10. Mr. John David Taylor
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will pay an official visit to the aircraft manufacturing factories of Short Brothers in Belfast.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)
My right hon. Friend and I visited Shorts' headquarters at Queens Island last November and were shown its aircraft, aerostructures and missile manufacturing activities. I keep in regular contact with the chairman and expect to make further visits to the company in due course.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Shorts on its success in selling eight commuter aircraft to China, as announced earlier this week? Does he agree that that underlines the marketing strength of Shorts, which could also be used to sell the Tucano trainer aeroplane abroad on its own or with the British Aerospace model?
§ Dr. Boyson
I rang the chairman the following morning to congratulate him on the sale of eight aircraft to China, other sales that it has recently achieved and the option on seven more aeroplanes. I know that many people in the Province hope that the Tucano aircraft will be chosen, bearing in mind what it will do for Shorts and employment in the Province.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross
Is the Minister aware that there are other contenders for the RAF basic trainer? Will he convey to the Secretary of State, who I am sure will want to make the right decision, that the right aeroplane to choose is that which the RAF wants most and which can be acquired at the most sensible price? Does he agree that that is probably the PC9, which is linked with British Aerospace?
§ Dr. Boyson
I am well aware that there are other contenders. The fact that Shorts has done so well in the past is at least a recommendation for future contracts.
§ Mr. Bell
When the Minister pays his next visit to Shorts, will he take with him the appropriate copy of the American business magazine "Industry Week", which last year forecast that Shorts might be on course to becoming one of the United Kingdom's biggest industrial success stories? If that is so, why does the Minister want to inflict on Shorts the dogma of privatisation?
§ Dr. Boyson
I welcome the achievements of Shorts to which the hon. Gentleman referred. There are no 1095 immediate plans for privatisation, but we are taking advice on the problems, advantages and costs of privatisation. As with other denationalised industries, employees would be able to become shareholders, but it is essential that Shorts remains in Northern Ireland.