asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the aircraft requirements for future Royal Air Force navigational flight engineer and pilot training.
We plan to meet our future requirement for these kinds of training by a mixture of existing and new types of training aircraft, ground simulation techniques and, possibly, some use of civil resources.
Is my hon. Friend aware that many Labour Members are in favour of even bigger defence cuts? Does he realise that the conversion of four of the 14 Argosy aircraft is almost complete at Hawker Siddeley Bitteswell, and that it would be more expensive to cancel them than to complete them? If we are to save even more on defence expenditure, is this the right way to do it?
I am aware that my hon. Friend and others would like even bigger defence cuts. I am not aware, however, that it would be more expensive to cancel than to complete, and I assume that if it is necessary to cancel, this would be consistent with my hon. Friend's views about defence cuts.
Will the Minister say what type of new training aircraft he has in mind?
Not at this stage. We are reviewing all the possibilities, and there are some existing aircraft which might be suitable for this rôle. We shall do our best to provide for the RAF's needs at a lower cost than now.
Is it not a fact that modification of these Argosy planes at Bitteswell would provide the capacity to train engineers and pilots much more economically than can be done at present?
That is something that I shall look into. However, I must rest at what I said before. Whatever decision we reach about the Argosy— our consultations will continue, and I have taken note of the representations made by the trade unions concerned— it would be more expensive to go ahead than to cancel. That is the choice which Ministers would have to make, and whatever decision we make it will not be popular with some hon. Members.