HC Deb 24 November 1965 vol 721 cc501-3
29. Sir J. Eden

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what decision he has made concerning the purchase of the F111A; and if he will make a statement about the progress made with the Royal Air Force Phantom.

31. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what decision Las been reached on the purchase of Phantom aircraft from the United States of America.

57. Mr. Goodhew

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the replacement for the TSR2.

Mr. Healey

I have no statement to make at present about the F111A. As regards the Phantom, present plans provide for this aircraft to come into squadron service with the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force in 1968–69, and initial orders have been placed.

Sir J. Eden

Is it not now increasingly apparent, even to the present Government, that their hasty decision to cancel the TSR2 was an error of substantial magnitude? Will the Government now come forward with definite proposals about the replacement of this aircraft? Is it not clear that this and other cancellations were taken out of a desire to wreck the aircraft industry and that no proper consideration was given to the effective equipment needed by the Royal Air Force?

Mr. Healey

I think that the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question is too trivial to deserve comment. On the serious content of his question, the cancellation of TSR2 saved the country about £300 million, after all costs had been paid. The need for an aircraft of this nature is under discussion in the Defence Review. Already this afternoon I have been pressed by several right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite not to take decisions on equipment until the need is fully established in the Defence Review. This advice I propose to follow.

Mr. Goodhew

How can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what he is saving by cancelling the TSR2 when he does not even know what he is going to order in its place, or even if he is going to order? Will he take account of the fact that the R.A.F. require the Fl1lA in its place? If he is not going to downgrade the rôle of the R.A.F., will he face up to the consequences of his stupid action and pay the dollars necessary to get the R.A.F. the right aircraft?

Mr. Healey

That was a slightly incoherent question to have to answer, but, so far as I could follow it, I would say that the R.A.F. would certainly receive from this Government the aircraft which it needs to perform the tasks required of it by the nation. But until those tasks have been firmly defined I propose to follow the advice given by the Shadow Minister of Defence, who has asked me not to take equipment decisions. I have forgotten the earlier part of the Question, but if the hon. Gentleman is really concerned with an answer perhaps he would repeat it?

Mr. Powell

Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that he has undertaken to announce the Government's decision on the F111A before the end of the year?

Mr. Healey

I have told the House that the option on the F111A requires us to take it up by the end of the year.

Mr. Goodhew

The earlier part of my Question was simply how can the right hon. Gentleman say that he has made a saving on TSR2 when he does not even know what he he is going to replace it with, if anything?

Mr. Healey

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reminding me of this point. The saving of £300 million is on the assumption of a full buy of F111A. We are already clear that the buy we would require of F111A would give us a larger saving than this. If it were decided to take another or cheaper aircraft the saving would be even larger.