HL Deb 13 June 1984 vol 452 cc1117-9

3.54 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how soon a decision will be announced on the new RAF Trainer Aircraft Requirement and whether the value of the all-British "Firecracker" contender in relation to jobs, exports and value to the industry will influence the decision.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we hope to be in a position to decide later this year whether to purchase aircraft to replace the Royal Air Force's basic trainer fleet of Jet Provosts and, if so, which of the four short-listed contenders should be selected. If we do decide on replacement, we shall of course take full account of the broader economic and industrial considerations in assessing all the contenders that meet the specification. I should add that the Firecracker is not in fact an all-British aircraft but contains a significant number of foreign components.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, may I ask him whether it is true that all four contenders have an American engine but in fact the Firecracker is the only all-British design company which is capable of producing an all-British aircraft other than the engine? May I ask whether he is aware that this group is perhaps one of the best examples of British industrial enterprise where they took the specification from the RAF and they designed this project at no launch cost to the Government?

Would my noble friend also agree that this order is very important to British industry, no only for the RAF order but for the potential export business which could flow?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am sure my noble friend is right in saying that this order would be important to the British company, first of all with regard to the Royal Air Force order, if it comes, and, secondly, with regard to any possible export orders which may flow from it. Although, as my noble friend acknowledges, the engines of all the contenders for this particular contract are in fact of non-British design, and indeed of non-British manufacture, it is the case that rather more than just the engine and the propeller are of foreign manufacture. In fact, in regard to the Firecracker no less than 90 per cent. of the equipment in terms of cost is of non-UK origin.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, would the Minister accept that as part of the Government's campaign to buy British wherever possible it is desirable to set an example? Can he say whether, if this particular alternative is chosen, that would in fact involve new factories in places of high unemployment such as Scotland and Wales?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not certain about that because the company concerned does not in fact have any manufacturing facilities of its own and would need to make some arrangement with an existing manufacturer. So it might not therefore mean immediate new jobs. We have also made clear that, even if we were to choose one of the other designs not of United Kingdom origin, we would expect that that too would be manufactured under licence in this country.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, can I ask my noble friend the Minister this: in view of the reports in the weekend newspapers of Westland entering into agreement to make an Australian aeroplane in Britain, would that produce a second British tender for them?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, first of all, the design of that aeroplane to which my noble friend refers is, of course, an Australian design. I understand that that particular aircraft has not yet flown even in prototype form, but of course it would be manufactured, as my noble friend says, by a British company. Indeed, we anticipate that that would be the case whichever one we chose.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the noble Lord the Minister not aware that there is the possibility that Firecracker, in terms of future job prospects and exports, may not be the best choice? Can I ask the noble Lord the Minister to give an undertaking that the question of jobs and future exports, and increasing or retaining jobs because of the present unemployment level, will be one of the paramount reasons or considerations when the Government do make their decision on this subject?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I can confirm that the industrial considerations will be important ones, but it will be important, too, to ensure that the chosen aircraft meets the specification that we require and that the price and delivery terms offered are in accordance with the requirements that we have set out.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister not agree that the inclusion of Firecracker in the list must mean that it meets the requirements of the RAF? Secondly, may I stress again the importance of a market for Trainer within NATO in the next years? Does he not understand well that no country ever buys an aeroplane which has not been adopted by its own air force? Finally, could I ask him what his right honourable friends would have said if I had announced some years ago that it was my intention to buy Brazilian, Swiss or Australian aircraft for the Royal Air Force?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not sure that I should be drawn down the hypothetical route which the noble Lord suggests, but on the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, we have not yet set the precise specification that we shall require. We have issued, as I think the noble Lord will know, an air staff target. The air staff requirement is now being prepared following the general submissions that we have received from the manufacturers, and the air staff requirement will in due course be issued with a view to tenders being sought.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, the Minister said he expects that the decision between the four contenders will be made by the end of the year. Does that mean that the possible development of the Jet Provost has been dropped?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I cannot yet say that the development of the Jet Provost has finally been abandoned as an idea. That will depend on the results of the tendering exercise that we shall be embarking upon shortly. But I think it would be fair to say that that is becoming less and less likely.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, will my noble friend say what will be the next stages of the evaluation of this project?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it will, I hope, be for me to fly them all.

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