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Defence Equipment (UK-France Co-operation)

Volume 542: debated on Monday 26 March 2012

4. What recent progress his Department has made on co-operation with the government of France on defence equipment; and if he will make a statement. (101599)

We have taken significant steps to implement the UK-France defence security co-operation treaty signed in 2010. The recent summit, in February, demonstrated that our bilateral co-operation remains strong and that both nations are committed to delivering the aims of the treaty. The summit declaration set out the areas of co-operation on defence equipment, and we continue to make progress across all the programmes by ensuring that our time lines and requirements are aligned, and in some cases by setting up joint project offices.

I thank the Minister. Can he give the House an assessment of the long-term future of our defence relationship with France, and the outcomes that he sees it delivering both now and in future?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend a clear reassurance on those points. The politicians, armed services and acquisition communities of both countries understand the importance of the relationship, which I believe will endure for many years because of the benefits it brings in terms of both enhanced capability and lower cost, which are crucial tests for anyone interested in delivering effective equipment for armed forces at a price the taxpayer can afford.

May I associate myself entirely with the Secretary of State’s expression of sympathy following the loss of two service personnel today in Afghanistan?

The Opposition support further co-operation with the French, as industry does. However, the industry’s concern is that the French Government have an industrial strategy and are already looking at how they maximise business for French companies. They have been faster out of the blocks yet again, so given repeated delays in the announcement on planning round 12, can the Minister tell the House exactly when we can expect the announcement? Can he please not say “shortly”, because industry and employees deserve a little better?

I assure the hon. Lady that she can expect a statement very shortly. As for her more general point, this country has a very effective way of supporting defence industries by making them competitive to ensure that they can take on world markets well and strongly, by supporting small and medium-sized enterprises and exports, and by supporting science, which the previous Labour Government cut. Those things will give us a very strongly competitive defence industry, not only in respect of the relationship with France, but around the world.