HC Deb 30 April 1991 vol 190 cc153-4
3. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what recent meetings he has held with the aerospace industry about new generation missiles and on-going research.

Mr. Alan Clark

My ministerial colleagues and I have regular contacts with the aerospace industry at which a wide range of issues is discussed.

Mr. Winterton

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that brief reply. Does he accept that British Aerospace Dynamics has devoted many years and a great deal of money to the advanced short-range air-to-air missile project and makes a major contribution to the research and manufacturing base of our defence industries? Will he ensure that any decision that is likely to be taken by his Department bears that in mind so that the company can continue to make a major contribution to employment and to the health of the economy in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Clark

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. We have corresponded on the subject and I pay tribute to the detailed knowledge with which he expresses his mastery of the topic. It is perfectly true that British Aerospace has done a considerable amount of what will prove to be valuable work on the advanced short-range air-to-air missile, which will be the successor to the Sidewinder missile and which the United Kingdom still judges to be an essential enhancement to our air fighting capability. However, as my hon. Friend also knows, the original collaborative programme formed under a memorandum of understanding with the United States has, effectively, collapsed and for that reason we must go through well-established procurement procedures and issue a new invitation to tender which I have done today. We await a response and I assume that British Aerospace will be among those responding.

Mr. Rogers

I was appalled at Ministers' answers to some of the earlier questions from my hon. Friends. We certainly do not need lessons in patriotism from the Conservative party.

Is the Minister of State aware of the substantial redundancies taking place in the aerospace industry? Does he realise that unless he stops dithering and makes some choices for "Options for Change", many highly skilled personnel in this country will be out of jobs?

Mr. Clark

It is, of course, a general truth that the reduction in defence spending worldwide has led to redundancies in certain specialised industries, nowhere more than in the United States. I regret the fact that some skilled craftsmen may face redundancy, but I believe that their skills will be such that they will not be redundant for very long. That has nothing to do with the "Options for Change" exercise, but is British Aerospace anticipating its commercial decisions and programme. In the fullness of time, "Options for Change" will set the pattern for development in future years.

Mr. Thurnham

Will my right hon. Friend confirm the outstanding importance of the missile industry in this country and bring forward purchase decisions wherever possible?

Mr. Clark

Bringing forward purchase decisions is subject also to resource and budgetary constraints. I endorse what my hon. Friend said about the importance of the missile industry. I am fully aware of the fact that British Aerospace plays a key role in our indigenous missile capability.

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