PM talks up UK aerospace on India trade mission

18 February 2013
By Edward Gent
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David Cameron pays tribute to policemen who died in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks today, while on a trade mission to India

David Cameron pays tribute to policemen who died in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks today, while on a trade mission to India

David Cameron has attempted to give a boost to the UK’s aerospace industry while on a trade mission to India.

The Prime Minisiter offered a message of support to workers at AgustaWestland today, after the helicopter manufacturer was hit by corruption allegations, and vowed to raise the possibility of India buying partly British-made Eurofighter Typhoon jets when he meets the country's Prime Minister and President tomorrow.

Cameron declined to comment on the allegations over the Anglo-Italian helicopter company’s £480m defence deal with the Indian government, which he said were a matter for the Indian and Italian authorities.

And he said it was up to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to decide for itself, as an independent organisation, whether it should get involved.

Giuseppe Orsi, the chairman and chief executive of AgustaWestland's parent company Finmeccanica, was arrested last week, along with Bruno Spagnolini, the chief executive of AgustaWestland, on corruption and tax fraud charges.

Indian authorities have suspended payments to the company, which produces helicopters at its factory in Yeovil, Somerset, as it launches its own investigations.

Speaking in Mumbai to Jon Sopel for BBC News, Cameron said: "This is really a question between the Italian authorities; because it is Finmeccanica, an Italian company, which owns AgustaWestland; and the Indian authorities.

"What I am telling people here is that AgustaWestland is an excellent company, with highly skilled workers who make brilliant helicopters.

"Britain has, in our anti-bribery laws, some of the toughest laws in the world, so people know if they do business with British companies, that they have those protections."

Asked if the SFO should get involved, Cameron said: "That is a matter for them. We have totally independent investigating and prosecuting authorities in the UK, and they are at liberty to act or not."

Cameron later told reporters: "My message to workers in Yeovil is that they are highly skilled, highly respected, they do a fantastic job. I really value what they do.

"It's an excellent company with a very talented workforce which produces a superb product.

"I make the case for Westland helicopters generally. I think they make very good helicopters and I am happy to support and promote them.

"But obviously, in this case, there are issues that have been raised that have got to be settled by the Italian and Indian authorities, and I am sure they will do."

The Prime Minister also promised to see whether the Indian authorities were ready to "reconsider" purchasing jets from the UK-German-Spanish-Italian Eurofighter consortium – which includes BAE Systems, though he stressed that negotiations were a matter for the group.

Hopes seemed to have been dashed when French contractor Dassault Aviation was chosen last year as the preferred bidder for the £6.4bn contract to supply 126 jet fighters to the Indian air force.

But they were revived when French President Francois Hollande returned from a visit to New Delhi without a signature on a final contract.

Speaking in Mumbai today, Cameron said: "I think Typhoon is a superior aircraft. It has the advantage of all the partner nations behind it. It is an aircraft that, of course, for those countries that want to buy it, we can make some aeroplanes available within months because there are so many countries already using it.

"We also have very interesting offers to make in terms of industrial participation and technology transfer and the company has said it would look again at price. But that is for them to discuss with the Indian authorities.

"I will obviously make clear that Typhoon is still available. This deal is clearly not the biggest item on this visit, but it is obviously a point we will make to the Indian authorities should they want to reconsider where they are."

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