HC Deb 27 November 1968 vol 774 cc470-3
2. Mr. Hastings

asked the Minister of Technology whether he will make a statement on progress with the A300 Airbus.

6. Mr. Fortescue

asked the Minister of Technology whether he will make a statement about the A300 airbus.

7. Mr. Onslow

asked the Minister of Technology whether he will now make a statement about the European airbus project.

68. Mr. Rankin

asked the Minister of Technology what progress is being made in the development of the 300 Airbus.

The Minister of Technology (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)

Reports have just been received from the airframe and engine contractors on the further study work carried out at the request of Ministers since July. Revised cost estimates have also recently been submitted. Negotiations with airlines are also in hand. Ministers from the three countries will meet again as soon as the new reports have been fully evaluated and airlines have expressed their views.

Mr. Hastings

Is it true, nevertheless, that the French are beginning to have second thoughts about a 240-seater, as opposed to a 300-seater? Does not he think that if that is true it is too late and unreasonable at this stage, after all the work on research that has been carried out, that we should think about changing from a 300-seater if we want to meet the time scale required?

Mr. Benn

There is an awful lot of talk going on all the time in the aircraft business. The one thing that emerged very clearly from the meeting we had in Paris in August was that we were agreed that the concept of the A300 was absolutely right. We are doing the extra work to see if we can produce it in such a way as to meet the demand at a price t hat airlines are prepared to pay.

Mr. Fortescue

In view of the very differing financial policies now being followed by the three sponsoring Governments and the noticeable lack of enthusiasm for the A300, by two of the nationalised airlines involved, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that his mind is not closed to giving Government backing to the BAC311 project, which is now very much in existence, as he knows.

Mr. Benn

As I have just said, everybody is always thinking about all sorts of alternatives all the time. If we are serious about international collaboration, a project of this kind, on which a great deal of work has been done and which meets a pretty clear need, should be pressed forward, and we shall have a Ministerial meeting shortly to have a look at the latest figures provided.

Mr. Onslow

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the current estimate of airframe R and D is about £180 million? Will he say categorically that the aircraft, if it flies, will have British engines, and that he sticks to the assurance of the former Minister of State that it will be built?

Mr. Benn

My right hon. Friend the former Minister of State, in talking about this matter, always said that he should have to look at it stage by stage, but he expressed confidence that the airbus would go ahead, which is a very different thing. The final figures have not yet come to me. That is why we gave extra time to the companies. But we shall evaluate them soon. The RB207 is available for this aircraft.

Mr. Rankin

Does my right hon. Friend agree that accidents with aircraft of this capacity would not be tolerable, and since accidents often arise from incidents in flight, will he now make the notification of all incidents by present captains compulsory, so that we may find out what guide technology can give us in preventing possible trouble with these aircraft in the future?

Mr. Benn

I agree with my hon. Friend that accidents with bigger aircraft, just like accidents with bigger tankers, pose much more serious problems for the community. He may be assured that as we move on to these more sophisticated aircraft the degree of testing work done and the safety standards to be met are infinitely greater than we have accepted for earlier aircraft.

Mr. Robert Howarth

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is a requirement for this size of aircraft not only in Europe but in other parts of the world, particularly North America and the continent of Australia, and that if we do not build it one of the American manufacturers will fill the gap?

Mr. Benn

I confirm that immediately. The aircraft will be wanted not only in Europe but elsewhere. Indeed, although we are concerned probably with the initial market before the final go ahead is given, we do not intend to be satisfied with anything but a share in the world market.

30. Mr. Robert Howarth

asked the Minister of Technology if he is aware that the French Dassault Company is proposing to build a 200–250-seater airliner; and what consideration is being given to this proposal in the negotiations with the French and German Government on the A300 airbus.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

No, Sir. The large civil aircraft project by Dassault of which I am aware is the 130–140-seater Mercure.

Mr. Howarth

I apologise for over-stating the estimated size of this aircraft. Does not my hon. Friend agree that such a project—which appears to be a replacement for the Caravelle—represents some threat to the proposals for building an airbus?

Mr. Mallalieu

I would not have thought so. It might be a competitor for the 311. if that were developed, but I would not have thought that it would compete with the airbus.

29. Mr. Robert Howarth

asked the Minister of Technology if he will state the latent estimated launching costs of the A300 airbus; what proportion of this will be borne by Great Britain; and to what extent the share of work will reflect this contribution.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

The sum required by the constructors to launch the project is still under negotiation but their combined airframe and engine estimate is close to the figure of £285 million given to the House on 24th June, 1968. The United Kingdom share is expected to be rather less than one half of the total costs. Oar work share will be broadly commensurate.—[Vol. 767, c. 1–4.]

Mr. Howarth

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the British aerospace companies will receive a reasonable share of this work? I am thinking in particular of the avionics side. Will these companies be able to compete fairly with their French opposite numbers, and receive value for money if the process goes ahead?

Mr. Mallalieu

Our total share will certainly be a fair one. On the question of the avionics side of the work, I very much hope that that situation will apply, too.

Mr. Onslow

Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear to our partners in this project that if the aircraft is not fittted with British engines Britain will have a right to expect a greater share of the airframe work?

Mr. Mallalieu

In these negotiations we shall look after our own interests as best we can.