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Mr. Vaz: I do not want to be rude to a fellow former ex-Caian, but I should be very surprised if the hon. Gentleman could count up to 10, bearing in mind that he has understood nothing that has been said this evening. He knows that the operation and planning of all these matters starts with NATO. As he knows--it is a pity that his speech does not reflect it--we are talking about a limited set of tasks: the Petersberg tasks. They were agreed at the Petersberg hotel by Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lord Hurd and they deal with those issues. That is what we are talking about. For all the substantial issues on European defence, we will have to draw on the assets and planning capabilities of NATO. That is why President Bush is so comfortable with the arrangements and supports them. That is why the hon. Gentleman cannot believe that the policy has the support of the Americans.

Mr. Davies: The hon. Gentleman makes my point. I ask him to elucidate, for the benefit of the House, an important phrase in the document:

I offer to give way to him; I force him--more or less--to stand up but he does not answer the question at all. He does not deal with my question; he simply comes out with a childish insult against me, and then a lot of irrelevant obfuscations in the best new Labour mode.

The Minister makes my point. It is clearly established that the Government either do not know what the phrase means or that they are certainly not going to tell anyone else what it means. On such important matters of national security, it is extremely worrying that we should be dealing with our major ally--the United States--on that basis. If the Minister who is responsible--who signs the memorandum that we are discussing--does not know the answer to my question, how can he possibly deal with operational planning?

Mr. Redwood: Is my hon. Friend aware that, after the meeting between the President and the Prime Minister, Defence Secretary Rumsfeld and an Under-Secretary who is about to join the State Department made interesting statements? Those statements make it clear that the American Administration have studied the annexes and texts and are worried on exactly the grounds set out by my hon. Friend and by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith). The American Administration are pleased that I, my hon.

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Friends and others are going to the United States to tell them the truth about these matters because they are clearly not getting it from the Government.

Mr. Davies: Anybody who was mildly worried before this evening would be absolutely terrified after the Minister's performance, because he does not even know--or will not say--what is meant by those words.

Let us consider the other side of operational planning. That requires recourse to NATO operational assets because such assets would be used in the potential operation. The treaty makes it clear that the alliance planning bodies would be involved. That raises yet again an issue that the Government have systematically attempted to conceal from Parliament and from the public. The Minister did not even refer to it in his remarks. I will give way to him if he is willing to answer my question. Is it not true that the Turks have exercised a veto? Is it not true that the Turks have said that they do not accept the concept of guaranteed permanent access by the EU to NATO assets--either physical assets or operational planning assets? Is that not the case? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to answer the question. Again, I will give way to him.

Mr. Vaz: That is not the case. Turkey, as a NATO ally and a friend of the United Kingdom, has raised concerns in the same way that everyone else involved in the issue wishes to have a dialogue to ensure that we get it right. That is the right approach. We can work with allies, such as Turkey and other countries, so that, in the end, we have a joined-up policy on European defence, working with the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and NATO. That is the way in which such things are done, and it is the right approach when dealing with such crisis management situations.

Mr. Davies: All of us who are concerned about the diplomacy of our country must be shaking in our boots having heard that extraordinary response.

The Minister says that Turkey has expressed concerns. That is another piece of disingenuous new Labour drivel. The Turks have actually said no. They have said that they will not agree to the proposal for permanent guaranteed access; they want to have a veto on each occasion. The treaty defines permanent guaranteed access as not requiring the approval of other NATO members on each occasion; nor, indeed, could the arrangements work if it were possible for a member of NATO, not a member of the EU, to exercise a veto on any occasion when NATO assets were required, or when the EU wanted access to NATO operational planning assets. So the second half of the arrangements for operational planning do not work either.

The Minister did not know what the first half of the arrangements involved; he could not describe or explain them. He has now had to concede that the second half cannot work because the Turks have vetoed it, and the Turks are fully entitled to do so. It is extraordinary that

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the major issue--that involving the Turks--has been systematically concealed from the public debate by the Government.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Davies: I shall give way once again, but then I shall make progress because I want other hon. Members to have a chance to speak.

Mr. Wilkinson: It is not just the Turks who are deeply worried, but the American military as well. Is not that the most significant point of all? If the EU were to draw down American NATO assets--for example, if transport aircraft were required to fly to a war zone under EU command--the United States Congress and the American people would not stand for it.

Mr. Davies: Of course the Americans are worried about that. Naturally, they are also worried about an EU force getting into trouble and requiring the Americans to come to its aid. The Americans are troubled about many things, but we should all be troubled not only by the issues that have been raised, but by the fact that the major dimension to the matter--the Turkish veto--has not been mentioned by the Government. I have had to drag it out of the Government this evening from the Dispatch Box.

Once again, all those issues raise a dual problem: are the Government utterly incompetent, or are they duplicitous--or are they a rather nasty mixture of both? Let us consider the Turks. Did the Government know that the Turks would not agree to the arrangement? If they did not, did they speak to the Turks? How many times has the Minister gone to Ankara to discuss the matter with the Turks? He stopped answering questions from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards at the beginning of December, so he has had plenty of time since to go to Ankara if he had wanted to do so.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the limits of this debate.

Mr. Davies: I was simply explaining the possible chronological constraints, which might have disbarred the Minister from performing his functions, that existed until recently.

This matter simply will not go away. I have to tell the Minister that he and the rest of the Government have been steadily stonewalling. If they had come clean at the beginning, they might have had greater credibility in the House, in the alliance and in the United States. The fact is that many of us knew that a Labour Government could never really be trusted with defence. Many of us knew that their commitment to our alliances was so superficial, so recent and so opportunistic that it could not be trusted. A lot of us suspected that, when allied to the irresponsible, cynical, spin-doctoring culture, of which this particular Minister, with his reputation for shiftiness, is such a poor example--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please withdraw that remark?

Mr. Davies: I withdraw that remark, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would it be possible to say prevarication or

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circumvention? Would they be acceptable parliamentary terms? They describe the nature of the leadership that we have had on this question. That is why the document does not stand up, why we have promises about operational planning that do not make sense and why we have promises about NATO command that are contradicted in the text of the document. That is why there is a crisis of confidence between the United States, the new Labour Government and the European allies.

If the Government continue in office for more than a few moments more, if they continue to believe that they can speak with two voices, say one thing in Europe and another in Washington and conceal from the House of Commons and the British public the truth of what is going on, they will have another think rapidly coming.

12.6 am

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): This has been a lively debate, but I shall keep my remarks brief so that other hon. Members might have a chance to speak. [Interruption.] I note, however, that Conservatives Members are eagerly leaving the Chamber, so it is clear that they have no further contribution to make to this important debate.

Liberal Democrats believe that NATO is and will remain the bedrock of the United Kingdom's defence. It is Britain's ultimate insurance policy. It ensured British security through the cold war and encouraged defence co-operation and planning after the fall of the Berlin wall.

We have also understood and believed in the need for an improved European dimension. When Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, told NATO members on 27 February:

the loudest sound in London was the gnashing of teeth at Conservative central office. Despite the myths that we have heard from Tory central office and the myths that we have heard tonight, the United States supports totally the approach that the Government have taken.

Let us make no bones about it. The European Union's initiative allows for the autonomous political direction of operations by EU member states in the Council--not the Commission or the European Parliament--but for operational and strategic planning to remain entrenched in NATO. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and I have said on previous occasions, we believe that there should be a NATO first refusal. In an article in The House Magazine on 8 January, I wrote:

The draft presidency report on European security and defence policy makes it clear that the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe will be the "strategic coordinator" and that

The NATO Washington summit supported that and all alliance partners agreed. They said:

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but there is some confusion about when and in what circumstances the EU will be asked to act.

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