Does my hon. Friend accept that it would be wrong for the British Army to have to depend on imports for so important a part of its equipment as the main battle tank? Can he confirm that if Vickers continues to make such good progress and achieves milestones two and three next year—as planned—a production contract for Challenger 2 will follow?
I very much welcome the progress that Vickers is making, but I must refer my hon. Friend to what the former Secretary of State for Defence—my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger)—said on 20 December 1988 when this subject was discussed at great length by the House. He told the House that we were taking a "staged approach" to this procurement which
will enable us to keep our options open for the future, if that proves necessary."—[Official Report, 20 December 1988; Vol. 144. c. 284]
The previous Secretary of State also said that he very much hoped that Vickers would produce an adequate prototype and win the contract. Is that the view of the current Secretary of State? If so, why does the Ministry of Defence actively support the Department of Trade and Industry in sponsoring a tour of Britain by Vickers' main rival, General Dynamics of the United States?
The tour by General Dynamics—for which it is paying—is connected with the principle of banking offset arrangements, which is a good principle from which British industry benefits. Most of the subjects under discussion relate to offsets unconnected with armoured vehicle procurement.