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Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): Will the Minister give way?

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

Mr. Howard: 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?

Mr. Vaz: 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 in 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 of 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.

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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.

Mr. John Maples (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?

Mr. Vaz: 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.

Dr. Nick Palmer (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?

Mr. Vaz: 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

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European defence is for those organisations and institutions to work together. This is the only way that it can be achieved.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) rose--

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset) rose--

Mr. Vaz: 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).

Mr. Gummer: 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?

Mr. Vaz: 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.

Mr. William Cash (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. Vaz: 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.

Mr. Ian Bruce: 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

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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?

Mr. Vaz: 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.

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