HC Deb 29 January 1969 vol 776 cc1298-303
3. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Minister of Technology whether, in view of the estimated intensity of the sonic bang which will be produced by Concorde of between two and four pounds per square foot and the estimated maximum acceptable intensity of 0.75 pounds per square foot, he will cancel Concorde.

21. Mr. Cronin

asked the Minister of Technology what is his policy on the Concorde aircraft having regard to estimates of the sonic bang produced by it.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Technology (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu)

The intensity of the bang produced by Concorde will not be known until the aircraft has flown at supersonic speeds, but I have seen no evidence to support my hon. Friend's estimate about the maximum acceptable intensity of a sonic bang. Concorde's flights will, of course, be controlled in the interests of those below the flight paths.

Mr. Jenkins

As my estimate of the cost of the Concorde was correct whereas my hon. Friend's was notoriously incorrect, is it not at least possible that my estimate of the sonic bang will be correct and his will be equally incorrect?

Mr. Mallalieu

We shall know that when it has flown supersonically.

Mr. Cronin

With respect to my hon. Friend, is it not the case that there are so many variables in weight, speed and altitude that nobody knows what the sonic bang of Concorde will be? Bearing in mind that 73 per cent. of the world's long routes are over the sea, this is not really a very important matter in practice. Will my hon. Friend, therefore, make sure that the Concorde is left to survive entirely on its economic merits?

Mr. Mallalieu

The answer to the first part of the question is certainly, "Yes". I consider, however, that the question of aircraft noise generally has its importance.

Sir A. V. Harvey

When the sonic tests take place, will the Minister ensure that American observers are present, thus ensuring that when the time comes the Americans, who do not have the equivalent to Concorde, will not prevent this aircraft going to the United States for reasons of noise?

Mr. Mallalieu

That is a very good idea.

16. Mr. McMaster

asked the Minister of Technology when Concorde 002 is now expected to have its first flight.

23. Mr. Marten

asked the Minister of Technology what is now the estimated date when the Concorde will be in airline service.

24. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a further statement on the development of the Concorde.

43. Mr. Biffen

asked the Minister of Technology what is the latest estimated date for the first flight of prototype 001 of the Concorde; by what amount this varies from the originally expected date of first flight; and what has been the estimated increase in costs deriving from this delay.

46. Sir A. V. Harvey

asked the Minister of Technology when the British and French prototypes of Concorde will now make their first flight.

Mr. Benn

The manufacturers had planned to achieve first flight of the first prototype (001) in February, 1968. They now expect it to fly next month. The first flight date of the second prototype (002) will depend upon results from the early flying of 001; but it is expected to be about six weeks after the first flight of 001. The manufacturers hope to have Concorde in airline service by 1973.

Development costs are at present under review between the two Governments, and I have nothing to add to my reply to the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) on 22nd January.—[Vol. 776, c. 108.]

Mr. McMaster

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the flight of the British Concorde is not being delayed for any political reason after that of the French Concorde?

Mr. Benn

I can assure the hon. Gentleman of that. He must believe that as I am the Member for Bristol, South-East, if there were any political factors operating they would be the other way. The truth is that from the outset the programmes were planned so that 001 would come first and 002's first flight would benefit from the experience of 001. It would be wrong for me as a political Minister and as a local Member to endanger the project by urging a change in the programme of the flight before the technicians were ready to do it.

Mr. Marten

Will the Minister confirm that the target date for the first flight is 15th February? Has not the in-airline-service date slipped since he last spoke about it at the Despatch Box?

Mr. Benn

I would rather not give a date. I have probably read the same stories in the newspapers as has the hon. Member. I am not responsible for fixing the date. It lies with Sud in the case of the 001 and I cannot comment. In answer to the second question, the manufacturers hope to have Concorde in airline service by 1973. We do not know how far the first flight delays will carry through to the later stages or whether this has meant transferring the order in which certain things had to be done.

Mr. Wall

Will the Minister say what is the expected number of orders for the new plane?

Mr. Benn

There are no orders for Concorde. There are some options that were taken out before. During the course of the flight trials the firms manufacturing hope to be in a position to give performance guarantees on which firm orders can be built. We are now at the difficult period with Concorde which is causing anxiety because a lot of money has been spent and more committed in anticipation of the first firm order from anybody to buy the aircraft.

Mr. Biffen

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that in the answer to my Question on 22nd January, to which he referred, he used the term a "substantial" rise in development cost? Will he take the earliest opportunity to quantify that rather indefinite word, and will he confirm that it is the intention of the Government that a significant share of those substantially increased development costs shall nonetheless be recovered in the sales that are made of the Concorde to the airline operators?

Mr. Bean

I used the word "substantial" for two reasons. The first is that we are still assessing the modifications proposed by the firms, which they have costed but which we have not yet costed. The second is that in an international project one has to have an agreed statement as between the Governments concerned about the latest estimate of development costs.

As for the hon. Gentleman's second question, I agree that we want to get back as much of our investment as we can, but that depends on the long-term market for the Concorde and the extent to which costs may tend to rise between now and the recovery period.

Sir A. V. Harvey

While many of us are still confident about the ultimate success of the project, we are also aware that the continuing delays will inevitably put up the cost, and we are alarmed at the mounting bill. Can we have an undertaking that if there are further delays the Minister will report fully and frankly to the House the real position as he sees it?

Mr. Benn

I have tried to keep the House informed as best I can, but I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that there is too little information generally available about the Concorde project, and I should like to correct the position.

As for the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the reasons for the delays are various, and obviously it would be wrong for a Minister to agitate about a technical decision of the kind involving the date of the first flight. I can do no more than discuss the problem generally. The anxiety in Filton and Toulouse to get the aircraft into the air is so great that it does not need any political encouragement.

Mr. Ellis

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the slippage of dates is most important for this aircraft's future from the point of view of the workers involved and public confidence generally? These decisions are vital. Is it not time that the companies gave more information to this House and to everyone who has invested in the project so that we know where we stand? We understand the difficulties, but would like more information.

Mr. Benn

I must acquit the firms of failing to give information to this House or to my Ministry. The firms and my Department are in full contact. I think that my hon. Friend is referring to two other problems. One is that of communication between management and men in the factories, about which I share his view. The other is the extent to which information is available to meet the point made by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), and I shall see what can be done in that respect.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

How does my right hon. Friend explain that the Russians seem to have put their Concorde into the air already? Is he aware that arrangements are being made for a Moscow/Tokio flight of their Concorde? Would it not be a good idea to approach the Russians and ask them to give an exhibition at Prestwick?

Mr. Benn

I cannot comment on the comparison between the two projects except to say that anyone involved in the aircraft industry must admire the technological skill that went into the flight of the Tupolov aircraft. Whether the Russians would fly it here and show it to us is another matter. It would arouse immense interest in our aircraft industry if we could see it fly.

Mr. Corheld

Is the Minister aware that we are handicapped by reading Press reports of meetings held by the right hon. Gentleman in my constituency, though I think that they do me more good than harm? I would ask him to bear in mind that this constant fixing of dates for the first flight of the Concorde that are not met is the worst possible form of public relations. When he is next in contact with our French colleagues and B.A.C, Filton, will he impress upon them that we should prefer April or even May, if it is definite, to these constantly changing dates? It is always next month, and nothing happens. It is doing immense harm to the whole project.

Mr. Benn

With regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's Question, if I offended him, I hope that he will forgive me. They were not political speeches that I made. I talked to the management, to shop stewards, and to people at the factory gate at Filton. It was a discussion of the project itself. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acquit me of any discourtesy.

It was because of his second point that I declined to confirm the date about which there has been much discussion. It is a matter which must be left to the firm. Hon. Members should remember that a very sophisticated test programme is in operation. If one part of it reveals a defect, it has to begin again. That alone can cause delay. However, when the Concorde flies, it will be the most fully tested aircraft that has ever taken the air.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On an occasion when so many Questions are asked together, turning Question time into a debate, would it not be better if they were dealt with at the end of Question time?

Mr. Speaker

It has been done.