29 MARCH 1963, Page 15

Chalgrove Airfield Lady Rothenslein Northern Rhodesia W. D. A. Bagnell

A Kind of ReLgion Colin Macinnes ‘Anlara' and Science Fiction Dr. Tord Hall Mr. Wrong and Cuba Arnold Beichman On. Liberty P. R. Morsel!

Curriculum Study Groups E. Fleming The Earliest Limerick Hugh Ross Williamson


SIR,---The exchange of letters between the Martin Baker -Aircraft Co. Ltd. and the Air Minist:y, which, after three years of understandable reluc- tance, this Ministry was recently compelled to pub- lish,.deepens the mystery that for some five years has surrounded every transaction of the Government in regard to Chalgrove Airfield, Oxfordshire. The publication of these documents has shown that, as was already suspected on other grounds, this aircraft company's undertakings relative to the former owners .of these compulsorily acquired acres of farming land, are far more informal in character than the House of Commons has on five occasions been led to ;believe.

The matter is of some little importance because it is on these so-called undertakings that the Govern- ment has most heavily relied to rebut criticisms of having, in regard to Chalgrove Airfield, per- petrated another Crichel Down—and on a larger. scale. Memories are short,' so that it is worth recall- . ing that. although of course the Government has always maintained that Chalgrove Airfield is an exception to what was 'envisaged in the Crichel Down pledges, the relevant Ministers have shown themselves quite unable to devise a consistent account of why it is an exception. The House of Commons itself has been regaled with no fewer than three diffe-ent and mutually inconsistent ex- planations —on December 7. 1959, and on March 23 and 31, 1960—and at least two further variants have been, promulgated by Ministers at Chalgrove itself.

There is. however, one important detail that the recently ptiblished correspondence of 1959 does make clear, namely that the former owners of Chalgrove Airfield (so wooed or so badgered by Air Ministry officials in the early months of 1959) do indeed .want to buy back their land and are recognised by the Air Ministry as so wanting. Yet since 1959 the very opposite has been maintained —.by Ministers under criticism for their handling of these affairs—as for instance (on his own admission in the Oxford .Times of July 20, 1962) by Mr. John Hay, in whose constituency Chalgrove lies, and (which is much more serious) by the Secretary for Air in the House of Commons on March 23, 1960.

The Air Ministry is not, of course, the only Ministry to have an interest in evading the facts on the record. Indeed, the heaviest burden of respon- sibility lies on the Ministry of Aviation in its earlier phase as the Ministry of Supply. But the Ministry latterly most involved is the Ministry of Transport. Agreements made some years ago between the Government and the aircraft company and the Ox- fordshire County Council concerning the alignment (about which the company formally withdrew an objection) and the building of a new substitute road —the old one having been engulfed within the air- field—have recently been revoked, subsequently to the company having enclosed a sizeable portion of the site of this road and to its having rene.wed, at an inquiry convened by the Minister of Transport a year ago, an unheralded objection to it on the grounds of safety for, and from, its own aircraft_ In consequence of this further demarche—a treat- ment of the local authority described by Lord Macclesfield in the Oxford press as `scandalous'-- any new road, which is of course consequential on the aircraft company's ownership of Chalgrove Airfield, must now be built from the local rates.

All the mysteries, then, remain. The House of Commons has been misinformed; constituents have been deceived; the Oxfordshire County Council has been treated with considerable contempt.

In justification one plea has always been advanced, and advanced with an excess of moral fervour: namely that the work done by this aircraft company is of quite enormous importance. Of course it is; it has never. been queried.- What has consistently been queried—particularly in view of the embarrass- ments that department after department of Government has run into—is why, given that this aircraft company should absolutely refuse to be con- tent with a lease and should have insisted on sale, departments of Government have set themselves with such conspicuous docility to meet its wishes, no matter what public pledges or agreements have to be broken in doing so.

The farmers concerned have consistently expressed their readiness to lease their land to the company, once it is returned to them (as by Crichel Down pledges it should be. being no longer required for Air Ministry pu-poses), and this readiness has re- cently been reiterated. Nor could there be, from the company's point of view; any difference of sub- stance between such a lease and a sale that has the strings attached to it that the Secretaries of Air have, however inaccurately, assured the House of Commons it has.


Warborough, Oxford