HC Deb 21 February 1978 vol 944 cc1190-1
3. Mr. David Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he remains satisfied with the operational state of Chieftain tanks with BAOR.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Robert C. Brown)

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Mitchell

Does the Minister deny that these tanks are having to be can-nibalised to keep them going? How does he reconcile that fact with the assurance he has just given? Is he the only person who is not aware how serious the situation is?

Mr. Brown

Yes, Sir, I do deny it. There is no question of any shortage of spare parts at present. The hon. Gentleman unfortunately appears to be suffering from that dreaded malady from which a good number of British people are suffering—namely, self-denigration.

Mr. MacFarquhar

Is not the Chieftain tank under-powered?

Mr. Brown

The continuing programme of modification to improve the reliability of the L60 engine is going well. The mileage achieved is of the same order as that of other NATO tanks. I am not aware of any members of the German, French or United States Administrations who have criticised their tanks in the way that our hon. Members seem to do.

Mr. Churchill

Is the Minister aware that the average for most of our Chieftain tanks is well under 1,000 miles per failure of engine? That is substantially lower than the rate of our allies and is about one-quarter of the mileage achieved by the engines that we are supplying to the Shah of Iran. Why must the Rhine Army always take second place?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman is again, as is frequently the case, ill-informed, because it is not true that engine failure rates occur at well under 1,000 miles. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the figure?"] They compare favourably with our allies.

Mr. Litterick

Will my hon. Friend say how effective is the operational range of the Chieftain tank compared with the Russian T72?

Mr. Brown

That question is under consideration at present. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but until now we have always been well ahead of anything in the Warsaw Pact countries in terms of fire power.

Mr. Goodhart

Is the Minister aware that, if the Chieftain tank is to be effective on the battlefield, it has got to get there? Many of the tank conveyors are older than their drivers, and some conveyors have travelled more than 250,000 miles. When will these tank conveyors be replaced?

Mr. Brown

It is true that the tank transporters are now getting towards the end of their normal life, but they are being reworked all the time. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have no doubt at all that, should the need arise, our tanks will be in the right place at the right time.