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House of Commons

Monday 12 February 2001

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

European Defence

1. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): When he plans to meet the US Defence Secretary to discuss European security and defence policy. [148218]

2. Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): If he will make a statement on European defence co-operation. [148219]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I met the United States Defence Secretary on3 February at the annual security conference, in Munich. European security and defence was one of several issues that we discussed. On 14-15 December 2000, the North Atlantic Council welcomed the conclusions on European defence of the European Council, at Nice. The Council re-affirmed its determination to reinforce NATO's European pillar and stated that it shared the goal endorsed

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by European Union member states at Nice of a genuine strategic partnership in crisis management between NATO and the EU.

Sir Sydney Chapman: In view of the Secretary of State's very last comment and the fact that the Prime Minister said last week that it would be his policy to strengthen defence inside NATO, can the Secretary of State explain how those comments square with theSt. Malo Anglo-French agreement, which asserted:


Is not that yet another example of prime ministerial double-speak, and will it not be Government double- speak?

Mr. Hoon: It has always been quite clear that any significant operation involving the European Union would look, first of all, to NATO for its operational planning and, indeed, for NATO assets. Equally, however, it has always been recognised, as is the case today of course, that individual member states might join other EU member states for small operations distant from NATO--for example, ones involving humanitarian relief, which is central to the Petersberg tasks. In those circumstances, the St. Malo agreement is wholly consistent with the current position. Indeed, it is wholly consistent with the position that the hon. Gentleman undoubtedly supported when the previous Government were in office.

Mr. Waterson: When the Foreign Secretary said last week that the European defence force would remain "securely anchored" in NATO, how did that sit with the documents signed at Nice, which said that

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Mr. Hoon: No, they are not. It is clear that decisions taken by the European Union can be taken only by European Union member states. In a sense, therefore, the hon. Gentleman is stating the obvious. As I said to the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman), there will be circumstances in which--for small, humanitarian- type operations, consistent with the Petersberg tasks--the European Union may well choose to act alone, as member states could do now.

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are committed to a strong future for NATO, the United Kingdom Government must use their key position in Europe and their special relationship with the United States to prevent and deal with misunderstandings and to help to deliver a stronger European Union defence capability? Does he also agree that the two things that threaten NATO's future most are, first, European nations not delivering greater operational effectiveness for NATO; and, secondly, the anti-European rantings and scaremongering of Conservative Members?

Mr. Hoon: I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that we maintain a strong defence within NATO, and that we strengthen NATO's European pillar. That argument was first advanced by President Kennedy on behalf of the United States, and successive United States Administrations, including the new one, have made it quite clear that it is vital that the Europeans are more capable of being responsible for their own defence. Sadly, Conservative Members want to be completely isolated, not only in the European Union, but in the wider European area. Of the 25 states gathered together in the aftermath of the Brussels capability conference, not one did not want to participate in improving European defence; in the unlikely event of Conservative Members ever again taking power in the United Kingdom, this country would be the only one in the whole of Europe.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): Is my right hon. Friend aware that, on Friday, President Chirac said that development of European security and defence

In English, that means that European security and defence can be carried out only in complete agreement with NATO. Is it not a disgrace that, this week, the shadow Defence Secretary, the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), will travel to Washington to tell lies about European defence--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I do not think that the Minister needs to answer that question.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): Does the Secretary of State agree that the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States on defence and security issues goes beyond NATO, is deeper than that between any other two NATO partners, and that development of a common European security policy should in no way necessarily break that special relationship? Is it not also true that the best way of ensuring the survival of the

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Atlantic alliance is for the United Kingdom to be the lead nation in developing the European defence and security policy? Will he pursue that matter?

Mr. Hoon: I agree with the hon. Gentleman in that series of comments. It is vital that we maintain our excellent relationship with the United States and, indeed, with the new United States Administration. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was in the United States in the past week. In the course of a number of conversations with various members of the new Administration, positive support was given to the efforts that European nations are making to improve their contribution to NATO. Specifically, Secretary of State Powell said:

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): The Secretary of State now wants to claim anyone who has ever spoken vaguely about anything in the past. He is claiming President Kennedy; soon, no doubt, it will be Napoleon and Alexander the Great. Is not the reality that, at that very meeting, the US Defence Secretary raised serious concerns? Are not my hon. Friends right when they talk about the Government leading the process from start to finish, hand in hand with the French and the Germans? Will he comment on the fact that, today, Mr. Scharping has said:

Is not the reality that the Foreign Secretary has gone to Washington, spinning the Americans a load of nonsense about what the Government signed, but that he cannot admit that the safeguards that he guarantees to Washington are simply not there?

Mr. Hoon: If the hon. Gentleman looks carefully at the words he has just used, he will see that they amount to everyone else in history, and currently, being wrong apart from the present Conservative party. If the Conservatives thought more carefully about how isolated they are on matters European, it might give them some credibility when addressing the issues. Frankly, the hon. Gentleman talks about isolation when he cannot find a single country anywhere in the European continent that supports his position on European defence. That is pretty desperate.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The Secretary of State never bothers with the facts. At Nice, the Government signed some undertakings: first, that EU forces would be both autonomous and independent of NATO; secondly, that the planning of operations would take place outside of NATO; thirdly, that the EU will make the first decision on what it will do and then may consult NATO; and, finally, that political and strategic control of the forces will stay with the EU, not within NATO. Is not the reality that the Government are, as ever, saying one thing and doing

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another? In Washington, they are saying, "Trust us, we will stop this happening", while back in Europe, they are saying, "Don't worry boys, we love everything about it"?

Mr. Hoon: If the hon. Gentleman wants to deal in the facts, he had better get them right. It has been made clear that operational planning will be a matter for NATO and there will be agreement between the EU and NATO to ensure that we do not develop duplicate facilities. Operational planning will be the firm responsibility of NATO. That has been agreed between NATO and the EU and is part of the underpinning that we have negotiated to ensure that there is no inconsistency between European defence in the EU and European defence as part of NATO.

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