asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a state- ment on progress of the MRCA development programme.
Progress continues to be generally satisfactory.
Is the Minister aware that that is a short statement for a long programme? Is he in a position to comment on and preferably deny the reports which are abroad that the flight test programme is now something like six months behind and that it is to that extent delayed because of the late delivery, the non-delivery and the scarcity of flight test engines from Rolls-Royce Ltd.?
Clearly in an advanced technological project some difficulties are always experienced during the development stage. There were some hold-ups from Rolls-Royce due to industrial action, but delivery of the engines has now been resumed.
Does my hon. Friend accept the view put forward in the Second Report from the Expenditure Committee that as a result of the collaboration on the MRCA the costs are 25 per cent. higher? Does he accept that figure, and does he anticipate that all such collaborative projects will involve such a premium?
No, I do not accept it. From the figures I have had, this is clearly the most sucessful international collaborative project ever, in which the real escalation of costs has been minimal and has been carefully controlled.
The hon. Gentleman's unexpected interest in military matters gives me great satisfaction. Clearly any defence of this country is based on a combination of the economic health of the country and the measures taken to support it. Without economic health, no defence would protect these islands. However, no economic health in itself would protect us if we did not show the will to protect ourselves.
I am grateful to the Minister for educating the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) on his first incursion into defence matters. Will he deal with the persistent rumours that the MRCA engine still has serious teething troubles? Can he particularly say what action we are taking to obtain wider markets for the aircraft by selling it elsewhere in Europe, where the demand exists?
As I tried to point out earlier, in any advanced technological programme there are always problems in the development phase. What is unique about this programme is that it has taken place in such a spotlight of publicity. There is nothing untoward about the difficulties so far experienced. We will take whatever opportunities are open to us to commend the MRCA to a wider public.