HC Deb 23 November 1993 vol 233 cc316-8
9. Mr. Mark Robinson

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he next plans to meet the Spanish Defence Minister to discuss the progress of the Eurofighter 2000.

Mr. Aitken

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has no immediate plans to meet the Spanish Defence Minister to discuss the progress of the Eurofighter 2000.

Mr. Robinson

As my hon. Friend will be aware of the employment implications of Eurofighter 2000, particularly for subcontractors such as Normalair Garrett in the west country, will he undertake to do all in his power, with our partners in that important project, to ensure that it moves forward and to remove some of the uncertainty that surrounds it?

Mr. Aitken

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the employment implications of this important project. Normalair Garrett, that excellent company in my hon. Friend's constituency, is one of 300 companies in the United Kingdom that have won contracts for the development of the Eurofighter project, thus securing some 9,000 jobs. In the production phase, that work would expand and secure some 30,000 jobs. I share my hon. Friend's wish that, if value-for-money contracts can be placed and all other things are correct, we should be able to move to that production phase.

Mr. Martlew

The Labour party has always supported Eurofighter 2000, even when it was known as the European fighter aircraft, but it is concerned about the current drift in the project. The aircraft should have flown two years ago, but it has not yet done so, and I understand that it is considerably over budget, perhaps by up to 25 per cent. As Britain's future defence depends on that aircraft—as do our aircraft industry and 40,000 jobs—when will the Government get to grips with the project and stop the drift, and when will the aircraft fly?

Mr. Aitken

The hon. Gentleman's rhetoric about drift is unfair and misplaced. Of course, I share his and everyone else's concern about the delay in the aircraft's first flight. The industry's leaders told the German State Secretary and me last week that the first flight was now scheduled for April next year. However, the delays are understandable, not only because this is a highly complex project operating at the limits of new technology but because a certain amount of double checking has been necessary as a result of problems with the flight control software, which caused a Gripen aircraft to crash earlier this year. We must be doubly sure that no such flaws or snags occur in the project. There is no sign that they will, but it is understandable that the industry should be doubly cautious. That is the only reason for the delay, so the hon. Gentleman's criticisms are unjustified.

Mr. Hawkins

As my hon. Friend will be aware that many of my constituents are employed building the Eurofighter 2000, will he say whether he has recently had discussions with other of our European partners' Defence Ministers on their commitment to, and the progress of, this crucial project, which shows every sign of producing an aircraft that is even more effective than the Tornado and which will earn even more in export pounds in the future?

Mr. Aitken

Yes. I met my opposite number, State Secretary Schönbohm, in Munich last week, and there was complete unity between the British and German Governments on the various pressures that we are placing on industry at this time and the questions that we were asking it. We are all determined to give the project a fair wind, not least because we are aware of its enormous positive implications for aerospace technology and employment in Britain and throughout Europe.