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Mr. George Robertson: The hon. Gentleman said that he would not be here at the end of the debate, and that he would not want to divide the House on the issue, but he has made a very long speech setting out all the reasons against taking the three countries into NATO. Will he say outright whether he and his party are in favour of NATO enlarging to incorporate those countries?

Mr. Maples: The right hon. Gentleman anticipates me, because I was going to say that we fully support those countries' membership. I have taken an awful lot of interventions. Apart from those, I have spoken for only about 15 minutes, which is half the time that the Foreign Secretary took. I am sure that his contribution was worth more than mine, but I nevertheless think that the Defence Secretary's stricture was not fully justified.

We fully support the accession of the three new members, but it will be a significant task to integrate them into NATO's military structure, and that must be substantially completed before there is any further expansion. We should be cautious about having more new members until it is clear how the situation in central and eastern Europe is developing. Almost all the countries that want to join fail at least one of the tests that I set out earlier.

NATO has an enormous current agenda without further enlargement: the integration of the three new members; developing a new strategic concept; and building relationships with Russia and its former allies. Those are all significant tasks, which will take much effort and time. Let us ensure that they are concluded satisfactorily before proceeding any further.

10.28 am

Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South): I am relieved that, at long last, the House is discussing NATO enlargement. When the Defence Select Committee visited NATO very early in the new year, we met the Secretary-General, Mr. Solana, who ever so politely expressed his hope that Britain would be the first, or at least almost the first, country to endorse enlargement. Now we are into July, and four member states--Canada, Denmark, Norway and Germany--have completed all their ratification

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procedures and formally ratified the enlargement protocols. They have deposited the protocols with the depository state, the United States of America.

The Parliaments of Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Iceland, France, Spain and the USA have all approved the enlargement protocols, but their Governments have not yet deposited the instruments of ratification. The Belgian Senate has approved the protocols, and its lower house will do so shortly. That leaves the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Portugal and Turkey as the member states whose Parliaments have yet to approve the protocols, or in our case even to debate them in full.

Frankly, I am not entirely happy with that arrangement. As has been said, we were the instigator of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in 1949, and it has been embarrassing, bordering on humiliating, going to the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary to talk to diplomats and politicians who have been asking, "When will your Parliament ratify our membership of NATO?" The business managers and the Government have had an enormously hectic programme, but it is with some relief that we are now finally to approve ratification.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that neither of the principal Opposition spokesmen will be here for the reply? Last week, the shadow Defence Secretary was not present for the important land mines debate. Frankly, that shows a lackadaisical, if not frivolous, approach by the Opposition Front-Bench team to such important defence and foreign policy matters. The sooner that they are replaced by people who would do the job, the better for Parliament.

Mr. George: The last thing that I want to do is contribute to a descent into partisanship in what is basically a non-partisan environment, although I would have preferred the debate to take place on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

My second parliamentary point is not directed at my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs and for Defence, and I am not patronising them when I say that I admire what they have done and what they are doing. They are both exceedingly competent. My criticism is that of hon. Members for many decades and is about the process of ratification. The deputy Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, the hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), raised that matter when he jumped up to retaliate early in the debate.

Our Parliament is about the only one--bar Canada--that has no real role in the ratification process. I dignified our proceedings today deliberately, although erroneously, by saying that we were ratifying, but we are doing nothing of the sort; we are debating. Clearly, the Modernisation Committee must realise--the Defence Select Committee report spelled this out in great detail--what is wrong with our alleged ratification system.

The hon. Member for Romsey referred to the Ponsonby rules and said how important they were. We should go beyond those, because few Ponsonby treaties have been debated here unless we have been compelled to debate and formally ratify them. This Parliament has no formal input in treaty-making, which is the prerogative of the Executive acting on behalf of the Crown, as we all know. That system is profoundly unsatisfactory, and this Parliament is in a minority in being totally marginalised

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in the process. In virtually every other democratic country, it is not simply the prerogative of the Government or the Crown to ratify a treaty. Why is that not the case here? It should be up to us.

The Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committees, or the relevant Select Committee, should consider the matter and make representations to the House, and there should be a formal vote as part of the treaty-making process, not simply a polite add-on to ratification. That is a general principle, and I hope that, in due course, the House will unite to demand, not ask, that we function as a legislature is supposed to and not be seen as simply an appendage to the Executive in decision making.

Having got that off my considerable chest, I can move on to the subject of debate. Perversely, I shall start with the conclusion of the excellent Defence Select Committee report. Paragraph 117 answers some of the criticisms of the Opposition. We produced earlier reports on NATO enlargement in the 1994-95 and 1995-96 Sessions.We shall also be producing a report before the 50th anniversary of NATO in the middle of next year.

As we said in our latest report,

We concluded:

    "A long period of debate has culminated in the current proposals which the NATO governments have put before us."

We recommended

    "that the House endorse the admission of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to the North Atlantic Alliance."

We are unequivocal about our recommendation, but we are cautious, because we must consider the legitimate anxieties of Russia and listen carefully to the anxieties of the countries in eastern and central Europe that were hijacked into the Soviet orbit just before or just after the second world war and that are desperate to return to our political and democratic culture. Not all of them subscribed in the 1930s to that culture--the Governments of eastern Europe then were not all perfect democracies by any stretch of the imagination.

However, can one imagine what the message would have been from NATO Parliaments or Governments if we had said, after such a lengthy period of debate as to who should join, "Sorry lads, you're out--Russians in, Hungary out"? It would be Russians in, in the sense that we would be accepting their veto, and we would just have to tell those other countries to wait. The consequences would have been politically disastrous. Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic deserve to be reincorporated into Europe--into its security, political and economic environment.

In due course, although again one has to be cautious, Slovenia, Romania and perhaps in a few years Slovakia and Bulgaria--but not yet--will be added to the list. We must develop NATO's absorbative capacity. When the three new countries have been formally admitted, NATO should consider further enlargement, but it should be selective.

We must be concerned about the effect on Russia. To a large extent, we have accommodated that country's views. We have done so in a variety of ways. Russian officers are now in NATO and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, or SHAPE--no longer do the Russians have to employ Soviet military intelligence, as the information is largely there for them and is handed to

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them. There are the "Partnership for Peace", the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and the NATO-Russia permanent joint council. There are treaties with Russia and the Ukraine. The G7 has admitted Russia. Russians are working alongside troops from NATO countries in Bosnia. There are enormous financial injections from western countries into development and democratisation in Russia.

Mr. Corbyn: Does my hon. Friend accept that NATO's expansion to the borders of Russia provides the Russian generals and military-industrial complex with strong arguments for expanding expenditure at the expense of the poorest people in Russia? NATO will also cause large increases in defence costs for the new applicant members.

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