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Wg/30 Helicopter

Volume 84: debated on Tuesday 22 October 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence what recent discussions he has had with Westlands about the future of the WG/30 helicopter.


asked the Secretary of State for Defence, if he will make a statement concerning the Puma and Wessex V replacement.

The review of requirements for support helicopters about which my predecessor informed the House on 26 March last is continuing.

My right hon. Friend and Mr. Gandhi discussed the order. Mr. Gandhi made it clear that he did not intend his visit here to be a purchasing visit. Decisions have not yet been announced, although we hope that the Indians will announce decisions shortly. The Government have made it clear that the £65 million of aid that has been earmarked is still available.

I remind the Minister that an engineering force of 8,000 workers depends on the Westland helicopter contract. Although it might be possible to get the Indian order, it probably means only one or two years' work. Does the Minister agree that the British Government should show confidence in British helicopters by buying them, thus encouraging sales to the rest of the world?

The Government have shown strong support for Westland helicopters in launch aid for the WG/ 30 and for the EH 101. We have placed £80 million worth of work there, orders for spares and support amount to £60 million a year, and I have mentioned the £65 million of aid that is available. The Government have shown that they are prepared to go a long way to support Westland. We want Westland to prosper. The company's ability to meet the armed forces' requirement is extremely important to us.

We welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box for the first time in his new capacity. Will he repeat that he shares our view that it is vital to maintain an indigenous helicopter building capability and that this matter must be considered in that context?

We want the company to prosper. That is why we have made such large resources available to it and why we have given it enormous support to help it sell its products. As my hon. and learned Friend says, the ability to supply helicopters and spares to our forces is extremely important.

I also welcome the Minister to his new appointment. Is he aware that Westland has shown great courage in carrying the considerable risks involved in the pursuit of the Indian order, at the behest of the Government? Why will the Government not now carry the minimal risk involved in underwriting that order until the Indians go firm in perhaps a matter of weeks? Does he agree that a company such as Westland deserves better from the Government'? Is not the Minister's shilly shallying threatening jobs and the integrity of a great company?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words, which preceded an outrageous suggestion.

The Government have provided large sums for the development of the WG/30, and have paid the bill for a large part of its development. The taxpayer has also provided aid to underpin orders. That seems to be considerable support, and that is what we have done. That amounts to considerable sums.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the extremely valuable, and probably unique, experience which Westlands now has of modem helicopters in combat following the Falklands war, and ensure that that valuable experience is put to the best use in the export market through the ECGD giving cover wisely, which it has not been doing sufficiently in recent months?

I shall certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's comments. We shall do everything that we can to support the company in export markets.

I also welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post, but he seems to be starting as disastrously as his predecessor. How can the Government possibly justify seeking to maintain our defence industries at the expense of the overseas aid budget, when they should be spending money from their budget to support our indigenous defence industries? Will the hon. Gentleman, in his new position, take the opportunity to instruct his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the problem faced by Westland and many of our defence companies is the reluctance of his right hon. Friend to face up to the present strains and pressures on the defence budget, and that the best thing that his right hon. Friend can do is to cancel Trident and get on with our conventional defence?

The hon. Gentleman may not have been on the Opposition Front Bench for long, but he must have been there long enough to know that the WG/30 is not a defence helicopter. That is why it is perfectly proper for us to use the aid budget to help its sales. What does the hon. Gentleman want? Does he, or does he not, want us to help to sell the aircraft? If we did not support sales of it, he would be the first to criticise us. We have done everything we can, and we shall continue to support the sales of the aircraft.