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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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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--
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.
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.
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:
"hope for a favourable response from NATO",