The UK remains fully committed to the joint strike fighter programme. Two weeks ago I announced that the UK would procure three instrumented test aircraft and associated support equipment to enable UK participation in the operational test and evaluation of the joint strike fighter air system.
While I am grateful to the Secretary of State for confirming the purchase of three aircraft, his answer was bereft of any mention of the question of operational sovereignty. Is it wise to have bought three aircraft at this stage without having a cast-iron agreement with the United States that the UK will have operational sovereignty for the aircraft both now and in the future?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman takes a close interest in these matters. He will be aware of the memorandum of understanding that we have with the US. The whole point of the procurement of the aircraft is to ensure UK operational sovereignty and, without the purchase of the three test aircraft, that would not be possible.
The technology transfer is, of course, very important to the future of the aircraft. Can we ensure that those negotiations will continue; that we will have the capability of assembly and full maintenance; and that the research and developments jobs in the north-west will continue and we will not lose those skills, because they are second to none?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. Up to 100 British companies stand to gain from the joint strike fighter aircraft and that fact is a very important part of our considerations as we take the project forward.