HL Deb 08 May 1985 vol 463 cc653-4

2.42 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick

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 what were the tendering arrangements for the placing of the order by the Ministry of Defence for the new RAF trainer aircraft, and whether each of the companies involved was notified of the closing date by similar means.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, tenders were requested on two occasions and offers were received in response on 1st October 1984 and 31st January 1985. Following analysis and consideration of the offers received on 31st January 1985, there were discussions with British Aerospace and Short Brothers, who had submitted the most attractive bids. The discussions were aimed at securing further improvements in their offers. An end-point for the improved offers was set at mid-day on Thursday 14th March 1985. The companies involved in each stage were notified of the closing date by similar means.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. However, he must be aware of the growing controversy regarding the way in which this contract was let. Is he aware that information was given or alleged that British Aerospace were notified of the closing date by telephone but that nobody at British Aerospace can be found who received such a telephone call? Is it not a fact that the statement which the Secretary of State made in another place, that Shorts is cheaper by a fair margin, is not quite correct? In fact the British Aerospace tender was £5.3 million less than that by Shorts.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Lord is mistaken. The best offer was submitted by Shorts and not by British Aerospace. British Aerospace were indeed informed of the deadline. There was a telephone call made by the Principal Director of Contracts (Air) to the Group Commercial Director of British Aerospace, Mr. Alan Smith.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, I have to say to the Minister that it seems to be a question of who one believes. British Aerospace are adamant that they cannot find anybody who received any such telephone call. They are also adamant that the price that they submitted, like for like for the same job, was £5.3 million less than that submitted by Shorts. Who is telling the truth?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, British Aerospace have not been party to all the tenders submitted for this contract. I say again that the tender that they submitted was not the cheapest.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, bearing in mind that this was a long and protracted competitive tendering procedure, may we be assured by the Minister, first, that the lowest offer was accepted; and, secondly, that both firms knew the closing date at the same time and by the same method?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am happy to give the noble Lord a categorical assurance on both points.