HC Deb 11 December 1984 vol 69 cc898-900
8. Mr. Lyell

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received from representatives of British industry about the opportunity to re-establish a British light aircraft industry during his evaluation of the tenders for the new basic trainer for the Royal Air Force.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Adam Butler)

My right hon. Friend and I have received numerous representations from industrialists in support of the companies tendering for the new basic trainer aircraft including some reference to the wider aspects of re-establishing a civil light aircraft industry.

Mr. Lyell

Will my right hon. and hon. Friends remember that Hunting Engineering Ltd.'s Firecracker is a beautiful aircraft, which well meets the RAF's needs, is wholly the product of private enterprise, is wholly privately financed, and would provide Hunting Engineering Ltd. with a real opportunity to re-establish the British light aircraft industry?

Mr. Butler

I appreciate my hon. Friend taking this opportunity to press the case of one aircraft. Of course, what he mentioned is one of a wide range of considerations that we have to take into account.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Is the Minister aware that what remains of the British light aircraft industry is to be found in my constituency? Is he aware that no fewer than three of the contenders have connections with the Isle of Wight, where unemployment is now approaching 17 per cent. and where many of those who work in the aircraft industry are working a three-day week? Will he assure the House that he will take those facts fully into account when making a decision about a replacement for the Jet Provost?

Mr. Butler

We shall take those facts fully into account. Perhaps I might say something about the light aircraft industry. We have short-listed two aeroplanes, which will be made by companies which are not manufacturing fixed-wing aircraft at the moment. That means that we are prepared to accept that possibility. However, there are many other considerations that will carry greater weight.

Sir Patrick Wall

When considering these tenders, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that only the PC9, linked with the Hawk advanced trainer, will form a package that could provide major export orders?

Mr. Butler

There is no reason in theory why there should not be a package that involves the Hawk with another aeroplane.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Is the Minister aware that there is already a company in the light aircraft industry that has a worldwide reputation? Will he assure us that Shorts Tucano will also be considered?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that we really need an aeroplane that meets the requirements of the RAF? The RAF has undertaken an extensive review of the technical merits of all of the aeroplanes at Boscombe Down. Does he agree that what is wrong in this procedure is the fact that the air staff target has set a speed that is far too low for the RAF's requirements?

Mr. Butler

I agree that the operational requirements of the RAF must have priority, but, as I have made clear today and previously, there are many other considerations. I hope that we shall be able to make a decision reasonably soon, and preferably before the next round of Defence questions.

Mr. McNamara

The whole House agrees that we require an aircraft that most meets the RAF's requirements. I understand that the overwhelming support for that comes from the PC9. Will the Minister confirm that, among the weighty considerations to be taken into account, there is not the fact that if Shorts get the order it will be made more attractive for privatisation? Secondly, will he confirm that if, for some strange reason, we have the RAF flying a Brazilian aircraft, thus becoming the laughing stock of NATO, that will not be done to enable us to have facilities to get down to the Falklands because of the Fortress Falklands policy?

Mr. Butler

I hope that the RAF will not be the laughing stock of anybody, whether it has an aeroplane that is designed in Brazil, Switzerland, Australia or the United Kingdom. There are many considerations to take into account. Relations with Brazil are important to Britain, as are relations with Switzerland, Australia and many other countries.