HC Deb 03 November 1954 vol 532 cc373-4
40. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air why he has refused to order the Folland Gnat for the use of the Royal Air Force, although a saving in two-thirds of the present cost in providing fighter aircraft could be made by doing so, without loss of efficiency.

The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)

We are studying the development of this aircraft closely; but, for reasons which I explained in the Air Estimates debate last March, to strike a balance between quantity and quality is not the simple matter which might be inferred from the hon. Member's Question. In any event, there can be no possibility of ordering an aircraft which has yet to be proved in substitution for the fighters which are at present being delivered to re-equip the Royal Air Force.

Mr. Wyatt

As this aircraft is lighter than the others, and is the only British fighter capable of flying at supersonic speeds in level flight, and as it is one-third of the cost of the ordinary type of fighter, would not it be wise at least to order some for research purposes, because the other countries of Western Europe cannot possibly afford to arm themselves with the types that we now employ?

Mr. Ward

The initial version of the Gnat is broadly comparable in performance to that of the Hunter and the Swift, but it is considerably behind them in the time when it would be available for delivery to the Royal Air Force. We cannot possibly afford to delay the re-equipment of the squadrons which are waiting for aircraft. However, we are studying it, and a later development may well prove of value.

Mr. Wyatt

Is not it the case that if given Government backing 50 aircraft a month of this type could be produced by 1956?

Mr. Ward

That is not so, because the engine is not developed yet and would not be by then.

Dr. Bennett

Although the aircraft is a very impressive one, is not it a fact that it is only on a par with machines now in service? Would not it be a matter of greater importance to pursue the development of the rocket fighter for high altitude interception?

Mr. Ward

Of course we are studying that too.

Mr. A. Henderson

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether N.A.T.O. headquarters is showing any interest in this fighter and, if so, can he say what they propose to do about it?

Mr. Ward

They are showing interest in it, but of course it is not the only competitor in that field. We have not heard yet what their decision will be.