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Air Traffic Control Radar Systems

Volume 984: debated on Monday 12 May 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade whether a decision has been made on the acquisition of a new radar for the Civil Aviation Authority; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he now expects the Civil Aviation Authority to come to a decision on the purchase of a new radar system for air traffic control.

The Civil Aviation Authority announced its decision on 2 May 1980. The CAA radar replacement scheme is expected to cost some £24·5 million and Cossor Marconi from Britain, and HSA of the Netherlands have won significant electronic contracts whilst AEG Telefunken will provide aerials and turning gear. More than half of the value of the whole project will be spent in the United Kingdom, including, I expect, half of the HSA contract.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the American firm Westinghouse which was, at one time, boasting that it had the contract sewn up, was eliminated from the competition because its offer was found to be seriously misleading? If that is so, will he make sure that those facts are known to every other British authority that may be contemplating a purchase from that company?

My hon. Friend is right to say that Westinghouse appeared at one time to be the front runner for the contract, but on closer examination it was found that the capabilities of the equipment on offer fell far short of the claims of the company's salesmen and produced a lower performance than the equipment offered by HSA, which was also offered at a lower price. I am sure that the lesson will be learnt by other prospective customers.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the CAA decision will cause much disappointment to the Marconi-Plessey group? Can he confirm that the price quoted by that group was competitive against that of Hollandse Signaal and that the group's specification for the equipment was just what the CAA required?

I should prefer not to go into the details of pricing and specifications, not least because it would not be in the best interests of any of the contenders concerned. The prime reason why the contract went abroad was that the CAA was not able to convince itself that British equipment could be delivered on time. I hope that those who are engaged in supporting the buffoonery in industry that is proposed for Wednesday will remember that such idiocy can only damage the chances of British industry.

Does my hon. Friend not find it rather sad that no British company can strike a deal with the CAA on the radar replacement? Does not that perhaps call for an overhaul of the working arrangements between the CAA and industry?

I am sure that the arrangements can be improved, but it is not true to say that the CAA has not been able to buy from British industry. Cossor and Marconi are extensive suppliers. Equally, if one were a Dutchman, one might think it a pity that Marconi gets the contracts for communications equipment for the Dutch Navy and that Ferranti gets the contracts for their airborne radar.

Is not the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the workers involved in British industry carry the responsibility for the fact that the contract did not go to a British company entirely disgraceful? Is not the idiocv of the Government in dismantling British industry and putting more and more people out of work the cardinal sin being committed in this country?

I am not blaming the loss of the contract with the CAA on events that have not yet taken place, but at a time when the prime criticism of our exports is that they are not delivered on time, I regard it as a combination of Luddism, idiocy and buffoonery further to delay British industry in support of an idiotic political gesture on Wednesday.

Will the Minister have a care in his remarks, because he indicated in the body of his main reply that a substantial amount of the equipment and labour concerned will be provided from the United Kingdom and, in particular, from my constituency?

I am delighted that that is so and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will advise the workers in his constituency that it is in their best interests to keep at work and to make sure that the equipment is delivered on time.