As regards the first two parts of the Question, my right hon. Friend said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) on 23rd July that no contract had yet been placed, but the process of translating broad design proposals into the detailed specification required for contract purposes is nearing completion. As regards the last part of the Question, as my right hon. Friend told my hon. Friend on 29th June, the prototype should be flying in 1962 and the aircraft is expected to enter service in 1964.
While I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his reply, may I ask him to impress upon his right hon. Friend that the contract for an aircraft which does not carry any fixed armament should have been concluded by now? It is important to do this to enable the Royal Air Force to have the aeroplane and to give the workers in Ulster additional work. Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that the contract will be placed in the next few weeks?
I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend, with his experience of the aircraft industry, will realise that to translate a paper proposal for such a large and complex aircraft as this takes a little time, but I will convey to my right hon. Friend what he has said.
While thanking my hon. Friend for the Answer given by his right hon. Friend the Minister, to which he has referred, may I ask whether my hon. Friend is aware that during the past few weeks Messrs Short Brothers and Harland have received inquiries from several potential overseas purchasers of the Britannic? Will the Minister take steps to expedite the decision concerning the type and number required, so that the company can pursue negotiations for the sale of these powerful freighter aircraft abroad?