HC Deb 21 June 1967 vol 748 cc1736-8
Mr. Dalyell

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the communication he has received from the French Government on the cancellation of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)

I have received no communication from the French Government to this effect.

Mr. Dalyell

Are we to take it that the reports today of a cancellation are being categorically denied by my right hon. Friend?

Mr. Healey

As the House knows, M. Messmer and I reached agreement on the cost, specification and work-sharing arrangements for the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft some two months ago—ad referendum to our national Governments. The French Government have not yet taken a decision, as far as I am aware, on the matter, but I am in constant communication with the French Minister of Defence on the question.

If there is any financial problem arising on the aircraft, as seemed possible a year ago, Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to consider what they can do to help the French Government in this respect; and I would hope to meet M. Messmer shortly to discuss the question.

Mr. Powell

Is the right hon. Gentleman denying that he has received from his French opposite number a disquieting communication regarding the future of this aircraft? When will the right hon. Gentleman be candid with the House about the true prospects of this aircraft which, 18 months ago, he made the core of his aircraft programme?

Mr. Healey

As I explained to the House a moment ago, I am in constant and almost daily touch with M. Messmer on this question. I have never disguised that from the House and as soon as I have a statement to make on the French position I shall make it.

I resent intensely the right hon. Gentleman's suggestions that I have not been candid with the House on this matter. It has been raised by the Opposition at Question Time and on several occasions in debates. Any difficulty which we have had over the aircraft during the last 12 months has certaintly not stemmed from Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Lubbock

Is there any truth in the report that the French intend to go ahead with their purely national variable geometry project produced by Marcel Dassault, in view of the fact that this would obviously mean that there would he less money for V.G.? If there is any financial difficulty for the French, what prospects are there of persuading the Germans to come in on the production programme of this aircraft?

Mr. Healey

As I made clear in our debate, I have no evidence that the French Government in any circumstances propose to proceed with production orders for the III G. It is a single-engined aircraft which, so far as I am aware, no air force in the world is anxious for in this rôle.

On the German question, we are in continuous communication with the German Government on this matter as well.

Mr. Robert Howarth

Following the question of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), would my right hon. Friend confirm that there are French interests who are personally opposed to the development of an Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft, who could, presumably, be the origin of these rumours?

Mr. Healey

I do not want to speculate on the origins of rumours. There are people in both countries who, for political or industrial reasons, are opposed to a successful Anglo-French collaborative project, but I think that the House as a whole—whatever individual hon. Members may feel—would strongly resist pressures imposed by such persons and interests.

Mr. Onslow

Is the right hon. Gentleman telling us that he has not received from M. Messmer a letter substantially saying what has been reported in the Press? If he has received any such letter, has he investigated how it got to the Press?

Mr. Healey

I am not responsible for reports in the Press, and nor is any other Minister, or, I hope, the hon. Gentleman. What I can say again, as I have said already, is that I have received no communication from M. Messmer to the effect which the hon. Gentleman suggests and that I have had so far no letter of any nature from him on this matter in recent days. One might be on the way, because I am in continuous contact with him, and I hope to have an early meeting with him to discuss the problem as the French Government see it.