On operations, we will always try to share equipment with our partners to best effect, for example with the pooling of helicopters in Afghanistan. More broadly—I imagine this might be what the hon. Lady has in mind—the strategic defence and security review is considering options for closer bilateral co-operation with key nations, but NATO will remain the cornerstone of our defence.
I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. There has been a great deal of speculation over the summer, and while there is no problem with joint procurement, the operational problems are potentially huge if we end up purchasing our Tornadoes on some sort of time-share or hire-purchase arrangement with another nation. Will he reassure the House that any decisions he makes will be driven by the operational requirements of the armed forces? Will he also bear it in mind that if one buys cheap, one often pays twice?
There are two issues. First, why would we want to get involved in further joint co-operation? Clearly, economy of scale needs to be taken into account in the difficult budgetary environment. Secondly, who would the key partners be? In looking at key partners, we certainly consider operational effectiveness and those countries that are likely to deploy and to spend on the research necessary to get the capability we would want. Clearly, for such partnerships, the two front-runners are the United States and France.
Does the Secretary of State accept that there may be circumstances in which it is more effective to share responsibilities rather than equipment? Will he tell the House whether, as a result of his meeting in Paris last week, there was any discussion of the possibility of sharing responsibility for nuclear deterrence?
We have repeatedly made it clear that we believe that having an independent nuclear deterrent is a vital part of the United Kingdom’s sovereign capability, and we intend to keep it that way. Where we can co-operate on technical matters with the French, without interfering with our sovereign capability in any way, it would make sense to do so.
On press reports about the sharing of aircraft carriers, may I say that, despite having 500 constituents who work in the upper Clyde shipyards, I have always seen the matter as a strategic, not primarily industrial, question? In that context, does the Secretary of State agree that having one aircraft carrier would be a strategic nonsense, and that not having any of our own would be a major breach of the nation’s sea-based defence posture, which goes back not just decades but centuries?
I am the first to defend, as I have regularly, the concept of sea-borne air-power projection, especially for a maritime nation such as the United Kingdom. However, the hon. Gentleman’s question is an eloquent and crafty try at tempting me into commenting on the current SDSR discussions, which I will be happy to share with the House at the appropriate time.