HL Deb 11 February 1965 vol 263 cc269-70

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what will be the cost in foreign currency and its sterling equivalent of the proposed purchase of American aircraft to replace the P1154 and the HS681.]


My Lords, the total dollar cost will depend on the total number of aircraft bought, on which no decisions have yet been taken and no contracts placed, and upon arrangements for the purchase of British equipment and for co-production of the Phantom. Detailed discussions with the United States Government about the initial aircraft orders, involving expenditure of up to £70 million (not all of which will be in dollars) on the purchase of aircraft and initial support equipment are now in hand.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply, so far as it goes, but it does not go very far. Is he surprised that I am rather surprised that it does not go rather further, in view of the full statement made by the United States Department of Defence two days ago? Can he confirm that the existing agreement was, in fact, signed by his right honourable friend on last Monday? And in that event would he not agree that it was rather odd that some announcement was not made on this side of the Atlantic, more particularly in view of the fact that the subject was being debated on Tuesday in another place?


My Lords, in reply to the first part of the noble Earl's supplementary question, I am very surprised that he is surprised, because he knows perfectly well that he himself gave No 1nformation of this kind at all in relation to the previous Phantom purchase by the previous Government, and there has been statement after statement by the previous Government that it was not customary to give detailed information on either numbers or costs. I have already explained why it is not possible to give this information now. On the point that he made with regard to the making of a full statement, I have to be a little careful here not to offend against the rules in relation to another place. I think I can say that it was the intention of my right honourable friend to give this information, but certain events, connected with the way Business is conducted in another place, prevented that from happening. It is his intention to supply that information to-day.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply to my supplementary question, so far as it went, but I think there is a difference between a contractual arrangement and the initial Phantom proposals. May I ask him whether it is the Government's intention, as soon as the deal is concluded, to have it published and let us have a White Paper giving full details of this matter?


My Lords, may I quote to the noble Lord the statement by the previous Secretary of State for Defence? We never have stated the cost of an aircraft in advance. It has never been done in the history of any defence debate and the honourable gentleman … knows it perfectly well."—[OFFICIAL RFPORT, Commons, Vol. 690 (No. 61), col. 451, February 26, 1964.] This was repeated later, when he said [col. 453]: I am not giving either the cost or the numbers because such information has never been given.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the Air Staff are in agreement with this apparent down-grading of two of their projects?


My Lords, as a former Minister the noble Earl knows that that is not a question which it would be proper to answer.