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8.41 pm

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): I welcome the opportunity to speak, albeit briefly, in this important debate. I speak in support of the treaty and of endorsing it as quickly as we can.

I found today's debate entertaining, especially the speeches made by Opposition Members. If today is an example of the way in which Conservative Members have put the European issue behind them since the election, well, it is great stuff, and all power to their elbow. Keep it up lads and lasses, because we absolutely love it.

Some of the Opposition's arguments have been bizarre. I want to focus on just one of them—the ludicrous propositions they have made on defence. The idea that the Nice treaty will somehow undermine NATO and be the basis for the creation of a European standing army is absolute bunkum, and anyone with a scintilla of intelligence should realise that.

As a member of the North Atlantic Assembly for the past four and a half years, I have not heard a single voice among parliamentarians who represent the political spectrum from right to left within Europe, the United States and Canada against the development of a foreign and security policy in Europe as set out in the treaty or the related development of a European security and defence policy.

The only people who have opposed those ideas are Conservative Members and a few of their cronies—their more oddball cronies—in the United States Congress.

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I have met a couple of those cronies, and part of their problem is that they have been briefed by one or two of the oddballs among Conservative Members, one of whom now stands as the Leader of the Opposition. He addressed the United States Congress-Senate defence committee on two occasions and presented his view of future European defence policy. We nearly fell off our chairs when Senator Gordon Smith told us in a briefing that the proposed European security and defence policy, combined with the European single currency, is a plot to create a socialist federation of Europe. Some of us thought, "If only." Such is the standard of debate that we have heard.

The Nice treaty could—I am not saying that it certainly will—help us to meet the real threat to NATO, which is declining capability within NATO member states. Only three of four of the NATO allies in Europe have a NATO capability. Let us be clear about what that means. During Kosovo, despite a standing army throughout the European nations totalling 2 million, it was not possible to muster 30,000 troops to intervene in Kosovo. We had to call on our American allies, who were somewhat reluctant to respond—and with good reason: what reason did they have to deliver for us? That, more than anything else, undermines the future of NATO.

Through the treaty and the related policy of developing a rapid reaction force for Petersberg missions, which range from humanitarian aid to peacekeeping, we could achieve an intensive military capability with a core strength of 60,000 troops—which entails readiness of up to 200,000 troops throughout Europe—who could be used at any time for NATO operations and as NATO assets. If we can achieve that, I will welcome it, because it may—I repeat, I am not saying that it definitely will—address the worrying lack of capability within NATO.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): The hon. Gentleman studies defence issues closely. Is not one of the reasons why the United States supports the creation of the European rapid reaction corps the fact that it perceives that it has been pulled in from time to time to sort out Europe's problems? If we had had a force that could have dealt with Kosovo unaided, there would have been no urgent need for America to become involved. Is that not the real reason why the Americans support the development so much, and why the Conservative party objects to it so strongly?

Mr. Smith: It is certainly one of the reasons. Not a single voice within the United States Administration has raised a serious objection to the proposal. They see the potential benefits.

A cursory glance at defence expenditure in European allied countries reveals real-terms cuts of 50 per cent. and more since the end of the cold war, but the true position is worse than that. It is not only the cuts that we inherited four years ago from the Conservative Government that took away our NATO commitment capability, but the fact that money is spent badly. It is not used for a rapid reaction force, heavy-lift capability, or second-line logistics that keep a force in the field for a long time at distance; instead, money continues to be spent on old cold war defence strategies within Europe—to meet the threat of a Soviet or Russian invasion from the east, which is a nonsense.

The forces behind such spending persist in some countries. It is imperative that we find ways and means to change the political will in those countries so that they

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increase defence expenditure, enabling them to make a NATO commitment, or—at the very least—so that they improve the way in which they spend their defence resources. That is the bottom line—that is what has to be achieved if NATO is to continue to be the best military alliance in human history.

I remain deeply concerned after the horrendous events of 11 September. About 6,000 people died, but we must bear it in mind that more than 50,000 people were targeted and that had it not been for the bravery of a few and some luck, the devastation would have been far greater. The day after, or perhaps the day after that, Lord Robertson was prepared to invoke article 5 of the NATO treaty, and the Americans took up the offer. However, NATO's military contribution is just six airborne warning and control system aircraft that will fly to the United States to protect its territory while it releases forces to go into Afghanistan. That is worrying. The truth is that NATO could not have responded to the attack on America had it taken place on allied soil; it could not have delivered. It was only because of American capability and the leadership of our Prime Minister that we have been able to put together an effective coalition.

Had a similar attack, or perhaps a biological attack targeting 100,000 people, been made in Madrid, Rome or Berlin, I am worried that NATO would not have been able to invoke article 5. Even if it did, I do not think that it could deliver the military punch to back it up, which is why we should support the Bill.

8.51 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I apologise to the House for missing the first part of the debate; I was attending a Select Committee meeting.

As I have listened to tonight's contributions, I have been mindful of a conversation that I had perhaps 10 years ago in a restaurant in Dresden in eastern Germany with a group of German politicians about the future direction of the European Union. When I questioned the pace of change in the EU, they reacted by saying, "It's going to happen anyway. You've got to be part of it; just get behind us." That process of taking just another step on the road is perhaps the most worrying aspect of the trend towards European integration. I am looking in vain for a clear end point, and I urge the Minister to address the question from this country's perspective. What are we working towards? With what are we integrating? Like colleagues from my previous employment who know senior figures in the European Commission well, I believe that the Commission itself recognises that there is no clearly defined end point to the process of integration that we are going through.

The treaty represents just another step on the way to that ill-defined end point. What are we creating? Is it a common market, an economic union, a political union or the united states of Europe? One gets different perspectives from different countries and different politicians. This country does not have a clear sense of where it is going in western Europe; it is profoundly worrying that we are apparently walking blindly, taking another step towards integration and the unification of Europe without quite knowing where the end point will be.

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I am also concerned about democratic accountability and the treaty. It clearly sets out a framework in which, it says, the political parties of western Europe should operate. It states:

Against that background, how do we take the views expressed about the vote in Ireland? Is that vote a veto? Does the fact that one part of the EU has democratically said "no" mean that the treaty cannot go ahead? It clearly should. However, it appears that the attitude of the rest of Europe is, "Well, it's a small country; it doesn't matter. Everyone else will ratify the treaty, so we can go ahead anyway."

I ask Members to look into the future, when another treaty is under consideration. Instead of Ireland being the small country that does not want the treaty, suppose that it is the United Kingdom. Will we have the right to step aside from a treaty in future, or will we be told, "You are just one country among many and you have to accept it"? If it is the latter, I fear for the future of our nation.

We must also consider the financial support in the treaty for political groupings in Europe. The financial structures that require that financial support should be given only to organisations that have a grouping across five member nations immediately discriminate financially against national politics, as opposed to pan-European politics. Can that be right? Does that not represent a further unnecessary erosion of national sovereignty?

The treaty represents a further extension of qualified majority voting, under which, for example, European legislation on worker consultation can be forced through against the wishes of the British Government, businesses and community. It will affect companies with only 20 employees, which is nonsense. Yet again, under QMV we have no choice. Why is it necessary for decisions to be taken in Brussels about whether a small business in the UK should consult all its workers? I made a similar point in my intervention on the speech of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant). Why should such decisions be supranational? Why cannot they be taken in the United Kingdom?

Finally, there is the military dimension. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) argued strongly that that is an irrelevance. I do not agree. It would be foolhardy in the extreme for this country to subsume its foreign policy and its defence policy into a common European framework.

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