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The Prime Minister: No. The report does not mean that at all. It draws the clearest distinction between decision-making capacity, which is the decision of the European Union--which is a separate body from NATO--and the military planning capability that is to be exercised in NATO. That will become clearer as the eventual terms of agreement between the EU and NATO are worked on over the next few months. In most circumstances, NATO assets will be used, even though NATO as a whole will not be engaged. All of this is being bolted down in the most careful way. It is extraordinary that Conservative Members believe that good members of NATO such as Germany, Holland and Spain, which are utterly and passionately committed to NATO and would not conceivably agree to something that undermined it, would go along with any country, whether France or any other, that wanted to achieve that objective.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): As an enlarged European Union will include a number of ex-communist nations which have been through terrible periods of bureaucratic centralism, it is important that they do not become part of creeping, bureaucratic centralist arrangements in the European Union. Is not the answer to that a healthy dose of European democracy, which goes beyond qualified majority voting?

The Prime Minister: I think that issues of democracy are very important to the European Union. Democratic

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legitimacy will be an important issue for the intergovernmental conference in 2004 to consider. However, I also believe that it is time we recognised that national Governments and national Parliaments are as good demonstrations of our own democratic legitimacy, within the European Union as well as here at home, as anything else.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): On the rapid reaction force and defence budgets, the Prime Minister will be aware that the European Union already spends two thirds the total budget of the United States and yet, as Kosovo and other theatres have shown, it has only a fraction of America's capability. The Prime Minister mentioned that 11 out of 15 of the nation states have agreed to increase their budget. Britain is already a major contributor to defence spending in terms of its gross domestic product. Have those 11 nations agreed significantly to increase their budget in line with ours, and is Great Britain to increase its budget as part of the agreement?

The Prime Minister: As part of the comprehensive spending review we did, in real terms, increase the defence budget for the first time in many years. I do not have a list, but 11 European Union countries, including ourselves, are increasing their defence budgets this year. That is a big change, because for years they have been cutting them. However, I do not think that it is simply a matter of the amount of money that is spent: it is a matter of spending that money far better and deciding what strategic capabilities the European Union uses.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): The Prime Minister prayed in aid a statement by Senator Hagel. However, he has misinterpreted Chuck Hagel, with whom I had a meeting last summer. Senator Hagel said that he has considerable misgivings about the development of capability outside the NATO framework, which is what we are talking about here. The St. Malo agreement, which the Prime Minister presumably looked at very carefully before it was signed, talks about autonomous capability. Article 3 says:

Is it not absolutely clear that what has always been intended is that there will be military means available to the European Union on an autonomous basis outside the NATO framework?

The Prime Minister: No. Let me try to explain again. In circumstances where NATO decides that it does not want to be involved--perhaps an operation limited to the Petersberg tasks, where America decides that it does not want to be involved, for example, Bosnia in the early 1990s--then the European Union acts, but not with a military strategic capability outside NATO. That is absolutely clear from the documents that we have negotiated. For example, it was not an Under-Secretary from the 1980s, but the American Secretary of State who, just a few weeks ago, said:

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The only people who see that as a great threat to the NATO alliance are either those in the Conservative party or--in part as a result of things that those Conservatives have said and that others have written--those who are told that the force is a rival organisation to NATO. Anyone who has studied the matter realises that that is not the case.

The point made by Chuck Hagel and others--as Bill Cohen was saying about a week ago--is that if there is the development of a rival, strategic military planning capability to NATO, then, yes, that would be a threat to NATO. But that is not what has been agreed and, as far as we are concerned, it will not be agreed.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): We are told constantly that we should not be concerned about the European charter of fundamental rights--because it is not subject to the treaties and will not be enforceable by law--but is there not a smidgen of concern in the Prime Minister's mind that the European Court will base its future decisions on that charter? After these summits, we always hear soothing words from the Dispatch Box. Prime Ministers come and go, but the European Court stays and, remorselessly, year by year, our rule of law based on common law and parliamentary democracy is replaced by a rule of law based on a European supreme court.

The Prime Minister: The extraordinary thing is that the hon. Gentleman receives so much support from his own side. Presumably he is saying that we should--[Interruption.] If we withdraw from the European Court, we are withdrawing from the European Union. The European Court is there because, in order to police the rules of the EU, we need an independent European Court. That is an advantage for the EU, not a problem.

If the hon. Gentleman reads the charter, he will see that it is specifically declared to be a political declaration and not legally binding. That is why the argument--not in this place, but in the entirety of the rest of Europe--is made by some people who claim that they want it to become legally binding. They make that claim only because they accept that at present the charter is not legally binding.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. The statement has run for an hour and 12 minutes, so we must move on.

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Points of Order

4.43 pm

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) is making a point of order; the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) must wait his turn.

Mr. Streeter: At 10.30 this morning the Government launched a White Paper on globalisation at a press conference. Copies were made available to non-governmental organisations and the press this morning, but not to Members of Parliament--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a point of order to the Chair; the Whip should not open his mouth while that is going on.

Mr. Streeter: Copies of the White Paper were made available to NGOs and the press this morning, but were not available to Members of Parliament until this afternoon. Given that the White Paper was billed as the Government's strategy to shape the forces of globalisation and was important enough to appear in the Queen's Speech, I ask you to rule, Mr. Speaker, whether the Government were right to launch it at a press conference, rather than making a statement to the House so that Ministers could be questioned by hon. Members--not least on many of the shortcomings in the White Paper, especially the fact that, although it refers to cracking down on corruption, the Government have passed up the opportunity to introduce a measure on corruption in the Queen's Speech. Is that not yet another contempt of the House?

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing the matter to my attention. I will look into the circumstances that he describes.

Mr. Cash: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During our recent exchanges with the Prime Minister, I referred to the annexes attached to the French presidency report, with particular reference to European defence and security policy. It is outrageous that the Prime Minister should refer to documents intrinsic to the discussion and the statement that are not available in the Library so that Members can comment and question the Prime Minister on those issues. Will you be good enough to look into the matter?

Mr. Speaker: I hope that all Ministers will make relevant documents available to the House in a timely manner.

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