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4.47 pm

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): The Chamber has shown itself to be fully representative today--representative, perhaps, of the apathy in the country in regard to the European elections, and the lack of attention that we politicians sadly display in regard to defence matters--even on the day after the signing of the historic agreement between the commanders of the Yugoslav armed forces and NATO on the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo.

Before I say anything else, I must pay tribute to the courage and dedication of our forces in the Balkans, and in particular to the crews of the Royal Air Force, both in the air and on the ground. Air power has shown itself to be the crucial determinant of events in this conflict--as, indeed, it did in Operation Desert Fox, in the Gulf war and in the earlier Falklands war. Although air power has had its detractors during this conflict, we must remember

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that it is highly unlikely that the Serb negotiators would ultimately have signed without its decisive and devastatingly accurate effects on their compatriots.

The European Union's common foreign and security policy will prove to be no effective substitute for the integrated command structure of NATO and the existence of assigned formations to NATO on the part of its member states. The policy, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) so eloquently criticised, is much more. It is--I quote from paragraph 5 of annexe 3 of the Cologne summit communique:

It is much more the construction of a new political step than the creation of a more effective military defence for our country, western Europe and our alliance as a whole.

Indeed, there is a risk that the European Union's common security and defence identity, which will subsume the role of the WEU by the end of next year, will not, in practice, offer the assurance of complete mutual defence commitment that is enshrined in the Brussels treaty, notwithstanding assurances to the contrary in the communique. I believe this to be the case because of the participation in the common foreign and security policy of neutral states such as Eire, Sweden, Austria and Finland, which, in their various ways, have stood aside during the great challenges of the cold war and have not participated in a number of the operations in which our alliance has been engaged in the Gulf and elsewhere. Indeed, there is a risk that token obeisance to

in the phraseology of paragraph 5 of the EU Cologne summit presidency communique--will replace the possibility, which should become a reality, of applicant countries such as the Baltic states becoming full members of the NATO alliance.

We should remember that, in London not so long ago--in fact, only a few weeks ago--Foreign Secretary Ilves of Estonia emphasised the crucial benefit to his country and to his two Baltic neighbours of full participation in the Washington treaty's mutual defence obligations for the Baltic states. The Baltic states are democratic. They have the rule of law. In every way, they are as much entitled to be full members of NATO as to be full members of the European Union. The EU's common foreign and security policy provisions are no substitute for the genuine security guarantees that NATO membership could offer to the Baltic states.

The risk is heightened by the demarche--the initiative--towards good relations with Russia, which I fully understand, in the Cologne summit communique. Friendly relations with Russia are, of course, fundamental to peace and security in our continent, but we must never allow Russia to dictate the membership of NATO, or to preclude the enlargement of NATO through the accession of democratic nations such as the Baltic states or, for that matter, Romania and Bulgaria, which, by virtue of the rule and law and democracy, are fully entitled to that membership.

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I must criticise, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon--I quote from the annexe to the communique--

The objective of the Cologne meeting was laudable in this respect. Everyone wants better value for money for the defence forces. Everyone wants to ensure that defence procurement is, in the jargon, smart and efficient and presents the best equipment for our armed forces at a price which we can afford, but the means that the European Union has chosen will militate directly against such competitiveness and dynamism. The European armaments agency of the leading EU nations will inevitably accord priority to procurement from EU member states and institutionalise European protectionism against the most cost-effective defence equipment in the world, which is usually American.

The common foreign and security policy summit declaration contains no mention of heightened transatlantic co-operation in weapons procurement. That flies in the face of the commercial benefits derived by British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, GKN and many other leading British defence equipment companies from their participation in the north American market.

Paragraph 5 of annexe III of the Cologne summit communique speculated that

The end of the Assembly of the WEU would be a great loss, as a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) on ballistic missile defence, clearly demonstrated. He has been a rapporteur of his committee on that subject and has contributed a great deal to the work of the WEU and the Council of Europe.

Defence budgets are introduced by national Governments and passed by national Parliaments, so it is fitting that the European parliamentary deliberative body on defence issues should be the Assembly of the WEU, whose delegations comprise Members of national Parliaments, not the European Parliament. The latter's Members have no place in their national Parliaments, little democratic endorsement from their electorate if today's turnout is replicated elsewhere in the European Union, and no direct effect on national defence budgets or defence policy debates.

The intended takeover of the WEU by the European Union is clear from the common foreign and security policy assumptions about the EU taking responsibility for the strategic studies centre and the satellite reconnaissance facility, both of which are WEU institutions.

There is a risk that the creation of a European common foreign and security policy supremo in the person of Mr. Solana, the former socialist Foreign Minister of Spain, will compare unfavourably with the traditional efficient partnership of a European Secretary-General and a United States Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO.

Would Britain's intervention in the Falkland Islands war have been facilitated had there been a Spanish EU common foreign and security policy supremo in post? I doubt it. The British victory owed almost everything to United States support, while European backing was singularly absent.

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The greatest risk in the European Union's obtaining a defence role in its own right is that it will acquire an instrument for the potential physical coercion of recalcitrant member states--an armed capability against possible secessionist nations.

That may seem alarmist today but, since the European Union asserts the primacy of EU law over that of its member states, is developing its own corpus juris and offers no mechanism for withdrawal from the treaties--the unanimity that such a procedure would require is ruled out in practical terms by the British Prime Minister and others--the alarmism which I display on the issue today could prove to be the realism of tomorrow.

4.59 pm

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East): Sadly, I must begin as a number of other hon. Members have done by apologising to your good self, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to both Front-Bench spokesmen, as I doubt whether I will be in my place for the replies. I should add my apologies to those who are waiting for me where I am going, as I will get there rather later than anticipated, but that is by the by. For reasons that I will discuss, I thought it important to be involved in this debate.

As an aside, I have also been asked to mention that hon. Members who have a right and proper concern about nuclear proliferation and defence in the world could do no better than attend tomorrow's debates on private Members' Bills. Hopefully--it is a great hope--the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman), will be No. 4 on the Order Paper. I come to the Friday sittings. That Bill seeks to ratify a protocol that would make inspections of countries with nuclear capabilities easier to carry out than is the case now.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): The Bill is No. 5 on the Order Paper.

Mr. McNulty: The hon. Gentleman tells me that the Bill is No. 5, so support in spirit, if not in physical presence, will be welcome tomorrow when we shall also be discussing football hooliganism, on which I shall not dwell now.

It was a little churlish of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), who is not in his place now, to have a little dig about the Adjournment debate on a subject as important as defence being held on European election day, but it is easily done. Imagine my joy on leaving the Chamber, knowing that the last time there were European elections the recess happened to spill over into them, to look up what I thought was the equivalent date in 1989--8 June--and seeing that the Conservative Government had tabled a debate on the Army for that day. I thought that that was a nice little reproach to the hon. Gentleman, until I discovered that the European elections in 1989 were a week later, so my point is not well made. Equally, those who cherish the arts and our heritage may throw up the same remark about what the last Government did in 1989 because arts and our heritage were the subject of the Adjournment debate on 15 June. So, head counts, asking where everybody is, the various little digs that we make and the games that we play in this place are inappropriate, certainly from those on the Front Benches.

In both 1992 and 1997, I was perhaps not as aware as I should have been of how significant defence was and is to my constituency. I have the great pleasure--at times a

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dubious one; I shall come on to that towards the end of my comments--of having Raytheon, Racal and Marconi in my constituency, as well as RAF Stanmore Park, although sadly no more, RAF Bentley Priory, which has consolidated the work of RAF Stanmore Park and is significant in terms of the RAF, and a Territorial Army unit. Given that background, defence must be of significance and interest for me. That does not mean that I must speak up in favour of everything in connection with Raytheon, Racal or Marconi. Occasionally, this presents me with dilemmas, but I shall come on to that.

I am mindful of the fact that others wish to speak, so I shall dwell on three matters and keep my comments fairly brief: the United Nations; Kosovo, which cannot be ignored; and, given what I have just said about companies in my constituency, procurement--smart or otherwise.

Last year, the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) and I, together with others, shared a trip to New York essentially to visit the United Nations. It showed me my profound ignorance of the real internal machinations of the whole range of institutions that make up the United Nations and how they engage with each other. We were there a week or so before the first abortive sorties over Iraq. The planes were literally pulled back at the last moment.

My most lasting impression is of the discussions with both the Security Council personnel and its admin staff, and the peacekeeping staff. They were saying emphatically that, given the collapse of the cold war, the United Nations must reassess and refocus its activities. Those elements have been brought sharply into focus by Kosovo. Back in October or November last year, they were saying that political and military regional bodies had to do much, much more. That means NATO, the Western European Union or the European Union, and equivalents such as the Organisation of American States and the Organisation of African Unity.

Post cold war, as we move into the new millennium, we find that regional conflicts invariably start with--and are sometimes contained within--internal conflicts within a nation. That forces us to reconsider our view of international relations. Even in some democratic areas--certainly in some tyrannies--civil wars, ethnic conflicts or other internecine strife predominate. We have moved away from bloc against bloc or nation against nation. Regional conflicts and power struggles, perhaps carried out by proxy in an internal conflict, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, are challenges that the military and political architecture of regional and world military relations are not grasping. That is why the United Nations, and in particular the veto power of the five permanent Security Council members, was found wanting.

I want to consider some of the remarks of those who opposed the conflict in Kosovo, because many of them did not make sense. I preface my remarks on the Kosovo conflict and settlement by noting that it is essential that we learn real lessons from the conflict of the past 75 days. Ultimately, I would welcome an apology from my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), but he is right to say that we will not see the consequences of the fallout of the conflict for at least five years.

If we learn only the lessons of the past 75 days, we will have failed. We had to go through the Kosovo conflict because we did not learn the lessons of the previous 10 years in the Balkans in Bosnia. I am not making a

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party political point and knocking the previous Government, but we did not understand fully what the wrenching away of the autonomy of Kosovo meant. Going back further, we did not understand what the death of Tito meant to the holding together of Yugoslavia. We must consider the reverse domino effect of Slovenian independence, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Krajina, Vojvodina--throw it all in. If we do not understand the complexities and what really went on in that period, but concentrate only on the past 75 days, we will not learn the real lessons of south-eastern Europe and the Balkans. That would be cause for regret.

If we do not analyse properly the sometimes abject failures of Europe and America in dealing with what happened in the Balkans over the past 10 years, we will plant the seeds of further failures. I do not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow perhaps would, include what we have achieved in Kosovo as a failure, because it was very necessary. If we do not analyse the past 10 years properly, no amount of Balkans Marshall aid for Serbia post Milosevic will enable us to bring peace, stability and harmony not only to Kosovo but to the entire Balkan region.

The role played by this House over the past 75 days and before was often strange and perplexing. I freely admit that all Front Benchers acted with discretion and responsibility, but there is a fine line between enjoying the fruits of democracy and maintaining responsibility. I do not think that a significant party leader who, half way through a military action, calls the whole thing unpardonable folly is grown up or responsible. That was shaming, and it should be said loud and clear. That individual should not forget it.

I do not think that it is grown up, responsible or appropriate in the middle of a military action for someone from a military background who is now a Member of Parliament--I am deliberately not naming individuals because it would not be that helpful and many of them are not here; we will have plenty of time to name them later--to call for the head of the commander of the armed forces. "Guthrie must go" is not that useful or appropriate a thing to say half way through a war.

If I am honest, there has perhaps been more intolerance and unworthiness on the Government Benches in disagreements on Kosovo before and after the conflict. I absolutely exclude my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow from that.

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