HL Deb 30 April 1981 vol 419 cc1274-6

3.18 p.m.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they will make a decision on the future of Concorde in view of the report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Industry and Trade (H.C. 265).

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the Select Committee's observations and recommendations, which cover many aspects of Concorde, are being studied in detail; and, in accordance with the normal practice, the Government's final and considered reply will be delivered to Parliament as soon as possible. However, I cannot at present anticipate when this will be, or the form or content of the Government's response.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask him whether he will go this far: will he confirm that although economies may have to be made in the Concorde programme, nevertheless the Concorde achievement, which has put Britain into the first world place in supersonic travel, will not be abandoned?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we shall of course have to take very careful account of the report of the Select Committee. My noble friend refers to the first place for Britain in civil aviation matters. While that is most certainly the case with regard to the technical achievements of Concorde, it is unhappily not the case with regard to the profitability of British Airways.

The Earl of Bessborough

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend two short questions: First, can he tell us what the position is in regard to discussions with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the United States of America regarding the loan of Concorde to them; and, secondly, whether any progress has been made in discussions between British Aerospace and United States aircraft manufacturers regarding the possible building of Concorde II; that is to say, a second generation of supersonic transports?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am ashamed to have to say that I am not able to give my noble friend an answer to either of those questions; but I will certainly find out what the position is in both cases and write to my noble friend.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, can the noble Lord at least give an assurance that, whatever decision is taken, it will not be a short-term decision but a long-term decision? Would he also say that, whatever arguments might have been made against the investment in the first place, way back in the late 1950s or early 1960s, now that this enormous sum of money has been spent, now that a great amount of expertise has been amassed, it would be sheer defeatism to throw it away and let others exploit it in the future?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, there are many considerations which will have to be taken into account in this matter. The financial implications are only one aspect. We shall certainly want to take all those considerations into account in reaching any new decision.

Lord Merrivale

My Lords, as this is, in effect, a joint venture with the French, can my noble friend be given an assurance that the French Government will be kept au fait with reports on this question to Her Majesty's Government, and will they also be consulted before any decision is reached on the report of the Select Committee?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think it would be possible in theory for the British Government to reach a decision unilaterally on this matter, but I must emphasise that we would much prefer to reach any new decision in conjuntion with our French partners, and I have no doubt that we should.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, before my noble friend reaches a decision, could he take into consideration whether other operators might be more enthusiastic, whether either United States operators or British independent operators might operate this aircraft on profitable routes, because British Airways has always had an element within it not madly enthusiastic about Concorde? There may be other operators who could make a profit by operating it in a slightly different way.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not aware of any lack of enthusiasm in British Airways at the present time for the operation of Concorde. The principal inhibition against extending the route network over which Concorde could operate is securing overflight rights from the Governments concerned.

Lord Duncan Sandys

My Lords, having myself as Minister been responsible for initiating the Concorde project with the French Government, may I, following the words of the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, ask the Government whether they recognise that very great seriousness would be involved in abandoning this project?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my noble friend is indeed quite right; such a decision, if we ever came to take it, would be a very serious one indeed, and would therefore receive the necessary prior consideration.