Letter: The real story is that I fought to see Concorde fly

JULIAN KOSSOFF's report "Tony Benn tried to kill Concorde" (3 January) quoting one cabinet paper of mine was, I am afraid, based upon a serious misunderstanding of those cabinet papers just released and what actually happened.

During the cabinet discussions on the public expenditure cuts demanded by the chancellor in January 1968, following devaluation, a determined effort - one of many over the years - was made to kill Concorde off, unilaterally, there and then.

Technical problems had caused delays, costs had escalated and no firm airline orders had come in so there were real anxieties.

The only way I could avert the disaster of immediate cancellation was to seek an agreement with the French to set an upper limit on expenditure, and then reach a joint decision after the plane had flown and when orders from airlines had come in.

The cabinet agreed my brief on 1 August deciding - against my advice - that, if the French would not agree, the project would be cancelled. On my insistence, the minutes recorded that I "dissented from that view" and "had the right to try and make Concorde succeed".

Happily, the French minister accepted my proposal, on 24 September, which I then reported back to the cabinet, as you noted, and Concorde was saved.

Later, in 1974, as secretary of state for industry, I fought off the last attempt to scrap Concorde and it duly went into service.

The full story of Concorde can be verified by consulting all the other 1968 cabinet papers, rather than by choosing just one, or by reading my published diaries which set it all out.

I have been accused of many things in my life but never of having tried to cancel Concorde.

TONY BENN

House of Commons

London SW1

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