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Mr. Wilkinson: The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right. I am as strong a supporter of the aircraft as he is, and I recognise the excellent work being done by the WEU committee on which he serves. I also recognise the importance of positive, joint decisions with the Germans.

However, it is inaccurate to say that the aircraft is not to be included in the defence review. When the Chief Secretary to the Treasury made his statement on departmental reviews of spending, I questioned him on this very point. He replied that both Trident and EFA were in the review. That is not to say that the Government will not come up with a positive decision. Labour has always supported the project, and we hope that the Government will maintain that support, despite the review.

Mr. Cunliffe: There appears to be some confusion between the information that the hon. Gentleman has and what I have been told. It is important that the House be informed as soon as possible, because that is the only way to guarantee democratic accountability.

When I first went to the Council of Europe, there were 18 member countries. Now 40 nations belong to it. In WEU--the European wing of NATO--and the Council of Europe all the British political parties have always flown the flag together to support British interests in Europe. There has never been a division. The previous Prime Minister congratulated the delegation to the Council of Europe on how we tackled the problem of securing and advancing British interests in co-operation with our European colleagues.

The American disposition within the defence framework is clear. I have no scruples about predicting that, in 10 to 15 years' time, American and NATO services will have disappeared from the European theatre. It is evident from the political scene on the horizon that, now that the Russians have been accepted into NATO--other countries are coming in daily--rather than deal with short-term aircraft, as the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea said, the Eurofighter will fit the bill for Europe in 10 years' time, which is why the project is necessary.

We will be dealing with a new type of NATO, with Russia playing a part--it now has a consultative role. It sounds a bit funny to say that it will be a North Atlantic

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Treaty Organisation within the framework of Europe, but a new European defence organisation will emerge through the evolving nations that will become new members. We are perfectly capable of looking to Europe for our defence.

Whether in technology or in performance, other parts of the world, such as Scandinavia and Asia, are declaring an interest in our project. When Japan was made an observer to the Council of Europe--America and Canada have also been made observers--it expressed an interest in the European defence scene. We therefore have allies throughout the world who support, in principle, Eurofighter's claim to be an effective weapon within our defence framework.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Does the hon. Gentleman dismiss, as I do, the argument, which we hear time and again, that, for reasons of cost and capability, we should put EFA to one side and buy an effective and proven alternative from the United States? Does he agree that, if we do that, the jobs he mentioned--10,000 in Britain and 16,000 in Germany--would be put in jeopardy, and manufacturing skills in both countries would be lost? If those skills were lost, they would be lost for ever, and it would be extremely difficult to say whether those teams would ever work again for European defence manufacturing interests.

Mr. Cunliffe: The hon. Gentleman makes a succinct point. The bulk of my constituents who work in the Lostock factories in Bolton and on aircraft wings in Chadderton are highly skilled technicians, from planners on the drawing board to electricians and fitters, which is why I have a direct interest in this matter. The new skill training programme introduced by the Labour Government will do much to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the skills, dedication and loyalty that now exist will be part of a follow-on process, with new apprentices in that category.

Mr. Alan Clark: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cunliffe: The right hon. Gentleman would not give way to any of his parliamentary colleagues, but, being a charitable new Labour socialist, I shall give way.

Mr. Clark: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and particularly grateful for the candour with which he declared his political affiliation. I did not give way to my hon. Friends because I had completed my speech.

Further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) just said, I want to distinguish between manufacturing skills and design capability. In the same unpunctuated sentence, the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) referred to drawing board technicians and fitters, which are totally different categories. It is essential to maintain the drawing board capability, and full research and development. The point about full-scale employment is that the fitters' skills will be wasted if they make something that is of no use. That was the point that I was making.

Mr. Cunliffe: If something is wrong with the design, the manpower is wasted. The right hon. Gentleman is right about design engineers. I have some in my constituency who are specialists in every sense of the

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word, and we are proud of that. Their work must complement that of the other workers, whether on the tool bench or on the drawing board. The right hon. Gentleman makes a fair comment, but I did not understand when he said that he knows of many design defects at this time. I shall ask my design boys to see whether there is some logic in his presentation.

Our wonderful achievements in collaboration with our European colleagues, from airbuses to helicopters, augur well, and should bring confidence and trust in the future. We are Europeans in the true sense, and are becoming totally interdependent in Europe in terms of jobs and education. That is the great case for Europe. European countries need one another, politically, economically and socially, but we must continue to plug British interests.

10.16 am

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): I am delighted to see the unanimity of Lancashire Members in the Chamber today, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and the hon. Members for Preston (Audrey Wise), for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden), for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), and myself from Fylde.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Chorley on how he laid out not only the strategic but the industrial case for Eurofighter 2000. He made a clear and justifiable case for the project's continuity, in contrast to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark), who was long on criticism but short on objectivity in suggesting an alternative to the Eurofighter 2000. It sounded like the knocking copy that I have heard emanating from north American sources, who for so long have sought to do the project down. Those of us who have lived with it for many a long year have heard this story before.

I respectfully point out to my right hon. Friend that he was in post in the Ministry of Defence when some of the specifications for the Eurofighter were being written, so perhaps at some stage outside the Chamber he will tell me whether his hand was on any of the specifications that he now denounces as inappropriate.

May I put on record words of praise for our former colleagues, Mr. Keith Mans, Mr. Robert Atkins and Mr. Den Dover, for their fight to keep this project alive? Without their efforts, I doubt whether we would be having this debate.

A tremendous campaign was orchestrated to influence Members of the Bundestag when it last had to make a decision on that matter. The Secretary of State wrote a helpful letter to me on this subject, saying that he would come back to me with ideas about how the current generation of Members of Parliament might also communicate with colleagues in the Bundestag, because they have the final decision on the German financial position. I should be grateful if the Minister, if not in his reply then subsequently, would be willing to act as a falcon for the exercise that this Parliament can have in influencing our German counterparts.

I also pay tribute to the work of the trade unions. It may sound odd coming from a Conservative Member, but the trade union movement, based as it is in my constituency of Fylde, at Warton and Samlesbury, has campaigned professionally and skilfully in ensuring that

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its German, Italian and Spanish counterparts are on side in terms of the Eurofighter project. The project is a joint effort of so many in the House and outside. We now move to a crucial phase for my constituents and those who are working on the successful prototypes operating from Warton.

The vital success of the project, to which the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle) referred, is crucial to the future of the entire European aerospace industry. Without it, a great prize could be missed. In a rationalised Europe there is the opportunity for British Aerospace and the United Kingdom to be the centre of that industry. The maintenance of the technologies that the hon. Gentleman so ably described lie at the heart of the achievement of that objective.

If the European fighter aircraft is not built, we will simply become a jobbing shop for the United States. We will lose the technology base for that and the other aerospace projects that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

The project is entering a crucial phase, about which I shall ask the Minister some specific questions. I know that the German Government have written into their budgetary plans a four-year sum for Eurofighter's production phase. I should be grateful if the Minister would address himself to the money that will be required in an interim period to finance the further development of production work up to the production phase itself. Is he confident that the German Government and others in German industry will find that crucial bridging finance to take us to the end of the year?

In the Minister's judgment, is there the remotest possibility that the German Government might fast- forward their budgetary procedure, so that we might all go away for our summer holidays less concerned about the matter, or is the relevant date the autumn? Such guidance is important to us as parliamentarians, so that we might influence our colleagues in the Bundestag.

Can the Minister assure me that he and his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence will assist right hon. and hon. Members who want to make representations to other countries in Europe?

I watched "Newsnight", and was somewhat concerned when I heard the Minister of State for Defence Procurement say in an interview from the Paris airshow that the number of aircraft might be subject to the defence review. Can the Minister unequivocally put it on the record that not only will we order and buy the 232 aircraft, but that we will also review the Harrier GR7 replacement in the light of the European fighter aircraft, and that those numbers will not be part of that exercise?

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