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Mr. Francois: I am glad not to have disappointed the Minister, and thank him for giving way. Can he confirm

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that when JSF comes into service on the new carrier in 2012, part of its mission will be air defence, including the air defence of the fleet?

Mr. Ingram: Part of it will be, but that is not its prime purpose. We have not walked away from or tried to hide the aspect of managed risk. It is interesting that the qualitative assessment in the Defence Committee's report recognised that it had been alleged that the decision was driven by a cost imperative and that it was about saving money. One of the Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen signed up to that report, so at least the official Opposition accepts that the decision was not driven by that, and that other factors come into play.

Mr. Francois: I see that the Chairman of the Defence Committee is in his place, and no doubt he, too, will want to comment. I have read the Committee's report, and there is no way in which the Minister can spin it into an endorsement of the Government's decision. The Committee expressed reservations about it, and he should be accurate about that to the House.

Mr. Ingram: I know that Opposition Members are told to use the word "spin" every time they speak to a Minister, so that eventually it will stick to us. There is no spin involved—it is an open explanation of the basis of the decision. The Committee accepted—or, to use a better word, acknowledged—the rationale behind the decision. It may have doubts, but ultimately the decision rests with the Ministry of Defence, not the Committee, and we have to take responsibility for any misjudgments. We welcome all reports on the Department, but we have to balance our original decisions against any questions that arise.

This was a sizeable, expensive, and indeed risky programme, and I have described the ingredients that had to come into play. The best advice came from those who were considering the issue of capability, not from civil servants and Ministers, who took advice on the military aspects. They asked two questions. Can the risk be managed? Is it the best way forward in terms of the spending profile both then and currently? The answer was yes.

Mr. Hancock: Will the Minister be kind enough to explain the judgment that he made, given that his chief military adviser, Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said on 1 May in evidence to the Defence Committee:

The chief adviser to the Ministry of Defence and to the Minister was advising that he would have chosen to retain the Sea Harrier. What judgment did the Minister make in overruling that advice?

Mr. Ingram: There was no overruling of that advice: it was part of the advice that we were given. One side of the equation was based on taking an approach that could have retained it, but that would have had certain consequences, including the risky element of upgrading the engine and issues relating to the management of resources. Military people would probably say, as now seems to be the case with the Liberals, "Just give us everything that we ask for." Then they must step back and accept that we have to live in the real world. The advice

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was that there would be a reduction for a time in the layer of defences for any taskforce. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) should read all the evidence.

We are upgrading the support mechanisms on the ships. The Type 45 destroyers provided even more capability and that led to the position that we subsequently adopted.

Mr. Laws rose

Mr. Ingram: The world has moved on, and we are not fighting the war of 20 years ago. We are fighting in a completely new context and in coalition. That is a new way forward; it is what interoperability means.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) rose

Mr. Ingram: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) first. I assume that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) will repudiate our position. I shall be interested to find out.

Mr. Laws: Does the Minister accept that he is replacing the technical risks in the upgrade project with actual military risks, which our forces will face without the Sea Harrier? Does he recall paragraph 93 of the Select Committee's recent report? It states:

Is he not worried about that?

Mr. Ingram: Of course, we have a measure of anxiety about the programme's delivery. I have set out a range of other decisions. After the short period that I mentioned, the new Type 45s will be in service and the other support mechanisms on existing ships will be upgraded. We will thus have the capability. Hon. Members will understand that the probability of a single Royal Navy taskforce going to sea is not high.

International coalition of effort leads us to the conclusion that if we were deploying against a threat, we would have partners. [Interruption.] Where is the threat coming from? Perhaps the hon. Member for Yeovil can tell us the location of the new threat. Could the Sea Harriers tackle it? They cannot deal effectively with sea-skimming missiles. We have to equip ships to deal with them.

There is risk management in everything that we do in defence. We have to balance resources and capabilities and the technical implications of an upgrade. Opposition Members do not appear to understand that there are risks in the technical aspects of the upgrade. They must resolve the conundrum, as we have done. That is why we made the decision.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: The Minister makes a great deal of the cost and technical difficulties of an upgrade of the

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Sea Harrier F/A2. He is right; I have spoken extensively to Rolls-Royce about the matter, and an upgrade would be expensive.

Mr. Ingram: What about risk?

Mr. Howarth: There would be some risk attached to the technical fit of the engine. However, if an aircraft that was introduced into service as recently as 1999 is so deficient, why not scrap it and save the money now?

Mr. Ingram: That is a ludicrous position. We have capability; the aircraft is not useless. However, it is not all-singing, all-dancing in the way in which Opposition Members appear to believe. As we move towards the expeditionary purpose, we need the capability to match. That is not compatible with Sea Harrier capabilities. Such judgments have to be made. Do we spend a lot of money, and risk not delivering the programme? The risk is not small. Indeed, we are considering a significant technical risk. The Sea Harrier is not designed to take the new engine. Conservative Members shake their heads. Have they got better advisers than the Ministry of Defence?

Mr. Gray: Rolls-Royce.

Mr. Ingram: Well, okay. Since Rolls-Royce is in my constituency, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman get the company to put that in writing and send it to me. Has Rolls-Royce put it in writing to the hon. Gentleman? I hear silence.

Mr. Keetch: The Minister is a great student of history and will know that he is not the first Minister for the Armed Forces to say in the House that, effectively, we will never go to war by ourselves. Denis Healey said that in defence of the cancellation of CVA1; Sir John Nott said so in the 1980 defence review when he was planning to sell off HMS Invincible, which gave the wrong signal to the Argentines and led to the Falklands war, to which the Minister referred. If the Minister is saying that Britain will never need an air defence capability for the fleet again, why will the JSF have such an element? He cannot have it both ways. We either need an air defence capability—in which case it should be continued—or we do not.

Mr. Ingram: I do not think that I used the word "never"; I said "probability" and "slim". We would all love the benefit of hindsight or to be able to project ourselves months or years before making such decisions in order to meet the unknown, but that is simply not possible. No Minister or Government have had that wisdom. It has been a long time since there has been a Liberal Government, and although I am an amateur student of history, I do not recollect their getting everything right.

There must be a balanced judgment. We have made that judgment on the best advice and after considering all related elements. With the upgrade to the GR9 variant, we will have a tremendous force projection capability, which will enhance our strength and our ability to tackle what we believe on the probability of assessment to be the enemies of the future.

The word "never" never appeared in my explanation. At some point, I will be able to rely on the fact that I never said that. I would be able to take some solace from

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that, although I hope that I shall never have to do so. The probability of assessment and the management of risk are undoubtedly right. We have had a useful and informative debate on that rumbling issue. I have again tried to educate from the Dispatch Box and to point Opposition Members towards the right decision, but we will see what happens as the debate develops.

Operating alongside the JSF and complementing its capabilities will be Eurofighter. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 10 July, there has been no change in the Government's commitment to Eurofighter. The aircraft will serve as the cornerstone of the RAF's fighting capability from the second half of this decade. It will be a "state of the art" fighter aircraft with a formidable weapons suite, including the advanced short-range air-to-air missile, Meteor, Storm Shadow and Brimstone, and provide a true, adverse-weather, multi-role capability.

The programme remains important not only to the RAF but to the UK's defence industry and those working in it. The UK has made a contractual commitment to purchase 55 Eurofighter aircraft in the first of three envisaged production tranches. A memorandum of understanding with the partner nations covers the first tranche, and the balance of 232 aircraft to be purchased in two further tranches—89 in tranche 2 and 88 in tranche 3.

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