HC Deb 10 July 1979 vol 970 cc239-41
3. Mr. Churchill

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans Her Majesty's Government have for increasing the size and numbers of fighter squadrons available to the Royal Air Force for the air defence of the United Kingdom.

6. Mr. Alan Clark

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the current state of air defences; and when he expects to be able to make a statement.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force, (Mr. Geoffrey Pattie)

The Government have made plain their resolve to strengthen the nation's defences, and I can assure my hon. Friends that improvements to our air defences are very high on the list of priorities. As I indicated during the Adjournment debate on 15 June, the Air Staff are currently studying ways and means of making much needed improvements. My hon. Friends will know of the importance that the Government attach to air defence and will, I am sure, understand our desire to achieve the right solution to the considerable air defence problems that we have inherited. I hope to make a further statement soon.

Mr. Churchill

My hon. Friend's words will be much appreciated on the Government Benches and by the Royal Air Force. Will he accept that one of the earliest actions that could be taken would be the arming of the Hawk trainer force with Sidewinder? Is my hon. Friend fur- ther aware that it is unacceptable that the Royal Air Force should have to wait until the second half of the 1980s for a new generation of fighter aircraft to replace the 70 or so Phantoms and Lightnings, which represent the technology of the 1950s? Will he give urgent consideration to the possibility of the purchase of a big wing of F-14 or F-15 aircraft, which would provide the necessary protection?

Mr. Pattie

My hon. Friend is accurately giving a résumé of the several options that we are considering. I assure him that these options will be examined with appropriate urgency.

Mr. Clark

Does my hon. Friend agree that time is of the essence and that the longer he and his right hon. Friend delay in filling this gap the greater is the likelihood that we shall be stampeded into buying obsolescent American equipment? Does not my hon. Friend agree that, whatever short-term measures may be required, his strategic objective should be to found the rebuilding of our air defences on aircraft and missiles designed and built as far as possible within the United Kingdom?

Mr. Pattie

I support my hon. Friend's last point. We should endeavour to supply our air defence requirements from within our own, or from within European, industrial capability. I said in my original answer that I hoped to make a further statement soon. I hope my hon. Friend does not feel that we are dragging our feet.

Mr. Stan Thorne

Will the Minister enlighten the House about the Government's plans for selling off British Aerospace factories in Preston to private enterprise?

Mr. Pattie

I hardly feel that that issue comes within the ambit of this question.

Mr. Kershaw

Will my hon. Friend do what he can to press on with the hardening of our radar defences, and will be also bear in mind that ground defence weapons, especially in the West, are a quick way of filling a gap?

Mr. Pattie

I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend says.

Mr. Flannery

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the massive cuts, right across the board, that are about to reduce our schools to a difficult position are not consonant with a colossal increase in armaments? Will he enlighten the House on how soon he expects the Russians to attack? Should we not all run for cover right now because, obviously, we are all in great danger from the American miscalculation known as Skylab?

Mr. Pattie

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to appreciate that in the modern world the capability of the Warsaw Pact to threaten, through military blackmail, to achieve what it wishes is perfectly possible. Therefore, it is not necessarily for the hon. Gentleman to say when we might receive an invasion. The possibility of blackmail remains.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call the next question, I must appeal for supplementary questions to be briefer.