HC Deb 28 February 1967 vol 742 cc235-7
3. Mr. Marten

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement about the timetable for the Anglo-French variable geometry project.

9. Mr. Fortescue

asked the Minister of Technology when he expects to place a firm contract for the development of a prototype of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Technology (Mr. John Stonehouse)

Preliminary studies are near completion, and the detailed project definition stage is due to begin in April, lasting for about six months. Full development, including the manufacture of prototypes, is planned to start early in 1968 so that the aircraft can enter service with the R.A.F. in the middle 1970s.

Mr. Marten

If at one of these stages agreement is not reached with the French, have the Government a plan for a successor to the Anglo-French variable geometry project?

Mr. Stonehouse

We are not expecting that that point will arise. There is a cancellation clause, but in any case we are not expecting that the point which has been raised will arise.

Mr. Fortescue

Would it not be advisable to have some kind of contingency plan in case this option is exercised by the French, especially since the French Minister emphasised recently that they are in a position to exercise it if they wish?

Mr. Stonehouse

Of course there must be contingency plans for all contingencies, but, as I have already said, there is no doubt in our minds that this agreement is going through—we have had that assurance from the French—providing that all the preliminary tests are successful.

Mr. Dalyell

Could the Minister shed any light on what is meant in the French Press by the phrase "breaking the financial barrier in November, 1967"?

Mr. Stonehouse

It is not for me to comment on what appears in the United Kingdom Press, and it is certainly not for me to comment on what appears in the French Press.

Mr. Robert Howarth

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the British Aircraft Corporation has the design leadership on the airframe side in this project?

Mr. Stonehouse

There is another Question on the Paper about design leadership.

Mr. R. Carr

Will the Minister realise that, on all sides of the House, we sincerely hope that this A-F VG project will go forward successfully? Will he also realise that some concern has been created by some of the statements from Paris, notably by the French Minister of Information, and that the existence of contingency planning would give great sureness, where there is a need of sureness, in the British industry?

Mr. Stonehouse

I want to emphasise that the relations of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and myself with the French Ministers have been entirely good throughout the negotiations, and any thought of the kind suggested which comes from Paris is, I think, not to be regarded as a serious reflection of the French Ministers' approach to this development.

19. Mr. Ridley

asked the Minister of Technology whether the responsibility for design leadership in the development of the Anglo-French variable-geometry aircraft will be given to one of the firms participating in the development work of the airframe and engine, respectively, or whether it will be shared equally between the two firms concerned in each case.

Mr. Stonehouse

The Ministry of Technology will be the Executive Agency for the airframe, letting the contract to a joint British Aircraft Corporation/ Dassault company registered in the United Kingdom, while the French Government will let the engine contract to a joint SNECMA /Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd., company registered in France. Precise proposals from all four companies for the efficient management of the development programmes are expected shortly.

Mr. Ridley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the most efficient way of doing this is to let one contract and require a certain amount of sub-contracting, and that hitherto we have got this totally wrong? Will he try to renegotiate a more sensible basis for allocating contracts in Anglo-French co-operation of this sort?

Mr. Stonehouse

It is precisely the proposal that we should let one contract to a joint firm, so that the inefficiencies which are being referred to will not arise.

Mr. Dalyell

What does my hon. Friend mean by "shortly" in this case?

Mr. Stonehouse

We hope to have some results of the companies' consideration of this within the next few weeks.