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6.19 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar): First I give the apologies of the Secretary of State for not being present for the winding-up speeches. He has a long-standing engagement, hosting Her Majesty at beating the retreat. I have just had a message from his office and I am pleased to inform the House that the United Nations Security Council resolution has been passed. The voting was 14 in favour with only one abstention. It will now go to the North Atlantic Council for it to authorise NATO's deployment. I am sure that that is welcome news to the House and the forces.

It is only natural that much of the debate has focused on events in the Balkans. Whether one is critical or supportive of Nato's actions, one cannot deny the importance of what is happening there and, indeed, evolving even as we have been speaking. It is not surprising that the subject has pre-occupied hon. Members this evening, but it is also important to look at the broader context, as a number of hon. Members did, and, as the Secretary of State said in his opening speech, not to forget that much else has occupied us over the past 12 months.

It has been a debate with a number of the usual suspects and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) said, with a number of absentees. We should have liked to see the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) after the Scottish electorate gave him their view of his intervention. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) apologised for the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), but I should have preferred to have seen him here himself tonight apologising for his disgraceful attack on the Chief of Defence Staff--but let us leave that aside.

We have seen events in Kosovo confirming the analysis that we conducted to inform the strategic defence review and the foreign and security policy framework in which it was set.

At the time of the SDR, as the hon. Member forMid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) said, our policies and plans were met with approval by our allies. It was recognised by a wide variety of independent commentators as radical, imaginative, well reasoned and forward looking. The SDR was given good reviews by academics, journalists and diplomats from Los Angeles to Moscow to Tokyo. Most importantly, it was welcomed by the men and women of

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our services. Britain was seen to be giving a lead in adapting to the realities of the new millennium and the post-cold war environment.

Our defence and security policy is founded on Britain's need, as a trading nation with a strongly international outlook and a considerable number of citizens living abroad, to be involved on the world stage. The Government's defence and security policy aims to provide and improve our abilities to take our place on the world stage.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East said, the British have never been ones to stand idly by. Our policies are designed to ensure that we are not forced to. In particular, they are designed within the context of the NATO alliance. That is why the United Kingdom made a significant contribution to ensuring that Nato's 50th anniversary summit in Washington set a challenging agenda to keep Nato relevant for the future and commemorated 50 years of keeping peace in Europe. I am sure that the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who spoke at some length about the history of NATO, will also recognise the key, initiating role of the post-war Labour Government in setting up NATO and the support of subsequent Labour Governments for that organisation.

Headlines at Washington were naturally dominated by Kosovo, where the display of Nato unity was of immense military and political value, but several other important decisions were also taken on the further adaptation of Nato.

The new strategic concept sets out clearly Nato's key tasks, giving proper emphasis to non-article 5 missions and clear guidance on the development of flexible, deployable and sustainable forces suitable for all Nato missions.

The UK was active in developing the defence capabilities initiative, which should allow the alliance to develop forces that are ready to undertake the range of operations we may face in the future. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) spoke of his concern about duplication and in that context mentioned heavy lift. We in the alliance will be absolutely delighted to have duplication of heavy lift. When we took over the strategic defence review, one of the key areas on which we focused--indeed, one of the key deficiencies that we inherited--was a shortfall in heavy lift. We are making major efforts to rectify that in terms both of sea and air lift. The initiative echoes the principles that underpinned our strategic defence review. We are pleased about the emphasis on making European forces, including multinational forces, more effective.

We are also closely involved in the Western European Union's audit of European defence capability and aim to ensure that both initiatives are complementary, mutually supporting and, most importantly, result in a sustained drive to improve defence capability. I think that that is what Conservative Members should have concentrated on in their orations on Europe.

Washington marked the culmination of much of the work to create a European security and defence identity within the alliance. As has rightly been said, that was initiated by Michael Portillo when he was Defence Secretary at Berlin in 1996. The United Kingdom has been instrumental in establishing a programme to continue that development. Decisions taken at the summit will

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ensure that the European pillar of the alliance is a vital element in our drive to give Europe a greater voice in foreign and security policy.

As well as formally welcoming the three new NATO European members at the highest level, the summit clearly reaffirmed our commitment to future enlargement. We agreed positive language naming all nine current aspirants and stating their right to seek membership, backed up by practical advice and assistance in shaping membership action plans. There was also a meeting with countries from south-east Europe at which a consultative forum on security was established.

That puts the European security and defence initiative in its proper context. I was slightly surprised that the contributions of the Opposition spokesmen were dominated by that subject. It is an important issue but I understood the difficulty of the Conservatives, for whom everything seems to come back to Europe. They are like those who believe that the Freemasons, the Bilderberg group, the Rockefellers, or, in the good old days, the communists and Trotskyists, were the root of every problem. European issues are important but the balance must be got right.

Even discussing defence, the Conservatives talked as if there were a polarisation between the European defence industry and our relationship with the United States. However, British companies and defence industrial policy very much aim to get the best of both. In many ways, the consolidation of the European defence industry is designed to enable British and European industry not only more effectively to compete, but more effectively to collaborate, with American industry. We said that both in opposition and in government. The consolidation of the American industry means that it is necessary for us to match it that so that we can bring something to the table in discussions. That is understood not only by us but by our American partners.

At a recent conference addressed by me and the American Under-Secretary, John Hamre, it was asked whether we were creating fortress Europe. We are not. Equally, Fortress America is not a sensible option. We have to get the balance right. Equally, we have to consider consolidation of the European defence industry and that is already moving along, not only commercially but with the letter of intent.

There is also the harmonisation of requirements. Having a range of slightly different requirements for roughly similar products across Europe means that we get less effective military capability for the money that we spend and a less effective European defence industry. That is why I am pleased to draw the House's attention to a statement made today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the British Army will get the medium-range TRIGAT to provide its medium-range anti-tank guided weapons systems, in collaboration with France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Contracts will also be let for the project definition phase of the next generation light anti-armour weapon.

Those are important developments and part of the development of the European defence industry, because mutual dependency is becoming an increasing feature of defence equipment procurement. We need to recognise that and consider it within the context of, for example, discussions about Bishopton and Royal Ordnance. In the United Kingdom, there has been a reduction in orders for

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ammunition from £300 million a year to about £70 million or £80 million a year. That is mirrored across Europe. To cope with that will require consolidation and specialisation but also assurance of supply, which requires mutual dependency. That cannot be done by companies alone; it will involve Governments. We need to do it within a co-operative framework and we must not be frightened about whether that is part of some overall Euro-plot. It is good business and sensible business, and good defence. So that debate will continue.

It is necessary to clarify for hon. Members what the European security and defence identity is about. It is not a question of competing with NATO. We have made that clear throughout negotiations with our allies and partners. St. Malo recognises that military capabilities for EU-led operations might be drawn from multinational or national sources outside the NATO framework. However, that merely reflects the fact that not all European capabilities that are currently answerable to the WEU are assigned to NATO.

We do not support the further development of military capabilities outside the NATO framework purely for use in EU operations. That is supported by the United States, which supports the impetus to create an ESDI. It has expressed concerns that were rightly identified by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon and also our concerns that any moves should not result in decoupling, or lead to duplication or discrimination against NATO members that are not members of the EU. That is consistent with our approach.

We believe that Kosovo has demonstrated, not undermined, the enduring strength and value of the transatlantic alliance. It has also emphasised the need for Europe to play a stronger part in that alliance. I am sure that that is a cross-party view. The progress that was made on the initiative at last week's Cologne European Council capped a busy and productive spring. Rapid progress has been possible because the focus of the debate has been on practical requirements, not institutions--practical requirements for defence decision making in the EU and for strengthening European military capability. We are sure that that outcome will be good for NATO and for transatlantic relations.

There is a strand of opinion in the United States that questions whether the United States bears too much of the burden and whether Europe bears its share. We aim to ensure that Europe plays a full and active role.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) stressed the need for Europe to be able to act. I have identified the ways in which we are developing that ability. She also rightly stressed the role of British leadership in Europe.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) talked about ballistic missile defence technology. We are certainly not complacent, but we recognise, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does, that the technology is changing extremely rapidly. It would be premature at this stage to acquire such a capability because it might prove ineffective. However, we are monitoring developments on the risk posed by ballistic missiles and cruise missile technology and the technology available to counter them. We are participating in a NATO study and will work

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closely with our allies to inform further decisions. We are also aware of the considerable cost of ballistic missile defence and of the need to prioritise expenditure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen)--


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