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Ministry Of Aviation

Volume 655: debated on Monday 5 March 1962

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Research And Development Contracts


asked the Minister of Aviation what was the value of research and development contracts placed by him during the past 12 months, or any ascertainable period; and how many of these were placed with firms in the north region.

The value of research and development contracts placed by the Ministry of Aviation during 1961 was approximately £125 million; my Department's records are not kept so as to show the number of contracts placed in particular regions.

Why was so little of the work placed with the North-East firms, especially when they are so efficient and could, perhaps, do the job more cheaply? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this type of contract could overcome the unemployment position in the North-East much better than anything else?

The hon. Member's Question referred to the Northern Region. I am aware that the electronics industry in that region is mainly concentrated in the north-eastern part of it, but it is only a small proportion of the electronics industry in the country. Since our practice is to allocate contracts by judgment of technical competence and financial consideration rather than by geographical location, it is inevitable that only a small proportion of the contracts will go there.

Aircraft (Exports)


asked the Minister of Aviation what was the total number of aircraft, and of what kind, booked for export in 1961; and how these figures compare with 1960 and 1959, respectively.

As the Answer contains a number of figures, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

While I am awaiting that information, can the hon. Gentleman read my mind a little: are our exports going up or are they falling?

I am glad to say that in 1961 they were up by value on 1960, and civil aircraft were up by both numbers and by value.

Following is the Answer:

£ million

Factories, Stevenage And Luton


asked the Minister of Aviation what Government contracts he proposes to allot to the factories of the English Electric Corporation at Stevenage and Luton, in order to avoid redundancy there.

I do not allot work to particular factories. I am, however, discussing future possibilities with the British Aircraft Corporation to assist it in its forward planning.

Is the Minister aware that the factory at Stevenage is a Government factory, and it would appear that the conditions under which the I.D.C. was granted was for work for aircraft purposes only? A large percentage of the engineering personnel at Stevenage is employed by one or two aircraft factories, and if the development staff are to become redundant things will look pretty sickly for the manual staffs in a few months' time. Will the right hon. Gentleman look at the matter again from that angle?

It cannot be part of Government policy to preserve an exact level of design staff, but I am aware of the problems there and I am discussing them with the British Aircraft Corporation.

Helicopter Station, London


asked the Minister of Aviation what was the outcome of the deputation to him on 2nd March from London local authorities about heliport sites.

The hon. Member may have seen the agreed communiqué issued after the meeting, which I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that within half a mile or 880 yards of this site live 14,000 to 15,000 residents of Lambeth, Battersea, Chelsea and Westminster, and that the noise and congestion will be even worse if Covent Garden Market moves to this site, unless he will guarantee silent helicopters?

I do not answer for Covent Garden Market. I answer only for helicopters, and I see no prospect of a silent helicopter. If there is to be a heliport in London and the local authorities have no objection in principle to it, inevitably some people are going to live somewhere near the heliport.

Is it not the case that Westlands already has a helicopter station in Battersea, and can the right hon. Gentleman say how many complaints there have been about it in Brixton?

I have not heard of a great number of complaints about the landing of helicopters in Battersea. I am well aware of the noise problem. I keep it very much in mind, and I hope to proceed in full consultation with the local authorities concerned.

Following is the communiqué:

London County Council and Metropolitan Boroughs' Standing Joint Committee Deputation sees Minister of Aviation on Heliports.

A deputation representing the London County Council and Metropolitan Boroughs' Standing Joint Committee met the Minister of Aviation, Mr. Peter Thorneycroft, this morning to discuss their comments on the Report of the Committee on the Planning of Helicopter Stations in the London Area. It will be recalled that, out of the nine sites which they examined, the Helicopter Committee short-listed three possible ones, these being at Nine Elms, Cannon Street Station and St. Katharine Dock.
The deputation represented to the Minister that there was no objection in principle to the establishment in due course of a helicopter station in central London, provided that the noise caused would be kept down to tolerable levels. Unless this could be done the local authorities must strongly oppose the establishment of any helicopter station. The Minister explained that there was no suggestion of setting up a helicopter station for city-to-city travel in the near future, but it was unthinkable that London should be unable to provide such a terminal if such services developed generally in Europe.
The immediate problem was therefore to arrange to safeguard a suitable site by preventing any development incompatible with its use for helicopters. Before such a use was established there would be a full public enquiry when all the circumstances, as then existing, including the question of noise, would be fully ventilated and considered. The representatives of the local authorities emphasised the grave difficulties they would face if no more direct assurance against the effects of noise nuisance could be given.
The Minister indicated that he would now write to the local authorities to the effect that he would no longer wish to ask for the Cannon Street or St. Katharine Dock sites to be held for possible use as heliports as long as consideration be given to safeguarding the Nine Elms site for possible future use for a helicopter station.
It was agreed that the Minister, for his part, and the local authorities, for their part, would further consider the problem in the light of the discussion and consult again.
On the question of a monorail or other direct connection with Heathrow the Minister said that he did not regard this as an alternative to the Heliport but that any method of speeding up travel to Heathrow would obviously be valuable and the Government would co-operate with the planning authorities on the study of this as necessary.

Aircraft Industry


asked the Minister of Aviation what improvements he intends to make in the present system of planning national aviation objectives to enable the British aircraft industry to design, develop and produce on a substantially more long-term basis than at present.

All planning is on a long-term basis, and not least in the aircraft industry. Its principal objectives are to meet defence requirements and to sell aircraft, engines and equipment, particularly overseas. I am discussing with the industry ways in which planning methods, industrial as well as Governmental, might be improved.

I am glad to hear that the Minister is giving this matter some attention. Is he not aware that the United States Government, through the Operation Horizon report, and the French Government, through the Commissariat des Plans, have given a lot of useful and long-term guidance to their aircraft industries? Would it not be helpful if the Government adopted the same policy?

Guidance is very useful, but orders are what they really want in the aircraft industry. It is not Project Horizon that really helps the American aircraft industry, but the fact that massive defence orders are put in the way of manufacturers. We had earlier than Project Horizon a policy which was set up by my predecessor rather on the same lines, and this is still the policy that we pursue.

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that the aircraft industry today is a very valuable earner of foreign currency, and that if we are to retain that position it must be on the basis that manufacturers of aircraft must be given every opportunity for long-term development?

Yes, Sir. I would agree that the aircraft industry is an extremely valuable asset, and it was with that thought in mind that the British Government devised the policy which they have and which has been fully explained on numerous occasions and are giving support to it.

Unlike a number of other industries, much of the cost of this industry falls on public funds, and is that not all the more reason for the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) about long-term policy being applied through Government sources rather than leaving it to the industry?

There is much to be said for long-term planning whether public or private money is involved.

Hawker P1127


asked the Minister of Aviation what support the Government are giving to the development and production of the Hawker P1127 vertical take-off and landing aircraft.

Money and a development programme shared with Germany and the United States.

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this is the biggest development in aviation since the invention of the jet engine, and is it not, therefore, necessary that there should be some intensive, urgent Government support for this project, particularly as this country possesses the only aircraft of this type which actually flies? Would it not be desirable to put a squadron of these aircraft into service as soon as possible in order to obtain operational experience?

I would agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is one of the most interesting and, perhaps, far-reaching developments in aviation research, and all those concerned in it are to be complimented. In addition to the two P1127 aircraft which have already flown and four experimental aircraft under construction, at least a further nine aircraft will be ordered. The whole approach is being done under arrangements which we are seeking to make with Germany and the United States of America, so we have been far from idle in this and there are good prospects for this particular form of development.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that for the sake of very small orders, which are welcome, in the United States and Germany, in two or three years' time they will finish up with the engineering "know-how" which has given Hawkers this present three-year lead?

Yes, Sir, but I think it would be a short-sighted view not to seek to interest others in this particular type of development. The converse of what my hon. Friend has said—and I realise the force of it—is that if we choose to develop this on our own it might be that no one will take the slightest interest in it.

Avro 748 And Dart Herald Aircraft


asked the Minister of Aviation why the Avro 748 is preferred to the Handley Page Dart Herald as a replacement transport aircraft.


asked the Minister of Aviation if he will state the cost per aircraft to be paid for the Avro 748, the comparable tender price per aircraft of the Handley Page Dart Herald, military version, and the total extra expenditure involved in his recent decision to purchase the Avro 748 in lieu of the Dart Herald as a close support military transport aircraft for the Royal Air Force.


asked the Minister of Aviation why the Avro 748 is preferred to the Handley Page Dart Herald as a replacement transport aircraft.

Both these aircraft are first class and both are distinguished examples of British aircraft production techniques. There is in practice no decisive difference between them, either in suitability for the purpose required or in the financial obligations which they would represent. The actual price to be paid for the aircraft will be determined by fixed price negotiations between my Department and the Hawker Siddeley Group and the contract is naturally conditional upon satisfactory terms being agreed. It is not the practice to give details of the manufacturers' quotations in these cases, but the Government is satisfied that, having taken all the relevant factors into consideration, including all those concerned with cost, maintenance, operational performance and possibilities for future development, the choice of the Avro 748 in this particular rôle is the right one.

Is it not a fact that Handley Page is already jigged and tooled and able to get on with this job whereas Avro has not reached this stage and that this may possibly result in twelve months' delay? Is it not also the fact that only five Dart Heralds will be required for every six Avros, and does not this mean that there will be a difference of between £3 million and £10 million in the cost to the taxpayer as a result of putting the order where it is at present?

How can my right hon. Friend expect the House to be able to judge the wisdom or otherwise of his decision if we are not given information about the cost of the aircraft? Why is he so coy about it? Could it be because the Avro 748 will cost approximately £100,000 per aircraft more than the Dart Herald and that the extra cost to the taxpayer of this doctrinaire decision will run not into hundreds of thousands but millions of pounds?

I am not in the least coy about the subject. I have not even yet begun to negotiate the price for this aircraft, and in any event even if I had it has never been the practice to disclose quotations.

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that there is no difference either in carrying capacity or economically between the two aircraft, because it has been quite freely said that there is an advantage which the right hon. Gentleman is not taking up because of the failure to enter into shotgun marriages and things of that sort?

A lot of things are very freely said which are not necessarily true. These aircraft are not identical. There are differences between them, mostly marginal, some to the advantage of one and some to the other. Taking all the factors into consideration, I am absolutely satisfied that we have made the right choice.

If my right hon. Friend has not yet negotiated the price, how can he say that the Avro 748 is to be preferred?

Because the cost difference between these two aircraft is in any event marginal and I have to take into account all the factors, some of which I have enumerated.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware how horrified we all are in the House today about the word "marginal" used by himself when reference is made lightheartedly to millions of pounds in connection with his Department's expenditure? Is it not the case that the Avro 748 will cost nearly £100,000 more per aircraft, and and is it not a fact that if this transaction goes through it will cause a widespread drop in the morale of the aircraft industry when it realises that merit is not important and doctrinaire political considerations come first?

The hon. Gentleman may rest assured that it has nothing to do with doctrinaire considerations. This is a case in which all relevant considerations have to be taken into account, including the declared and, as I understand it, accepted policy of Her Majesty's Government towards the aircraft industry; and, on full consideration of these matters, the choice has been made. I cannot choose them both. Somebody is bound to be unhappy about the choice.

Hydraulic Systems (Flame-Resistant Fluids)


asked the Minister of Aviation what steps he is taking to ensure the use of flame-resistant hydraulic fluids in aircraft.

No flame-resistant fluid so far produced is wholly satisfactory in existing hydraulic systems in aircraft. Research is in hand to develop new flame-resistant fluids and to develop methods of using them without increasing the risk of hydraulic failures.

In view of the importance of using flame-resistant fluids owing to the heavier and faster machines that we are now operating, and the real danger of fire arising from friction at the point where the nose wheel collapses and when the brakes are applied, could the hon. Gentleman assure us that this research is going ahead with the greatest possible speed and efficiency?

I should not like to have the danger exaggerated. In the past ten years there have been only two accidents to U.K.-registered civil transport aircraft in which hydraulic fluids may have caused or contributed to a fire, and there were no casualties in either case. However, research is going forward. A new fluid is being tested now, and my Ministry has placed contracts to the value of £150,000 to promote this research.

Manchester Airport


asked the Minister of Aviation whether he will give an assurance that the Government will support the proposed extensions to the runway at Manchester Airport; and what financial assistance will be given to the Manchester Corporation to carry out these works.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that both in freight and passenger traffic Manchester Airport has been developing at an extraordinary rate in recent years, and that his reply will cause the greatest disappointment not only to people in Manchester but also to the aircraft operators? What does he propose to do about supporting any application in that area for facilities, including the provision of proper landing facilities for modern four-engined jet aircraft on the trans-Atlantic route?

I appreciate that any refusal to support additional investment expenditure must necessarily cause disappointment. I have a great respect for the energy and skill with which Manchester has pressed on with its airport; nevertheless, if I were to say "yes" to everything it would not be possible to contain expenditure at all.

Would my right hon. Friend undertake not to give permission to extend this airport south into the Bollin Valley area? Apart from the fact that the filling in of this valley would be a very expensive operation, would it not also destroy agricultural land and a famous beauty spot in Cheshire?

My hon. and gallant Friend raises a further point. I have not even got as far as that, because I am not supporting the extension at all.

Would the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that this is not a question of not saying "yes" to anything? This is a question of the transport facilities available to several million of Her Majesty's subjects who feel that Manchester has been gravely discriminated against in the past and that expenditure in London is out of all proportion to the expenditure that is applied to this very large and important industrial area?

I can well understand the pressure to extend this runway for trans-Atlantic jet aircraft, but there are substantial facilities at Prestwick and Heathrow, and I really would be throwing away public money if I were at present to say "yes" to any other airports which claim that we should support them in extending their runways.

Will my right hon. Friend disregard what my hon. and gallant Friend and constituent the Member for Knutsford (Sir W. Bromley-Davenport) has said? How can the Minister possibly refuse this application, bearing in mind that Ringway serves 10 million people in a radius of 40 miles? How does he reconcile this decision with have pumped millions of pounds into Gatwick which handles only a few hundred movements a year, while disregarding what Manchester has asked for in respect of this vast enterprise which is an example of what can be done by leaving these matters to local government, and saying that passengers should go to Prestwick?

I share my hon. Friend's appreciation of what Manchester has done in this matter. At the same time, I know that my hon. Friend is as firm as any of my colleagues in wishing to contain Government expenditure.