HC Deb 12 July 1982 vol 27 cc632-4
7. Mr. Robert Atkins

asked the Secretary of State for Industry what assistance his Department is giving to projects being developed by British Aerospace.

Mr. Norman Lamont

A number of applications from the company for assistance are being considered. Details must remain commercially confidential. A total of £1.9 million was paid by the Department of Industry in 1981–82 in direct assistance to projects being developed by British Aerospace. In addition, in 1981–82 the Government contributed £63 million to the budget of the European Space Agency, from which British Aerospace received approximately £30 million in contract payments.

Mr. Atkins

Does my hon. Friend recognise the early and urgent requirement for favourable decisions to be taken on the A320 Airbus and also for the Department to contribute to the launch of the P110 project? Does he agree that he is being asked not to cast pearls in front of swine but to give money to companies that have shown themselves to be successful world leaders in the industry in which they perform? Does he further agree that, if he gives them money, he will be doing the same as is done in Japan, the United States, France and West Germany?

Mr. Lamont

I assure my hon. Friend that our approach to the A320 is exactly the same as that of West Germany. We are having talks with British Aerospace about launch aid for the A320, and we shall reach a decision as soon as possible. Information is still awaited from the company.

The P110 is, in the first instance, a matter for the Ministry of Defence, but we are well aware of its strategic importance.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson

Is the Minister aware that we welcome the full support from the Conservative Benches for two magnificent nationalised industries? Will he give a categoric assurance that Department of Industry support for the Rolls-Royce element within the P110 project will be forthcoming—if there is Department of Industry support for it; I believe that there may be on research and development—and that the vital development and prototype stage will not be held up?

Mr. Lamont

As the hon. Gentleman knows, British Aerospace is now a very successful private sector company and is doing extremely well. With regard to a Rolls-Royce input into the P110, we would look at any application for launch aid on its merits.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Is my hon. Friend certain that the substantial help given to British Aerospace does not give it an unfair advantage over its British competitors?

Mr. Lamont

I do not believe that there are any competitors in the area of the A320 and the P110. As my right hon. Friend has said, we are trying to give support to British industry in an area where Governments throughout the world are giving massive support.

Mr. Orme

Whether privately or publicly owned, is it not a fact that, without the Airbus and the P110, a British airframe company will not survive and will in fact be superseded by foreign competitors in Europe and the United States? Does the Minister therefore agree that urgent action by the Government on this issue is now needed?

Mr. Lamont

Both the Airbus and the P110 are important for the survival of British Aerospace and the maintenance of an airframe building capacity in Britain. Having said that, it is essential that the projects should be commercially viable and profitable. Otherwise, there is no point in the Government giving support.