Experimental Aircraft Programme

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th June 1986.

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Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble 12:00 am, 17th June 1986

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what lessons have been drawn by his Department from the experimental aircraft programme.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

The experimental aircraft project is yielding; valuable practical experience in the integration of a wide range of advanced technologies for new sophisticated combat aircraft.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble

Is it not essential that the first British fighter for 30 years should fly within its full flight envelope at Farnborough this year in order to maintain the technical lead that we have over the French counterpart, which will fly? Will he join me in urging all those involved in the industrial dispute at British Aerospace to resolve their difficulties as a matter of urgency and get back to making aeroplanes that can beat the competition?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

I was with my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence at the impressive roll-out of the experimental aircraft project in April. The industrial dispute at British Aerospace at Warton is sad and disappointing, and one wishes that it will be speedily resolved. It is very much the intention of British Aerospace, and our hope, that the EAP will fly at Farnborough. My understanding is that, where possible, work on the programme has been continuing.

Photo of Mr Lewis Carter-Jones Mr Lewis Carter-Jones , Eccles

Apart from the importance of the British element in avionics and airframe construction, will the hon. Gentleman give a firm undertaking that. for strategic, employment and technological reasons, Rolls-Royce will continue to have a strong interest in this aircraft?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

That would be our intention.

Photo of Mr Peter Blaker Mr Peter Blaker , Blackpool South

Does my hon. Friend agree that a settlement of the industrial dispute would be helpful not only in connection with the experimental aircraft programme but in the context of our order for Tornados for Saudi Arabia and the efforts that the Government and British Aerospace are making to secure further sales for that aircraft?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

My right hon. Friend is right. I remember that those workers who are now on strike were, some months ago, desperately concerned about their jobs and possible redundancies at Warton, but then we had the extremely successful aerospace package sale to Saudi Arabia. Sadly, we have now moved into an industrial dispute. We all hope that it will soon be resolved.

Photo of Mr Denzil Davies Mr Denzil Davies , Llanelli

The Minister mentioned the sale to Saudi Arabia. Can he confirm reports that the Saudis are seeking to renegotiate that deal because British Aerospace is being paid in oil which, as we know, is a depreciating currency? Is that agreement under review? Why did the Government enter into an arrangement for payment in such a depreciating currency as oil?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

I have no knowledge of any renegotiation.

Photo of Mr Michael Stern Mr Michael Stern , Bristol North West

In the context of the Rolls-Royce contribution to this project, will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to impress upon those trade unionists who are trying to poor mouth the achievements of Rolls-Royce to date how much Rolls-Royce has contributed to this project and, in doing so, has contributed to the growth and future prosperity of Rolls-Royce?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

I am more than happy to pay tribute to the contribution of Rolls-Royce in this and other projects.