"And Boeing pilots fly their aircraft on automatics for just as long as Airbus pilots - it's standardised in the airline Operating procedures."
Yes that is correct, a family friend of mine flies A340s for a major airline and I have asked him that question a few times in the past. His response was that, standard operating procedure on the A340 is to manually fly it until 8000 feet and engage the autopilot. The A340's FBW system is very stable....quite stable that you don't really need to make alot of adjustments on the stick while your hand flying it. The feedback of the stick to the control surfaces are quite minimal, you move the stick slightly and the plane responses right away. Also the Airbus FBW system has a damping system that dampens out turbulence and any atmospheric disturbance that would throw the plane around the sky, thus reducing the need for the pilot to make adjustments to keep the plane aligned properly.
On a recent jumpseat experience on the A320 into YVR from YYZ, the pilot looked very comfy sitting in his seat with his left hand on the stick and right hand on the throttles and to a first timer, it looks like he's not doing anything at all when he really is making adjustments by moving his wrist on the stick.
I have had some simulator time in an A320 simulator and I can say that it takes 5 minutes to get used to the left stick and you make slight movements of the wrist to turn the plane, pitch up and down. I found the Airbus cockpit alot more comfortable because you don't have the yoke in the way!