HC Deb 14 February 1983 vol 37 cc4-5
4. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the the Secretary of State for Industry when he last met the chairman of British Aerospace to discuss funding for the A320 Airbus and related issues; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Department of Industry (Mr. Norman Lamont)

Department of Industry Ministers have regular contact with the chairman of British Aerospace. The A320 project has been among the topics discussed with him. I cannot at this stage make a statement on the question of launch aid.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Minister accept that there is much anxiety among workers in British Aerospace about their job prospects? Is he aware that it seems that much more confidence is being shown in the future of civil avaiation by the French Government than by the British Government? Is it not time that we showed our confidence in the industry and started to take decisions so that we do not miss the bus in the next few months?

Mr. Lamont

I understand that there is considerable anxiety about the future of civil aerospace projects. There are serious uncertainties surrounding the A320. First, the engine is not yet available for the aircraft. Secondly, the market is uncertain, which is why Boeing has delayed its 150-seat aeroplane. Thirdly, we must be satisfied about the viability of the project. General Electric and SNECMA have put forward proposals for a derivative engine—the CFM 56–54—which might be suitable for the A320. The Airbus partners are now considering whether to seek the reaction of the airlines to this proposal. We shall examine that when the partners return to us.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is it not regrettable that British Airways and other European airlines fail to make any effort to buy a European aircraft that is every bit as good as the equivalent American aircraft now available?

Mr. Lamont

First, British Airways must make its decisions on commercial lines. Secondly, despite recent publicity, no decisions have been made by British Airways about impending purchase of aircraft. Thirdly, we must remember that the A320 will not be available until 1988. I am sure that British Airways will give consideration to the aircraft. The French have not made a final commitment to the aircraft.

Dr. John Cunningham

Is it not right that the chairman of British Aerospace has been pressing the Government for a decision since the spring of 1982? Does not the inability of British Aerospace to proceed with this main airframe project without public assistance—without Government launching aid—underline the irrelevance of privatisation to the future of the British aerospace industry?

Mr. Lamont

We have said that in principle we are prepared to support an application for launch aid provided that it is shown that this is a commercial and viable project. We have had far too many prestige and political aircraft in the past. It is essential that we know more about the aircraft's engines before we take a momentous decision involving huge public expenditure.

Mr. Colvin

My hon. Friend is quite right in assuming that there is no point in developing an aircraft without having engines to power it. Will he report to the House on the progress of talks between Rolls-Royce and Pratt and Whitney on future collaboration on the RJ500 engine, which is one of those designed to power the new generation of 150-seat airliners?

Mr. Lamont

The discussions between Rolls-Royce and Pratt and Whitney are continuing. They are extremely complex negotiations. I cannot anticipate when I shall be able to make an announcement to the House.