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Smart Defence

Volume 567: debated on Monday 2 September 2013

13. What smart defence or pooling and sharing initiatives the UK has joined; and what estimate he has made of savings to the public purse arising from such schemes. (900053)

I am delighted to be able to say that the ultimate answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is 42, as the UK currently participates in 40 NATO smart defence initiatives and two of the European Defence Agency’s pooling and sharing projects. I am happy to write to him with a list, if he would like it. Capability development is a long-term process. Many of these projects are still in their infancy and as such we are unable to quantify meaningfully direct savings to the UK, but savings there certainly will be. There are clear benefits for the UK in seeking collaborative opportunities and encouraging other partners to do the same, particularly working in small groups where it is expedient to do so. UK-Dutch amphibiosity, 40 years old this year, is a very good example.

Indeed, I would like the Minister to write to me. I support what the Government are doing to try to buy at lower cost collaboratively with allies, but the Government’s defence expenditure, according to public expenditure statistical analyses last year, was in real terms £4.9 billion less than when Labour was in power in our last year of office. What proportion of that £4.9 billion has been saved through smart defence?

I have to refer the hon. Gentleman to my earlier remarks. These projects have been going since 2011—they are in their infancy—so it would be remarkable if demonstrable savings were to be volunteered at this point, but we are confident that there will be savings, which is in large part why we are doing this, and they will be forthcoming as we go further with pooling, sharing and smart defence.

Will my hon. Friend update the House on what progress is being made on initiatives to deepen co-operation with other northern European countries?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. He will be aware of the Northern Group. Within both NATO and the European Union it is important to identify groups of like-minded countries, such as the Northern Group, with which we can work particularly well. It seems to me to be expedient to work with the grain of such countries in order to lever in effect. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary will discuss that shortly in Vilnius.

On defence sharing, the UK provides military training to senior military officers from countries around the world. The MOD has confirmed to me in parliamentary answers that over recent years that has regularly included senior army officers from the Assad regime. Does the Minister regret that?

I cannot really comment because I just do not know. I would be very surprised if that was the case, but we can certainly look into it. The hon. Gentleman is right that we provide training and exposure to a wide range of countries, looking all the while at the probity and integrity of their regimes. Clearly nothing is perfect in this world, but we put huge effort into ensuring that those who benefit from our training courses go back to their countries and use the information they have gained to good purpose and in a way that we in this House find acceptable.

Does the Minister believe that the principles of smart defence are best served through multilateral organisations, such as the European Defence Agency or NATO, or on a bilateral basis, such as the Lancaster house agreement? He said that he will write to my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley). Will he share that information with the entire House by placing details in the Library?

Absolutely. I am more than happy to write about the 42 programmes and place a copy in the Library. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s binary proposition: namely, that we should choose to operate either on a bilateral or multilateral basis or through supranational organisations. I believe that both have their part to play. Working with the grain of other countries, in the way I have described, seems to me to offer great opportunities for levering in effect. I have cited UK-Dutch amphibiosity, which we should all be celebrating in this 40th anniversary year.