HC Deb 08 November 1999 vol 337 cc676-7
3. Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)

What discussions he has had with his EU colleagues about improved co—operation in defence procurement. [96124]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and my noble Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement are in the process of meeting their European colleagues to take this important issue forward, both on a bilateral and on a multilateral basis.

Mr. Bradshaw

Is the Minister aware that Europe spends about two thirds of what America spends on defence, but that European taxpayers gets less than 20 per cent. of American capability for their money? Does he agree with the Deputy Secretary of State of the United States, Strobe Talbott, who said recently in London that America wanted to see a strong, integrated, self-confident and militarily capable Europe"? Will he ignore the anti-Europeanism of the Conservative party and push forward vigorously with further European defence procurement co-operation, which is good for our defence industry, good for our security and good for the British taxpayer?

Mr. Kilfoyle

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The Euro-sceptic rubbish exemplified by the letter from the Opposition defence spokesman is true to form for those who put their narrow sectarian interest ahead of the national interest. Along with five of our European partners, we have signed a letter of intent which will lead to the efficiencies in procurement across Europe which we all seek. That will contribute to our collective security in the continent as a whole.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)

The House will welcome the action that has already been taken by major British companies in restructuring Europe's defence industries. The restructuring has led to the emergence of more multinational companies to compete more effectively with the United States, although I hope that the Minister will confirm that that development in no way envisages a Fortress Europe, as the north Atlantic links are still very strong. However, what will the Government do about security of supply, which, with multinational companies, becomes much more important?

Under the letter of intent in the OCCAR arrangements, security of supply is meant to be safe. However, when will the Government deal with the problem of giving those arrangements treaty powers, so that we really know that we shall be able to get from multinational suppliers the equipment that we need for our armed forces when they are in action?

Mr. Kilfoyle

Those are clearly matters between the companies concerned. We look for mutual guarantees on security matters. However, I welcome the more constructive view expressed by the hon. Gentleman on the need for that type of restructuring, which was welcomed by Strobe Talbott in his speech of 7 October. I do not think that there is any danger of a division between the United States and Europe on those matters.