HL Deb 02 November 1966 vol 277 cc575-7

2.50 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 whether they can give a firm assurance that the Anglo-French variable-geometry aircraft remains the core of our long-term aircraft programme.]


My Lords, as my right honourable friend has made clear in another place, our attitude to this project has not altered. Noble Lords will be aware that the next stage will be a meeting in London next week between the Secretary of State for Defence, the Minister of Aviation and French Ministers.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord this question? While I think we should welcome an agreement with the French as such, does he really think that this project is worth while, from both the British and the French points of view?


My Lords, the noble Duke is asking, I think, for a personal opinion. I myself have gone very closely into this. I have visited the firm and I can only say, and I am so advised, that it is an exceedingly worthwhile project, with excellent prospects and, I may add, a great deal of agreement at a technical level on the particular operational requirement. Therefore I am very glad to say that it is worthwhile.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for his reply, and take the opportunity of emphasising how strongly we on these Benches support this project. It was initiated under a Conservative Administration, and is one to which we, like the noble Lord, attach very great importance. In view, however, of the steady drip of reports that the project may be destined for the scrap-heap, can the noble Lord give me two further assurances? Can he confirm that the operational requirements of the British and French staffs have now been fully reconciled; and can he also confirm—and I take it, from the tenor of his Answer that he will be able to do so—that this project will continue to receive Her Majesty's Government's full and enthusiastic support, and that they will do their utmost to see that it is driven through to a successful conclusion?


My Lords, it is certainly true that the French and British operational requirements are different. But it is our view that, technically—it is still a matter for technical discussion—there is no insuperable obstacle in harmonising them. The noble Earl will be aware that the French are primarily interested in this aircraft as an interceptor and a fighter, but I see no undue difficulty in harmonising the requirements. As the noble Earl has said, it is very much the wish of Her Majesty's Government that this project should proceed, and we are in fact going ahead on that basis.


My Lords, may I express the hope that, after the meeting next week between the French and British Ministers concerned, it will be possible for the noble Lord to give us a further report on the "state of play" regarding this important project, from the point of view of European co-operation?


My Lords, I shall, of course, be only too ready to give the House any information I can. I think that it is a little early to speculate about the outcome of the meetings on Monday. We hope they will be successful and decisive, but I should prefer to leave it like that.


My Lords, I take it that this project relates primarily to military aircraft. Is this aircraft likely to have any civilian use, or be useful to civilian aircraft manufacturers at any time?


My Lords, it is primarily, and indeed totally, a military aircraft. There is always the question of "spin-off": I should not like to assess its value, but all experience adds something to the value of the community.