Concorde Project

Oral Answers to Questions — Technology – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1 December 1969.

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Photo of Mr Robert Sheldon Mr Robert Sheldon , Ashton-under-Lyne 12:00, 1 December 1969

asked the Minister of Technology what increases he estimates will result in the cost of the Concorde project, following the French devaluation.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

The effect of the devaluation of the franc is to reduce the cost of Concorde when this is expressed in terms of sterling. But there have been some adjustments to the programme which are likely to offset this decrease. I will inform the House of the revised estimate as soon as practicable.

Photo of Mr Robert Sheldon Mr Robert Sheldon , Ashton-under-Lyne

Can my right hon. Friend say how much money has been authorised for production expenditure on Concorde?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

There is a further Question on the Order Paper about the production programme for Concorde. We have had to strike a balance between maintaining the impetus of the programme and not committing more money than could be justified until we had a greater assurance of the market.

Photo of Sir Arthur Harvey Sir Arthur Harvey , Macclesfield

While appreciating the progress on the Concorde prototypes, may I ask the Minister to consider publishing a White Paper or some other form of document showing a budget forecast on all the information that he has so that British taxpayers will know where they stand in the future?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I will consider that point. In view of the comments of the P.A.C., as hon. Members know, I have expressed my readiness to give further information about variations in the estimate. I am meeting the French Minister in London on 18th December, and it is my intention to make a statement thereafter.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

In making his further statement, will the Minister bear in mind that it is necessary to distinguish between costs which are escalating and costs which are rising because of the ability to "stretch" the aircraft?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

The term "escalation" has been used too loosely, I agree. Sometimes when technical problems arise and delay progress, they amount to escalation. It is right to differentiate between the two causes.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford

asked the Minister of Technology whether he proposes to write-off research costs before calculating whether Concorde is likely to be a commercial success.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

We hope to recover some part of the research and development costs.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some expert opinion puts the cost of research on this project at about £1,250 million? Is it not impossible for Concorde to be a commercial success if that is taken into account? Can the right hon. Gentleman say how much of that sum he intends to take into account?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

The reason it is difficult to forecast is that it inevitably depends on the number of sales of Concorde able to be achieved. When one is looking at the commercial prospects of a project of this kind, one is balancing the changing development costs on the one hand, with, at the moment, the inevitably uncertain market on the other, but there is no doubt that on current estimates the proportion of research and development costs which we had hoped to recover is lower than some time ago.

Photo of Mr Robert Howarth Mr Robert Howarth , Bolton East

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the Concorde is maintaining its lead over the American S.S.T. programme, as this is essential to the prospects of there being a return on some of the money expended by the British and French Governments?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

The best estimate that we have is that the Concorde is still five years ahead of the American Boeing 2707, and this bears on the market prospects for the aircraft.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

asked the Minister of Technology when he expects to be in a position to authorise full-scale production of the Concorde aircraft.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

The manufacture of the first three production aircraft, which are required for the flight test programme, is well under way. The British and French Governments have now agreed to the next stage of the production programme, which includes work on aircraft 4–6.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

Can the Minister give any indication when he expects that, assuming all continues to go well, flight trials will have reached the stage at which it will be appropriate to authorise a further batch of production aircraft?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

This is dependent on the success of the tests, which are going very well, as the hon. Gentleman knows. Tests will be continuing next year, and we shall be reviewing authorisations for production in the light of the situation as it emerges from time to time. I cannot go beyond that.

Photo of Mr David Ginsburg Mr David Ginsburg , Dewsbury

Can my right hon. Friend give the House some idea of what the total research and development and pre-production costs will be before the Government are in a position to take a final decision on whether to go into production on this scheme?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

It is not as simple as that, because to maintain some sort of continuing programme it has been necessary from time to time to authorise the spending of certain production money.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

For the first of three aircraft, manufacture is under way, and I mentioned other aircraft which have been agreed but it is not possible to separate production finance completely from research and development costs.

Hon. Members:

How much?

Photo of Mr Edwin Brooks Mr Edwin Brooks , Bebington

First, will my right hon. Friend say how much? Second, will he indicate what tests of public reaction are to be carried out in this country to ascertain the tolerability of sonic boom?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

On the question of how much, the expenditure on Concorde, which is running at a rate which has been published, is divided between research expenditure and money necessary for the early production models. I do not have the figures in my head, but I shall write to my hon. Friend to give him the best break-down.

On the second point, the responsibility for deciding whether Concorde should be allowed to fly overland lies not with me, but with the Ministers responsible for civil aviation. I am concerned only with the testing of the aircraft, which may involve some overland flying.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

asked the Minister of Technology whether, in the light of Anglo-French experience in the development of the Concorde, he will approach the United States and French Governments, with a view to a pooling of resources in the development and production of the proposed Boeing 2707.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I think that at this stage we should concentrate our efforts on making a success of Concorde.

Photo of Mr Frederick Corfield Mr Frederick Corfield , Gloucestershire South

Surely the Minister can give some indication whether he is thinking about these proposals which, as he knows, have been put forward by a very respected leader of the industry, namely. Sir George Edwards?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

I have followed Sir George Edwards' speeches. The general idea of international participation in aircraft manufacture is sensible, and I can understand how we can help Boeing, given the fact that we are five years ahead. I am not clear how far American manufacturers could help us with Concorde. Although these ideas ought to be in our minds, they cannot be formulated into sensible proposals at this stage in the programme.

Photo of Mr Russell Kerr Mr Russell Kerr , Feltham

In view of the tendency of hon. Gentlemen opposite to turn to an American solution to our problems, and because of the disappointing response so far of the international airline fraternity towards the Concorde, is my right hon. Friend prepared to make pubiic funds available so that a special boost can be given to enhancing the sales pros pects of the Concorde?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

The companies are engaged in a vigorous sales programme, and I do not just mean crude sales. They have invited potential customers to plan cockpit layout and the general rig of the aircraft. Some pilots from international airlines have flown the aircraft, and my hon. Friend will have seen that they are highly delighted with it. Marketing is going very well, and the Government are paying the costs of the Concorde operation at this stage.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Govan

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement on the route to be followed in Concorde's trial flight.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

We have not yet quite completed our discussions with local authorities and other interested parties. I shall inform the House as soon as possible of the route finally selected.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Govan

In the meantime, can my right hon. Friend say whether Concorde will fly supersonically when overland?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Bristol South East

We have had consultations with a number of local authorities, and in the House with hon. Members on 12th November, when we explained that apart from the question of Concorde operating as a commercial aircraft overland, it will be necessary to have some straight runs, which will include some overland flying, to do the tests to provide the performance guarantees. When I am ready I shall make a statement about it.