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The Prime Minister: On the latter point, people are very familiar with the detail of the agreement and the need for all of it to be implemented.

In respect of beef, we would of course support UK farmers in their claims for compensation. There has been a transit agreement with France, so we should manage to transport beef through France en route to other countries. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the French are breaking the law; they have broken the law. We were right to try to persuade them not to do so because that would have been better for our farmers. As more sensible people understand, getting there by persuasion is more likely to sell beef than doing so simply under court order.

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In respect of Turkey, I fully agree with the right hon. Gentleman, who has a long-standing interest in the matter. The decision potentially opens the door to a new era in relations with Turkey.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli): On the interdepartmental conference, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that not only will Ministers report back to the House on progress, but that, when draft proposals are tabled at the conference, they will also be put to the House, so that they can be debated in the House before they are agreed, and not debated only after they have become a fait accompli?

The Prime Minister: We shall keep the House informed in the usual way. Any treaty changes that require the force of law will have to come before the House.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): I happen to agree with the Prime Minister that the strength of the European Union when there is an internal dispute is that we have the benefit of supranational institutions such as the European Court. That is why no serious politician would ever advocate withdrawal. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman regrets having done so in 1983.

On defence, can the Prime Minister clarify the discussions that he had with the new applicants? It is clear that the European Union is expanding well beyond the remit of NATO. It is therefore essential that the EU has some military ability to react in circumstances in which there may be a threat to any future member country, which may not automatically engage American interest. In a sense, membership of the European Union is a security guarantee.

The Prime Minister: Most of the applicant countries rightly see their future in NATO. As we have always made clear, we see NATO as the cornerstone of our own defence. It is important to emphasise that the purpose of the defence identity or defence initiative is to allow us to act in certain circumstances, where there is consent--each country would have to consent to act in a particular way.

The force that we are discussing is confined to what are called the Petersberg tasks--the tasks defined in a strictly limited way in relation to humanitarian or peacekeeping objectives. No one seriously believes that, if an issue such as Kosovo comes up again, we will not want to act with NATO. The proposed force also gives us the ability to put right something that Kosovo laid bare--the lack of proper capability in many of the European defence forces, although probably less so in the British defence forces than in those of most other countries. Although large numbers of forces were available in theory, in practice, we did not have large numbers of forces that could do the type of work that was required. That has greatly stimulated people to ask whether we have the right capability. We, for example, are asking questions about strategic lift and whether we have the capability in that respect. That is entirely sensible.

It is unfortunate that that has become a party issue between us, because it builds precisely on the work that the previous Prime Minister did at Berlin in 1996. To set that hare running, as the shadow Defence Minister, the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green(Mr. Duncan Smith), did by going over to the United

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States and saying that it is an attempt to break up NATO, is not just wrong, but fundamentally misguided. In the end, it does this country no favours at all.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On Kosovo, where the Prime Minister says that we did not have sufficient capability, when Bernard Kouchner was asked what was needed, he replied, "Money, money, money; police, police, police." Was the parlous situation of winter in the Balkans discussed at Helsinki? In particular, did anybody at Helsinki have any idea how the Danube could be unblocked without the unpalatable prospect of talking to Mr. Milosevic?

The Prime Minister: We have always wanted the Danube to be unblocked, but we are not prepared to start trading with Milosevic the things that he wants. Kosovo was discussed at length at the summit. My hon. Friend is right to say that Mr. Kouchner is making it clear what he needs. He needs armed police, incidentally, which is why the Royal Ulster Constabulary has willingly offered to help.

As for money, we are playing our part substantially. It is right, however, that other countries must realise that our obligation to Kosovo has not ended; it continues. In particular, we agreed that we would consider ways of pushing on the entire stability pact process for the region. That is also immensely important. The countries involved will require a great deal of reconstruction to survive the next few years.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): In the presidency conclusions to which both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence referred, there is mention of

The right hon. Gentleman has said that each of the member states would be able to consent. Does he accept that, under the Petersberg tasks to which all this relates, including a wider defence policy, majority voting applies where a joint strategy and a common action have already been devolved? Does he also accept that, in plain English, as in the Oxford dictionary, "autonomous" means "self- governing" or "independent"?

As for strengthening NATO, there can be no serious doubt that that wider defence policy is causing enormous concern in the United States and enormous enthusiasm in Russia.

The Prime Minister: As ever, the hon. Gentleman is seeing conspiracies where none exists. The full sentence from which he has quoted in part is in paragraph 27. It reads:

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    There is no way in which any country will give up control over its own armed forces. The European Commission and Parliament are not involved in any way. This is where NATO does not wish to be engaged, or where America for any reason does not want to be engaged.

Mr. Cash: Autonomous.

The Prime Minister: It is autonomous in circumstances where the alliance as a whole does not wish to be engaged. If the hon. Gentleman reads further, he will see that the document refers to forces

Those are specific and limited tasks.

Mr. Cash: Majority voting.

The Prime Minister: It is not majority voting. No country has any intention of giving over its armed forces or defence to another country. I would not do that on behalf of this country and neither would any other country do it on behalf of its armed forces.

The hon. Gentleman talks about huge concern in the United States. There has been some concern, which has been mainly prompted by senior Conservatives going to the United States and talking complete nonsense. [Interruption.] If I remember correctly, if, in the old days, Labour party spokesmen had started attacking this country's defence policy abroad, the Conservative Government would have had our flesh hanging in strips off the rafters.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): I agree with the general thrust of my right hon. Friend's remarks on Turkey. However, may I emphasise again that there are serious human rights concerns about Turkey's candidacy? I have recently written to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary expressing some of those concerns. Torture is a daily occurrence and freedom of expression, especially for Kurds, is non-existent. Several Kurdish Members of Parliament are still in prison, including one woman who is very unwell. If the death penalty were to be lifted, that would be a consideration. However, it is time that the Turks treated the Kurds as human beings and not something less.

The Prime Minister: I cannot share all my hon. Friend's sentiments but I say to her that it is precisely to meet legitimate concerns that it was made clear that the accession negotiations do not begin until the Copenhagen criteria on human rights and democracy are met. I think that that is a pretty good guarantee.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): Given the hostile nature of France's actions towards this country in recent weeks, why was the Foreign Secretary seen on television last week cuddling the French Prime Minister in Helsinki?

The Prime Minister: That requires a delicate answer. I think that the hon. Gentleman really means that to be a serious question. If anything is an indication of what is happening to the Conservative party, it is that question.

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