HC Deb 08 December 1971 vol 827 cc1302-5
Mr. Benn

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister for Aerospace if he will make a statement on the talks held in Paris yesterday about the Concorde.

The Minister for Aerospace (Mr. Frederick Corfield)

I met M. Chamant, the French Minister of Transport, in Paris yesterday for one of the regular reviews of the programme. We had a wide-ranging discussion and noted with satisfaction the progress of the development and production programmes. We agreed the pricing policy the manufacturers should adopt and they can now pursue their negotiations with airlines to secure firm contracts. There will be a further meeting with M. Chamant early in 1972.

Mr. Benn

May I congratulate the Minister on the obvious success of the conference on this aspect? Are we to take it that by agreeing a selling price formula, the Governments have agreed on the likely market for the Concorde? May we have an indication of that? When may we expect the B.O.A.C. order? Are we to assume that the Government are giving support to the production programme? Will this be reflected in systematic authorisations which will keep costs down and employment stable? if that is the view of the Government, which I hope, has not the time come when there should be as much evidence of national support for the Concorde as has been evident from the other side of the Channel?

Mr. Corfield

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. With regard to the estimate of the market, this can be only a matter of judgment. It is closely related to the selling price. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we are about to embark on commercial negotiations in which it will be in no one's interests to announce those figures. As for the B.O.A.C. order, one of the reasons why we were so anxious to agree a price formula was so that negotiations with B.O.A.C. and Air France especially could go ahead with the minimum of delay. We shall certainly give every support to the sales campaigns of the companies. As regards authorisations, this point has not arisen as an immediate problem. But I agree with M. Chamant that we should keep in close touch so that we could consider any representations from the firms as soon as they were received.

Mr. Onslow

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there will be a general welcome in the House for the statement that he has just made? Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that there is a feeling that the more initiative that we in this country can take on this subject, the better it will be for us and that, if a B.O.A.C. order should be forthcoming before an Air France order, this, too, would be welcomed?

Mr. Corfield

I take note of my hon. Friend's last remarks. I do not think that there is any lack of initiative. We are considering the extent to which publicity and other demonstration flights can be best arranged without undue disruption to the test programme. My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Trade and industry will be flying in the Concorde this Friday, and I have a number of other projects under consideration for early next year.

Mr. David Steel

While welcoming the agreement on pricing, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can say if the projects that he has just mentioned include an invitation to the Prime Minister to fly in the aircraft?

Mr. Corfield

This is a matter for my right hon. Friend. I am sure that the House will realise that the much publicised idea of flying in the Concorde to Bermuda presents very much more difficult back-up and other technical problems for a prototype aircraft than some of the other flights conducting other people.

Mr. Warren

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on his agreement with the French, may I ask him whether the fixed price is also against a fixed guaranteed specification for the performance ct the aircraft?

Mr. Corfield

In selling the aircraft, it will be for the firms to agree the specification and the warranties etc., at the came time.

Mr. Duffy

While I can understand the right hon. Gentleman's wish to handle the pricing policy with great discretion at this stage, may I ask whether he will assure the House that any pricing formula will be concerned with making the largest contribution to the recovery of research and development costs?

Mr. Corfield

Yes. An essential factor in that is making a judgment about the balance between the price we get from the maximum number of sales and the price per aircraft which will bring in the maximum revenue. They do not add up to the same thing.

Mr. Dully


Mr. Tebbit

Will my right hon. Friend accept that, while we are delighted with the progress, many of us who have assessed this aeroplane for a long time, sanely and not in bursts of emotion, are concerned that in the eyes of the world it is becoming a French aeroplane because of the lack of enthusiasm, in part by the Government, over the project?

Mr. Corfield

I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no doubt in my mind that it is a British aeroplane and that this will become increasingly evident.

Mr. Edelman

Is it the case that the Government have agreed already to write off £800 million worth of research and development? Will the right hon. Gentleman say what percentage of profit the Government intend to reserve for the British Aircraft Corporation in these new circumstances?

Mr. Corfield

I have made it clear over and over again, as has the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Bean) that the chances of getting back a large proportion of the R. and D. costs are very slim. What I have endeavoured to do is to fix a price which I think will produce adequate sales in order to get back the maximum that we can.