HC Deb 30 April 1991 vol 190 cc155-6
5. Mr. Dykes

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the latest developments for the European fighter aircraft project.

Mr. Alan Clark

The European fighter aircraft development programme proceeds with the full support of all four partner nations. Work is progressing well on the prototype aircraft, the first of which is scheduled to fly in spring next year. Of the 285 airframe equipments, 235 have been selected on a competitive basis. The development of the engine is also proceeding satisfactorily.

Mr. Dykes

I thank the Minister for that reply and reassure him that, unlike the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), I shall not use the question to raise matters about the Tornado. I shall concentrate on the EFA. Subject to what my right hon. Friend may say in Thursday's debate, does he agree that the project is on course, that there is no question of the main partners withdrawing and that no fundamental problems remain with ancillary and related equipment?

Mr. Clark

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. As he rightly said, this will probably be a subject on which further discussion will take place in Thursday's debate.

Mr. Strang

Is the Minister aware that, to some extent, his answer is a vindication of the Government's stand on GEC-Ferranti? As time goes on, the Royal Air Force's case for this plane becomes stronger, not weaker. Is not it fair to say that although a decision on ordering the plane will not be taken for some years, we should not assume that we need all the partners on board to make it a success, although that is the favoured option?

Mr. Clark

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's remarks and for his support in the trying period when we were attempting to put together the GEC-Ferranti deal, with the concept of the EFA radar in the forefront of our minds. With one exception, whom I do not see in the Chamber, all Opposition Members who had a constituency interest were supportive and that played a significant role. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments about proceeding even if all the other partners drop out. That would certainly be my instinct, but there is no denying that it would be extremely expensive. I do not think, I am glad to say, that there is any prospect of that having to be considered.