The United Kingdom has to date contracted for 144 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft for the Royal Air Force. A decision on the third production buy of the aircraft, known as tranche 3, has still to be taken and is not required until at least 2007.
I thank the Minister for the update on those numbers. I remind him that the Government have remained consistent to a commitment to buy 232 Eurofighter Typhoons. Given that 72 of those aircraft have already been sold, on a Government-to-Government basis, to Saudi Arabia, may I conclude that the number that the RAF will eventually be given is 160?
My right hon. Friend is aware of how important the orders are to the north-west and its skills base. Can he ensure that we will look for the third tranche? I know that it is earlier than he expects, but some argue that joint strike fighter technology transfer may not go ahead, so will he be aware that we may have to use Typhoons off the carriers?
I know that there are those who argue for the marinisation of the Typhoon, but there are no plans to do so. Sometimes that is promoted by those in industry, and their spokespersons elsewhere, as plan B. I wish to make it clear, with regard to our intentions for the carriers, that plan A remains plan A. Those who campaign for plan B usually want it to be plan A, if the House understands me—[Hon. Members: “We don’t.”] Well, hon. Members should read Hansard. This is an important issue. We have a major investment commitment across the whole defence sector. The defence industrial strategy sharpens that and gives us a better approach to look forward, with industry, to ensuring that all our procurement requirements can be met within the resources that are allocated to us. That applies to Typhoon as it does to every other procurement buy. We have an ambitious programme and we hope to meet all those ambitions.
May I say, in the nicest possible way, that the Minister did his reputation for straight speaking less than his usual justice in the answer that he just gave to the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle)? Let me give the Minister a second chance. Will he guarantee that however many of the Typhoons eventually come to the United Kingdom, none of them will be used fromthe two aircraft carriers that one assumes he and the Government will eventually get round to ordering?
I have given two very straight answers, and I do not think that I have anything to add to them. I talked about the Saudi Arabian export order, which has still to be concluded, and the way in which thatis separate from our own memorandum of understanding. I have indicated our plans in regard to the two aircraft carriers and what will fly off those two platforms. The hon. Gentleman fully understood the point that I made about plans A and B, and I assume that he supports that.