HC Deb 15 June 2000 vol 351 cc1093-4
6. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

How much launch aid from his Department for aerospace companies over the last 10 years has been devoted to projects which have dual civil and military applications. [124586]

The Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe (Mrs. Helen Liddell)

Launch aid, which is now referred to as launch investment, is available to assist only in the design and development of civil aerospace projects.

Mr. Wilkinson

Notwithstanding the Minister's reply, is it not the case that the EH101 helicopter received substantial investment aid from the Department, before this Government came to power, as did the RTM322 power plant and helicopter engine? Is it not therefore important that the Department recognise the industrial implications of the procurement in future by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy of amphibious and support helicopters to replace the Puma and the Sea King HC4? That is necessary to ensure that the British helicopter industry remains, as it is now, at the forefront of European technology.

Mrs. Liddell

The hon. Gentleman knows that we will do what we can to support the British industrial base as much as possible. The EH101 began as a military aircraft and, in the mid-80s, my Department put resources into it to see whether it could be developed for civil purposes. We work with the Ministry of Defence, especially through the Civil Aircraft Research and Technology Demonstration—or CARAD—to ensure that any synergies that can be developed out of military research capability are also available for civil capability. However, the launch aid recently given to British Aerospace for the A3XX represents a considerable opportunity to help the British aerospace industry and will benefit both the civil and military aspects of that industry.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

May I thank my right hon. Friend, her Department and the Government for the £530 million launch aid for the A3XX, and for the £133 million launch aid for the A340, the stretch version? That aid is massively important for my constituency, but how can my right hon. Friend help me prise out of the Welsh Assembly a £25 million regional grant for the Airbus 3XX? That grant would guarantee 1,400 jobs for a generation. If we do not have those jobs in my constituency, they will be exported—perhaps to Hamburg, or even to the English regions.

Mrs. Liddell

Matters relating to regional development assistance in Wales are for the Welsh Assembly, but my right hon. Friend is right to point out the job-creating potential of that assistance. The assistance that we have been able to give to British Aerospace for the A3XX will create 22,000 jobs, and preserve 60,000 others. That very considerable investment will have very considerable benefits for the British economy.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

I welcome the launch aid for the A3XX, and the two big contracts for Meteor and the A400M. However, BAE Systems today announced a total of 3,800 job losses. I have BAE Systems Samlesbury in my constituency, and the plant at Warton, where 750 jobs have been lost, is nearby, A number of smaller companies supply and contract to BAE Systems and may suffer job losses that have not yet been identified.

Will the Minister have talks with the Secretary of State for Defence to see whether the two big projects could be brought forward to alleviate some of the job losses that have been announced? What will her Department do to give direct assistance to workers who will lose their jobs over the coming months in an area that has been hit already by a number of manufacturing job losses?

Mrs. Liddell

I very much regret the decision and the job losses that have been announced today. I understand that the job losses arise largely from the merger of British Aerospace with Marconi and from the consequent rationalisation and restructuring process that is aimed at improving BAE's global competitiveness. I know that BAE has acknowledged the support that it has received from the Government.

The Government, especially my Department and the Department for Education and Employment, will certainly react in the most positive possible way to give necessary assistance to people losing their jobs. We will do what we can to allow the process of change to go ahead as painlessly as possible.