HC Deb 13 July 1988 vol 137 cc352-3
11. Mr. Forth

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will give details of the manufacturing technology employed in the production of the Airbus A320.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The latest developments in materials and manufacturing technology are employed on Airbus production to achieve benefits in terms of costs, weight, strength and ease of manufacture.

Mr. Forth

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that helpful answer. Will he expand on it and tell the House whether he is satisfied that progress is being made on achieving more effective control over the manufacturing process of that product, given that it is spread over a number of different locations? Can he respond to the recent investigations into the production process of Airbus and give us some encouraging news about cost control and increased future competitiveness?

Mr. Clarke

Every time that I have attended an Airbus Ministers' meeting I have pressed the case for better management and financial control of the Airbus project. I believe that the four partner Governments and the four partner companies are broadly agreed. We have endorsed the report that we commissioned from the so-called four wise men—one leading industrialist from each of the four countries. We have another meeting in September, when I hope that the companies will report to us on progress and confirm that they intend to set up new and much better methods of running the project by 1 January next year.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the fly-by-wire technology employed on the A320 is not only the most advanced in the world, and has contributed to the fact that that aircraft received the most advance orders of any civil aircraft since the war, but that it was British-inspired? Does he further agree that the decision of British Airways to put the A320 back into service shortly after the recent crash fully confirmed the technological safety of that system and that all passengers should be reassured that the technology is well proven, sound and tested?

Mr. Clarke

The A320 is certainly the market leader in its field. I agree that it has the most advanced technology of any of its competitors. The Airbus products are the next generation of aeroplanes, and some of its competitors are still producing face-lifted versions of older aeroplanes using older technology. We are awaiting the inspectors' report on the tragic French accident. I cannot possibly anticipate that, but I share my hon. Friend's confidence that it is likely to prove that the technology of the aircraft is as safe and spectactular as we believe it to be.

Mr. Dalyell

Could the curious among us be told what factors led the Minister to take the initiative in talking to the management about management control? Is that not rather unusual? It may be justified, but will he explain to the House why he did it?

Mr. Clarke

The Government do not believe that the best way to build a modern technological product is by having the management in the hands of what is, in effect, an enormous committee of four Ministers from four different Governments and representatives of four different companies, all collaborating in partnership with a selling organisation based in France and detached from the remainder of the management. We want a new management structure, but I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that it is not my intention that I or any other Minister should take over commercial management decisions. We want managers to take those decisions, and we want the managers to have the right authority and the right information to run the project in the ordinary way.