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Dr. Julian Lewis: While the hon. Gentleman is on the subject of pooling assets, will he rule out from future Liberal Democrat policy the pooling of Anglo-French nuclear deterrents as part of an EU military superstructure?

Mr. Keetch: I cannot speak about the French nuclear deterrent, but certainly we have no plans whatever in Liberal Democrat defence policy to pool the British nuclear deterrent in any EU force.

Ultimately, the ESDP will be defined by what it delivers. It promises to deliver much, not just in terms of offensive, war-fighting capabilities that could be of use to NATO, but in making larger numbers of intelligent and well-trained peacekeepers available for multinational operations. If we want NATO to continue to develop its ability to meet the new security challenges of the 21st century, the United States and Europe must co-operate as partners. The ESDP is part of that co-operation, which is why we shall not support the Conservative motion but shall instead join the Government in the Lobby.

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5.28 pm

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill): As my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) said in an intervention, this debate is a lot of fuss about nothing. It was significant that in his opening speech the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) built his argument not on any analysis of Government or EU policy, but on the admitted ambitions of some people in Germany and elsewhere to have a European army. I concede the point—of course there are people in other European countries who want total integration and a European army—but that is not the position of the British Government. I do not think it is the position of any party in the House, not even the Liberal party, which usually strongly supports European integration, but not on defence. It is the classic storm in a teacup. We should not allow ourselves to be mesmerised or carried away by the dreams of some people in other European countries, any more than we should be carried away by the nightmares of the Conservative party.

Everybody in the House agrees that NATO should have the right of first refusal whether to undertake humanitarian tasks—the so-called Petersberg tasks. That is not new. We have had a European defence organisation for some 50 years; it is called the Western European Union. To use the language of the hon. Member for North Essex, some people would argue that the obligation under the Brussels treaty, which is the basis of the Western European Union, is much more extensive than the voluntary commitment under the NATO treaty. Although it exists on paper and has done for 50 years, we in Britain recognise that that obligation has been superseded in practice by our commitment and that of our allies to NATO. That is the way it works.

For some time, the Western European Union has had an accepted role in humanitarian tasks, peacekeeping and similar missions—the Petersberg tasks. In the past few years it has been agreed that the WEU should be integrated into the European Union. All that has happened is that the EU has taken over from the WEU the responsibility for Petersberg tasks. Although there are all sorts of difficulties surrounding that decision, those detailed difficulties are not the subject of the debate this afternoon. I repeat: it is a storm in a teacup.

It is essential that we do not leave the job to NATO. It is one thing to say that NATO should have the right of first refusal; it is a different thing to say that NATO should have a right of veto. It is significant that the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) said in an intervention that the Americans should have the right to give permission for Europeans to undertake the Petersberg tasks. I reject that concept. There will be some situations in which the Americans do not want to get involved. We should not go cap in hand to Washington and say, "Please, President Bush, if you don't want to do it, may we do it?"

We should have the autonomous right to take our own decisions as a sovereign country, in alliance with our European allies, to undertake some mission that almost certainly—but not exclusively—will be in Europe. There have already been examples of that. Someone asked from the Opposition Benches, "When has NATO never wanted to undertake such missions?" Consider the case of the Balkans. Only a few years ago, Albania was sliding into anarchy. NATO did not want to get involved. The EU did not want to get involved,

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because the British Government did not want to get involved. The British Government prevented the EU from taking any action in Albania. I do not make a party political point, but there was a Conservative Government at the time. On behalf of the British Government, Lord Hurd attended a crucial meeting at Apeldoorn, where it was decided that the EU would not take action, so it was left to a coalition of European countries, fortunately, to take the necessary action to ensure that Albania did not go the way of the rest of the Balkans.

In Albania there would have been a civil war on the scale of that in Bosnia, except that it would have been between political parties, rather than between people of different ethnic origin. That very dangerous situation was averted by a coalition—an alliance—of European countries, regrettably outside the European Union, but extremely effective none the less. Operation Alba was one of the greatest successes of any coalition of willing people.

There will be similar situations in the future. I hope not, but it would be unreasonable to pretend that that will not happen. It would be wise to make provision to ensure that if it happens we can take action because it is part of Europe. Albania is part of Europe. Europe is not the EU; Europe is much bigger. We have a right and an interest in taking action in the Balkans and elsewhere. I am thinking of places such as the south Caucasus, where we might well want to get involved as Europeans with our European allies.

We have faced that situation before and it could easily arise in future. The real problem about the arrangements that are being negotiated is not the nightmare envisaged by Conservative Members, but the complete lack of any arrangements for liaison between national Parliaments. That is a retrograde step, because we have had such arrangements before. If Conservative Members cared about defence and the roles of national Parliaments, they would complain that our Government have not done enough to ensure that there is liaison and consultation between national Parliaments in jointly scrutinising the arrangements that are negotiated at a European level.

As someone who consistently voted against Maastricht, I have no difficulty in supporting the Government in the Lobby tonight.

Mr. Hancock: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way just before he sits down. If I may, I should like to give him the opportunity to put a case to the Government for the retention of the WEU to serve in the role of parliamentary scrutiny of defence across Europe.

Mr. Davis: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We entirely agree on this issue, although he means the WEU Assembly, not the WEU—we tend to confuse the two. The WEU has been integrated into the European Union, but there is a role to be played by a body of some kind—perhaps not the WEU Assembly, as I do not pretend that the WEU and its Assembly were perfect organisations. There is a great need for improvement, but it would be a great mistake to throw the baby out with the bath water by dispensing with the Assembly now that the WEU is integrated into the European Union.

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That is a different debate that I shall not pursue further. I am sure that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) and I, together with hon. Members on both sides of the House, will do so on future occasions. I merely draw attention to the fact that the Conservative Opposition are barking up the wrong tree.

5.37 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): The Americans came rather slowly into the first and second world wars; we are very grateful that they did so. After the second world war, the main aim was to link the United States so inextricably to Europe through NATO that there was no question of its entering briskly into any further conflict. Indeed, it was required, as a part of the NATO alliance, to ensure that no further conflicts would happen in Europe and that any attack on one member would result in a joint response. It has often been said that NATO is the most successful alliance in the history of the world. It has been very successful in achieving its objectives.

It is important to remember, however, that the United States does not look only to us in Europe for its allies. If one visited a schoolroom in the United States, one might be surprised to find that the map on the wall shows north and south America in the middle of the world, with Asia on the left and Europe on the right. That is unlike the standard Mercator projection on the wall of most of our schoolrooms, where the United Kingdom is in the centre with the United States on one side and Asia on the other. The United States does not necessarily wake up every morning worrying about Europe, central Europe and Asia. A book prepared in the United States entitled, "Report on Allied Contributions to the Common Defence", links it not only to allies in Europe and NATO, but to those from north and south America, as well as to Japan, Korea and allies in the Gulf. The United States does not owe us a living—we must play our part if we wish it to play its part in supporting the NATO alliance.

NATO has been extremely successful. It faced down the Warsaw pact. The deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles by our former Prime Minister, now Lady Thatcher, and President Reagan led to the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Berlin wall. However, the importance of NATO remains.

There were some stresses before the events of 11 September, which I shall subsequently call 9/11 for the sake of shorthand. There was an imbalance in, for example, military input. Many of us who are involved in NATO matters used to talk about the ratio of 100:60:15. If one took the American input into defence to be 100 per cent., European input would be 60 per cent. but output would be approximately 15 per cent. In other words, the Americans had approximately six times the military power of Europe. Consequently, the defence capabilities initiative tries to rectify the defects in Europe in, for example, heavy lift, command and communications, air-to-air refuelling and, above all, sheer weight of forces. European forces have been significantly weaker than those of the United States.

Let us consider the input of some countries into defence. The United Kingdom is notable for being better than many. Only Turkey and Greece contribute

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percentages of gross domestic product to defence that exceed those of the United Kingdom. Of course, that is for their own purposes. Luxembourg, which is a prosperous country, contributes a small amount—approximately 1.1 per cent.

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