HC Deb 10 November 1969 vol 791 cc20-2
21. Mr. Sheldon

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

24. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement on the latest cost estimates for Concorde.

48. Mr. Wall

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement on the progress of the Concorde programme.

59 and 60. Mr. Ellis

asked the Minister of Technology (1) if he will make a statement on the progress to date and the forward programme of the Concorde project;

(2) when he will make his revised estimates on the cost of the Concorde project available.

Mr. Benn

The two Concorde prototypes have now completed 135 hours of flight testing. Prototype 001 first flew at supersonic speed on 1st October. Prototype 002 is at present undergoing a planned programme of modifications in preparation for flight test at cruising speed and will resume flying early in the New Year. The results of flight tests so far have been satisfactory.

The latest agreed Anglo-French estimate of development costs is £730 million at January, 1969, prices. This is currently being reviewed to take account of the devaluation of the franc and certain adjustments to the programme.

I will inform the House as soon as practicable of the results of this review.

Mr. Sheldon

Since this means that once again the cost of the Concorde is going up yet further, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that, before any more prototype models or pre-production models are instigated or any further costs are incurred, he will make a statement to the House?

Mr. Benn

The programme is under continual review. As the House knows, I went to Paris to see M. Mondon in September, and he will be coming over for a further meeting in December.

During the months that lie ahead, as the tests reach their critical stage in the sense that we shall be able to assess them, it will be necessary for us to balance, on the one hand, the need not to lose impetus for the programme and, on the other hand, not to commit too many resources until we know whether or not the aircraft will be the success we think it will be.

Mr. Dalyell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us, whatever may have been our thoughts about the original Concorde estimates, agree with him on the issue of impetus. and hope that talk of cancellations will be kept to a minimum, as we should like to continue the project?

Mr. Benn

I have never spoken of cancellations although I have often been asked about them. I have tried to make it clear that the Concorde will develop its future according to the orders which are received for it from the airlines, and during this period of assessment I hope that the House will show some understanding and support for the biggest international project ever undertaken in the world and one of great importance to this country.

Mr. Ellis

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the livelihood of many people is at stake in the success of this project, and will he say when he will make the crucial evaluation he spoke of and give the green light to go ahead with the production model?

Mr. Benn

My hon. Friend knows that authorisations for production expenditure have been given, subject to the point which I have just made, and the Concorde's success will be assured when the orders are firm and production aircraft are being made for a customer.

Mr. Corfield

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that one can also add to the cost of Concorde by delay in giving the go-ahead for the next stage?

Mr. Benn

This is the balance which must be struck during the months that lie ahead. I think the hon. Gentleman and I see this in the same way.

Mr. Rankin

Will my right hon. Friend keep in mind that the cost element has from the beginning been part and parcel of the propaganda launched against Concorde, and will he assure us that when we come near to success he will not look back?

Mr. Benn

I understand what my hon. Friend is saying to me, but I cannot apologise to the House for keeping an eye on the cost. It is not my money that is being spent; it belongs to the taxpayer; and I am bound to balance up the estimated development cost against the estimated return on this investment. and I have done this in such a way,I hope, as not to shake people's confidence in the prospects of success.

Sir A. V. Harvey:

Assuming that the tests continue satisfactorily, can the right hon. Gentleman say what progress is being made in cut metal for production to assure early delivery when that time comes?

Mr. Benn

This is the balance which must be struck in consultation with the French, who have been reviewing this matter themselves as well as with us. But, as I have just said, and as the hon. Gentleman knows very well, production expenditure has been authorised and metal has been cut. There is a Question on the Order Paper later about the production programme. However, as I think he knows, some further authorisation is now forthcoming.