For reasons of security and commercial confidentiality it has never been the practice to give information of the sort requested by my hon. Friend at this stage in the development of any project.
Has the Minister seen the estimate by Mark Hewish, of Flight, writing in the New Scientist, to the effect that £1·5 million per plane must be added for research and development? Since this would bring the total bill for the British taxpayer to £3·2 billion for the 385 planes, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he can justify expenditure on such a fantastic scale at this time?
My hon. Friend is seeking to tempt me, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), into giving costs which, as he knows, are classified information. The £1,500 million that would be involved in sunk expenditure and cancellation charges does not even take account of the cost in terms of lost jobs and work opportunities, let alone the nugatory expenditure in respect of support and running costs.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that there can be no question of cancelling this aircraft because of any suggestion that it does not do what it was supposed to do? Does he agree that it does all that it is supposed to do? Will he further confirm that the price of this aircraft has not increased by as much proportionately as the price of a loaf of bread or a pint of beer?
Does my hon. Friend accept that the point could be reached at which further expenditure on this aircraft could not possibly be justified? Does he agree that, especially when we are suggesting that cuts should be made in education, and health and welfare services, we must see whether it is possible to reduce this outrageously lavish expenditure?
As a general proposition, what my hon. Friend says is right—that if the costs of any project rise out of proportion to the benefits expected from it, it should be looked at again. However, I think that the cost control of this project is now well in hand.
It is not intended just for a defensive rôle, as the hon. Gentleman will know. But if a decision were taken not to proceed with the MRCA—[Interruption.] I said "if" a decision were taken—careful thought would have to be given to some other form to replace the ageing Phantoms, Buccaneers and Canberras.