§ 3. Mr. Robert Atkins
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the recent US air force purchase of Shorts' Sherpa aircraft.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)
I am sure that the whole House will have shared in the general delight at Shorts winning this valuable order for 18 aircraft from the US air force. Most importantly in the Northern Ireland context, it should provide some 500 or 600 new jobs. The stringent standards applied by the American armed forces are well known and, therefore, their order is also a particularly notable endorsement of Shorts' production capability and expertise. I hope that the contract will pave the way for further orders from the American as well as from other air forces. I should also like to pay full tribute to the company's work force and management, whose record of performance and painstaking efforts have been essential to securing this order.
§ Mr. Atkins
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is enormously good news for the Province at this difficult 1162 time and is a great tribute to the quality of the design and production work force at Shorts in producing an aeroplane that the Americans are prepared to buy? That is particularly so in view of the rather unpleasant and partisan attitude of certain members of the United States Congress who tried to suggest that, for religious reasons, Shorts was unable to produce this aeroplane in the right manner. Does this not prove that British Aerospace as an industry is better than similar industries anywhere else in the world?
§ Mr. Butler
I agree with all that my hon. Friend has said. It was most satisfying that the attack by the Irish national caucus was beaten off and that it was possible to demonstrate clearly that Shorts' recruitment procedures were non-discriminatory.
Mr. John David Taylor
I welcome the Minister's statement. How many new jobs will arise as a result of the contract? Will he assure the House that there will be no lowering of standards of new applicants for enrolment in that company and that there will be no positive discrimination against any coomunity in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Butler
There will be no positive discrimination or quotas. It is important that the recruitment procedures should be totally open and that fair opportunities are provided for all members of the community. I am confident that that will be done. The contract will mean that 500 or 600 new jobs will be provided. That is significant, because it represents about 0.5 per cent. of the total manufacturing work force in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
Does my hon. Friend agree that the order from the United States air force—we know how difficult it is to obtain orders from it—clearly shows that, when British companies manufacture the right products at the right price, there is always a market for those products?
§ Mr. Butler
The United States air force holds options for a larger number of these aircraft. Obviously, Shorts will be going out to win those as well, if possible.
§ Mr. Soley
The Opposition share in the pleasure about this order. The United States Government made a detailed check on Shorts fair employment activities and were pleased with what they found. Will the Minister assure the House that the British Government will be equally stringent in checking before giving orders to Northern Ireland companies?
§ Mr. Butler
I think that the hon. Gentleman is a little off course. Investigations were carried out by the Fair Employment Agency, which was set up not on behalf of the United States Government, but under the statute passed by Parliament in 1976. That agency operates throughout the Province and is free to act where it wishes in regard to any companies. I assure the House that the Government do everything possible to ensure that fair employment practices do operate.