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Tactical Strike Aircraft

Volume 718: debated on Wednesday 3 November 1965

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48.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence, in view of the continuing deficit in the balance of payments and of his proposed reduction of arms expenditure, if he will forgo the option to buy F111A aeroplanes from the United States of America.

53.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether it remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government to take up the option to buy a small number of F111A's only if it is intended to take up the option for the main force of F111 Mark II.

54.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to announce a decision on the future tactical strike aircraft for the Royal Air Force.

A decision on the future tactical strike aircraft for the Royal Air Force will be announced in the course of the defence review. Our arrangements with the United States give us flexibility in deciding the numbers and timing of any orders for the F111 aircraft.

For the two reasons stated in the Question, would it not be a double folly to buy any of these aircraft at all from America, even if long-term credits were granted?

We understood that the defence review might not appear until early next year, whereas the option on this aircraft runs out at the end of this year. Can the Minister resolve that difficulty? Secondly, he told us last week that he considered the Mark I version of this aircraft to be equivalent to the TSR2, whereas it had previously been understood that we were interested only in the Mark II.

On the first question, the defence review is a continuing process. I said that we would take this decision in the course of the defence review, so the incompatibility that the hon. Gentleman appeared to find in my remark was not there. On the second question, he will know that there are a number of possible varieties of the F111 aircraft—there are three or four already—with various types of electronic equipment to cater for various types of capability and rôle. I can assure him that the aircraft that we buy will be fully capable of carrying out all the tasks for which it was intended the TSR2 should be responsible, provided that in the course of the defence review we decide to retain the capability for carrying out those tasks.

Can the Minister confirm that it would not be his intention to take up the option on the small number of aircraft required for training purposes unless he had also decided that the Royal Air Force would be equipped with the F111A in its developed version?

The hon. Member is quite right. It would not make very much sense to buy aircraft for training purposes if there were no intention of using them in operations.

58.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement regarding the future use of the all-British Buccaneer plane by the Armed Forces particularly as an alternative to the American F111.

Buccaneer aircraft are already doing sterling service with the Royal Navy, and aircraft of the Mark II version are now becoming available in increasing numbers. As regards the latter part of the Question I would refer to the Answers I have given to similar Questions today.

Is the Secretary of State aware that many first-class designers, particularly on Humberside, believe that our plane is better than the American one in this field? Would he give us a guarantee that work will be available at Hawker Siddeley for some years to come?

I am well aware of the enthusiasm of all our designers for their products and, on the second question, I will certainly give that guarantee.

Before coming to a decision as to what tactical strike aircraft he should order for the Royal Air Force, will the right hon. Gentleman keep very much in mind the possible consequential effect of his decision on the British aircraft industry as a whole and on Anglo-European co-operation in this respect as well?

Certainly, but I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House would wish my main concern to be the operational effectiveness of the Royal Air Force.