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5.50 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): The fact that I was able to speak on defence procurement a week ago on 26 October, at column 454, reconciles me to the fact that my time now, if I am to give colleagues a chance to speak, is tight. That being so, I shall restrict myself to one point.

I take as my text the report of the Select Committee on Defence, entitled "Lessons of Kosovo". There is much to be learned, and the report is a mine of learning. In paragraph 66, the report makes the obvious point that

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working in co-ordination with other allies has advantages in terms of politics and in terms of military advantage. The rest of the report points out the difficulties and disadvantages of working as an alliance.

I shall quote from paragraph 281, which deals with alliance unity. It reads:

General Naumann, the former chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, put it well when he said that

The lesson of Kosovo is that NATO is not the sum of its parts. It is far less than that. An operation such as Kosovo is full of false starts, blind alleys, contradictory actions, internal politics and sectarian passions. One lesson of Kosovo is that joint operations are infinitely complicated and that we in the United Kingdom need to be on our guard.

The second lesson of Kosovo is that we must maintain the Atlantic alliance. In Iraq, Kuwait, Bosnia and Kosovo, the situation was rescued by the United States. It was only when the United States became involved that those issues were resolved.

The third lesson is that Europe must strengthen its defence contributions for its own sake and for the sake of NATO. There are too many nations taking a cheap or a free ride. I shall refer to a document produced by the general rapporteur of the Economics and Security Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Mr. Paul Helminger. He points out that the United States contributes about $290 billion a year to defence whereas all the European countries together contribute only $180 billion.

Some nations--notably Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg--are very weak in their defence contributions. They are weak also in the sense that much of the money that they put in goes into conscripted forces rather than equipment. That is why the figures that I quoted last week--those of the European allies contributing only 60 per cent. of the resources of the United States but receiving 15 per cent. of the effect--are so important.

We must do more. We must do more in the House to draw attention to these items. I am happy to be a delegate to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Two of my colleagues there, who are both in the Chamber--my right hon. Friends the Members for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) and for East Devon (Sir P. Emery)--make important contributions to the assembly. It is an assembly of the 19 NATO countries, with 17 associate countries. We work in five committees. I believe that the assembly is able to make a major contribution in the understanding of the problems and the ways in which NATO can co-operate more as we move forward.

There is much more that I could say, but in the interests of brevity and to allow my colleagues to contribute to the debate, I conclude on that point.

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5.54 pm

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Sixty years ago, the battle of Britain was coming to its conclusion. I am not sure that the country quite realised that we had won, but my constituents in Ruislip-Northwood are most appreciative of the commemoration that took place during the autumn of this year.

For us, that was particularly important as Royal Air Force Northolt was in the front line in the battle. It commemorated its 85th anniversary this year, and 600 Squadron the Royal Auxiliary Air Force--that is, the City of London Squadron--was a battle of Britain squadron and celebrated its 75th anniversary.

For the 60th anniversary of the battle, we had the moving ceremony of the freedom of entry to the borough of Hillingdon commemorated by a march of personnel from RAF Northolt into Ruislip. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) wants to be associated with these remarks, inasmuch as headquarters of No. 11 group of Fighter Command was at RAF Uxbridge and played a crucial part in the battle.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said that the risk to Europe of a great power invasion such as that posed by Hitler 60 years ago and by the Soviet Union during the period of the cold war had come to an end, and that we must adapt our institutions to meet the new challenges and the new realities in a highly unpredictable continent.

The hon. Gentleman also referred, as did many hon. Members during the debate, to the importance of parliamentary scrutiny of our joint activities as parliamentarians to ensure that our alliance as a whole makes a good and effective effort, and he said that the European security and defence initiative should have a parliamentary dimension.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the work of the assembly of the Western European Union, on which I serve. I take this opportunity to say how valuable that institution has proved, not only through the cold war, but in adapting to those new realities. In particular, it has expanded its membership in a highly commendable way, so that we now have no fewer than 28 member countries, with various gradations of membership beyond those of the 10 full members.

Now that the WEU is to be amalgamated within the European Union, the institution is coming under close and careful scrutiny. We in the assembly have had various reports, not least from Mr. Richard, the French Defence Minister. The French view, which is important because the French, like us, are a nuclear power and a key element of the defence of our continent, seems to be that article 5 of the Brussels treaty, which is a mutual security guarantee, should remain within the WEU, and so should the role of armaments co-operation.

That is a field in which we have great experience, as does the North Atlantic Assembly. With so many joint projects under way and planned, everyone understands the necessity of national parliamentarians putting pressure on their national Governments to vote the requisite budgets and to make sure that those joint programmes work and are forthcoming on budget, to time and to specification. That makes sense. I do not regret that the security institute in Paris should go to the European Union, or that the satellite reconnaissance and processing centre at Torrejon should also go to the EU.

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However, I urge the Government to realise the significance of the assembly. It is important because it provides a bridge between those members of the alliance that are members of the EU, those that are members of NATO or members of both, and the other European partners of various kinds. Just a few days ago, we had a visit from parliamentarians of the Russian Duma--something that happens frequently in the North Atlantic Assembly, where there is a good dialogue with them as well.

We had a fascinating exchange of views about ballistic missile defence, to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) made a learned contribution, and on the Russian parliamentarians' attitude to Europe's acquiring a strategic identity of its own, with its own common defence policy and, in a sense, its own armed forces under its own control.

In an important speech in Warsaw, the Prime Minister suggested that the European Union could become a super-power. That was an unfortunate use of language. Europe has no more need of super-powers; what it needs is a community of interests among like-minded democratic states working together for their common good and mutual security. If the EU's acquisition of its own defence identity gave it the characteristics of a super-power, that would be a thoroughly retrograde development.

The Prime Minister also suggested that the European Parliament could have a second chamber consisting of national parliamentarians. The European Parliament is an institution that fulfils a function of its own in its own particular way, but it should not have a defence function. That is clear to me, for the reasons that I adduced earlier: for as long as national Governments are responsible for the composition of their armed forces and for procurement decisions, and for as long as national parliamentarians vote the requisite funds and are answerable to their electorates in ensuring that their military forces remain under democratic control, the European Parliament--which in any case has not the full treaty competence to assume a defence responsibility--should assume no such responsibility.

If the European Parliament assumed that responsibility, its action would accentuate the divide to which I referred earlier between those within the European Union and those who share similar aspirations for mutual security, and who for a long time to come will be outside the EU. In other words, it would be a thoroughly divisive development. I urge the Government to bear my comments in mind, and ask the Minister to reach a conclusion and give the Government's view.

Let me return to my original point. As one who spent his formative years in the Royal Air Force, I immensely appreciated Her Majesty's Government's commemoration of the battle of Britain in such a fitting way. As the Minister will remember, I asked him a question at the end of July, in response to which he gave me a list of events. We were proud that so many of those events took place at Royal Air Force Northolt and at Ruislip, in my constituency.

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6.2 pm

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