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Eh101 Helicopter

Volume 448: debated on Monday 20 February 1984

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how far advanced are the plans for the new Anglo-Italian helicopter.

My Lords, my noble friend is referring to the EH.101 helicopter which is to be developed under an integrated commercial and military collaborative programme by Italy and the United Kingdom. Memoranda of Understanding were signed last month between the two ministries of defence and the two industry departments. It is hoped that the main development contract can be signed within the next fortnight.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Has he any information about how much of the production work will be done in this country and therefore how much employment prospect is involved?

My Lords, I anticipate that the production work will be divided about half and half. At its peak the programme should involve employment amounting to about 10,000 jobs which will be either preserved or created.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I am happy to congratulate the Government on their decision in this matter? May I also join in the hope and expectation that there will be a flourishing civil business now that the decision has been taken on this joint European project on the military version? Finally, may I ask the noble Lord whether he can assure us, now that this sensible decision has been taken on this joint European project, that we can look forward confidently to a similar sensible and positive decision over the A.320?

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware of the Government's general approach to collaborative projects. All of them of course involve an investment of one kind or another from the collaborative partners. That is one of the matters that have to be considered in regard to the other programme to which the noble Lord referred.

My Lords, while supporting the welcome which has been extended to this project, may I ask whether the noble Lord can indicate to the House where the jobs will be generated? A total of 10,000 jobs must be very welcome indeed at a time of unacceptably high unemployment. Can the noble Lord indicate whether these jobs will be found in areas of high unemployment?

My Lords, the principal contractors are likely to be Westland, the British helicopter company, and Augusta, the Italian helicopter company; so I imagine that the principal creation of jobs will be around and within those companies.

My Lords, can the noble Lord say what is the size of the order, and what other orders are in prospect?

My Lords, this has yet to be finally decided. The noble Lord will appreciate that deliveries of this newly developed helicopter will not take place for some years, but the programme will be a very substantial one.

My Lords, if I may intervene again, in view of the noble Lord's last answer, can he say whether the 10,000 jobs will be generated in this country alone or whether they will be shared between this country and Italy?

My Lords, would it be in order for me, while declaring an interest, to congratulate the Government on this decision? May I ask my noble friend whether he would not agree, in answer to the question about the number of sales, that the vast majority of the expected sales will be in the civil and utility field rather than in the naval field, which also will be very important?

My Lords, speaking as a defence Minister, I naturally attach importance to both markets to which my noble friend referred. Of course, my noble friend is quite right.

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the memorandum of agreement to which he referred is to be considered as a treaty, with all that flows from that, or as something of a lower status than that?

My Lords, I have to confess that I am not quite clear about the answer that I should give to the noble Lord's question. Perhaps I may ascertain the answer and write to him.

My Lords, would my noble friend go a little further than he did in answer to Lord Aldington's supplementary question, and confirm that the basic helicopter is one of the first instances of defence equipment which will be suitable for a very large civilian market? Also, does he agree that this represents an agreement (of which there have not been too many in the past) between the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Industry and industry itself to combine a civilian market and a defence market and this is to be welcomed in every way?

Yes, my Lords, my noble friend is quite right. What usually happens is that the military variant is developed first and then the civil variant follows later. In this case both of the variants are being developed side by side.