Challenger Tank

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th June 1991.

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Photo of John Battle John Battle , Leeds West 12:00 am, 4th June 1991

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he will make a decision about the Challenger tank order.

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark , Plymouth, Sutton

As hon. Members will know, a wide range of factors must be taken into account in reaching a decision as important as that on the equipment of the future main battle tank fleet. I recognise the concern of the House that that decision should not be delayed unnecessarily. Although I cannot be drawn into a discussion of detail at this stage, I can say that it is our intention to make a further announcement before the end of this month.

Photo of John Battle John Battle , Leeds West

Will the Minister confirm that his military advisers have already recommended to the Government that they should take the German Leopard tank on a leasing arrangement? Will he put an end to the charade of stringing along the Vickers company in Leeds, its work force and his Back-Bench colleagues with promises of decisions tomorrow?

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark , Plymouth, Sutton

I stand by what I just said—a further announcement will be made this month. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means by our military advisers—there is no such body. We take opinion from a variety of different people.

Photo of Mr Spencer Batiste Mr Spencer Batiste , Elmet

Is it not clear from the Gulf war that the Challenger tank is the best tank available in the world? It would be a charade were the British Army to have any other equipment. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the current quotations from the four contenders for the Chieftain replacement contract will expire towards the end of this month and that his announcement will precede that date?

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark , Plymouth, Sutton

Yes, I certainly can and that is why I told the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) that an announcement will be made before the end of this month.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Dithering is rapidly becoming a hallmark of this Government. Why can the Minister not stand at the Dispatch Box and say that the Government will buy British?

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark , Plymouth, Sutton

As I told the House, this is an extremely important decision and a range of different factors must be taken into account. It is one of the most fundamental decisions on re-equipping the Army and we must consider all the relevant factors before we reach that decision. A further announcement is not far away and, if the hon. Gentleman remains patient, he will hear something in due course.

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak

Will my right hon. Friend accept that he would need to have the tongue of a Cicero to convince even his own hon. Friends to buy the German Leopard tank or any other foreign tank for the British armed forces? Let us stop procrastinating. Let us say today that there will be one tank for the British armed forces and it will be Challenger. Why not say that now? Why must we wait?

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark , Plymouth, Sutton

I welcome what my hon. Friend says—[Interruption]—and I welcome the mood that I seem to be sensing from hon. Members on both sides. I certainly agree that nobody could possibly relish the task of explaining to the House that we were to buy a German tank.