Is my hon. Friend aware that this question has been asked for five years and has received the same reply? These aircraft—the Harrier and the prototype Kestrel—have been available for eight years. The United States has completed trials in the last two years. Why cannot the Ministry make up its mind?
I am certainly aware that my hon. Friend has asked me this question every month for the last 18 months. The United States Marines wanted the aircraft for a purpose different from that for which the Navy would require it. A project definition study has been started, and will take some months to complete. I cannot be more precise than that now.
Will my hon. Friend explain to his new colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, and ask him to bring a sense of history to his appointment, which we welcome, and recall that the first duty of the Royal Navy throughout the centuries has been to protect our trade, and that it cannot be done other than by endemic ship-borne aircraft?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that questions have been asked from time to time on this issue? When will he be in a position to make an announcement in order to reassure his hon. Friends? Will he be able to do so in the next Defence White Paper? Will he at the same time give a clear indication of the number of cruisers he has in mind to build, and also the rate of ordering? Will he make the position abundantly clear?