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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.
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.
Not a single senior figure in the US Administration is opposed to the proposals.--[Official Report, 22 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 312.]
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.
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
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:
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
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.