HC Deb 14 January 1986 vol 89 cc909-10
4. Mr. Robert Atkins

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the current position on the European fighter programme.

Mr. Norman Lamont

As I explained to my hon. Friend on 22 October last, excellent progress has been made since agreement was reached in the summer between the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain to proceed with the further definition and refinement of the European fighter aircraft programme. Work on the project definition phase is now well under way and a report is expected from industry next summer.

Mr. Atkins

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. In the interests of my constituents and many others who are working on this programme, will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to confirm that other events in the aerospace industry will not make any impact upon this programme, which is so important to jobs and to European co-operation in industry and defence?

Mr. Lamont

I can confirm that. The Government remain firmly committed to carrying on with the EFA project definition. We believe that collaboration in this area is extremely important.

Dr. Hampson

Does not this programme offer the greatest across-the-board possibilities and opportunities for British industry that we have seen for generations? Does not the logic of a hands-off approach to our defence contractors mean that British Aerospace should support an American licence to build an American fighter?

Mr. Lamont

The Government do not adopt a hands-off approach to defence procurement. The Government wish to be assured that their requirements can be met from the private sector. As my hon. Friend knows, the Government were closely involved in this matter.

As my hon. Friend said, the project offers tremendous opportunities for British industry, particularly in subsystems and components.

Mr. McNamara

With regard to the other European venture that has collapsed, or appears to be collapsing, with the help of the Government, is it not in the subsectors—avionics and other matters—that British industry will be hurt? Is not one of the consequences of the Government's present attitude that British firms working on those systems will be badly bitten, as Sikorsky supplies them? Why should the European national armaments directors believe the Government any more? After all, we have only a memorandum of understanding; we do not even have a firm contract.

Mr. Lamont

I am strongly tempted to answer the hon. Gentleman, but that matter does not arise out of the question on the Order Paper.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

At what stage does my hon. Friend expect that contracts for work on the European fighter will be awarded to suppliers in different countries?

Mr. Lamont

The evaluation of the project definition phase will not be available until next summer. Contracts will follow thereafter. Of course, some work is being done at the moment.