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Mr. Howard: I remember that telling answer, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of it. I was present at the meeting to which he refers.

I have some questions for the Minister for Europe. Why does not the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe have the right to attend meetings of the European Union military committee, as the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs suggested? It would be an important method of maintaining proper links between the EU and NATO. We have been told more than once, however, including by Foreign Office officials when giving evidence to the Select Committee, that the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe does not have the right to attend military committee meetings.

Roger Casale (Wimbledon): Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman arguing that the United States Government should have a veto over Britain's national defence policy? If not, why does he argue that the Americans should have a brake on European defence co-operation?

Mr. Howard: That may be an example of the authentic voice behind the desire for European defence co-operation

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outside NATO. We cannot have it both ways. I do not believe that there is any question of an American veto. We are an independent country, and we can make decisions on the disposition of our defence capability. We have decided that our principal alliance is NATO. That should continue, and we should do nothing to put it at risk. I therefore object to the current developments, which put the Alliance in direct peril.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): The real danger of the arrangements is not that the Americans would veto a European operation, but that Europeans would go ahead with an operation that involved British troops and find, as so often happens in military operations, that things go wrong, troops are over-extended and at risk. At the critical moment when we needed heavy artillery and large tanks, we would not have the lift capacity to reinforce operations. We would be in a hopeless predicament if we went ahead with major operations anywhere without American support.

Mr. Howard: As usual, my hon. Friend has reached the heart of the matter. I agree with him.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): I shall read out a sentence:

That is from article 17 of the Nice treaty. As a distinguished lawyer, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain how his arguments fit the phrase "shall not prejudice"?

Mr. Howard: Those are empty words. One can say that an arrangement will not prejudice something, yet commit actions that clearly prejudice it.

Mr. Miller: Next time I speak to a lawyer, I shall remember that.

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman is being ridiculous. Aspects to which the Government have signed up will prejudice and imperil the NATO alliance.

4.30 pm

Mr. John Bercow: Will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to confirm that there has been no change in the military or strategic logic of the situation that could in any way justify the about-turn that the Prime Minister has performed? Does not my right hon. and learned Friend think it probable, in so far as he can penetrate the inner recesses of the Prime Minister's mind, that that change of heart has taken place on the cynical basis that it will be a sop to those in the European Union who think that he is dragging his feet on the euro?

Mr. Howard: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He makes an important point that is particularly relevant to our plain-speaking Minister, who I am sorry to see finds it so amusing. It is relevant for the following reason. There is no doubt that there has been a change of policy.

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We have examined the texts in the House on numerous occasions. We can look at what the Prime Minister said when he came back from Amsterdam in 1997. We then find that he agreed at St. Malo to something that he had criticised in absolutely stringent terms on his return from Amsterdam. There is no doubt at all that there has been a volte face—a complete change in policy.

According to the edicts of our plain-speaking Minister, the Prime Minister should have come to the House and said, "We have changed our position. We have reconsidered things. When I said what I did when I came back from Amsterdam, I was wrong. This is our new position, and these are the reasons for it." Of course, we have never heard any such explanation. Instead, we see convoluted attempts to pretend that there has been no change. I cannot believe that those attempts will find any favour with our plain-speaking Minister. Obviously, they do not match up at all with the speech that he is going to make later, so I expect that, when he comes to the Dispatch Box, he will at last provide us with an explanation of this change in the Government's position. "Yes," he will say, "we have changed our position, and these are our reasons for doing so." I look forward to that.

Let me return to my questions. So far, I have asked my first question, which was about the right of DSACEUR to attend meetings of the military committee.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howard: I shall give way to the hon. Lady, then I really must make some progress.

Ms Stuart: I genuinely hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to help me or, if not, that the Minister will answer my question in the wind-up. As I understand it, the true relationship between NATO and the EU force can be assessed only in terms of practicalities. If we had access to annexe 7 and the weapons catalogue attached to the treaty of Nice, which I understand is not in the public domain, we could obtain a true indication of how the relationship would work in practice. Will either the right hon. and learned Gentleman or the Minister address that point?

Mr. Howard: I am not sure how to respond to the hon. Lady. I would certainly have no objection if the Minister were to respond to her question when he winds up the debate. I do not know to what extent the information to which she refers is secret or sensitive, and therefore ought not to be in the public domain, but whether or not it ought to be in the public domain, it cannot possibly be argued that we should maintain a Trappist silence on these matters simply because certain information relating to military equipment has not been made public. We have to comment, and use our judgment as representatives of those who have sent us here, on the information at our disposal. That is what I am trying to do.

I come to my second question to the Minister. We are constantly assured that it is everyone's intention that the NATO arrangements and the European Union arrangements should be linked at every point and be as close together as possible. Discordant French voices can occasionally be heard pointing out that that is not what has been agreed, but British Government spokesmen

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constantly say, "No, they are to work hand in glove." If that is the case, will the Minister please explain why the chairman of the European military committee, General Haggland of Finland, and the chairman of the Political and Security Committee, Mr. Anders Bjurner of Sweden, come from non-NATO member states of the European Union? Is the Minister going to tell us that that is pure coincidence? Even a plain-speaking Minister might stretch the Committee's credulity just a little too far if he said that. I would like an answer to that question.

My third question is: why does the presidency report on the European security and defence policy make particular reference to encouraging the involvement of Russia, Ukraine and Canada in European Union-led operations? As the Committee will have observed, there is no mention of the United States. Perhaps there is an entirely innocent explanation for that omission. If so, no doubt our plain-speaking Minister will provide it.

Roger Casale: Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howard: Yes, but probably for the last time. I must conclude.

Roger Casale: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way a second time. I am listening closely to his argument, but I am still not sure what he is afraid of. Is he arguing that any and every example of European defence co-operation would necessarily undermine NATO, or that there might be a particular instance of European defence co-operation that would, in a given set of circumstances, undermine NATO? If it is the latter, it would be open to the Government not to co-operate—they surely would not—precisely because, in that given set of circumstances, NATO would be undermined.

Mr. Howard: My argument is that setting up separate military arrangements for the EU that duplicate existing arrangements in NATO is unnecessary and perilous not only for NATO, but for the transatlantic relationship, which has been such a powerful force for good in the world over at least the past 50 years.

This morning, some of us were privileged to listen to General Ralston, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. He explained very clearly how those dangers and difficulties could be mitigated. He explained how the planning processes could be carried out at his headquarters by those nations that are represented there, including the non-NATO members of the EU. He explained very clearly how those difficulties could be dealt with and overcome.

General Ralston said that he put such a proposal to his political masters and that it has not thus far found acceptance, although it has been on the table for many, many months. He said that he had hoped that it would find acceptance at the Foreign Ministers meeting last December, but it did not. He said that he had hoped that it would find acceptance at the Foreign Ministers meeting in May, but it did not. He said that he thought that the present state of affairs, and I quote him verbatim, is

He said that he is

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Those are not words to be taken lightly from SACEUR.

At the meeting, General Ralston was asked about intelligence arrangements. Of course, there are limits to what we can say in public about intelligence arrangements. We all understand that, but we all know that one of this country's greatest assets is the closeness of its intelligence relationship with the United States of America.

It does not require any disclosure of damaging information to express a concern that, in view of some of what is widely reported as having happened in recent years, the United States might be a little worried about continuing to share its intelligence with us if it thinks that that intelligence will automatically be passed to every EU member. We asked General Ralston what progress had been made in discussing intelligence sharing in the new world into which the Government are taking us. He said that, so far, there had been no such discussions. I am afraid that the concerns that many of us have been expressing, inside and outside the House, ever since St Malo are more and more justified with every step that is taken down this perilous road.

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