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Volume 888: debated on Monday 17 March 1975

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

Before I call the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), may I say that I understand he has been apprised by letter of the fact that there are certain difficulties in raising in the exact manner he wished to the development of Concorde. He should confine himself to matters relating rather to the purchase of that aircraft.

4.7 a.m.

I understand the position, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will endeavour to stick to the rather narrow ruling and avoid going into the pros and cons of whether we should build Concorde. I hope not to have much difficulty in sticking to those guidelines.

I apologise to the Minister for keeping him here at this unusual hour. I realise that because I choose to pursue this subject at this time he perhaps is left with rather less choice in the matter. Since I know that he and I will be on our respective benches in Committee at half-past ten today I hope he will forgive me for continuing to pursue a subject in which he will realise I have taken some interest.

In dealing with this question of the increase of the dividend capital of the British Airways Board it is clear that the position of British Airways, financial and otherwise, must be affected by the introduction of Concorde. I will relate my remarks to Concorde and to the progress of the aircraft as an aircraft with an airline rather than to the production mechanism. The first point I want to make is that Concorde and British Airways enjoy a wide—I was going to say overwhelming—measure of support on both sides of the House. They have done for many years, and I have no reason to think that they will not continue so to do.

Nearly four years ago the Secretary of State for Industry and I went to the United States at a time when the opposition to the operation of Concorde by British Airways and Air France and other airlines in, to and through North America was viewed with almost total hostility in the United States. The battles which the right hon. Gentleman and I fought on that occasion were perhaps a preview of the continuing battles which Concorde is facing and will have to face in the livery of British Airways until the public of the world realise that Concorde is here to stay.

It is perhaps worth reminding myself that I stand here seeking to pursue the successful development of the aircraft into airline service on behalf of a very large number of people—not only those who work in the factories, but the thousands of people who work for British Airways and whose future is tied up with the success or otherwise of the aircraft. On the production side, it is not easy always to realise how difficult it is to help people who seem intent on hitting themselves on the head. On Friday I tried to obtain information from the British Aircraft Corporation. Contact with the senior management at Weybridge proved almost impossible because the switchboard had been taken over by the work force. I hope that this phase through which Concorde and BAC are passing will be shortlived.

I regard as encouraging the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for Trade is present rather than a Minister from the Department of Industry, because it shows that we have passed through the production argument and are now on the trade argument—the introduction of an aircraft into commercial service. The fact that it is the Department of Trade which is as concerned with Concorde as the Department of Industry is not of insignificance to those who have followed this aircraft's development.

I hope to say a few words of praise for those in British Airways who have consistently and faithfully worked towards the day, which we hope will not be long delayed, when the airline has the aircraft in service, and a word of praise in passing to the large number of unseen people, many of them in the Minister's Department and in the Department of his predecessors, who have shown genuine faith and vision to the point where the aircraft is about to go into airline service.

I have spoken recently to Captain James Andrews, the general manager of British Airways' flight technical services. He has spent half his time for the last 10 years on working towards the period early next year when we hope that the massive investment by the British taxpayer will be converted into an investment by British Airways in the future of its airline. There is quite a long way to go yet.

I want to turn now to the problems which British Airways will face—and, therefore, the manufacturers will face—before the airline is able to put Concorde into service to North America, Australia and Japan via the Soviet Union. I believe that by this time next year the problems of routing will have been overcome and the certificate of airworthiness will have been granted.

In spite of the anguish that has been expressed over many years, I believe that Concorde is just another aeroplane and that British Airways has to go through the normal procedures leading up to and through the granting of the certificate of airworthiness. That is something that we tend to forget in the enormous hiatus caused by the development of the aircraft over the years—by all the problems which have surrounded it, and which have been put around it—I stress that—by people. Ultimately it is an aeroplane, to be bought and operated by an airline and put into service by that airline and to fly passengers in much the same way as any airline introduces any new aircraft.

I have been looking back at the British Airways—or, as it then was, the BOAC —involvement in the Concorde programme. It would be churlish to pretend that everybody in British Airways has been a rabid enthusiast for Concorde ever since the inception of the programme. That would be untrue. But I do not believe that now is the time for any recriminations; the objective now is to look forward and to say a word for all those people in British Airways who have shown enormous faith in the future of this aeroplane and the future of their airline with the aircraft.

I have in front of me the Press release put out by BOAC on 25th May 1972, and I want to quote one sentence from what Mr. Keith Granville—the then Chairman of BOAC—said:
"Concorde will be a brilliant addition to the BOAC fleet. In partnership with our big subsonic jets, Concorde will keep BOAC and Britain in the lead in world civil aviation."
That is what it was all about, and that is what it is all about. But that statement and that event—the ordering of the aircraft by BOAC—not surprisingly drew together all the many opponents who, for their various reasons, have always hoped —and still hope—to prevent British Airways from flying Concorde, and particularly from flying Concorde into the United States.

For that reason I want to pay a compliment also to the American Federal Aviation Administration, which has always kept a clear head and has steadfastly refused to be badgered and bullied by emotion in the way that it has sought to evaluate the real, as opposed to the supposed, effects of Concorde on the long-suffering citizens of the United States, and particularly those who live near major airports. Anybody who has visited the United States and seen and heard the conditions under which many people residing near major airports have to live would have to be a hard person indeed if he were not sympathetic to their problems.

The recent report—the environmental impact statement—produced by the FAA is a fair and straightforward assessment of the lack of problems which Concorde will present to people in the United States. I know that the hearings which are due to be held next month under the guidance of the Environmental Protection Agency will be influenced by many voices, but I hope that the sound common sense and reason put forward by the FAA will be the prevailing voice when the hearings are completed.

There is bound to be trouble from certain people in New York. It cannot be avoided. Many people have been girding their loins for years almost relishing the battle ahead. I refer back to the meetings that the Secretary of State for Industry and I had in New York and Washington in 1971. The Port of New York Authority at that time was very much aware of the problems which the then fall in air traffic presented to the economy of New York. I recall the spokesman for the PNYA saying words to the effect that anybody who had studied the history of transport and the history of cities and looked at Carthage or Tyre knew that no port, great city or great centre of commerce had a God-given right to remain indefinitely as a commercial leader in the world unless it took steps to make sure that it could cope with current conditions.

The people in New York who seek to prevent Concorde entering commercial service with British Airways should ask themselves whether they are fully aware of the damage that might be done to the economy of that great city if steps were taken deliberately to exclude supersonic aircraft from the port of New York.

The Minister will perhaps recall what happened in Chicago when the jet aircraft was being introduced. The people who lived near Midway Airport sought to have jet aircraft banned from the airport. As a consequence, the new O'Hare Airport was built in Chicago for jet aircraft. Within 18 months the people who had successfully fought to prevent the jets using Midway formed themselves into a campaign to brings the jets back to Midway, but they were too late. The economy in that region of Chicago had been decimated. I have reason to believe that the fate of New York as a major gateway could go the same way if the opposition to Concorde manifested itself in a ban.

I have turned out of my files a letter from Mr. Shaffer, the Administrator of the FAA, dated 31st July 1972 replying to my letter in which I asked for information about the Chicago Midway and O'Hare saga. In a footnote in his own handwriting Mr. Shaffer said:
"The Mayor of Chicago is meeting with all airline presidents on 1st August to encourage them to schedule more jet services at Midway."
It is often attractive to stand up and make a lot of noise about supposed environmental horrors, or any aspect of life that can attract a headline, but the people who do that should be aware that their actions can have serious economic repercussions and that they might not be thanked two, five or 10 years later for what they have done.

Concorde has acquired a number of enemies over the years, some powerful, some not so powerful. In this country we have had a ragbag of people who have sought over the years to take every opportunity to denigrate the aircraft. They have even gone so far as to go to the United States to give interviews on television and to give evidence to Senate Committees to publicise their well-known views. But some—I think particularly of Mr. Wiggs and Andrew Wilson of The Observer—have been prone to exaggeration. When Concorde finally enters service next year we shall look back at the super-exaggerations and we shall probably finish up thanking those people. They went on for so long and so often, and often were so wrong, that in the end they will be seen to have done more good than harm to those of us who have always been prepared to look slightly further forward than the day after tomorrow.

We have had bias from many sources, particularly from the BBC. I had a letter in my files from Mr. Charles Curran dated 3rd April 1972 replying to a letter which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and I had sent him complaining bitterly about some of the comments made in a television programme about Concorde.

One point I took up with the BBC related to a passage in the broadcast where Mr. Geoffrey Holmes, a well-known antinoise campaigner—and rightly so—stated that Concorde would be equivalent to 10 707s landing simultaneously. I objected strongly to that statement, and Mr. Curran replied to me on 3rd July. Just 48 hours later there was a report in the Daily Express quoting Mr. Geoffrey Holmes again. On that occasion Mr. Holmes said:
"We took 27 aircraft readings and Concorde was the quietest. I was surprised and pleased."
But the damage had been done. The BBC had broadcast round the world the supposed environmental damage caused by noise and the pollution Concorde was to cause.

All these problems have had to be faced by manufacturers and by British Airways as they come up to the final hurdles. The final hurdles will no doubt be put in the way of the aircraft by people like Mr. Wolff, Mr. Stein, and others who have been at it for years. I do not think there is much use in wasting much time on that sort of person. They are political pygmies who seem to work on the basis of "Don't confuse me with facts. I have made up my mind." Mr. Wolff was quoted in The Times on 5th March 1975 as being a "republican congressman" and in the Daily Telegraph on the same day as a "New York democrat". It is worth putting on record that the following report appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 9th March:
"A spokesman for Mr. Lester Wolff, a New York Democrat in the House of Representatives said: 'We will bitch, moan, scream and do everything conceivable' to keep Concorde out."
The article continued:
"Mr. Wolff is a well-known Anglophobe given to appearing at Press conferences with IRA apologists."
That is the level of criticism which can be expected from such people in the weeks ahead.

People who represent marginal constituencies near airports inevitably see Concorde as a welcome target at which they can point their barbed darts. I am tempted to feel that the lower the majority the higher the noise level of complaint. But these people should realise that Concorde is happening; that British Airways will be flying the air- craft next year in commercial service; that it has eight crews training at Filton, Bristol and that it is no use any longer seeking, by making a lot of noise, to pretend that Concorde will go away and that British Airways will not operate the plane. It will. Just like chewing gum, it is here, and it is here to stay.

British Airways will introduce its first commercial flight to the Middle East in a comparatively few months. I pay tribute to the Gulf States in particular for the help and encouragement they have given British Airways to enable our national flag carrier to introduce a supersonic Concorde service at the earliest opportunity. The first flights to the Middle East will be part of the route to Melbourne, Australia. The route details have not been finally worked out, but people who have been flying to Australia in the fastest time of 24 hours, but on average in 30 hours, in subsonic aircraft will be able to do the journey in 13½ hours.

We look forward to the introduction by British Airways of Concorde services to Tokyo across the USSR. This will take time. I imagine that the release by the Russians of satisfactory landing rights may well not be unconnected with the development of their own supersonic aircraft, in the tradition of capitalist countries. I think particularly of the way in which the American Government handled the introduction of the Britannia 312. I suppose that it is just another of the inevitable obstacles that pioneers must face.

The Middle East, Australia and trans-Siberian routes are all important, but for British Airways profitably to operate Concorde it will need landing rights in North America, particularly in New York. I hope that that great city will not opt out of the future by removing itself from the supersonic cities list.

I have no doubt that the results of the research will be presented by the Minister's Department at the forthcoming hearings in New York and Washington. Four years of research by American, British, French and Russian scientists have proved that, in the words of the recently published report, the pollution damage is
"so slight as to be imperceptible".
I hope that in a country which is not blessed entirely with pollution-free cities or crime-free streets Concorde will not be subjected to any unfair tactics in the coming months.

There are people who want British Airways to fail, people who, having been in business for some years, do not want our national flag carrier successfully to introduce Concorde services into the United States. I have been wondering how Pan American or TWA might write their advertising copy when they have only subsonic aircraft. Will they say "Fly the slow line"?

One can understand the feelings of airlines with only jumbo jets to fly, faced with competition by a plane which not only gets there in half the time but has so many other advantages to offer to the customer. What is the pleasure in waiting in a customs hall clamouring for baggage when one could leave later, arrive earlier, and not have to wait with 400 other people off the same subsonic jet? It is obvious why there are good reasons for people to oppose British Airways' introduction of Concorde into the United States. It is coming. Iran Air advertised its first transatlantic air service in the New York Times. It spoke of starting with its present fleet of aircraft, going on to jumbo jets, and, within two years, flying Concorde. It is sufficiently confident and determined to advertise in the New York Times.

From the British Airways' point of view it is clear that Concorde will present massive competition to the non-supersonic airlines. The fact that Concorde flies above the wind means that it will be an outstandingly good time keeper. Transatlantic times will be much easier to schedule. Plus or minus five minutes is likely to be the order of the day since a supersonic airliner will be able to overcome the problem of head winds.

There is another reason why British Airways will benefit from Concorde. Concorde is a new development and an enormously expensive aircraft. If we consider the effect of its capital cost, the obvious reaction is to say that it will severely affect airlines' finances. Anybody who studies civil aviation knows that it will be a long time before any aircraft manufacturer builds the next generation of civil aircraft. There is nothing on the horizon now. This means that the life of Concorde and of its derivatives will be prolonged enormously in comparison with that of previous civil aircraft. This will be of considerable benefit to airlines' finances in the years ahead. Britain and France will start off with an aircraft which is enormously superior in marketing terms. Concorde has real advantages which are neither appreciated nor apparent.

The British manufacturers have provided a good pedigree for Concorde. It is significant that recently the BAC 1–11 and the VC 10 were certified for 60,000 hours' flying time without major modifications. Concorde's stablemates thus have a unique record.

I praise all those in British Airways and in the aircraft manufacturing companies who have shown such faith and determination. Captain Jimmy Andrew said to me recently "We will get it into service and we will make it go." I am sure that he is right and that his faith is justified. The names of Morien Morgan, Sir Archibald Russell, Jimmy Hamilton and George Edwards will one day be written on a Concorde roll of honour when all the problems are solved.

Perhaps it is not inappropriate if I finish with two quotations. The first is from a letter written by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), the then Prime Minister, on 26th January 1973, when he said:
"We are aware of the extent and number of the anti-Concorde interests to which you refer, and we are determined not to allow them to deprive us of the full benefits of our investment in this important project."
This is a sentiment which has been continued by the present Government, for which all those who have a vision of the future are extremely grateful.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, in a speech which I shall long remember, said the other day:
"Without vision, the people perish."
Many of us have a small glimpse of the vision which made this nation a great one. I believe that Concorde will continue to fulfil a vital rôle in keeping us ahead in the years ahead.

4.40 a.m.

The hon. Gentleman began his remarks by saying that he was glad that I was here rather than a Minister from the Department of Industry. Although I understand his reasons for saying that, I am not sure that I agree with it at this late hour.

From his Bristol days, the hon. Gentleman has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Concorde. Anyone who at 4.15 in the morning can remember to put on his Concorde tie provides sufficient evidence of that enormous enthusiasm. I have slipped up by not putting on my British Airways tie, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that this in no way diminishes my regard and esteem for British Airways.

It is right to say that the hon. Gentleman, who from time to time indulges in political outbursts, against my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, is, I know, also an enthusiastic supporter of my right hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the Concorde over the years, and that is continuing.

The hon. Gentleman based this debate on the public dividend capital position of British Airways. Somehow, I evolved the idea that he would find it rather difficult to relate a debate of this kind to that gloriously interesting subject. But, as he raised it in passing only, I should make two points about it, because they are relevant and have led to some misunderstanding.

When the former Minister for Aerospace in the last Conservative Government made a statement to the House in May 1972 explaining that the capital structure for the British Airways Board would be changed to bring it more closely into line with that existing in foreign airlines, he also chose at the same time to announce the decision by the then BOAC to order five Concordes. Understandably, this led to the belief in some quarters that public dividend capital and the Concorde were inextricably bound together. That is true in the sense to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. A project costing the sort of price that the Concorde is costing must play a part in the public dividend capital requirement of the board. But the need to change the debt-to-equity ratio of the board would remain irrespective of the Concorde.

The hon. Gentleman went on to widen the debate to various other matters, including his anecdotes about his visit to the United States with the present Secretary of State for Industry. That is a visit which I should like to have made, not simply to have heard those two together but to have listened to some of the debates which went on with the opponents of the Concorde.

Then the hon. Gentleman talked about a number of problems affecting the Concorde before it can be put into service. He referred to the environmental impact statement which analysed the environmental impact of the proposed introduction of the Concorde and which was published on 3rd March, and to the fact that environmental legislation is required in the United States before the Federal Aviation Administration can approve the necessary amendment to British Airways' operational specifications which will enable the services to be introduced.

Following the submission of the draft statement, there now follows a formal process of consultation on it in the United States. That is expected to take about four months. When it has been completed the FAA will take a decision on the introduction of commercial Concorde services. It has an obligation to take full account of all representations made during the period of consultation. It would be wrong to suggest—I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was making this suggestion—that that is a foregone conclusion. That is not so. It is right to say that the draft environmental impact statement is reasonably encouraging. We remain hopeful that the outcome will be favourable for British Airways.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the opponents of Concorde in somewhat inelegant terms. I am bound to say that I do not think that it is productive or helpful to question the motives of its opponents. It is much better to be able to deal with the arguments, and the hon. Gentleman mounted formidable arguments. Those who propose the case of Concorde will continue to mount formidable arguments. To indulge in the sort of slanging in which apparently one American politician may have indulged and in which the hon. Gentleman indulged this morning is bound to be counter-productive. For that reason I am glad that the debate is taking place at this hour of the morning. I hope that his remarks will not be too widely reported.

The fact is that people worry a great deal about noise. If the hon. Gentleman were in my position by some mischance —I think that event extremely unlikely—he would know that people feel passionately about noise because they are affected by it. Not unnaturally, the people who are most affected are those who live near airports and regard noise as a pestilence. I do not want to question their motives or the motives of those who represent them. If the hon. Gentleman were representing an area close to a large and busy airport—I know that he is very close to Hurn but that does not altogether fall into the category of Heathrow—I have no doubt that he would wish to represent his constituents and articulate their interests. They would demand it of him and they would be right to do so.

If the hon. Gentleman looks at Hansard tomorrow he will see that I said quite clearly that those who are suffering and who will continue to suffer, and who have suffered, from the curse and pestilence of noise must be protected. The point I have always sought to make is that Concorde will not be noisier than the aircraft in service today. That is the point on which I hope the hon. Gentleman will concentrate.

I have a duty to ensure that a fair balance is maintained in the argument about noise. I shall come to the point about noise and Concorde in a moment. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he was very patronising about those who represent the interests of constituents who live close to airports. When he reads Hansard tomorrow I think he will wish that he had not adopted that attitude. His remarks will not be well received by a number of his hon. Friends.

I believe that the hon. Gentleman is essentially right in the observations that he has made about noise and Concorde. That is not to say that we have reached an ideal position. We must aim for continuous improvement. We must be able to convince the port authority of New York and of New Jersey that Concorde comes within the acceptable rules which have been provided for noise at Kennedy Airport. I am confident that we shall he able to do that. I think that recent studies favour that conclusion. But we cannot rush into the belief that we have won all the battles. Indeed, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman sought to represent that position.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the opponents of Concorde were aware of the damage that they might do by seeking to bar the aircraft from New York. People can wax enthusiastic about any cause that they represent and, in so doing, may not see the blemishes of their own arguments. Therefore, it follows that the proponents, the supporters, of Concorde still have a lot of heavy arguing to do.

I believe that we have a considerable well of support in the United States for Concorde. I am sure that there is a desire on the part of millions of people to see this superb aircraft, and aircraft that will develop from it, flying into the United States and making a quicker and more reasonable link with Europe than can exist with any other form of air transport. It is plain that when one gets into this political arena exaggerated and distorted views will be expressed.

The hon. Gentleman left United States politicians and went on the rampage against certain journalists who have taken a different view from his own about Concorde. It is abundantly clear that the manufacture of this aircraft has involved a great investment of capital and resources and human skills and ingenuity. We are now close to the point of takeoff—scheduled flights—to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Certain people have engaged in a campaign of calumny against the aircraft in the past. I do not question their motives. I am sure that from their standpoint they were taking a perfectly bona fide view. But, having said that, now that we are close to the point of take-off, I hope that that campaign of calumny will cease and that we shall see a great welling of support for this aircraft, because it is critical that we win the kind of arguments and battles to which the hon. Gentleman referred. It is right that the other routes—the Middle East, Australia and trans-Siberia—to which the hon. Gentleman referred are important, but the North American route is of signal significance.

I am confident that Concorde will speak for itself. It will not be debates from this House at 4.15 until nearly five o'clock in the morning which will hail the great attributes of this superlative aircraft. It will become self-evident, I hope even to the present opponents of the aircraft, that this is something worth investing in. I am confident that within the foreseeable future Concorde will not only be flying across the Atlantic but will be welcomed by those who have played such an important part in opposing its arrival there.

Despite my criticism of parts of the hon. Gentleman's speech, I am grateful to him for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important matter in the early hours of the morning.