§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
asked the Minister of Technology whether he will make a statement on the licensing agreements between Hovercraft Development Limited and United States organisations for the development of hovercraft and on the returns which are anticipated; and what steps he is taking to protect the British technological lead in this field.
§ Mr. Benn
The U.S.A. offers a large potential market for passenger-carrying hovercraft, but since they are classified as ships under the Foreign Bottoms Act (Jones Act) this considerably hampers imports. Refusal to license U.S. manufacturers would almost certainly result in infringement of the U.K.-owned patents and extremely expensive and doubtful action for enforcement.
N.R.D.C. therefore licensed a U.S. manufacturer some years ago (at that time only N.R.D.C. had invested in hovercraft development). I understand that it grants manufacturing rights in the U.S.A. only, selling rights in that country and, in competition with U.K. craft in certain adjacent countries; it also provides for the interchange of information and rights of exploitation by the licensor of developments made by the licensee. I have no reason to doubt that the terms give the maximum possible advantage to N.R.D.C. and the U.K. economy.
At present the U.K. is undoubtedly ahead in the number of hovercraft in service and in advanced stages of production. My Department and N.R.D.C. are, 293W in close collaboration, continuing to invest in further research and development, and we expect to maintain our technological and sales lead for the foreseeable future.