HC Deb 13 December 1999 vol 341 cc16-8
14. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

What recent discussions he has had with his European counterparts regarding expenditure on the Eurofighter. [100966]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

I meet regularly with my European counterparts for discussions on a wide range of defence issues, including Eurofighter. Recent discussions have focused on the excellence of the aircraft and its importance for European defence industry, rather than on expenditure.

Miss McIntosh

I wonder whether the Secretary of State could put my mind at rest on whether our European partners are paying their fair share of Eurofighter. Is he minded to indicate where the Eurofighter might be located? What steps will he take to inform residents who live near the respective RAF stations of what the implications will be for them?

Mr. Hoon

Eurofighter is a superb aircraft. It is the product of European co-operation. It is well on course to enter service as the RAF's front-line fighter for the new millennium. I am delighted to be able to announce that Coningsby in Lincolnshire, Leeming in North Yorkshire and Leuchars in Fife, with their proud history of RAF service dating back to the beginning of the second world war, have been chosen as Eurofighter's operational bases. I am sure that that announcement, which I hope will be communicated to all those with constituency interests in due course, will be welcomed by all the people associated with those bases, whether they are in the RAF, or part of the local communities.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

The Secretary of State's announcement will be welcomed throughout the Royal Air Force. It is particularly welcome to those of us who have supported Eurofighter—or Typhoon as we must learn to call it—in the House of Commons, not least when we remember that one of the right hon. Gentleman's Conservative predecessors practically undermined the whole programme by trying to lease F16s from the United States. Will he tell us in a little more detail the programme for withdrawal of the Tornado F3 and the Jaguar aircraft? When does he anticipate the last of the 232 Eurofighters will be deployed?

Mr. Hoon

As I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows—I thank him for his good wishes—we expect the first Eurofighter to be delivered to the RAF in mid-2002. There will then be a consistent and steady deployment programme, allocating Eurofighters, as they are constructed, to the different air forces that have ordered them. Therefore—if the right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me—I shall not be too specific about the final in-service and replacement dates. Clearly, however, the Eurofighter is a huge success for European co-operation, and I hope that that lesson will not be lost on Conservative Members.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)

Will the right hon. Gentleman note that the Eurofighter is a European aircraft and ought to be armed with European weapons? In making a decision on the beyond visual range air-to-air missile, will he bear in mind that if we were to buy American for BVRAAM, there is a danger that the United States could veto sale of the Eurofighter to third countries?

Mr. Hoon

I shall certainly take those matters into account, and all those factors are being considered as part of the very careful evaluation of the various bids for the beyond visual range air-to-air missile. We are considering the matter very carefully.