HC Deb 09 December 1986 vol 107 cc161-3
1. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received from trades unions about his impending decision on the Nimrod airborne early warning project; and if he will make a statement.

10. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is his assessment of the number of jobs which would be secured in the United Kingdom by the purchase of the General Electric Company Avionics Nimrod airborne early warning system.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Archie Hamilton)

The only recent representatives that we have received have been from the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions. My noble Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement met a delegation from that body on 28 November. It is for the companies concerned to decide how many people to employ on Nimrod AEW work.

Mr. Flannery

I understand that we want the very best that we can get for the Royal Air Force, but will the Minister take into account the fact that many skilled British jobs are in jeopardy and that our defence system throughout the world will be watched very closely as a result of this decision? British electronics exports are also involved. It is an important problem, we are all watching it closely, and I hope that Ministers are doing much the same.

Mr. Hamilton

I very much take on board what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I point out to him that we are in the final stages of this competition and I should prefer not to comment today upon the relative merits of the two remaining contenders.

Mr. Dykes

I understand my hon. Friend's reticence, but does he not agree that Nimrod is overwhelmingly better for British jobs, better on cost, and better for British exports and that it is also better for European procurement? Does he not realise the gravity of the decision that is being taken?

Mr. Hamilton

I think that my hon. Friend is trying to draw me on my original comments. All I would say is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence hopes to make an announcement before the House rises for the Christmas recess.

Mr. Wallace

I appreciate that the Minister does not wish to comment on the merits of the systems, but I wish to elicit some factual information from him. It is said that Boeing has offered a 130 per cent. offset. What would be the quality of those jobs? Would they be involved in high technology?

Mr. Hamilton

The quality of the offset that is being offered by Boeing is something into which we are looking very closely.

Mr. Colvin

Is my hon. Friend able to reassure the House that the 130 per cent. offset that has been offered by Boeing is more than just opportunities to tender and represents real contracts, and that the work involved would be high technology work, not just tin bashing?

Mr. Hamilton

I have already said that we are looking very much into the quality of what has been offered by Boeing. This is part of our consideration.

Mr. Hoyle

Will the Minister take into account the fact that many press reports have said that the Government have already made up their mind to buy Boeing? Will he bear in mind that the Boeing system is old-fashioned, and that if we buy Nimrod we will be buying not only British jobs but a system for the future which has export potential as well?

Mr. Hamilton

I beg the hon. Gentleman not to believe what he reads in the papers. No final decision on this has yet been made.

Mr. Sackville

Does my hon. Friend agree that unless there are some clear and insoluable operational problems with the Nimrod system, it would be madness to give away British industry's lead in this important defence technology, and crazy to give the Boeing Aircraft Company a monopoly in yet another sector of aerospace?

Mr. Hamilton

We have to take into account the requirements of the RAF and value for money, and, as I say, no final decision has yet been made.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Outside the publicity and propaganda, will the Minister take it from me that the problem of clutter in receiving by this aircraft has now gone and that it can now clearly identify each target? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to make a statement to the House about the success of the mission that he went on in Nimrod?

Mr. Hamilton

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will refer to these matters when he makes an announcement to the House before the Christmas recess.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is my hon. Friend aware that many of his right hon. and hon. Friends very much support Nimrod and GEC Avionics? Before a final decision is made will he ensure that his right hon. Friend is aware of the high technology of the latest GEC mark Nimrod, that many jobs are involved, and that the future of British technology in aerospace and in avionics is very much at stake and is based on the decision which he and his colleagues are to take?

Mr. Hamilton

I am sure that my right hon. Friend has heard every word that my hon. Friend has said and will take these matters into account before making a final decision.

Mr. Denzil Davies

We appreciate that the Under-Secretary dare not comment on the merits of the two systems, but will he confirm that his right hon. Friend has commented, because on 5 December, on the "News at Ten" programme, he said that both systems, that is the British Nimrod and the American AWACs, now work? Does it not follow from that that there is no case for buying American, and every good and valid case for buying British?

Mr. Hamilton

That does not follow. What does follow is that we still have many different assessments to make of the different tenders, and no final decision has yet been made.

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