HC Deb 07 March 1989 vol 148 cc744-5
7. Mr. Vaz

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent decisions he has made in respect of procurement of a radar system for the European fighter aircraft.

16. Mr. Ron Davies

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent decisions he has made in respect of procurement of a radar system for the European fighter aircraft.

Mr. Tim Sainsbury (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement)

No decisions have been taken recently on the radar for EFA.

Mr. Vaz

Will the Minister ensure that any decision that is made on new radar systems for European fighter aircraft will benefit Britain's electronic and radar industry? Does he not agree that the real choice is between a British system and a ravamped version of the old Hughes system? If the latter is chosen, will not that perhaps be the death knell for Britain's radar research base? Will the Minister therefore ensure that a British system is adopted?

Mr. Sainsbury

I suspect that my hon. Friend recognises that it would be wrong for me to prejudge a decision of those who have the job of considering the present competitive bids. Of course, both bidders include British companies.

Mr. Ron Davies

Does the Minister agree that he is under increasing pressure from both German and American interests to accept one of the off-the-shelf systems that are in use? If that is so, will it not be a severe body blow to the British electronics and radar industry, particularly the radar research base? If the Minister accepts that, exactly what does he intend to do to safeguard this vital British national interest?

Mr. Sainsbury

I do not think that I recognise the competing bids in the description that the hon. Gentleman has given of an off-the-shelf developed system. He will be aware that we are awaiting a recommendation to the NATO European Fighter Management Agency, the international management agency, from Euro-Fighter. It would be wrong for me to anticipate that recommendation. We must wait to hear what it has to say about its assessment of the competing bids.

Mr. Stern

Does my hon. Friend agree, in order to safeguard the EFA project, that the most essential elements of any radar system are that it should work to specification and be available on time? Will those be the primary considerations which will be taken into account in deciding competing bids?

Mr. Sainsbury

As my hon. Friend will be aware, a wide range of issues and aspects of the radar system have to be taken into account in assessing its ability to meet the requirement and its competitiveness. I am sure that all the issues will be properly taken into account. Clearly those that he mentioned are among the primary considerations.

Mr. Mans

When the decision is taken, will my hon. Friend take into account the export potential of EFA and any restrictions that may be imposed upon it by a particular choice?

Mr. Sainsbury

I assure my hon. Friend that export potential is one of the issues which will be taken into account before a decision is made.

Mr. O'Neill

Is the Minister aware that the problems being created over the choice of radar are likely to endanger the whole project? Can he be more fulsome in indicating the true significance of that? While previously we were talking in terms of GEC-Marconi against Ferranti, the danger may now be that a German-backed GEC system, if not chosen, may be the rock on which the whole project founders. Will he confirm that the Government back EFA and will continue to support the British-led technology which lies at the heart of the radar system which many on this side of the House are prepared to support?

Mr. Sainsbury

I think that the hon. Gentleman is well aware that all four collaborating nations entirely support the project. I can also confirm that they all share the stated aim, which is to achieve maximum commonality across the whole programme, including the radar system. That remains the objective. I do not think that I can add anything more about the radar while we are awaiting the recommendation from Euro Fighter to NEFMA. It is frustrating for the House that we have not had the recommendation. I cannot say more. We must be patient until we get the recommendation.