Hon. Adam Butler: The first Nimrod AEW at RAF Waddington is not in RAF service but is undergoing trials. Our best judgment at the moment is that an operational AEW capability for the Nimrod could be achieved in 1987. The trials aircraft has a limited AEW capability which could be used in the event of emergency and which will be progressively improved as other aircraft are delivered.
Hon. Adam Butler: I can give that assurance. That capability will be maintained in three ways. One way is by means of the Shackletons, whose capability should in no way be belittled. The capacity of Nimrods will be progressively improved. NATO's E3A aircraft are available to provide cover if necessary.
Hon. Adam Butler: Industry completed the feasibility study into the viability of a collaborative European fighter aircraft programme last month. The reports of the study are now being evaluated nationally and internationally. EFA Defence Ministers will review those reports and consider the way ahead at a meeting in Rome, probably in mid-May.
Hon. Adam Butler: I am sorry that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a great deal more information now. I see no reason why he should start scaring his constituents and others who work at the factories concerned. The project is progressing as we would have expected. It is extremely complicated and I just hope that when we meet in Rome it will be possible to agree on the next steps forward.
Hon. Adam Butler: It is correct that, as part of the studies into the successor aircraft for the Phantom and Jaguar, we are examining several options, which includes a national one. My hon. Friend has mentioned one route which could be taken. The Government's present objective is to make the project work on a five-nation basis if we can.
Hon. Adam Butler: I agree that we have just had a successful competition for the RAF trainer. When talking about aircraft as complicated, expensive and advanced as the European fighter aircraft, however, the competition is much less easy to achieve.
Hon. Adam Butler: My hon. Friend always speaks wisely on these matters. We have considerable and close regard to the workload at the relevant British Aerospace factories. I believe that delay beyond a certain point would not be acceptable.
Hon. Adam Butler: I hope that that would not be possible, but one has to be completely realistic. It might occasionally be better to buy abroad, but the Government's record on placing business at home is extremely good.
Hon. Adam Butler: The P120 aircraft is being considered under the national option.
Hon. Adam Butler: It is likely that in all or most cases the two prime criteria of operational performance and cost will be at the forefront of our minds when we reach these decisions. However, we made it clear in that particular competition that the issue of jobs and other matters must also be considered.
Hon. Adam Butler: All parties to the present EFA agreement agree that a new engine will need to be developed for the aircraft.
Hon. Adam Butler: I do not think that the two points hang together.
Hon. Adam Butler: A lot of reference has been made to delay. I do not find that delay exists at the moment. I have made it clear that if there are signs of continuing delay and it is clear that there would be disadvantages from that, we would have to take action in other directions.
Hon. Adam Butler: Leaving aside the hon. Gentleman's last point, I am delighted to find that he agrees with both me and the Government on this occasion. It is an unusual occurrence.
Hon. Adam Butler: No such proposals have been made or received by the British Government.
Hon. Adam Butler: The main objective of the strategic defence initiative is to enhance deterrence. Deterrence has kept the peace in Europe for the past 40 years.
Hon. Adam Butler: I read reports of what Chancellor Kohl said last week and I do not think that the hon. Lady understands the German position. Participation in research is the only activity which is contemplated. We have made it clear that we wish to participate in that research. The details of that have yet to be worked out.
Hon. Adam Butler: If the interpretation of ballistic missiles is missiles which leave the atmosphere, the hon. Gentleman is right. But, of course, if we can produce a completely effective defence system against such missiles, we shall reduce the risk to Western countries.
Hon. Adam Butler: I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman accepts what my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary said. All of my right hon. and learned Friend's speech rested on the now, I hope, well known four points of Camp David. I noticed a moment ago that the right hon. Gentleman disagreed when I said that the strategic defence initiative had as its main objective the enhancement of...
Hon. Adam Butler: My hon. Friend's interpretation of the concept of the SDI is right. We all recognise that these are still early days, and that research must be carried out. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary was investigating the various strategic implications of the new proposal.