HC Deb 20 July 1972 vol 841 cc893-5
23. Mr. Wilkinson

asked the Minister of State for Defence whether he will make a further statement on the authorisation of project definition studies on a naval variant of the Harrier aircraft.

29. Mr. Judd

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the time-scale of the Government's plans to supply Harriers to the Navy.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Subject to satisfactory contract negotiations we intend to authorise a project definition study for a maritime VSTOL capability. This study is expected to take some months. Its purpose is solely to provide more detailed information about operational capabilities, cost and time. The decision on whether to go ahead at the end of this study will depend on these and other factors.

Mr. Wilkinson

I thank my hon. Friend for those crumbs of comfort. Even a little bit of cheer is very good where this aeroplane is concerned. Would he expedite this project definition study, because the aeroplane has already undergone seagoing trials and there is every expectation that it will make an excellent Naval aeroplane?

Mr. Gilmour

I am glad that I have given my hon. Friend some cheer. The project definition study will take some months to complete. It will naturally go ahead as quickly as possible, but we cannot speed it up.

Mr. Judd

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that doubts about the future are weighing heavily on the minds of men in the Fleet Air Arm? Would he not agree that we owe them a duty as quickly and as categorically as possible to clear up what their future is to be and how soon?

Mr. Gilmour

Of course I appreciate that the study should be completed and the issue decided as quickly as possible. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, this is a complicated and important matter and it is important to reach the right decision.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Does my hon. Friend realise that some of us are suspicious about terms like "project definition study" and think that they may be Whitehall gobbledy-gook for not wanting to spend the money at this time of the financial year? Would my hon. Friend cut the red tape and give the men of the Fleet Air Arm some confidence that their skills and expertise are to be used in future, as the hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) said?

Mr. Gilmour

I cannot do much about my hon. and gallant Friend's suspicion, but I am sure that he knows what a project definition study is. He should be pleased by the announcement. Red tape is not involved. We have all been looking carefully at this decision. Many factors are involved and we must get the decision right rather than make it quickly.

Mr. Dalyell

After all the "Ark Royal" trials of last year, why on earth should there be a project definition today?

Mr. Gilmour

Because the "Ark Royal" trials merely showed that the Harrier could be operated from an aircraft carrier. Now we have to see what alterations are needed, such as radar, in the air frame and how well they will be accommodated.

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