HC Deb 06 May 1970 vol 801 cc380-2
3. Mr. Onslow

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will now make a further statement on the progress of the multi-rôle combat aircraft project.

5. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a further statement on the multi-rôle combat aircraft proposal.

24. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a further statement about the multi-rôle combat aircraft project.

Mr. Healey

We are examining with our partners the results of the project definition study which has just ended. I hope to be in a position to make a statement in a few weeks' time.

Mr. Onslow

When shall we be told how much it will all cost?

Mr. Healey

I am consulting the other Governments concerned about the release of information. I appreciate the desire of the House to have more facts on both numbers and costs than it has been possible to give so far. Until agreement has been reached on proceeding to the development stage, some of the consequences of recent German decisions have been dealt with, and I have received the agreement of my partners to give further information, I am unable to give it.

Mr. Marten

If the Germans are reducing their orders to 400, and we are uplifting ours to 400, as the Germans have not designed a combat aircraft for 25 years is not this the appropriate moment for Britain to reconsider whether we should not have industrial leadership in this project?

Mr. Healey

Inevitably, the arrangements for work sharing of the project are complicated by the German decision to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, and this is one of the matters now under negotiation.

Mr. Allaun

Is it proper for the Minister to deny month after month to the House and to the taxpayer even an approximate estimate of this expenditure, which must run into hundreds of millions of pounds?

Mr. Healey

It is not a question of denying information. The point is to get the agreement of my partners, the other two Governments concerned, to the publication of figures which will not even be known until agreement on the form of the development phase has finally been determined. I would be very much under criticism if I gave the House figures which had no basis in fact.

Mr. Rippon

We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the assurance that he will make a full statement about the position as soon as possible. Could he say what is the attitude of other Governments, including the Italian Government, to the project? We are grateful that he has shown an awareness of the anxieties about this project. Have the Government any contingency plans for the production of alternative aircraft if these negotiations should break down?

Mr. Healey

There is no question whatever of negotiations breaking down. Indeed, we are now in the final stages of reaching agreement on proceedings to the development phase. On the question about the Italian Government, since the Germans decided not to order the single-seater version of the aircraft, the Italians have also decided not to order that particular aircraft since they would have been the only country wanting a single-seater version. They have not yet decided their attitude on the two-seater version.

Mr. Robert Howarth

Could my right hon. Friend say what will be the in-service date of this aircraft? Is he hopeful that there will be export sales to third countries?

Mr. Healey

On the first question, that is one of the matters on which I want to consult my partners before giving information. On the second question, I believe that this aircraft will be unique in the world when produced because there will be no aircraft with this type of capability, particularly in short field performance, at anything like the price at which this will be available.

An Han. Member

What about TSR2?

Mr. Healey

That would be much more expensive.