HC Deb 24 January 2000 vol 343 cc7-9
5. Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

If he will make a statement on Britain's contribution to European defence and security co—operation. [104539]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

The United Kingdom continues to play a leading role in shaping European policy on defence and security matters. The conclusions of the Helsinki European Council in December are fully in line with our European defence initiative, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister launched just over one year ago.

Mr. Gapes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, at a time of growing international uncertainty and worrying signs of global unilateralism in the United States, it is ever more important that European countries co-operate in the cause of effective defence? Does he share my view that although it might be difficult for some countries to increase defence spending, we clearly do not currently obtain the capabilities we should obtain in return for the spending we make? Is there not a strong case for better, more effective use of resources and less duplication among European allies?

Mr. Hoon

I agree with my hon. Friend. NATO Ministers have recognised the need to improve investments in key capability areas. All European nations will need to spend their defence budgets more effectively. Indeed, many are looking to emulate Britain's success and experience with the strategic defence review.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that no one is not in favour of sensible European defence co-operation, or does not agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) about not duplicating resources? However, is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the grave concern, in NATO and elsewhere, that the sort of moves recently proposed by the Prime Minister are likely to lead to some extremely difficult reactions from our NATO colleagues? Is it not far better that NATO arrangements should be left to stand as they are, under NATO command, and that alternative European defence arrangements should be drawn up that do not in any sense conflict with the NATO command structure?

Mr. Hoon

I have made it clear on several occasions on which the issues have been discussed in the House that there will not be any sort of duplication, nor any sort of conflict between proposals made within the European Union context and our obligations under NATO. For many years, NATO Ministers have endorsed that approach because they recognise that, by strengthening the European pillar of NATO, we strengthen NATO as a whole.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

The Secretary of State will not have failed to note that Shorts SMS, which was jointly owned by Bombardier and Thomson-CSF, is now fully owned by Thomson-CSF. That should satisfy the Europhiles, who it appears would turn their backs on our United States allies. Will the Minister take note that Shorts SMS has very good relationships with American companies such as Raytheon and that there has been a free transfer of technology to Shorts SMS from some of its American allies? Will he ensure that support for Shorts and the fine work that it is doing continues, despite the persuasion of others that only European relationships are of importance?

Mr. Hoon

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity in raising what I take to be if not a specific constituency interest, a more general one on behalf of his constituents. We are greatly concerned to ensure that for British industry, whether it is subcontracting for ultimately American-owned companies or for European or British-owned companies, we take fully into account all the contributions that are made in relation to each and every project. I shall take his observations into account in relation to both the generality and any specific contract that he might have had in mind.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

On the matter of European defence policy and co-operation, what role is it envisaged that Britain's nuclear capability will play, and what discussions have Her Majesty's Government had with the French Government in that regard?

Mr. Hoon

The co-operation that we have with our European partners will not affect in any way the use and deployment of Britain's nuclear deterrent. However, there is a long-standing process of discussion and agreement involving the two nuclear nations in Europe. France and Britain have co-operated together. If my right hon. Friend had in mind a particular article that appeared recently in The Spectator, I can assure him that the great majority of it was based on fantasy.

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