The only Army requirement for helicopters which is outstanding is for a light helicopter. With regard to the placing of an order, I have nothing to add to the statement I made on this subject on 29th January.
May we have an assurance that if the American light helicopter, the Hiller, is decided on, no attempt will be made to transfer production away from Short Bros. & Harland, which has the licensing arrangement?
Leaving aside the merits of the various types involved, does my right hon. Friend realise that it is generally known that the Army put its specification for a helicopter nine months ago and that, with all the various operations in Africa and the Far East, it is in desperate need of this equipment? Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that this decision will be arrived at in the very near future?
Some of us are becoming worried about the apparent inability of the British aircraft industry to produce helicopters of the sort we need. Why is it, with the practical monopoly of Westlands, that, whether it be civil helicopters for B.E.A. or military helicopters, we cannot guarantee production of suitable machines from our own industry?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that some very fine British helicopters are now flying—the Whirlwind, the Wessex, the Belvedere and the Scout. The Army requires a very light helicopter which is important to it in operations currently in progress. For us to develop a new helicopter would not only be expensive but would mean that the Army would not get what it needed for current operations. Until only the other day shooting was going on in Borneo and Eastern Malaysia for which helicopters of this kind would have been extremely important.
Since there are, apparently, only three American firms contending for this order, will my right hon. Friend give an absolute assurance that each of these different helicopters will be given the same impartial and thorough examination? Bearing in mind the considerable differences in costs, will he also assure us that the decision will be given in the interest both of the Army and the taxpayer?
I assure my hon. Friend that we shall examine all helicopter designs submitted to us with a view to seeing how far they meet our requirements and, of course, in doing this we shall take into consideration cost and availability of deliveries.