§ The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Jonathan Aitken)
Progress on the Eurofighter project is generally satisfactory. The development phase is proceeding in line with the agreement reached with our partners last December and we expect the first flight later this year.
§ Mr. Aitken
I certainly subscribe to all the views expressed by my hon. Friend. We need Eurofighter for our future defence capability. We can certainly benefit from the ߞ approximately—28,000 jobs that it will create in our defence industries when the production phase comes into account. Three hundred companies will have contract work under the Eurofighter contract, including one, Cossor Electronics, in my hon. Friend's constituency. I welcome the highly positive and co-operative approach now being shown by the German Government.
§ Mr. Martlew
In the Gulf debate on 21 January this year, the Secretary of State acknowledged the cross-party support that there had been for the Eurofighter 2000 project. He said, however, that despite the importance of Eurofighter it had to be affordable. Why, then, have the Government allowed the costs of the fighter to increase by 50 per cent., from £21 billion to £31 billion? Will that affect the number of aircraft that will be ordered for the RAF? Will it affect the aircraft's specifications?
Finally, Eurofighter was due to make its maiden flight in 1991. It is now unlikely to fly before the autumn. Why?
§ Mr. Aitken
I certainly acknowledge the good-cross party support that we have received from the Opposition—I hope that it is not being undermined today by the hon. Gentleman's comments.
I urge the hon. Gentleman not to believe everything that he reads about prices, even in the most eminent newspapers. He should remember Evelyn Waugh's definition of a newspaper library—that compendium of other journalists' mistakes which newspapers have the audacity to call a library. The report of 50 per cent. price increases did not include an allowance for inflation. The real cost increase in the programme compared with the 1988 baseline is under 10 per cent., not 50 per cent., as was reported without allowing for inflation. The increase is unwelcome, but not unusual for a project of this size and complexity. I can confirm that the RAF still intends to order about 250 aircraft.
§ Mr. James Hill
Will my hon. Friend not be dismayed by the siren voices opposite? The Eurofighter is absolutely essential for the defence of Europe. It is part of a programme that we cannot discontinue. If we did, that would be a return to the old days when we scrapped aircraft when they were just about to fly. That would be quite wrong. Although the costs have risen by 50 per cent. since 1988, we should remember that this has been a time of inflation when costs have had to be adjusted. I ask the team to stand firm on this project.
§ Mr. Aitken
My hon. Friend speaks for Britain. He remembers that Britain has a proud record of aircraft manufacturing, going back to the great days of the Lancaster and the Spitfire and now continuing with the Eurofighter 2000. That record has been blemished only by the misguided cancellation by the Labour party of the TSR2. I can certainly confirm that we intend to stand by the project.