HC Deb 09 November 1976 vol 919 cc199-201
10. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the latest estimated cost of one multi-rôle combat aircraft.

Dr. Gilbert

The estimated unit production costs at the economic conditions and exchange rates applying to the 1977–78 Estimates are £6.34 million for the common strike version and £7.72 million for the air defence variant.

Mr. Canavan

How many of these aircraft are to be eventually delivered? What possible justification is there for such extravagant and rising expenditure on such lethal instruments, particularly at a time when the Government are cutting back on essential expenditure on education, housing, health, social work and food subsidies?

Dr. Gilbert

The total number of aircraft contemplated for provision to the air forces of Italy, the Federal Republic of Germany and the United Kingdom is 809.

My hon. Friend is quite light in saying that there has been a substantial increase in cost, but it amounts to only about 40 per cent. in real terms. Considering that the development has taken place over a period of seven years, and relates to an extremely sophisticated piece of equipment, the figure is really relatively low for a project of this complexity.

Mr. Pattie

Will the Minister confirm that the substance known as titanium sponge which goes into the MRCA is being purchased from the Soviet Union, on the ground that it is actually cheaper to obtain it there than from a manufacturer in Britain? Is this not a ridiculous state of affairs?

Dr. Gilbert

I do not know whether it is ridiculous for the Germans to be buying it or for the Russians to be supplying it, but I can confirm what the hon. Gentleman says. It is being bought not for parts manufactured in this country but for parts manufactured in the Federal Republic of Germany.

I ought, Mr. Speaker, to correct an answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) the other day. I unwittingly misled him when I said that about 35 per cent. of the titanium was coming from these sources. It is of the order of 50 per cent.

Mr. Watt

As long as we are talking about the economics of operating aircraft, does the Minister agree that to use Nimrod for the purpose of the surveillance of fishing limits is a bit wasteful? Should not the Minister be ordering Jetstream aircraft from Scottish Aviation Ltd., so that people may be kept in their jobs?

Dr. Gilbert

This is a proposal that has not been put to me before. I shall be happy to look at it, as the hon. Gentleman has raised it, but it runs a little wide of the original Question.

Mr. Dalyell

If there were to be a separate Scottish air force, who exactly would do the servicing of the Nimrod squadron, based at Lossiemouth?

Dr. Gilbert

That is a question with which I am glad that I have yet to wrestle. I do not propose to tax my poor mind with it at this stage.