HC Deb 15 February 1965 vol 706 cc823-5
11. Mr. Gresham Cooke

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what estimate he has made of the dollar cost involved over the next five years in substituting United States aircraft for the TSR2.

19. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the latest estimate of the total cost of the TSR2 project; how this compares with the original figure; and whether the current estimate is likely to be the final total cost.

Mr. Healey

I have nothing to add to what was said in the debates on 2nd and 9th February, 1965, by my right hon. Friends, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Aviation, and by myself.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Should not Parliament have before it now this estimate of the possible substitution of the TFX for the TSR2? Does this mean that we are to be taken by surprise by reading on the tapes one day that 750 million dollars have been spent on American planes? Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will first tell Parliament the figure before any contract is entered into?

Mr. Healey

I can assure the House that when the Government finally take their decision on this matter they will do so in the light of all the best facts we can obtain as to the prices of the alternative aircraft. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the House will not be surprised as it was when the previous Government reversed the whole of their strategic policy when the House of Commons was not sitting and signed the Nassau Agreement.

Mr. Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that hon. Members on this side of the House were appalled when it was said that the cost of the TSR2 would be no less than £750 million before the aircraft was in squadron service? Will he accept an assurance from this side of the House that he will receive almost unanimous support from this side if he gets this expensive albatross from round our necks?

Mr. Healey

I can assure the House that we have not the slightest intention of entering into a contract on this matter except on the basis of fixed prices with guarantees and penalty clauses written into any contracts which are placed. This follows the appalling experience of the previous Government.

Mr. Thorneyeroft

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the Prime Minister fixed the figure of £250 million as the saving on this deal? Can the right hon. Gentleman explain how this can be done when the TFX Mark II is still only on the drawing board and when it is known that costs are escalating and that the weight is growing, which may gravely affect operational performance? Can we be assured that we will have far more information on this than he has given us on any of the other aircraft which he has scrubbed?

Mr. Healey

The estimate of a saving of £250 million was based on the best estimate we could get of the costs of the TSR2 and the TFX several weeks ago, but, as has been stated in the House many times, it is not possible at this moment to give sufficiently accurate estimates of the cost of either aircraft for Her Majesty's Government to take a decision.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is my right hon. Friend aware that on this side of the House there are many hon. Members who, unlike hon. Members opposite, hope that the Government will not indulge in this fantastic expenditure on the TSR2, or on an American substitute, but instead will devote the money to industry and to our social service programme?

Mr. Healey

I think that the great majority of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House are genuinely concerned that our Forces should have the weapons they need at a reasonable cost and at the time they need them. These are certainly the considerations which will motivate any recommendations which I make to Her Majesty's Government in this respect.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Is it not true that the figure of £250 million has turned out to be very doubtful? Was it not based on the fact that the right hon. Gentleman was comparing the TSR2 and its very advanced electronics, or "avionics", as the right hon. Gentleman put it the other day, with the TFX Mark I, and that when the TFX Mark II comes along, if it is ever ordered, it is likely to cost £2½ million or £3 million each and that the saving will be negligible if a switch is made from British to American aircraft?

Mr. Healey

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. The estimate was made on the basis of comparing what facts we could gather about the cost of the TSR2 with the cost of the TFX Mark II, as it is sometimes called. I should point out to the House that the so-called TFX Mark 11, if the Americans decide to develop it, will be not a different type of aircraft, but the TFX Mark I with an improved nay./attack fit.