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Defence

Volume 82: debated on Tuesday 2 July 1985

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Fleet Air Arm

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement concerning Fleet Air Arm manning.

Recruiting problems coupled with the duration of training have created shortages in some areas, but steps are being taken to overcome deficiencies.

How much time will front-line air and ground crews spend with their families under the Government's lunatic cost-cutting programme, which is resulting in each of our aircraft carriers not being fully equipped with their own aircraft and manpower—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not reading; he is referring to his notes.

I am not sure whether I should start again, Mr. Speaker.

Is the Minister aware that a similar scheme was tried about 20 years ago, which resulted in a sharp increase in voluntary resignations? What level of manpower wastage does he expect from this policy, and what will it mean in money terms?

We are operating a policy of having two carriers fully operational at any one time, and there will be two air groups. We believe that position to be satisfactory. Overall, we have about 40 Sea Harriers in service or on order.

But is it not the case that we have three aircraft carriers and two crews and are awaiting 23 aircraft to come on stream? Until that happens, there will be problems with the use of any back-up force and difficulties such as we saw during the Falklands war.

Will the Minister assure us that the problems that confront that section of the Fleet Air Arm will be alleviated quickly so that morale does not plummet further?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the air groups are needed only on operational carriers. In times of tension, training and reserve personnel and aircraft will be fully utilised.

If the hon. Gentleman looks back to the period of the last Labour Administration, he will see that during 1977–78 more than 50 per cent. of Fleet Air Arm pilots chose to leave mid-way through their trained service at their first opportunity, primarily on pay grounds.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Fleet Air Arm personnel are highly skilled and highly trained? Does it not take some years to build up those skills? Is it not an unfortunate experience to see the Opposition trying to leap on the bandwagon by claiming that the skills are not currently available?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It takes about four years to train a Sea Harrier pilot, at a cost of about £2·8 million. We are taking a number of measures to improve the position. Recruiting to the Fleet Air Arm has been increased substantially, training capacity expanded, wastage reduced and the methods of pilot training are being studied.

Exercise Lean Look

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received since the publication of Exercise Lean Look.

My Department has received two letters.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his response. Does he agree that taxpayers are delighted with the Exercise Lean Look approach, not only because it is a more efficient use of resources, but because it allows the armed forces to do the job that they are properly entitled to do?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We share his pleasure at the success of Exercise Lean Look. It is having the desirable effect of enabling the Army to make a transfer of some 4,000 men in the support area to the front line, with a significant increase in front-line operational capability as a result.

I am not certain whether I am qualified to ask a question on Exercise Lean Look. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that a soldier, whether he is serving in the cookhouse, or the transport or fire departments, is a trained soldier, and that if some of those jobs can be done by private enterprise it is sheer common sense to release those men so that they may be used for what they were trained for—to fight?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is fully qualified to ask questions on all subjects, not least Lean Look. I assure him that we take the view that he does. It must be sensible to release the maximum number of trained service manpower to do the essential jobs which only they can do in the front line.

Trident

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent representations he has received from Scotland about future commitment to the Trident programme.

Since the beginning of 1985 the Government have received from Scotland on the general subject of Trident 23 letters, including one petition, and a number of postcards.

Will the Minister add to those the strong objections from my constituents at Glenboig, who do not want asbestos from Faslane dumped in their village? Will he consider also the important views recently expressed by Lord Carver, when he described the project as representing illusions of nuclear grandeur? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore justify the Government's obsession with such a project?

We do not agree with Lord Carver on this subject. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's constituency point, I am sure that he has now received the letter which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young), sent him a few days ago, in which he said that, as a result of further scientific evaluation of the asbestos problem at Faslane, it looks as if we shall now be able to avoid using the Glenboig tip in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Has my right hon. Friend investigated the likely effects of a Labour party non-nuclear defence policy? Does he accept that about 50,000 jobs could be lost in Scotland if it were implemented?

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. Apart from the significant employment implication of the Labour party's defence policy, not least in relation to the Trident programme, there are the significant and wider defence implications. We feel that it would be wrong on both national and NATO grounds for this country to go down the path of one-sided disarmament, which is the Labour party's policy.

Is not the Trident programme unacceptable in this country by all normal standards, bearing in mind that it represents overkill, overprice and, shortly, it will be over here?

I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is an unacceptable policy. It is the continuation of a policy that was followed by successive Labour Governments whom he presumably supported.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson) and I recently had a meeting with the shop stewards from Rosyth as well as from Babcock Power, all of whom stated clearly that their interest in the Trident programme is that it secures their jobs for a long period?

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. I know that it is very much welcomed in Scotland, not least in the Rosyth area, that we have made an undertaking for the refitting of SSBNs to be continued in that dockyard. The ending of that cycle of major refitting work would have some profound implications in that locality.

Is the Minister aware of the position in Rosyth dockyard, where the union has withdrawn cooperation because of its disgust at the way in which the privatisation scheme is being handled? Is he aware that the future of the dockyard is being jeopardised by the Government's hamfisted approach to consultation? Is he aware that the union wants the procedure extended?

There is absolutely no basis for saying that the future of that dockyard is being jeopardised by our proposal on dockyards. What would jeopardise it in no uncertain way would be the ending of the refitting work on the deterrent, which is likely to extend over 20 years and more.

Moscow Missile Defence System

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what information he has on the upgrading of the Moscow missile defence system and if he will make a statement.

A programme to improve the Moscow antiballistic missile system has been under way since 1980. It is expected that when completed the new system will comprise an improved force of 100 launchers and associated radars for location, tracking and engagement of targets. This will provide a two-layer defence system for Moscow with long and short-range interceptor missiles to engage targets both outside and within the atmosphere.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that notwithstanding the fact that the Soviet Union is upgrading the system with 100 accountable launchers and a new radar station at Pushkino, it still appears to be within the ABM treaty? Given Mr. Paul Nitze's remarks that it will have a ground-based launched laser this decade, the upgrading points to the urgent need for the USA to maintain research into SDI and a modernisation programme.

My hon. Friend, who has studied the matter, is well-informed. It is obvious that the Soviet Union has been indulging for some years in the research of technologies associated with strategic defence. Therefore, it is wise for the Americans to be so involved. I also confirm that the updating of the ABM system around Moscow is within the ABM treaty. Of course, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her recent meeting with the President confirmed, both Governments believe that any future development within this critical area should be within the ABM treaty.

Does the Secretary of State agree that if the Moscow star wars policy enjoys the same success as the Reagan star wars policy has achieved, that will render Trident unviable?

Our view is that within the lifetime foreseen for the Trident missile the defences of the Soviet Union will not be adequate to remove its deterrent capability.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only are the Soviets improving point defences around Moscow, but are increasing the offensive capability, notably with the deployment of the new ICBM SS25 and the construction of new SS20 bases? Would it not therefore be prudent and right for the alliance to concert its efforts to provide a measure of defence against this awesome defensive capability?

My hon. Friend, who understands the matter clearly, is right. However, the situation is even worse, because the Soviet Union is increasing its offensive capability on a nuclear, chemical and conventional scale.

Does the Secretary of State agree with the recent speech of the Foreign Secretary when he expressed substantial reservations and criticisms of the star wars project, or does he agree with President Reagan that nuclear weapons should be made obsolete? Does he not agree that President Reagan's speech has turned upside down the whole theory on deterrence in Europe?

The Labour party is always calling for wider debate. When it gets it, it seems to be equally dissatisfied. The President has raised fundamental issues about the development of weapons systems and their capabilities and the relationship of defensive and offensive systems. I would have thought that debate was healthy. The President has also made it clear that he believes that the development of any SDI programme would have to be within the framework of the ABM treaty. That is also our view.

Trident

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the value of work which will accrue to British contractors from the Trident programme; and if he will make a statement.

Approximately 55 per cent., or over £5,100 million by value, of the latest estimated total cost of Trident will be spent in the United Kingdom. In addition, a number of British companies are competing for work on the United States Trident II programme. To date, 104 contracts, at a value of over $37 million, have been placed with 43 United Kingdom firms. Many of these subcontracts are for initial quantities, with the potential for follow-on orders.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that it confirms that, whatever one's views on nuclear weapons, the reality is that defence expenditure means lots of jobs for Britain and that those who seek to slash that expenditure would imperil not just national security but deny vital jobs in an industry that is crucial for Britain?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Perhaps I may add just one statistic to those that my right hon. Friend gave. In terms of direct and indirect jobs, the Trident programme will provide about 300,000 man years of work.

If work does accrue, what safeguards are there against overcharging by contractors, such as Aish and Company? Has the Minister been following that case, in which a Mr. Jim Smith was sacked when he revealed overcharging on defence contracts amounting to £400,000? Are not the Government indebted to men like him, who have laid themselves on the line on a point of principle?

I am sure that the House would not wish me to comment on the case of the individual to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred. As to keeping costs under control, we have made very clear the effectiveness of our competition policy in keeping costs down and saving substantial sums of money. If that can be applied to the Trident programme, it will be.

As the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party are desperately trying to paper over their major divisions on defence policy, does my right hon. Friend agree that their recent proposal of a collaboration with the French on a nuclear deterrent would mean a loss of jobs for workers in this country?

I find it difficult to discover exactly what the SDP and Liberal party actually do believe on this issue. When I listen to the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and hear him advance the sort of proposals to which my hon. Friend has referred —indeed, suggesting that instead of Trident we should go for cruise missiles — I know that he is going for something that would be less effective and much more costly.

Will not the agreement with the Americans to buy Trident be financially disastrous for Britain? We spend £4,500 million in the United States, yet the Americans spend a mere pittance in Britain. Why are the Government persevering — when they are so concerned with public expenditure — with this financial extravagance when they are cutting back on the Health Service, local government services and the welfare state?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the NHS has never been in better hands. We are spending very much more in real terms than any previous Government. The same applies to the defence programme. We are spending approximately one fifth more in real terms on defence than was spent under the previous Labour Government, and it is because of that that we are able to afford the systems to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred.

Identification Friend Or Foe

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made towards harmonising the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's identification friend or foe.

The recently announced agreement between the United States and German authorities represents considerable progress towards a future NATO identification system. It is hoped that final agreement on outstanding points of technical detail will be reached by the autumn.

It is welcome news to know that we have made some progress in that direction. What proportion of any work on the new IFF will be done in the United Kingdom, and what will this contract mean in terms of the two-way street between Europe and America?

I am not able to give the hon. Gentleman the details for which he has asked. However, I am glad that he welcomes this progress, because it is absolutely essential that we have a common system that operates throughout NATO, particularly in Europe. The progress that has now been made in this direction is most welcome.

Is not the problem with updating and standardising the IFF equipment the fact that the West Germans, the Americans and ourselves all believe that our own respective systems are the best? Would it not be possible to get experts from the NATO countries who are not so involved to come together to make an independent assessment of which is the best?

The progress to which I have referred was important in that the Germans have now agreed to use the D-band, and that is where the difficulty arose. The exact details of that must now be worked out. If that can be done, we can go forward on the basis of a D-band plus radar mode.

Chemical Warfare

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the preparedness of United Kingdom forces within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to withstand chemical warfare attacks.

In the light of the formidable Soviet offensive chemical weapon capability, we afford a high priority to protective and defensive measures for our armed forces against chemical attack, and to training service men in their use. We keep our defensive measures under review in the light of the threat. A new respirator, new protective clothing and new detection and warning equipment for our service men are being brought into service.

Does the Secretary of State not consider that the presence of Soviet chemical weapons and the fact that the United States seems to be gearing up with binary weapons reflects a situation of the most severe awareness and acuteness in terms of possible operations in the European theatre? What view does he take of the threat and of the fact that NATO seems to be mounting opposition in the most aggressive fashion? Can we not try to reach an agreement between NATO and the Warsaw pact countries for a complete ban on chemical weapons?

The hon. Gentleman is supporting a policy which this Government have been energetically pursuing. The difficulty is that the Soviet Union has 300,000 tonnes of chemical agent, which is far in excess of any defensive capability that it needs. The Russians train aggressively with it, modernise it and keep it up to date. Whereas Britain has made a one-sided gesture by getting rid of its chemical capability, the Soviet Union has gone in precisely the other direction. We are still pursuing the primary objective of a negotiated arms control arrangement, but it takes two to reach such an agreement. The Soviet Union has been singularly unforthcoming.

Is it not a fact that if the policy of deterrence, which the Conservative party unanimously supports, is carried to its logical conclusion we must, in order to deter the Russians from continuing to hold these disgusting chemical stocks, regretfully build up some of our own?

There is logic in my hon. Friend's question, and it is this logic that has led to renewed interest in this debate in the United States of America. We are still trying to persuade the Soviet Union that the best possible way forward is by negotiation. However, one cannot go on for ever trying to negotiate with people who modernise their capabilities.

To reduce the likelihood of chemical warfare, does the Secretary of State agree that it would be better if the Government continued to oppose the deployment of the "Big Eye" bomb, the 155 mm chemical shell, or any other chemical weapon by the United States forces, or those of any NATO country? Is it not a fact that the United States already has chemical warfare facilities in Europe?

The Americans have an aging capability. The question is whether they should allow that capability to become so out of date as to have no deterrent capability while the Soviets constantly modernise and increase their stocks. The intriguing question is from where the Opposition think the real threat to the peace and security of western Europe comes.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all the items of our chemical defensive capability that he has listed are made at Porton Down in my constituency? Does he agree that a higher priority should be given to the provision of a defensive capability for our front-line troops?

I hope my hon. Friend will accept that we are giving very high priority to the defensive capability. That is why I listed the systems that are being introduced. There is no question but that this is overdue and necessary and that we attach very great importance to it. The issue is whether one encourages and supports the United States over the potential modernisation of its aging capability. By far and away the best way forward is to reach an arms control arrangement whereby these weapons are removed. That is what we wish to happen, and that is what we are trying to do. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues have put great energy behind that endeavour. The question is how long one can go on trying to persuade the Soviet Union to reach arms control arrangements when it will not come to such arrangements but constantly increases its offensive capability.

Is it not a fact that the only nation to use chemical weapons on a massive scale has been America in Vietnam? It defoliated over one third of that country, and it has not recovered to this day from that defoliation. Can we not use our prestige to try to bring America and Russia together in some way? We should also tell the truth about America's use of chemical warfare in Vietnam.

The hon. Gentleman must realise that the threat that this country faces comes from the existence of an increasing Soviet capability. That is the issue that a Secretary of State for Defence must address. It is no use saying that the Americans are behaving in some way reprehensibly, when they are not at the moment developing their offensive capability but are trying to secure arms control negotiations. The Opposition must address themselves to the point at which they are prepared to abdicate their responsibility as politicians potentially in government and risk the lives of those in the front line who might defend us.

If it is proved that the wearing of nuclear and biological kit by our service men reduces their efficiency to no more than 40 per cent., does that mean that we would require two and a half times the force level of the Soviet bloc if we were to take it on on equal terms, ignoring the benefit of the nuclear umbrella?

My hon. Friend asks an interesting question. The follow-through, however, is unrealistic, because we have other means of deterrence to secure the peace. We cannot envisage a simple exchange on a nuclear level. The issue that we must address is clear — how we persuade the Soviets to reach arms control agreements with us that will avoid the development of a western chemical capability.

The first point of the Secretary of State's statement that our troops will have the best equipment available will be welcomed on both sides of the House. We support further research into that method of ensuring the safety of our troops. We also support the vigorous action that has been taken by Her Majesty's Government on a chemical warfare treaty, but upon which point of verification have those negotiations broken down? Was it not the Americans who drew back at the last minute?

No, Mr. Speaker. The Americans have made one of the most generous and comprehensive offers of complete openness, which could provide a way forward. Both sides have not yet reached an agreement. We constantly try to put forward new initiatives. There is no question but that the Government are playing an energetic role. The problem will not go away. If we do not succeed in reaching such an agreement, there is then an obligation placed on those responsible for the freedom and defence of the west to address the fact that the Soviets are not just failing to negotiate, they are modernising and enhancing their aggressive capabilities.

Defence Ministers (Meeting)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the outcome of the European Defence Ministers' meeting in London on 17 and 18 June.

I and my ministerial colleagues from the independent European programme group met to review progress and to direct further action on the initiatives aimed at improving armaments co-operation which we launched in the Hague last November. Our talks were very constructive. I have placed a copy of our communiqué in the Library. In the margins of the IEPG meeting Defence Ministers concerned with the European fighter aircraft held further discussions to review progress.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that there is an air of cautious optimism in the British aersopace industry over the likelihood of the European fighter aircraft going ahead? It is heartened by his firm stance in those discussions. Does he also recognise that a decision, preferably with the French, but, if necessary, without them, must be taken on 22 July if we are to ensure that that project goes ahead?

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his helpful observations. From the beginning of the discussion, the view has clearly been that we needed to reach an early decision, and the energy of all Ministers involved at the moment is devoted to trying to reach a collaborative agreement involving five nations, but of course, there comes a time when decisions must be taken.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have been raising that matter for over three years? Is he aware that there is anxiety in the country that delay in making decisions might mark him out as the Minister who failed to provide a proper, adequate fighter for the British people in 1990?

I think that I understand why the hon. Gentleman feels it necessary to make that remark, but it does not accord with the advice given to me within the Ministry. There has been no pressure to reach an earlier decision on this matter. Production and loading programmes and employment prospects are, of course, as well known to the Government as they are to the Opposition. They are not prejudiced by the time scale upon which we are currently embarked.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the cautious optimism in his remarks regarding the European fighter aircraft will be very welcome in large parts of the British aerospace industry? Will he confirm that it is the view of the Government that a solution to this problem which involved French leadership in design and manufacture, and therefore French leadership of the future of the European fighter industry, would be unacceptable to him and to the Government?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because all Ministers from the five countries are bound to be asked that very question in their own countries. The basis upon which we have sought to reach agreement is that there cannot be a winner and there cannot be a loser in any agreement that is reached. That is understood by all Ministers, who have very similar political problems to the ones that I have.

In view of the delay that has taken place, can the Secretary of State at least give an assurance that a decision one way or the other will be taken on 22 July? If it is not possible, for all sorts of reasons, to reach agreement with the French, will he make it clear that we will go ahead as part of another consortium, without the French? If that is not possible, will he now, for the first time, make it clear to the other partners that Britain will build its own fighter, which is so important for the Royal Air Force and the defence industries in this country?

The right hon. Gentleman can rest assured that I made that clear to my partners when I began these discussions nearly two years ago. Of course, everybody knows that there is a perfectly viable British alternative which we could pursue. We have made that absolutely clear. It was one of the first things stated when we opened the negotiations. But it is not my purpose to try to indicate a range of other alternatives while we are seeking agreement on the collaborative venture which is on the table.

Cruise Missiles

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many cruise missiles are presently stationed on the British mainland.

I refer the hon. Member to paragraph 27 of volume I of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985".

Has the Minister any idea of the number contained in the paragraph he has mentioned, the attendant costs of those cruise missiles stationed on the British mainland and the feelings among this generation of young people — [Interruption.] — when, on the one hand, they see the amount of money that is spent on cruise missiles, while, on the other hand, they live in a country where millions are denied the right to work and in a world where hundreds of millions are denied the right to food? Is that not a clear indication of the crazy priorities of the capitalist system?

If the hon. Gentleman refers to the Statement on the Defence Estimates he will note that three flights of ground-launched cruise missiles have now been deployed in the United Kingdom—48 missiles. On his wider remarks, I remind him that the INF deployment by NATO is in response to a very serious offensive threat by the Soviet Union. By way of perspective on the figures I have just given him, I remind him that at the end of 1979 the number of SS20 warheads facing western Europe was 243 and by the end of last year it had risen to 729.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in view of the Soviet nuclear position on SS20s, the majority of this generation are very relieved that Her Majesty's Government have decided to locate cruise missiles in this country? Is he satisfied with the security of the location of these missiles, and in particular is he satisfied that the amenities of residents in the area will be properly safeguarded in view of the fact that some county councils, such as Cambridgeshire, where the Liberals are in control, seem to have lost their nerve on this issue?

I am not surprised that my hon. Friend says that Liberal councillors have lost their nerve, and Cambridgeshire is not the only place in which that has happened. As to security, all the normal security arrangements take place and people are very highly protected, particularly in the most secure areas. I entirely agree with the earlier remarks of my hon. Friend, which I am sure reflect the views of the great majority of people in the country.

Nato (Manoeuvres)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many representatives of Warsaw pact states have attended as observers at North Atlantic Treaty Organisation manoeuvres since the signing of the Helsinki Final Act.

Invitations to attend exercises in accordance with the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act are issued on a bilateral basis, and consolidated information relating to all NATO countries is not available centrally.

As we have sent only three observers during the 10 years since the signing of the Helsinki Final Act and none at all since 1979, is there any point in causing problems and difficulties at the talks in Stockholm by insisting that these voluntary agreements should become mandatory?

The hon. Gentleman has raised a very interesting point. He asks why Britain and other nations have not sent more observers to the Warsaw pact exercises since 1979. Since 1980, NATO has carried out 15 major manoeuvres and has invited Warsaw pact observers to every one. In contrast, the Warsaw pact has notified us of nine such manoeuvres and since 1979 has extended not one invitation to us.

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how the British Forces Mission to Soviet forces in East Germany is operating? There have been disquieting reports of harassment of our military personnel in East Germany. Recently, one contingent was attacked in the course of its duties. My right hon. Fried will recall that some French officers were driven off the road and that Major Nicholson of the United States forces, who was in a similar position, was shot. Can my right hon. Friend tell me more about this matter?

I am familiar, of course, with the instance relating to the British Forces Mission to which my hon. Friend referred. As with the American case, we deplore any attempts to create harassment or worse for those members carrying out their mission responsibilities under the quadripartite agreement. We continue to ensure that our mission carries out its duties properly and responsibly.

General Charles Dalton

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many meetings he has had with General Charles Dalton, United States Chief of Staff, at SHAPE in the last 12 months.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the threat made by General Dalton during a visit on 3 June to SHAPE headquarters by eight Members of Parliament, when he said that a future British Government would not be able to determine their own defence priorities without the threat of economic sanctions being imposed by a United States Government? How seriously does the right hon. Gentleman take this threat against our national sovereignty?

These remarks are purported to have been made during a visit by the parliamentary Labour party defence committee. Confronted with that galére, any American general could be forgiven for almost any observation.

Westland Helicopters

13.

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.