§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that, owing to the delay in placing the promised Government contract for the new Argosy aircraft, there is considerable 798 anxiety regarding the future employment of 9,000 workers at present employed by Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Company at their Baginton factory, and whether they will make a statement.]
My Lords, I am advised that negotiations for this contract between the Ministry of Supply and the Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Company are going ahead as quickly as possible. Since last January, when Her Majesty's Government decided to order a military version of the Argosy for the Royal Air Force, the Ministry of Supply and the firm have been working out the details of what would be needed. The firm has been invited to tender for the supply of this aircraft—that is, the Armstrong Whitworth 660—to the military specification. As with any new aircraft order, it is bound to be some months before the labour requirements build up to the level which will ultimately be required for production. If during this period a reduced labour demand occurs with the run-down of existing work in the company, I understand that the firm intend to introduce short-time working rather than to declare redundancies.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that it is eighteen months since, with Ministry approval, production on this plane started, and since then £9 million has been spent and ten planes are on the production line. Nevertheless, no order has been placed, as was announced in the Press three months ago, after the Minister's decision. As a result of this delay some thousands of men are already working on short time and will do so for at least six months. Can the noble Earl therefore explain the reason for this delay and why, in view of the promises made, it could not have been avoided?
My Lords, the first prototype of the aeroplane, the civil version, flew on January 8, and when the military version, the Armstrong Whitworth 660, was announced, Her Majesty's Government announced their intention of ordering the military version. But of course there are bound to he certain delays in fixing the exact type of aeroplane in converting it from civil requirements. I think the noble Lord must agree that Her Majesty's Government 799 have done a considerable amount in helping the company by ensuring an order for this particular aeroplane in advance.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, the noble Earl spoke about negotiation and the company tendering for this aircraft. Would the noble Earl not agree that in the White Paper, the Air Estimates, there were the specific words, "We are going to order this aircraft"? Can the noble Earl tell the House whether it is the intention of the Government to make this order firm?
My Lords, the company has been invited to make the initial tender for these twenty aircraft, but results of such a complicated contract must surely wait some little time until they are finalised.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl whether it is not the case that the plane which the Minister saw three months ago, which he approved and which was then flight tested, was the civil plane to which military modifications are suggested? Is it now the case that the proposed contract will be for the military form; and, if so, can these ten planes now in production be modified for use to the military pattern?
My Lords, the answer to that question, I am afraid, I do not know. It is definitely the military plane for which the tender has been invited. I had the privilege of seeing the excellent brochure of the military aeroplane. I do not know whether the civil plane could be converted, but I will let the noble Lord know later the answer to that question.