HC Deb 21 January 1959 vol 598 cc188-90
24. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Air what is his estimate of the cost of the new supersonic bomber TSR2; and when it is likely to be in operational service.

26. Mr. G. Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Air approximately when the new strike/reconnaissance aircraft being developed for the Royal Air Force is expected to be ready for service; what will be its approximate cost; how many will be ordered; and how its performance will compare with existing similar types of aircraft such as, for example, the United States Republic F.105.

Mr. Ward

As I explained in a written answer to the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) on 17th December, it has been decided to develop a new strike/ reconnaissance aircraft as a replacement for the Canberra. The cost will depend upon negotiations between the Ministry of Supply and the contractors. We expect the aircraft to enter service during the mid-1960s. It would not be in the public interest to give the numbers likely to be ordered.

In the reconnaissance réle the TSR2 offers advantages over the F.105 and will also be able to operate from short improvised runways which the F.105 cannot use.

Mr. Hughes

Would not the Minister give an approximate guess of what this new venture is likely to cost? Will it be thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of pounds? Can he also give us an assurance that the machine will not be obsolete before it starts to fly?

Mr. Ward

I can certainly give an assurance on that last point. On the first one, clearly it would be wrong to give any indication of cost while negotiations are going on between my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply and the manufacturers.

Mr. Brown

Whilst congratulating the Secretary of State for Air on having scored this redoubtable victory over his colleague, may I ask if he does not think it proper to tell the House in what respect this plane, when it becomes available in the mid-60's or later 60's, will be superior to planes existing today? What will be the additional performance it is expected then to have? Secondly, is it not true that before the right hon. Gentleman decided on this, he must have formed some estimate of the cost of development? Ought he not to share this information with the House, which will ultimately have to authorise the expenditure?

Mr. Ward

I do not think it is for me at this stage to do that. That must come at a later stage, when negotiations are completed with the manufacturers. If it comes at all, it should come from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply. On the first point, the advantages that this aircraft will have over existing types is a greatly improved performance at all altitudes and ability to operate from very short runways, which is essential in the réle which this aircraft is primarily to fill, which is the support of the Army in the field.

Mr. Brown

Do I take it from that cautious reply that the right hon. Gentleman has very little knowledge of what the airplane will do, when it will be available or what it will cost?