§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force (Mr. Brynmor John)
I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West 168 (Mr. Edelman) on 4th November. The advanced Harrier aircraft is one of a number of alternatives which are being considered to meet a possible RAF requirement for a replacement aircraft for the Jaguar and Harrier. This possible requirement is still a long way off and our studies are still in progress. No firm decision on the type of aircraft we require is therefore yet possible.
§ Mr. Gould
Does my hon. Friend accept that with the cancellation of the HS146 an advanced Harrier, for which a large market is virtually assured in America at least, is one of the few remaining viable projects left open for the British aircraft industry? Therefore, will he have discussions with colleagues in the Department of Industry to make sure that we do not end up in the 1980s with no aircraft industry of our own and having to buy aircraft from the Americans?
§ Mr. John
The existence of a British aircraft industry is important to my right hon. Friends and to me. It is important to note, however, that the Americans, although they are undertaking studies about the advanced Harrier, have reached no firm decision yet, and this will be borne in mind. The primary requirement is for a Jaguar/Harrier replacement, which will be needed towards the end of the next decade, and therefore at this stage it is prudent that the RAF should study its exact requirements in as much detail as possible, so that we do not undertake any needless expenditure.
§ Mr. Goodhew
Is not the Minister aware that the V/STOL capability of the Harrier, and therefore of an advanced Harrier, is already accepted as being of great value not only to the RAF but to other NATO air forces? Would it not be sensible for the Government to pursue this matter further and not wait until time has passed and the Americans have stepped into the market?
§ Mr. John
The Government are not allowing time to pass. Studies are being undertaken to bring about the most exact definition of the RAF's requirement for a replacement for the Harrier and Jaguar. When they have been completed a firm conclusion can be reached, and then we shall be in a position to proceed, but it is certainly not yet time.