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Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. May I make it clear that we support the principles of the International Criminal Court but that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) said, we believe that the proposed legislation needs examination in detail? We will not simply rubber-stamp it. That should not be demanded of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

Mr. Anderson: I agree thus far. I appeal to the Opposition only to ensure that they do not fall into the temptation of engaging unnecessary time wasting and in calling it proper scrutiny.

7.12 pm

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): I propose to limit my remarks to the European security and defence policy.

The Gracious Speech contained references to NATO that were designed to be reassuring. We had more of them from the Prime Minister, and from the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. However, the history of reassurances on this subject from the Government is not encouraging.

When the House debated defence on 1 November, the Secretary of State for Defence said:

As the month progressed, the right hon. Gentleman's protestations became ever more strident. Some of the most assertive of his assurances were set out in last Thursday's Daily Mail.

On 19 November, the Secretary of State told John Humphrys on "On the Record":

The next day the right hon. Gentleman told the Daily Express:

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On 23 November he told The Times:

The Secretary of State for Defence was not alone in making those assertions. The Foreign Secretary told the House on 23 November:

The Prime Minister said in Moscow on 21 November:

When the Daily Mail and other newspapers suggested that his plans could threaten NATO, he said:

Some of those statements were made in the House. Of course I cannot and I do not accuse the Secretaries of State or the Prime Minister of misleading the House. I do, however, accuse them of misleading the country.

It must have come as a rude shock to the Government when the United States Defence Secretary finally made public on 5 December what we all know so many of his colleagues had been thinking and saying in private.

A few moments ago, the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) briefly quoted the US Defence Secretary. His quotation was very far from complete. Mr. Cohen said:

In the Government's view, was the US Defence Secretary being fundamentally dishonest?

Of course, none of this deterred President Chirac, who confirmed last Thursday that he wanted to see a European defence force independent of NATO. No one should be surprised by that. An independent European defence force has long been a French objective--independent, that is, of NATO. The French are consistent in their objectives, though extremely opportunist in their tactics.

When President Chirac declares himself 100 per cent. content with the outcome of the negotiations in Nice, we should all be concerned. Of course, the Government of the United Kingdom--the Ministers whose assurances proved so hollow last month--proclaim that they, too, are satisfied. How are we to judge? We can judge only by examining the text.

The text of annexe VII, which deals with these matters, has only just become available. I shall not recite it all, but it is worth examining the very last subparagraph of the document. My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham

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(Mr. Maude) quoted the first sentence of that last subparagraph, but I think that the whole of it--it is only three sentences--is worthy of repetition. It states that

the Political and Security Committee--

There we have it. NATO will be informed.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): I am trying to understand what the problem is with the quotation that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just read out. If a situation arises in which NATO does not want to get involved and the rapid reaction force gets involved, of course that force should report to the EU on what is happening. That will not drive a wedge between NATO and the EU. NATO will have had an opportunity to get involved; will have decided that it does not want to get involved and will have handed the operation over to the European rapid reaction force, which should report to the EU. That is quite straightforward.

Mr. Howard: The matter would not be straightforward, even if it were as the hon. Gentleman described. As the Defence Secretary acknowledged in the House just a few weeks ago, there is no reason whatever why all that cannot be done within NATO, as a European pillar of NATO. However, the hon. Gentleman was fundamentally wrong in the assumption that underlay his question. I do not blame him, as the Prime Minister made the same mistake, if mistake it was, twice during his answers to questions this afternoon.

The documents do not refer to NATO choosing not to be engaged. There is not a word about that. On one occasion, the Prime Minister said that the EU would act alone if NATO chose not to be engaged. On another occasion he said that if NATO does not want to get engaged, the EU would act alone. However, he read accurately when he read from the presidency report the following words:

The thrust of the presidency report and annexe VII can be interpreted in only one way. According to those documents, the EU--not NATO--will decide whether or not NATO is to be engaged. There is no question of NATO having the option to decide or having the choice. There is not a word to that effect in the documents, which represent the text to which the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have put their signatures. With a stroke of the pen, they have put at risk the greatest peacetime alliance that the world has ever seen. Little wonder that, when asked to comment on the agreement, the United States Defence Secretary refused to add to the statement that he made last Tuesday. Silence has never been more eloquent.

How did we get into this mess? It all springs from the vanity of the Prime Minister, his desire to play a leading role in Europe and his notorious weakness for trying to appear to be all things to all men. I do not think that the Prime Minister wants to put our Atlantic alliance at risk. I believe that he simply thought that he could get away

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with telling the French one thing and the Americans another. The Prime Minister displayed that weakness this afternoon when he spoke--as I have already said--about NATO choosing not to be engaged and then read from a document that said something different.

This afternoon, the Prime Minister constantly emphasised the fact that Governments of member states will decide whether to commit their forces under the scope of the initiative. He seemed to regard that as an absolute safeguard. It may well be that Governments will decide whether to commit their forces. However, the Military Committee, as well as the Political and Security Committee--which will be separate from NATO, but which will duplicate what it does--are to be set up now. The mischief will therefore be done long before any country has to decide whether to commit forces under the initiative.

The Prime Minister said that, without this step, European countries would not increase their spending on defence and would not enhance their defence capability. As I said this afternoon, and as Conservative Members have always believed, it is important that European defence capability be enhanced. Of course it is important that European countries should spend more on defence. However, that can and should be done within NATO. There is not the slightest bit of evidence to suggest, as the Prime Minister did this afternoon, that that would not happen without the new initiative. Indeed, the initiative would never have taken place if the Prime Minister and the UK Government had not done a complete U-turn on their position in 1996--my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham referred to it this afternoon--and their position after the treaty of Amsterdam, when they told the House that an initiative of the kind to which they have now signed up would be the wrong way forward.

Without the UK contribution, European defence would be meaningless. There is no other country, with the possible and partial exception of France, capable of making a significant military contribution. Without UK agreement, the initiative would never have taken place. If the Prime Minister and the UK Government had adhered to the view that they expressed in 1997, we might have seen the necessary and welcome development of a European pillar of NATO. That should be happening, but I fear that it is not.

This episode will be seen as one of the greatest acts of folly ever perpetrated by a Government of our country. The sooner these ministerial pygmies are dismissed from office, the sooner we can turn back from this catastrophically wrong turning. If we do not, the consequences may be incalculable.

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