HC Deb 16 April 1986 vol 95 cc855-6
1. Mr. Colvin

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if his Department has had any further discussions with British Aerospace about the proposed new Airbus programmes.

The Minister for Information Technology (Mr. Geoffrey Pattie)

Discussions between my Department and British Aerospace about the proposed new Airbus A330 and A340 programmes are continuing. Much work on the market assessment, technical definition and costings of the proposed new programmes is currently being done within Airbus Industrie and the partners. The Airbus Industrie supervisory board will review progress when it next meets in June, and on the basis of the decisions then reached it will be for the board of British Aerospace to make a final decision on participation.

Mr. Colvin

If and when my hon. Friend is called upon to consider launch aid for future Airbus projects, will he bear in mind the $47.5 billion of support which the American aerospace industry has received from American Government agencies over the past 13 years?

Mr. Pattie

Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend makes a useful point. It is not often appreciated, or the United States aerospace industry chooses not to draw attention to the fact, that expenditure of the sort that my hon. Friend mentioned, usually channelled through the Department of Defence, is made to the United States aerospace industry.

Mr. Stern

Will my hon. Friend ensure that when the figures are available for the new Airbus programmes, both in terms of estimated market share and of costings, as compared with the launch aid that will be applied for by British Aerospace, they will be published, because my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) and others in the Bristol area will be more than anxious to look at those figures in detail?

Mr. Pattie

It would be unwise of me to give my hon. Friend a guarantee at this stage that market forecasts that the company may wish to maintain on a confidential basis will be published, but I am sure that both my hon. Friends will be involved in whatever consultations the company chooses to have at that time.

Mr. Park

May we take it that those discussions will not be protracted unnecessarily and that we shall have as quickly as possible a decision on whether the Government will assist Airbus?

Mr. Pattie

Indeed, I can give the hon. Gentleman and the House the assurance that he seeks. I hope that he understood or heard the chronology that I set out in my first answer—that the Airbus Industrie supervisory board has not yet taken a formal decision. The partners are working on the proposal.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is not a new favourable factor the fact that the Rolls-Royce engine—the five-nation consortium V2500 power plant—could be available for the A-330 and A-340 as it is for the new Airbus A-320, and, as the Government have put launch aid into the V2500, will my hon. Friend seek by his policies to maximise the return on that investment?

Mr. Pattie

That will always be our aim, but the Airbus Industrie consortium will be looking at the engine options as plans are drawn up for those two possible new aeroplanes.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson

Is the Minister aware that it is widely acknowledged throughout the industry that the project will go forward and that, while the technical and market assessments are proceeding as they are, there is no doubt in the mind of Airbus Industrie that this is a crucial project on which a commitment will be needed, and that by the middle of this year British Aerospace will be required to say not merely that it intends to continue with its part of the project, but that it has the finance available to do it? In that context, will he make it clear to the House today that the Government will consider and back on its merits an application, which is sure to be forthcoming from British Aerospace, and will not exclude it from serious consideration by the Department?

Mr. Pattie

We have already said what the hon. Gentleman is asking us to say, but I am glad to repeat it. Of course we would consider such a proposal. However, I was hoping to give the impression that we are going further than that by not waiting for British Aerospace to put the proposal into us. At this stage we are working with British Aerospace in the development of the assessment and the proposals.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Will my hon. Friend consider the project not only on its own considerable merits but as the best example of European co-operation to withstand industrial competition from the United States of America?

Mr. Pattie

That is one of the bases for the Airbus Industrie consortium and it underpins the marketing of its products.