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European Defence Co-operation

Volume 554: debated on Monday 26 November 2012

We believe that there is scope for improved European defence co-operation focused strongly on supporting operational effect and capability. We would encourage closer co-operation through either multilateral or bilateral initiatives, such as the UK-France Lancaster House treaty signed in 2010. That is becoming increasingly important as nations face reductions in their defence budgets.

I commend the Minister for his participation in the European Defence Council last week and welcome the subsequent announcements on pooling capabilities, helicopter training and air-to-air refuelling, but with America rebalancing its defence away to the Pacific what is the future of UK involvement in the European Defence Agency?

The United Kingdom stood alone last Monday in insisting on flat cash for the European Defence Agency. I am very pleased that we did so, as we have been forced, because of the deficit we inherited, to make fairly substantial cuts to the defence budget and it would have been perverse to vote through an increase in the EDA budget. It is absolutely crucial that the EDA takes every opportunity to ensure that it extracts efficiencies from its programmes, and it will have our support in levering in effect, but the emphasis must be on effect and capability, not institution building.

On European defence co-operation, the Minister will be aware that the separatists in Scotland have recently announced that they would wish a separate Scotland to join NATO at the same time as getting rid of Scotland’s nuclear weapons—a very difficult thing to achieve. Is he aware of any discussions between the Scottish Government and NATO?

I think that it would be premature for the Scottish Government to engage with NATO, as I confidently expect the good people of Scotland—people of sound good sense—to reject independence at the forthcoming referendum.

Following the successful deployment of Iron Dome and the trials of David’s Sling, what discussions has the European Defence Agency had with Israel regarding procurement of those two vital tools?

It is important to stress that NATO is the cornerstone of our collective defence. I know that my hon. Friend would agree with that, but it is also important for the European Union to ensure that it engages with what might be called its near abroad. Colleagues—defence Ministers—across the EU keep a very close eye on developments.

One of the objectives of the UK-France defence accord was the potential jointly to develop a new unmanned combat air vehicle. Has agreement been reached with France on its development, and if not what is causing the delay?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We have agreed the assessment phase, which is under way, and we will have further to report in the fullness of time. I am very pleased that he raises the important liaison that we now have with France. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox) for securing that in 2010 and for the two Lancaster House treaties that we now have with France. I look forward to ever closer co-operation with France, noting of course that France spends a proper amount on defence; we would like other European colleagues to follow suit.