European Fighter Aircraft

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th July 1989.

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Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East 12:00 am, 11th July 1989

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the latest stage reached in the contracts appraisal for the radar and receiver equipment planned for the EFA development.

Photo of Mr Derek Fatchett Mr Derek Fatchett , Leeds Central

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made in respect of the radar system for the European fighter aircraft.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

Bids have been received from two consortia for the development contract for the EFA radar. These are currently being actively considered by the four nations participating in the EFA programme, and a final decision will be made as soon as possible.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He will understand that I obviously support the GEC-Marconi combination—

Mr. O'Neill:

Why?

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

Because it is partly in my constituency. It is therefore understandable.

Before the Opposition spokesman gets overexcited, will my hon. Friend say whether the delays, which are already excessive, are due more to technical complications or to the price that is being offered? Will there be an early end to this delay? It has gone on long enough and there are considerable anxieties among defence contractors.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says about delay. The decision is taking longer than I would have liked. My hon. Friend will appreciate that the choice is difficult. It involves a key element in a very important project. It is most important that all matters, including important technical and cost and contractual aspects, are fully covered and agreed by the four participating nations.

Photo of Michael Jack Michael Jack , Fylde

My hon. Friend may be aware that the delays on the radar decision have given rise to some reports from West Germany that the whole nature of the EFA project may be reconsidered. Can he assure the many thousands of aircraft workers in my constituency, whose futures are tied up in this project, that the Government are 100 per cent. committed to it, and will do all that they can to maintain the commitment of the other partner nations to its early conclusion?

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

I assure my hon. Friend that we and all the other participating nations are committed to the project. In 1986, all four nations signed a general memorandum of understanding, and a further memorandum on the development of the aircraft was signed as recently as November last year. That demonstrates the participating nations' commitment to the project.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers , Rhondda

The Minister's answer that a decision will be made as soon as possible, but not as soon as he would like, does not comfort us at all. He said on 10 November 1987 that he expected a decision to be made in "early spring next year"—early 1988. It is now summer 1989. What has happened? Is this yet another example of the Government's mismanagement of the procurement industry? Will we now have another highly sophisticated, extremely expensive aeroplane flying round with cement in its nose?

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

The hon. Gentleman has a vivid imagination when it comes to identifying what he regards as mistaken procurement decisions. I hope that he understands the importance of EFA radar and the complexity of very high-performance radar. As I said, the decision has taken longer than I hoped, but he will agree that it is very important that we take the right decision in the right way.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson , Ruislip - Northwood

Will my hon. Friend remind our German partners that unless a decision is reached, preferably unanimously, as soon as possible, the export potential of this aeroplane could be greatly prejudiced? It is in their long-term commercial and operational interests to fall into line with the Italian, Spanish and British partners on the project.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

All the participating nations will be conscious of the points that my hon. Friend rightly makes. This important aircraft has export potential, although that is a long way down the line. The most important thing is to reach the right decision on the radar and to continue the project in the right way.