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3.43 pm

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) reminded me of some advice that I received from a fellow parliamentarian, to the effect that one should use the word "finally" several times during a speech because it excites expectations. Those expectations were at last fulfilled. Like other colleagues, I imagine, after the speeches from the two Front Benches I feel a little breathless, so I shall speak more slowly and gather pace as I develop my theme.

Both sides have expressed enormous admiration for the quality of our armed services, one of the great groups of excellence that we still retain. I like to think that the Bar is another. Both sides also recognise that it is a privilege to speak in a defence debate. Although we are a minority group, and fewer and fewer parliamentarians have a direct knowledge of life in the services, there is still a considerable degree of expertise.

Since 1989, there has been a fundamental change in the defence environment in the world and particularly in Europe. All the old certainties have gone--the static defence in central Europe--with the logistic and equipment implications which follow from that. In yesterday's debate, it was the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), I think, who mentioned "upholders". That is symbolic of the nature of the change.

There is, for example, a new Russian military doctrine. There are currently as many surface ships in the Russian as in the British fleet. I do not mention submarines, but that aspect is also very different. The changes are not confined to Europe. As a result of the change in African policy, there are more French soldiers in the Balkans--in Bosnia and Kosovo--than in the whole of Africa. There is thus a sea change in priorities for us and our European allies.

We must learn to adjust. That is difficult for many of us, who learned and experienced our defence in earlier decades. We are light years away from a scenario in which there may be a significant conventional article 5 threat to

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NATO territory. As we hear in so many debates, the word "security" is much more widely defined. In the past, security meant military and political matters; now, it is extended to organised crime, migration and the environment.

All that is the background to my remarks about the nature of the Atlantic alliance and the potential strains in that alliance. I shall also follow the remarks of the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) about parliamentary scrutiny of defence in Europe. I begin with the United States' role and the relationships between the United States and the European Union in the defence field.

For us, part of the adjustment relates to the projections that we make about how the US will relate to Europe over the next decade and beyond. The US is the sole super-power, and there is a perceived need for greater European co-ordination in defence. That is an old issue--we discussed it in the Harmel debate in the 1970s. In the Brussels summit communique of the early 1990s, there was an emphasis on the European contribution.

That is a serious debate, which is not helped at national level by the anti-Europeanism expressed from the Opposition Front Bench and widely within the Opposition. I was waiting to hear whether the word "Europe" would be allowed to escape from the lips of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford, who, if not the last of the Mohicans, is perhaps the last of the Europeans on the Opposition Front Bench. I did hear the word, at least towards the end of his speech.

For the Conservative Opposition, 10 October was a rather sad day, because of the unhappy coincidence that the shadow Foreign Secretary gave a speech in Paris to IFRI--the French equivalent of Chatham House--in which he spoke about the new European defence arm as a harmful and pointless project driven by what he called a "cancer of anti-Americanism".

Alas, the telephone had not rung between Paris and Birmingham. Just a few hours before that speech, William Cohen, the US Secretary of State for Defence, said in Birmingham that

In seeking to gloss over that, the Opposition have been forced to rely on some rather dated remarks made in Chatham House last September by Strobe Talbot, and on something that was said at the press conference, with which most of us agree--that there should not be a duplication across the board in planning between the EU and the US.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Does the hon. Gentleman also recall that Strobe Talbot's lecture at Chatham House was based on the proposition that while there should be a European security and defence identity, certain conditions had to be satisfied? These were not obstacles, but rather conditions to be satisfied, in the context of which an ESDP was entirely sensible.

Mr. Anderson: I was there and I remember what was said. The whole tenor of the Strobe Talbot presentation was positive, but the Conservative Opposition chose to extract a single sentence that could be construed as being negative. We have the very words of the current United

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States Secretary of State for Defence, uttered hours before the expression of a visceral anti-Europeanism that cannot be in our national interest. Even The Times reluctantly carried the headline, "Tory tirade falls flat as US backs European force". Let that speak for itself.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The hon. Gentleman is perhaps guilty of the offence of which he accuses the Opposition--of being selective in what he chooses to report. The press conference that took place afterwards criticised the report on the basis of its suggestion that the American Secretary of State for Defence had changed his position. He said that he had not, and that he had deep misgivings. Incidentally, he had mentioned those misgivings in a section of his speech that was not reported in The Times.

Mr. Anderson: If it was clear that he had not changed his position, he must have been in favour of the proposal in the past. The words speak for themselves. I have a copy of the speech here, and have highlighted key sections. If the hon. Gentleman has not read it, I will pass it to him. Anyone placing an objective construction on it will see that it is very positive about burden sharing in the alliance and the new EU initiative.

The only part of the speech on which the Opposition can rely--in fact, I agree with this--is the part that suggests that there should be no duplication of planning facilities across the board. The US Secretary of State for Defence said:

they should not duplicate those facilities.

It is impossible to identify any serious contradiction between what the European Union--as stated--is doing and the positive reaffirmation in that speech.

Mr. Brazier: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Anderson: No, because others wish to speak--and I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not claim that the United States is now giving a gut negative response to EU developments.

Mr. Brazier rose--

Mr. Anderson: I really must proceed with my speech.

There are clearly uncertainties in the long term about the US commitment to Europe. The debate will not be resolved by next week's presidential election, but the results of that election will obviously influence the trend.

We in Europe are fortunate in that, over the years, we have benefited from an Atlanticist US foreign and defence policy establishment. We benefited enormously even during the Falklands conflict, when Mrs. Kirkpatrick tried to steer policy more towards the hispanics because of demographic trends. Some day those trends will catch up with us.

We see echoes of that in what has been said by Condoleezza Rice, Governor Bush's senior national security adviser. On 21 October, for example, The New York Times reported her as saying that

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Condoleezza Rice told the newspaper:

She clearly underestimated the negative reaction in Europe. This raises questions about the future policy of the US under a Bush Administration.

Mr. Evans: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Anderson: No, I really must make progress. I may give way later.

National missile defence is one of the possible strains on the alliance that loom. A report published in July by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs stated that a United Kingdom refusal to allow the upgrading of Fylingdales would be

It "would have profound consequences" for our bilateral relations.

There has been a delay. The policy of Governor Bush is said to represent, possibly, a more ambitious project involving expensive sea-based plans. Is the NMD policy defence industry driven? Will the US listen to the serious concerns that are being expressed in Europe? What--I ask this in the light of the speech made yesterday by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife--will be the effects on the anti-ballistic missile treaty?

That depends partly on an assessment of whether Russia is prepared to deal, or is absolutist in its opposition to NMD. I know that the right hon. Member for East Devon attended a meeting at which it was suggested that the Russians would try to extract the best deal that they could. The analogy is given of Russian opposition to German reunification until the price is paid. It is a dangerous possibility--and, of course, behind Russia is China. We must ask again whether, given the new rapprochement or at least thaw between the US and North Korea, the perceived threat will be reduced to such an extent that the US will be able to draw certain conclusions about NMD.

Let us return to Europe. The policy of the European Union will develop--pace the Conservatives--and will apparently have US understanding if it is clearly based on NATO as the core of our security. It will involve the use of US assets, which have been promised, as well as a necessary burden sharing in the spirit of St. Malo. The tasks will be limited peacekeeping and crisis management.

My hesitations about the EU initiative derive from two issues. First, as is frequently pointed out, it is easier to make grand declarations than to pay the money to support them. Although there has been a marginal increase in UK defence expenditure following the comprehensive spending review in July, that has not been matched by our European allies, much to NATO's concern.

My second worry relates to the problems of intelligence within the proposed European structure. The culture of the EU consists of transparency, openness to citizens and, indeed, leaking. The culture of intelligence and the military is secrecy, if matters are to proceed properly. We heard echoes of the problem facing the EU when we learned that it had no building that was secure. There was

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also the problem of interpreters who refused to be positively vetted in respect of defence matters. We now learn that the European Parliament has made a submission to the European Court of Justice against the 14 August decision of the European Council to forbid public access to classified documents.

That suggests that many of our good colleagues in the European Parliament are living in a very different world if they expect Europe to have a proper defence role and are unwilling to follow that through in terms of the classification of documents. We in national Parliaments have reached various forms of modus vivendi with our Executives in that respect. They are not always satisfactory, but the European Parliament and European institutions must learn that the culture of intelligence is very different from the culture of openness.

I end with two matters. The first is NATO enlargement. When we project United States relations with the European Union, we have to ask, "Which Europe?" We know that there is a possibility of NATO enlargement in 2002, and that many countries are anxious to join the alliance. That applies not only to Slovenia, which was an unfortunate victim in the previous enlargement, but to Baltic countries. They pose special problems. For example, Estonia has been a model country in terms of the membership action plan. It has done all that can be required and more. Yet, in the current sensitive circumstances, it is difficult to envisage a rapid move towards including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the alliance. Perhaps incorporating them in the European Atlantic structures will have to begin with the European Union.

Secondly, I want to consider the important point that the right hon. Member for East Devon made yesterday. In our democracies, we must have informed debate about and scrutiny of defence. That is done reasonably effectively by our national Parliaments: in this country, in the Chamber and by our excellent Select Committee on Defence and the objective reports that it produces. However, nowadays, few of us have done national service and the Army is shrinking, and there is a danger of the military separating itself from civil society. We must find ways in which to bridge that gap.

The Foreign Secretary told the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that he views the European developments as essentially intergovernmental. That means that national Parliaments must get together on some basis. I agree that the European Parliament should be included, but not as a first among equals. If there is to be adequate scrutiny of developments in the European Union, we already have the Western European Union Assembly. It will continue because it exists through the Western European Union treaty and does a reasonably effective job.

In the first six months of next year, there will be a happy convergence because Sweden will chair the European Union and the Netherlands will hold the presidency of WEU. The Netherlands is keen for an in-depth examination of the key parliamentary dimension. It wants the subject to be on the agenda at Nice. The French are resisting that because of the danger of overloading the agenda. However, I urge my right hon.

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Friends to support the Dutch at Nice to ensure that a marker is at least put down and that the subject is firmly on the agenda.

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