HC Deb 17 January 1984 vol 52 cc145-6
1. Mr. Janner

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will take steps to increase research and development in the United Kingdom on radar equipment for naval vessels.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. John Lee)

Our overall investment in naval radars in the United Kingdom, including production as well as research and development, has been increasing in real terms and will continue to do so. I am glad to say that naval radars manufactured in the United Kingdom are as good as any in the world.

However, it is the Government's policy, wherever practicable, to meet our requirements for naval radars—and, indeed, other major equipments—by competition between commercial products rather than from Ministry of Defence-funded special developments. The Ministry of Defence therefore expects to be spending less on such developments in future. However, we will continue to maintain a substantial intramural and extramural research programme in the field of naval radars.

Mr. Janner

In view of the recent success of the Sea Wolf naval points defence missile system in destroying an Exocet sea-skimming missile of the type that caused such destruction during the Falkland Islands campaign, can the Minister say whether he has any further plans for equipping the Navy with these missiles? Will he recognise the need for such orders in the Marconi plants in my constituency, which have done such marvellous work in this connection in the past and which were caused such anxiety when the naval Estimates were cut a short time ago?

Mr. Lee

The hon. and learned Gentleman is a consistent advocate of Marconi's cause, and I acknowledge that. We were delighted with the success of Sea Wolf in intercepting at maximum range an Exocet missile, which I announced in the Navy debate at the end of November. That confirms Sea Wolf's position as the best all-round point defence missile system in the world. I congratulate all the contractors involved, including British Aerospace and Marconi, on this achievement. It was announced yesterday that the Ministry of Defence had placed a second production order for Sea Wolf with radars, to be made by Marconi Radar Systems Ltd. It is a valuable order for the company. We shall continue to fit Sea Wolf to type 22 frigates on build and to the future type 23 frigates. In addition, we are examining options for improving the air defence capability of a number of in-service vessels, but no decisions have yet been taken.

Mr. Michael Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in reaching decisions on the future of naval radar, it is also important to have an early decision on surface-to-surface guided weapons? On that score, does he hold out any hope for an early decision on SSGWs and an all-British solution to that problem?

Mr. Lee

I know of my hon. Friend's continued interest in the SSGW, but he must not attempt to draw me and have me prejudge the decision. All I can say is that the decision will be taken as soon as is practicable and possible.

Mr. Conlan

In view of the ever-increasing cost of this class of work and the further need for commonality, certainly within NATO, is there not a case for collaborative agreements between ourselves and our European NATO allies?

Mr. Lee

That is a matter that we always have in mind.

Sir Antony Buck

Does not my hon. Friend's answer amount to the fact that Sea Wolf is a great success, but that it would never have come about if there had been any element of nationalisation in the firms concerned? I have in mind particularly the future of Marconi. Is it not important that the company should not have a sword of Damocles in the form of possible nationalisation hanging over it?

Mr. Lee

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his question. We seek maximum competition in MOD procurement.

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