HC Deb 09 July 1996 vol 281 cc160-1
3. Mr. Bernard Jenkin

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he last met his French opposite number to discuss European security issues. [34899]

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. James Arbuthnot)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence meets his French counterpart regularly; they last meet during the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Brussels on 13 June.

Mr. Jenkin

Whatever bilateral or multilateral arrangements we make with our European counterparts, does my hon. Friend agree that, unless they are supplementary to the fundamental alliance we have in NATO across the Atlantic with the Americans, we are treading down a dangerous path? Has he considered what risks are posed to the credibility of NATO by new Labour and the new danger of its proposal to give up the veto?

Mr. Arbuthnot

As always, my hon. Friend puts his finger on the point. I agree that closer ties with France, with Europe and with the United States are all essential, especially for defence procurement. We shall continue to procure equipment in the United Kingdom, in Europe and in the United States: from wherever it is best, and financially and economically sensible, to do so.

Mr. Kaufman

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Secretary of State would have been able to discuss those issues with the French Minister of War Veterans and Victims of War had he been present a week yesterday at the Somme commemoration at Thiepval? A constituent of mine who was present has written to express his "disgust and dismay" at the fact that, while the French had a "splendid contribution" of a full company of over 200 French troops and a full French military band", our regular forces were represented by a lone Scots Guard piper and a couple of … buglers. What explanation does he have for my constituent and for all the people who mourn those who fell on the Somme?

Mr. Arbuthnot

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman feels it right to make cheap points out of a very important commemoration, at which we were fully represented at the highest level by a Cabinet Minister whose father fought on the Somme. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman feels it right to behave in such a way.

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