HC Deb 19 February 1997 vol 290 cc911-2
7. Mr. Pike

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what estimate his Department has made of the percentage of total European Airbus production work currently undertaken in the United Kingdom. [15028]

Mr. Greg Knight

The latest available figures from the European Commission, which include both aircraft and spacecraft production, show that in 1994 the UK's share of European Union aerospace production was 33 per cent.

Mr. Pike

The Minister will recognise that Airbus, in particular, is important not only to the United Kingdom economy, British Aerospace and its contractors, but to the many people in this country who supply aerospace parts to the other European partners? That work is particularly crucial in Lancashire. Will he ensure that, in the restructuring at Airbus, the companies that are competing for work in Europe and the subcontractors to the other partners are not precluded from competing in the years ahead?

Mr. Knight

I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. He has raised an interesting and important issue. The restructuring of the Airbus consortium is essential if it is to be able to compete in world markets. That is something that we are encouraging and pushing ahead.

Mr. Atkins

Is not Airbus one of the smartest companies in the aerospace operation, and producing some of the best turned out aircraft, which sell around the world? Does my right hon. Friend recognise the importance of Airbus not only to the country, but to Lancashire in particular, in relation to British Aerospace, Lucas and Rolls-Royce, complemented by the Rolls-Royce factories in and around his constituency, which have recently done so much to obtain success on Airbus orders from, for example, the United Arab Emirates?

Mr. Knight

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The British Government recognise—as do I—that Airbus is a world leader. We want it to continue to be one. Indeed, Rolls-Royce will play an important part in the future not only of Airbus, but of aircraft production throughout the world.

Mr. Clapham

Is the Minister aware that, in 1993, the Trade and Industry Committee studied the British aerospace industry and recommended that the Government assess the research and technology requirements of the industry and support the national strategic technology acquisition plan? Since then, nothing has been done, and the research and development that was being carried out on undercarriages, for example, has gone to Canada. The industry has now put forward a new strategic plan, called the foresight plan. Will the Minister undertake to carry out an urgent inquiry and support the new plan? Is he prepared to take on board support for the new developments that are taking place in the aircraft industry and the idea of the research programme?

Mr. Knight

I do not accept all of that. The hon. Gentleman said that nothing is being done, but that is not the case. Since 1979, we have given £1.25 billion in launch aid to the aerospace industry and maintained—we continue to maintain it—the civil aircraft research and demonstration programme, which is involved with research and development.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the foresight action programme, which is a suggestion by the industry that it should put forward £40 million and the Government should put forward an equal amount from public funds. That requires discussion across Government Departments. Those discussions have not yet been finalised. An announcement will be made in due course. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that nothing is being done. I hope that he will join me in noting the comments of the technology foresight defence and aerospace panel, which said that industry could and should do more about investment in this area.

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