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Royal Air Force

Volume 14: debated on Tuesday 8 December 1981

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10.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what criteria are being used to plan future aircraft for the Royal Air Force.

We shall take into account the usual wide range of criteria, including the threat, the nature of the role, the state of technological development, the cost, the capabilities of industry, the prospects for collaboration with allies and the potential for export.

I thank my hon. Friend for that detailed answer. If there is to be no Jaguar replacement, as we have learnt is to be the case—presumably in favour of Hawks, Tornados and Harriers—and my hon. Friend confirms his oft-expressed view that he does not want to buy foreign aircraft for use by the RAF, what effect does he believe that the current discussions on future criteria will have on the world-beating, first-rate design team based at British Aerospace, Warton?

As my hon. Friend knows from discussions that he and I have had and from the visits that I have made to the excellent factory at Warton, it will be necessary for British Aerospace to develop one of the projects that it has under consideration—possibly the P110. My hon. Friend also knows that ways are currently being considered whereby it may be possible to find some funding for that. It is not possible at present for us to find funds within the current defence plan.

I congratulate the Minister on the ingenuity, if not the accuracy, of his reply. Is it not a fact that the main constraint with regard to the future budget is financial? Is he aware that the budgetary constraints are forcing the Department to slow down the introduction of the Tornado programme? Is it not also a fact that the other main constraint is political, in that the recent decision to purchase the AV8 B will reduce the British aircraft industry in the future to the role of tin basher to the Americans?

That is an extraordinarily short-sighted view, particularly in relation to the decision on the AV8 B—a decision that will bring about £2,000 million worth of work to this country. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in looking at the future aircraft needs of the Royal Air Force, it is important to take into account the surveillance role of the United Kingdom defence satellite? Will he help to overcome the uncertainty about the placing of orders for that project?

My hon. Friend will be aware, when he reads what will have to be a written answer to a question by him that appears later on the Order Paper, that that order will be announced today.

Will the Minister add to his long list of criteria the demands that he and many of his hon. Friends made when they were in Opposition, that priority should be given to the air defence of this country? Will he start doing something about providing the aircraft, the ancillary equipment and the people to man those aircraft so that these islands can be secure against a conventional threat?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, air defence has always had a high priority with the Government. It would take too long to enumerate the many measures that have been taken to that end.