Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Howard: Do we know what the Minister wishes? I am not entirely sure that we do, and I am not sure that we are entitled to draw the inferences that my right hon. Friend has drawn. We know that the Minister is speaking in favour of the treaty and of the Bill, which may not be entirely the same thing.

I return to what the Minister said when he intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) towards the end of last week's debate. What the Minister said comes near to the nub of the debate on these issues. He posed this question:

The phrase used by the plain-speaking Minister in that question was a departure in the debate. He used the formulation

The Prime Minister usually talks about a situation that will arise if NATO chooses not to be engaged. The Minister raises his hands as though there is no difference:

17 Jul 2001 : Column 166

these are matters not of semantics but of great importance. There is nothing in the agreements, in the presidency conclusions in that part of the Nice treaty that deals with these matters or in any of the documents to indicate that the European defence capability would come into play only if NATO chooses not to be engaged.

The phrase "NATO chooses not to be engaged" implies some NATO right to act before the European defence capability is engaged, and that is clearly not the case. For example, the words of the French chief of the defence staff are helpfully quoted on page 40 of the excellent Library document on these matters. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph on 28 March 2001, General Kelche said:

That is at the heart of the debate. I do not think that any hon. Member would demur from the proposition that European countries should do more on defence and co-operate more closely on defence issues. Nobody would deny that circumstances can indeed be easily identified, perhaps in the Balkans, in which the United States might say that it does not wish to become engaged, but that it has no objection whatever to European countries acting in co-operation to deal with the problem. I do not think that any reasonable person would object to that goal.

4.15 pm

Peter Hain: The right hon. and learned Gentleman agrees with my speech and therefore with the Government. I welcome him to the fold.

Mr. Howard: I am sorry to have to say so soon after mentioning the Minister's devotion to plain speaking that his remarks are completely at variance with the documents that the Government have signed. Everything that I have spoken about and described could and should be done within the framework of NATO. It would be perfectly possible and feasible for the United States to say "We have no wish to send American troops to deal with this problem in the Balkans, but if you Europeans want to go in and sort it out, fine: do so within the framework of NATO, using its planning procedures and assets. We will not come along, but there is absolutely no reason why this should not be done within NATO."

The mischief and danger to which we object is that, for the first time, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, the Government have, in contradiction of their previous position, signed up to arrangements that ensure that such actions can be taken outside the framework of NATO.

Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North): The House will recognise that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is an exceptionally alert representative of a case. There is a difference, however, between the legal and political arguments. I do not believe that he has considered the political arguments. Has he reflected on

17 Jul 2001 : Column 167

the position of European Union countries that are not members of NATO? Does not he recognise that when the Americans take the view that it is better for NATO not to be involved, whether it is because Texans object or whatever else, the wider European community needs a focus to enable it to carry through the policy of European countries? Under the agreement that was struck at Nice, the European Union now provides a forum in which that can happen.

Mr. Howard: Let me take the hon. Gentleman's two questions in turn. There is no difficulty about involving non-NATO members of the European Union. The easiest way of dealing with these matters would be for them to join NATO, but if they did not want to do so, resort could be made to Western European Union mechanisms, which have existed for a considerable time and which involve non-NATO members of the European Union in any actions that are desirable.

Non-NATO members of the EU are represented on the staff of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe at Mons, as General Ralston reminded those of us who were privileged to listen to him this morning at a meeting of the British-American parliamentary group—I shall return later to what he said—and there is no difficulty whatever about using the NATO planning processes for an operation in which non-NATO members of the EU could participate.

The hon. Gentleman's second question was about whether the United States might wish to participate, which brings us to the nub of the question. When all is said and done, there is only one situation in which the arrangements to which the Government have now agreed will become relevant. It is not a situation in which the United States does not wish to participate but is content for the European members of NATO to go ahead and do whatever they want to do; the only situation in which the arrangements become relevant is one in which the United States does not merely wish not to be engaged but is actually opposed to engagement.

The most remarkable fact, as I have previously pointed out in the House, is that recent history shows that it is not too difficult to identify when we have had differences with our EU partners about such matters. It is not all that long ago that the Belgians refused to sell us bullets that we needed to participate in the Gulf war. As far as I can recall, there has been only one occasion since the second world war when we have been at odds with the United States, and that was Suez. So the Government are, in effect, going to all these lengths to enable a British Government to mount another Suez operation. That is the bottom line. That is what it comes down to. That is the only situation in which these arrangements could become relevant.

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston): Given the attitude of European nations and, in particular, the UK, when the United States chooses to use forces in Panama or elsewhere, it would be inconceivable that the United States would wish to prohibit EU member states from carrying out operations against the likes of those whom we saw in Bosnia, where there was slaughter, mass killings and ethnic cleansing. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion that, in some way, the United

17 Jul 2001 : Column 168

States might oppose our taking action in Europe is like saying that we might oppose what has happened in, for example, Panama.

Mr. Howard: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my point. I am inclined to agree with him. This is utterly fanciful. I do not think that, if a situation arose in the Balkans and the Europeans wanted to act without the involvement of the United States, the United States would be remotely likely to suggest—

Mr. Hendrick: That is a red herring.

Mr. Howard: It is not a red herring. It is the only situation in which the arrangement that the Government have signed up to would have any relevance or make sense. If the United States does not object to any European action, it can all take place within the framework of NATO. That is the point. The United States can say that we should use the NATO processes and assets—that it does not want to send American troops, but that everything can be done through NATO. That was the position of the previous and the present British Governments until agreement was reached at St. Malo, so let us not have any nonsense from Labour Members to the effect that the Opposition's position is in any way outlandish, ludicrous, unreasonable or Europhobic. It is precisely the position that the present British Government held after they took office and it changed only when the agreement was reached at St. Malo.

Dr. Julian Lewis: Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that, last November, the then Chief of the Defence Staff, General Guthrie, was asked by a Conservative Defence spokesman why the European rapid reaction force was being created outside rather than inside NATO? He replied:

He went on to say that politicians had decided otherwise:

Next Section

IndexHome Page