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Volume 407: debated on Monday 23 June 2003

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If he will make a statement on the procurement orders for (a) tanks and (b) combat aircraft. [120551]

The Challenger 2 is a world-class battle-winning tank which performed successfully in operations in Iraq. It is planned to remain in service until at least 2025. No replacement programme is yet under consideration.

Current combat aircraft procurement programmes are those for the joint strike fighter, the Typhoon and the attack helicopter. While no final decisions have yet been taken, we expect to purchase 150 of the short takeoff and vertical landing variant of the JSF. The Typhoon is in production and the UK will receive 55 aircraft from the first tranche. Orders from the second or third tranches will be made in due course. There are 67 Apache attack helicopters on order. In addition, on 10 June, the Royal Air Force took delivery of the last of its 142 Tornado GR4s—a major upgrade programme—which performed extremely well in recent operations in Iraq.

In view of the need to reshape the armed forces to take account of the changing military and terrorist threat, and of the need to acquire new equipment such as the proposed two aircraft carriers and the joint strike fighter, how confident can we be that Government will continue with and complete the purchase of equipment originally planned for the defence of the central plain of Europe in the 1980s?

A White Paper will be published in the autumn. Of course, many of these issues have to be addressed as we look to the future, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman await publication of that White Paper, which will undoubtedly spark his interest and that of many other Members.

Given the history of cost overruns on the helicopter contract and other contracts, why is the Department proposing to disregard the advice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury that it could save £1 billion if the forthcoming contract for training jets were opened up to international competitive tendering?

We recognise that the Hawk has an excellent track record and remains a world leader in its field. We have spent the past few weeks assessing the BAE Systems proposal and consulting others across government, including the Treasury. We need to determine whether the proposal meets our military requirements and offers value for money for the taxpayer. There is great awareness of the importance of our decision and its impact on jobs and manufacturing in the United Kingdom, but we have undertaken to reach a decision by the end of this month, which is not far away. That remains our intention.