I am grateful to the Government for finding time for this debate on the important question of what sort of advance strike reconnaissance aircraft, if any, this country should order in the future. Before I embark on the substance of the matter I might say that I hope that it will be acceptable to back bench Members on both sides of the House that there will be only one Front Bench speech from each side. I therefore hope that the Minister of Aviation will be able to reply not only to the points which I shall make but to all those made by my hon. Friends and by hon. Members opposite.
If we on this side of the House are gratified that the Government have found time for this debate, we are even more gratified that they have taken action which in a sense makes this debate almost unnecessary and certainly much less necessary than it was. In other words, I am gratified by the statement which the Secretary of State for Defence made to the House this afternoon. I was hardly surprised by it because it had been obvious for some days that the Government had taken fright and would run for cover. We feel on the Opposition benches that we have won our point, or at least the first point which we have to win in this issue, because this debate marks the successful culmination of Opposition pressure to avoid the folly of making another major decision on an ad hoc basis without reference to any underlying or coherent policy.
I say "successful culmination", because I do not believe for one moment that we should have had today's statement from the Secretary of State for Defence unless there had been constant pressure on the Government, including in particular the pressure last week for the debate on this subject. It was only on the understanding that specific undertakings would be given by the Government to the House today that the Opposition agreed to debate this matter on a Motion for the Adjournment rather than to divide the House on a substantive Motion.
I certainly heard the Secretary of State for Defence say those words, but I do not think that I was particularly impressed by them any more than were the great majority of hon. Members. It seemed to me that what he was saying was that Mr. Kuss would leave without his expected Christmas present, thanks to the actions of hon. Members, mostly on this side of the House, but by no means all on this side of the House. I give honour to those hon. Members on the Government side of the House who also exerted pressure and made the Government quite clearly realise that they could not face a division on this issue but, as I said a few moments ago, would have to run for cover.
Although we are gratified by the assurances which we have had from the Government today, I want to make it quite clear that we must still press for one more assurance at this stage. I think that it will be given because I think that it was implied by what the Secretary of State for Defence said, but I should like the Minister of Aviation to make it clear when he winds up the debate. There is a Motion on the Order Paper standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), some of my other hon. Friends and myself. In it we ask that no decision should be taken about this aircraft until after the House has debated the Plowden Report. I do not think that this is an issue between us. I think that it was implied by what the Secretary of State for Defence said, but to be quite sure where we stand I should like the right hon. Gentleman to dot the i's and cross the t's on this point.
I emphasise that while we have forced the Government to concede our point on this issue, namely the agreement to defer the decision until after the Plowden Report and now until after the Defence Review, too, has been completed and considered, we must raise a further point which in our view the Government must concede and which in the end is more important still. It is not enough for the Government just to defer the decision as a matter of form. I have a nasty feeling that that is all that this may be. I could not help noticing that the Secretary of State for Defence used the words "proposed to buy". This is not the first time that I have heard the Secretary of State for Defence speak in terms which give a possible indication that his mind is already pretty firmly made up in favour of one particular plane. The Government must convince the House that this is not just a formal deferment and that they will use the extra time which they have now taken to consider more fully all the possible alternatives and to weigh up the consequences of each. Moreover, they will have to satisfy the House by providing concrete information to justify whatever decision they finally arrive at—and it is on that aspect that we wish to press the Government hard in this debate.
First, let us look at the background to this decision and be in no doubt about how great the importance of it is to the aircraft industry. Before the General Election in 1964 the Labour Party in general, and the Prime Minister in particular, made a major theme of promises that a Labour Government would encourage and stimulate industries which were major export earners, major import savers, and which were technically advanced and progressive. One would have thought, therefore, that the aircraft industry qualified par excellence under all those headings and would have been one of the Government's most favoured children.
The export figures of the industry are probably running at about £150 million for this year and have averaged well over £100 million a year for the last five years. The import saving nature of this industry is made clear by the enormous cost to our balance of payments of the purchase of American aircraft to which Her Majesty's Government are already committed, and which would, of course, be greatly increased should the Government decide to order the F.111.
That the industry is technically advanced is obvious and it needs no elaboration. As I have said, with all their talk before the General Election of stimulating the technically progressive export-earning and import-saving industries, one would have thought that this industry would have qualified for, if anything, special favour under a Labour Government; yet, in practice, the Labour Government's actions so far seem to have been designed to wreck the industry.
Right hon. Gentlemen opposite quickly cancelled three of the most important and technically advanced projects, and had it not been for President de Gaulle the Concord would most probably have been killed as well. Their actions have undoubtedly most severely damaged British technology and have added many hundreds of millions of £s to our import bill over the next few years at a time when the Government have been saying that the balance of payment is the number one problem for Britain.
They have not only added to the import bill but have seriously reduced our export potential, not just through loss of exports of the planes which will now never be produced but also by the effect on the sales of British planes which are already in production. The credibility of the industry in the eyes of its potential customers throughout the world has been dealt a grievous blow, and the salesmen of the American aircraft industry must have been jumping for joy during 1965 at the sight of Her Majesty's Government delivering world markets into their hands.
Even if it had been right—which, of course, it was not—to cancel all three of those major new projects, the method and timing of doing so was, in the opinion of my hon. Friends and myself, nothing less than criminal lunacy. Before such a wholesale cancellation the Government should first have determined what the future rôle of the aircraft industry was to be. Instead, they cancelled the projects first and appointed the Plowden Committee afterwards.
Having created that vacuum and then appointed the Plowden Committee, the Government were clearly under a duty not to make major decisions until the Plowden Committee had reported, until its Report had been properly and fully considered not only by Ministers in private but by this House in public—
I am aware that it may be a little difficult, with the quick changes on the Opposition Front Bench, to get consistency of policy, but may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that when I announced the appointment of the Plowden Committee almost exactly a year ago the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude), when occupying the position which the right hon. Gentleman now occupies, specifically asked me not to hold up decisions on projects until that Committee reported?
My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) is unfortunately not here. [Laughter.] I do not know what hon. Gentlemen opposite find amusing. I am not aware of the presence of the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) in the House, which provides an exactly comparable case. As hon. Members are aware, our duties in the House change. However, I suspect that if my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon were here he would make it very clear to the Minister that he was asking the Government not to hold up positive decisions on projects; in other words, not to hold up decisions on projects which would provide work for the industry. We have gone through this year with virtually not a single production order for the aircraft industry. This is the sort of plan, poised for instant action—was that the phrase?—that we have had; one year and not a single production order, but a string of cancellations.
It would certainly have been wrong to take a decision about what sort of new advance strike reconnaissance aircraft this country should order until the Plowden Report had appeared—and I was saying that this should not be done until that Report had been considered not only by Ministers in private but by the House in public.
One need only look at the alternatives to see the importance of the decision to our aircraft industry. Let us consider these alternatives. First, there is the possibility that the Government will decide to order no new advance strike reconnaissance aircraft at all. [Interruption.] It would seem that some hon. Gentlemen opposite would agree with that. No doubt they will press their view on the Prime Minister and I am sure that their views will be taken seriously into account by the Prime Minister as he goes about the world so busily maintaining our independent nuclear deterrent. Thus, one possibility is not to order an aircraft at all, as a result, no doubt, of changing our operational requirements.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his Government advocated not only a tremendous increase in expenditure on Polaris submarines—and that at that time we were told that that would save money on the Air Force—but that now he appears to be saying that the view of the Opposition is that we should spend large sums of money on an increased number of bombing aircraft as well as the Polaris deterrent? How far is this to go?
The hon. Gentleman must ask his right hon. Friends, "Why any?" Our answer is quite clear. It has always been our view, even though the burden may be great, that an adequate defence of this country is the first priority for any Government. That is clearly our view, which is probably not shared by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) for reasons which I know are deeply held by him.
I have given the first alternative. The second alternative or choice would be to make use of the most advanced version of the existing Buccaneer aircraft. The third possibility for the Government would be to order the French Mirage IV fitted with Spey engines and the appropriate avionics systems, which, one would hope, would be British. The fourth choice would be for the Government to order the American F111—and all along that has seemed the choice for which the Government have so obviously had a preference—and I have already referred to what struck me as a Freudian use of words by the Minister of Defence this afternoon.
Assuming that an aircraft is to be purchased, the choice of the Buccaneer would have obvious advantages for the British aircraft industry which do not need spelling out by me. The choice of the Spey/Mirage would also have obvious advantages which, perhaps, need a little more exposition. That choice would provide a considerable volume of work for the British industry—engines, avionics and possibly airframe work as well. That choice would certainly be very advantageous in cementing Anglo-French cooperation in the aircraft industry. If the Plowden Report were to say that close co-ordination of the British industry with the European industries should be one of the most important facts in our future policy for our aircraft industry this would certainly be a most weighty factor. Again, the choice of the Spey/Mirage would reduce the burden on our balance of payments compared with a choice of the F111.
Conversely, if the Government decided to choose the F111 there would be a number of more or less opposite disadvantages. First, it would leave a gaping void in the order load of the British industry. Secondly, it would, in our view, strike a serious blow to confidence in Europe in the fruitfulness of co-operation with this country in aircraft, and there are some who would say that that blow to confidence might be so serious as to render the whole policy of Anglo-European aircraft co-operation almost sterile.
Thirdly, the choice of the F111 would obviously add enormously to our balance of payments problems; by how much is one of the matters that I shall probe later. Fourthly, the choice of the Fill might, in the long run, make Britain—and perhaps Europe—dependent on the United States for military aircraft, and perhaps also, in the end, for major civil aircraft as well, because there is not a major aircraft industry in the world that I know of that does not depend for the major part of its work on military orders, and there must be little possibility of the aircraft industry in Europe producing major civil aircraft unless it is also an industry that is getting a reasonable share of military orders. To quote Flight of 9th December, the purchase of the F111 would
At a large cost in dollars both strengthen Britain's competitors and jeopardise her alliances.
I am not saying what the choice should be. That is clearly a responsibility of the Government, and one that only they
can shoulder. It may be that by their foolish and over-hasty cancellation of the TSR2 the Government have put themselves in a position where they must either perhaps do irreparable damage to the British aircraft industry and to the growth of its vital co-operation with Europe or, on the other hand, fail to provide properly for the country's defence requirements. The Government have put themselves on the horns of that dilemma and must shoulder the consequences of their own folly.
But, serious though the other consequences may be, I want to make quite clear our view that the adequate defence of the country must come first, and if the Government decide that that priority unfortunately demands the ordering of the F111, they must satisfy the House and the country about at least the following points. First, they must satisfy us that the merits of the alternatives that I have mentioned—the Buccaneer, the Spey/ Mirage—have been most fully assessed. Here I would say that so serious are the consequences of the decision that the Government should give more details of this assessment than may be usual when discussing military equipment.
Secondly, the Government must give hard estimates of the total cost involved. The Minister of Defence, I think, originally mentioned a figure of the order of £300 million for the number of F111 aircraft he had in mind, but what would be the new figure for the type of the aircraft which we should actually buy, if we buy? We must know what that total cost would be, and we must also have a lot of information about the supporting costs, ancillary equipment, and the like because, on past experience, it seems likely that when we have taken all these things into account the overall cost is perhaps double the initial capital cost of the aircraft.
The House should hear, too, something about the cost effectiveness analysis of this plane compared with the others. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence has made a lot about the need for cost effectiveness analysis; let us see some of it displayed in justifying whatever decision the Government may come to.
Thirdly, if they decide on the Fill, the Government must tell the House quite clearly whether or not the factors in favour of that plane include its nuclear capability. That should be either confirmed or denied without equivocation.
Fourth, the Government should explain why the short take-off and landing characteristics of the Fill are now so necessary in view of the fact that the Royal Air Force has become committed to the use of Phantoms which require long runways in any event.
Fifth, in the light of the Plowden Report, the Government must tell the House what action they would take to make good the damage to the aircraft industry which a decision to order the F111 would involve. In particular, could they mitigate that damage by fitting Spey engines and British equipment to that plane? We should know what the possibilities are in that respect. The Government must, of course, also make clear, if they intend to order the F111, what plans they have for future military orders for the aircraft industry. As I said a few minutes ago, the experience of other countries as well as our own experience has proved that one cannot have a viable aircraft industry able to provide major civil planes unless it gets a fair share of our defence spending. If, unfortunately, this country has to spend these large sums of money on defence equipment we need to be sure that some of it—a fair share—is going towards our own aircraft industry.
Sixth, the Government should make quite clear what they mean to do about the effects of ordering the F111 on the British aircraft industry's co-operation with Europe. In particular, if the F111 is ordered, what will be the future of the Anglo-French variable geometry project? Would there still be full need for this, or not? I ask because this is obviously a key factor in the view that our European partners would take of the Government's decision.
Seventh, the Government, if they order the F111, should state clearly what action they would propose to take to offset the large extra burden which that ordering would place on the British balance of payments. In particular, they must assure the House they would be obtaining the lowest possible price for it; that they have maintained and used a strong bargaining position. In this respect one cannot help wondering whether in relation to the sums mentioned in this ordering, the keeping of the TSR2 in being and maintaining its jigs and tools might not importantly have increased the Government's bargaining position in these negotiations.
Another way of reducing the burden on our balance of payments is that to which I have already referred—the posibility that the maximum amount of British equipment might be incorporated in the aircraft. The third way we would want to hear about would be what efforts the Government had made—and not only what efforts they had made but what successes they had had—in obtaining reciprocal orders in the United States for British equipment. I am sure that in all quarters the House would want to feel satisfied that the Government had been sufficiently tough in their bargaining for reciprocal orders.
These are just some of the major themes about which the House would demand to know from the Government if they were to decide to order the F111. I want to repeat that I am not advising whether the F111 should or should not be ordered. That is the Government's responsibility, and the defence of the country must be the first priority. But the consequences, let me repeat, of ordering the F111, if that does become necessary in order to satisfy defence priorities, are so great that the House must be assured on at least these major points that I have just been pressing on the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that in a preliminary way he will be able to deal with some of them tonight. I can assure him that we shall be pressing him and his right hon. Friend as the decisions are taken to justify those decisions in detail along the lines which I have indicated.
It is not for us to tell the Government what planes they should buy, but it is for the Opposition to force the Government to weigh all the factors involved and convince the House that they have done so. We have succeeded today in taking the first step in fulfilling this duty. I assure the House that the Opposition will continue to press for information of the kind which I have mentioned in order that the Government may satisfy the House and, through the House, the coun- try that they have taken a decision which is fully justified and can be seen to be justified.
Order. This is a short debate. Many hon. Members want to speak. I hope that they will be fair to each other and share out the time between them.
I will not follow the right hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) in his argument. He was so busy making party political points that he was discussing the wrong question and giving himself the wrong answers. It seems to me that this is not primarily a question whether we should be buying the F111 or an Anglo-French plane or even the Buccaneer. I believe that we should not extend the option on the F111. I believe that we have enough information now to enable us to make a decision not to buy it.
I accept arguments put forward that if the R.A.F. says unequivocably that the F111 is the best plane technically to carry out our commitments, most hon. Members, including the Minister, would find it very difficult to reject that advice, but I question the commitments. I appreciate that given an east of Suez commitment it would be difficult if not impossible to argue against giving our troops and our Air Force the best modern equipment we can obtain. Given another plane, no matter how good, if it could not have the capabilities of the F111 I suggest that it would be impossible to argue that we should give our Forces second best. It would be a foolish person who would risk the lives of our troops and the R.A.F. by giving them an Anglo-French plane or some other, if the best technical advice tells us that any other plane falls short of the capabilities of the F111.
If technically and financially the decision is marginal then, given those commitments, we must opt for either a British or an Anglo-French plane, but it is the commitment that I question. I fully recognise the need to develop aircraft production jointly with the French. The difficulties in our own home market are too well-known to need repetition, but I do not believe that the choice is between the F111 and an Anglo-French plane. The real question is whether we want a plane of that kind at all.
I would like a straight answer from the Minister, if we do not have an east of Suez commitment, do we need a plane like the F111? I believe, from the best information that I have been able to obtain, that without such a commitment we do not need a plane of this description. It is equally clear that if we buy either we are committing ourselves to an east of Suez rôle into the 1970s, making impossible, incidentally, the achievement of our target o' reducing our defence expenditure to a level which would give us a sound economy and the rate of growth which will enable us to meet our target of expansion in the social services and the rest.
I conclude, Mr. Speaker, by accepting your request to keep contributions short and by saying that I trust that we will not take up this option to extend our right whether or not to take up the F111. I say that we know now that we do not need to buy it. Our efforts in the aircraft industry and co-operation with the French on aircraft production should not be for a military plane which we do not need but in the many other fields of aircraft production which are open to us. We must reject both planes, because to do otherwise is to commit ourselves into the 1970s to rôles which we cannot sustain.
For fear of developing arguments which, Mr. Speaker, if I then have the good fortune to catch your eye, I hope to develop in next week's foreign affairs debate, I will not follow the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) in his arguments about an east of Suez policy, only to say from my experience that I am convinced that we shall have a rôle to perform for many years in co-operation with our allies east of Suez and that it is in this country's need to fulfil this obligation that I view the ordering of the successor to the Canberra.
I am sure that no one in the House doubts the need for the R.A.F. to have a high performance tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft. I had hoped that this would be the plane produced by the British Aircraft Corporation and the English Electric Company in conjunction—the TSR2. This plane was designed to have a range radius of action of 1,500 miles so as to be capable not only of acting in the European sphere but also world-wide. It was able to fly at supersonic speed and have a short take-off anti landing capability and to fly in a conventional rôle for low-level strike and reconnaissance. It was to be a replacement for the Canberra, and by necessity it was planned that this operation should take place well before 1970 and indeed nearer 1966, especially because of the need for the early replacement of that ageing yet excellent plane the Canberra.
I was most anxious when the cancellation was made, because of all the repercussions, which I knew it would have, not only on the British aircraft industry but on the Royal Air Force as well, and the independence of British air power in particular. I took this cancellation as a double challenge, for I knew that it not only put in jeopardy our aircraft industry but the capability of the R.A.F. to carry out operations east of Suez. Without an aircraft of a range and performance similar to the TSR2, such a rôle would be impossible. I say "performance", because I want to stress the requirement for supersonic speeds, bearing in mind that the fighter aircraft of most Powers, whether first class or otherwise, have this capability.
I am sure it was a double tragedy that the TSR2 was not able to fly sooner. What a pity it was that when the Australians were making up their minds whether to buy the F111 or the TSR2 British industry was not able to produce a flying prototype of that most advanced plane. Alas, try hard as we did to sell them that plane, the Australians chose the F111.
Now we are faced with the choice not of the TSR2 against the F111 but of a completely new idea, the Spey/Mirage which at the moment exists on paper only. The Mirage is a high-flying aircraft designed to drop nuclear bombs yet it is claimed that it can be converted from this high-flying rôle to the more demanding conventional rôle of low-level strike and reconnaissance. Would not a considerable amount of work and technical change have to be done for this to be carried out?
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be able to develop that point if he catches your eye later, Mr. Speaker. Would it really be in time to give us a replacement for the Canberra before the 1970s? If all the technical equipment that would be required for this plane were to be put into it, from what I have been able to gather the replacement date would be nearer 1972 than 1970. This has to be weighed against the probability of the F111 order being ready in 1968–69. Eight F111s are already flying. I am sure that, with the present uncertainties of the international situation we cannot ask the Defence Staff to take such a risk. We must have the means of deploying air power east of Suez. Let us not hide from the facts. The choice of the Spey/ Mirage would for perhaps a vital period of time make such a deployment impossible.
The hon. Gentleman will have to read my speeches and put them alongside those of the present Opposion defence spokesman and then make up his mind.
I am anxious to further Anglo-French co-operation, but is it not clear that we should have to spend considerable sums on research and development to adapt this high-flying plane to a new rôle?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that two British test pilots have been over to France and flown the Atar Mirage at high speeds and at low level and they have reported extremely favourably on its characteristics?
I know, but I think that the hon. Gentleman should pay more attention to the kind of equipment that must go into this aircraft and the large amount of research and development that must be carried out on the plane if it is to be capable of a reconnaissance rôle as well as a strike rôle.
Surely this makes sense only if a considerable number of aircraft are bought. With Australia and the United States already with the F111, such a wider market is not possible. It makes more sense not to go for a compromise stopgap plane such as the Spey/Mirage would be, but rather to save money on research and development, though I have my doubts about how much the likely cost escalation would be. In any case, we should be free to go all out to produce a plane in the next generation of variable geometry aircraft that would be able to compete in the world markets and have every possibility, with good Anglo-French co-operation, of being a world beater. I am sure that this is the right line for Anglo-French co-operation. Let us make a plane which will have a world market rather than the limited market the Spey/ Mirage would be condemned to have from the start. Viewed in this light, the Fill is complementary to and not competitive with Anglo-French co-operation.
Yet are we sure that this will be done? Will the Government give assurances to the effect that it is their intention to go ahead with the variable geometry aircraft? I am sure, too, that we should not forget the difficulties of logisltic support east of Suez. How much easier this is if the Alliance has the same planes rather than many different types. What we have to do is to seek to meet a requirement of the whole Alliance and not solely a European or a national one alone.
However, we must ensure that if we buy the Fill this means co-operation and not moving to a once and for all monopoly from the American aircraft industry. The existence of an Anglo-French product on a variable geometry plane would safeguard this, but more will need to be done for the British aircraft industry. I know that the Plowden Report is coming out soon and this will deal with the problem of the future of our aircraft industry. If production teams and design teams are to be kept together, more orders will be needed. There are vital civil projects that can be competed for in world markets. I shall watch closely to hear what the Government have to say about this.
Above all, let those who have the interests of British air power at heart realise the necessity of the R.A.F. having the planes capable of carrying out a rôle not only in Europe but in a world-wide capacity as well. My experience, after two years as Under-Secretary of State for Air and at the Ministry of Defence, tells me that this can be done only by the F111 now that the TSR2 has been cancelled.
The hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) gave a rather pessimistic forecast of the potentialities of the Spey/ Mirage. I shall revert to his argument in a few moments, but perhaps I can say straight away that I do not share his pessimism. Indeed, it ought to be stated that 40 Mirage IVs are flying today. It is an excellent aircraft, designed not only with a high altitude purpose but with a low altitude potentiality. It is precisely this potentiality which is now being explored and put forward to my right hon. Friend as an alternative to the purchase of the F111.
Let me say at once that I thought that it came rather ill from the right hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) when he attacked the Labour Government for their record on aviation. Looking over the whole history of post-war aviation, both civil and military, it can be said that never has so much been paid for so little. It is undoubtedly true that millions of £s have been poured into an industry which, using vast amounts of public money, has nevertheless remained unaccountable to the public. The result is that, without responsibility and without accountability, the aircraft industry has absorbed these enormous quantities of public funds but has not yet delivered the goods to the people. Therefore, any criticisms of the Government's policy are inappropriate in the mouths of hon. Members opposite, who in large measure are responsible for the fact that the aircraft industry became fat, flabby and incompetent in the past years.
Having said that, I must add that I have a certain amount of sympathy with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation. The Minister of Housing and Local Government has to build more houses. The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance has to provide more and higher pensions. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has to supply more food. The job of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation, ever since he took over, seems to me to have been to supply fewer British aircraft. His success and his efficiency have been measured, in some circles, at least, by the rate at which he has shut down projects, closed factories and made aircraft workers available for other work. I think that that undoubtedly has been a proper description of the line which he has been obliged to take.
I have criticised my right hon. Friend's policy in the past. I have been critical of the cutting down of major products like the HS681, the P1154, and even the TSR2. I think that the policy of cutting down British projects and substituting American aircraft, which, in their totality, will amount in cost to about £900 million over the next ten years, will be found to have been a fundamental mistake that we shall only recognise in the next decade.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation made a very telling argument last April in a debate on the TSR2 cancellation, when he said, ominously and terrifyingly, that if the TSR2 were to be continued, every man, woman and child in the country would have to pay £25 as an individual contribution. If he were to add up the cost of all the aircraft he is now proposing to buy or has bought from the United States—the Phantom, the C130 and the F111A—he will find the cost per head may be short of £25 but not very much.
If my right hon. Friend is to use ominous figures of that kind, he should consider whether it is better to pay that much per head to refertilise the British aircraft industry or to use it to fortify the American aircraft industry.
Is it not also true that the cost per head of the American aircraft will be spent in dollars instead of in pounds?
The hon. Gentleman has reinforced the point.
The last time these matters were raised at Question Time one of my hon. Friends spoke about the B.A.C. "lobby". The inference is that as soon as the British aircraft industry is under consideration a powerful lobby gets to work to put the case for sectional interests. It is customary in this House to declare one's interest in a matter. I am obliged to declare a disinterest in this one. I have no interest in B.A.C. I am merely concerned with the interests of my constituency and, beyond that, with Britain as an aircraft producing country.
I believe that the future of Britain belongs in the air just as in the past it belonged on the oceans. Unless we accept that premise, we shall be arguing in favour of how rapidly and completely we can become a client of the United States in what should be a pacemaking industry not only in aircraft but in technology as a whole.
Although talking, in a sense, in anticipation of what the Plowden Report will say, few of us have not that report in our minds. I want to declare at once—and this follows logically from what I have said—that my belief is that the only way to ensure that public money is properly spent is to nationalise the whole of the British aircraft industry. I do not believe in our taking a minor share in the industry. That policy was roundly rejected by a Labour Party conference some years ago. I do not believe that even a majority shareholding would be adequate. I think that we must take the whole industry into public ownership and relate both its purpose and its expenditure to public policy.
I want to talk specifically—and briefly, Mr. Speaker, in accordance with your injunction—about the F111A. I have a number of questions to put to my right hon. Friend. First, has he deferred an option or has he deferred a commitment? Has he any commitment to the R.A.F. in this matter? Has he entered into any commitment with Mr. McNamara? Is the postponement of the taking up of the option merely an act of political adjustment, or is my right hon. Friend really to give further consideration to potential alternatives? Unless, indeed, he is to consider potential alternatives which some of us will put forward, he is wasting the time of the House. Will he, therefore, allow the arguments we put forward to weigh with him?
This afternoon, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was replying to questions—I regret that he is not here, but I appreciate that he has to be in Paris for the N.A.T.O. Conference—he said something that is directly relevant to this debate and, therefore, I am obliged to refer to it, even in his absence. I asked the Secretary of State whether, when he spoke about the F111A, he was talking about the F111 A Mark I or the F111A Mark II. I suggested that the cost of the Mark II would be rising towards, if not reaching the cost, of the TSR2 earlier this year.
My right hon. Friend, with the courtesy which he reserves for his hon. Friends, replied to me that the latter part of my supplementary question was inaccurate and irrelevant because it was now unlikely that we should need to buy the Mark II ever. He said that the addition of a computer which the Americans are themselves incorporating in their basic F111A will give us the performance we need.
I was interested in what my right hon. Friend said, especially in his description of my own reference to the F111A Mark II, because it seemed to—and does—contradict completely what was said by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation in the debate on 13th April. My right hon. Friend said:
I am now about to talk about the Mark II, but unlike the hon. Member, I like to proceed in a logical direction, from the Mark I to the Mark II.
We need a quantity of Mark Is for training purposes if we decided to exercise the option. About the Mark there is a little uncertainty, but it is limited and it is definable. The difference between the two marks is not one of engine or airframe, but only of avionics."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1965; Vol. 710, c. 1287.]
If my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary is to accuse me of inaccuracy and irrelevancy, then surely, if the avionics in the F111A Mark I change, it would not be inappropriate to describe the changed aircraft as a Mark II.
Let us look a little further at it. If the "min-min-mod", as is called the computer which goes into the modified aircraft does not reach the original specifications of the Mark, and if the Americans are now to produce a Mark II, it seems that we are not to get the best aircraft but the second-best—an aircraft with a forward scanner but not with a tripartite scanner. In other words, when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation says that the F111A with this new "min-min-mod" will give us the performance we will need, he is saying that he has downgraded the specification for the F111A. Therefore, in principle, we can now state the premise that, for the purpose of the R.A.F., what is being sought is not the absolute quality of the TSR2 or the F111A Mark II but something which really corresponds with the downgraded specification.
Let us also consider cost. When I said that the Spey/Mirage might cost £1 million less than the revised F111A, my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary declined to accept my figure. The figure was provided to me by those directly concerned with the specification of the costing of this aircraft, but naturally I defer to my right hon. Friend's estimates. If he says that the figure is inaccurate I am inclined to accept that—except if one returns to the crucial debate of 13th April we find that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation had a few points to make about the extra cost of avionics. He said that the avionic component in the F111A was an item not yet settled. If it is not yet settled it seems to me that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation will have some difficulty in deciding what is the absolute price of the F111A that he contemplates buying. I want therefore to ask my right hon. Friend whether he is quite satisfied that he now has a firm figure for the F111. Is he satisfied that the costs of the avionics will not escalate, as has been indicated in certain directions, and, as I suggested this afternoon, that the whole thing will not start to creep up towards the cost of the TSR2.
I do not wish to detain the House, but I want to make one or two technical references to the Spey/Mirage. I said at the outset that the Spey/Mirage was an aircraft which had a low level potential. Those who are directly concerned with the manufacture and production of the aircraft say that it could be put into production in mid-1969. They add that the element of British work which would go into the aircraft would be about 50 per cent., which would be a very substantial figure. Even if the order did not come to anything like the £350 million which my right hon. Friend is now contemplating paying for the F111, I estimate that it would still represent about £100 million worth of work for British industry, for the aircraft industry, the electronics industry and the ancillary industries. Therefore, this seems to be of the most vital importance.
I have said that the Spey/Mirage would be cheaper than the F111. It can be delivered on time. It is an aircraft whose specification can compete with that of the F111. As the Secretary of State for Defence has now said that the test of the aircraft he wants is whether it will adequately satisfy certain requirements rather than be the best possible aircraft which could conceivably be flown, I suggest that he now gives realistic and serious consideration to buying the Spey/Mirage.
It is true that people have dug in their positions. It is certain that the R.A.F. has now decided quite firmly that, having been given what seemed to it to be a commitment for the F111, it will accept nothing less. I think that the Spey/ Mirage is not only a put-together alternative, so to speak, but a realistic alternative which has the backing not only of the industry, but of the airmen and those who have flown in it at presentations and who know that the Mirage as such is a first-class aircraft which could be suitably adapted.
I conclude by saying that Mr. McNamara has already indicated that he regards Mr. Kuss as being the best arms salesman in the world. He has also made it quite clear that he regards nothing less than the world as being an adequate sales area for the United States arms and aircraft industries. They are not in business for philanthropy. They are not offering cheap aircraft merely in order to assist backward countries which cannot afford sophisticated aircraft. They are not trying to sell these aircraft even merely in order to raise the defensive potential of the Free World. They are in business because they are in business—because they are concerned to profit from it. They are in business in the aircraft industry in order to kill the British aircraft industry, and there is no point in being mealy-mouthed about it.
My right hon. Friend is and should be the defender of the British aircraft industry. I think that he has seen a gleam of light towards which he can move in the direction of Anglo-French co- operation which is a realistic approach. Here we would have two of the most advanced engineering countries in the world co-operating in an industry in which in the past they have been supreme, not only in Europe but in the world. My right hon. Friend should follow this light. He should apply himself once again to the concept of making the Spey/Mirage an aircraft which will be acceptable to the R.A.F. and which will achieve that stimulation of British technology and British aviation for which the whole country is waiting.
In the past the industry has had many blows, but I think that Britain will recover from those blows, because we must have a place in the air. I hope that the Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will turn back from policies which are doing grievous harm to a key and at one time pace-making industry. I hope that the Minister will save the British aircraft industry, because I do not doubt that in future it may be called upon to play its part in saving Britain again.
The debate has already tended to anticipate the debate which we are to have after the publication of the Plowden Report, but I do not intend to go very deeply into that aspect of the matter beyond saying that I am absolutely convinced that the export potential of British aero-engines is colossal. But we cannot hope to sustain that potential, and still less its actuality, unless we have an aircraft industry to sustain it. No one must think for a moment that we can continue to make Rolls-Royce and other aero-engines unless we have an aircraft industry here at home. However, having said that, I do not propose to dilate this evening on the subjects of the size of the industry and the measure of State support and so on which are subjects for another day.
In this debate we are in difficulty, because the Minister who is to answer it is the departmental supplier and the customer is someone else. The customer is the Secretary of State for Defence. I am rather sorry that we have only the supplier interest represented tonight, because the customer is the man whose opinion ought to be binding. The cus- tomer Minister is the man who knows whether one type of aircraft or another will serve the needs of his defence policy. This is the great difficulty for all of us, but especially those of us in opposition, in deciding what is the right aircraft to have.
As the Minister may remember, over the years I have been associated to some extent with the promotion of the idea of the swing-wing concept for aircraft. Variable geometry is the great future for all types of aircraft, and Britain has played a very important part in promoting it. The tragedy over the years has been the cancellations, perhaps because of shortage of money and inflation and so on—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) will remember very well from when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. No one blames Chancellors of the Exchequer for having to make cuts, although Heaven knows they have the most appalling effect on research and development in an industry so brain intensive as this.
The concept of variable geometry was introduced in this country by Dr. Barnes Wallis and taken up by one or two others. Certain headway was made by us and, then, immediately after the war, the Americans took it up again and had some terrible casualties in their experimental work and so dropped the idea. Dr. Barnes Wallis went on, but he had to drop further research and development in this country. The result was that if the swallow concept was to survive at all it depended on N.A.T.O. co-operation. Dr. Barnes Wallis went over to Langley Field and gave the authorities there everything he had.
The question I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman is whether when, as we were told this afternoon for the first time, prices were agreed before the option was given, to what extent the prices were in any way conditioned by the British contribution to the technology which had been made by Dr. Barnes Wallis when he went over to Langley Field. Although a different company may be involved in the development of it now than was originally the case, I find it extremely hard to believe that the know-how, particularly of the actual wing joint, was not to some extent derived from what was learned in the United States as a result of Dr. Barnes Wallis going over there. I have not seen Dr. Barnes Wallis for some months, and I have not consulted him about this, because I think that it is the sort of question which, coming from a politician, could embarrass him a great deal, and I have no wish to do that, or to embarrass the British Aircraft Corporation, of which he is still a very distinguished servant.
It would be absolutely outrageous if the Americans, having gained some of the "know-how" from him, made no recognition of this, and if we are going to become customers for the aircraft, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell me whether the price is to be in any way conditioned by this. It certainly ought to be, and if it is not I hope that he will reconsider the matter before he decides finally whether the option is acceptable.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr), who opened this debate, and I were associated a year or two ago in preparing a report on how we thought the Government should go about science and technology. The one thing about which we became very firmly convinced was that this country shines in brain-intensive products. We have an immense exportability here. There is a terrific potential. I am quite certain that the British aircraft industry, properly geared and properly supported without unnecessary interruptions by Government action, can compete with anybody in the world.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman). I am quite certain that there are many people in America who would be delighted to see abolition of this industry. This is a sphere in which we were once at the fore. We can be in the forefront again, and while I agree that it may be desirable for us to co-operate with European countries in the development of variable geometry aircraft, I want to say to the right hon. Gentleman, who knows so much about this particular project, that we have to have a better arrangement than that over Concord. If we are going to get international co-operation in the development of swing-wing aircraft, we have to have it not on the basis that it is "Buggin's turn next to do the next job." We need to have it on the basis of, "Here is a project worth doing on a bi-national basis, a tri-national basis or a multi-national basis." The way to approach this is to say what finance is required, where are the people most capable of producing this aircraft? It does not matter who did the last bit, the important thing is that the best equipped people should be given the permission to do that particular part regardless of the sequence of one nation or another. This is what is bedevilling the development of Concord, and we must not let it happen over the development of variable geometry aircraft.
If they all agree, on the best advice that they can get, that this is the right aircraft, I shall not hesitate to say that I think it is. What I want to make quite sure of is that we get it at the price which we ought to pay. I strongly suspect that if we are not very careful we are going to be paying far more for it than we ought to be paying, bearing in mind the contribution we have made to the project.
listening to this debate on the F.111 one would imagine that we were discussing an alternative for 1968–75. The TSR2 has been cancelled, and as I see it, the Fill is a replacement for the Canberra until such time as, in co-operation with the French, we can evolve variable geometry aircraft. I believe that the viability of an aircraft industry in Europe, competitive with the United States, will be achieved through Anglo-French co-operation. I have been a supporter of Anglo-French co-operation in the aircraft industry for many years and I still support it. Nothing has been said here, or written anywhere, to convince me, otherwise.
I am surprised that anyone should complain of the American industry looking upon the world as its market. Any great producer in any great productive system must look upon the world as its market. Perhaps it is one of our weaknesses that we look at our home market first and export our surplus. I should prefer to trade with the world as our market.
I believe that the future of our aircraft industry depends on very close cooperation with the French aircraft industry. My information may be wrong, and I do not want to be dogmatic, but it seems that Members on both sides have spoken as if there is, in the year 1968–75, an alternative aircraft in the Spey/Mirage which will perform the tactical rôle for which the TSR2 was designed, but for which we are now purchasing the F111. As I understand it, the Spey/Mirage does not exist; there is no such plane. It is a concept not even on the drawing board. The Mirage 4 is a high-flying plane, and to bring it down to 200 to 300 feet above sea level would require avionics of a vastly different type than those at present in that plane. To put the Spey engine into it would need considerable modification of its frame structure, and we might again be involved in a long period of research and development to bring the Mirage up to what is called the Spey/Mirage plane, such as we had over the years when the Canberra was being developed.
That may be so, but the present French Mirage has not a low-level capability. It has only a high-level capability. The continuous quoting of the Spey/Mirage is meaningless because there is no such French plane. The Spey engine has not been put in it and it has not been adapted to it. To adapt this powerful Spey engine to a Mirage airframe, which is a high-level plane, in order to bring it down to about 200 feet above sea level, would require considerable new avionics, needing much modication.
The Spey engine has been developed for the Phantom, but the Phantom is not the Mirage, and the Rolls-Royce Company is very busy providing Spey engines for the Phantom. It is very doubtful if, within the next few years, the Rolls-Royce Company could provide Spey engines for the Mirage and the Phantom. Therefore the Spey/Mirage is not a practical alternative at present.
There was a great deal of talk about the F111's cost, and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) mentioned the cost of about £25 per head for the TSR2. He quoted a figure of nearly £25 a head not only for the TSR2 but for the Phantom, the C130 and for the F111. That is for the three aircraft. The comparison is not quite the same because there is only one aircraft in one case, but there are three different rôles in the other case. We can take a small number of the F111s out of a production line which is geared, according to my information, to supply an order of 431 to the American Air Force.
That means that over this gap of seven years, this time scale, during which we do not have a replacement of the Canberra, we can buy each unit of aircraft, whether it be 10, 15 or 20, out of a production line of 431. The research and development cost which we shall have to pay for the aircraft which we buy is very small indeed.
If America is to have 431 of these planes, and since, presumably, we should attack the same enemy, why do we want any more?
I can understand my hon. Friend's point of view. But my point of view is that this country cannot contract out of the world in which we live. If the rest of the world arms itself, and if we maintain an Army, Navy and Air Force, then our men serving in those forces should have the finest equipment possible, and it is the duty of the Secretary of State for Defence to put that equipment into their hands. I do not care from where he gets it. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House wish that we lived in a world in which none of these things was necessary. But we do not.
Is my hon. Friend in favour of the independent nuclear deterrent?
I am afraid that if I am not careful I shall be led into debating matters which it is not permissible to discuss. But I am in favour of N.A.T.O., of Western European defence and of the A.N.F. under N.A.T.O. control. It is not necessary, in the defence of Western Europe, for Britain to have a purely independent rôle.
I notice that in one of their articles Members opposite who support the Air League have stated that they would organise "a ruthless lobby of M.P.s". This is an important industry, and I agree that many other industries like the motor industry have benefited from the technological fall-out from it. But I am not prepared, and never would be, with all the lobbying in the world, to give patronage to an industry for the sake of the interests within it, whether it is through leagues of this kind, if in so doing taxpayers' money was used in a way which was not best both for the defence of this country and for our economy. It would be intolerable for the Government to patronise technological research and development just for the sake of maintaining an industry, the contribution from which has been diminishing, in view of the public money put into it, even compared with the French aircraft industry. The French people get more out of their aircraft industry than we get out of our aircraft industry.
It would be far better for those who lobby on behalf of the British aircraft industry to lobby for closer co-operation between the British and French aircraft industries. This would be of greater service to Europe than to belly-ache against the sales methods of the United States. Of course American salesmen are ruthless. Of course they are out to sell products all over the world. I wish to goodness that the British and French, in co-operation in the aircraft industry, were as vigorous as the Americans.
My only interest in this matter is the same as that of the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), and that is to see that we do not become a client state of the United States but that, on the contrary, we remain in the forefront of aviation technology. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) is mistaken if he believes that the French will be willing to continue co-operating with us on the other projects which we have started with them, such as the variable geometry aircraft, if at this stage we decide to put ourselves in the pockets of the United States by ordering the F111.
For that reason, I am delighted at the announcement by the Secretary of State for Defence this afternoon that we have secured an extension of two months on the option for the F111A, although, like another hon. Member, I should like to be assured that this is not merely a political deferment to cover up the fact that we have already made a commitment to Mr. McNamara and the Air Force to buy the F111A and that as a matter of convenience the House will be allowed some opportunity of seeing the Plowden Report before this final decision is taken.
I do not think that the Minister has gone far enough in asking Mr. McNamara for an extension of this option. It should have been extended by another month if the House is to have a chance of considering the Defence Review before that final decision is taken. The Secretary of State for Defence said this afternoon that the Defence Review would not be published separately but would be incorporated in the Defence White Paper, which is published at the end of February. This year, the White Paper was published on 22nd February, and the debate on it took place on 3rd and 4th March. Therefore, although the two-month reprieve is better than nothing, it is by no means satisfactory and we shall ask for a further month so that the House has an opportunity to discuss the defence White Paper before the decision is taken.
What we shall need to do is to study the operational task given to the Air Force and to see whether it might be satisfied by the Spey-engined Mirage. I do not think that we should have that opportunity if the Defence White Paper appears on 22nd February and the option has to be taken up by 1st March.
I come to the speeches of the hon. Members for Dunbartonshire, East and Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) on the question of the Spey/Mirage. I should perhaps have liked to refer to them as the hon. Members for Fort Worth in view of the way in which they were pushing the F111. I do not think that they are properly informed about this matter. The hon. Member for Harwich said that there was no possibility of the Spey/Mirage being delivered before 1972. I know that he has knowledge and experience from having been at the Air Ministry in the former Government, but it is my belief that people at the Air Ministry have been brain-washed by the air marshals and have not listened carefully enough to what the industry has to say on this subject. The best of my information is that the British Aircraft Corporation could deliver production models of the Spey-engined Mirage by 1969.
Would the hon. Gentleman present reasons for what he is saying?
Yes. I have told the hon. Gentleman that the British Aircraft Corporation claims that it could deliver production versions of the Spey-engined Mirage by 1969, and I believe it. I do not think that it would make a statement of that kind unless it was prepared to substantiate it and to give the Government guarantees that if an order were placed it could produce the production aircraft at that date.
Would the hon. Gentleman say whether the advanced electronic equipment such as would be in the F111 would be in that kind of plane?
Yes, of course I would. It depends what the Government require. If they require the three-way radar which will be installed in the F111, that could be installed in the Spey/Mirage within the same time scale. It will take time to develop that three-way radar and it has not yet been done in the United States, but they are convinced that they could incorporate it in the Mirage in the same time scale as the Americans could incorporate it in the F111.
The other thing which the hon. Gentleman said about the Spey/Mirage was that it was unsuitable in the low-level rôle. I pointed out in an intervention that two British test pilots had been over to France, they had flown the existing Atar engine version at high speeds and very low levels, and they reported extremely favourably not only on its low-level capabilities but on all aspects of the aircraft. I can inform the hon. Gentleman also that the French intend to convert all their aircraft ultimately to the low-level rôle and that nothing fundamental needs to be done to it. The strength and fatigue aspects of the matter are entirely satisfactory. Thus, it is not such a difficult matter as the hon. Gentleman seems to suppose, even though the Mirage was, as he said, originally designed for a high-level rôle.
It is of the greatest importance that the Royal Air Force should have the aircraft which will perform the operational tasks required and that it should have them at the right time, but I disagree with hon. Members who say that the Spey/Mirage does not meet those requirements. It must be pointed out also that, when necessary, the Royal Air Force can change its mind amazingly quickly. Until last April, VTOL performance was said to be absolutely necessary for the Hunter replacement but now, apparently, the Royal Air Force is quite happy with the Phantom which needs 2,500 yards of concrete. It would be quite ridiculous if the airfield performance of the F111 were now to be used as one of the major arguments for preferring it to the Spey/Mirage. According to my information, the airfield performance of the Spey/Mirage is the only respect in which it does not meet the requirements of OR343 to which the TSR2 was originally designed.
Moreover, one cannot ignore costs in this matter so completely as the hon. Members for Dunbartonshire, East and for Harwich seem to do. No doubt, the TSR2 would have been a much better aircraft than the F111 if we had carried on with it, but I came to the conclusion reluctantly that the Government were right to cancel it on the ground of cost. But can we afford the F111 either, when the Government are already committed to containing the total defence budget to within £2,000 million at constant 1965 prices between now and 1969–70 and, even more important, we are committed to keeping the direct overseas expenditure component of defence down to below £262 million? I fail to see how this can possibly be done if we are now to spend £350 million on an American aircraft. In addition to the opinions of the various Ministers who, the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) said, ought to be consulted, I should like to know the Chancellor of the Exchequer's opinion on the matter.
We do now know the exact price of the F111. I am surprised that the Secretary of State for Defence says that he has a firm figure when the avionics have not yet been produced and we do not know how much the new computer he mentioned today will cost. But it would be fair to say that the probable cost of the F111 will be in the region of 2·5 million to £3 million, whereas the Spey/Mirage will be in the region of £2 million.
Probably £1½ million.
The hon. Gentleman says £1½ million, but I am taking the most pessimistic assumption on which to base the argument. At the very least, there is a difference of £½ million between the two aircraft and probably as much as £1 million each. Therefore, on a programme of 100 aircraft, we are talking about a difference of at least £50 million and perhaps £100 million over the period of a few years. If the Minister does not agree with my figures, he is in duty bound to give his own so that the House may judge between the two, and he ought also to say exactly what the implications of the choice will be for our balance of payments. How much of the Speyengined Mirage would be produced in this country and what would be the saving in foreign exchange over its period of production?
It seemed to me, as I listened to the Secretary of State today, that he had already made up his mind to have the American aircraft. Every answer he gave to questions after his statement showed a naked prejudice against the Spey/ Mirage, in particular, his extraordinary remark that there is no means of discovering what the Spey/Mirage would look like or what its cost or performance would be. In our opinion on this bench, British military aircraft procurement is already weighted quite heavily enough in favour of the United States, and ordering the F111 would destroy the British aircraft industry's capacity to meet future military requirements. It would, as I said, impose a heavy burden on our balance of payments and directly contradict the Government's policy as set out in the National Plan. Finally, it would indicate to our friends in Europe that, after all, we are not interested in creating together with them a counter-weight to American technological imperialism.
I shall confine myself to trying to answer the question, What aircraft should be given to the Royal Air Force in 1968 when the Canberra ceases to be operational? I have to do this on the information which I now have. To this extent, I agree with the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) in his reference to the two months' delay, because I should find it much easier to discuss this if I had the further information which I would hope to have within a slightly longer time.
I do not at all agree with the hon. Member for Orpington when he says that he finds rather strange the motives of the air marshals in preferring the F111. They are not in any way prejudiced in favour of American aircraft. They are British using the best judgment they can, and they must have come to the conclusion, having regard to timing and availability, that the F111 was the answer. I do not believe that there can be any other motives.
In giving the views of the air marshals on this aircraft——
I am not giving them.
No, but in answering the point made, does the hon. Gentleman take into account the wish of the air marshals to try to get air ascendancy over their Navy counterparts?
There may be something in that, but I was dealing only with the straight question of the aircraft to replace the Canberra.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) made some comments about the Air League and quoted from a pamphlet. I am a member of the council of the Air League, and, although I disagree with the Air League on this issue, I must say that my hon. Friend was not justified in making the comment he did. The members of the Air League are sincere men and women working to support British aviation in all its aspects.
I come now to the main problem. The TSR2 has gone but the Royal Air Force requirement remains. In my view, the country's future lies with Europe, especially with France, which is our neighbour. I have done and want to do everything I can to help the British aircraft industry, but the more I look at this question on the information which I have today the more do I believe that, if I had to decide now, I should choose the F111. I now put to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government some of the questions which I have assembled out of those which have been raised, and I hope that they will answer them to help me to make up my mind.
Is it not a fact that the F111 exists and the R.A.F. could have it in 1968 when the Canberra is phased out? Is it not a fact that the Spey/Mirage does not exist and that to produce it is not an easy task because it involves almost the creation of a new aircraft, that is, converting a high-level nuclear aircraft into a low-level conventional one? Is it right—this is what I am told—that the Spey/Mirage could not fly before 1970 and that it would then be only the strengthened aircraft itself, the essential navigational attack system to go in it having to come along much later? If this is so, it is closely relevant to the most important point at issue: that because of availability we should have the F111 and not the Spey/Mirage.
As to performance, the variable geometry point has been raised in this debate, and I well remember that when I was sitting on the opposition Front Bench seven or eight years ago the question was raised by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) and by me and we mentioned at that time that it was being neglected. And is it not a fact that today, because the F111 has variable geometry characteristics, it has really some—it has at least one, I think some—points which make it superior even to the TSR2—for instance, in range on certain types of operations? The TSR2 has gone. It was too expensive. It has gone, and, of course, it is not as though we now have to compare it with the F111. We have now to compare the F111 with the Spey/Mirage. Surely it has advantages.
I do not know. But I do know that the TSR2 is dead and buried, and now the Government have to face the tremendous problem of making a choice of what aircraft will replace the Canberras when they become virtually useless in about 1968–69.
Surely, I ask my right hon. Friend, there is, is there not, the great advantage for the F111 to have this remarkable take-off and landing capability. Whatever the pattern of the Air Force, whatever types of aircraft it has, surely that is important. Is it not a fact that when the F111 was designed the designers were asked to develop an aircraft which had the capability of landing and taking off on the type of strip which the Dakota could use, and, if that is so, is that not a great advantage?
On the cost, I am, quite frankly, puzzled and would like some information. The Air League leaflet says that the Anglo-French machine would be about £1 million cheaper than the F111. I am baffled by this, because surely, if we are mass producing an aircraft such as the F111—and I think the figure is nearly 1,400 in the long run, compared with the 400 quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East—the research and development costs alone are spread over an enormous number whereas I do not think that any one would suggest for a moment that more than one-tenth of that number would be produced of the Spey/Mirage, and the research and development costs would be very much higher.
Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that the basic development costs of the Mirage 4 are largely written off over the French air force order, and the additional ones are only for the stretched version to take the Spey engine?
I should like to hear an answer to that. It is all very well to say "nonsense". These are things which are canvassed in the aviation Press. I want this information from the Government.
I want information about the costing, because I do not understand it. I am not saying this is all one way. I want information, and some sort of discussion of this. And there is another point, that the built-in guaranteed liability in the F111 would keep down running costs? However, I want more information. I am worried too, as everybody else is worried, that this is dollar expenditure.
If the Government give the Royal Air Force what it wants, that is, the F111, then we must be very careful that we do not slow down on the other important Anglo-French schemes and Anglo-French developments on variable geometry. I think it is not only politically essential that we should press on with this. It is politically essential, and we have been neglecting it for very many years, but let us remember that the work in this remarkable field of variable geometry is, after all, on our own British invention.
So reluctantly, on the information I have now, it seems to me that the F111 is the aircraft, and I believe that the Government, on military grounds and financial grounds, will have to choose it. I am very sorry that we have made very many mistakes over the last 10 years.
This discussion of ours must inevitably be in the nature of a reconnaissance. We have not got the Plowden Report; we have not got the Defence White Paper; and so we are to some extent discussing how to meet a requirement without quite knowing what are the circumstances in which the requirements will be needed.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) said that the TSR2 was dead and buried. I suppose that that is the starting point of our discussion. I am bound to say that the more we look at the history of the cancellation of the TSR2 the more doubt there must be even in the minds of those who supported its cancellation. It was an aircraft which, as far as it had flown, had proved itself and on which the test pilots gave the best possible opinions. It conformed not only to the requirements of the Royal Air Force but it gave valuable work to the industry associated both with military projects and with peaceful projects like the Concord.
The Government have taken credit for the fact that the cancellation has saved, they claim, some £300 million. It looks now as if the mounting costs of any possible alternative are going to whittle down this saving to some extent. What is more important is, I think, that the Government have never allowed for the fact that a very high proportion of the money spent, or which would have been spent, on the TSR2 would have been recovered by the Treasury in direct or indirect taxation. I know that the Treasury do not like this kind of estimating very much. Indeed, in Army and Air Force Estimates I was never able in my time to convince them that the Army or the Air Force should not be taxed on the petrol they consumed. But the truth is that some 40 per cent. of the wage bill of the TSR2 would have come back to the Government; and when the final reckoning is made I doubt very much whether any net financial saving will outweigh the additional burden on the balance of payments which will arise from its cancellation.
But, there it is; we are faced, as a result of the cancellation, with what is inevitably a choice of evils. I am bound to say that I find it difficult to follow hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides in advocating one aircraft more than another. I do not personally feel I have the information to do this, but, as this debate is in some sense a reconnaissance operation, there are a number of questions which I should like to put to the Minister, and I think his answers on these may help us in the bigger discussions which lie ahead when the House resumes and decisions have to be taken after the Recess.
I suppose that the cheapest way of solving the problem would be to bring forward as far as possible the Anglo-French swing-wing projects and to make do in the interval with whatever mix we can devise of Canberras, V-bombers modified for the low-level rôle, and Buccaneers. I would not myself dare to advocate this unless the Air Staff themselves proposed it, and even then I think that Ministers would have to look very carefully at whether it would be wise to take such a risk. But as between the two main contenders there are a number of points on which I think we need information.
First, there is the F111 which is under development. As I understood the Minister of Defence in his statement today, we are no longer even considering the F111 Mach 2. We are limiting ourselves to considering the F111 in its simpler form, with the min-min-mod computer—is that the right phrase?—added to it. It was not quite clear to me from the right hon. Gentleman's reply during his statement how far this really meets the original OR343. He said "substantial", which was a rather vague term. We ought to know more about it. Does it enable both the pinpointing of targets and low-level flying to the same extent as the avionics that we have proposed for the TSR2, or is some downgrading of the operational requirement involved?
If we go to the F111, is there any work at all for British industry in it? My impression is that there is not, but I should like to be quite sure about it.
There seem to be very great disadvantages in taking yet another American aircraft into the Royal Air Force. We have substituted the Phantom for the P1154 which, in its way, was the most advanced aircraft in our programme. We have taken the C130 for the HS681. It is now proposed to take a third American aircraft—at least, it sounded very much as if that was the inclination of the Secretary of State for Defence.
This is a very serious matter, both in reality and psychologically. It will be difficult to convince our friends on the Continent of Europe that we really mean business when we talk about European co-operation if we equip the Air Force on the combat side almost entirely with American aircraft. I do not say that we should not do it, but it could be a serious obstacle to European co-operation and one which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have to take into consideration very carefully.
There is another point on which I think the whole House would welcome some information. Supposing, in addition to buying the Phantom, we buy the F111, where does the Anglo-French swing-wing aircraft come in? What requirement is it going to meet? How is this affected by the two American purchases? Is it to be a replacement of the Phantom? Is it to be a replacement of the F111? Is it to be a joint replacement for both? Or has it a rôle outside either of them?
Plainly, if we equip ourselves with the Phantom and the F111 at the end of this decade the question arises, are we going to need the Anglo-French swing-wing aircraft before the end of the 1970s? If we do not need it before the end of the 1970s, will we be in phase with the French requirements, which I understand are rather earlier than the end of the 1970s? If we are not in phase, how will the Anglo-French programme work out?
I ask these questions about the F111. I am not saying that we ought not to take it, but they are points on which we need information.
What about the Spey/Mirage? The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Defence seemed to be saying that his right hon. Friend would tell the House the reasons why we should not buy it. Perhaps he will be able to give us convincing reasons, but there are a few points about it that I should like to ask.
The first was the point touched on by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). How near could the Spey/ Mirage come to meet the OR343 requirement in range, in payload and in general performance, by which I mean speed at high level and low level? Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us something about that?
It is common knowledge that it could not meet the OR343 requirement in terms of take-off and landing. How far does that matter having regard to the fact that the Air Staff have accepted that their main ground attack aircraft, the Phantom, should be based on long runways? How far can the disadvantage be mitigated by the rocket boosting system for take-off, which I understand was introduced by us in the war and which the French propose to use with the Mirage themselves?
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us something about cost? I know that it is against the general convention to go into cost details, because of questions of contract, but could he tell us how the cost of the Spey/Mirage would work out in relation to the apparently firm price that the Americans have quoted for the F111? Could he tell us something too about the time scale. I do not mean within months, because I would not trust any estimate of time scale either for the F111 or the Spey/Mirage in terms of a year or 18 months. But is there a very wide margin or not? Can he tell us something about the opinion of his experts—the experts at Farnborough, and the other establishments—on whether there is any real reason why the Spey/Mirage could not do the job? If it could do the job, there would be great advantage in having it. There would be work for British industry, and it would be an immediate step forward in the direction of Anglo-French co-operation.
There may be right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in the House who feel themselves in a position to judge between these two projects. I do not feel able to do that, but I feel that I am in a position to ask these questions. I know that the Air Staff has a strong prejudice in favour of the F111, but I have noticed that the Air League, which contains a high proportion of retired air marshals, and the industry, feel the other way. I do not think that we can judge without more information from the Minister. But I think that it would be helpful if he could give us information and allow the other interested parties freely to comment on it or contest it if necessary so that we can form an opinion for ourselves.
Big issues are at stake here. There is the ability of the Royal Air Force to discharge its commitments; particularly East of Suez, and this to my mind is, and must be, the first consideration. But there is hound up with this the future of the industry, and with that is bound up the future of the European co-operation. I put it this way to the right hon. Gentleman: the choice of the F111 can be justified and accepted only if the Government can demonstrate to our satisfaction, and to that of fair-minded people in industry itself, that the Spey/Mirage would not be able to do the job.
I did not expect to find that I would be in almost total agreement with the right hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery), but on this occasion, for a change, I endorse almost every word of his speech. As a student of aviation affairs before coming to the House I cannot say—perhaps because I was on this side of the House—that I counted myself as an admirer of the right hon. Gentleman, but this evening he has posed a number of important questions to which I hope we shall get very clear answers.
The debate so far has ranged not just across the Chamber but sideways as well on both sides of the House, and I should like to start by trying to answer a number of points made by my hon. Friends. I begin with my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett), who questioned whether we needed a replacement aircraft at all and said that this really depended on whether we had an east of Suez rôle in world strategy. I wonder whether my hon. Friend has overlooked the fact that, even if we did not have this, in my opinion, strange concept of an east of Suez rôle, we still have vital interests in other parts of the world, not the least of which is here in Western Europe?
Would not my hon. Friend accept that without an east of Suez commitment a plane like the F111 would not be required?
I do not think that I would necessarily accept that. It seems to me that we obviously need a replacement for the Canberra. It has a rôle to play in areas other than east of Suez and we have a duty to provide our Air Force with the best possible aircraft in the shortest possible time. It is against this background that we have to try to make the decision.
I confess that I am as much confused by those in this Chamber who are passionate advocates of the Spey/Mirage as I am by the advocates of the F111. Like the right hon. Member for Preston, North, I do not feel able to give any advice to the Defence Ministry on this point. All I can say is that the right hon. Gentleman posed certain questions and that I hope that in the breathing space we now have we shall receive satisfactory replies. I join with the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) in asking that the deferment of the taking up of the option should be further extended. Since we appear to have the cards in our hands in terms of an American order, I hope to see the option pushed back for at least one month, as the hon. Member for Orpington desired; indeed, I would like to see it put back even further while the issues are clarified in order that an objective decision or recommendation can be made by the Government, supported by opinion in this Chamber.
When we are considering the alternative either of the F111 or the Spey/ Mirage, can we examine the possibility of a mixed bag? This point was partly developed by the right hon. Member for Preston, North, who spoke of trying to use existing aircraft to tide us over the period until the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft comes along—if it ever does come along in the future.
I would add the following question: is it not possible to make use of a version of the Phantom for some of the rôles which require to be fulfilled in the next few years? If we are to believe the very glossy advertisements of the McDonnell Corporation which appear in various technical journals, this aircraft can do pretty well anything. In my opinion it is a fine aircraft. As a keen supporter of the British aircraft industry, I am sure that we are not doing our case any good by denying that the Phantom is a fine aircraft and is undoubtedly versatile. If it is eventually fitted with the Spey engine it will be an outstanding aircraft.
Is it not possible for the Phantom to be further developed so as to fulfil some of the requirements of the OR343? I do not know—but that is the sort of question to which we should have an answer. I hope that in the next two or three months the Government will have time to give us this sort of information. In this respect I support the impressive list of questions posed by the right hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) at the end of his speech. I made a note of them. They are very comprehensive and ask for the sort of information to which the House is entitled. As a loyal supporter of the Government, I hope that they will be able to see their way to answering these questions, along with the Defence Review, in the next few months.
If we decide to order the F111, what will be the effect on the British aircraft industry? I am neither advocating it nor denying that it should be ordered; I do not feel competent to do so. But it is necessary to point out that if we take up this major order with the American aircraft industry the effect will be severe not only on the military but the civil sides of British aviation. I want to couple what I have just said with a little note about a fact that I was going to save up for my peroration: the great majority of politicians and the general public do not appreciate the fact that the civil air transport industry is one of the major growth industries in the world—representing about 10 per cent. or 12 per cent. per annum—which will have to be satisfied as the years go by for as many years as one can foresee. We are only scratching at the surface in air transport, and if the British aircraft industry provides the right type of aircraft, with a world-wide appeal, there is no reason why we should not have a reasonable share of this future market. Therefore, I hope that it will be appreciated that, if the British aircraft industry does not have the very important backing of military contracts—which has been the basis, to date at least, of the success which we have notched up in civil aircraft—we shall be in very deep water.
I should like to quote a paragraph about the effects on Anglo-French cooperation if we were to order the American aircraft. The French have a a magazine equivalent to our Flight International called Air and Cosmos, which is quite a responsible magazine. In this week's issue is a short paragraph on the subject of a TSR2 replacement, which confirms what has already been said in the debate but is more important because it comes from the French side of the Channel.
The issue dated 11th December says:
The decision which the British Government is about to take on the replacement of the TSR2 is followed with the greatest attention in France. If, after the selection of the "Phantom" fighter and the "Hercules" transport, preference is given again to another American design, consequences on some of the future projects covered by the Franco-British cooperation agreements seem unavoidable. The European industry as a whole would suffer from another decision for the U.S. industry. France may have to go on its own for the next generation of advanced fighter aircraft which will be better adapted than U.S. designs to fit European requirements.
I hope that this consideration will weigh very heavily in the decision which the Ministry of Defence will be taking.
I should like to answer two of the points made in the debate, though I see that the hon. Gentlemen who put them forward are not here at the moment. When advocating the Spey/Mirage, the hon. Member for Orpington dismissed lightly, I thought, the difficulty of converting the Mirage to a low-level rôle. I think that his point was that the Mirage is satisfactory in a low-level rôle. As an ex-employee in the aviation industry, I must express some astonishment at this claim. I suppose it could be true, but I should be surprised if an aircraft designed for a high-level rôle were also satisfactory without major redesign for a low-level rôle. I hope that this is so, but I should be very surprised if it were.
The other point on which I wanted to comment is the interesting one made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), when speaking about variable geometry. He paid tribute to the work of Barnes Wallis, and said that this would undoubtedly be an important feature of aviation in the next decade. He is probably right, as far as one can see, over certain high-performance aircraft. Yet I must admit that I view with concern the decision to build a supersonic civil airliner, the Concord, with a fixed-wing, when the Americans will presumably—I do not think the decision has yet been finalised—order the Boeing supersonic transport project which is, of course, a swing-wing, a variable geometry, project. One wonders if, with the Concord, we are not falling into the same trap as we did over the Comet 15 years ago. That is another matter, I admit, but I wanted to make those two comments on speeches already made.
I hope that all the questions put by the right hon. Member for Mitcham will be answered and that there will, for once, be a relaxation of the very tight security restrictions which are usually clamped on details of military aircraft. I hope that it will be recognised that the consequences of a wrong decision in this case would be so serious to the nation and to the aviation industry that they demand special consideration of these questions. I hope that we receive answers to all of them over the next two or three months.
I will endeavour to compress my remarks very much, because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) wishes to take part in the debate, and I may therefore jump one or two points. It has been evident since the Government took office that they have claimed to take performance as a criterion. Unfortunately, their view on performance has changed often overnight, whenever they have thought it necessary for them to justify the purchase of particular aircraft. I suspect that performance will be pleaded in support of the decision to order the F111 instead of the Spey/Mirage merely—because it is convenient to do so and for no other reason. But performance covers many aspects. It covers take off, ferrying, payload capacity and many other aspects. The Minister should inform the House what the performance considerations are.
One performance consideration—and this is obvious—is serviceability. If an aircraft cannot fly, the question of what its performance is does not even arise. When we look at the record of some American companies involved here, in sheer performance the record is not very impressive. The last major civil flop was produced by the same company as is producing the F111. The Convair 990 was unable to meet its performance guarantees, and it cost the manufacturers an immense sum of mony. There was a very long delay indeed before it was able to meet its performance guarantees. This is scarcely an encouragement in respect of an aircraft which is today being talked about as if it had already met its performance guarantees. In fact, it has not met those guarantees; it is still in a very early development stage. Let us not speak of the F111 as if this aircraft had finished its development satisfactorily, and as if it were in fact in service, when it has neither finished its development satisfactorily nor is it in service. Let us bear that in mind.
The Minister speaks of the Spey/Mirage as if it were merely a gleam in somebody's eye. The Mirage IV is very far from that. It is an aircraft which has come off the production lines and is in Service with the French Air Force. The engines proposed for it have already been delivered to the McDonnell Company—at least, one has—absolutely on time and was above the guaranteed performance for the Phantom.
What is necessary in the modification sense for the Spey/Mirage IV is to lengthen the fuselage to take the Spey engines, because the centre of gravity is altered. Incidentally, this gives the aircraft a greater range because the lengthened fuselage can be used to carry more fuel. The structural modifications required are by no means extensive. To speak of this aircraft as if, because it is designed for a high-level mission, it is unsuitable for a low-level mission, shows lack of information about the design parameters. When Marcel-Dassault set about designing the aircraft they were asked to stress it for low-level use, too. If the Minister's information on the subject is inadequate, then he owes it both to the House and to the Government to inform himself on the matter.
Turning to the question of cost, the Secretary of State for Defence said this afternoon that he had got the guarantees about spares prices. He said in a rather indefinite manner that we were to pay the same price as was paid by the American Air Force. This can mean a number of things. Does it mean, as it meant for the Germans when they bought the F.104, that it is guaranteed for two years and then the sky is the limit? Does it mean that we should pay the invoiced price which the United States Air Force would face, but not the final price which they would pay after re-negotiation, because their contracts have re-negotiation clauses in them. Will the Minister tell us what is being offered? Is it the re-negotiated price? For how many years is this guaranteed? Is it guaranteed for as many years as we want spares?
We must remember, too, the very great economies that come from having a common engine in more than one type of aeroplane. If there is a common engine in both the Phantom and the Mirage IV it will be obvious to the Minister that the capital cost involved in spares must be immensely reduced. The same applies to overhaul facilities, with the number of man hours and personnel required. The overhaul and maintenance of common engines is greatly reduced in cost, remembering that the engineering staff is some of the most scarce personnel in the R.A.F.
When the question of the Phantom came up I asked the First Secretary of State what plans he had made for increasing our exports sufficiently to generate the dollars to pay for this aircraft. Back came the ridiculous reply that since trade was multilateral, the question did not arise. If we were to contract to pay 700 million dollars or more without demonstrating the means of getting them, the net result would be yet another run on the £—and the Minister as an ex-economist who has not yet become an aircraft engineer, should remember that fact before he finally changes from one profession to the other.
The sort of decisions we are debating have, by their nature, a quality of irreversibility, not only from the point of view of the aircraft to which we become committed, but from the point of view of the resulting aircraft industry left in this country. I am convinced that if we are to have a British aircraft industry continuing, our domestic market and export market outside Europe is too unreliable, if not too small, to support it. Therefore, we need access to a European market if we believe that it is necessary for us to have an aircraft industry, and I do so believe.
Let us embark at the earliest opportunity on a joint venture of this kind, remembering that it would be far less technically speculative than the F111 and that there are no academically new features in the Spey/Mirage. I hope that the F111 will prove extremely satisfactory because it is part of the armament of the Western world. However, I would certainly not like to find myself supporting a Government who had to find so many dollars to pay for it. Nor would I like to be responsible for finding myself supporting a Government who must deal with an atrophied aircraft industry resulting from such a decision.
I have every hope that, certainly within the next year—and probably within the next six months—it will be my party which will be in a position to take the responsibility for this matter. I hope that when that time comes we will not be faced with irreversible decisions taken by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
It is difficult to avoid repetition towards the end of a debate such as this, in which a considerable number of hon. Members have taken part. However, a number of points need to be underlined and I am sure that I speak for the whole House in saying that we were delighted this afternoon when my right hon. Friend was able to announce the deferment of consideration of the option which we understood for the last nine months had to be made by the end of this year. This will enable my right hon. Friend and the Government to look at this matter in the 'broader context of the Plowden Report and the Defence Review.
We recognise the difficulty which faces any Minister in having to bear in mind that whatever may be the need for an aircraft, that need cannot be satisfied for a period of less than, say, eight years —from the time of specification, through the designing taking place, the aircraft being proved, production commencing and the necessary experience of the Forces in using it. Accepting this great restriction on his freedom, the Minister must anticipate the needs of defence for possibly five or 10 years ahead, the time it may take before an aircraft can become reality. That is the situation which faces the Government today. We have the added difficulty of trying to talk of aircraft in the context of defence, and of defence in the light of our foreign policy.
We recognise that the Defence Review has taken some months of consideration, and we cannot discuss aviation and defence without knowing what our future foreign policy may be. Several references have been made to our possible rôles east of Suez, and one might well ask whether we can afford to carry the economic burdens of present-day defence, or whether they should be shared. These questions are relevant, because if we share our responsibilities with other Powers we may be able to ask ourselves whether we need replace the Canberra at all, as we were expected to do with the TSR2.
That brings me to a question which should be underlined tonight—whether Operational Requirements 343 are now really up to date. We recognise that the TSR2 had a very high specification—long-range, high level and low level, tactical, striking, reconnaissance, variable geometry, supersonic, long or short take- off. These are stringent specifications for any one to meet, and it might be said that only the F111 would satisfy the rôle. At the same time, if the question is asked in the light of a changing foreign policy which may come from the Defence Review—and we hope for substantial changes in that direction—one can ask whether such an aircraft is required at all.
A changing specification may, of course, bring into the rôle of the alternative some of the aircraft that have been mentioned tonight—the Spey/Mirage, the Spey/Buccaneer, and possibly other alternatives which many of us hope will be considered in preference to buying the American F111. Whether the problem be of specification, policy, cost, or time of delivery, many will agree that we have to ensure that the R.A.F.—and our Forces generally—gets the best possible aircraft suitable to its needs at the time required, regardless of almost all other considerations.
Will the Minister assure us, therefore, that the OR343 is still necessary? As some hon. Members have already mentioned, it will be rather ironic if we have to buy the F111, because it was Dr. Barnes Wallis who, frustrated by the policies of the party opposite in years gone by, went to America to give the Americans the lead in this direction. We have to pay the cost today——
It is only fair to say that this point should not be presented in such a way as to imply that Dr. Wallis went under his own steam, as an entirely spontaneous exercise. The Government of that day encouraged him to go.
Be that as it may, Dr. Barnes Wallis went to America several years ago and was instrumental in the introduction of V.G. there, and we have lost out as a result. I hope that we shall not recriminate on these things, but will make our own aircraft industry so attractive that we can bring back not only Dr. Barnes Wallis but many others who have gone, since they can make their contribution to our own aircraft industry.
The Spey/Mirage has been mentioned by many hon. Members as the alternative to the F111, but this plane is at present non-existent. The Mirage IV exists and the Spey exists, but the two have not yet been married. Those who are familiar with the industry will appreciate that when we want to put a new engine into an existing aircraft, even though both may have been proved separately, there remain quite formidable problems of design, engine mounting, aero-dynamics, stressing, and many other features which take time. It may well be that the Spey/Mirage will not be ready until the 'seventies, when we would want to replace the Canberra, which has now been in use since the early 'fifties. That, of course, may be overtaken by the Anglo-French V.G. aircraft which possibly will be available in 1975. Therefore, the Government's dilemma is to assess our needs in the 1970s and decide what aircraft is best available technically to meet those needs.
My hon. Friend is contemplating an adjustment or association of the planes. Would he think in terms of a Spey/Buccaneer as opposed to a Spey/ Mirage? Is not that possible?
I have already mentioned that the Spey/Buccaneer is an alternative but the same applies to both cases. There is still a great deal of work to be done in adjusting the design of these engines to the particular aircraft and in the testing and proving. This is a factor which we cannot ignore, and time is important in the replacement of the Canberra.
We must appreciate that there may be a need for less stringent specification and it may well be that the Spey/Buccaneer or Spey/Phantom will fit the rôle. In any event, we hope that the Government will do everything possible to ensure that there is a British or British-French alternative to the F111. I have already mentioned, and I think that many would agree, that in the matter of needs we have to be sure that the Forces get the plane they want at the time when they want it. In the light of those needs one could say that other matters are not so important. At the same time, if we come to review the operational requirements specification and say that we do not need the stringent specifications of the TSR2 or the F111, these alternatives become possibilities.
We have to bear in mind also the effect on our own industry. We recognise that in the past we have had an industry which has been leading the world in its design skill and in the aircraft which it produced. I believe that that time can come once again, but if we are to satisfy the needs of the near future with American aircraft we can never catch up in the race to provide British aircraft satisfactory to our needs. We may have a situation in which we buy the F111 to satisfy our immediate demands, and the aircraft which we would regard as an alternative may be stopped once again, and then when we need a replacement later on we shall have only American aircraft available and the British market will be unable to satisfy our demands.
If there are no alternatives at the moment to the F111 we might take a small number of the option to satisfy our immediate needs while at the same time we could be pressing ahead quite vigorously in co-operation with the French aircraft industry to produce a real alternative. If the Minister is going to say that the technical requirements of our aircraft is all that matters, we can point to the debate earlier this year when obviously budgetary considerations were involved, with the possibility of the R. & D. cost of the TSR2 rising from £90 million to a total spending of £750 million when the TSR2 became available. The Government said that they were unable to meet that immense cost and they therefore justified the cancellation of the TSR2 on budgetary considerations.
Several hon. Members have mentioned tonight and on previous occasions the effect on our dollar resources. We cannot ignore this. At this time it is important that we should do all we can not only to cut down dollar spending but in our own industry so build up our resources and equipment that we shall be able to satisfy our own requirements and export abroad.
The Minister said this afternoon that the price of the F111 has already been fixed and also the cost of the spares. This will to some extent allay the fears which may be held here that, having cancelled the TSR2 and committed ourselves possibly to the F111, costs may rise in consequence. The Minister must still satisfy the House that, although the cost may be fixed for the F111A, if we have to accept any variation or modifications later on—if we have to take another mark—we have the same protection as he assures us we have at present, and this would affect not only the initial cost of the aircraft but also the cost of the spares.
Another factor which must be considered in taking this decision is that we shall be possibly tied to a foreign supplier. We have already had some information about the way in which some electrical or electronics components have been held up by America, which means that the whole of an aircraft system may be in jeopardy. These are some of the dangers which we face when we are tied to a foreign supplier.
Hon. Members mentioned also the possible danger of jeopardising Anglo-French relations. We are pleased that the Concord is under way. We are also pleased that the Minister was able to announce a few months ago the V.G. project which is going ahead with the French. We are anxious that these shall continue and that we should add to the number of projects. I believe that very grave harm could be done to the British aircraft industry if we were to decide in the circumstances to buy aircraft from America. There are many other points which can be made in the light of past experience.
I end by asking some of the questions which I believe have been asked by other hon. Members tonight. I ask whether OR343 is still relevant to our needs or whether we can accept a lower specification, in which case there is the possibility of getting an alternative to the F111. We ought also to consider the alternatives of the Mirage and the Buccanneer with Spey engines. If the Minister is going to America for our immediate needs, pending, substantial work with the British industry for a longer term alternative, we might consider reciprocal sales with America on the condition that, if we buy their aircraft or projects, we ought to be able to export to them some of our own aircraft projects and therefore help our own industry.
Whatever decision is taken will not be taken lightly. It has to be taken in the light of all the circumstances of foreign policy and of defence needs. Finally, I hope that in the consideration of all these matters the future of the British aircraft industry will be uppermost in the Government's mind.
I very much agree with what the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) has just said. The hon. Gentleman was right to ask what the Americans will buy from Britain. It is a little late to try to find what the Americans will buy from Britain when orders have already been placed. That matter should be dealt with in the first place when trading takes place. Some horse-trading should be engaged in. What we have read so far in the Press is that the Americans may buy some small ships. There has been a certain amount in the papers about it. No doubt there will be great lobbying against this proposal. I have seen the figure mentioned of £24 million worth of ships. This seems very little to set against British orders which may well amount to £400 million.
The hon. Gentleman was right to refer to the cost in dollars. We know that the Government have borrowed about £1,000 million in dollars from the International Monetary Fund and elsewhere to support the £. At the moment the £ is strong. It is strong only because we are living on borrowed money. The ultimate fate of the £ depends on whether we run our affairs properly. We all hope that it will work out the right way. As I see it, about £250 million worth of orders have already been placed for the Hercules transport and the Phantom. Assuming another £150 million spent on the F.111A, that brings us to a total of £400 million.
How on earth are the British people to pay all this money back to the United States? Like other hon. Members, I want to see British Service men have the best equipment, but I do not want to see the nation bankrupt in the process. Probably we have to make do and give up something else in order to ensure that our Service men get the best available. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer or some one else from the Treasury must say something to the House about this.
The decision to delay this matter for two months is ironical considering that the Government have had a year to think about it. The Defence Secretary said that he was negotiating this ten days before the Motion was put down on the Order Paper. But it does not need a Motion on the Order Paper to acquaint a Minister with the fact that hon. Members are unhappy. Interviews take place and there is lobbying, and if the Whips and the Parliamentary private secretaries are doing their job they tell the Minister. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has been pressurised into this situation, and I am glad of it. I am delighted by his statement, but I do not think that two months is long enough.
Whatever they may say now, the Government made a ghastly mistake in cancelling the TRS2. I would be the first to agree that, starting from scratch now, we would not be building a TSR2, but surely, once we had spent so much money and once three prototypes had broken the sound barrier and we had an aircraft comparable to the F111A, it would have been worth proceeding with. But not only did the Government cancel the project. Other hon. Members and I had an interview with the Minister of Aviation about the prototypes continuing to fly. But he "scrubbed" them. He said that it would be too costly at £2 million. But what is £2 million in £400 million?
Not only did the right hon. Gentleman cancel the three prototypes. He also gave instructions that bulldozers should go over the jigs and tools and destroy them so that there should never be the opportunity of building the TSR2 even should it be necessary. The right hon. Gentleman has great responsibility to the country in this matter. It was bad enough to cancel the TSR2, but he decided to wreck the project completely. We might have fallen out with the Americans in the course of the year and have needed those jigs and tools.
I was never satisfied or happy about this matter, but I agree that the military considerations must be of primary importance. I think that the F111A will obviously be made to work. The Americans have had problems with it but any country that can put men into space for 14 days at a time can get an aircraft to work. I have no doubt that they will do what they have said they will do. But the cost will be £3 million apiece, according to my estimate.
We must be prepared to continue our forward element east of Suez. The hon. Member of Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) recommended that nothing should be bought. That would be a nice way of sending the Prime Minister to America—asking him to say that we should not have a rôle east of Suez and break all our treaties with Malaysia and other countries. I estimate that at the moment 40 or 50 aircraft will be needed in what I refer to as reinforcement squadrons.
There has been obviously a conflict in Whitehall on this matter. There has been a local war between the Royal Navy and the R.A.F. It seems that so far the air marshals are winning and that they are not prepared to see new carriers coming into being with Phantoms hotted up with British engines. They are intending to obtain R.A.F. supremacy in the air—and I do not blame them for trying, but we as Parliamentarians have to think of other things, of what is to be done and how we are to spend public money.
There is no doubt that the Australians placed an order for the F111A about 18 months ago because the Labour Party here when in Opposition indicated that it would not support the TSR2. The Australians thought that if they ordered the TSR2 they might not get it in the end. So they ordered the F111A instead. That was a great service that the party opposite did to British exports before the last election.
We have heard this allegation before. Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman care to indicate whether the Australians themselves have ever said this or whether it is theory?
All the indications are that the Australians did say that they were not convinced that they would get the TSR2. Indeed, the same thing is being said in Australia about British civilian aircraft—that if they order British they will not get the aircraft because there will not be a British aircraft industry. It is common knowledge that that is the case with the BAC111 and the VC10.
Let the Minister of Aviation realise that the Americans, as I have said many times, are out to kill not only the British aircraft industry but the European aircraft industry. Mr. Kuss, the super-salesman, was over here last week, and I could see what was in the wind then. He was here to clue up this order. I am delighted that he has gone back empty handed for Christmas. That was the best news for this country for a very long time. I ask hon. Members not to underrate the seriousness of the Americans in this whole business. They are determined to kill the aircraft industry and the electronics industry, not only in Britain but in Western Europe, for they want to dominate the world market. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation has been struggling hard to sell British aircraft in the Middle East and elsewhere, and he knows only too well the tactics of our American friends. He could tell a very illuminating story of their tactics if he were allowed to do so. The hon. Gentleman has done a great service to British aviation trying to sell our equipment against the most formidable odds.
The British aircraft industry has to be maintained, but if the order for the F111 is placed, what will happen to the industry? Where will the orders come from? There might be orders for a few Buccaneers and some Coastal Command Comets, but little else. Where would the design work be? An aircraft industry cannot be maintained without design work, but the design teams will emigrate. The Labour Party used to attack us about the brain-drain of scientists going to America. It is still going on. Some 300 doctors have left Britain since April and aircraft designers will be leaving Britain in large numbers unless something is done. They are already doing so. They must be encouraged to be with it on the latest design ideas. If the order for the F111 goes to America, we shall have had it.
I am not in a position to advise or even give an opinion on what is the best aircraft, but, provided that the Mirage IV can measure up to 95 per cent. of what is required in the specification, it should be seriously considered for a joint project between Britain and France. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Aviation, who is a very good European, had the most unpleasant task last year of going to France to try to cancel the Concord. I cannot imagine a more unpleasant task. We all know the story—the Government could not get out of it—and the project is continuing, and continuing very well indeed.
What will be the impression in France if we go American this time, if, having tried to get out of the Concord a year ago, we refuse to co-operate, assuming that the Mirage IV can do the job? It is no good having Members saying that it would have to be completely redesigned. That is not so. It was built with a low level capability, and I remind hon. Members that even the Victor bomber has a low level capability, even though it was designed eight or nine years ago. It is still doing a very useful job. The Mirage IV would not have to be redesigned. I believe that delivery could be made by 1969. If the British Aircraft Corporation gives a date, I am prepared to accept it, for as a rule the Corporation is on time. It was certainly eight or nine months late with the TSR2, but that was not bad considering the complexity of the project. The Americans are late with the F111 and it is by no means certain that they will be on time and, with the escalation of the war in the Far East, the Americans will want quite a few of these aircraft themselves before the British get them, and, as we know, the Australian orders would come first anyway.
Since last December, when the Prime Minister went to the United States, I have had the feeling that he made some sort of deal with the President that, in return for support of the £, we would place orders for aircraft in the United States. I have yet to be convinced that something like that did not take place. Hon. Members may dissent, but all the evidence points that way. I should like to have a categorical assurance that there is no arrangement with the Americans, because I am becoming extremely alarmed about what the right hon. Gentleman will do.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to be absolutely frank with the House in the next two or three months. The Government have a desperately important decision to make and, if the right hon. Gentleman does not tell us the facts, we shall read them in the American aeronautical magazines. The news is usually there. The House is entitled to know. We need another month, not two but three months, so that the matter can be gone into fully and so that we can consider it with the Defence White Paper, the Plowden Report and other reports and not rush into a decision. The Government must have doubts, otherwise they would not ask for postponement after nearly a year of negotiation. I would ask them to bear in mind that if this order is placed in America the British aircraft industry can be written off today. I admit that the take-off needed for the Mirage is longer than that of the TSR2, but the Phantom has been accepted for long take-offs. If it is acceptable for the Phantom, then I think it will be acceptable for the Mirage IV. If it is not, then tens of thousands of British men will be out of work.
It is no good saying that the skilled engineers will go into export industries. It does not happen like that. A man will get a job where his house is, because he cannot get a mortgage for a house elsewhere under this Government. He has to live where he is. These men will not go into other export trades. We want to maintain them in the aircraft industry, where there is this tremendous technological fall-out into general engineering. The Government will bear an increased responsibility if they decide against this joint co-operation with the French.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) began the debate a little curiously by saying that it was almost an unnecessary debate. I would not go as far as that by any means. We have had some extremely interesting speeches and some extremely interesting cross-currents developing from both sides of the House. What I do say is that I think that this is a rather oddly-timed debate. The option has been extended to 1st March and I hope that we will not hear any more from the right hon. Gentleman about that being due to pressure from the Motion which was put down last week. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence communicated with Mr. McNamara on this matter as long ago as 2nd December, long before the Motion was put down, and unless the right hon. Gentleman is going to say that he does not believe my right hon. Friend he cannot tic this up with his Motion.
Of course I was not suggesting that I do not believe the Secretary of State for Defence. The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that pressure was develop- ing very strongly long before the Motion was put down. That was only the culmination of pressure from both sides of the House.
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that at the beginning of his speech he specifically referred to this as a great victory for his Motion. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft), who is always a great cheerer, if nothing else, is prepared to put himself behind that proposition.
This is an oddly-timed debate from another point of view, because the House will have the opportunity fairly soon of having a much wider and better-informed debate, when it has the recommendations of the Plowden Committee before it. It will be possible to debate that before a final decision is made, and one wonders why this debate took place. I am rather inclined to think that it was perhaps an opportunity for some aviation warriors on the other side of the House to have a last fling before they have to face up to some of the hard facts contained in that Report.
I must say that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) certainly trotted out some of the old arguments, as indeed did the right hon. Gentleman for Mitcham. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Robert Howarth) mentioned the fact that the right hon. Gentleman raised a number of substantial points which it would have been extremely appropriate to answer if we were announcing and defending a decision to buy a particular plane. It would not be appropriate to put forward answers which would be based on a decision having been taken in advance of that having been done. There is no question of a decision being taken. Let me say to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) that there is no question, in his phrase, of having deferred a commitment. We have deferred an option. The decision is open. We have not taken the decision and we shall take it bearing in mind all the facts.
I would also say to him that I do not think it is very appropriate this evening, such a short time before the Plowden Report comes out, to attempt to debate the whole future of the British aircraft industry. But I was a little surprised when he began his speech, very powerfully, by saying that this was a fat and flabby industry but, at the same time, underlined the fact that he has, I believe, opposed, in a friendly way, every attempt that I have made to put it on a more wholesome diet during the past few months.
Perhaps I can help the House by outlining some of the considerations which should be in our minds in deciding upon a Canberra replacement, which is what we have to decide upon within the course of the next two months. The three considerations which, it seems to me, are central to this decision are, first, to give the R.A.F. the best plane for the rôles which it has to fulfil at the time that it is needed; secondly, to do so at the least possible cost to the nation, taking into account both budgetary and balance of payments considerations; and, thirdly, to do so in the way that offers the British aircraft industry the best prospect for the future, and this, in my view—I agree fully with my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) here—means the best prospect for Anglo-French co-operation and for wider European cooperation built upon that foundation.
If all these three considerations pointed in the same direction, the decision would be extremely easy. But the fact of the matter is that they do not all point in the same direction, or certainly do not point with equal force in the same direction. They point in a considerable variety of directions. But there is one direction in which, in my view, they certainly do not point, and that is—I say this to the hon. Member for Macclesfield—back towards the TSR2.
I do not know what the right hon. Member for Mitcham meant by saying that we were over hasty in this decision. Does he or his right hon. Friend the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who believes in economy, think that we should go on spending at least £350 million because, unlike the right hon. Member for Monmouth, we were unable to make up our minds about anything? There is no ques- tion of it being an over-hasty decision. It is quite clear that this aircraft would have been the enemy not only of economy in defence spending but also of effective Anglo-French collaboration.
Could the right hon. Gentleman confirm one point? I said this evening that when the right hon. Gentleman claimed a saving of £300 million by cancelling TSR2 he had not taken account of the return to the Exchequer from taxation arising from the salaries and wages of those working on the project. Could he confirm whether this is right or not?
What I will say to the right hon. Gentleman, to a great part of whose speech, which I thought was very thoughtful, I listened with interest, is that that point is entirely without foundation. It is one of the most bogus economic points that I have ever heard. It assumes that labour and capital resources not used on TSR2 would be left totally unemployed. If this were so, we could always take the view that it was right for the Government to spend twice as much money on one thing as on anything else because half of it would always come back in taxation.
The point which I was making was that the TSR2 was the enemy not only of budgetary economy, but of French collaboration. I think that everybody, except the Opposition, is convinced now about budgetary economy. However, we fulfil our needs, the saving will be at least £300 million and may well be £400 million or above. The higher figure will apply only if we make do with fewer aircraft. But this does not make it an unfair point. So long as we had the TSR2 in the programme there was an incentive to keep up the numbers. Only an order of 100-plus gave the programme even a vestige of financial sense. With R and D costs of £300 million, a substantially smaller buy would have sent the total costs per plane rocketing towards the fantastic figure of £10 million each. With the TSR2 knot cut—and it ought to have been done long before—we can buy the very minimum number of planes which we need, certainly with the F111 and, to a large extent, with the alternatives, which I shall discuss later, without forcing the R and D cost per plane up to quite intolerable levels.
Now, the second point, the incompatibility of the TSR2 with Anglo-French collaboration. At this point, I put a perfectly serious question to the Opposition, particularly to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West who, I believe comes to these matters with a fresh mind. Today, the Opposition have argued the paramount importance, on industrial grounds, of Anglo-French aircraft collaboration. They need hardly have done so. It is at the centre of my own conviction in these matters. But in previous debates, and to some extent today, they have argued with at least equal force against the cancellation not only of the TSR2 but also of the HS681 and the P1154. These were the three military projects which I inherited. None of them offered the least prospect or basis for collaboration with the French or with anyone else.
This was true of all three, but it was most obviously true, because it was the furthest developed and involved the greatest call on resources over the next few years, of the TSR2. In February this year, when we were poised over the decision whether to cancel or not, I asked the French whether they would consider coming in on the TSR2. If they had shown a flicker of interest, it might have made a substantial difference. But they did not.
Therefore, I ask the Opposition these questions. First, what sort of basis for Anglo-French collaboration in the military field do they think they bequeathed to us? Second, had we followed their advice and gone on with all these three projects, what room do they think there would have been either in terms of budgetary commitments or of R.A.F. inventory for a Anglo-French military collaboration at any stage in the next ten years? We could not have done the Jaguar, and we could not have planned the V.G. strike interceptor, without taking leave of our financial senses. We should have been shackled for the next crucial decade to the disastrous treadmill of independent British production for the inadequate British market. We had to clear the ground before we could even start to build.
I turn now to the present position. How do we try to reconcile as nearly as we can the three conflicting objectives which I set out at the beginning? Is it by adopting the Spey/Mirage, by developing the Buccaneer, or by a limited purchase of F111s? First, the Spey/Mirage. We have considered this aircraft most seriously and we shall continue to do so, but neither hon. Members here nor commentators outside do anything to help Anglo-French co-operation by pretending that there are no real problems associated with this aircraft. It is, or could be—it does not exist as an aeroplane yet—a good aircraft, but it is idle to pretend that it has the range, the speed, the weapon load or the capacity to operate from unprepared strips which the F.111 has. In addition, with the Spey fitted and with the required nay-attack system developed, it would not, in our view—I wish it were otherwise—be available for service until at least two years, and perhaps longer, after the F111.
These developments would cost money, certainly enough to make the £1·5 million per aircraft which has been quoted totally unrealistic. The aircraft might still be cheaper, a little cheaper copy for copy, than the F111, but as, because of the performance difference, more aircraft would be required to do the same job, it would be a good deal more expensive in terms of cost-effectiveness. Present indications, in short, are that the Spey/ Mirage falls between the Buccaneer and the F111, but in cost it is much nearer to the American aircraft.
Ought we nevertheless to take the Mirage, in spite of what I have said, in order to show our faith in Anglo-French co-operation? Vital though I consider this co-operation to be, I think that this is an unwise argument. The Anglo-French partnership, if it is to work, must be an equal partnership. Its essence is that we should go forward together in good faith and mutual confidence to produce good aeroplanes for the future. This for our part we intend to do, and we attach the greatest possible importance to the variable geometry project, which we are determined to protect; but an equal partnership does not demand that we should take the Mirage unless it meets our requirements, any more than it demanded that the French should be associated with the TSR2 when it did not suit them. We have not taken a final decision on the Mirage. When we do so we shall announce it to the House.
I think that, clearly, on the question of runways, there is an advantage for a plane which can operate from the shorter runways; and the fact that the Phantom may require hard, relatively long runways, is certainly no reason why another plane should not be required to operate from runways as short and as unprepared as possible.
It by no means follows from this that there are not arguments against taking up the F111 option. In my view there are, as indeed there are to some extent against all the possible courses—but a break 0f faith with the French is not, I think, among these arguments.
The most forceful argument, of course, is that the F111 will cost dollars, and, although I think this aircraft will be a good bargain in terms of sterling, a lot of dollars. Could we avoid this expenditure across the exchanges by meeting the need from our own industry? A developed Buccaneer is undoubtedly a serious possibility, and I come now to this.
The Buccaneer Mark 2, which is already in service with the Navy, is an efficient, low-level strike aircraft. It could be given a reconnaissance capability and a new low-level nav-attack system broadly comparable to that proposed for the F111 or the Spey/Mirage. With these developments the Buccaneer —the two double star, as it would then be called—would be a possible Canberra replacement, and one which would avoid dollar expenditure, of course.
But there are a number of cautionary considerations of which the House should be aware in the case of this aircraft also. First, considerable research and development expenditure would be involved. It is the case with any aircraft which one is adapting to a new rôle, and I was surprised at the ease with which some hon. Members who, I believe, have had experience in this difficult and complicated in- dustry spoke about the way in which we could take an air frame and an engine and fit them together as though it were no trouble at all and involved no risk; and was surprised, too, that hon. Gentlemen seem to think that one could fit an avionics system or an engine into an air frame without risk in cost and time.
In the case of the Buccaneer considerable research and development expenditure would be involved, and when this plane had been developed, at least twice as many Buccaneers as F111s would be required to do the job. Because the eventual cost would be about two to one—the Buccaneer would cost half as much as the F111—there would, therefore, be no saving in sterling costs, but on a cost effectiveness basis the Buccaneer two double star would not be far behind the F111, though it would be a little. However, as a plane it would have certain operational deficiencies. It is a relatively old aircraft. The Mark I came into service in 1961. It is subsonic and, with great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson), who I know pays great regard to these questions, it would not be very easy to make it supersonic. The considerations which applied to the views of hon. Members opposite apply in this case also.
The existing Buccaneer has a Spey engine in it, but some of our discussions of these complicated matters are bedevilled by the fact that the name "Spey" covers a very wide range of engines now produced or to be produced by the Rolls-Royce Company. The Spey which is required in the Phantom or would be required for the Mirage is a very different proposition from the Spey which exists in the Buccaneer currently in service.
As I say, the plane is subsonic, and it would be very difficult to make it supersonic. It has a much shorter range, and also it requires a hard runway.
The third and perhaps the most important of the points with which I am now dealing is that it would he several years later in service than the F111, although it might possibly be a little earlier than the Spey/Mirage. There would not be a great deal between the two planes and, if anything, the Buccaneer might be slightly earlier.
The question of time scale carries with it both operational and industrial disadvantages, the first of which is an obvious one. For the R.A.F. and the country to be dependent on the Canberra in the period between 1969 and 1971 or 1972 might be dangerous. The second disadvantage is the industrial one of bringing a later plane into service. That is a less obvious point but, to my mind, it is none the less an extremely important one which relates to the core of much of our argument this evening.
To develop this plane or for that matter the Spey/Mirage and to bring it into service in the early 1970s might—and I do not say more than "might"—create more of a barrier to art effective R.A.F. demand for the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft than would a slightly earlier purchase of the F111. The variable geometry plane is required by the French in 1974—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) asked me questions on the point—and on current thinking by us in 1975. That is a perfectly containable and almost a convenient difference. They would take the slightly earlier ones and we would take the slightly later ones. However, were the difference to widen and were it to widen substantially, there could be real difficulties. It is obviously not easy to bring one plane into service in, say 1972 and another, better but roughly comparable plane, only three years later.
The hon. Member for Macclesfield asked where is the design capacity and on what is the design work to be employed. It is to be employed on the variable geometry plane. It is a forward-looking proposition of great importance not only to the future of the British industry but of importance, too, to Anglo-French and wider European co-operation.
If the House attaches central importance to the highly versatile variable geometry plane, the argument about what is the best replacement really becomes a much more difficult and complicated one than some hon. Members at any rate have allowed in their speeches tonight.
Let me put it this way: if we could manage, and manage effectively, with a Buccaneer which required less lengthy development time than the Two Double Star, the problem would be greatly eased. We cannot tell for the moment, indeed we cannot tell until the Defence Review is somewhat further advanced, exactly whether we need an aircraft of the F111 sort at all, but that in itself is a most powerful argument for keeping open the option for the period described by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. We shall thus have an opportunity, before making a decision, to define more precisely, in the light of the Defence Review, exactly what commitments the R.A.F. will be asked to undertake in the 'seventies.
Would the right hon. Gentleman deal with the point that I made? Last year the Defence White Paper was published on 22nd February, and if that time scale is adhered to next year only a week will elapse before the right hon. Gentleman has to decide whether to take up the option. Would not it have been wiser to have asked Mr. McNamara for three months instead of two?
There are limits, from an industrial point of view, as to how far options of this sort can be extended, but the Government will have available to them the full results of the Defence Review, and the House will have available to it, and will have been able to debate, the Plowden Report on the future of the industry.
Do I understand that the House will have available to it a decision on the possible purchase of the F111, or some other similar aircraft, before the publication of the next Defence White Paper, or will this be included in the Defence White Paper, and no separate announcement be made to the House on that point?
I cannot give a firm undertaking on that, but it is certainly the case that the Government will have the Defence Review brought to the position in which it will be contained in the Defence White Paper before a decision is taken. It is also the case—and the House knows that it is to be published this week —that the House will be able to study the Plowden Report and will have the opportunity of debating it soon after we come back before any decision on this matter is announced to the House. I think that that goes a very long way to meet what has been put to us here.
That was not the undertaking which I gave to the hon. Member for Bournemouth (Sir J. Eden), and I think the House and the right hon. Gentleman will understand that I do not want to commit my right hon. Friend, who after all has to present the Defence White Paper and announce the decision, too much as to exactly how these are presented. What I have said is that the House will be able to study and debate the Plowden Report. The Government will have available to them the result of the Defence Review up to the stage at which it will be incorporated in the Defence White Paper before making any decision about it. I think that there is no question of it being made in the dark, without the Plowden Report—with everything That it means for the future of the industry—being in the hands of the House, and without the House being able to express a view about it and hearing the Government's policy on its recommendations.
In our decision on a Canberra replacement we shall pay the greatest possible regard to industrial considerations, both in relation to our own firms and to the prospects for Anglo-French collaboration, but let us not entirely forget that at the end of the day the object of ordering a Canberra replacement, or indeed any other military aircraft, is not to serve industrial convenience, but to provide aircraft for the Royal Air Force.
The demands of the Royal Air Force need, as we would expect, to be scrutinised critically and stringently, but, when we have done that scrutiny, we must ensure that it has the equipment to perform the tasks which are put on it. We are determined to achieve this, to give it the equipment it needs in the way most compatible with a healthy but realistic future for the British aircraft industry closely linked with its European neighbours.
Can the right hon. Gentleman answer the specific question that I put? We were told this afternoon, for the first time, that the price had actually been agreed over this option for the F111 before the option was finally given. May I ask again what I asked in my speech, namely, in deciding that price was any account whatsoever taken of the contribution of British technology that was made by Dr. Barnes Wallis in the field of variable geometry?
If the hon. Member thinks that in the position in which, under the Government of the party opposite—[Interruption.] Under the Government of the party opposite Dr. Barnes Wallis, as he told us later, was positively encouraged to go to America and take his views there. They were developed there and neglected here, and I cannot think that anyone would agree that it would be possible to argue that because of this we should have a lower price for the aircraft than the American Air Force themselves.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.