HC Deb 21 April 1971 vol 815 cc1175-7
36. Mr. Walter Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the Government's policy on the proposal of British European Airways to purchase the European Airbus in preference to the Lockheed TriStar Airbus powered by Rolls-Royce RB211 engines.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

No, because British European Airways has made no such proposal.

Mr. Johnson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that at this very delicate stage of the negotiations with Lockheed over the RB211 contract it is not helpful that B.E.A. should give the impression that it prefers the European Airbus rather than the Lockheed TriStar powered by the Rolls-Royce RB211 engine? Is he further aware of the statement of the chairman of Lockheed that an order from B.E.A. could clinch the deal? Will the Government take a positive step in this direction and tell B.E.A. to order the TriStar from Lockheed instead of fiddling about with the European Airbus?

Mr. Ridley

B.E.A. has complete commercial freedom to choose the aeroplane it thinks most suitable to its future needs, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday. I understand that the chairman of B.E.A. merely said that the A300B was a good aircraft and had improved since last year but expressed no decision whatever in the matter.

Mr. Dalyell

Cannot commercial freedom be carried too far? Is it not a fact that many countries think that the British are extremely strange in adopting this attitude if we are serious about the TriStar?

Mr. Ridley

The point is that B.E.A. should purchase the aircraft most suitable for its needs, and the Government intend to give it the freedom to do so.

Mr. Onslow

Would it not be extremely unfortunate and damaging to the 10–11 if the impression were given, following the advice of hon. Members opposite, that B.E.A. should be ordered to buy an aircraft less good than the one it wanted?

Mr. Ridley

There is no question of our doing such a thing, but I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Whitehead

Will the hon. Gentleman convey to the chairman of B.E.A. that it is, to say the least, tactless in the extreme to make a visit to the A300B project at this stage in the negotiations over the RB211?

Mr. Ridley

The chairman of B.E.A. has every right to evaluate all the aircraft which might be suitable for his needs and to make comments on them. I emphasise that he has made no decision, nor did he announce one in Paris.

Captain W. Elliot

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the preservation of the Rolls-Royce aero-engine component of the firm is partly tied up with the defence requirements of this country and that the proper development of advanced technologies is very important in this respect?

Mr. Ridley

The Question was not about the RB211. If my hon. and gallant Friend would like to pursue with my right hon. Friend the defence implications of that possible contract, I am sure that my right hon. Friend would respond. I am merely reaffirming B.E.A.'s commercial freedom.