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11 Feb 2003 : Column 767—continued

North Atlantic Council

12.30 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about yesterday's meeting of the North Atlantic Council.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Mr. Adam Ingram): The North Atlantic Council has been examining the technical procedure for tasking NATO military authorities to undertake contingency planning to deter or defend against a possible—[Hon. Members: "Where is he?"]

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is bad manners. I have granted an urgent question, which a Minister is required to answer. The Minister is here and should be heard.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that points of order are taken after the urgent question.

Mr. Ingram: Perhaps I should begin again because I do not know whether the country heard the answer that I was giving to the request for an urgent question. The Secretary of State is on his way to Washington to undertake important consultations with a major ally. [Interruption.] I am pleased that the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) shows some sensitivity.

The North Atlantic Council has been examining the technical procedure for tasking the NATO military authorities to undertake contingency planning to deter or defend against a possible threat to Turkey. Yesterday, three allies broke the silence procedure. They sought further information on the timing of such tasking. I emphasise that there is no debate on the need for the alliance to provide assistance to a NATO member if so requested.

Yesterday, Turkey requested consultations under article 4 of the north Atlantic treaty. The North Atlantic Council meeting that was scheduled for this morning has been adjourned until 4.30 pm Brussels time for further consideration of the proposal. It is too early to speculate on the outcome of the continuing deliberations.

Mr. Jenkin: First, it is astonishing that the Government had to be dragged to the Dispatch Box to discuss a major international crisis in NATO instead of voluntarily making a statement. It is even more astonishing that the Secretary of State did not come to the House yesterday, when we asked for a statement, instead of scuttling out of the country, albeit on legitimate business, to avoid cross-examination.

The Opposition broadly continue to support the Government's determination to disarm Saddam Hussein. We gave our fullest support to UN resolution 1441, which demanded

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That has not been forthcoming. It also stated that Saddam Hussein should

He has not done that. It further demanded

He has failed to provide that. Resolution 1441 also made it clear that it was a final opportunity for Saddam to comply, and that failure to do that would mean serious consequences.

It is now time for all those who supported United Nations resolution 1441 to hold to their course. Times when international unity is of such paramount importance are rare. The world and the people whom we represent demand clarity, resolve and unity. I warn the Minister that we are worried about the Government's undermining of British public opinion with such appalling, reprehensible and cack-handed initiatives as the dodgy dossier that No. 10 published last week. Can it be overstated how utterly counterproductive that action has proved to be? How can the Prime Minister now restore his personal authority after he has been so abjectly found out? When did the Secretary of State or the Minister first see the document? Did they give their approval for its publication?

Even more importantly, unless Europe and the United States can unite, what hope is there that other nations or our own people will follow our lead? All the Saddam Husseins and bin Ladens of this world must be delighted with the allies' present splits and confusion. The Queen's Speech reaffirmed just a few months ago that NATO was

NATO is needed above all today to be the focus of international unity. Instead, it faces an unprecedented crisis because of the French-led refusal to allow it even to plan for the defence of one of its member states. It is a pity that the Secretary of State's prior engagements prevented him from attending the Munich security conference with me at the weekend. All the other NATO Defence Ministers were discussing this issue there. What hope is there for our peace and security in Europe if this cornerstone of our security structure is now crumbling? What action are the Government taking to shore up the Atlantic alliance?

I have to tell the Minister—he will not wish to be reminded—that I and my colleagues have long been warning that the Government's support for the European Union's foreign and defence policy was playing into the hands of those who would destroy NATO. Today's chaos stems directly from the St. Malo declaration of 1998, which gave birth to an autonomous EU defence capability outside NATO. This was followed by EU declarations from Helsinki, Cologne, Nice, Faro, Copenhagen and, to cap it all, last week's Le Touquet summit with France. What on earth possessed the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to sign a declaration last week with President Chirac proclaiming, with a certain irony, that

It is just a few days later—that declaration has hardly stood the test of time. It just added to the chaos that the Prime Minister first created at St. Malo.

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Even if France eventually supports a second resolution, and joins in military action against Iraq, how will the Secretary of State and the Government prevent the minority in Europe from continuing to undermine NATO? The Government's complacency about NATO, about which we have been warning for years, has now been overwhelmed by events. We have always argued consistently that NATO must remain the paramount alliance for British and European security—the cornerstone of Britain's security.

Will the Government now commit themselves to restoring the primacy of NATO in Europe—a move that could command majority support in Europe, as it is France, Belgium and Germany that are now isolated? Will the Government now stop promoting EU security structures outside the NATO alliance, and put their diplomatic money where their mouth is and stop aiding and abetting France and its long-held ambition to destroy NATO?

Mr. Ingram: Let me try to deal with all the salient questions that the hon. Gentleman asked. There were not many. First, the Government have not been dragged to the House on this issue. We have responded to this urgent request, and our assessment of it was set out in the response that I gave to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he listened to that, but if he did not absorb what I said at the time, he should read it tomorrow in Hansard.

The hon. Gentleman described the Secretary of State "scuttling out of the country". That is a very strange description of a senior Minister meeting our major ally as we seek to deal with one of the greatest crises that we have faced for a long, long time. That relates not to the future of NATO, but to all matters pertaining to Iraq and what will flow from it.

The hon. Gentleman referred to resolution 1441. He should be aware, as I am sure the country is only too well aware, that the Government have made their position clear time after time. We are determined that Saddam Hussein be held to account to the will of the international community. That is set out in resolution 1441, and in the 16 resolutions that preceded it.

The headline, as it were, for the hon. Gentleman's comments was the "dodgy dossier". That dossier is a Government document based, as is stated on the front cover, on a number of sources, including intelligence material. The first and third sections, which gave rise to most of the media coverage of its publication, are based largely on intelligence material. The first describes the extreme lengths to which Saddam has gone to hide his weapons and obstruct the inspectors: fact. The third describes the impact of the regime on the Iraqi people: fact. The second section describes the way in which the regime is structured: fact. Some of that is based on a work by Dr. Ibrahim al-Marashi, which, as has been made clear in retrospect, should have been acknowledged. [Interruption.] I ask the hon. Gentleman and others who find this humorous to bear in mind that I have listed the three facts on which the dossier is based. Do they disagree with any of those facts?

Let me now deal with the great moment in my life that occurred at the weekend, when I recognised that the hon. Gentleman was at the same conference as me in

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Munich. I did not know he was going; the Secretary of State did not know he was going. Perhaps if the Secretary of State had known that the hon. Gentleman was going, he would have changed his arrangements in order to hear the wonderful contribution that the hon. Gentleman made. The hon. Gentleman will have heard me, at the closing session of the conference, setting out very clearly our position on matters to which I have referred before, and also on some of the debate that was emerging over that weekend.

During a series of questions based on his obsession with the European Union, the hon. Gentleman alighted on his obsession with the French. Let me say this about NATO and the European security and defence policy and all that flows from it. All the NATO countries support this development; America supports it. Our reason for proceeding on those two fronts is to do with lifting capabilities so that there can be the best delivery and best possible interoperability in order to meet the threats that must be faced on a range of fronts.

If there is any doubt in the hon. Gentleman's mind that NATO is the cornerstone of the Government's security policy, I ask him to look at all the answers that have been given time and again. We have never called into question NATO and our commitment to it. Moreover, if the hon. Gentleman examines our present involvement in current decisions on Iraq, he will see that we are standing alongside the majority in NATO, trying to find a resolution to a difficult question.

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