asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the progress currently being made between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries on co-operation over defence procurement.
Within NATO's conference of national armaments directors good progress is being made, both on projects responding to the Nunn initiative, and on other programmes. In Europe the revitalised Independent European Programme Group is achieving considerable success in the harmonisation of operational requirements and is continuing its efforts to promote greater collaboration in defence research.
Does the Minister accept that joint procurement and co-operation in procurement in Europe is no longer just desirable, but essential, if we are to retain an effective defence industry in Europe? Do the Government support the continued strengthening of the Independent European Programme Group in order to provide the political backing and commitment that that joint co-operation needs?
The group is getting the backing that it needs from British Ministers. I accept that we cannot afford to embark on many of the development programmes on our own.
Will my hon. Friend confirm, should there be any doubt in anyone's mind, particularly on the Opposition Benches, that the Government's commitment to the Euro-fighter project — the multinational project—is still as strong as it is ever was, and that any rumours to the contrary, emanating from Opposition spokesmen, should be dismissed as the rubbish that we know them to be?
It is complete alarmist nonsense. The EFA programme is a stage-by-stage programme and we are planning on the basis of the United Kingdom remaining part of it. We would expect a decision on the launch of that development some time later this year, I hope in the summer.
Has the Minister seen the article in The Independent yesterday by Mr. Peter Kellner containing allegations that Ministers have deliberately misled Parliament——
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not suggest by attribution that Ministers have misled Parliament.
On the assumption that the Minister must have read the article, will he address himself to the important question whether there is a NATO decision to modernise short-range nuclear weapons? Is there, or is there not, such a decision?
I am afraid that I cannot confirm that. I did not read the article and I do not believe everything that I read in the newspapers.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, although there is progress on European defence procurement, the progress on the harmonisation of weapons and ammunition has been lamentably slow in NATO? In view of the major contribution that we make to NATO, should not we do a great deal to try to overcome that problem, and will my hon. Friend undertake to see what he can do to try to push that forward?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Harmonisation has improved no end, but there is still much room for improvement. I accept that, and we shall continue with the programme that we have followed in the past.
Will the Parliamentary Under-Secretary give us a precise date for the signing of the development contract for EFA?
The original date was supposed to be 1 August this year. We are behind schedule, but the signing will occur later on.