HC Deb 12 December 2000 vol 359 c476
11. Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

If he will make a statement about the recent state visit to Italy. [141970]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

The Queen, accompanied by Prince Philip, paid a state visit in October to Italy, during which Her Majesty and Prince Philip also visited Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. The visit was a recognition of our extremely close relationship with the Government and people of Italy. The Queen received an enthusiastic welcome, and the Italian press gave the visit extensive and wholly positive coverage.

Mr. Casale

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Britain and Italy are working together successfully on a growing number of issues to shape the European and international agenda, not least on defence issues, such as the formulation of a headline goal for European defence capabilities, but also on immigration and asylum issues as well as taking a lead on the cancellation of poor-country debt? Will he join me in thanking my colleagues in the all-party parliamentary group, and the head of our secretariat, Michael Nathanson, for helping to cement bilateral parliamentary links, which further advance the new impetus that he and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have given to bilateral relations at every level?

Mr. Cook

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that parliamentary links are an important part of bringing our countries together, and I congratulate him on his work as the chairman of the British-Italian parliamentary group. We have a close relationship with Italy on defence co-operation. Indeed, while on the state visit, the Duke of Edinburgh visited Agusta Westland, which is the second-largest producer of helicopters in the world. In addition, a Tornado that was part of the fly-past for the Queen was jointly piloted by an Italian and British crew. We also work together very closely in Kosovo, where there is an Italian commander of the Kosovo force.

Italy played an important part in, and made a major contribution to, the capabilities conference, to which my hon. Friend referred. If the Italian Government were ever faced with a Conservative Government who carried through their commitment to renege on Britain's commitments made at that conference, they would not only be astounded by that betrayal, but would ask why they should stand by their commitments to Britain if we do not stand by our commitments to our allies.

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