HC Deb 16 April 1969 vol 781 cc1144-6
29. Mr. Barnett

asked the Minister of Technology what is his latest estimate of the total costs of research and development for the Concorde.

Mr. Benn

I hope to make a statement shortly.

Mr. Barnett

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there will be many hon. Members, if not all, who will want to congratulate all concerned on the recent successful flight while, at the same time, being realistic enough to recognise that, after spending up to £1,000 million on this research and development, it would be surprising if it had not been successful? Is he also aware that, as it is the taxpayer who is meeting the eventual cost, whether it be £600 million, £800 million or £1,000 million, surely it is right that we should not pretend that there will not be this enormous cost problem in addition to all the other problems? Will he make this announcement as soon as possible and, in future, as costs go on escalating, announce those, too?

Mr. Benn

I am glad that my hon. Friend has paid tribute to the firms, B.A.C. and Rolls-Royce, Brian Trubshaw and his crew and the hundreds of component manufacturers and thousands of workers who have made the 002 flight possible. Having said that, we have not spent £1,000 million. My hon. Friend is confusing some exaggerated estimates which have appeared in the Press with exact payments on historical costs. We have spent £170 million on extra-mural work. There is a slight difference between the two figures, But the estimated development cost is one of the factors to be taken into account and set against the market to calculate what the return on Concorde will be. I live with this equation all the time, but I must stick with my French partners in publishing the same figures that are agreed at the same time.

Mr. David Price

Is the Minister aware that we on this side of the House wish to associate ourselves with his congratulations to the team which got 002 into the air, and agree that the commercial prospects for Concorde are now better than ever they were, in view of the delays in the United States of America? Is he further aware that, having said that, he has still some difficult decisions to make?

Mr. Benn

I have some very difficult decisions to make. Although, with every day that goes by, we come nearer to the point of sale, the success of Concorde will be decided by whether people buy it. The phasing of the expenditure between now and the time when the markets are firm is a problem which will create very serious difficulty for those of us who are concerned with reaching decisions.

Mr. Ellis

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while there are those of us who are very much for this project and have constituents working on it, at the same time the problem of escalating costs is very difficult? Remembering his boasts that this was the most tightly costed project ever, will he bring home to those responsible for this increasing expenditure the fact that its costs are vital in deciding whether or not it sells, and that not only are we proud of it but are anxious to see it done at target costs?

Mr. Benn

The term "escalation" is confusing. It usually means that it is taking longer to solve problems than was thought. That is why costs go up. It is not because there is extravagance on a day-to-day basis. If that is understood, some of the arguments about escalation will be seen in better perspective. That is not to say that public money is not involved. At the moment, we have to keep our fingers crossed, keep our nerve, keep our fingers on the purse strings, and hold our breath at the same time.