HC Deb 09 February 1998 vol 306 cc13-4
11. Mrs. Lait

When the RAF expects to take delivery of its first operational Eurofighter. [26105]

Mr. George Robertson

The first Eurofighter aircraft is scheduled for delivery to the Royal Air Force in June 2002.

Mrs. Lait

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer, which will be a great relief to the RAF—at long last it is to get the Eurofighter. Does he agree that some of the delay has been due to the inefficient and old-fashioned ways of designing the plane that were built into the contract? Can he assure me that such contracts with our European partners will in future be let more effectively and efficiently, using modern company organisational techniques?

Mr. Robertson

I am glad of the hon. Lady's welcome for Eurofighter. It took only eight months for this Government to sign the Eurofighter contract, thereby safeguarding 14,000 jobs and the RAF's capability. It took the previous Government 15 years to get to the point at which we took over, so most of the relief was felt on 1 May last year.

The hon. Lady rightly speaks of some of the problems associated with multinational enterprises developing this sort of equipment. The record is not all that bad. Since 1986, when the full development phase began, costs have increased by a little more than £1 billion—bearing in mind the fact that the aircraft's role had to be reassessed in the light of the ending of the cold war. This has not been one of those tales of misery to which we have grown used.

Secondly, we have learnt some of the lessons. The first decision on Eurofighter was taken in 1982 and the plane will be delivered in 2002. That is clearly intolerable for an equipment project of this kind. It is one of the aspects with which we are getting to grips in the strategic defence review.

Thirdly, apart from the United States, nations on their own will probably never again be able to design a single-purpose piece of equipment such as this for their own needs, so there must be—especially European—co-operation for the future. We also have development projects with the United States. We must ensure that development phases are shorter and prices are lower; we must be more successful than in the past.

Mr. Borrow

Are not the workers at British Aerospace in Lancashire who have worked so hard on the project to be congratulated? Does my right hon. Friend remember, as I do, the comments of Conservative Members 12 months ago, before the election, who claimed that a Labour Government would not go ahead with the Eurofighter project? Does not the fact that the contract has been signed show that the British people can rely on Labour's defence policy?

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend is here representing a seat that is a Labour gain partly because of the record of the former Government in the north-east of England—the area which my hon. Friend represents and which will benefit so much. [HON. MEMBERS: "North-west."] Certainly, the north-west will benefit considerably from the Eurofighter project. I am extremely glad that we were able to tie up the deal and to procure for the Royal Air Force the agile, multi-role aircraft that it so desperately needs. In doing so, we have safeguarded vital British technology and vital British jobs—and the base from which my hon. Friend can look forward to a long parliamentary career.