HC Deb 20 July 1993 vol 229 cc180-2
3. Mr. Waterson

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the effect of the proposals in his White Paper, Cm 2270, on the Eurofighter 2000 project; and if he will make a statement.

12. Mr. Heald

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the implications of his White Paper, Cm 2270, for the Eurofighter 2000 project; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

The White Paper reaffirms our commitment to the Eurofighter 2000 project, which will be the cornerstone of the RAF's capability in the future.

Mr. Waterson

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that statement will be welcomed not only by the RAF, but by my constituents in Eastbourne who work for Computing Devices, a company which has won orders worth £20 million for the project? Will he reassure the House that production work on the project will be allocated between the partner countries on the basis of the number of aircraft ordered?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, I can confirm to my hon. Friend that the project provides valuable work in his constituency and in the constituencies of many hon. Members around the country. I can also confirm that, when we come to the production stage, the precise aircraft number requirements of the various participating countries will be taken into account.

Mr. Morgan

Does the Secretary of State agree that lessons must be learnt on how to look after the Eurofighter 2000 from the appalling fiasco involving the recent modification work that was carried out on the Tornado F3 —the Eurofighter's predecessor—by Airworks at RAF St. Athan? Will he confirm that the damage was discovered by aircraft technicians at RAF Leeming only as a squadron of Tornadoes was preparing to fly to Bosnia?

Will the Secretary of State further confirm that the technicians became aware of the huge quantities of aircraft Polyfilla known as Thiokol that had been used to cover up the damage when they took down the undercarriage just before the aircraft were to fly? Did that give a possible risk of the aircraft crashing in Bosnia?

Mr. Rifkind

The important point which the hon. Gentleman failed to mention was that the defects in the workmanship were discovered in the normal and proper way by the RAF. As a consequence, there was no risk to RAF personnel, and the work required to correct the defects is being undertaken.

Mr. Quentin Davies

In view of the volatile international scene and the near-certainty that substantial nuclear proliferation will occur over the next few years —not only in the CIS but through north Africa and the near east—does my right hon. and learned Friend think that it would be wise to provide an effective dual-purpose tactical air-to-surface missile system for the Eurofighter 2000?

Has my right hon. and learned Friend considered that system? Will he tell the House what the approximate cost would be for such a system, which could have a possible range of 500 miles?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to the fact that proliferation could occur during the years that the Eurofighter may be in operation. That proliferation may not only be of nuclear weapons, but of other weapons of mass destruction. It is appropriate to consider that the Eurofighter should have proper equipment. The precise details of the equipment are being worked on. I acknowledge the relevance of the point made by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Lewis

In view of the scandal that surrounds the Airworks F3 fiasco, will the Secretary of State consider for a moment putting the rest of market testing on hold?

Mr. Rifkind

The incident to which the hon. Gentleman refers has nothing to do with market testing, which has already produced savings of tens of millions of pounds for the RAF. Those savings enable them to carry out their responsibilities in an even more effective fashion.

I understand why the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are hostile to the private sector making a full contribution to the United Kingdom's defence needs, but the hon. Gentleman does a great disservice to the RAF and to its interests.

Mr. Brazier

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that for EFA to do its job it must indeed have the right weapon for the sort of threats that we are likely to face in the next few years? Many countires are trying to acquire nuclear technology—some of them already have delivery systems. What studies will he instigate, as there was a complete absence of discussion of nuclear proliferation in the White Paper, to look into nuclear proliferation, so that these issues may be debated in the House?

Mr. Rifkind

As my hon. Friend is aware, nuclear proliferation is particularly relevant to the work being undertaken on the sub-strategic nuclear weapon and to any future for the WE177 freefall bomb. That work is now at an advanced stage and I would expect to report to the House on conclusions about the sub-strategic nuclear dimension in the relatively near future.