HC Deb 09 July 1969 vol 786 cc1329-35
1. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Minister of Technology what percentage of the cost of the research and development of the Concorde was dollar expenditure; and what was the actual figure.

The Minister of Technology (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)

Expenditure on sub-contracts with American firms accounts for about £15 million, or about 2 per cent. of the total estimate of £730 million for the extra-mural development programme.

Mr. Jenkins

While the percentage falls, does not the amount indicate the enormous level to which the costs of this aircraft have escalated since the original estimate of £150 million put forward by right hon. Gentlemans opposite? Will my right hon. Friend say whether or not the £1,000 million figure is already in sight?

Mr. Benn

I do not think that the percentage of American equipment in Concorde has been affected by the escalation, although the total cost will be. I have dealt previously in the House with the figure of £1,000 million that has been quoted. I think that people have been confusing production finance with R. and D.

2. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Minister of Technology whether the routes for testing the sonic boom of the Concorde prototypes have yet been decided.

23. Mr. Rankin

asked the Minister of Technology if he will now make a further statement about the conditions under which the Concorde prototypes will be tested for sonic boom.

Mr. Bean

Concorde's boom will be measured as one of the aircraft's characteristics during the flight test programme. The routes for flight tests at supersonic speed have not yet been decided.

Mr. Jenkins

Will my right hon. Friend make quite certain that when these routes are determined, flights will take place over populated areas so that people can experience the nature of the sonic boom for themselves?

Mr. Benn

The object of the flight tests is not to test public reaction to the boom but to test the aircraft's capability with a view to providing performance guarantees for potential customers. The attitude which Governments may adopt towards over-flight by supersonic aircraft is a matter for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and not for me.

Mr. Rankin

Can we take it that Concorde will be flown at appropriate speeds over whatever areas are necessary to promote safe utilisation of the supersonic aircraft?

Mr. Benn

We are now considering what would be the right route path for this aircraft. We have to take into account the desirability, on the one hand, of minimising disturbance and, on the other hand, of providing a route path which keeps the aircraft within radar cover and other necessary services. This means that parts of straight flights for supersonic testing are bound to be over land.

7. Mr. Fortescue

asked the Minister of Technology what further information [...]e has obtained of the noise level of Concorde at take-off, at landing and in subsonic flight; and how this level compares with that of four-engine jet aircraft at present in commercial service.

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

We have not yet had sufficient noise measurements on the prototype aircraft to draw firm conclusions on Concorde's noise levels in operation. It remains our aim to ensure that Concorde's engine noise should be no greater than that of existing subsonic jets.

Mr. Fortescue

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Would he therefore assure the House that as a result of the flights so far undertaken there is no reason to suppose that this aim will not be achieved?

Mr. Mallalieu

On the flights so far there is no reason to suppose that.

Mr. Molloy

Can my hon. Friend say what liaison exists between his Department and the Board of Trade for contacting local authorities concerned about the increasing noise of aircraft, particularly in those areas which have large airports in their vicinity?

Mr. Mallalieu

The liaison between my Department and the Board of Trade is very close on all these matters.

9. Mr. Corfield

asked the Minister of Technology what discussions he is currently having with the French Government to ensure that there will be no slowing down of the Concorde programme, in view of the possibility that United States aircraft manufacturers may decide to construct a supersonic aircraft to operate at a lower mach number than hitherto contemplated, which would be available earlier than anticipated, and in more direct competition with Concorde.

50. Mr. Rankin

asked the Minister of Technology what consultations he has had with the French Government about the slowing down of the Concorde programme; and what has been the outcome.

Mr. Benn

I hope to meet the French Minister of Transport shortly to discuss the Concorde programme.

Mr. Corfield

Can the right hon. Gentleman give any indication of the effect of the apparent slowing down at the moment on the labour requirements and labour problems in the Rolls-Royce Bristol Engine Division and the B.A.C.?

Mr. Benn

I cannot at the moment because the production programme is the one that has to be discussed. Obviously, the slowing down of the programme due to delay in first flight has itself created a problem that was not anticipated earlier. My discussions with the French Minister are designed to look at the production programme and the phasing of it, in which one is balanc- ing on the one hand the desirability of maintaining a steady flow of work for employment and economic reasons against the risk of investing too much in full production before one knows the ordering position which one will get.

Mr. Rankin

Is my right hon. Friend aware that during the Paris Air Show I was able to consult various Frenchmen engaged at present in the production of Concorde and that all of them assured me that they would be dismayed by a slowing down in her rate of growth?

Mr. Benn

I think there is no doubt that anyone engaged in building Concorde wants to see the green light flashing whether on this side of the Channel or the other, but the question which M. Mondon and I have to consider is what is the right rate of production, given that there has been some slowing down of the programme.

Mr. McMaster

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of any major redesign of Concorde, for instance the incorporation of small nose wings, which may slow down production?

Mr. Benn

The problem in all aircraft and advanced projects is the point at which one freezes the design and the effect of this on performance on the one hand and cost on the other. I think there is the right rate of development at the moment. I think the position as it stands between the French Minister and myself on this is clearly understood. I recently made a statement on cost aspects which have important elements in this.

Mr. Heffer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Rolls-Royce Company has recently established a further team of research into the whole question of noise? Is not this an indication that we cannot rush forward in relation to this project until the whole matter of noise has been settled?

Mr. Benn

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and, of course, the new high technology engines which Rolls-Royce has been producing include the RB211, which it sold to Lockheeds last year, which have a distinct noise advantage over the older types of engine. This, unfortunately, has not got an application in the supersonic field, but I agree entirely that broadly social costs and the technological implications in trying to overcome them must be taken into account when projects are authorised.

15. Mr. Biffen

asked the Minister of Technology what further discussions he has had with the manufacturers of Concorde in respect of the estimated sales of this aircraft and the prices at which the aircraft and its spares and replacements will be offered to airline operators.

Mr. Benn

The prospective sales and the selling price of Concorde are regularly reviewed with the manufacturers.

Mr. Biffen

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it is his opinion that the ultimate sales of this aircraft will to some degree be related to the price that is charged to the airlines? When does he expect B.A.C. to be able to indicate the price it hopes to charge the operators so that we may get some idea of how many of these options will actually end up as orders?

Mr. Benn

That is what the flight testing programme is designed to find out, but it is not possible to quote a price absolutely firmly and certainly not to publicise prices curently being discussed. The market will respond in part to the price, but this may not be quite as big a feature of the ultimate market as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Dobson

Does my right hon. Friend realise that in part the price for this aircraft can be achieved if it reaches the market early enough to compete in world markets and so uphold the traditions of our aircraft industry?

Mr. Benn

There is no doubt about it that the capacity of this aircraft, as with every other aircraft, to get the market will depend in part on its being there on time. To this extent we have an advantage over the nearest competitors. This should help us, but it does not encourage us to relax our efforts.

Sir C. Osborne

What proportion of the colossal sum we have already spent on development does the Minister expect we shall recover through sales?

Mr. Benn

It greatly depends on the market for the aircraft. Therefore, I cannot say this with any certainty at this time. Until the options are converted into orders and Concorde enters into service, and until we know when the American competitor will be coming along, we could not answer that authoritatively. But we are not expecting to get back all the money we have put into the research and development. I think this has been understood.

29. Mr. Onslow

asked the Minister of Technology if he will specify the date by which a firm decision is to be taken to proceed with the financing of Concorde production; and whether this date is accepted by the French Government.

27. Mr. Ellis

asked the Minister of Technology if he will now allow the production of Concordes for airline service to go ahead.

Mr. Benn

Manufacture of the first three production aircraft is already under way. We are currently discussing with the firms and the French Government the programme for the subsequent aircraft.

Mr. Onslow

By what date must a decision be taken on the fourth production aircraft onwards? How are these to be financed? Is it under the Industrial Expansion Act? What rate of interest is currently being charged?

Mr. Benn

The finance that will be provided for the production will be handled under the Industrial Expansion Act, and the negotiations are proceeding. This is at the going rate. As to the date, there is no doubt that the firms involved would like to have a measure of certainty as early as they can, but the Governments, particularly the new French Government, which has just acquired responsibility for the project, want time to think about the right production programme. I am discussing it with them.

Mr. Edelman

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind in connection with the financing of the aircraft that one of the reasons for the escalation of cast is the multiplication of modifications? Will he ensure that the modifications are kept within reasonable limits?

Mr. Benn

It is true that when one introduces modifications one tends to increase cost, but they are normally introduced for very good reasons, principally to ensure that the published payload is achieved.

Mr. Corfield

When the right hon. Gentleman has concluded his negotiations with his opposite number in France, will he make the information available to the House?

Mr. Benn

I certainly shall. I have not fixed the date when I shall visit M. Mondon. He needs a little time to settle in. I have a direct interest in this myself, and I will ensure that the House knows.

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