HC Deb 20 March 1973 vol 853 cc216-7
10. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Minister of State for Defence what are the latest cost estimates for the through-deck cruiser programme, the multi-rôle combat aircraft programme and the Sea Wolf programme, respectively.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

It is not normal practice to divulge cost estimates of individual defence projects under development.

Mr. Dalyell

Could I be allowed to have a go at the answer?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) should be seeking information, not giving it.

Mr. Dalyell

Is it not the reality that the cruisers, three of them, will cost about £75 million apiece, that the MRCA—200, I think—is not likely to be less than £400 million and that Sea Wolf itself may be over £250 million? With that order of figures, is it seriously considered wise to allow them to mature at the same time? Should not at least one of the projects be cut now?

Mr. Gilmour

Those are the hon. Gentleman's figures, not mine. [Interruption.] His right hon. Friend more or less admitted yesterday that we are following the same practice as the Labour Government. We keep expenditure on major projects under review. There is a long way to go before full development on these projects is complete. If there is any difficulty, there is opportunity for rephasing.

Mr. Wilkinson

Does my hon. Friend agree that at least the first two projects are essential for the respective Services which will receive them? Is it not irresponsible of the Opposition to fail to suggest positive ways of cutting manpower costs, which are the highest burden on the defence budget, whereas the Government have put forward proposals for the rationalisation of manpower in the Royal Air Force?

Mr. Gilmour

I should not like to comment on the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. All three items of equipment are very important.

Mr. Judd

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that all the uncertainty about the future of the through-deck cruiser will inevitably have an adverse effect on morale in the Fleet Air Arm? Does he agree that an urgent and clear decision about the future is necessary?

Mr. Gilmour

I agree that the sooner a decision is made the better. As was said in the defence debate, however, negotiations with Messrs. Vickers about the contract for the cruiser are still continuing.

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