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In thanking the Secretary of State for his statement, may I express our appreciation that it was provided before Defence questions? However, we regret the absence from the Government Front Bench of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), who would appear either to have gone AWOL, or to be in jankers for the insubordination that he displayed in the interview in the Sunday Times on Sunday.
The statement will come as a relief to the work force of those companies. We shall have to wait until election day to find out whether it will come as a relief to the Conservative candidates in the seats concerned. It is a tribute to the work force, the planners and the engineers that they have been able to crack an extremely difficult technical problem. However, it may not have come soon enough for the 450 people employed by British Aerospace, whose redundancies were announced on 6 February as a result of the delay in the announcement of this project.
When does the Secretary of State expect production to start? He has announced his intention to place the contract. When does he expect it to have an impact on employment? How confident is he that there will be an export market for the missile, given the withdrawal of the Norwegians and the Germans from the earlier stages of the programme?