European Security and Defence Policy

Orders of the Day — Regulatory Reform Bill [Lords] (Programme) – in the House of Commons at 11:10 pm on 19th March 2001.

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Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 11:10 pm, 19th March 2001

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 27th November 2000 relating to the Presidency Report to the Nice European Council on the Common European Security and Defence Policy (document 14056/3/00) and the three unnumbered Explanatory Memoranda submitted by the FCO on 22nd and 23rd January relating to the establishment of permanent CESDP bodies; welcomes the Government's approach to a Common European Security and Defence Policy; and supports the Government's intention to pursue this initiative in the EU and in close co-operation with NATO. The motion stands in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I welcome the opportunity to set out the Government's position on this important issue. I shall explain why the agreements reached at the Nice European Council— [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Hon. Members must not— [Interruption.] Order. Hon. Members cannot wave papers and bob up and down in their seats while the Minister is addressing the House.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am delighted that I have such a large following that Opposition Members have turned out for this debate.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister introduced the motion by saying that it stood in his name and those of his hon. Friends, but none of his hon. Friends appear on the Order Paper.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I shall explain why the agreements reached at the Nice European Council and the subsequent decisions of the January General Affairs Council represent a good outcome for Britain, Europe and NATO.

The House will recall that the European Union's security and defence policy results from an initiative launched by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in 1998. The goals of that initiative have not changed and are fully reflected in the agreements reached at Nice. We want to create a Europe where nations invest in better military capabilities. We want to strengthen Europe's contribution to NATO and to enable Europeans to act where NATO as a whole is not involved.

Nice represented a major step towards securing those goals. The Council agreed on permanent structures for EU political and military bodies, and on inclusive arrangements to involve non-member states in European security and defence policy. It proposed comprehensive consultation and co-operation agreements between the EU and NATO.

The results of Nice have been widely welcomed. The new United States Administration support the emphasis on capabilities and the relationship with NATO. On 23 February at Camp David, President Bush said: The United States welcomes the European Union's European Security and Defence Policy, intended to make Europe a stronger and more capable partner in deterring and managing crises affecting the security of the Transatlantic community. Although the ESDP has been welcomed by the United States, its domestic reception here has, at times, been mixed. I fear that a great deal of that is down to misunderstandings created by the Conservative party, so I welcome this opportunity to put the record straight.

The Nice report spells out what the ESDP is and, just as importantly in the light of some British reactions, what it is not. The second paragraph of the report could not be clearer. It states that EU nations will act where NATO as a whole is not engaged". EU nations will carry out the Petersberg tasks, humanitarian and rescue tasks, peace-keeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peace-making". In other words, the EU will not be involved in war-fighting or collective defence; those remain with NATO alone.

Hon. Members might like to recall that the Petersberg tasks were agreed by the previous Government as the scope of activity for the Western European Union, so it is somewhat hypocritical to criticise the European Union for being ready to take on the same roles. Moreover, it is worth recalling that the Maastricht treaty signed up EU member states not only to the prospect of a common EU defence policy, but to "a common defence". It is worth reminding the House that one of the Members who signed the Maastricht treaty was the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), who is now shadow Foreign Secretary. Those who sound completely false alarm bells about the threat to NATO were happy to sign up to the prospect of the EU replacing NATO.

The Government have changed the perspective by taking the lead in European defence rather than taking fright. We have shaped the debate and designed the policy in a way that ensures that NATO's pre-eminent role remains unchanged. To make that clear, the report states: NATO remains the basis of the collective defence of its members and will continue to play an important role in crisis management". We have only to look to Bosnia and Kosovo for confirmation of the latter point.

The report also makes it clear that there is no such thing as a European army. It states: This does not involve the establishment of a European army. The commitment of national resources by Member States to such operations will be based on their sovereign decisions. Thus the Nice treaty, agreed under the Government, establishes European defence as NATO-friendly and intergovernmental. The House will agree that that is a significant improvement on the open door to a common EU defence that was accepted at Maastricht by the self-proclaimed guardians of NATO and UK sovereignty.

I have clarified what the ESDP is not; I shall now explain what it is

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am delighted to give way to the hon. Gentleman, who, as well as being shadow Secretary of State for Defence, has taken over the role of shadow Foreign Secretary from the right hon. Member for Horsham. The hon. Gentleman went to Washington to pour poison into the ears of the Administration. That caused our difficulties.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

The Minister claims much credit for moves away from Maastricht and other treaties. Why, in 1997, did the Prime Minister describe the proposals to which the Minister signed up at St. Malo and Nice as "ill-judged transplant" operations, which he voted out?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Let us begin by paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Horsham, who signed the Maastricht treaty in 1992, and to Sir Malcolm Rifkind. who agreed the Petersberg tasks the next year. That is where European defence originated. The continuation of that policy at St. Malo began under the previous Government.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I know that the hon. Gentleman does not want to take credit for it, but he must. He must also give due credit to the right hon. Member for Horsham.

First and foremost, European defence is about more effective European armed forces. It is about enhancing Europe's contribution to NATO, strengthening our ability to support United Nations or Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe operations, and making it possible for EU nations to respond to crises.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I give way to another member of the previous Government, who began the process of European defence.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

As the Minister is unable to call upon his solicitor's services this evening, will he answer the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) asked?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Why should I need a solicitor when an eminent barrister such as the right hon. and learned Gentleman is present? He is probably even more expensive than any solicitor that I could have.

The first annexe to the Nice report includes the conclusions of the capabilities commitment conference of 20 to 21 November 2000. At that conference, which was a UK-French initiative, EU nations set out the contributions that they proposed to offer the EU's headline goal.

The headline goal of the European defence initiative is a step change in Europe's military performance. By 2003, EU nations operating; together should be able to deploy up to 60,000 troops it 60 days, and maintain a deployment of that size for at least a year. The capabilities conference showed that EU nations had enough troops to meet that target. The total contributions offered were more than 100,000. The quantity target was met. However, the conference agreed that further efforts were needed to improve the quality if the European performance in the availability. deployability, sustainability and use of those forces; in the ability to transport troops rapidly to the field of operations; and in better missiles, precision weapons and logistic support.

Britain welcomed that honest appraisal of the shortfalls and the commitment to filling those gaps. These high-readiness crisis management troops are precisely what NATO needs in the Balkans. This is, therefore, a practical example of how improving the performance of European nations also strengthens NATO.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

The capabilities conference also called for the availability of 400 combat aircraft and 100 naval vessels. Why would the European Union rapid reaction force need all those troops, aircraft and ships just to perform Petersberg tasks?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Because it is important to show that there is the capability to achieve that. The hon. Gentleman should know that because he has a deeper knowledge of the subject than the right hon. Member for Horsham, and has thought carefully about it. Certainly, when I appeared before the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, he probed me on that point. It is important that those capabilities exist.

The capabilities conference was not just about EU nations. We deliberately made the headline goal a target that applied only to EU nations to ensure that the pressure was kept up to deliver real improvements without relying on others. However, the ESDP should involve all European nations, so the non-EU European members of NATO and other accession candidates offered contributions that would be available for EU-led operations.

Nice also proposed a mechanism to ensure that EU nations' progress towards the headline goal was kept under review. That will involve close co-ordination between the EU and NATO, to ensure that commitments made in NATO defence planning and the ESDP are fully compatible.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe

Does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that it is profoundly shocking that the Opposition appear willing to allow our ground troops to be exposed to risk without the support of the naval and air forces that they might need? Does he accept that 60,000 troops constitute one reinforced division, and that, on their own, they could be vulnerable?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. However, nothing that the Opposition do these days shocks me.

The ESDP will work only as part of a transparent and effective relationship between the EU and NATO. A lot of nonsense has been talked about the EU establishing itself as a rival to NATO, and that nonsense comes from the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, who goes like a weasel to Washington to continue to poison the Administration there. That is emphatically not the case. The EU and NATO are not two anonymous, institutional monoliths. Eleven European countries are members of both. Both take defence decisions by consensus.

I saw that consensus today when I attended the General Affairs Council meeting in Brussels. The Secretary-General of NATO and the Foreign Minister of Macedonia met the Foreign Ministers of the EU countries to discuss the situation in Macedonia. This is not a question of the EU and NATO acting separately. The way to deal with European defence is for those organisations and institutions to work together. This is the only way that it can be achieved.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I give way to one of the pro-Europeans on the other side of the House: the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer).

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Will the hon. Gentleman help the House further on this matter? He has made a number of comments but has not been able to answer the question that was in my mind and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). The Minister prays in aid the Maastricht treaty—which I voted for—yet his leader voted against it and made it clear that the very things that the Minister now says are good about it were not good. What has changed in the meantime?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The right hon. Gentleman clearly has not been listening to what I have been saying. If he had been listening, he would know that the important part of the European defence framework that was established at Maastricht enabled us to continue this defence policy.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman supported the Maastricht treaty, and I know that it was signed by the right hon. Member for Horsham; but other Conservative Members, such as the hon. Members for Stone (Mr. Cash) and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), would not have signed the treaty, and do not support it. At least their position remains one of integrity, and not one to be changed whenever certain situations arise.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

The Minister made some carping remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and his visit to Washington. Has the Minister read the House of Commons research department's note regarding the question of what President Bush has understood from the Prime Minister? It states: Mr. Bush's seemingly relaxed view of ESDP may be somewhat misplaced. His reference to assurances from the Prime Minister that NATO and ESDP would have a joint command, and that the planning would take place within NATO, would appear to overstate the level of EU-NATO co-operation as laid down in the Presidency report from Nice.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I would rather hear the words used by President Bush himself than the comments contained in the document from which the hon. Gentleman has quoted. [Interruption.] What Opposition Members cannot stomach is the fact that the Prime Minister could go to Camp David and secure agreement with President Bush on this matter. That is what they cannot stomach, but that is exactly what happened. Support for the European defence policy from President Bush was the most important thing that came out of Camp David, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

The Minister will recall that France threw NATO out of Paris because it did not want command and control of its forces to be organised under NATO. What does this agreement on European armed forces mean? Does it mean that France is returning its troops to the command and control of NATO, or does it mean that all our troops are being taken out of that command and control?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

France is completely supportive of these proposals. It signed up to the Nice agreement, which followed a conference and a council convened by the French. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not know that Nice is in France: that is where it was all agreed.

The ESDP will work only as part of a transparent and effective relationship between the European Union and NATO. The Nice presidency report includes a comprehensive set of proposals for EU-NATO relations, which are listed in annexe VII of the report and its appendix. The EU makes three proposals. It proposes that co-operation should cover all questions of common interest relating to security, defence and crisis management; that there should be joint ministerial, senior official and military committee meetings during each EU presidency; that EU representatives attend NATO meetings, and vice versa; and that all those contacts should be intensified in a crisis.

The arrangements do not seem to have satisfied some Opposition Members, but they were welcomed by NATO Foreign Ministers when they met during the week after Nice. The EU welcomed NATO's positive reaction. In an exchange of letters, the EU presidency and NATO's Secretary-General noted that there was now agreement on the elements of the permanent NATO-EU relationship. Copies of the exchange were placed in the Vote Office in advance of tonight's debate. I am sure that the hon. Member for Stone. a frequent visitor to the Vote Office, has already collected his copy.

The other crucial aspect of NATO-EU relations is represented by arrangements for the EU to have access to the assets and expertise of the alliance. There is no intention to duplicate unnecessarily in the EU what exists already in NATO or in European nations. For any EU operation using NATO assets, the operational planning and command structures will come from NATO.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

In that case, can the Minister explain why the EU force—I think that it is an army—needs a military committee, a political committee to direct it, beefed-up strategic intelligence and extra transport? Is it not, in practice, a scheme for a comprehensive military force that does things that NATO does not want to do—not under NATO command and not in co-operation, but separate and deliberately so? Have not the Government lost to the French on that very issue?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am really sorry that, after I have opened this debate and all the discussions that have taken place, the right hon. Gentleman simply does not understand what we have been talking about. As he heard me say right at the beginning, NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence policy. As he also heard me say, of course any operation of that type will have to draw on NATO assets and NATO command structures. That is precisely what I have just said.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I shall give way in a moment. Let me make a little progress first.

The EU military staff will not do operational level planning, nor will it provide command and control structures. It will be a small secretariat with officers on secondment from national Ministries of Defence. It will support the EU military committee and maintain close contact with NATO headquarters. There will be about 140 officers in the EU military staff. It is fanciful to think that that could rival or duplicate the work of the 2,000 or so officers at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, and nor would we want it to.

For small EU-led operations, the alternative exists of planning done by national headquarters, such as the United Kingdom's permanent joint headquarters or the French equivalent. That might be appropriate, for example, for an evacuation of EU nationals or a straightforward humanitarian mission. Regardless, EU nations would decide on an operation only after consultation with NATO and once it was clear that NATO was not going to act. Does the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) understand that, or does he want me to repeat the sentence?

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

The Minister has rightly said that there will be no duplication of assets, which is absolutely true. If the EU rapid reaction force is operating, it will have to use assets previously allocated to NATO. Is it not correct that the EU rapid reaction force will be operating only on occasions when NATO does not wish to be involved? Therefore, is not the consequence that, when the EU rapid reaction force is operating on such occasions, it will be taking away forces from NATO, thus leaving NATO with fewer forces for those operations in which it does wish to be involved?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon Gentleman almost got it right. He was fine up to the last sentence, when he really lost it. Of course the force will draw on NATO assets, but it will do so because NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence policy. There will not be any operations other than those in which NATO has said that it will not act. The hon. Gentleman was fine until the last sentence.

EU nations will determine the objectives for an EU operation and will be responsible for its strategic control and political direction. Some hon. Members seem surprised that a NATO command structure used for an EU—led operation should come under the EU' s control for the duration of the operation. However, that would seem to me to be a statement of the obvious. If the United Kingdom mounts a national operation, it is the United Kingdom that will decide. if NATO operates, NATO nations together take the decisions. If the EU undertakes a military operation, who should decide its strategy and direction but the EU nations themselves?

The Nice report sets out, at annexe VI, how the EU will ensure the closest possible involvement of non—member states in the ESDP. That applies from consultations in the routine phase, to their rights and obligations in the EU—led operation. During every presidency, there will be meetings with the non—EU European members of NATO and, separately, with those countries plus the other candidates for accession to the EU. That consultation will be intensified as a crisis emerges. At that point—indeed at any point—non—member states can call for additional meetings with EU countries.

In recognition of the importance of NATO's place in the ESDP, European members of NATO outside the EU will have the right to take part in any EU operation using NATO assets. Other non—member states can be invited to do so. When non—member states are making a significant contribution to an EU—led operation, they will take part in its day—to—day management on the same basis as participating member states. That is precisely the kind of dialogue that we had today in Brussels when the NATO Secretary—General and the Macedonian Foreign Minister met EU Ministers to discuss the serious situation in Macedonia.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

The hon. Gentleman is guilty of playing games with words. The reality, as he knows very well, no matter how much sophistry he applies to it, is that the key phrases in annexe VII mean that what happens between the EU and NATO must take place in full respect of the autonomy of EU decision—making and that the entire chain of command must remain under the political control and strategic direction of the EU throughout the operation" The Minister knows well that when those words were written, they did not intend, as the Prime Minister said to President Bush, that everything would be under the command of NATO, as he had promised.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman just cannot bear the thought that the United States of America and ourselves—President Bush and Prime Minister Blair—were able to agree on European defence on 23 February, because he has spent so much of his time trying to undermine the relationship between the two counties, with his weasel words in Washington. That is a disgraceful way to treat such matters. I realise that he is preparing for the inevitable leadership election after the general election; I am sure that the telephone banks are already set up. None the less, I assure him that we are very comfortable with the words of President Bush and the Prime Minister at Camp David. That is what the hon. Gentleman cannot get over.

At Nice, there was agreement on the roles and composition of the permanent political and military structures within the EU for crisis management. For the convenience of Conservative Members, I can tell them that those are set out in annexes III to V. The General Affairs Council on 22 January decided how they would be established.

The Political and Security Committee has replaced the EU Political Committee. It is responsible for day—to—day management of all CFSP issues. It will be the main interlocutor of the North Atlantic Council. The PSC and NAC met for the first time on 5 February. As well as taking forward the ESDP, they are concentrating on the practical issues of NATO—EU co—operation in the Balkans. The military committee brings together national Chiefs of Defence Staff or their representatives. It will be the interlocutor of the NATO military committee. Most nations, including the United Kingdom, appoint the same military representatives to NATO and the EU, to ensure a coherent approach.

The discipline and coherence of the EU and NATO military committees will be a useful preparation for the new responsibilities of the current UK military representative, Sir Michael Willcocks; as hon. Members may be aware, he has just been appointed to succeed Black Rod.

The military committee will be formally established once its first permanent chairman is appointed, later this spring. The military staff will also be formally established later this spring, following a decision by Javier Solana, the High Representative.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I have given way several times in this debate, and I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman now. He can take part in the debate. I am well aware that only an hour and a half has been allocated for it, and I shall not therefore cover the provisions in the Nice report for taking forward the civilian aspects of crisis management and work on conflict prevention. Both of those are important, as the Balkans crises show, and the EU work on them under the Swedish presidency is proceeding well.

Let me, in closing, re—state the fundamental points for the benefit of the right hon. Member for Wokingham. The ESDP is good news for Britain, Europe and NATO. That is why the Government developed it, why Europe supports it and why the United States and NATO have welcomed it in the statement made by President Bush and the Prime Minister on 23 February. This Government, the United States Government, our EU partners and NATO allies are engaged in making a success of the ESDP. Nice was an important step towards realising the goals of a NATO—friendly ESDP. It was a good result for NATO and a good result for Britain.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford 11:40 pm, 19th March 2001

It sets a new record for brazenness in this place for the Minister of State, in the circumstances in which he finds himself, to talk about integrity and hypocrisy. No wonder not a single member of the Cabinet had the face to come here tonight to support him, including his boss.

This is a very important matter. We all congratulate the Select Committee on European Scrutiny for having brought it to the attention of the House. I hope that, at least for the rest of the evening, it will get the attention that it deserves.

Let me start by saying clearly and unambiguously, so that there can be no doubt at all, that Conservative Members are completely in favour of enhancing the defence capability of the European members of the Atlantic alliance. We are completely in favour of enhancing the European pillar of that alliance, so long as that is done in such a way as to reinforce the alliance as a whole. That means taking with us all the members of the alliance in Europe, EU and non—EU, and, of course, Canada and the United States. It is perfectly true that the previous Conservative Administration played a very positive and proud role in the 1994 Washington—I mean NATO—summit, which agreed on the concept of a European strategic defence identity within NATO and on deploying a joint taskforce. However, we did that in such a way as to reinforce NATO, to ensure that all the allies were behind the decision and to enhance the links between us and the United States.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman seeks to claim credit for the Washington summit. Of course, the Washington summit took place in 1999, when this Government were in power.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

The hon. Gentleman has not been paying attention. I was talking about the decision at the 1994 NATO summit to create a European strategic defence identity within NATO. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not in the brief."j As it is not in the brief, perhaps he does not know about it.

The hon. Gentleman has quoted at length the communiqué that resulted from the Camp David meeting between the United Kingdom and President Bush. I have the transcript before me. It raises a number of questions to which the House is entitled to straightforward answers—a good deal more straightforward than the hon. Gentleman is accustomed to giving in other contexts. He certainly will not have the opportunity, as he had with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, simply to say that he would not answer—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We are here to discuss the motion before the House. I remind hon. Members that that is all we are here to debate.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

Let me quote what President Bush said after the meeting at Camp David. He said of the Prime Minister: he also assured me that the European defense would no way undermine NATO. He also assured me that there would be a joint command, that planning would take place within NATO … And finally, I was very hopeful when we discussed the Prime Minister's vision that such a vision would encourage our NATO allies and friends to bolster their defense budgets". So the Prime Minister evidently gave three assurances to President Bush, and he was sitting next to him when President Bush used the words that I have just quoted. He gave an assurance on joint command, an assurance that planning would take place within NATO and an assurance about increases in the budget.

So far as bolstering the defence budget is concerned, there has clearly been no response at all to the Camp David meeting. The Government allowed the defence budget to fall steadily in real terms during their first three years, and the present Budget provides for a 0.1 per cent. increase in real terms in defence spending. The continentals mostly have defence budgets that are stable or falling, and our German allies are in the middle of a steady four—year reduction in nominal terms, which is even bigger in real terms.

I turn now to the key questions of the joint command. Again, I quote President Bush. He said that there would be a joint command. How does that square with the text of the Nice treaty? How does it square with the explanatory memorandum that the Minister of State sent to the European Scrutiny Committee? Annexe 7 to the Nice treaty does not refer to joint commands. It clearly says that the European Council will appoint the operation commander and, through the intermediary of the PSC"— that is the EU Political and Security Committeeinstruct him to activate the chain of command. The treaty goes on to say that the entire chain of command must remain under the political control and strategic direction of the EU throughout the operation … In that framework the operation commander will report on the conduct of the operation to EU bodies only. How can that possibly describe a joint command? There is absolutely no reference to a joint command and no description of how it might even come about or what it would look like. It would indeed be a rather unusual animal.

Among other things, the treaty says that there will be full respect of the autonomy of EU decision—making", which also seems to be inconsistent with any idea of a joint command. I will give way to the Minister of State if he wants to explain that to the House. How does the assurance given to President Bush at Camp David—which he accepted in good faith, as is clear from the text of his statement to the press afterwards—square with the text that I have just read out? The hon. Gentleman's silence is eloquent.

I turn now to planning. You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that President Bush said that he had received assurances that planning would take place within NATO". There is no reference to any other possibility in his statement or, presumably, in the understanding that he was given of the matter. Annexe 6 to the Nice treaty sets out two possibilities on planning which I shall deal with in turn. It says: For operations requiring recourse to NATO assets and capabilities, operational planning will be carried out by the Alliance's planning bodies, and for an autonomous EU operation it will be carried out within one of the European strategic level headquarters. There is no reference to that whatsoever in the Camp David communiqué or the statements made to the press by the Prime Minister and the President after that meeting. Was that matter raised? Was that possibility discussed with the President? Did the Minister of State and his colleagues think that President Bush or his advisers somehow would not get round to reading annexe 6? Does the hon. Gentleman. in the course of his duties in the Foreign Office, regularly underestimate the intelligence of the foreigners with whom he is dealing?

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Labour, Harlow

I want fully to understand the hon. Gentleman's position. Is he saying that President Bush and his advisers did not read the Nice treaty, were not properly briefed on it and were therefore duped and misled by the Prime Minister? Is not that a strange attitude for the Conservative party to strike against a Republican President?

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

The hon. Gentleman is sadly all too right, which is why the matter is so serious. He should know that for some generations this country's Prime Minister, from whichever political party he comes, has enjoyed a great deal of credibility in Washington. When the Prime Minister went to Camp David, there is no doubt at all that President Bush would not have taken account of the possibility that the Prime Minister would conduct their conversations on the basis of concealing material facts. It is hardly surprising that President Bush's advisers have been extremely concerned since the Camp David meeting that they may indeed have been misled. My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, has often drawn attention to that.

Let us examine the discrepancy between the text of the treaty of Nice and what was said to President Bush. I shall take the two possibilities in the treaty in turn: one is that planning for an EU operation would lie with one of the European strategic level headquarters; the other is that the operational planning structure of the alliance would be involved if NATO assets were involved.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

I shall give way. Perhaps the Minister will answer one of my questions.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman should calm himself a little. He needs to know that he is insulting the intelligence of the Government of America, which is one of our strongest allies. He ought to know that, before the Nice Council, the draft of the treaty and the annexes were sent to the Americans, who read them very clearly. After the Nice Council, NATO Foreign Ministers—that includes the United States of America—welcomed the Nice conclusions. He is insulting the intelligence of the American Administration and he should apologise for doing so.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

It is quite apparent that the Prime Minister gave assurances to President Bush at Camp David because those assurances are in President Bush's statement, which I have already quoted. It is quite clear that the understanding given to President Bush is that which President Bush himself expressed. I have just quoted it.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

In a moment. I must tell the Minister something else. He said that the Conservative party had somehow succeeded in poisoning the mind of the American Administration, but he again underestimates the intelligence of the people he is dealing with. It would be quite impossible to poison the mind of the American Administration with disinformation, but it is possible to make it clear to them that the Government speak with forked tongue. Indeed, individuals members of the Government may speak with forked tongue.

For all that the Minister does not want me to, I shall examine in detail the two possibilities for operational planning. Let us take the example of operational planning in one of the European strategic level headquarters. Here is a question that he may answer: what will happen to the permanent joint headquarters? Will it be turned into an EU headquarters for operational planning purposes? Will all the various sections of PJHQ such as J1, administration; J2, intelligence; J3, operations; and J5 planning, be full of staff officers from 14 other EU countries? Does he envisage PJHQ being turned into a combined EU headquarters? Does he seriously think that that is feasible? Does he seriously think that in those circumstances PJHQ could continue to carry out its task of managing our national operations in the Falklands and Cyprus, our deployments in Kosovo and Bosnia and major exercises? The hon. Gentleman shakes his head; he realises that it is not a viable possibility. What exactly does he mean by the words within one of the European strategic level headquarters"? Does he want me to give way to him? I will do so. Will he tell us what that phrase means? Should I count up to 10 to see whether he will respond?

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I do not want to be rude to a fellow former ex—Caian, but I should be very surprised if the hon. Gentleman could count up to 10, bearing in mind that he has understood nothing that has been said this evening. He knows that the operation and planning of all these matters starts with NATO. As he knows—it is a pity that his speech does not reflect it—we are talking about a limited set of tasks: the Petersberg tasks. They were agreed at the Petersberg hotel by Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lord Hurd and they deal with those issues. That is what we are talking about. For all the substantial issues on European defence, we will have to draw on the assets and planning capabilities of NATO. That is why President Bush is so comfortable with the arrangements and supports them. That is why the hon. Gentleman cannot believe that the policy has the support of the Americans.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

The hon. Gentleman makes my point. I ask him to elucidate, for the benefit of the House, an important phrase in the document: within one of the European strategic level headquarters". I offer to give way to him; I force him—more or less—to stand up but he does not answer the question at all. He does not deal with my question; he simply comes out with a childish insult against me, and then a lot of irrelevant obfuscations in the best new Labour mode.

The Minister makes my point. It is clearly established that the Government either do not know what the phrase means or that they are certainly not going to tell anyone else what it means. On such important matters of national security, it is extremely worrying that we should be dealing with our major ally—the United States—on that basis. If the Minister who is responsible—who signs the memorandum that we are discussing—does not know the answer to my question, how can he possibly deal with operational planning?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Is my hon. Friend aware that, after the meeting between the President and the Prime Minister, Defence Secretary Rumsfeld and an Under—Secretary who is about to join the State Department made interesting statements? Those statements make it clear that the American Administration have studied the annexes and texts and are worried on exactly the grounds set out by my hon. Friend and by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). The American Administration are pleased that I, my hon. Friends and others are going to the United States to tell them the truth about these matters because they are clearly not getting it from the Government.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

Anybody who was mildly worried before this evening would be absolutely terrified after the Minister's performance, because he does not even know—or will not say—what is meant by those words.

Let us consider the other side of operational planning. That requires recourse to NATO operational assets because such assets would be used in the potential operation. The treaty makes it clear that the alliance planning bodies would be involved. That raises yet again an issue that the Government have systematically attempted to conceal from Parliament and from the public. The Minister did not even refer to it in his remarks. I will give way to him if he is willing to answer my question. Is it not true that the Turks have exercised a veto? Is it not true that the Turks have said that they do not accept the concept of guaranteed permanent access by the EU to NATO assets—either physical assets or operational planning assets? Is that not the case? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to answer the question. Again, I will give way to him.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

That is not the case. Turkey, as a NATO ally and a friend of the United Kingdom, has raised concerns in the same way that everyone else involved in the issue wishes to have a dialogue to ensure that we get it right. That is the right approach. We can work with allies, such as Turkey and other countries, so that, in the end, we have a joined—up policy on European defence, working with the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and NATO. That is the way in which such things are done, and it is the right approach when dealing with such crisis management situations.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

All of us who are concerned about the diplomacy of our country must be shaking in our boots having heard that extraordinary response.

The Minister says that Turkey has expressed concerns. That is another piece of disingenuous new Labour drivel. The Turks have actually said no. They have said that they will not agree to the proposal for permanent guaranteed access; they want to have a veto on each occasion. The treaty defines permanent guaranteed access as not requiring the approval of other NATO members on each occasion; nor, indeed, could the arrangements work if it were possible for a member of NATO, not a member of the EU, to exercise a veto on any occasion when NATO assets were required, or when the EU wanted access to NATO operational planning assets. So the second half of the arrangements for operational planning do not work either.

The Minister did not know what the first half of the arrangements involved; he could not describe or explain them. He has now had to concede that the second half cannot work because the Turks have vetoed it, and the Turks are fully entitled to do so. It is extraordinary that the major issue—that involving the Turks—has been systematically concealed from the public debate by the Government.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

I shall give way once again, but then I shall make progress because I want other hon. Members to have a chance to speak.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

It is not just the Turks who are deeply worried, but the American military as well. Is not that the most significant point of all? If the EU were to draw down American NATO assets—for example, if transport aircraft were required to fly lo a war zone under EU command—the United States Congress and the American people would not stand for it.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

Of course the Americans are worried about that. Naturally they are also worried about an EU force getting into trouble and requiring the Americans to come to its aid. The Americans are troubled about many things, but we should all be troubled not only by the issues that have been raised, but by the fact that the major dimension to the matter—the Turkish veto—has not been mentioned by the Government. I have had to drag it out of the Government this evening from the Dispatch Box.

Once again, all those issues raise a dual problem: are the Government utterly incompetent, or are they duplicitous—or are they a rather nasty mixture of both? Let us consider the Turks. Did the Government know that the Turks would not agree to the arrangement? If they did not, did they speak to the Turks? How many times has the Minister gone to Ankara to discuss the matter with the Turks? He stopped answering questions from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards at the beginning of December, so he has had plenty of time since to go to Ankara if he had wanted to do so.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the limits of this debate.

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

I was simply explaining the possible chronological constraints, which might have disbarred the Minister from performing his functions, that existed until recently.

This matter simply will not go away. I have to tell the Minister that he and the rest of the Government have been steadily stonewalling. If they had come clean at the beginning, they might have had greater credibility in the House, in the alliance and in the United States. The fact is that many of us knew that a Labour Government could never really be trusted with defence. Many of us knew that their commitment to our alliances was so superficial, so recent and so opportunistic that it could not be trusted. A lot of us suspected that, when allied to the irresponsible, cynical, spin—doctoring culture, of which this particular Minister, with his reputation for shiftiness, is such a poor example—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please withdraw that remark?

Photo of Quentin Davies Quentin Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

I withdraw that remark, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would it be possible to say prevarication or circumvention? Would they be acceptable parliamentary terms? They describe the nature of the leadership that we have had on this question. That is why the document does not stand up, why we have promises about operational planning that do not make sense and why we have promises about NATO command that are contradicted in the text of the document. That is why there is a crisis of confidence between the United States, the new Labour Government and the European allies

If the Government continue in office for more than a few moments more, if they continue to believe that they can speak with two voices, say one thing in Europe and another in Washington and conceal from the House of Commons and the British public the truth of what is going on, they will have another think rapidly coming.

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford 12:06 am, 19th March 2001

This has been a lively debate, but I shall keep my remarks brief so that other hon. Members might have a chance to speak. [Interruption.] I note, however, that Conservatives Members are eagerly leaving the Chamber, so it is clear that they have no further contribution to make to this important debate.

Liberal Democrats believe that NATO is and will remain the bedrock of the United Kingdom's defence. It is Britain's ultimate insurance policy It ensured British security through the cold war and encouraged defence co—operation and planning after the fall of the Berlin wall.

We have also understood and believed in the need for an improved European dimension. When Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, told NATO members on 27 February: The United States supports and welcomes the creation of a European Defence facility", the loudest sound in London was the gnashing of teeth at Conservative central office. Despite the myths that we have heard from Tory central office and the myths that we have heard tonight, the United States supports totally the approach that the Government have taken.

Let us make no bones about it. The European Union's initiative allows for the autonomous political direction of operations by EU member states in the Council—not the Commission or the European Parliament—but for operational and strategic planning tot remain entrenched in NATO. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North—East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and I have said on previous occasions, we believe that there should be a NATO first refusal. In an article in The House Magazine on 8 January, I wrote: Liberal Democrats have argued that NATO should always have the right of first refusal before any action is taken … It is understood that this will be normal operating practice but if that requirement were inserted in the arrangements, it could never be said that NATO had been sidelined or undermined. The draft presidency report on European security and defence policy makes it clear that the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe will be the "strategic coordinator" and that operational planning will be carried out by the Alliance planning bodies". The NATO Washington summit supported that and all alliance partners agreed. They said: We stand ready to define and adopt the necessary arrangements for ready access by the European Union to the collective assets and capabilities where the Alliance as a whole is not engaged. EU member states have made proposals and hope for a favourable response from NATO", but there is some confusion about when and in what circumstances the EU will be asked to act.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

Will the hon. Gentleman help the House by telling us whether the Joint Committee of the Liberal Democrats and the Government is still going, or has it been betrayed by the Government's double—speak in the way that the Americans and the Europeans have been by the Prime Minister?

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford

That question has nothing to do with the debate, so I shall continue with what I was saying.

There is some confusion. It is clear that only the most minor of missions will be able to be undertaken without NATO assets and that activities are to be confined to the Petersberg tasks of peacekeeping, humanitarian intervention and crisis management. In all cases, the decision to deploy will remain a matter for sovereign Parliaments. As with NATO, Government and Parliament will ultimately make the decisions, but the phraseology where NATO as a whole is not engaged is open to interpretation. The new Bush Administration made it clear that they support the CESDP.

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford

No. The right hon. Gentleman has spent too long on his feet tonight.

The Bush Administration also made it clear that Britain's assurances on the primacy of NATO need to be made more formal. Condoleezza Rice, the United States national security adviser, said that the US has been assured that European Union nations consider NATO to be the principal security instrument in Europe, that there is in fact a kind of NATO right of first refusal for missions. The Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, pointed out that the devil will be in the detail. We agree. Liberal Democrats have always believed that NATO should have the right of first refusal.

It has been claimed that the European rapid reaction force constitutes an alternative to NATO. That is nonsense. Collective defence in which an attack on one is an attack on all remains the primary responsibility of NATO. The ERRF is a capability at the disposal of either NATO when it chooses to act or the EU when NATO chooses not to engage. In either case, NATO planning and command structures should remain in place without any wasteful duplication.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Paul Keetch Paul Keetch Liberal Democrat, Hereford

No, I will not give way.

Liberal Democrats have argued that NATO should have the right of first refusal. It is understood that that will be normal operating practice, but if that requirement is inserted in the arrangements, as we believe it should be, NATO could not be sidelined or undermined.

The ERRF is not conceived as a standing European army. At no time will national security be suspended or national control over the use of armed forces be removed. It is, and will remain, up to the nation state to decide if and when our troops are deployed.

We believe that a successful ERRF will be a success for Britain in Europe. If the force is modelled on the image that Britain desires and its embryonic mechanisms complement NATO instead of competing with it, that will be impressive and it should receive our support. By maintaining a firm commitment to European defence, we can ensure that the ERRF lives up to expectations and that the European contribution to peace and security in the 21st century is enhanced.

Photo of Sir Ray Whitney Sir Ray Whitney Conservative, Wycombe 12:12 am, 19th March 2001

My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) rightly draws attention to the declining defence budgets of EU Governments in recent years, which is the first issue at the root of the problem. I am sorry to introduce a note of sombre common sense into what has been a fairly jolly party—indignant though we are about some of the issues that have emerged—but western Europe has not been pulling its weight in defence, which has created significant worries about the commitment of the United States to NATO.

The second fundamental issue must not be swept away in a wave of anti—Europeanism. We must not have the Pavlovian reaction that everything that comes out of Europe is wrong or inimical to British interests. We must consider the issues calmly and carefully because nothing is more important than defence. The essential requirement that western Europe strengthens its defence capability must be common ground to every right hon. and hon. Member.

As Donald Rumsfeld, the American Defence Secretary, said to our former hon. Friend and colleague Winston Churchill in an interview in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday, the outcome of the CESDP must add to NATO capabilities, not detract from them. That is another given in this complex and important issue.

The third fundamental is that we must be clear about the French agenda, which, to put it at its mildest, might not be the same as the British agenda; moreover, it is not the same as that of most European members of NATO. We arrogate to ourselves the defence of NATO, as though no other member of NATO cares a tuppeny damn for it, but we know that that is wrong—try telling the Germans that only we, the British, know the value of NATO: my goodness, living under the threat of Russia, and formerly the Soviet Union, the Germans have every military, strategic and geographical reason to know the value of NATO.

It is important that in constructing the ESDP nothing is done that threatens the viability and effectiveness of NATO and the American commitment to it. That is a difficult line to follow—a difficult case to make. However, the interview with Donald Rumsfeld, whom I had the privilege of knowing many years ago, shows that he and, I believe, the entire American Administration are fully aware of the dangers. They have not rejected the ESDP outright, because they know that good things might come from it, but they also know that care must be taken.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston

Does not the hon. Gentleman think it strange that Front Benchers of his own party trumpet a possible Turkish veto of any such arrangement when, despite Mr. Rumsfeld's comments, they cannot find sufficient evidence for an American veto of such operations?

Photo of Sir Ray Whitney Sir Ray Whitney Conservative, Wycombe

It is important to examine Mr. Rumsfeld's comments and I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Conservative Front Bench are doing precisely that.

When challenged by Mr. Winston Churchill—whose approach to these issues is, I imagine, not dissimilar to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith); I might be doing one or both of them an injustice, but I doubt it—Mr. Rumsfeld said that President Bush's attitude was "relaxed" and that he was aware of the details agreed at Nice. I do not necessarily accept statements made by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but I certainly accept the statement of my friend Donald Rumsfeld.

I believe that we must consider Mr. Rumsfeld's statements. We should carefully examine the details that worry him—they should worry us as well, but they might not present insoluble problems. Now is not the time to go into the chains of command and logistics—

Photo of Sir Ray Whitney Sir Ray Whitney Conservative, Wycombe

Because we do not have time. They are important mtatters, but they cannot be debated at half—past midnight with 10 minutes to go until the debate ends.

Photo of Gerald Howarth Gerald Howarth Conservative, Aldershot

I take my hon. Friend's point about the hour being late and our not being able to go into much detail, but Donald Rumsfeld said the devil is in the detail ". That is precisely what causes the Americans' concern—their fear that they have been deceived by the Government.

Photo of Sir Ray Whitney Sir Ray Whitney Conservative, Wycombe

My hon. Friend leaps a pace too far. I am the first to concede that the devil is in the detail, and when Rumsfeld says that, he is right, but to suggest that poor old Rumsfeld and poor old President Bush do not know what is going on is wholly unjustified.

I hope that we can all calm down and pretend that, just occasionally, some good things can come out of Europe. If we can make the ESDP work, it will be better for everyone, including the United Kingdom.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 12:19 am, 19th March 2001

In his first intervention during the Minister's rather disgraceful speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) was entirely right to point to the Prime Minister's statement after the Amsterdam European Council in June 1997. The Prime Minister told the House: getting Europe's voice heard more clearly in the world will not be achieved through merging the European Union and the Western European Union or developing an unrealistic common defence policy. We therefore resisted unacceptable proposals from others."—[Official Report, 18 June 1997:Vol. 296, c. 317.]

In the many exchanges across the Floor of the House since the St. Malo agreement in 1998, there has never been even the semblance of an explanation from the Government of why they have performed such a complete volte—face and U—turn on the position that they rightly took up, with Conservative support, after the Amsterdam Council.

We cling to what the Prime Minister said; he was right then. The Government, the Minister and, indeed, the Prime Minister himself now think that he was wrong, but they have never explained why. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) hit the nail on the head and got to the essence of the matter that we are discussing when he said that the Prime Minister spoke with a forked tongue when he went to Washington. The Prime Minister signed up to an agreement with our European partners at Nice, and then went to Washington and told the President of the United States that he had done something quite different. I do not think that the President was deceived for one moment; he knew exactly what was happening and set out for the world what he had been told by the Prime Minister It was then for the world to make a comparison. The President knew exactly what would happen; he knew that the world could compare what the Prime Minister told him with the language of the Nice treaty and its appendices—[Interruption.] What the Prime Minister told the President is therefore important; those assurances are significant.

The President said of the Prime Minister: He also assured me that there would be a joint command, that planning would take place within NATO, and that should all NATO not wish to go on a mission, that they would then serve as a catalyst for the defence forces moving on their own My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) referred to the deliciously ironic language of the note provided by the Library on the President's words. It states: Mr Bush's seemingly relaxed view of ESDP may be somewhat misplaced. His reference to assurances from the Prime Minister that NATO and the ESDP would have a joint command and that planning would take place within NATO, would appear to overstate the level of EU—NATO co—operation as laid down in the Presidency Report from Nice. The note goes on to quote annexe VII to the presidency report. I do not know which document the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was waving around a moment ago; I hope that it was annexe VII. It states that the entire chain of command must remain under the political control and strategic direction of the EU throughout the operation, after consultation between the two organisations. In that framework the operation commander will report on the conduct of the operation to EU bodies only. NATO will be informed of developments in the situation by the appropriate bodies, in particular the PSC and the Chairman of the Military Committee. The Prime Minister was very fond of using the language—he used it when he came back from Nice. He said that these things will arise only when NATO chooses not to be involved. However, one will search the documents in vain for any reference to NATO's choice. It is not NATO that has the choice; under these arrangements, it is the European Union that has the choice.

We heard from the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), who said that it would be a jolly good idea if NATO had the choice, and that it should be written into the agreement that NATO had the choice. I do not know what happened in the negotiations at Nice, but it is fair to assume that the Prime Minister tried extremely hard to get language written into the agreement to make sure that NATO had the choice. If he did, he failed. That is not what the French wanted, or what the other Europeans wanted. The Prime Minister lost out in that negotiation, so the treaty says absolutely nothing about NATO's choice. It is the European Union that has the choice.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour, Preston

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the fact that the EU may consult NATO effectively gives NATO the choice of being involved or not?

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

I have a good deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman, and I cannot believe that he means what he has just said. That is a ludicrous proposition. The European Union has the choice. It then consults NATO, but the EU can refuse to agree with what NATO says. It can consult NATO and reject what NATO says.

If, indeed, there is to be a joint command, and if the planning structure, as the Prime Minister assured the President, is to be within NATO, why on earth is a Political and Security Committee needed? Why is a military committee needed? Why is a military staff needed outside NATO, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) pointed out? Why are all those bodies needed outside NATO?

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir R. Whitney)—European defence co—operation needs to be strengthened. That is right, but it could and should be strengthened within NATO. All the command structures could be established within NATO, and none of the problems would arise.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. Did he notice in the Minister's statement and elsewhere in briefings by representatives of the Government that they have conceded the point and moved on? They accept that the words of the treaty and the annexe set out an entirely new and distinct EU structure, but they are now telling the American allies and others not to worry, because significant sums will not be spent on strategic and intelligence command and control, so that will never amount to much. That is a different and rather lame kind of defence.

Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

My right hon. Friend makes an important point, with which I entirely agree.

The arrangements can be tested in another way. The House of Commons Select Committee on Defence reported on these matters. The Committee suggested that it was important that DSACEUR, the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe,.should have the right—the right—to attend all meetings of the European military committee. Comparing that report with what appears in the arrangements set out in the treaty of Nice, the House of Commons Library points out that the level of involvement of DSACEUR with EU bodies appears to fall short of the recommendation made by the Defence Committee in its report.

That is absolutely right. DSACEUR's level of involvement certainly does fall short. The treaty provides that DSACEUR may be invited to meetings of the military committee when that committee considers it appropriate, but he has no such right to attend, as was recommended by the Select Committee

The United States Defence Secretary was right when he said that the arrangements put at risk something special. It is something that the Government should have held special. By putting it at risk, they have rendered one of the greatest of all the many disservices that they have rendered to this country.

Photo of Mr Terry Davis Mr Terry Davis Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill 12:29 am, 19th March 2001

The appropriate response to the first point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) is that the proposals simply do not transfer the whole of the Western European Union into the European Union. The WEU has a range of responsibilities, including the Petersberg tasks, which are being transferred to the EU. However, it has other responsibilities—I refer especially to article 5 of the Brussels treaty—which are rightly not being transferred. I do not think that any party wants collective defence to be undertaken by the EU. Thus, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's first point, on which he built the rest of his speech, is frankly bogus.

I was delighted to hear the speech made by the hon. Member for Wycombe (Sir R. Whitney), who introduced a more sober tone into the Opposition's approach to the debate. He was absolutely correct to say that this country is not alone in defending NATO. There are other EU countries that also attach greater importance to NATO than to the EU. As I said, it is not collective defence that is being transferred to the EU, but the Petersberg tasks, which relate to humanitarian missions, of which there have been several; indeed, there have been far too many in the recent history of Europe. In future, that responsibility is to be undertaken by the EU.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

If a Petersberg task is being undertaken, forces will be siphoned off from those previously allocated to NATO in order to discharge it. How can NATO discharge the tasks that remain within its remit if it has depleted forces? Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting instead that European countries will spend more money and use larger defence budgets to add to the strength of their armed forces? If so, will he tell us which countries will do so?

Photo of Mr Terry Davis Mr Terry Davis Labour, Birmingham, Hodge Hill

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I recognise the importance of his comments and accept that forces cannot be used twice in two separate theatres. To pretend otherwise would be ridiculous and deceitful, so I entirely accept his point. However, the new arrangements do not change that situation. NATO can have more than one crisis to deal with. [Interruption.] I should like to finish my point; the hon. Gentleman asked a fair question and I am trying to provide a direct answer. The arrangements do not change the reality. Previously, if two crises occurred at the same time, NATO would have had to choose which one to prioritise. If two crises occur at the same time under the new arrangements, NATO will still have to decide whether to give priority to a crisis that is not being dealt with by the EU or whether to allow some forces to continue to be used by the EU.

Let me give the hon. Gentleman a case in point, as such circumstances are not unprecedented. Four years ago, the need arose for Operation Alba. The United Kingdom did not participate in the operation, but several of our NATO allies and some non—NATO European countries did so. If a bigger crisis had arisen that required those forces, the Italians, French and others taking part would have given priority to NATO. [Interruption.] I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's second point in a moment. I have tried to answer his first question, as he did not receive a reply the first time he asked it.

The hon. Gentle man's second question was about which countries would increase defence expenditure. That is another fair question, of which I am not afraid. Let me give him one good example. I have no doubt that Italy needs to increase its defence expenditure considerably. Currently, it does not define such expenditure in the same way as other NATO members. By NATO's assessment, it does not make a reasonable contribution to the collective defence of Europe and to NATO. There are other examples. but that is one of the most glaring. It does not help the debate to refuse to deal with such points.

I should like now to continue with my main remarks, as I wish to put an important point to the Minister. Many of my hon. Friends and I support the Government's actions to enable the EU to make decisions to deal with the Petersberg tasks and to have the capacity and means of implementing the policy. However, many of us are worried about a defect that the documents do not mention. For several other defence organisations, not least NATO, we have had to create an assembly of parliamentarians to scrutinise common policies, assets, activities and purpose. Members of nations I Parliaments meet for that purpose, as they do in the Western European Union Assembly. A defect in the arrangements that we are considering is the lack of provision for scrutiny of common activities that are undertaken by the European Union on defence. I am talking not about accountability but about scrutiny.

I regret that our Government have not succeeded in persuading our partners in the EU to implement some of the ideas that the Prime Minister and my hon. Friend the Minister have proposed for establishing an assembly, which will bring national parliamentarians together to scrutinise, exchange information and liaise. I appreciate that our Ministers cannot create such an assembly on their own, but I hope that they will continue to insist that a democratic organisation should have a democratic assembly that brings together the parliamentarians of all the countries involved. 1 hope that all hon. Members will support that.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 12:36 am, 19th March 2001

The European security and defence policy is a sort of satire, reminiscent of "Gulliver's Travels" and the tales of Baron von Munchhausen. It is a myth; a voyage in time and space, which is completely at variance with judgment, experience and reality. It is doomed to failure, and is yet another example of lions—in this case, the United States and the United Kingdom—being led by donkeys. As Wellington said of his allies in the Peninsular war: I do not know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but, by God, they frighten me. As Churchill and the British discovered with the Maginot line, such arrangements are all spin and no delivery.

The fault lies with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I have raised the point with the Prime Minister over Feira, and with the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence whenever they have returned from summits. I have challenged them on every proposition about the autonomy of a European defence policy, its structure and the arrangement that assumes that they will be in the driving seat. On no occasion have they been able to reply with confidence.

The Minister has been parachuted into the job with no prospect of reaching the ground without an unpleasant jolt.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Conservative, New Forest East

That is because they packed his parachute.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Indeed. The Prime Minister, in his Euro—enthusiasm—I would say Euro—fanaticism—traded his failure to convince the British people about the single currency for something else that he wanted to pull out of the bag. He knew that we did not have an opt—out on defence, and he thought that he would be able to take the initiative on defence policy and claim that he was leading Britain in Europe. That is what St. Malo, Cologne, Feira and Nice were all about. However, the right hon. Gentleman has got into an appalling quagmire, as has already been revealed.

I beg to differ with my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Sir R. Whitney). His view is similar to that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who said of the Maastricht treaty that he had not read it.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

In a minute. [Interruption.] Perhaps tomorrow! We have to consider the control and command to understand the basis on which such treaties are constructed. Without doing that, we do not know what is going on—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents).

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members:

No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 21 March, pursuant to Order [7 November 2000].