Multi-Rôle Combat Aircraft (Research and Development)

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th December 1976.

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Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East 12:00 am, 14th December 1976

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how much per plane must be added for research and development to the estimated cost of £6·3 million for each common version MRCA and £7·7 million for each ADV version.

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

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.

Photo of Mr Frank Allaun Mr Frank Allaun , Salford East

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?

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

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.

Photo of Sir John Cope Sir John Cope , Gloucestershire South

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?

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

Those are rather exotic statistics. It depends what period of time the hon. Gentleman is taking. As I have said, this aircraft meets the operational requirements of the RAF and the air forces of Italy and the Federal Republic of Germany—our partners in this project.

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Harlow

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?

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

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.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Pattie Mr Geoffrey Pattie , Chertsey and Walton

Will the Minister confirm that the MRCA is the linchpin of the RAF's defensive capability for the 1980s?

Photo of Dr John Gilbert Dr John Gilbert , Dudley East

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.