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25 Nov 2002 : Column 40—continued

The Prime Minister: I simply go back to what I said a moment or two ago. It will all depend on the circumstances. As my hon. Friend knows and as was pointed out at the time of Labour party conference, in Kosovo, for example, we took action outside the UN because there was an unreasonable blockage against action being taken. I do not believe, however, that we will get to that point. The countries that signed up to the deal at the United Nations know that if there is a breach by Saddam we have to act. At the heart of the agreement, and throughout all the negotiations at the United Nations, America, ourselves and some countries agreed to go the multilateral route and others agreed that that route should work. The inspectors are put back in and, if they find that there is a breach, we act. That is a fair and reasonable way to proceed.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): The Prime Minister has faced up to the challenges confronting NATO and ourselves, but he has not faced up to overstretch in our armed forces, which will have to help to implement those challenges. Will he confirm that at the Downing street press conference, the Chief of Defence Staff did not just say that the 19,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen involved in firefighting duties were not available at present—a very obvious point—but that they are not able to train for the vital war fighting duties that they may face in the next month or two, which, by inference, could put their lives and missions at risk?

The Prime Minister: He did not say that, with respect—the hon. Gentleman himself made all the remaining points. He said that if 19,000 are tied up they are not available for other duties. That is obviously right. However, he went on to say—if necessary, I shall send the hon. Gentleman a copy of what he actually said—that they would have full operational cover for any requirement placed on them, including Iraq. That is the position.

Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the alliance formed through NATO 53 years ago has played a key role in bringing security and in making war between individual nation states unthinkable in the European continent? Does he further agree that when the decisions of the Prague summit are implemented, as they undoubtedly will be

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under the strong leadership of the NATO Secretary-General, NATO will become an alliance providing security not just in Europe, but across the global stage?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. It was a Labour Government Foreign Secretary who played such an enormous part in bringing NATO about all those years ago, and it is the present Foreign Secretary who is engaged in the work of making sure that we expand the NATO membership and, equally important, making sure that we have a new relationship with Russia, in which Russia sees itself as a partner of NATO, and not in a position of hostility to NATO. That is a huge change that has come about in the past year.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford): Is the Prime Minister aware of increasing reports in Le Figaro and other European newspapers that at the Prague summit France and Germany discussed and signed a four-page document on European security? How does that square with what he has just told the House?

The Prime Minister: Whatever the French and Germans may agree or not agree, anything that is agreed will have to be agreed by all 15 members at the Copenhagen summit. However, I do not think the hon. Gentleman is right in what he says. Everyone wants to see European defence conducted consistently with NATO. The difficulty has been the disagreement between Turkey and Greece. That has held up progress for a couple of years or more. The only way that we can get over that is by reaching agreement. I saw the leader of the party that won the election in Turkey recently, Mr. Erdogan. I also saw President Cezer of Turkey at the Prague summit. They told me that they thought it would be possible very shortly to reach an agreement on European defence. I very much hope that that is true, as it would push matters forward enormously, not merely for European defence, but for Turkey. We should not be in the least fussed about what the French and the Germans may agree together. I am sure that the agreement will be considered carefully by others at the Prague summit, but we take our own position.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): The inclusion of Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia is good news for the stability of the Balkans. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will keep working towards other countries in the Balkans joining NATO and further enhancing stability and security in that region?

The Prime Minister: I certainly will. It is precisely the pull of European Union membership and NATO membership that means that those countries in the Balkans, which, after all, have given us in the rest of Europe the most terrible headache for the past 100 years, are making extraordinary strides and improvements. They are doing so because of the magnet of European Union and NATO membership. The point that my hon. Friend makes is absolutely right.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): In the context of the accession of the Baltic states to NATO and, hopefully, their accession to the European Union in future, are all the outstanding issues to do with Kaliningrad now resolved?

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The Prime Minister: I think that they are basically resolved. There is still a discussion that needs to take place finally between the European Union, Lithuania and Russia, but I believe that, in principle, that agreement is now there.

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): I welcome the summit and the expansion of NATO membership. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the key role played by British military advisers in helping those countries qualify? Finally, given the wider membership, does he agree that we need to speed up the reform and the streamlining of the NATO command structure?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I do. My hon. Friend is right. One of the things that we agreed was to refocus, reduce and streamline the NATO command structure. As my hon. Friend says, that should happen as quickly as possible.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Given that NATO is setting up a rapid reaction force, including the United States, to tackle international terrorism and other wide-ranging threats to our security, why does not the Prime Minister accept that, in practice, the EU rapid reaction force will wither on the vine as the concept of rapid reaction becomes enshrined in the NATO structure, where it should have remained all along?

The Prime Minister: For that very reason—the hon. Gentleman puts his finger on exactly the point that must be confronted. With respect, the United States does not want its forces to be involved in every single bit of peacekeeping or every humanitarian mission. That is simply not the case. We now have an agreement on Macedonia and it is generally considered best that European forces take that on. In circumstances in which NATO decides that it does not want to be involved, it is sensible to have the arrangement in reserve. That is what has been said about European defence and it has been properly done. Incidentally, that is why every other country in NATO is supporting the concept of getting the agreement. The British Conservative party may have set its face against it, but that is not the position of the American Republican party, never mind any other Conservative party in Europe. The agreement is simply that, in circumstances in which NATO does not want to be involved—[Hon. Members: XWhere does it say that?"] If hon. Members go back and look at every single thing that has been said about the agreement from the beginning, they will see that it has always been the case that if NATO does not want to be involved, those are the circumstances in which European defence comes into play. As I said a moment ago, if hon. Members set their faces against European defence in any set of circumstances, we will not have the opportunity to produce a defence force in circumstances in which NATO does not want to be involved. We will be the only country in Europe not playing our part in the debate about European defence.

Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): Does my right hon. Friend agree that while we should welcome the historic enlargement, many problems remain? For example, last week, I think, the Hungarian Defence Minister made a candid confession that after having been invited to join

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NATO in 1997 and formally joining in 1999, his country had fulfilled less than one third of the commitments that had been made. Would it not now be prudent for future enlargements—I am glad that the door remains open—to involve a two-stage process, in which invitations are issued, but are contingent on fulfilment of the commitments before formal membership is granted?

The Prime Minister: The point that my right hon. Friend makes is right. It was always anticipated that some countries would have a catch-up period even after they became members of NATO, but in each case a process is in place to try to track what happens and ensure that it is done properly. He will accept that some countries have made enormous changes to get as far as they have.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): My right hon. Friend will know that a large number of members of NATO and the international community regard UN resolution 1441 as carrying no specific mandate for a war against Iraq. Will he give the House an assurance that before he commits any British troops or support to such a war, he will seek, first, a specific mandate for a war through the UN, and secondly, a specific vote in advance from the House of Commons?

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