HC Deb 27 January 2003 vol 398 cc552-3
3. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

If he will make a statement on Britain's contribution to NATO's defence capabilities initiative.[93170]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram)

The United Kingdom has long supported and worked towards the improvement of NATO's capabilities. We have a good record among allies for implementing improvements related to NATO's defence capabilities initiative, and have made a significant contribution to the Prague capabilities commitment—a new initiative launched at the summit in November.

Mike Gapes

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that a world where one country spends the equivalent on defence of that spent by the next 15 added together is not entirely healthy? Does he agree that the best way that Europeans, particularly countries such as Germany, can exert more weight in current debates is not to cut their defence spending but to make a greater contribution to the collective defence of NATO, so that the European collective voice is backed up by capabilities and we are not always dependent on one hyperpower?

Mr. Ingram

I agree with the general thrust of that question. Given this country's commitment to a substantial increase in our defence budget, we are setting standards that—hopefully—our European neighbours and allies will follow. To improve the capabilities set out in the various initiatives—whether that be the NATO capabilities initiative or one in the European Union—requires expenditure, but that must be properly targeted to deliver the broad range of capabilities that we desire.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Will the Minister take this opportunity to set right a no doubt inadvertent error made by the Secretary of State at the previous Defence Question Time? In answer to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on the percentage of gross domestic product spent on defence, the Secretary of State said: There were periods during the Conservatives' control of defence when the percentage was higher, but equally there were periods when it was lower."—[Official Report, 9 December 2002; Vol. 396, c. 4.] The House of Commons Library has published figures showing that the percentage is now much lower than at any time since the 1930s, and we are on the brink of a major war. Will the Minister please set the record straight?

Mr. Ingram

I will study what the House of Commons Library has said and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the decision taken in Prague to set up the NATO response force was indeed to make NATO more effective in changed circumstances. Does he believe, however, that decisions on that force acting out of area will be made by NATO and beyond the diktat of the United States?

Mr. Ingram

NATO operates as a collaborative partnership; it can succeed only on that basis. That is why, increasingly, effort has been put into ensuring that capabilities are lifted progressively, so that we can deliver on the key objectives. As the contributions made by NATO allies will be part of that collaborative whole, the international response to any threat will be one that I know my hon. Friend would always want. That is clearly NATO's underlying principle, and one to which the Government strongly adhere.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk)

May I associate myself with the Secretary of State's comments about Viscount Leckie? When he was George Younger, I worked with him as a special adviser at the Ministry of Defence. He worked tirelessly on behalf of the armed forces, and the Secretary of State's comments will be much appreciated.

We all agree that it is very important in any multinational military operation that any casualties from so-called friendly fire are prevented. Concern has been expressed by retired and serving soldiers that UK armed forces deployed to the Gulf do not yet have credible electronic identification friend or foe equipment. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) during last Monday's statement on Iraq: Further Contingency Preparations, the Secretary of State said: action is in hand to procure the necessary equipment to ensure that the equipment used by our forces is in every way compatible with the equipment that the United States is using."—[Official Report, 20 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 37.] Will the Minister tell the House whether that equipment is being procured from Britain, America or some other NATO country? Secondly and most importantly, when does he expect our equipment to be operationally effective with IFF in the next few weeks?

Mr. Ingram

We are currently involved in a procurement process to enhance the technical capability of our equipment, but the matter is much more profound and complex than that. There is a range of other issues that need to be addressed. That procurement is not a matter that we discuss openly, nor do we clearly identify the equipment that we are putting in place. I know that the hon. Gentleman would expect such a rule to be rigorously applied. We do not divulge all our technical capabilities, for very obvious reasons.

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