HC Deb 14 February 2002 vol 380 cc299-300
5. Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

What recent discussions she has had with the aerospace industry about the after-effects of 11 September. [33793]

The Minister for Industry and Energy (Mr. Brian Wilson)

We have been in close contact with the aerospace industry since 11 September and will continue to work with it to help it to deal with the impact of the attacks and thereby to ensure a strong future for the industry.

Mr. Osborne

I thank the Minister for his answer. He will be aware of the loss of 1,000 jobs at BAE Systems at Woodford on the edge of my constituency, which brings to an end the production of whole passenger planes in this country. The local MPs whose constituencies have been affected have genuinely appreciated our discussions with the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Defence, and last but not least, the Minister himself yesterday. Does he agree that it is vital for Britain's manufacturing base that we maintain a civil as well as a military aerospace industry, and how does he propose to foster that?

Mr. Wilson

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments. I agree that it would be serious if this country lost its civil capacity, which is why I regret British Aerospace's decision on Woodford. As I told the hon. Gentleman yesterday, I am happy to discuss specifically the future of Woodford with British Aerospace and to emphasise the point about maintaining that diversity of production. There are positive aspects—some airline traffic is returning—and there is no doubt that this is a world-class industry or about the skills at Woodford and other places that are being adversely affected. We must work as closely as possible with the industry to maintain the capacity and the skills base so that we are in a position to take advantage of the upturn when it comes.

Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

Was the Department's decision to grant BAE Systems a licence to export a military air traffic control system to Tanzania in any way affected by the after-effects of 11 September?

Mr. Wilson

I understand that the decision was thoroughly considered in line with consolidated criteria. It is a free-standing decision and it is not affected by the other matters that we are discussing.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

I welcome the Secretary of State's decision on the air traffic control system, which has retained jobs in my constituency. Is the Minister willing to visit east Cowes, where 650 jobs at GKN Westland have been lost—on that subject, I look forward to meeting him on 12 March—and to help people there to boost manufacturing output on the island? In particular, will he consider restoring assisted area status to the Isle of Wight?

Mr. Wilson

Although we cannot do away with the overall impact of 11 September, I often find that significant progress can be made by taking each problem on merit and considering amelioration and various solutions. That has been my experience in a number of areas in which the aviation and aeronautical industries are particularly important. If I can make any significant contribution to improving the position on the Isle of Wight, I am prepared to do so. In principle, I am happy to visit the hon. Gentleman's constituency.