HC Deb 20 November 1973 vol 864 cc1105-7
4. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the proposed maritime version of the HS Harrier.

25. Mr. Edelman

asked the Minister of State for Defence when he proposes to make a decision in connection with ordering the Royal Navy version of the Harrier aircraft.

30. Mr. Wilkinson

asked the Minister of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the proposed Royal Navy version of the Harrier aircraft.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

As my right hon. and noble Friend said in another place on 14th November, the priority to be given to this project has yet to be determined in relation to the future defence programme as a whole. A statement will be made as soon as a decision has been taken. Meanwhile design work is continuing.—[House of Lords, Vol. 346, c. 638–9.]

Mr. Tebbit

Will my right hon. Friend say whether it is true that a sum of about £10 million in total is involved in bringing the airframe, radar and engine up to the required standard? Will he take note of the fact that there are difficulties with export sales of military systems if part of a system is supplied by a foreign country? Could we have everything on this one British if at all possible?

Mr. Gilmour

We do not normally give exact figures of costs of particular weapons. Of course we encourage any foreign buyers to buy all British, and this is probably more efficient. But if purchasers are particularly anxious to have part of the equipment taken from someone else we are not able to refuse them.

Mr. Edelman

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the relatively low productivity of the British aircraft industry is in great measure due to the delays of the Government in placing orders? In the circumstances, in the interests both of national defence and of the industry, can the right hon. Gentleman now give a firm decision so that men will not be standing about idle waiting for work which is yet to come?

Mr. Gilmour

I cannot accept the general premise upon which the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is based, nor the particular premise. I do not believe that men are standing idly by awaiting our decision on this aircraft.

Mr. Wilkinson

I remind my right hon. Friend that on 23rd July he told me that a decision on this project would be announced in about two months' time but that four months has now elapsed and no decision has been made. Does he not agree that it is very important to order the naval variant of the Harrier if the Royal Navy is to have its own integral air defence and long-range strike/reconnaissance aircraft after the "Ark Royal" goes out of service?

Mr. Gilmour

I agree that I have not kept the two months' deadline but I hope that an announcement will not be long delayed. Of course this is an important and useful aircraft for the Royal Navy, but as I have said on a number of occasions, we have to weigh this requirement against competing requirements.

Mr. Judd

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government have postponed over and over again a final decision on this matter and that this is having very worrying effects on the morale of the Fleet Air Arm about its future rôle? When can we hope to have a definitive statement in the interests of the effectiveness of the Service?

Mr. Gilmour

I agree that a decision has been postponed but I cannot agree that morale has been affected. The hon. Gentleman will be the first to agree that he himself is in a slightly difficult position on this equipment, because under the Labour Party's policy there could be no question of its being ordered.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it is grotesque of the Government to continue to pay lip service to any policy to protect our trade routes overseas unless they are decisive and make this aircraft available for use at sea?

Mr. Gilmour

I do not accept that. It would be a very useful aircraft, but there are many other competing demands on the defence budget.

Mr. Hardy

To what extent are bird strikes a particular hazard to low flying in coastal waters? Is this a reason for the appalling delay?

Mr. Gilmour

No, Sir.

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