HC Deb 18 November 1970 vol 806 cc1206-12
1 and 2. Mr. Marten

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply (1) if he will make a statement on the BAC3-11 proposals;

(2) if he will make a statement on the European Airbus.

3. Mr. Wilkinson

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply when he will announce a decision on the development of the BAC3-11 and of the Rolls Royce RB211/61 engine to power it; and if he will make a statement.

5. Mr. Cronin

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will make a statement on the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to an airbus for Europe.

7. Mr. Barnett

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply what discussions he has had about Government grants towards the production of the BAC3-11 and European Airbus; if he will publish the relevant figures; and if he will make a statement.

9. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply whether he will make a further statement on the BAC3-11.

10. Sir A. Meyer

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply what proposals he has received from European Governments regarding British participation in the European Airbus project; and whether he will make a statement.

13. Mr. Sheldon

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will make a statement on the European airbus.

18. Mr. Onslow

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will now make a further statement on the BAC3-11 project.

20. Mr. Carter-Jones

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply what discussions have taken place with British industry regarding the BAC3-11 and European Air Bus proposals; and if he will make a statement.

24 and 25. Mr. Rankin

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply (1) if he will make a further statement on the future of the BAC3-11.

(2) what decision he has now reached on the European airbus.

27. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will make a statement on his policy towards the European Airbus project; and to what extent this will involve Rolls-Royce Limited.

28. Mr. Walter Johnson

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply if he will make a statement on the future of the BAC3-11 and on the effect he estimates it will have on the financial position of Rolls-Royce.

30. Mr. Edelman

asked the Minister of Aviation Supply what decision he has taken in connection with the Rolls-Royce proposal to develop an engine for the BAC3-11.

The Minister of Aviation Supply (Mr. Frederick Corfield)

As I told the House on 9th November in reply to a Question from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin), the Government are studying both the BAC3-11 and the A300B.

The invitation from the French, German and Dutch Governments to participate in the A300B project was received less than four weeks ago and it has been necessary to clarify some important aspects of their proposals. This is being done urgently—there have been two Ministerial meetings and further talks between officials of the four Governments will take place later this week—but I should prefer not to promise a firm date for the Government's decision on either project. I am very conscious of the length of time that BAC has had to wait.

Our decision will, of course, embrace the request from Rolls-Royce for launching aid for the RB211–61 engine which could power either aircraft. As I told the House last Wednesday, this is a separate matter from the decision to contribute additional launching aid to complete the RB211–22.—[Vol. 806, c. 35 and 398–407.]

Mr. Marten

First, does the Minister realise that the whole House would, I am sure, like him to go for the British aircraft? Can he say whether the proposition that there might be American engines in this British airframe is being considered? Secondly, can he confirm that the French have put in another proposal subsequent to that which he mentioned from the Europeans? May we be assured that he will not use the European Airbus as a lever to crawl into the Common Market?

Mr. Corfield

First, proposals to the effect mentioned by my hon. Friend have been put forward by the Company and they are being urgently examined. Secondly, I am sure that none of my right hon. Friends has any intention of crawling into the Common Market, and this will not be used as a lever to that effect.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that more worthy projects in the aerospace industry have been killed since the war by indecision than by almost any other reason and that the BAC3-11 would produce a £720 million profit to the balance of payments between 1975 and 1983? Is he further aware that in the last 20 years £1,025,000 on average in Government aid per annum to B.A.C. has produced a profit to the balance of payments of £40 million annually on civil aircraft?

Mr. Corfield

I have used most of those arguments myself on one occasion or another, but I do not entirely agree with the profit figures which my hon. Friend mentions.

Mr. Cronin

Will the Minister beat in mind that the BAC3-11 is already about a year behind the A300B and that therefore a decision is urgent? Will he undertake to make sure that a decision is made on commercial grounds and is not influenced by political considerations?

Mr. Corfield

As I indicated in my Answer, I appreciate that B.A.C. has had to wait a long time and I appreciate the need for urgency. Nevertheless, these proposals were such that it would not have been right to ignore them.

Sir G. Nabarro

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that a principal potential customer for the BAC3-11, namely, British European Airways, has already voiced its views through its Chairman, Sir Anthony Milward, who has strongly urged the Government to buy British, which is obviously the opinion of most informed people in this matter? Secondly, will he ensure that this magnificent aircraft is not cast away as the TSR2 was before it?

Mr. Corfield

I do not think that there is any comparison between this aircraft, which has not reached the stage of cutting metal, and the TSR2. I do not think that any of us could fail to be aware of the stridently expressed views of the Chairman of B.E.A.

Sir A. Meyer

Will my right hon. Friend take account of the fact that the British Aircraft Corporation is not coterminous with the British aircraft industry and that a private firm, Hawker Siddeley, has invested very large sums of its own money in the European project? Will he also say what is the difference between an all-British aircraft with an American engine and, as I understand it, a Yugoslav undercarriage and a Roumanian tailplane, and a European aircraft with British wings?

Mr. Corfield

I assure my hon. Friend that all those matters have been, and are being, taken into consideration.

Mr. Sheldon

Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that before making any decision to go ahead with the airbus project, attention will be paid to the need for complete control over these multinational projects—the kind of control which has been lacking in the past but which is quite essential if a project is ever to be a success?

Mr. Corfield

I very much appreciate those sentiments, but I am sure that the hon. Member will realise that while complete control is something at which successive Governments have been aiming, it is not all that easy to work out a system which is foolproof. Progress is, however, being made and I believe that the Panavia set-up for the M.R.C.A. is a considerable advance on previous organisations.

Mr. Onslow

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the whole cost of the BAC3-11 project so far has been borne by B.A.C. and that it has been, and still is, considerable? Will he remind the House how many jobs are in prospect it the BAC3-11 goes ahead?

Mr. Corfield

I cannot give the exact number. There are a very large number of claims that very large numbers of jobs will eventuate from a go-ahead for the 3–11. We have, however, to bear in mind that Hawker Siddeley has financed its contribution from its resources.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Will the Minister accept that many right hon. and hon. Members, on both sides, are anxious about this matter? Is he aware that both sides have been subjected to a tremendous amount of propaganda? To allow simple souls like myself to make an assessment, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake at least to try to produce a neutral report from which we can make an assessment?

Mr. Corfield

That, of course, is my endeavour in producing a report to my colleagues, but I assure the hon. Member that as the Member for Filton, I, too, am well aware of the pressures.

Mr. Rankin

In coming to a decision, will the Minister bear in mind that the return on investment, the aid that would be given to our balance of payments and the industrial return would be far greater from the British project than from the airbus?

Mr. Corfield

All those factors are, of course, relevant.

Mr. Walter Johnson

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that this indecision is worrying and unsettling to the people who work in the industry? In my constituency in Derby, there are reports daily of wholesale redundancies at Rolls-Royce. When will the Government make up their mind on this important issue?

Mr. Corfield

I fully appreciate those anxieties, but it is essential, in the interests of the country, that we look carefully at the proposals which have been made to us rather than make a precipitate decision.

Mr. Edelman

What would be the effect on the balance of payments if the B.A.C. were to buy the General Electric CF6—50 instead of the Rolls-Royce engine?

Mr. Corfield

It depends a good deal on the aeroplane into which one puts the engine. If it were to go into the BAC3-11, the effect on the balance of payments would be in no way unfavourable. If it were to be bought in the Lockheed 1011, again the effect would not be unfavourable, but it would not be as favourable. If it were to be used in the A300B, there would be some gain to our balance of payments, but this would be the third choice from that standpoint.

Mr. Barnett

Will the Minister at least assure the House that he will present to us the figures on which he will base his decision, so that the House can decide whether that decision is the right one?

Mr. Corfield

If I were to do that, I should be abrogating the function of government, which is to make these decisions. When the decision is made, however, I promise the House that I will be as informative as I possibly can within the overall necessity of considering the public interest.

Sir R. Thompson

In considering the pros and cons of this decision, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the immense value of the sub-contracted work that would flow to British industry from a decision in favour of the B.A.C.? Will he bear this particularly in mind, reflecting that at least two of these firms are in my constituency?

Mr. Corfield

I will certainly bear that in mind, including the latter part of my hon. Friend's comment.

Mr. William Rodgers

In view of the Minister's rather sharp remark about the views of Sir Anthony Milward, may we take it that B.E.A. will be free to choose the aircraft that it prefers if the 3–11 does not go ahead? Secondly, even if the Minister is not prepared, as I think he should be, to place the full facts before the House before making the decision, may we have a White Paper afterwards in which the matter is fully explained and all the details are given?

Mr. Corfield

I certainly was not intending to be sharp to Sir Anthony Milward, for whom I have a great regard. He has, however, made his views abund- antly clear and one can hardly fail to be aware of them. As to the decision, the hon. Member will, I am sure, appreciate that it must be a Government decision. I undertake, as I have said, to be as informative as possible within the confines of what the national interest demands.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Among the welter of conflicting advice, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, historically, an aeroplane the performance of which is optimised to suit the B.E.A. requirement does not meet a world requirement of sufficient size to sell enough aircraft to break even? Historically, this is an accurate statement.

Mr. Corfield

I accept that, but I do not think that it is strictly relevant to the project.

Mr. Jay

Will the Minister note that some of us who have had responsibility for civil aviation believe that there is a most powerful case for the 3–11 on both technical and commercial grounds which has been further strengthened by the export success of the BAC1-11 during the last three years?

Mr. Corfield

I am well aware of both the opinions that the right hon. Gentleman expresses and the facts relating thereto.

Mr. Adley

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the commercial success of either the 3–11 or the airbus depends in large degree upon the extent to which either aircraft can be sold to North American civil airlines? Would he not agree that B.A.C.'s sales record is outstanding in this direction, as it has sold more than seven times more aircraft in North America than any other European aircraft manufacturer since the war?

Mr. Corfield

Yes. Again, that is a factor that will be considered.

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