HC Deb 23 June 1965 vol 714 cc1726-30
4. Mr. Hastings

asked the Minister of Aviation whether the Phantom aircraft to be purchased from the United States of America will be overhauled in this country.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Hastings

The House will be glad to hear what the Minister says. Is this absolutely firm and is there any question at all of any American firm getting work for checks on these aircraft?

Mr. Jenkins

The answer to the first part is "Yes" and to the second part "No".

21. Mr. Farr

asked the Minister of Aviation the latest estimated cost of each Phantom aircraft on order; and how this compares with the original estimate.

25. Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

asked the Minister of Aviation what escalation there has been in the estimates for the United States Phantom aircraft since these were ordered first for the Royal Navy and secondly for the Royal Air Force; what is the total increase in cost; and what steps are being taken to make sure that there is no escalation on the option taken to buy F111 Mark II.

47. Mr. Goodhew

asked the Minister of Aviation the present estimated cost of the Phantom aircraft ordered for the Royal Air Force; and how this compares with the original estimate.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

As the House knows it is not the practice to disclose actual figures, but there have been some increases in the estimated costs for each version since the original decisions were taken. These increases have been due mainly to additional costs of meeting our special design requirements and of the supply of British engines and equipment.

As regards any possible escalation on the F111 Mark II this, if it occurred, would be a factor to be taken into account in deciding whether to exercise the option.

Mr. Farr

Although I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed reply, may I ask whether there is not a danger that the cost of this aircraft may well exceed what it would have cost the British aircraft industry to produce an equivalent aircraft? Furthermore, in view of the fact that, thanks to the efforts of the Government, our own aircraft industry is now largely dismantled, even if the costs were to be doubled again we should surely have no alternative but to purchase this aircraft.

Mr. Jenkins

No, Sir. There is no question whatever of the costs exceeding the comparable level. A powerful factor was the time scale. I must, however, point out that the increased costs are arising to much the greatest extent from our determination to install British engines and equipment in these aircraft.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Would not the Minister agree that as the F111 Mark II is still not a positive project, nor has it been ordered, it would have been wise to keep the TSR2 running, and certainly flying, so that he would be in a position to negotiate a hard bargain at a fixed price with his American competitors for this aircraft? Has not the right hon. Gentleman weakened our whole negotiating position by not only abolishing the TSR2 and preventing it from flying, but destroying both the tools and the jigs and thus destroying this aircraft for good and all?

Mr. Jenkins

No, Sir. I do not believe for a moment that it would have been right to have postponed a decision and gone on at the very high rate of cost of keeping the TSR2 problem going. The trouble with the TSR2 was that the decision was postponed for far too long as it was.

Mr. Edelman

Is it not the case that despite the Minister's desire, confirmed by his Ministry to the aircraft industry on 28th April, 1965, that British equipment should be put in the Phantoms, the Americans are showing great reluctance to buy British equipment, and where they show keenness to do so, they are charged the exorbitant royalty of 10 per cent. for British equipment? Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to encourage the Americans to buy British equipment, which will give employment to British aircraft workers?

Mr. Jenkins

We are not finding these difficulties. Our information does not bear out what my hon. Friend has told us. There are considerable difficulties associated with time scale and cost, and we are doing our best to overcome these.

Mr. Maude

With regard to the Phantoms, can the Minister give us any idea whether the increase in costs above the original estimate arises largely in respect of expenditure with British firms over here fitting British engines, or whether it is due to increases in dollar costs owing to the American modification of the airframe?

Mr. Jenkins

I should not like to give an exact breakdown, but it is known that the greater part of this is likely to arise from expenditure in this country.

Mr. Shinwell

In the interests of British prestige and of the British aircraft industry, will my right hon. Friend repudiate emphatically the statement made by the hon. Gentleman that the British aircraft industry is being dismantled?

Mr. Jenkins

Yes, Sir, most certainly. One has got so used to these statements that it hardly seems worth while contradicting them, but I do so most heartily.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

In view of the very unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment.

22. Mr. Chichester-Clark

asked the Minister of Aviation which firm or firms have been awarded the contract for the conversion work on Phantom II.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

The aircraft are being built to our requirements by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation and the question of a contract for conversion does not arise.

Mr. McMaster

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the contract for maintaining and servicing these aircraft will be placed in this country, and in placing it will he consider the needs of Short Bros. and Harland?

Mr. Jenkins

The contract will be placed in this country and I shall bear in mind the interests of Short Bros. and Harland. I cannot go further than that.

Sir J. Eden

Is it not a fact that conversion work will have to take place to fit the reconnaissance parts to the Phantom aircraft to provide the Royal Air Force with an effective reconnaissance aircraft which will be denied to it unless a replacement is decided on for the TSR2?

Mr. Jenkins

It is not conversion work in the proper sense. The reconnaisance parts will be fitted on the assembly line.