HC Deb 23 February 1955 vol 537 cc1252-4
8. Air Commodore Harvey

asked the Minister of Defence if Her Majesty's Government are now able to make a statement about the future of the Swift aircraft.

14. Mr. de Freitas

asked the Minister of Defence when he expects to be able to say whether the production of the Swift aircraft will be continued.

Mr. H. Macmillan

As has already been announced, Marks I, II and III of the Swift cannot be brought up to an acceptable operational standard. After further tests on the Mark IV, it has been decided that the production of this Mark shall be restricted to a limited number, and that we shall rely mainly on the Hunter, which was developed as a parallel project and has proved a fine aircraft capable of further development. Development work on other Marks of the Swift, intended for certain specialist roles, will continue.

Air Commodore Harvey

Will my right hon. Friend say when this aircraft was first ordered and how many prototypes were ordered afterwards?

Mr. Macmillan

I think that two prototypes were ordered in the first instance. Of course, the ordering of those was before I or any of my colleagues had any responsibility in this matter.

Mr. de Freitas

But had it not been known for a long time that whereas the Hunter had the makings of a first-rate fighter, the Swift had no such possibility? If that be so, why was the wasteful production of the Swift continued?

Mr. Macmillan

Curiously enough, that is exactly the question I asked myself when I first came into these affairs, but I found that had we done what the hon. Gentleman suggests we should have done exactly the wrong thing, because all the earlier reports, up to fairly recently—a year or 18 months ago—were that the Hunter would not be so successful as the Swift.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

While regretting that this aircraft has not proved to be as successful as we should have liked, may I ask if the right hon. Gentleman would agree that he and his colleagues fully endorsed the decision of the previous Government to go ahead with this aircraft, described then as one of the finest potential fighters in the world?

Mr. Macmillan

Yes, and that is why I am confidently looking to those on the Opposition Front Bench not to make party capital out of this.

Mr. Shinwell

Was not the implication of the right hon. Gentleman's reply to the previous supplementary question an indication that he was trying to make political capital out of it? May I ask if he has seen the reply to a Question put to his right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Supply who, when asked about our air defences, said that they were the best in the world—[HON. MEMBERS: "Night defences."]—our defence system was the best in the world—[HON. MEMBERS: "Night defences."]—all right, our night defence system was the best in the world; and that he was surprised that we should criticise it because we had been responsible for ordering the aircraft?

Mr. Macmillan

That is the Question next on the Order Paper.

Mr. Wyatt

Why does not the Minister now abandon the Swift instead of trying to turn it into a wholly unjustifiably expensive fighter aircraft to be used only against ground targets?

Mr. Macmillan

While not wishing to interrupt any debate between the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Front Bench, I think we had better leave this rather technical subject for detailed discussion in the course of the forthcoming debate.