Although there are naturally some variations between sections, the project as a whole is, as I said in the debate on 21st November—[Vol. 736, c. 969]—on schedule. All the main dates are being met. The first interchange of components for the prototypes between B.A.C. and Sud-Aviation took place in August according to programme, and their assembly is proceeding on schedule at Filton and Toulouse.
In thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask him how many firm options have been received and what are the prospects? What is the position regarding quantity production of the aircraft, and what decisions in this direction remain to be taken?
In a sense, all the options are firm since a deposit is payable, but at a later stage, of course, the airlines can decline to buy if they so wish. I think that the latest number of options is 65. As to decisions which have to be taken about production, most of the pro- duction contracts will not fall to be placed until after the prototype has flown.
There have been various discussions between British and French officials, with which representatives of the British and French contractors have been associated, on the problems of financing the production of Concord. Detailed negotiations will be necessary before a comprehensive scheme can be agreed. The immediate problem is the authority for expenditure on some long-dated materials, and I hope that arrangements will be settled with contractors in the next few weeks. Both we and the French Government are determined that the contractors' plans for starting production should not be delayed.
When will there be final completion of the discussions on production financing? It is vitally important that an early decision is taken. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that every month's delay which occurs could mean that production drops behind, reducing the very significant lead in time that we have at the moment over the United States of America?
I have just made it clear that we are determined to avoid any delay, and no delay has occurred. There is no question of starting production assembly at present. The question only is that they should have the maximum time to buy in the long-dated materials, and we are in process of giving that authority to them.
While thanking my right hon. Friend for his answer, will he reaffirm that in the next few weeks these decisions will be taken and that nothing else will stand in the way of the production side of Concord?
There is no question of there being any need to start production now. We are still a long way from the end of the development programme. What we have to do is to see that decisions are taken in time so that there is no delay in the subsequent stages. It would be quite impossible to start producing aircraft before completing the development and before a prototype has flown.