HC Deb 04 August 1965 vol 717 cc1674-6
12. Mr. Lipton

asked the Minister of Aviation what approval he has given for orders to be placed with the British Aircraft Corporation for the Super-super VC10 jet airliner.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

I have not so far been asked to approve such orders.

Mr. Lipton

In the light of our balance of payments and the future of British civil aviation, would my right hon. Friend agree that it would be stone crazy to buy Boeings for dollars instead of going all out to get a Super-super VC10 jet off the ground? Time is running out with every month.

Mr. Jenkins

Yes, Sir. This is an important decision for the British aircraft industry and, as my hon. Friend says, for the balance of payments. What we have to consider and what I am trying to consider is whether there is likely to be a substantial market for a stretched VC10. The development costs, both for the airframe and the engine for such a plane, would be very heavy and they would have to be borne to a very large extent by Her Majesty's Government.

In these circumstances, the difficulty is not B.O.A.C.—we all want to see B.O.A.C. equipped with these planes and so, I hope, does B.O.A.C.—but the fact that it clearly does not make sense to incur these very heavy development costs to sell a very limited number of planes to B.O.A.C. My endeavour is to discover what is the best prospective market. If it is good, we shall consider going ahead.

Mr. David Price

Can the right hon. Gentleman assist us by giving us some indication of the total size of the order below which it would be uneconomic to go ahead, on the Minister's argument, with the stretched VC10? Secondly, would he assure us that he is looking at the total cost benefit either way over the whole economy, and not simply limited to the economics of B.O.A.C.?

Mr. Jenkins

Yes, I am. It is a great mistake to regard this issue as turning primarily upon B.O.A.C. It turns primarily upon whether it is a worthwhile investment for Her Majesty's Government of public money. I should not like to say exactly what size of order would be the minimum, but, as the costs of the development of the airframe amount, as I have said before, to several tens of millions of £s—to which has to be added a not very dissimilar sum for the development of the engine if the larger plane is to have adequate range—clearly a reasonable size of market is required to make it an economic proposition.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Has my right hon. Friend any faith in Sir Giles Guthrie's recent rather half-hearted statement of intention to buy Super-super VC10s? Is he aware of Motion No. 311, standing in my name and the names of about 49 other hon. Members, calling on Her Majesty's Government to support the British Aircraft Corporation to get the Super-super version of the VC10 flying?

Mr. Jenkins

I am aware of that Motion, which I have studied with interest, and I have had conversations with my hon. Friend, but the issue remains not primarily one of B.O.A.C. but one of judgment, as to whether this is a proper investment of public funds.

Mr. Tuck

Sir Giles Guthrie?

Mr. Onslow

The House will be encouraged by what the Minister has said, but could he assure us still further? Could he give us an assurance that he will consider this project on its merits, and that, if it is a question of substantial Government financial backing being necessary, he will not shrink from using his influence to secure that, in spite of the current financial stringencies?

Mr. Jenkins

I will not shrink from using my influence, such as it may be, provided that I am convinced that it is a reasonable proposition.

Mr. Kershaw

Is the Minister aware that I am discouraged by what he said, because he seems to imply that, unless we get fairly substantial export orders for the VC10, there is no hope of going on with it? Is it not, for political reasons, unlikely that we shall have very large export orders for the VC10? Is it not tantamout to saying that he thinks that it will not work and will not be ordered?

Mr. Jenkins

No, Sir. I did not say that I took the view that firm orders would have to be placed. The view which I took, and which I am sure the hon. Member would take if he had responsibility for these matters, is that there should be a reasonable prospect of securing such orders.