HC Deb 12 February 1973 vol 850 cc965-8
12. Mr. Bishop

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what options and what orders have now been placed for the Concorde aircraft; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

BOAC and Air France have signed orders for five and four aircraft respectively. Iranair have signed a letter of intent to purchase two aircraft and the Chinese national airline has signed a preliminary purchasing agreement for three aircraft. In addition there are 33 options held by 10 airlines. Details were given in my written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) on 1st February.—[Vol. 849, c. 468–9.]

Mr. Bishop

Will the Minister be a little more forthcoming on some of the points which may have a bearing on Concorde's future? Can he say how soon we may expect the confirmation of options from Japan Airlines and Qantas? Secondly, will he tell us about the prospect of landing rights for Concorde in the United States? Thirdly, will he comment on the prospects of a commercial agreement with the USSR to bring about a supersonic corridor via Russia to the Far East?

Mr. Heseltine

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is an opportunity to debate these matters on Report stage of the Concorde Aircraft Bill on Thursday of this week. As the questions put to me are detailed and require long answers, perhaps that might be a more appropriate time to deal with the matter.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Will my hon. Friend tell the House how the recent tests in South Africa with the new aircraft have gone and whether the newer engines are achieving the lower noise levels for which we all hope?

Mr. Heseltine

I have no information from South Africa about the tests but by Thursday I will endeavour to answer my hon. Friend's question. The noise levels of the recent preproduction model flying from Toulouse have not yet been checked because the aircraft has not proceeded to that stage in its programme.

Mr. Sheldon

The hon. Gentleman's answer might have been a little more convincing in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) if in the last debate he had answered the questions that he said he would answer. It is of little value to us to be given the answers in Thursday's debate. Will the hon. Gentleman let us know what is happening as a result of the discussions with Japan Airlines and Qantas, and not just content himself with being a spokesman only for the aircraft industry?

Mr. Heseltine

I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the answer that Japan Airlines' option expires at the end of this month, as is generally known since it has been widely commented on in the Press. Qantas's option expires towards the middle of the year. The United States administration recently published its latest regulations dealing with aircraft flying within America. They do not cover the question of international flights. I have always taken the view that as there will always be far more aircraft with the noise attributes of Con corde—such as the DC8, the VC10 and the Boeing 707—using American airports, Concorde will not provide any problem that is not already in existence in far larger numbers of cases.

24. Mr. Palmer

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if the loan of up to £350 million to the British Aircraft Corporation for the production of Concorde aircraft will permit manufacture of 30 Concorde aircraft, as proposed by the French Government under its loan to Aerospatiale.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

The Concorde Aircraft Bill provides for an initial limit of £250 million on loans to be made both to BAC and to Rolls-Royce (1971) for Concorde production. This sum is estimated to be sufficient to manufacture more than 30 Concordes. The Bill also provides for the limit to be extended to £350 million but after affirmative resolution of the House.

Mr. Palmer

Is the hon. Gentleman aware how irritating it is to many of us who are supporters of the Concorde project that information is made freely available to the French Chamber of Deputies but is not available to the House of Commons? Will he be more forthcoming in the debate on Thursday?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure the hon. Member will be aware that I made available a very large amount of information to the Standing Committee on the Concorde Aircraft Bill. I have followed very-closely the policy of all Ministers responsible for this project not only in connection with Concorde but with other funding operations by the Government towards civil aerospace projects.

Mr. Adley

Is my hon. Friend aware that he is to be warmly congratulated on his determination to press ahead with this aircraft after 10 years' successful testing, and will he take note that many of us hope that this time the lessons of the Viscount, the Comet, the TSR2 and the VC10 will not be lost?

Mr. Heseltine

Certainly we have made it clear that we shall give every support to the manufacturers in their sales campaign for this aircraft.

Mr. Edelman

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the very grave dearth in orders which have been placed for the crucially important carbide brakes, and that this will mean that many men will be standing about idle while the costs escalate and no production orders can be fulfilled for at least another year? What does he say about that?

Mr. Heseltine

I have kept in touch on the question of brakes for Concorde. That matter is not part of this specific Question, but I assure the hon. Member that I am aware of his anxiety and that of British industry about this matter and that I will continue to keep an eye on it.

Mr. Benn

Can the Minister assure the House that he has reached full agreement with the French Government on the phasing of production orders beyond those which have already been authorised?

Mr. Heseltine

No. I have not reached agreement because I have not sought agreement. We obviously have to deal with production orders in the light of sales circumstances at the time, and one cannot deal with this in advance of events. When I say I have not reached agreement no alarmist conclusions should be drawn from that. It is simply that it has not seemed appropriate to seek agreement at this time. We have authorised full production of 16 models and placed advance purchase orders for the materials for a further six.