asked the Secretary of State for Defence if there is any delay in the purchase of Westland plc helicopters by the forces.
No, Sir. In the last three months we have placed new helicopter orders with the company against identified requirements for nine Sea Kings and five Lynx worth a total of about £35 million.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the British Army's sudden conversion to using a larger helicopter places it out of step with the rest of the world's armies? My right hon. Friend must be worried that this delay will mean that we shall be ordering these helicopters from abroad rather than backing our domestic helicopter manufacturer, Westland, which has an excellent potential for development?
We have demonstrated the extent to which we have backed our indigenous helicopter capability. The Army has placed no order for a W30. A staff target was identified for which the W30 might have been suitable. Since then, the Army has been reviewing its requirements. I hope that, within a few months, it will decide what it wants.
Is it true that the modification of the AST404 has been the factor that has put Westland in difficulties?
Most certainly not. If AST404 had settled for a helicopter the size of the W30, and if resources had been made available for that staff target, we would have needed a competition and it would have been months or even years before the target could be fulfilled. Moreover, the W30 now available does not meet the requirements of the staff target.
Does my hon. Friend accept that a large number of overseas orders are hanging in the balance because other countries will not purchase British helicopters until they see the British Government showing confidence in the product? That is what is at stake. Is he aware that the future of the only British helicopter manufacturer is also at stake?
There are a number of potential orders. The main one, for India, is for a civil aircraft, so any demonstration of support for the military variety does not immediately impinge on that.