HC Deb 09 March 1976 vol 907 cc237-8
12. Mr. Pattie

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will confirm that no cut is envisaged in the multi-role combat aircraft programme.

Mr. William Rodgers


Mr. Pattie

I welcome that reply. Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that now that the French are members of the European Procurement Group. Her Majesty's Government will be discussing with them their possible participation in the MRCA programme?

Mr. Rodgers

It is probably too late for the French to participate in the programme, advanced as it is. Obviously, if they wanted to buy the aircraft they would be on to a very good thing.

Mr. Whithead

Will my right hon. Friend now confirm that there is no possibility of any of the three countries which manufacture this aircraft buying the American F15 fighter?

Mr. Rodgers

I cannot speak for the Italians or the Germans, but speaking for this Government the answer is "No".

Mr. Wigley

In view of the military doubts cast upon the programme recently, and the enormous magnitude of it, does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it would have been a good item to cut back in terms of public expenditure, thereby ensuring the continuance of expenditure on housing, education and health at the original intended levels?

Mr. Rodgers

No, I do not. That is a very irresponsible approach on public expenditure cuts. If the hon. Gentleman believes that we can cut out MRCA he must tell us how he believes Britain's air defence can be better managed. In our view this is the best aircaft to perform the functions required of it, and it is a good investment for the future of this country.

Mr. Roper

Will my right hon. Friend now place in the Library the results of his review, which show that the air defence variant is better for our defence, both over the North Sea and in Germany, than any other aircraft?

Mr. Rodgers

I am not sure that the documents which we might have would be entirely suitable for placing in the Library. I know that the Expenditure Committee, of which my hon. Friend is a distinguished member, has it in mind to look further at the proposals for the MRCA air defence variant, and I would welcome that.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the right hon. Gentleman venture an opinion at the Box as to the relative merits in the air defence role of the MRCA and the American rivals, such as the F14 and F15, to put the situation plainly?

Mr. Rodgers

I prefer not to venture an opinion but to say what I know. The ADV version most nearly meets the requirements of the RAF and it is the best available at the price which, bearing everything in mind, is cheaper than any of the alternatives which might be offered.

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