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Mr. Jenkin: I should be delighted to have another debate on the Government's forthcoming defence cuts, if the right hon. Gentleman will provide time.

Mr. Hoon: To the best of my recollection, we have just had two defence debates and this is a further opportunity for us to debate that subject. Reasonable people would conclude, having listened to the balance of the hon. Gentleman's speech, that he is perhaps much more interested in the minutiae of the European Union than in the debate's wider perspective.

It has been made clear to the House on several occasions that this Government will not agree to anything that is contradictory to, or would replace, the security guarantee established through the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. NATO is, and should remain, the cornerstone of transatlantic and European collective defence. Challenges to global security continue to evolve and change, but it seems, unfortunately, to have escaped the notice of current Conservative Front Benchers that the cold war is over, and that the world has moved on to a security

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environment that provides new challenges and new threats, played out on a global stage. We recognise that to meet those challenges we need both to transform NATO and to change the way in which European nations participate. It is no longer sufficient to rely on a few nations to provide deterrence to security threats.

I assume that the Conservatives agree with the following statement:

Mr. Jenkin: How does setting up additional headquarters and duplicating NATO assets and capabilities add to capability? It does not.

Mr. Hoon: As I observed in interrupting the hon. Gentleman's admirable contribution to the debates of the Bundestag—criticising, I assume, the policy of the German Federal Chancellor—his criticism was not in fact of this Government's policy, nor, indeed, of anything agreed by the European Union. If he wants to stand for election to the Bundestag and to criticise the German Chancellor's policies he is, I assume, free to do so. He can exercise the free rights under the EU treaty that he so confidently criticises, go there and make his criticisms of German Government policy, not of British Government policy. That is the difficulty that he faces in the light of his remarks today.

I was inviting the hon. Gentleman to comment on the particular contribution to the debate on the subject of European allies made by Baroness Thatcher as long ago as 1984. Baroness Thatcher is not noted for her support for things European, but as long ago as 1984 she correctly recognised that the solution to the problem of improving European military capabilities lay in European hands. That is precisely the policy that successive Governments have followed ever since.

The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that the European security and defence policy is somehow the creation of a Labour Government and that, if the Prime Minister and President Chirac had not signed the St. Malo agreement, the ESDP would somehow not have existed. Perhaps I can remind him of the words of Lord Hurd, as Foreign Secretary on 21 May 1992 when introducing Second Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill, which was designed to implement the Maastricht treaty. Lord Hurd used many phrases that will be familiar to hon. Members who follow debates on European defence. He said:

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we being a Conservative Government—

Those are familiar words and I am sure that the hon. Member for North Essex will agree.

Mr. Jenkin: On this occasion I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. I have to say, however, that when the Prime Minister was asked about the issue at his press conference on Thursday, he said something different. He did not say that it all started under Maastricht. Rather, he said:

The right hon. Gentleman should take responsibility for the debate in Europe, instead of trying to shirk his responsibilities, which is typical of him.

Mr. Hoon: If the hon. Gentleman listened to the debate, instead of making such poor points, he would realise that the question of how European nations improve their military capabilities is a serious matter for those nations. [Interruption.] He voted in favour of Second Reading of the Bill that introduced the Maastricht provisions—[Interruption.] He voted in favour of provisions that included the framing of a common defence policy, which might, in time, lead—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Secretary of State, but I must appeal to Conservative Front Benchers not to interrupt from a sedentary position. That also applies to one or two other hon. Members.

Mr. Hoon: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I was quoting words in favour of the

The hon. Member for North Essex voted for that. He supported it on Second Reading and, as I understand it, he has said nothing today to detract from it. If he supported that provision in 1992, does he still support it now?

Mr. Jenkin: I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is better at law than at history. In fact, I voted against Third Reading of the Maastricht provisions—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman asks if I support it, but that is irrelevant—[Interruption.] Maths may not be the Secretary of State's strong point either. The Prime Minister said clearly that the debate has been carrying on ever since St. Malo, which started in 1998, not 1992.

Mr. Hoon: We could debate at length the hon. Gentleman's difficulties with the Maastricht treaty, because he appears to have voted for the provisions on Second Reading, but then voted against, following their amendment in the Bill's passage through Parliament. As I recall, I would not normally have expected him to support those amendments.

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Mr. Keetch: The right hon. Gentleman is right to bring up this issue. Could he conclude his history of the Maastricht treaty by reminding the House not only that the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) supported this element of the treaty, but that he and his Government denied the British people a referendum on the subject?

Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is right. History is not one of the present Conservative Front Benchers' strong points, as they are establishing rather well at the moment.

We are seeking to put the provision from the Maastricht treaty into the context of the 21st-century security environment—one which recognises the value of the transatlantic relationship while strengthening European capabilities and commitment to defence. As a global economic power, the European Union has clear responsibilities in the world. The European Union and its member states provide more than 50 per cent. of overseas development aid. The Government White Paper on the draft constitutional treaty for the European Union stated:

That common foreign and security policy enables the European Union to take concerted action using a variety of both civil and military means. The early reactions to the recent visit to Iran by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, working in concert with his counterparts from France and Germany, provide a good example of the common foreign and security policy in action. Are the current Conservative Opposition against such action, and against such European co-operation?

At the St. Malo Summit in 1998, the United Kingdom and France, the main architects of the ESDP, recognised that, for the European Union to play its full part in international affairs, it must have the capacity for autonomous action to participate in the Petersberg tasks, which include humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping and peacemaking. In the joint declaration from the 1998 UK-French summit, this Government secured the recognition that existing collective defence commitments, including NATO, would be maintained, that ESDP would be developed


That has not changed. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at his press conference on 23 October that

I should like to clear up one other myth that is being put about by the Conservatives. What St. Malo secured, from the United Kingdom perspective, was that the ESDP would be developed in conformity with NATO, would operate only where NATO as a whole was not

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engaged, and would draw on NATO as well as European military capabilities to avoid unnecessary duplication. Last Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:

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