HC Deb 06 April 1976 vol 909 cc216-7
18. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he remains satisfied with progress towards the replacement of Shackleton aircraft in the airborne early warning rôle.

28. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made towards a replacement of the Shackleton in its AEW rôle, and if he will make a statement.

Mr. William Rodgers

A project definition study of the Nimrod AEW has been undertaken by Hawker Siddeley Aviation and Marconi-Elliott and its results will be assessed during the coming months. We are also participating with other NATO countries in a definition study of the Boeing E3A, a report on which will be submitted to the spring meeting of the NATO Defence Policy Committee. Important and complex issues are involved, and I am satisfied that consideration of the possible options is proceeding as rapidly as possible.

Mr. Tebbit

In view of the limited remaining life of the Shackleton aircraft in this rôle, is the Minister satisfied that he will obtain money soon enough to purchase any suitable replacement aircraft as the Shackleton finally is grounded?

Mr. Rodgers

Yes, I am confident that money will be available. We acknowledge the fact that it is an expensive project and that the Shackleton will have to be replaced in the 1980s. We attach a high priority to this matter.

Mr. Conlan

Is the Minister aware that it is preferable that any replacement of the Shackleton for this work should be provided by British industry rather than by purchases from the United States?

Mr. Rodgers

The advantages are finely balanced, and my hon. friend rightly draws attention to one of them. We are also committed to finding a NATO solution if we can, because standardisation enables us to save on our defence budget. These are some of the considerations that we have to weigh one against the other.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Will the Minister confirm that his original answer means that no definite decision will be taken at the next NATO meeting?

Mr. Rodgers

I do not believe that any definite decision will be made until much later this year.