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8.9 pm

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). I support the case for a Tobin tax on international speculation.

Today's debate concentrates on defence and foreign policy issues for the year ahead, of which the EU is a major one. The Prime Minister made a statement today about the Nice summit and if that summit is anything to go by, the state of the EU is anything but super. I have always favoured a far more open, transparent and democratic EU, and a far less bureaucratic, secretive and wasteful one. That is ever more essential with the enlargement of the Community, rightly, in the next few years.

I support the European rapid reaction force proposal, under which 60,000 troops could be deployed swiftly and sustained in the field for a year. I am not in favour of duplication, so I am happy for that force to be within the overall NATO structure. The row about its independence seems largely to be about semantics. If its administration occupies a separate office, even if that is at NATO headquarters, the European force could still be termed independent. Its predecessor, the Western European Union, had separate offices, so it is no big thing for the ERRF to have them.

Apparently, the United States in NATO will have the power of veto over any ERRF action, which will be a massive restraint on the force's operations. I hope that all the EU participants in the ERRF will also have the power of veto and that there will be consensus before any military action takes place. I would not want the force to go into military action on a whim, just to see if it works. For example, there could be a war in a year or two between Morocco and Algeria over the western Sahara. That would be a case for EU diplomacy, not military involvement.

I suspect that the previous Conservative Government would have gone down the road of setting up the ERRF, because the lesson of Kosovo was that there should be improved European defence capability. If there were no ERRF, Conservative policies would presumably mean vastly higher defence costs for UK taxpayers so as to try to achieve that capability on our own--that is strange from a party that is committed to millions of pounds of public spending cuts. Alternatively, those policies might have led to a reduced defence capability on our part and that of our European allies.

Although I support the Government's policy on the ERRF, I do not support their policy on Iraq. I am on record in the recent Select Committee on Defence report on Iraqi no-fly zones as stating that it is not a moral or humanitarian policy. It is highly doubtful whether there is any legal basis for the sanctions and military action. We are increasingly isolated, because the policy has been rejected by France, Russia and China, among others. It is misdirected, because the people of Iraq, especially the

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most vulnerable, are disproportionately the main victims. The infant mortality rate is excessively high as a result of that no-fly policy, which also places our armed forces and our pilots unnecessarily at risk.

These days, a measure of a country's "normality" in the global economy is foreign direct investment. That is seen as a crucial measure in central and eastern Europe. Why did not the United States and the UK concentrate just on foreign direct investment in Iraq, instead of on the callous anti-people, generalised economic sanctions that have been applied? The import of ambulances, medicines and goods necessary for the basic public health infrastructure have all been blocked at the UN SCR 661 committee. What UK representatives have done on the committee has been shrouded in secrecy. Over the next year, I urge an end to the people-bashing, people-killing economic sanctions imposed on Iraq as soon as possible.

On Sierra Leone, Oxfam's briefing to hon. Members says:

the United Nations mission in Sierra Leone--

I agree with those representations. Again, UK policy, objectives and likely length of stay in Sierra Leone seem to be shrouded in secrecy. The Defence Committee receives private briefings, but there are no public ones.

I have two worries about the policy. First, it could be tied to the United States's unfinished business with Liberia. The UK could be a conduit for that conflict and could get embroiled in it. Secondly, it is a form of imperialism along the lines of a sphere of influence, as the French had in Rwanda. The French Government gave their support to a genocidal Government right up to their fall. No other country felt able to persuade them to change their policy as Rwanda was deemed to be theirs. Sierra Leone is not ours.

I agree that there is a job to be done. Again, Oxfam said that there is a

It is a humanitarian and law-and-order job, but it should be done by the UN. That would be a far more legitimate course of action. If our forces are involved, which I do not object to, they should be under the auspices of the UN and do the job properly as a UN mission.

I welcome the proposed ratification of the statute of the International Criminal Court. I note the representations of Amnesty International, which states:

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Time is short so I should like to discuss defence spending. I have already said that I support the ERRF and I would support spending to ensure that it operates properly. I also want indiscriminate weaponry such as cluster bombs to be outlawed and to be replaced by precision-guided weaponry, so I would support money being spent on that, but not on prestige projects. I note, for example, that virtually all the major projects are overspent by a considerable sum. Such projects should be entered into only with great caution and then only if there is an overwhelming case for them.

I do not think that UK taxpayers should subsidise, even at second hand, the US national missile defence system. The US may waste its money on it, but we should not be fooled any more by so-called better burden sharing--which the US will call for--which would amount to us subsidising its system. The case is not proven for any generalised increase in defence spending.

In the next four years the US could well be a wild card. It would be appropriate and proper if, rather than adopting the policy of recent years of supporting every US foreign policy, the Government maintained a little distance and expressed some independent views.

The policy of our trying to act as a bridge between the US and Europe could become hugely discredited. In relation to global warming, that has already happened according to some quarters. What bridge can we hope to create in relation to nuclear weapons proliferation or violation of the anti-ballistic missile treaty? Such an attempt would be a bridge too far.

8.19 pm

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford): I very much agree with the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) about the situation that is developing in Sierra Leone, where the British nation and the House seem to be getting themselves into a difficulty that it will be very hard to get out of. We seem again to be engaging in becoming a colonial power in Sierra Leone, without the authority of an international organisation such as the United Nations to justify the degree of intervention to which we have committed ourselves. It is a very serious and difficult problem.

I had planned, in what is probably my last speech in a debate on the Address, to soliloquise a bit on honesty in politics and in journalism, and on how honesty influences the decisions made in this House and in this nation. However, a speech that does justice to such heavyweight subjects would be so long that, it will have to wait for another occasion. I should like instead to talk a little about events in Nice and the future of the European Union.

I should like to deal with a couple of specific matters: the lack of democracy in the European Union decision- making process; and a development--which seems to have hidden itself from Ministers, including the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary--that reveals the real

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purpose of developing an independent European defence force. The development also reveals the same type of sleight of hand that has characterised European Union debates since we first applied to join it.

I have the good fortune to be reading the excellent book by Lord Shore. Although I do not share his views on the European Union, in his book he deals with the way in which Britain and the European Union have been constantly misled about the true intentions of the treaty of Rome--which are to form a supernational state. Such a state has to have an army, and what has been agreed at Nice is to create the army that goes with such a state. An army and common foreign and defence policy are all part and parcel of the powers that any state must have if it is to be a true state.

Even today's debate has really only obscured the fact that the purpose of the tensions at least in France, on which Germany has given in, is to create a defence force that will be under the authority and control of the European Union. The article cited by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) seems to prove that the army would be under EU control and that NATO would only be consulted on it.

Lord Shore has made various points on the creation of the European Union, and he gives seven reasons why we should not be in the EU. I do not share that view. Nevertheless, the first reason he cites is that we are very different from the continental Europeans.

Secondly, the people of Britain do not want a European identity, but identify more readily with the English- speaking world and the Commonwealth.

Thirdly, there have been transfers of responsibility, but no democratic accountability. I should like to return to that point.

Fourthly--as I think that any hon. Member who has served on the European Scrutiny Committee will realise--even now, there are no limits on European encroachment on our national affairs, including defence and foreign affairs.

Fifthly, the European Union needs a new treaty to repatriate powers. If the intergovernmental conference that is proposed for 2004 is to consider limitations and subsidiarity--as it is called in European talk--of the Commission's and Union's powers, I would very much welcome it. However, we shall have to work extremely hard to ensure that that conference is not diverted or distorted to create a supernational state--which I do not believe the British people either want or understand. I believe that the British people would revolt against such a state, and that, if the EU attempted to create one, the whole structure of the Union would disintegrate, to the very serious disbenefit of every country in Europe.

We cannot suppress differences in culture and in language between our countries. We should be proud of those differences, but maintain a union that has been joined only for specific reasons that are good for Europe. Those powers should not be used by the union if they can be best exercised in national states.

Sixthly, I agree with Lord Shore that we cannot resist the pressure for self-government. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) has just said that

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he believes that Wales should have even more power. Power could be devolved in such a manner, but we are acting in a totally contradictory fashion. We cannot deny the people of Europe the accountability and democracy to which they have become accustomed, particularly in the United Kingdom.

Seventhly, Lord Shore suggests--it is a very good idea--that we should return to the United Nations with an overall, worldwide economic and financial council, to counteract the malign effects of globalisation--with which I should also like to deal briefly later in my speech.

Lord Shore demonstrates the way in which the countries of Europe are being misled by referring specifically to new Labour's 1997 party manifesto. He concludes that there is a fundamental dishonesty in new Labour's overall approach to the single currency and to the European Union. The manifesto states:

Lord Shore says, however, that such an alliance is fundamentally not what the new Labour party is proposing. If any proof of that proposition were needed, the Nice and Amsterdam treaties provide it. The words that Lord Shore quoted from the Labour manifesto were chosen to deceive, as the authors knew that the electors to whom the manifesto was addressed did not and do not want to lose their birthright of democracy and self-government.

I believe that the European Union should be talking about democracy and accountability, and that those matters should have been on the agenda at Nice. They need to be on the agenda at any future IGC. I also believe that the Prime Minister is right to consider the possibility of a second chamber--a senate--of the European Parliament. I believe that members of such a body should be Members of this place and of other national Parliaments, so that national parliamentary interests and national interests are safeguarded, supported and explained to the British people and to the people of Europe's other nation states. I think that such a change will require a very serious adjustment.

I think that we cannot go along with what has happened at Nice--which is to refuse the Germans proper representation and proper democratic rights by not allowing them a greater vote than that of any other nation. After all, Germany is 20 per cent. larger than France or Britain. The Germans should be given their proper status and we should recognise the fact that their country is so much larger. The fact that France will be inferior to Germany is not a matter that should concern it, having wished for the kind of Europe that it has devoted all its efforts to creating.

Sleight of hand and dishonesty pervade our national life. In my constituency, for example, the Government said that the health service would receive more money. Our local hospital has not yet received any further money. In fact, it has been burdened with a £29 million debt from past mistakes made by the health authority. Education is to receive a huge amount of extra money, but no extra money appeared in the schools in my constituency until recently, when they received the small handout given directly to schools. There has been no improvement, despite the constant sleight of hand of the leaders of our nation.

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The White Paper on overseas development that was published today was very welcome. Incidentally, it was in the Vote Office at 1 o'clock this afternoon, when it had already been released by the Secretary of State for International Development to the press at a great gathering earlier this morning. It is extraordinary that we should permit a statement of this importance to be made outside the House.

The Secretary of State for International Development is right to address globalisation. I agree with chapter 1, paragraph 19 of the White Paper:

I hope that all hon. Members will support that hugely important statement. Making certain that the one in five people who live in abject poverty--that is, on less than a dollar a day--are considered, and their views, ideas and needs addressed, is the only way to bring about proper peace in the world and moral justice for people in that appalling condition. We should welcome the proposals in the White Paper and work assiduously on them for the future.

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