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Volume 400: debated on Monday 3 March 2003

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If he will make a statement on the time taken for UK aerospace companies to be paid for the work they carry out on the Eurofighter project. [99855]

All contracts for work on the Eurofighter Typhoon project placed by the Ministry of Defence or the NATO Eurofighter management agency are subject to national legislation regarding payment times. This legislation will apply equally to subcontracts placed on United Kingdom aerospace companies.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but he knows that that system often does not work. One company in my constituency, which does not want to be named, has waited a long time for a tremendous amount of money for working on Eurofighter and has been rebuked by Eurofighter when it has tried to chase the money. On speaking to the company, it stressed that it does not blame the Government, but it does want them to introduce a new system that enables it to get paid at least in the same year as it carries out such a large amount of work.

The hon. Gentleman has been very active on behalf of that company and he is right not to name it. Indeed, it would be wrong to name any company that might be experiencing similar difficulties. We are concerned about that company and try to help British companies as much as we can. However, most of the Ministry of Defence's UK requirements for Typhoon are contracted by the NATO European Typhoon management agency on Eurofighter GmbH. We have no direct contractual relationship with either ACMA, GmbH or the company to which the hon. Gentleman refers. However, the Ministry has written to the agency, requesting that Eurofighter GmbH reminds its partner companies and suppliers of the importance that we attach to prompt payment when contractual obligations have been met. Lord Bach, who has ministerial responsibility for defence procurement, is actively dealing with the representation made by the company to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and other concerns have also been raised.

Will the Minister confirm that over the past six years the project has cost the British taxpayer £4 billion? Does that sum include the moneys outstanding mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson)? What are the implications of the recent unfortunate aeroplane crash in Spain for the cost of the project and the delay to it?

There has to be a full assessment following any incident of that nature such as a crash or equipment malfunction. If modifications are required, that has to be costed into the programme. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a figure at this stage. The project is a sizeable one, and the British defence sector, which is contributing expertise and technological input, is without doubt also gaining considerably from it. It is good for the 0British economy, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports that.