morning a monster takes hold of my pyjama lapels, jerks me upright out of sweet dreams into nightmare, and throws me back in horror on my pillow. A night jet is taking off from London Airport."
He goes on to say:
"By 7 a.m. there are seven cigarette stubs in the ashtray beside my bed and I have read 243 pages of 'The Thousand and One Nights '…"
I agree that there may be some journalistic exuberance about that report, but it describes very well what those who have spent some time near the airport at night—and I have done so—suffer when night jets take off. I hope, therefore, that the suggestion of the Estimates Committee, which was based only upon commercial considerations, will not be taken up. The lives and health of 50,000 families, apart from those living further off, are worthy of some consideration, and I hope that the Minister will keep this in mind.

The hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey and the hon. Member for Brent-ford and Chiswick (Mr. D. Smith) raised the question of the degree to which aircraft observe the Minister's limitations and conditions on take-off. Anybody who has made any kind of independent check must have grave suspicion that, from time to time, infringements take place, and that they do so with a greater frequency than the House has been led to suppose. We were able to get some figures, relating to 31st May, from which it was clear that on that night there were at least two infringements.

I want to know what happens when an operator has clearly infringed either the noise or the height conditions. Does he just get a mere polite talking to, or is there some really serious consequence? I do not suggest that on every occasion the culprit should be immediately penalised, but if a polite note is the only consequence of a failure to observe the conditions, for whatever reason, it is not good enough, because infringements will then become more frequent and not less, with a consequent increase in noise and also in danger.

I want to refer to the point made by the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey, about public relations. I have no doubt that the people at the Airport and at the Ministry get annoyed with the protestations of residents' associations and others who are desperately worried by this matter, and who no doubt frequently communicate with them. But this is inevitable. Officials must learn that this sort of thing is bound to happen. When people are deeply disturbed and see their families' rest being affected night after night they must take whatever action is open to them. Consequently, they write to us and to the Ministry.

The secretary of the South Harlington Residents' Association frequently communicates with the Ministry, as he does with me. On one occasion, when he took up the case of infringement on 31st May, to which I have referred, he received a reply from the airport commandant which, amongst other things, said:
"…infringements of the noise limits are taken up with the operators concerned but it would place an impossible burden on my staff if they were allowed to enter into correspondence with third parties concerning the details of each case."
Why? This was an inquiry from a responsible person—the secretary of a residents' association, on behalf of people who are being continually disturbed, and having their nights' rest constantly affected. In the case of New York Airport daily contact is maintained with the six residents' associations round the airport, and all the information collected about individual flights is freely circulated to the associations each day. It often happens that there is a good day with no infringements, and then everybody knows it.

Round London Airport, no one knows it. All we know is that infringements do occur, and we have difficulty in obtaining information. If I write to obtain the information I get it, but there must be trust, understanding and confidence between those living round the airport and those operating it, and I hope that the point that I have made will be seriously considered, with a view to providing as much information as possible, in order that relations may be improved.

The airport commandant does a spendid job. I do not criticise the general work that he does there. I know it is very difficult, and that he bears a very heavy responsibility, which he discharges well, but when information is reasonably requested—and I regard this as being a reasonable request, because the question not only of noise but of danger is involved—I hope that that information will be forthcoming.

One other matter that I want to raise concerns the flight angle, especially in relation to No. 2 runway. I am interested in this because some of my constituents' homes are close to those of constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter), who has raised the matter previously. When there is a low flight over Cranford Cross it affects my constituents as well. The nearest houses at Cranford Cross are only about 2,300 ft. from the north-east end of No. 2 runway, and if we assume that an aircraft takes off at about 1,000 ft. from the end of the runway the nearest houses are 3,300 ft. away from that point. If the flight angle is 3 degrees, or 1 in 19, it means that Boeings, Comets and other jet aircraft fly over the nearest houses at a height of about 170 ft. When they fly over the more distant houses at Cranford Cross they are still only 270 ft.

According to the noise consultants at New York Airport a Boeing 707 at 270 ft. has a noise disturbance of about 280 noys, and as the Minister's limit is 130 noys—which many of us considered to be too high—when the aircraft is only 170 ft. above the nearest houses to the runway the noise is about 2·6 times greater than that limit, or about 340 noys. Even when it is as high as 270 ft. the noise is about twice the maximum permitted by him. This is a very serious infringement, not only for the residents of Cranford Cross but for those who live adjacent to the runway, in my constituency, and I ask the Minister to consider whether or not there can be some safe variation in the angle of approach and take-off.

Within the last few months the Ministry has received a protest from the Education Executive of the Hayes and Harlington Urban District Council about the William Byrd School, on the Bath Road. Teaching is interrupted constantly from day to day, with the result that a considerable strain is placed upon the staff and children. It is wrong that the children and the staff should suffer in this way, and I should be glad to know whether anything has been done to help in this case.

From time to time we have suggested to the Minister that when the wind is blowing away from the Harlington side, and away from No. 2 runway, all other factors being equal it would be better for that runway to be used, because both the noise and the smell would be taken away from the houses. I know that the question of smell is not the subject today, but it is a very important matter to the residents. On the other hand, when the wind is blowing towards Harlington the use of No. 5 runway would mean that the noise and smell were being taken away from the residents on that side. This seems a quite simple matter, but we have never been able to get anywhere with this idea so far. I hope that at some time, if not today, the Parliamentary Secretary can provide information on the matter.

In conclusion, I wish the Minister well in tackling the many things that must be done in this connection. Some progress has been made. We are glad to see that the earthworks have at least been constructed, although they have taken a long lime. We want more trees planted, and a greater use of mufflers. Above all we want more research into noise problems. Only in that way shall we be able to make life tolerable for a number of ctizens who are deserving of the sympathy of the House.

2.39 p.m.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) on raising the topic of noise at airports. I agree with practically all that he said. This reminds me of another occasion about fourteen years ago, when I was sitting on the other side of the House and I raised this matter. I had no support from either side then, when I advanced the view that we had arrived at the time when a limit ought to be placed on landing and take-off speeds of aircraft in Britain and on ceiling speed.

At that time, I was travelling to the House on Monday mornings at the shattering speed of 95 miles an hour. Very few people in the neighbourhood of the airport heard the machine take off, and I am certain that fewer heard it land. On Monday of this week I travelled from Renfrew to London at 400 m.p.h. When the Vanguard leaves Renfrew everyone knows about it, and when she returns over the houses around the airport, again, everyone knows about it.

In that comparatively short period of time this problem of the increase in speed on our internal routes has developed. The question which faces us now is how to meet this demand for speed without the increasing noise that will came from the power necessary to achieve that speed. Everyone who travels by air does so because the aircraft will get him from, say, London to Tokyo quicker than any other means of transport.

I read in the Press this morning that an airman in America has flown at 4,074 m.p.h. Since the day when I first propounded the idea that we should decide on a ceiling speed with low landing and low take-off—and I was then supported by many people active in the aircraft industry—we have entered upon a road from which, in my view, there is no return.

Civil aviation is inevitably bound up with military aviation. The military machine must get from point A to point B far quicker than any other military aircraft possessed by any other country in the world. But the purpose of the civil machine is different. In my view, its aim is to get to its destination safely, and yet, because civil aviation is bound up with military aviation, it has gone on developing greater and greater speeds. I do not think that we shall depart from that policy.

Puck said that he could put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes. It seems to me that man will never rest until he achieves what Puck said he would do. Of course, the girdle has been put around the earth because speed has gone on increasing. This is raising problems for those who live near airports. The large number of Questions that we have on Mondays on aviation topics indicate that another problem is facing us. There is talk of the supersonic aircraft. I do not see how we are to avoid the problems presented by that type of machine. It will bring us speed beyond our belief, but it will also bring with it power, and noise which is shattering in every sense of the word.

When in June I raised with the present Minister of Aviation the matter of the locus of the airport catering for this potential development, he naturally avoided answering the Question. If we are to have a supersonic aircraft where will the airport be situated? The Minister suggested—and it is in HANSARD—that the airport would need a 20,000 foot runway for take-off. Lord Brabazon, speaking round about the same time said that at 20,000 feet up and moving at speed the supersonic aircraft would shatter eve-y window in every dwelling beneath it.

What can we do to make life reasonable in the circumstances which now exist and which will become even more intense in the years that lie ahead if the developments which we now visualise mature? Of course, the matter is receiving a great deal of attention at the very highest level. The International Air Transport Association has been inquiring into it from the scientific point of view. Its experts are considering the problem because it is really an international problem. We must carry every nation with us on this matter.

The Association has made some recommendations which cover some of the points raised on both sides of the House today. My hon. Friend the Memfor Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington) referred to the question of air flight paths, a matter on which the Association has made a recommendation. I think that from Answers that we have received the Ministry has taken note of this matter, but perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will say something about it today.

The Association suggests that all pilots of aircraft should have the most adequate all-weather ground facilities so that, as my hon. Friend has just said, they may make their landing along a path which will create the minimum amount of noise. That is something which those versed in these matters believe can be done. As the people who speak for those of our countrymen who suffer from this noise, it is our business to find out from the Minister what he is doing to put into practice the recommendations of the Association.

The Association has made another recommendation. It is that in noise-critical areas there should be no housing development. That is an important recommendation. Knowing what we do about the potential development of aircraft in the future, it is absurd that we should build houses or develop sites that are known to be in noise-critical areas I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us something about that.

Again, the Association has laid it down that an airport should be a good neighbour and a community asset. The second part of that proposal is being promoted at London Airport. Those of us who use that airport are impressed by the number of people who frequent it just to watch planes coming in and going out, even though they realise that when a Viscount comes in they cannot hear themselves speak. It is obvious, therefore, that this problem of noise is known to those who do not suffer from it as do the constituents of the hon. Members who have spoken.

We want an airport to be a community asset; a place to which people will go, and thousands of people use London Airport in just that way. We want an airport to be a good neighbour. If it is to be that, it is the business of the hon. Gentleman and his Department to ensure that, as far as humanly possible, noise is abated.

I know that the abatement of noise presents a difficult problem if we demand more speed, but I do not think that it is insoluble. If, however, it is, we must get back, at least on the internal routes, to the kind of plan I suggested many years ago, and have a limitation on ceiling speed. I do not think that it is very important whether I travel from Glasgow to London, as I do now, in an hour and five minutes, or in an hour and forty-five minutes. The difference in the amount of noise on taking off and landing created by that increase in speed is quite alarming. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us the stage which has been reached in the research into the building of an aircraft engine which will combine speed with a minimum of noise.

A good deal has been said about pilots not obeying regulations, and things of that kind. I am sure most hon. Members will agree that that applies to only a very small number of pilots. I would not wish to say anything about the captains of our aircraft without first having close consultation with them about their difficulties.

When one sits in the pilot's seat in a modern aircraft, one sees an amazing number of dials, and wonders how, during take-off and landing, the pilot can have a fully comprehensive view of all these necessary instruments which control take-off and landing and, at the same time, do the other things which must be done, and done at speed—sometimes even in a split second.

A pilot must have great worries. It must be a strain coming to land at London, Prestwick, or Renfrew in weather that is not too good, knowing that there are other aircraft stacked round him waiting to come in. It must be even worse when, as on two occasions with some of my hon. Friends, one aircraft losing its stacked height suddenly appeared too near to ours. Only last November, while I was in the air, a plane out of its proper position, suddenly appeared below our wing. Such events are alarming both for the captain and for the passengers.

I would not be too critical of pilots. If there are deviations from regulations, I am sure that the Minister will deal with them with the co-operation of the pilots, and not give them the feeling that in carrying out a most onerous and difficult job they are subjected to unfair criticism in the House.

I have been interested in flying for a long time, not merely from the point of view of the passenger, but from many others. My major interest is, naturally, in safety. Whatever we do about noise, about speed, and all the other things, the prime consideration which must govern all flying is safety first, safety second, and safety last.

2.58 p.m.

I can almost foresee what the Parliamentary Secretary will say when he replies to the most interesting and valuable speeches which have been made in the course of this debate. He will start by expressing profound gratitude to the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle), for having raised this important matter. He will go on to say that the problem of noise is receiving the most active consideration in his Department; no stone is being left unturned; every avenue is being explored; the Department fully realises the inconvenience to which many people are being put; and let us hope for the best; and by the time the subject is raised again in the House there may be another Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Aviation, when the present holder of the office has moved on to even greater heights consistent with his known abilities.

I suppose I am the only hon. Member present in the Chamber who actually lives and tries to sleep in the line of flight of certain services from London Airport, and that probably entitles me to take some part in this discussion. I did not realise the menace to the ordinary citizen created by the noise until the beginning of the last Parliamentary Recess when I returned home and was able to spend a little more time there than I had been able to do for some months. I was struck by the tremendous increase in the noise of air traffic.

I immediately took up the matter with the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. My complaint arose from the fact that I live near Binfield, in Berkshire. That has no particular significance except that it is in the line of flight of the Boeings and Comets leaving London Airport to cross the Atlantic. When I first took up the matter I was told that there had been an almost continuous westerly wind over southern England for the last few weeks which resulted in aircraft leaving at a lower altitude over Binfield than if they took off towards the east and turned in an angle of 180 degrees for their clearance to Woodley.

Woodley Beacon has to be observed by jet aircraft crossing the Atlantic. It is only two or three miles from where I live. If the trans-Atlantic aircraft pilot does not see Woodley Beacon on his way to cross the Atlantic then, for technical reasons which I am not competent to discuss, he may finish up in Tierra del Fuego instead of Idlewild.

Any ordinary person would expect to understand traffic lanes and that sort of thing. But the Ministry went on to assure me that aircraft cleared Woodley at 3,000 to 4,000 feet. That may be so, but it brings me to the point raised by the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey. I cannot believe that the height regulations are being properly observed. I live near Binfield on the line of route at a point where, according to the advice from the Ministry, the Boeings and D.C.8s are supposed to be travelling at an average higher of 3,000 to 4,000 ft. I ask myself this question. How is it that my sight has improved to such an extent that I can see details of an aeroplane in the sky at 4,000 ft. that I thought I was capable of seeing only at 1,500 ft.? It may be that my eye- sight is improving with old age, though I hardly like to think so. I suspect that the height of 3,000 or 4,000 ft. referred to in the communications from the Ministry is sometimes nearer 1.500 or 2,000 ft.

I will give an actual instance of how I assess the situation. If it is impossible to conduct a conversation in my house between two people in the same room because a jet aircraft is flying overhead I find it difficult to believe that the aircraft is flying at 3,000 to 4,000 feet. At that height even a Boeing, which is the noisiest aircraft of them all, should not make sufficient noise to prevent such a conversation from taking place, if the height regulations are being observed.

We know that air traffic is increasing. We get more aeroplanes during the summer, during August and September, when people have the windows of their houses open and there is more traffic from London Airport. The present Parliamentary Secretary toad me that in March, 1961, there were about 1,200 jet planes departing from London Airport and in August there were 2,300. That represents a considerable increase in traffic, and we have got to accept that, too. It cannot be avoided. But I believe that if the height regulations were more accurately observed a good deal of inconvenience to people living in the line of flight could be reduced.

There was some rerouting as recently as 21st August last, because, I suppose, the volume of complaints from people living on the western side of London Airport was such that it was felt necessary to take some action. But heavily built-up areas like Slough and Windsor were still affected by the noise. People in the hospital in Windsor were seriously inconvenienced, almost as much as the people living in areas represented by hon. Members who have already spoken.

The effect of this rerouting has not been very beneficial in the area where I live. The Parliamentary Secretary said to me in his reply on 30th October that these arrangements would have slightly lessened the noise at Binfield.
"as aircraft now pass a little further north."
I suppose the hon. Gentleman meant north of Binfield. However that may be, I do not see how, if an aircraft is travelling north of Binfield, it reduces the noise over Windsor and Slough both of which tend to be north of Binfield too. I do not understand the geography, but perhaps on another occasion with the aid of a map the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to enlighten me.

I know that the Ministry is doing all it can to reduce the noise from aircraft, and I am prepared to admit also that by and large the height regulations are observed. That makes it all the more noticeable when they are not observed. It leads people to complain and to kick up their own counter-noise, so to speak, to make the authorities take notice. I remember that at the beginning of the summer Recess when I was in my garden a jet aircraft—it was a Boeing—flew so low and the noise was so great that I instinctively ducked. That is something which I had forgotten how to do since 1945. It really shook me and I instinctively dropped down on to the ground to get out of the way. That happened in August of this year.

I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will take note of all that has been said. I know that nobody connected with the Ministry of Aviation or with London Airport, or the people who fly these Boeings and Comets across the Atlantic, want to create any more noise than is absolutely inevitable, but there are certain steps which could be taken even now to reduce the inconvenience to the general public. In particular, if the height regulations were enforced I am sure it would go a long way towards reducing the inconvenience that so many people suffer.

I am convinced that if the height regulations were enforced—this is the only respect in Which I can speak from experience—when jet aircraft take off from London Airport for America, a considerable amount of relief would accrue to the general public.

3.10 p.m.

I begin by expressing my appreciation of the remarks which have been addressed to me in my new capacity. When I made my maiden speech in the House, I was told that it was the longest within living memory. There is a possibility that my first speech as a Minister may be the longest within living memory, in view of the very wide range of subjects brought up in the debate. I shall try to provide answers, so far as I can, to all the points which have been put, and I undertake to look into the questions which have been raised to which I cannot give immediate answers.

So far as my personal interest in this problem is concerned, I shall do my utmost in the Ministry of Aviation to ensure that whatever is humanly possible in these matters will be done. In that sense, despite the earlier remarks of the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) for bringing the matter up and giving us the chance to air it.

My right hon. Friend has himself paid great attention and given a considerable amount of thought and study to the problem in the Ministry. I cannot yet speak with the same authority as he, but that is not to say that I am entirely a novice in the matter. None of us is. I have been a consumer or absorber of decibels in the neighbourhood of London (Heathrow) Airport myself. For a great part of last year, I worked in the immediate neighbourhood of London (Heathrow) Airport. I have, since I became Parliamentary Secretary, paid four visits to London (Heathrow) Airport. I should have paid a fifth but for the fact that my aircraft landed at London (Gatwick) Airport instead.

Earlier this week, I spent a night at London (Heathrow) Airport to sample the nuisance for myself. I hope that I shall not unduly disappoint hon. Members when I tell them that I had a perfectly good night's sleep. That is not to say that I do not attach the greatest importance to the problem. I think that the only thing my researches have established so far is that, wherever one goes, on whatever occasion, to sample the problem, somebody will always say that one ought to have been somewhere else to experience the full agony of it.

I take, first, the principal points raised by my hon. Friend. He was concerned, in the first place, with the noise of aircraft coming into land at London (Heathrow) Airport and passing over his constituency. At this point, I am talking about landings, not take-offs.

I think that everyone appreciates that, so long as the prevailing winds in the vicinity are westerly, which they are, aircraft must pass over Richmond to land. Moreover, aircraft coming into land at London Airport must get into line to come straight down at about 8 miles away from the airport, so that it is unavoidable that it passes over a fairly long strip of territory.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey knows, partly on his own initiative, for over a year we have been checking the height of aircraft as they come in to land by radar. The checks have taken place at irregular, intermittent intervals for two-hour stretches twice a week so that no pilot has any means of knowing that his descent is being monitored.

Figures have previously been given to my hon. Friend, but I should like to give him the most up-to-date ones. Out of 860 approaches which have been checked, only 13 were below the correct glide path. I shall come in a moment to the question whether these measurements are accurate, but this is what the statistics show at the moment. That is already an improvement on the percentage figures quoted at an earlier stage of the checking, and it is, to that extent, encouraging.

However, we are not content with this coverage, and I am glad to be able to assure my hon. Friend that in the near future we shall bring more radar sets into this operation so that it will be possible to obtain a larger sample. Of course, it will not be a complete coverage of every landing, but it will be a larger sample. The figures, so far as they go, show that there has been a little over 98 per cent. compliance with the height regulations. So far as I know, the lowest approach that has been detected was not more than 200 ft. below the proper height, and that was 4 miles out from the airport where the height should have been 1.100 ft. In other words, the aircraft was down to about 900 ft.

When infractions of this kind occur the Ministry immediately takes up the question with the airline concerned. Hon. Members will want to know what that means. In the first place, it means drawing the airline's attention to the infraction, remonstrating with it and seeking its co-operation in ensuring that the regulations are maintained. In every case so far, the airline concerned has undertaken to give its co-operation in future and to tell the pilot that he must conform to the regulations, or insist that he must have further training in this aspect of flying technique before he comes into land again.

There are one or two points that I wish to stress about coming in to land. The first is that a pilot gets no advantage by coming in below the three-degree angle which is prescribed. He gains nothing by it, and does not want to do it. It does not make the landing any safer for him nor does it make it any more convenient. If he comes in to land below the angle prescribed, it is a pure miscalculation. There is no reason to think that he does it out of any desire to make things easier for himself at the price of other people's convenience.

The second point that I want to make about the angle of descent is that I am informed that it is quite easy for a person standing on the ground, merely watching an aircraft's descent, to miscalculate the height at which it is flying. It is possible for such a miscalculation to be made even by an experienced airline pilot standing on the ground and watching. It is perhaps even possible for a miscalculation to be made by an experienced Member of Parliament such as the hon. Member for Brixton.

One case has been quoted where an experienced bomber pilot alleged that an approach was too low. I know nothing about this case myself, but it occurs to me that if that pilot was one experienced in flying, say, wartime bombers or something like that, the miscalculation would be quite easy, even for him, because of the extraordinary transformation—it is more than a development—in aircraft since he gained his experience.

The third point on the angle and height of descent concerns the sanctions or penalties that can be imposed—and they can be imposed. A pilot who offends against these regulations is liable to a fine of £200 or six months' imprisonment, or both. In no case so far have we brought a prosecution, and there is a very good reason for it. Of the cases we have checked and monitored over the last year there has never yet been a case of the same pilot offending twice. I think that everyone would agree that to impose very severe penalties like this for a first offence would be most unreasonable—

My hon. Friend anticipates my next remark.

So far there has been no visible pattern of any one airline being more liable to offend than any other, nor has there been any trace of an airline wilfully disregarding the regulations, or adopting an unco-operative attitude to the Ministry. In those circumstances, it does not seem to us unreasonable that, so far, there has not been any cause to prosecute, nor have these penalties been imposed, although those penalties are there and certainly would be used in any case that seemed to us to justify such action.

The last point on the line of descent and the three-degree angle of descent is that, according to the experts in this subject, it is the steepest angle consistent with safety. It is the same angle for all types of aircraft—for jet aircraft, and for the piston-engined aircraft that they are gradually replacing—so we cannot reasonably blame the jet for this requirement of angle of descent.

We shall, of course, take every opportunity of increasing the angle of descent whenever it becomes technically possible with advances in aeroplane development, but it is only fair to point out that there would have to be a very considerable increase in the angle of descent before there was any material lessening of the noise from jet aircraft merely by reason of their greater height. I must frankly say that, according to my present advice, it does not appear probable that any great increase in the steepness of the angle can be brought about. The most we can ask for is that the pilot should meticulously observe the present regulations on the angle of descent. This we are doing, and shall continue to do, and we believe—and I am sure that those hon. Members who have spoken also believe, because they have shown it by the way in which they have approached this problem—that, generally speaking, it is the pilots' wish to conform. There is no question of a deliberate desire to be unco-operative.

I know that errors are possible so I will not absolutely rule out the possibility of errors in our own monitoring of these angles of descent. I shall look into that since a number of hon. Members regard with suspicion the figures presented. I have no reason whatever to think that the figures are not accurate, but I will certainly look into the possibility of error in our mechanical means of checking.

The next point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey related to night flying. I should like to give the House the up to date position on night flights by jet aircraft. During this summer seven airlines were authorised to operate jet flights. They were our own two Corporations, Alitalia, Middle East Airlines, Olympic Airways, S.A.S., and Swissair. At the height of the summer there were 50 take-offs and 40 landings by night scheduled in any one week.

I was asked to give figures separating scheduled and non-scheduled flights. I believe that I am right in saying that non-scheduled flights by night are extremely rare. They occur only in very exceptional, non-recurring circumstances; for instance, when President Kennedy flew back after his visit to London. The figures I have given can be taken to refer virtually exclusively to scheduled flights.

During the winter, of course, traffic drops, and there are at present only four airlines which are authorised to operate night services with jets. Those are British European Airways, Middle East Airlines, Olympic Airways and Swissair, and the highest rate of movement involved in winter operations involves 16 take-offs and 20 landings in a week.

My right hon. Friend is at present considering applications from a number of the airlines for jet services at night next summer. I can assure the House that before reaching a decision he will certainly take into account everything that has been said in this debate today, but I cannot give any undertaking to meet the suggestion that all jet flights should be stopped between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. These night flights are a way of bringing cheap air travel within the reach of many thousands who otherwise would not be able to afford to travel by air. And I am talking in thousands. It has been suggested that the convenience of 50,000 or more people is being sacrificed to that of a few hundred. The disproportion is nothing like of that order.

When the hon. Gentleman is talking about the controlling of flights between 11 at night and 7 in the morning he is, of course, referring only to outgoing flights, is he not?

My point is that it is almost impossible to control incoming flights to London Airport or Prestwick, particularly on the North Atlantic route, because they may be held up, by weather for instance, on the other side.

That, of course, is perfectly true. It is only take-offs which can be absolutely banned, but I must reaffirm that there is no intention on the part of my right hon. Friend to take that action.

The important point is that these night flights are one of the means of enabling the airlines to do what is most vital for their economy, namely, to keep aero-planes in the air where they earn money, instead of on the ground where they merely cost money. Night flights, therefore, help to keep down the costs of all flights, including daytime services, and they help to make London the focal point for air services which it is today, and which, if I have taken rightly the sense of this debate, no one wishes to abolish.

Some people have tried to measure the value of aircraft flights purely in terms of the number of passengers, but I do not think that that is a fair approach. I think that we ought to look at it in a wider context. Night air services are a means of helping our tourist industry, which is an important source of revenue, giving employment to many of our own people, including, I believe, many of the people who reside in the immediate vicinity of London (Heathrow) Airport and feel the grievance which has been aired today. Perhaps most important of all, if I may descend to something merely commercial for the moment—and merely commercial things are very important in this context—is that night flights enable our businessmen to get abroad quickly to do their business, to get their orders, and to build up our export trade, on which the prosperity of the country, of all of us, depends.

Included in that business of selling exports is, of course, selling aeroplanes, a very large factor in our export trade and one which gives the Ministry a double reason for interest in this problem. Measured by this yardstick, I must reassert that night services are essential and that it would be wrong to condemn London (Heathrow) Airport to become a backwater in international traffic, as some parts of the country became backwaters when railway services were developed in the last century.

The question of take-offs was also raised in the debate. We monitor takeoffs on a considerable scale. Almost all jet take-offs are monitored. It is not possible to monitor them all at the moment, because that would involve shifting people and apparatus quickly from one part of the airport to another when wind conditions changed and different runways came into use, but it is our intention to instal automatic monitoring equipment in the course of the next year or two at quite heavy expense. This will make it possible to monitor practically every take-off.

The objective which is laid upon pilots as they take off is to get up to the maximum height as quickly as possible and then reduce their power to minimise the noise as they pass over the nearest built-up area. Perhaps it is not necessary to worry the House with too many statistics, but I have figures of the results of monitoring during the past year. To put it succinctly, it is quite clear that the infringements of the standards of noise laid down—standards which are measured in the peculiar term "perceived noise decibels"—have been going down quite encouragingly in the last year. There are still some infringements, but the percentage is now down to a very small figure on a greatly increased number of take-offs.

The hon. Gentleman said earlier that there was 98 per cent. compliance in coming in. Has he any comparable figure for take-off?

Yes, I have. I had not intended to inflict figures on the House, but since I am asked I can give them.

In August this year, which is the latest date I have, of a total of 1,943 confirmed readings the percentage above the limit of 110 perceived noise decibels was 6 per cent., which was substantially lower than it had been in any previous month for which measurements had been taken, and the figure has been going down steadily throughout the last year.

The other major source of noise, apart from landings and take-off, is ground-running. Not much has been said about that in the debate, but I think that it would be worth while to touch on it briefly. London (Heathrow) Airport is, of course, a major maintenance base and it is impossible for the ground running of aeroplanes to be eliminated entirely. There are a number of measures which we impose to mitigate the nuisance of the ground running of engines. There are techniques to keep the duration of ground-running to an absolute minimum and, in particular, to keep to the absolute minimum ground-running at maximum power.

There are noise screens round the airport. Some of them are buildings or walls; some are earth banks. One hon. Member asked me about the B.O.A.C. earth bank. I can confirm that it has been completed. It is in service, and I understand that a reduction of one-third in the annoyance has been achieved by the building of the bank. Other earth banks are being erected. For jet engines there are mufflers which can be installed, and these are used by B.O.A.C. and are available from B.O.A.C. to other airlines.

There are, of course, stringent provisions for very considerable reduction of ground running at night. Earlier this week I spent a night at London (Heathrow) Airport. I was told that, although the take-off and landing figures were about average, the ground running was well above the average that night. Nevertheless, I did not feel that that unduly disturbed my sleep. I hope that all these measures will considerably mitigate the nuisance of that kind of annoyance.

I have touched on improvements in techniques of operation and mechanical measures with aircraft. Silencers are now fitted to almost all jet aircraft which use London (Heathrow) Airport. They are extremely expensive devices and substantially reduce the efficiency and economical working of jet aircraft. I say this not by way of complaint, but so that hon. Members and their constituents may realise that our airlines are putting up with considerable inconvenience for the convenience of people living in the neighbourhood of the airport.

I am even able to measure that inconvenience in figures. B.O.A.C. tells me that the cost in operations to it of reducing power and efficiency by installing silencers was about £400,000 in the last complete financial year. For B.E.A. it was about £100,000. It is fair to the Corporations that we should bear in mind, when we later debate their activities, as we shall, that a loss of £500,000 has been imposed on them in the interests of public amenity.

I have said nothing so far about supersonic aircraft, which were briefly touched upon by one hon. Member. They are, of course, still a very long way away. We are in touch with other countries about their development. If the kind of developments that we now contemplate are successful, there is a good chance that supersonic aircraft in flight may be no worse than present-day jet aircraft and possibly even a little better, though in respect of their take-off and landing I am not in a position to give any undertaking now.

Helicopters have not been mentioned, perhaps because the hon. Members who have attended the debate are unable to talk authoritively on that subject. But I can tell the House that my right hon. Friend is giving careful attention to the report of the committee on the planning of helicopter stations in London with a view to ensuring that the noise inevitably associated with them is reduced to the minimum.

I now come to more fundamental and far-reaching measures for tackling this problem, which one might briefly sum up as fundamental research. This is something that all the manufacturers are doing and that we ourselves are doing in the Ministry's own establishments, and We are consulting every interested foreign country and international organisation about it. We shall of course, continue to do that until we achieve a break-through in combating the problem of noise. I cannot say at the moment that any break-through is in sight and I doubt whether concentrated research, regardless of funds, upon one particular problem will produce the right solution, because, in science, it is so often by tackling problems on a broad front that one can get an unexpected break-through at a point quite different from where one was looking for it.

I emphasise that finance is not the problem. It is not a matter of shortage of money in solving the problem of making air engines less noisy. The long and short of the matter is that at the moment nobody has the idea of how to do it. Nobody who could solve this problem theoretically would be short of money to carry it through. Any aircraft manufacturer who devised a way of creating a powerful and silent engine would not need any stimulus from his Government or anybody else to carry it through. He would find ready sales in every country. I hope that when that break-through does come about it will be in this country.

Does my hon. Friend know whether similar research is being done in other parts of the world?

Yes. This is a problem which confronts every country which produces aircraft, and which every country wants to solve. It is not a question of manufacturers wanting to make noise, with people like us having to restrain them. If they knew how to cut it themselves, they would do it. Nothing would hold them back, whether in this country or anywhere else.

It is not possible to pick out the exact items of research that bear upon the specific task of reducing noise, so I cannot give an exact figure in pounds, shillings and pence of the current cost of such research. In this country it is going on in the Ministry's establishments, at Southampton and Manchester Universities, and at the College of Aeronautics.

I wish to be very careful about not appearing to be too hopeful or too optimistic. I always believe in erring, when I do err, on the side of promising less than I hope to see performed, rather than be caught out in promising more. I only want to say that it looks on present information as though the so-called by-pass and ducted fan engine, now beginning to come into service, will be eventually developed to a point where the jet velocities are low enough to reduce the jet noise.

A great deal of time and money is being spent on this by the Ministry and the industry, and also on the related problem of reducing internal engine noise. Here again, there are prospects of improved designs which will prevent the noise leaving the intake, at any rate to the extent which it does to-day.

Can we take it that scientists believe that power can be dissociated to some extent from noise?

I am hardly qualified to speak on behalf of scientists, but I believe that honest scientists—and, of course, all scientists are honest—would say that there is a basic conflict between power and silence—that it is impossible to eliminate the noise and retain the same amount of power. The task before them is to strike a proper balance and to go on improving that balance as fast as they can.

To return, however, to the warning note, it is also right to remind the House that although there is this prospect of eventually producing quieter engines, the airlines have only recently made a heavy investment in their present equipment. It will be some years before it is obsolete and, therefore, before the full effect of new types of engines which are being developed and which already exist makes itself felt.

I know that I have not succeeded in touching upon everything. I still have a number of things to say—


My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey, who opened the debate, made an important point on the subject of public relations. This is one which I should like to give a serious undertaking to examine carefully. It was made also by other hon. Members who have spoken. My hon. Friend's suggestion was that we should appoint a senior officer—I believe he called him a commissioner—to be responsible for dealing with complaints and the publicising of what the Ministry is doing to improve matters.

I shall not give any final answer on the point today, but I must mention one or two reservations which occurred to me in thinking about it. In the whole field of public relations, there is danger that, when one appoints a specialist public relations officer to deal with a subject, that subject automatically ceases to have any interest for anybody else.

In the present situation, the responsibility for dealing with complaints and publicising what is done in response to them rests with the officers who are actually concerned day by day and all their time with operations. These are the best qualified people to deal with complaints, because they know what they are doing, they know why it is being done and they do not have to refer to anybody else to get the facts explained, as I do, for example.

I have discussed this matter with the General Manager, London Airports, and I find that dealing with complaints is virtually a full-time occupation of one operations officer who is, at the same time, an operations officer who is dealing with the subject that is complained about. His immediate superior spends, perhaps, as much as a quarter of his time also in dealing with complaints. The General Manager himself, naturally, in his public rôle, has a great deal to do with the same subject, as also does the Airport Commandant.

They do this by telephone in answer to calls of complaint. They do it by letter, by visiting people who make complaints and by holding meetings with residents' associations, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the London Airport Standing Consultative Committee, and any group of people who wish to make representations. I am told that the Airport Commandant has recently instituted a practice of taking conducted tours round London (Heathrow) Airport, to give people an understanding of what goes on there and why sometimes it is a nuisance.

I am inclined to think that that is, in principle, the best way to deal with the problem, although I certainly give two undertakings. I will look into the suggestion which my hon. Friend has made and I will see what we can do to improve on the present system within its own limits and generally make sure that our image, as it is called nowadays, is projected more satisfactorily to the public.

While on the subject of complaints, I wish to make it clear that we do not resent the making of complaints. What we hope is that when complaints are made, they will be as specific as possible. It is no good complaining about a general noise without saying, as near as one can, when and where it happened.

If I might, in passing, allude briefly to the case of my hon. Friend's constituent, the lady who made so many calls and received a letter warning her of possible consequences, the point I would like to make is that nobody was attempting to deny her the right to complain. What this lady had done was to inform the Ministry in writing that it was her intention to cause untold trouble and nuisance to the Ministry. That is a rather different matter from simply exercising her right to complain. It was that threat, if she had carried it out—and I am glad to say, on present information, that it is not being carried out—that made it necessary to give a warning that to do so might be an infringement of the law.

One subject which I should like to touch on briefly, because it was raised in relation to the question of fundamental research, is the appointment of a committee by the Minister for Science, under Sir Alan Wilson, to study the problem of noise. This committee has appointed a sub-committee on aircraft noise, which is a very fair recognition that aircraft noise is in a category by itself, because, as my hon. Friend pointed out, it is excluded from the Noise Abatement Act. It is because it is in a class by itself and excluded from that Act that my right hon. Friend feels a strong moral obligation to go as far as he possibly can to meet the public's convenience in the matter.

The sub-committee appointed by Sir Alan Wilson's committee has now been at work for a year. It has been in close touch with the Ministry during that time and we have furnished it with all the material that we can. Many other interested bodies have given evidence to the sub-committee, including the local authorities, both the British Airways Corporations and the International Air Transport Association, and we are in very close touch with them. Among other bodies that have given evidence are the Noise Abatement Society and several local residents' associations.

In connection with the inquiries of the sub-committee, the Minister for Science has recently commissioned, on behalf of the committee, a social survey of the effect of noise in the neighbourhood of Heathrow. The field work of that survey has now been completed, but it will be quite a long time before the results can be analysed and the committee can draw any conclusions from them.

I mentioned Prestwick. I am sure that the Minister will know that this problem is not peculiar to London and that big jets are now using Prestwick more frequently. Therefore, this is a growing problem in Prestwick, too, and will become worse when the new aircraft are flying into it. It also applies to Abbotsinch, the new airport to which I hope to take him at an early date.

I quite agree that the hon. Gentleman is very right to remind me that this is by no means a problem confined to London (Heathrow) Airport. It happens, however, that most hon. Members who have spoken in the debate are directly concerned with London (Heathrow) Airport. I know that it is a general problem throughout the country and that, of course, it is a growing problem as international traffic increases. But there are some parts of the country where, I am told, people want more airports. An hon. Member who represents a Welsh constituency told me that he would be one of the first people to write to me asking that there should be more aircraft noise in his constituency. I mention this in parenthesis only to show that I am well aware that this is a world-wide problem.

To return to the Minister for Science's committee: it is still hard at work, but I understand that we may expect its report towards the end of next year. My right hon. Friend awaits the issue of this report with the greatest interest, in the hope that it will give him solid grounds for action in dealing with the problem.

I cannot pretend to have covered everything that has been raised in this extremely interesting debate. It is open to hon. Members to remind me of any omissions when I sit down, but I can assure them that without even waiting to be reminded I will take up any specific points and keep in touch with them, and inform them of any matters about which I have failed to inform them.

The Minister has given us the courtesy of a very full reply, and we are very grateful to him for the consideration that he has given to the matter. It has meant a great deal to us. In connection with night flying he properly referred to the commercial considerations and the need to keep aircraft in the air, but he did not say—although it must have been in his mind—that the Minister must give some consideration to the sleep of people round the airport. I should like some confirmation of the fact that they will not be neglected.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for reminding me of that. Of course, my right hon. Friend will give consideration to this very important matter. I think that I said in my speech that before my right hon. Friend gave any more permissions for night jet flights next summer he would certainly pay close attention to everything said in this debate, and I gladly reaffirm that.

I conclude my speech on this very far-reaching and absorbing subject by saying that we have had in our minds all the time, in dealing with the operation of airports, the fact that not only the safety of flights and the prosperity of the country but also the convenience of our citizens is of the highest importance, but in trying to reconcile the sometimes conflicting needs of these various interests our work cannot be, so far as we can see at the moment, a process of finding one simple, quick, ready-made solution for the whole problem.

What we can do is to combine many small measures, any of which, taken in isolation, would not sound very impressive. I remind the House that some of these small measures have already produced a very significant amelioration. We have only to consider what the situation would be today if we had not insisted upon the installation of suppressors on jet aircraft, despite the considerable economic loss involved. We are certainly not going to leave the matter there, until the next Adjournment debate on this subject. I shall make it my business to see that, during the time between now and then, whatever we can do will be done.

But there are two generalisations which it is only right for me to mention. First, as far as I can see, noise and aircraft are to some extent inseparable. Aircraft and the wealth and prosperity of this country are also inseparable. There could be only one complete solution to the problem of noise, and that would be the grounding of aircraft completely and permanently, which is something none of us would contemplate.

Secondly, within the limits that I have described the Ministry, the aircraft industry, the Corporations and the officials at the London Airports are doing all that is humanly and technically possible to mitigate and contain this undeniable nuisance.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Four o'clock.