HC Deb 29 November 1988 vol 142 cc566-8
10. Mr. Stern

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on progress with the European fighter aircraft.

Mr. Sainsbury

The EFA main development contracts were signed on 23 November. That followed Spain's signature of the development memorandum of understanding earlier this month. These contracts will provide a very significant programme of work in the United Kingdom, particularly for British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce, and also for the aerospace industry as a whole.

Mr. Stern

Does my hon. Friend agree that the announcement is good news, not only for the workers at Rolls-Royce in my constituency and in that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Mr. Cope), but for the future of European co-operation on major defence projects? It is good news for everybody, yet the Opposition have been trying to put every obstacle and objection in the way since the project began.

Mr. Sainsbury

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. I know that he has followed the project closely and supported it on behalf of his constituents. As he said. the signing of the MOU is a good step forward for European defence equipment collaboration and builds on the successful Tornado programme.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Minister give us some assurance about collaboration on radar and tell us what is happening in relation to competition for that? May we have some assurances that the radar contract will be given to a British company such as Ferranti, and its group, which is needed to keep us in the forefront of R and D and is essential for the future of radar in European and world terms?

Mr. Sainsbury

The hon. Gentleman is aware that there is a competitive selection process for the important radar contract. I suspect that he may also be aware that there are British companies in both the competing consortia. We are nearing the end of the competitive exercise and must now await the examination of the tenders before reaching a conclusion on which of those British companies will be successful.

Mr. Jack

On behalf of the aerospace workers in my constituency of Fylde, may I congratulate my hon. Friend on the successful conclusion of the EFA negotiations? Will he say a little more about the employment prospects created by the project and confirm that the United Kingdom Government could not participate in that project without the success of the British economy to fund it?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. I hope that his constituents are aware of the close interest that he takes and the support that he has given to this project, which gives considerable employment opportunities to his constituents who work for British Aerospace or for the numerous sub-contractors to the prime contractors, such as British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce.

Mr. O'Neill

Will the Minister accept the congratulations of both sides of the House on the completion of this stage of the EFA? We have consistently supported the programme and welcome the latest developments. However, I should like to pursue the Minister on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) about radar, because one of the radar systems, the Ferranti system, is British designed and British led, whereas although the one led by AEG has Marconi participation, it is basically an adaptation of an American system.

Will the Minister assure us that the newspaper reports that have appeared in Scotland are not true and that a decision will not be taken until the middle of this month? Will he further assure us that he will announce the decision to the House as quickly as possible after it has been made by the appropriate partners?

Mr. Sainsbury

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the support for the project that he has expressed from the Opposition Front Bench. I hope that that will continue. This is an important project which is good for British industry and European collaboration. However, I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman by saying that I am not a regular reader of Scottish newspapers and regret that I have not seen the reports to which he referred. Therefore, I cannot add anything to what I said to his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) about awaiting the outcome of the competitive tendering.

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