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Chieftain Tank (Replacement)

3.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Younger) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the replacement of the Chieftain tank.

Chieftain entered service with the British Army in 1965. Although it continues to give excellent service, it is now rather advanced in years, and technology in this field has moved ahead. It has proved impracticable to organise an international collaborative tank project in an early time scale. Allied collaboration in tanks and their armament remains an important objective for the future ; but I have concluded that Chieftain must be replaced as soon as practicable by a tank developed nationally by this country or an ally. I have also decided, subject to satisfactory contractual terms, to upgrade the armament of the Challenger 1 tanks now in service by fitting them with an improved gun, known as CHARM.

My Department has accordingly conducted an assessment of the available tank options. The three main contenders are an improved version of the Leopard 2, manufactured by Kraus Maffei of Germany ; an improved version of the Abrams M1, manufactured by General Dynamics of the United States ; and the Challenger 2 Mk 2 proposed by Vickers Defence Systems, which is an improved version of Challenger 1. Our assessment was complicated by the fact that the three tanks are not all at the same stage of development.

All three contenders have the potential to meet the Army's requirement. Our assessment took account not only of that factor but of technical merit, risk, time scale, cost, reliability, stretch potential, interoperability with allies, logistic implications and the prospects for overseas sales.

The size of the investment in a new tank makes it essential to conform to sound procurement practice and to minimise risk. After the most careful consideration, therefore, I have decided to give Vickers Defence Systems an opportunity to demonstrate that it is able to deliver Challenger 2 Mk 2 to specification, to time and to cost. Subject to the agreement of satisfactory contract terms, my Department will fund the company to undertake a demonstration phase which will last until the end of September 1990. This will require it to demonstrate within the contracted time that Challenger 2 Mk 2 can meet the staff requirement and can be successfully developed and produced to the required standard so as to achieve the required in-service date, and at a price which the company has already offered us. Precise criteria for performance and technical achievement have been established against which the success of the demonstration phase will be measured. I have set these out today in a written answer to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway). An important task for the company will be to demonstrate that an improved ammunition round for the tank's main gun, which we believe will be necessary to match the technical developments of the future, can be successfully developed to the standard and in the time scale required. Intermediate milestones have been established within the demonstration phase at which the company will have to

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demonstrate satisfactory progress. This staged approach will enable us to keep our options open for the future, if that proves necessary.

My decision to take the first steps towards replacing Chieftain is an important one for the Army and the NATO Alliance. Over the next 21 months Vickers Defence Systems will have an excellent opportunity to prove its ability to develop a successful tank. I commend my decision to the House.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan) : We welcome the announcement that Vickers Defence Systems will be given the opportunity to demonstrate that Challenger 2 Mk 2 can meet staff requirements. Last week, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and I visited Leeds, we were confident that those requirements would be met. We all know that this has been a lengthy process and it is vital that a proper decision should be made. Therefore, I should like to ask the Secretary of State to confirm that the suggested procedure is acceptable to Vickers, that it should not be construed outside the House as a grudging or conditional approval of its tank, and that such a procedure would have had to have been adopted, regardless of which tank had been chosen.

Will the Secretary of State further confirm that the fire control system is only one part of the tank's performance and that the much quoted Canadian gunnery competition has always been recognised as a limited test of any tank's capabilities? Would he consider the replacement of the whole fire control system as well as the gun for Challenger 1 in order to improve its accuracy? Does he accept that we are delighted that our faith in British technology and the work people in the many plants throughout the United Kingdom has been vindicated by this welcome announcement?

Mr. Younger : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome and that of his hon. Friends for this decision. I spoke to the managing director of Vickers this morning and I can confirm that this is acceptable to the company. This is in no sense a grudging acceptance. There is no doubt that if the Challenger 2 Mk 2 comes up to all the specifications, which the company is confident it will, it will be an excellent tank.

The work to consider a replacement fire control system for Chieftain started before the Canadian gunnery competition, but when we replace the Challenger 1 guns we shall make all possible improvements.

Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley) : Will my right hon. Friend accept the warm support of all of us on this side of the House for his decision which, among other things, maintains the defence capability in this important weapon system, which will enable us to play a continuing role in the next generation of tank production? Will my right hon. Friend also take credit for the fact that his procurement system has now imposed a rigorous competitive discipline on such contracts, not the least benefit of which is that his Department can claim that Britain is the second largest exporter of defence equipment in the world? Mr. Younger : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend not only for what he has said today, but for the large amount of work that he did to bring about the competitive system, which is undoubtedly doing much good for the British defence industry.

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I am grateful, too, for what my right hon. Friend said about the capability of the tank. There is no doubt that this is largely to do with the fact that it has had to be developed so far competitively and that this will continue in the future. As I have said in my statement, those options will remain open to us to ensure that what we get will be up to standard while we have the options open to make the choices.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : Will the Secretary of State accept that his announcement is warmly welcomed by my party, too, especially that part of his proposals which refers to a demonstration phase? Does he agree that what he has effectively done is to put Vickers on probation? It has enjoyed considerable support from both sides of the House in the run-up to the decision, but it must now justify that support by producing a tank on time and up to specification, and one which will meet the demands of the British Army.

Mr. Younger : I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his welcome. I do not think that I would use the phrase "on probation". This is giving Vickers, a company in this country, the opportunity to prove that this tank is as good as it is sure it is. I believe that is fair.

Mr. Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup) : While welcoming the decision of my right hon. Friend and the Cabinet most warmly, I ask him to give a categoric assurance that, this decision having been taken, no one in the Ministry of Defence or in the Army will be allowed to interfere with Vickers while it is carrying out this project, either by making proposals for amendments to specifications or by interfering in any other way. We have seen for decades now the consequences of continual amendment. If my right hon. Friend will now strongly say that no one will be allowed to interfere until the end of the marked period, he will do the country a great service.

Mr. Younger : I fully appreciate my right hon. Friend's point. There will be careful specification with Vickers of exactly what it is that it is expected to produce on time--by September 1990. I believe that that meets precisely my right hon. Friend's point.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : I commend the decision of the Secretary of State to delay the final decision that we thought would be made a few weeks ago. It has been by far the best way to proceed. However, in the city of Leeds, getting the order matters a great deal. Armoured regiments were raised in the city for the last war, and they fought bravely. They do not want any old tank ; they want the best tank that can be produced. How can the work force in Leeds play a part in this demonstration period so that it knows what is lacking and what has to be done? It will not all be done behind closed doors.

Mr. Younger : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome, and I take the point that he has made. What the work force must do --which I am sure it will do with the greatest enthusiasm--is to ensure that the work it carries out during the next 21 months produces exactly the yardsticks and the standards laid down in the contract. If it does that, it will have proved that this is the tank that we should choose. We are keeping our options open so that we have a choice to make at all stages, but it is up to the work force to prove that it can do it.

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Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his commendably judicious decision. Will he tell us a little more about the steps that he proposes to ensure that in the end we get the best tank at the best price? Will he also give an estimate of the total cost?

Mr. Younger : The items which are spelled out in the reply to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) which I am answering today come under 11 headings. Specific yardsticks have been discussed and it will be agreed with the company what it has to achieve. That appears to be a clear brief for the company and its work force of what is required during the next 21 months. We expect the cost to the Government of this demonstration phase to be about £90 million.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe) : Is the Secretary of State aware that Vickers will respond to this limited contract and qualify for bulk production? Will he impress on the Vickers management, not the workers at the Leeds plant--as my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) have conveyed, the workers are determined to succeed--that the competition is tight and, consequently, the requirements severe in respect not only of the gun and the general fire control system but of all- round performance, unit costs and availability? The House is unlikely to accept another Nimrod--AWACS disappointment.

Mr. Younger : I very much agree with hon. Gentleman. I think that I also agree that the competitive element will spur everyone to the greatest efforts. We must provide the best tanks we can for the British forces. The choice of ordering this tank in bulk will be made when we are totally convinced that we have the best tank available.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the decision to place this order with Vickers will be widely welcomed, with one vital proviso? My right hon. Friend must be able to say that, in view of past shortcomings of British tanks, this tank will be the best available weapon for the British Army. That is crucial in this decision.

Mr. Younger : I take my right hon. Friend's point absolutely, but will just correct him. I do not think that he meant to imply that this is an order for the tank. It is an order for the demonstration phase. We intend to carry the demonstration phase through until it is demonstrated that this is the tank which is up to the specifications. Until that point, we retain the option of choosing the best tank. That is the best guarantee that the product that we get will be the best.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich) : I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's announcement. Will he confirm that Challenger 2 potentially has a number of important advantages over its United States rival? Will he confirm, for example, that it will have better armour, will be more manoeuvrable in combat, will have lower fuel consumption and will be cheaper to operate and maintain? Are those not important considerations which will lead him to buy British?

Mr. Younger : They are important considerations, but I should say that we are not dealing with three tanks one of

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which is outstandingly better than the others. They are all good tanks. They all have good points and less good points. I have had to make a delicate judgment on where the balance lies. My decision is that, if Challenger 2 Mk 2 can be brought fully up to the standard to which it is reputed it can be brought, it will be a very good tank.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare) : What esti-mates has my right hon. Friend's Department made of the total cost of the order were it eventually to go for this tank? I welcome the modern version of a last world war weapon, but when will my right hon. Friend tell the House that he will buy a next world war weapon, a helicopter?

Mr. Younger : The cost of a full order would very much depend on its size and scale and whether the goods were ordered in one or two tranches. If a full order were placed to replace all the Chieftains on a one-for-one basis, it would come to well over £1 billion worth of tanks.

Many studies have been made into the relative merits of tanks and helicopters to fulfil their slightly differing roles on the battlefield. It is clear that both have a role. We require a balance of both types of equipment.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : Is the Secretary of State aware that this news will be welcome to my constituents in Tyne Bridge, especially the work force at the Vickers factory on the Scotswood road in Newcastle? The decision comes after considerable lobbying by the work force and the company and by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. Why does a company with a century of experience and a work force with considerable skills--built up without the aid of city technology colleges and the like--have to prove itself to a Government who have so much egg on their face?

Mr. Younger : I welcome the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, but the last half was not truly worthy of the occasion. As I understand it, the management and the work force at Vickers Defence Systems are convinced that they have a first class tank to offer. It is for that reason, and not because of any lobbying, that I have chosen to give them the chance to prove it.

Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the excellent engine that I hope will power this model uses half the fuel of the American option and is made by the work force at Perkins Engines in Shrewsbury? Therefore, my right hon. Friend's statement today is logistically welcome. Have not the extra Challenger regiment and the new main battle tanks only been made possible as a result of the Government's management of the economy and my right hon. Friend's stewardship of the Ministry of Defence? If this afternoon's statement were being made by a Labour defence spokesman, the workers in Newcastle, Leeds and elsewhere, including in Shrewsbury in my constituency, would not be seeing this main battle tank because under the Labour party's chaos economy and cuts in defence policy it would never be able to afford it.

Mr. Younger : I agree strongly with my hon. Friend and I am glad to be reminded again of his interest in the engines, which I am sure will be produced well. My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. We are now spending from the

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defence budget about £19 billion more in real terms on conventional weapons than the Labour party was when it was in government. In no way could an expenditure of this sort have been fitted into the sort of defence budget that the Opposition have been talking about.

Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham) : Will the funding and specifications to which the Secretary of State referred make any provision for the new tank to be built with British steel rather than with steel from a foreign company which may well be subject to well-concealed subsidies? In other words, will he and the Vickers management bear in mind that accepting the lowest tender, which could easily be illegally subsidised, will not necessarily be in the British national interest?

Mr. Younger : I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but which steel supplier to use is very much a matter for Vickers.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West) : That this is a sensible decision will be recognised by people in Leeds and, I am sure, by all Conservative Members who know the substantial investment put by Vickers, since it bought the Royal Ordnance factory, behind the Challenger tank. We are delighted that my right hon. Friend has faith in Vickers' management and work force and in their ability to demonstrate that they can produce the best for the British Army. However, in the light of the tank's enormous export potential, will he dispel the innuendo deriving from The Daily Telegraph yesterday that the Ministry of Defence, and the Army in particular, are not completely behind the decision?

Mr. Younger : I thank my hon. Friend very much for what he has said. I agree that Vickers' investment in its two tank factories is a remarkable demonstration of confidence in its ability to produce something and sell it, and we are now giving it a further opportunity to demonstrate that. I can dispel the story that has been mentioned. The entire Ministry of Defence will be extremely pleased at the progress made on the tank issue and is completely united behind it.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central) : Vickers' work force and management in Leeds will be working flat out to ensure that they meet the targets that have been set by the Ministry of Defence, and I have absolute confidence that they will do that. But the work force and, I suspect, the management have one fear, which goes back to the point made by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson), and that is about the Ministry of Defence's motivation. I heard what the Secretary of State has just said, but will he confirm that in Cabinet discussions he has not put forward any recommendations in favour of the Challenger 2 tank?

Mr. Younger : No, I could not reveal any aspect of any kind about the internal goings-on of Cabinet discussions. That would be quite improper and unusual. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Ministry of Defence will be completely behind the decision and will ensure that it is successful.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for all that he said about the work force. Like those well used to competition, it will appreciate that it has been given a clear series of targets which it will have to hit full and proper if we are to proceed with the remaining stages of ordering the tanks.

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Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that this opportunity for British industry to prove itself is the best possible Christmas present for those who work at David Brown Gears in my constituency and who, we hope, will produce the gear box for Challenger 2? They and, no doubt, those employed at Vickers will be happy to prove that they can build the best tank in the world, and I am sure that they would wish to thank my right hon. Friend for putting his confidence in British industry.

Mr. Younger : I am sure that my hon. Friend is right and that all concerned will do their best to meet the yardsticks drawn up in agreement with the company. It is our right to set such yardsticks and to give the company the opportunity. We are sure that it will meet the targets ; if it does, we shall be able to proceed.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon) : Does the Secretary of State accept that many of my constituents who work at Vickers in Scotswood, together with many more in the ammunition division in Birtley, will welcome today's announcement? Does he also accept the disquiet felt by some of us about the extremely odd procurement process that has been involved, and in particular about the serious misinformation campaign carried out by various people against the Vickers tank?

Mr. Younger : I agree that some peculiar information has been put about from I do not know where for some months past. I assure the hon. Gentleman that none of it has emanated from my Ministry, which has proceeded along a very careful path. We want to ensure, first, that we obtain the best possible tank for the Army and, secondly, that in obtaining it we also obtain the best possible value for money. I believe that we should proceed stage by stage. Everyone is being given a challenge : if they produce the goods we shall buy them, and if they do not we shall have to look elsewhere.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North) : I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that it is gratifying to find such approbation for his decision on both sides of the House. Will he confirm, first, that the Army will get the best available tank in the shortest possible time, and, secondly, that he will concentrate a little more on the likely export potential?

Mr. Younger : Provided that Vickers and its work force reach the targets in time and that all our other yardsticks such as costs are met, we shall obtain the best possible tank for the British Army. But if that were regrettably not to happen, we should have the option to go elsewhere if necessary. It is of course desirable to get on with the project within the time scale that has been laid down, and that will be very much part of the competition.

As for exports, I have already assured the company that my Ministry will give it the maximum support wherever we can in the world so that the tank and all its derivatives can be sold in a way that is suitable for each country.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : Will the Secretary of State tell us more about the nature of the funding? We are told that the Government are putting in £90 million. How much is the company doing to match that within the time scale?

Secondly, how many prototypes will be built? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could also tell us something

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about the purchasing of long-lead items. If we are to have a main battle tank of this calibre by the mid-1990s, these are important considerations. I hope that I shall receive a frank reply.

Mr. Younger : Yes, they are important considerations. It is fair to say that Vickers has already spent quite a bit of its own money on developing the tank, but the stage that I have announced today will be entirely funded by the Government, who will spend approximately £90 million. The company has already put in some money, and it will be following that up with a good many other commitments.

The hon. Gentleman asked about prototypes. It is a question less of prototype tanks than of various types of demonstration that would be necessary, some on the work bench rather than on the tanks. Finally, as far as long-lead items are concerned, we shall still have time to make our final decision in the light of this demonstration phase on or after September 1990, and still have time for the long-lead items to be ordered in time for delivery at the in-service date.

Sir Ian Lloyd (Havant) : My right hon. Friend said that this stage will be funded by the Government. He will know better than most that nothing is more difficult to predict than the cost of high technology prototypes of almost any sort of weaponry. What will happen if, at the end of this stage, Vickers says it has spent the £90 million but that it does not have a tank? Will he return to the House for further funds?

Mr. Younger : I should have to come back to the House with a further statement if that happened. My hon. Friend has drawn attention to a most important feature. In line with the best procurement practice, we have secured a fixed price from the company for this demonstration phase. It is understood by everyone, not least the company, that if it could not complete this phase to standard or on time we should have the option of going elsewhere if we needed to.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester) : In order to procure the best tank to match the best tank crews, is my right hon. Friend prepared to look at the negotiation of international licensing agreements to ensure that the best international technology will be available for this tank?

Mr. Younger : Various sophisticated parts of technology go into the tank, some of them international. Vickers already has numerous international contacts of the type that my hon. Friend suggests.

Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey) : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in addition to this welcome announcement, he has given a vote of confidence to the privatisation of the Royal Ordnance factories? Vickers can put much investment into this project--successfully, I hope--and it can raise funds should there be difficulties en route. Will the final decision be taken in 1990, or will there be an appraisal earlier than that to allow this long- term uncertainty to be removed from the company, whose work force are highly skilled--they number many of my constituents among them--and whose management wishes to prove itself effective?

Mr. Younger : My hon. Friend is right in intimating that this shows that Royal Ordnance, which is an important part of producing this tank, is an effective and

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well-managed company under its new private enterprise management. That gives the lie to some of the most extreme statements made at the time of its privatisation. It is clearly healthy and in good order. As for the time scale, I do not think it likely that these milestones will all be passed before September 1990, although the company is confident of doing so well within that time. Twenty-one months is not a long time to demonstrate all this about an important high technology tank.

Sir Peter Hordern (Horsham) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, unlike the Sting Ray torpedo and AWACS, this is not a blueprint for a new system, but a development of existing technology which Vickers is perfectly capable of producing? Will he confirm, therefore, that he has every confidence in Vickers being able to match this demanding schedule?

Mr. Younger : My hon. Friend is right about that. This is not the same type of technical challenge as the other cases that he instanced. On the other hand, there is quite a lot of high technology in a modern tank. It is important that Vickers has the experience, and that the type of contract we are proposing to lay on the company gives it a strong incentive to deliver on time, to cost and to standard. That is written into the contract and it is our safeguard against this being another example of some unhappy experiences.

Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, which will be welcomed by my constituents living in Lymington and Ringwood who work for Wellworthy, which is a major supplier to the tank fleet. I hope that it will be able to continue to be so in future.

In view of the rather unhappy background and the knocking of the British tank in the press and elsewhere, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Abrams tank has proved itself far from trouble-free, and that when it was used by the Pakistan armed forces its turret was prone to splitting due to bad workmanship?

Mr. Younger : I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. I have seen reports of the performances of various of the tanks that have been in this competition. I would not want to select one instance reported in the paper as being typical. I have no doubt that all three tanks I mentioned in my statement are first class. It is a question of trying to get the best one for the British Army.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : My right hon. Friend will be aware that the two early-day motions tabled by Conservative Members, which each attracted more than 100 signatures, specifically avoided the sort of jingoistic sentiment we have heard from some Opposition quarters in the past few weeks. They paid tribute to the relative merits of the Vickers' tank as against those if its potential competitors.

In view of the substantial potential export orders, whose value could amount to up to £12 billion, will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to state categorically that this decision was based not on political grounds but on the merits of the tank, and particularly on

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the fact that Vickers has a proven hull in the shape of the Challenger 1 hull, and a proven fire control system bought in from outside?

Mr. Younger : I, too, have watched with interest the war of the early-day motions on this subject. I am sure that they will be helpful in focusing people's attention on it.

I can certainly confirm what my hon. Friend has said. In a matter of this sort we must be quite clear that our objective of buying the best tank for the British Army depends on assessing the merits of the various tanks presented to us. It is on the basis of that that we have decided to give Vickers the chance to develop the Challenger Mk 2 further.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East) : In permitting Vickers to demonstrate that it can produce the best tank for the British Army, my right hon. Friend has made the right decision for the right reasons. Will he confirm that the Challenger 2 Mk 2 is likely to have lower through-life costs and lower support costs and will be better protected than the Abrams tank ; that it will have greater compatibility and interoperability with existing British weapons systems ; and that it is likely to have considerable export potential if we decide to go ahead with production?

Mr. Younger : Those are certainly some of the merits that we carefully took into account when making this decision. It is fair to make the general point that there is not much to choose between the three tanks as regards final through-life costs. We made the balance of the decision on technical merit and other grounds.

Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that there will be pleasure in the north of the country, particularly on Tyneside and in Yorkshire, at his decision? Does he accept that the funding of a British tank for the future is essential and that it would be a great mistake if this country were ever to cease producing its own main battle tank? Will he give maximum support to Vickers' export orders, bearing in mind that the maintenance of a tank-building capacity in this country requires us continually to export tanks to other parts of the world?

Mr. Younger : Yes, we shall certainly give the fullest support to Vickers in seeking export markets for the various derivatives of the Challenger which will now be on offer. I would not go quite as far as my hon. Friend and guarantee that for all time it is essential that we always make all our own tanks. I hope that that will be so, and while we have a good tank industry let us give it the chance to prove what it can do.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate) : I am thoroughly pleased with his decision, but will my right hon. Friend confirm that his officials will monitor the development of the final stage of the Challenger 2? Can the cost be offset by a commission from sales of tanks to countries overseas when a tank has been proved successful?

Mr. Younger : The monitoring process will be close and specific. The company will have to achieve specific milestones. Together with the company we shall watch progress carefully.

It will be very much up to the company to take the lead in exporting, and it will have the fullest support from the defence exports services organisation.

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Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : As by the time the main order --if it comes--is due for execution many people believe that the tank will be shown to have the antediluvian tactical significance of a brontosaurus confronted with a Smart missile, will my right hon. Friend hasten slowly so that when we come to spend the real money, it is spent on a modern defence system rather than on fighting--as we always do--the last war yet again?

Mr. Younger : When the tank is developed, it will certainly be a far more formidable machine than any seen in the last war. As I have said already, we appreciate that there are various merits for tanks and other forms of equipment, such as helicopters, but we cannot envisage a situation in which either of them will be unnecessary.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : My right hon. Friend is to be congratulated on insisting on examining carefully what we are buying under the £90 million contract before placing the main contract. Can he assure us that part of that assessment will include user trials by some of the troops who will use the equipment eventually so that we can be certain that this is the best tank and does not merely fulfil the paper criteria?

Mr. Younger : Representatives of the Army and those who will use the tank will be involved closely in that process. I doubt whether the tank will be developed sufficiently during this phase for troops in front line units to try it out, but the Army will be closely involved in the process.

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : My right hon. Friend will know that his decision will be welcomed by many in the Royal Armoured Corps based at Bovington and Lulworth in my constituency. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Challenger's fire control system is designed to hit moving targets, whereas the Abrams tank is good at hitting static targets? The tactics of the Russians would be to move while we were firing at them. We already have the best tank and today's decision will ensure that the Mk 2 is even better.

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Mr. Younger : I confirm that I have been made aware that the Royal Armoured Corps will be extremely pleased by the promise of a new tank to replace the Chieftain. On the fire control system, I make no comment on the capability of the Abrams tank, but if the Challenger Mk 2 comes up to the specification that the company has given, it will be effective.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : In view of the history of moving the goalposts in the development stages of new weapons, particularly with Foxhunter radar, which has led to the present calamities, will the Secretary of State confirm that staff requirements for the Challenger 2 will not be changed during the development stage?

Mr. Younger : Yes, staff requirements, which the company is striving to meet, are clearly understood and they are fixed. However, the yardsticks in the demonstration phase, which the company is now being given the opportunity to meet, are also clear and specific and have been agreed with the company. It will have to meet those yardsticks if it is to obtain the final order. We shall keep our options open until then.


The following Member took and subscribed the Oath :

Steven John Norris Esq., for Epping Forest.

Royal Assent

Mr. Speaker : I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified Her Royal Assent to the following Acts :

1. Consolidated Fund (No. 2) Act 1988.

2. City of Glasgow District Council Order Confirmation Act 1988. 3. Newcastle upon Tyne Town Moor Act 1988.

4. Birmingham City Council Act 1988.

5. Southern Water Authority Act 1988.

6. Harwich Harbour Act 1988.

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