Does my hon. Friend really appreciate the urgency that attaches to solving this question? Does he also appreciate that without aircraft of this type and ships from which to fly them the Royal Navy will be quite unable to carry out its traditional and foremost task of protecting our overseas trade routes?
We are well aware of the urgency of this matter but, as my hon. and gallant Friend knows, there are a number of conflicting matters which have to be taken into account, and conflicting projects, and there is no point in rushing this matter. It is very important to get it right.
Will my hon. Friend explain why the makers of this aircraft maintain that it is suitable for maritime purposes and the Government maintain the opposite? What modifications need to be made to the existing Harrier, and how long would they take to make it suitable for naval operation?
What we have said all along is that the operational capability of the Harrier—that is, its weapons and other systems—must be developed if it is to perform effectively as a fighting aircraft in a maritime rôle. As my hon. Friend knows, we are considering whether the present Harrier should be given a better performance, whether another aircraft should be designed or whether either aircraft is needed for the cruiser.
In view of the continually unsatisfactory nature of replies on this subject, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity of raising the matter on the Adjournment.