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Milan Anti-Tank Weapon

Volume 892: debated on Tuesday 13 May 1975

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7.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether it is his intention to purchase for the British Army the Milan anti—tank weapon from the French.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I hope he will resist any pressure put on him by the Chiefs of Staff to buy Milan when we have systems developed and produced in this country and when it is vital to the workers in constituencies such as mine that they are proceeded with in preference to buying weapons from another country.

I must remind my hon. Friend that we cannot achieve overall defence savings—I know that he wants us to go further—unless we are very hardheaded about our decisions on equipment procurement. I set out last Wednesday evening, I think to the general approval of the House, the considerations which we must bear in mind. Certainly the question of employment is one, but operational necessity and timing are others.

Is the Minister aware that Milan has serious limitations in that its warhead is smaller than that of Vigilant, which has been in service for more than 11 years, it has difficulties about nighttime operation and it is vulnerable to counter-measures? Will he consider whether purchase of the weapon would undermine the credibility of our own Swingfire in export markets?

If I had to choose between the assessment of the hon. Gentleman and that of my advisers, I would choose the assessment of my advisers.

In this whole matter of choosing between foreign and domestic military equipment, will my hon. Friend confirm that his Department still has greater confidence in the Rapier antiaircraft missile than in the Franco-German Roland? Will he confirm or deny the report in the Sunday Times last Sunday that a very important sale of the Rapier missile to the United States was lost in competition with Roland as a result of the failure of the British Government to exercise any kind of pressure?

I can answer "Yes" to both questions. We have very great faith in the capacity of the British guided weapons industry, but I must stress again that many considerations come into the purchase of this kind of equipment. I do not believe that the cause of our Armed Services and the country is best served by remarks which are unreasonably critical about equipment which the Armed Services are considering for purchase whatever its origin.

Does not the falling value of the pound make it even more important to get valuable offset agreements if we are to purchase foreign military equipment?

I think that the word used by the hon. Gentleman in the debate the other evening was "reciprocity". I entirely agree with him.