HC Deb 20 January 1981 vol 997 cc134-5
2. Mr. Robert Atkins

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the current position on the future of the European combat aircraft; and if he will make a statement.

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

Our studies are continuing. A further report on the possibility of collaboration with France and Germany is due in the spring of this year.

Mr. Atkins

Is my hon. Friend aware that the successful production of the European combat aircraft, or something similar, is vital to maintaining the world-beating industrial base that we have in the United Kingdom, let alone the strategic need for a replacement for the Jaguar in due course?

Mr. Pattie

The important word is "similar". As I said in my original answer, the discussions on the project are continuing. It is extremely important that the British aerospace industry has an advance programme on which to work in due course, as I am sure that it will.

Mr. John

Will the hon. Gentleman be honest and say that this is one of a number of potential casualties arising out of the decision to acquire Trident? Does he accept that hon. Members who, for constituency reasons, laud the efforts of the British aerospace industry, cannot complain, because they have publicly defended the decision to acquire Trident?

Mr. Pattie

The future of the ECA project has nothing to do with the Trident decision. Any difficulties that the project might have are due to different operational perceptions and different industrial capability.

Mr. Wilkinson

Does my hon. Friend agree, in view of the continuing improvement in the capabilitites of the Warsaw Pact air forces, that it is essential for the Royal Air Force to acquire a new tactical combat aircraft at the earliest possible date? If it is impossible to procure such an aeroplane collaboratively, will my hon. Friend examine projects designed by British Aerospace to meet RAF requirements?

Mr. Pattie

The Royal Air Force's endeavour and interest is always to examine closely anything that British Aerospace is doing. Of course it will do that.