HC Deb 01 March 1967 vol 742 cc504-6
45. Mr. Mayhew

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many F111 aircraft Her Majesty's Government propose to purchase.

Mr. Healey

I would refer my hon. Friend to paragraph 10 of Chapter III of Part I of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1966.

Mr. Mayhew

Would it be necessary to purchase as many as 50 F111Ks and 100 A.F.V.G.'s were it not for the Government's insistence on remaining east of Suez in the 1970s?

Mr. Healey

I cannot conceive of fewer than 50 F111Ks as being a replacement for the Canberras when they are phased out in a few years' time. Since my right hon. Friend supports a British presence in Australia for the defence of Australia, he must admit that, just as the Australian Government believe that the F111K is essential for its defence, so the British Government, in a similar situation, would be likely to take the same view.

Mr. Hastings

Apart from the tactical use of the aircraft and its requirement in future, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House anything about maintenance hours? For instance, how many hours maintenance are likely to be required per flying hour compared with other aircraft in R.A.F. service? I know that this is a difficult question to answer on the spur of the moment, but can the right hon. Gentleman tell us anything, as rumour has it that this will be an extraordinarily high commitment?

Mr. Healey

That is a totally different question, which was, I believe, answered yesterday. Certainly, the hon. Gentleman can raise it in the debate on the R.A.F. Estimates next week. But the maintenance costs of the F111K will be very much lower than those estimated for the TSR2.

Mr. Edelman

Is it not the case that the efficiency of this aircraft is at present under investigation by a United States Senate Committee? In those circumstances, will my right hon. Friend delay taking up his option for 40 more until the Committee has reported?

Mr. Healey

A party from the R.A.F. and the Ministry of Aviation which went to the factory recently and to Washington to investigate some rumours which had been passed came back satisfied that the aircraft was likely to meet all the requirement needs of the R.A.F.

Mr. Kershaw

Is it, then, at the request of the Australian Government that we have bought this aircraft? How many does the right hon. Gentleman think will be operational in about 1974?

Mr. Healey

It is not at the request of the Australian Government that we have bought this aircraft. I was pointing out to my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) that if he wants us—as he says he does—to have a presence in Australia to take part in its defence, we should be likely to require these aircraft. The Government require them for a wide range of purposes, which I described in detail in my winding-up speech last night.

Mr. Michael Foot

Would it be one of the requirements of these aircraft that they shall carry nuclear weapons, and, if so, where?

Mr. Healey

The rôle of this type of aircraft is as a tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft, carrying conventional weapons.

Mr. Peyton

I had almost abandoned hope, Mr. Speaker. When are we likely to have to pay the bill for these aircraft and by how much will the bill have increased?

Mr. Healey

We have started paying a very small amount of the bill. The bill, as the House has been told many times, is spread over 12 years. The total cost of the three aircraft from the United States and the P1127 over 10 years, compared with the total cost of the previous Government's programme, is £1,200 million less.

Mr. Paget

Would my right hon. Friend tell us what one will find on page so-and-so, paragraph so-and-so of Command Paper so-and-so? In other words, how many of these are we going to buy?

Mr. Healey

My hon. and learned Friend, who I thought was a serious student of these matters, will know that we propose to buy 50 of these aircraft.