I think everyone appreciates that progress will be gradual but alliance members fully understand the need to advance through stronger cooperation within Europe and via the "two-way street" with North America. At a very successful Eurogroup meeting in The Hague on 5th November it was decided to explore further the potential for extending European co-operation between all European members of the alliance. I have arranged for a copy of The Hague communiqué to be placed in the Library.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that while it is highly desirable that the new secretariat should be set up and be seen to be working efficiently, that of itself will not provide reciprocal benefits to our defence industries unless they can be sustained by a high level of research and development? Has the time not come for the Government to reverse their policy of seeking to cut such expenditure?
The Eurogroup meeting which discussed how best to traverse the path of sharing research and development within European countries agreed in principle to the establishment of a European defence procurement secretariat. At our next meeting, on 8th December, we hope to be able to flesh out that proposal.
I cannot oblige my hon. Friend at this stage. As far as I am concerned, the MRCA is firmly in our programme. We have indicated how many we want, but have not yet decided on the production figures That decision will not be necessary until early next year, when we come to an agreement with our co-operative partners.
As Labour Governments cancelled the TSR2, the F111A and the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft, and as the MRCA is a prime example of co-operation between NATO allies, is the right hon. Gentleman saying that it is not yet firm in the minds of the Government? If so, the sooner he is an ex-Defence Minister, the better.
The hon. Member could not have listened to my supplementary answer. As far as the Government are concerned, the MRCA is going ahead, but we cannot yet agree on production figures. It is not yet time to do so. That will be decided in the early part of next year, with our co-operative partners.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the operation of this secretariat there is a danger that if there is standardisation in the production of certain weapons they will be manufactured principally in German plants? Will my right hon. Friend take account of the need to protect this country against any substantial loss of employment in this matter?