HL Deb 29 June 1984 vol 453 cc1148-50

11.21 a.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress is being made on a successor to Tornado aircraft with our European partners.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, I apologise in advance for the fact that this Answer is rather longer than is normal. I assume that my noble friend is referring to the Royal Air Force's need for a new aircraft to replace its Phantoms and Jaguars in the mid-1990s. Last December the chiefs of the air staffs of France, Germany. Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom agreed an Outline European Staff Target for a European Fighter Aircraft. In January the governments of those countries commissioned their aeronautical industries to undertake studies into the viability of meeting their joint requirement on a collaborative basis, and supplementary studies were commissioned in May. Officials of the five countries are continuing their discussions on the industrial reports and will submit recommendations to the five defence Ministers, who plan to meet shortly to review the position and to decide the way forward.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that informative reply. Can he indicate the likely British share in this important collaborative project. the likely cost of the programme, and whether the British engine, which I understand could be suitable for this aircraft, is likely to be selected?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords. it is not yet possible to say precisely what share of this project will fall to the United Kingdom, but it will certainly be a very important share and I am clear that the project is a very important one for British Aerospace. As for the total costs of the project. the Government are not yet in a position to give their own figures on this matter. but I understand that the industries concerned estimate that the total cost of the project up to the production stage would be about 6 billion Ecus, and that thereafter the aircraft would cost between 15 million and 17 million Ecus each.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, in saying that it is hoped that the British share will be an important share, can the Minister say whether the implications for jobs in this country arising out of the new aircraft will also be important and whether that is one of the factors that he is taking into account? Is he also able to say whether the forthcoming consideration being given by Ministers is to take place in the very near future and whether that meeting will actually result in a final decision being taken?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the Government are certainly taking into consideration the employment implications of this matter, which is why I said that the project would be a very important one for British Aerospace. As for the timing of future consideration of this project, I understand that a meeting has been tentatively set for 9th July to take place in Madrid. If that meeting goes ahead, we very much hope that important decisions will be taken.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, is the Minister aware that he has referred to Ecus? I have just searched my pockets and I can find no coins of that denomination there. For the benefit of people who read the newspapers, will the noble Lord explain what Ecus are?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, when a project involves no fewer than five European nations, as this one does, I suggest that it is better to use the European unit of account, and it is that to which I was referring.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that at today's price of the Ecu, which is £0.59413, to the nearest pound, the figure that he has given is £3,565 million?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am happy to receive those figures from the noble Lord, but if they continue to be valid in five or ten years' time, when the project gets under way, that may be a different matter.

Lord Renton

My Lords, will not the British contribution towards this project eventually have to be expressed in the Estimates, or in some form of public accounts, in terms of pounds sterling? Would it not be better. therefore, if we were kept informed in that way?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I shall certainly be willing to explain these figures to my noble friend in the form in which he suggests as soon as the Estimates are available.

Viscount Mersey

My Lords, whatever the unit of currency being used, is it not the case that the new plane will be considerably cheaper than the Tornado?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, present estimates are indeed encouraging.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, does my noble friend have any information on the engine content of this project?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend for not referring to this because I think that he put that question to me earlier. The engine to be fitted to this aeroplane has not yet been finally decided, but one of the contenders is certainly a development of the RB.199 engine which is presently fitted to the Tornado. However, the French also have an engine which they are considering.