Ministerial Meetings (France)

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19 March 2001.

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Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead 12:00, 19 March 2001

When he last met his French counterpart to discuss naval co-operation between France, the UK and the USA. [152704]

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I regularly discuss bilateral naval co-operation with both my French and American colleagues. When I last met my French counterpart on 9 February in Cahors, naval co-operation formed part of the background to our discussions. The close nature of our naval co-operation with the United States was most recently demonstrated by agreement to the permanent stationing of a British sailor on the USS Winston Churchill, which was launched last week.

Photo of Mr Tony McWalter Mr Tony McWalter Labour/Co-operative, Hemel Hempstead

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Given the similarity in the size of the French and British naval forces, will my right hon. Friend set out for the House the full extent of co-operation between them? In particular, will he make clear the synergy between that co-operation and work with the United States navy?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There is an agreement on naval co-operation with the French, which covers a wide range of activity, including operations. In addition, 20 formal working groups have been established, dealing with training, submarine co-operation, operational planning, doctrine communications and personnel exchanges. That agreement was drawn up in 1996 and signed by the then Secretary of State for Defence. As my hon. Friend said, the size of our respective navies means that there are significant opportunities for co-operation with the United States navy, which we pursue vigorously.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Conservative, Vale of York

Like the Secretary of State, I welcome co-operation with the United States, but does he not accept that co-operation on submarines, especially with the French navy, is crucial to our long-term training for submarine warfare?

Photo of Geoff Hoon Geoff Hoon Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

Co-operation on submarines is at a relatively early stage; visits were conducted to one another's ports only recently. There are obviously matters of great national sensitivity surrounding our nuclear submarine fleet, and I am sure that the French believe that that is so for them, too. There are certainly practical benefits in co-operation, not least in the light of the appalling disaster and loss of the Russian submarine Kursk.