HC Deb 12 July 1983 vol 45 cc751-2
8. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the agile combat aircraft and the plans for its development.

Mr. Pattie

The agile combat aircraft is a private venture and plans for its development are a matter for the firms concerned. In parallel we are pressing on with the experimental aircraft programme jointly with industry.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Given that about 40,000 jobs in Britain may eventually depend upon that project, what progress has been made in laying the foundations for a European collaborative programme?

Mr. Pattie

Last week I was in Bonn and Munich having discussions and consultations on precisely this issue. We must be cautiously optimistic at present.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Is my hon. Friend aware that the importance of the project to British Aerospace and the Royal Air Force cannot be underrated? The French and Germans, and now even some other European and Western contractors, are considering some sort of cooperative project. Will my hon. Friend accept that the work force at British Aerospace recognises the enormous amount of work that he has personally put into the project and hopes that he will continue to do just as much?

Mr. Pattie

On the last point, I can certainly reassure my hon. Friend. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State meets his opposite number in France and then attends the trilateral meeting—which we hope will take place in the autumn—that will be one of the items on the agenda.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Although the point has already been covered, I should like to stress the importance of this issue to Lancaster, which I represent. Will the Minister bear in mind the high unemployment rate there when making his decision?

Mr. Pattie

That factor will certainly be taken into account.

Dr. McDonald

Will the Minister reach a decision on that issue quickly, given the necessity to maintain jobs in our aerospace industry and, indeed, to maintain a British Aerospace industry in Britain? Will he reach a decision soon?

Mr. Pattie

I am fully aware of the problems facing British Aerospace, particularly following the conclusion of the Tornado programme towards the end of the decade. However, the hon. Lady must be aware that if we are to move ahead on a collaborative basis it cannot be done overnight. As I have said, we are actively pursuing the options and will come to a decision as soon as we can.