HC Deb 10 June 1999 vol 332 cc798-876

[Relevant documents: The Third Report from the Defence Committee, Session 1998–99, on 'The future of NATO: The Washington Summit', HC 39, and the Government's response thereto, HC 459.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Mike Hall.]

1.20 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)

The choice of title for this debate—defence in the world—could not be more appropriate. The defence and security of our country can be guaranteed only by looking beyond the immediate horizons of the United Kingdom. Our security is inextricably linked to the security of our continent and the wider world. As Kosovo has demonstrated only too well, it is only by standing firm with our friends and allies that we can secure peace and stability.

Britain's contribution to collective defence and international security is founded on a unique national asset—the capabilities and commitment of our armed forces. I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to the men and women of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Army, and to their families and the civilians who support them, at a time when the demands that we place upon them are greater than ever.

During the strategic defence review, one of our concerns was the growing lack of knowledge and understanding in society as a whole about defence and the armed forces. In future, we might have to return to that problem of keeping defence in the public eye, but—for the time being at least—the role of the services and the skill and dedication of our service personnel are clear to everyone who picks up a newspaper or turns on a television. Kosovo provides an object lesson in the need to be able to deploy high-capability armed forces when diplomacy fails—a need that was at the heart of the strategic defence review.

Sadly, it took 11 weeks of concerted NATO bombing before Milosevic and his generals were prepared to agree terms for the withdrawal of Serb forces from that tragic province, thus paving the way for the introduction of an international military force to enable the return of the refugees. Now, we must ensure that the final diplomatic steps are taken, that the Serbs abide by their word, and that KFOR crosses the border as soon as possible. We hope that, very soon, the military focus will shift from the air campaign to the task facing the ground troops and all those engaged in the reconstruction of Kosovo. We wish them well.

On this remarkable day, it might help if I remind the House how we got to this position: how we worked, since at least February 1998, to try to get a political settlement and halt the violence then taking place in Kosovo; how we went the extra mile for peace; and how we adopted a series of economic sanctions in the European Union and a mandatory United Nations arms embargo on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In October last year, as Ambassador Richard Holbrooke visited Belgrade against the background of a worsening security situation in Kosovo, we went back to the UN. We got a chapter VI1 resolution, determining that that was a threat to regional peace and security and that there was an imminent humanitarian catastrophe.

NATO played its part by threatening the use of force. Milosevic listened, because the threat was credible. In October, he did a deal with Holbrooke, promising to reduce the number of his forces and to restrict their operations, and to allow unarmed verifiers into Kosovo. He then reneged on his word and, through no fault of their own, the members of the Kosovo verification mission were unable to prevent matters from worsening. Then, in January, there was the massacre at Racak.

For 18 days in February, the parties were brought together, under joint British-American chairmanship, in the chateau at Rambouillet. A vital part of the Rambouillet accords concerned the military implementation arrangements; at their heart was a NATO-led military peacekeeping force to ensure a stable security situation in Kosovo. However, when the talks moved on to Paris, it was immediately apparent that Milosevic was unwilling to have any military implementation force at all and that he was simply creating obstacles to a settlement.

At this late stage, there was still a place for diplomacy—but Milosevic let it pass, calculating that the international community lacked resolution. How wrong he was. Since then, we have had more than 11 weeks of bombing, in which the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy submarine-launched cruise missiles played an important part.

Eventually, the pressure wore the Serbs down. We never said that it would be easy, and so it proved. On 2 June, Milosevic and the Serbian Parliament agreed a peace plan put to them on behalf of the international community by President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland and Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Russian representative. Last night, following considerable prevarication in the past few days, senior representatives of the Yugoslav army and of the Ministry of the Interior police signed the detailed agreement committing them to a tight withdrawal timetable.

Let me make one thing absolutely clear. The military technical agreement signed last night was not "negotiated" with the Serbs in the tent at Kumanovo. NATO made no concessions. Any changes to the agreement were made purely on the grounds of military practicability. General Sir Michael Jackson is no soft touch and he has done a remarkable job.

The task in front of General Jackson and the international community is formidable. The Serbs' track record of honouring promises is certainly not good. Once a verifiable—I emphasise that word—withdrawal has begun, there can be a pause in the bombing. The United Nations Security Council resolution, the text of which the G8 Foreign Ministers have already agreed, can then be passed. KFOR, with its strong NATO core and its unified command, can then deploy. Only when all Serb forces are out of Kosovo—and the security zone within Serbia itself—will the campaign be brought to an end.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Although I understand that this would not form part of the military technical agreement, is there any sign that Yugoslav army troop concentrations will also be withdrawn from Montenegro? Is there any way of monitoring the extent to which the Yugoslav forces remain in Montenegro in the next few months?

Mr. Robertson

No, because this agreement is about Kosovo and the campaign was about Kosovo. It has been agreed that the Serbian forces inside Kosovo will be withdrawn into other parts of Serbia, not into Montenegro. The hon. Gentleman's point about the importance of Montenegro is well taken. President Djukanovic, the elected President of Montenegro, is an individual of some character: he expressed several views during the conflict that clearly mark him as a man for the future.

We are very sensitive to the prevailing circumstances in that part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. If, by some mischance, Milosevic had won and if alliance unity had not held strong, he would certainly have turned his attention from Kosovo—where he had succeeded in expelling a dissident population—to Montenegro and tried to subjugate it to the same form of dictatorship as appears to be his only ambition.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) made an important point. Will the NATO alliance monitor extremely carefully the possibility that Serb forces within Serbia—which can now be replaced by those withdrawing from Kosovo—will, as a consequence of the withdrawal from Kosovo, augment the Serbian military presence in Montenegro, thereby putting pressure on its civil democratic Government and potentially destabilising a fragile political situation?

Mr. Robertson

Yes, of course, we shall monitor the situation as it develops. As I have said, Montenegro is relevant to the future of the Balkans. We made it absolutely clear that, if Milosevic attempted to destabilise the Government of Montenegro, the NATO alliance and the wider international community would consider that of the utmost seriousness.

Kosovo is a tragedy. British soldiers, sailors, aircrew and ground crew have helped to prevent it from becoming a permanent disaster. They are bringing hope to hundreds of thousands of victims of this last great act of 20th century barbarity at the heart of our continent. Kosovo contains major lessons for the international community, and in analysing them we must beware of preparing to refight the last war. That process of analysis will be helped by the fact that, in most respects, Kosovo is an operation of the kind that we have been preparing to conduct since the strategic defence review. All the main themes of the review have applied in one form or another.

How can defence help to ensure that the next century is different, and that it is a century of dialogue rather than one of destruction? Our starting point must be a realistic assessment of the world in which we live and with which we have to deal.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Before the Secretary of State leaves the subject of Kosovo, I want to ask a question. He knows very well that an enormous problem faces any military personnel who have to distinguish between civilians and guerrillas. That will be particularly difficult in the case of the ethnic Albanian community and the Kosovo Liberation Army. What are the Secretary of State's views on the disarming of the KLA? Will he tell the House what undertakings have been given by the KLA's chain of command?

Mr. Robertson

Of course there will be problems for the implementation force and KFOR, one of which is the problem that my hon. Friend has identified. If any of the Serb paramilitaries decide to stay out of uniform or if other irregulars do not obey their central command, the difficulty of identifying them and dealing with them will be formidable. However, I know that General Jackson has already faced up to that problem and I have absolutely no doubt that he has made plans.

The KLA will be part and parcel of the UN Security Council resolution, and its demilitarisation is a fundamental part of rebuilding the security of the area. The KLA's leadership have publicly made it clear that they will co-operate with the terms of the UN Security Council resolution and, having signed up to Rambouillet and the strictures applied by that agreement, they will take on themselves another obligation in the new circumstances.

As I said, we must have a realistic assessment of the world in which we live and with which we have to deal. We do not need rose-coloured spectacles that mislead us about the risks and challenges or comments of despair that leave us wringing our hands on the sidelines. There are those who have said, "We can do nothing. This is a civil war. Let the blood flow and eventually the situation will stabilise." We have conclusively proved those people wrong. I hope that, at some point, they will apologise for the situation that they would have created if we had been so foolish as to take their advice.

Two years on from the analysis of Britain's security priorities in the changing world that underpinned the strategic defence review, it gives me no pleasure or satisfaction to say that events have borne out our assessment. At the most strategic level, we still face no threat to our national survival, and the prospect of such a threat emerging in the foreseeable future looks, if anything, even more remote.

Instability, however, continues to bring human suffering on an almost unimaginable scale in its wake. In Europe, Kosovo is the starkest example of the consequences of the break-up of states and the ethnic and religious conflict that follows it. Further from home—in successive crises in central Africa, for example—the lesson that international peace and stability is about the lives of ordinary people has been repeated time and again.

The strategic defence review concluded that Britain had a clear national interest in working to deal with such problems and an equally clear responsibility to do so. The Government committed themselves to a security and defence policy based on engagement and not isolation. We pledged ourselves to use the armed forces as a force for good in the world and to play a leadership role that would enable us to make a difference. Our policy was not an easy option. With the benefit of hindsight, however, I am more firmly convinced than ever that it was the right option for the UK.

Today's challenge is to make the post-cold war institutional framework work more effectively. There has never been a single institutional answer to Britain's security requirements. Too often, however, we have sacrificed operational effectiveness for political symbolism. Our European defence initiative, which was developed in close partnership with France and has been embraced by allies and partners on both sides of the Atlantic, is designed to redress that balance.

At last week's European Council in Cologne, European Union Heads of State and Government endorsed progress so far on that initiative, and pointed the way forward. We are all determined that the EU should play a full role on the international stage. The in-coming Finnish presidency has been invited to take forward the work that is necessary to develop, in the EU, the means to take decisions on crisis-management tasks and political control of military operations.

I draw the House's attention in this context to the sterling contribution to resolving the Kosovo crisis made by the President of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari. We were all hugely impressed not just by his brilliant and eloquent English on our television screens but by the superb and elegant diplomacy that led to President Milosevic accepting the inevitable.

The agreement at last week's European summit in Cologne builds on NATO's Washington summit, where the allies stated their willingness to adopt arrangements for ready access by the EU to the collective assets and capabilities of the alliance. It is also fully consistent with the UK's approach to the European security and defence debate. We have argued for developing capabilities for defence decision making in the EU, while drawing the bulk of military capability from the forces which we and our allies contribute to NATO.

We have also consistently made it clear that this debate must address the shortfalls in European military capability. At Cologne, the EU member states committed themselves to developing more effective European military capabilities. That will—I say "will" and not "would" because I believe that there is a determination across our continent—allow us to make a stronger and more coherent contribution to NATO and to take action when the alliance as a whole is not engaged.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

On capabilities, many people are concerned—I am sure that the Secretary of State is much concerned as well—that, given the stretching of our commitments and, perhaps, an unending commitment in Kosovo, we will not have the number of men required. Is he going to cover that subject, and say whether he intends to increase the number of soldiers in the armed forces?

Mr. Robertson

I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are increasing the size of the Army. By contrast with the previous drift downwards in numbers, the strategic defence review proposed an increase of 3,000 personnel. That is probably the first time that the Army has been increased by a peacetime defence review. The extra people will be used for the enhancements requested by the Army, which we believe are necessary.

Of course the present crisis, and the handling of the existing crises elsewhere, whether in Northern Ireland or Bosnia, will impose a strain, especially on human beings. Although recruitment has increased dramatically in some arms of the services since last year, because of the degree of overstretch, retention is becoming a bigger problem. That is a matter of concern for the House as a whole, especially for Ministers, and we are addressing it. I might point out to the hon. Gentleman that our objective is to increase the size of the Army beyond simply filling the gap in recruitment that we inherited, so as to make our forces stronger and more usable.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

Last night, while answering questions on his helpful and welcome statement, the Secretary of State told the House that about 10 per cent. of the forces now deployed in Bosnia come from the Territorial Army. Has he now an open mind about the extent to which he should reconsider the assumptions in the strategic defence review about the Territorial Army, especially the assumptions about its numbers? If, as most people now accept, we are in for a long haul in Kosovo, is there not likely to be a requirement for more extensive use than expected of soldiers from the TA to ensure that our presence in Kosovo is maintained at proper strength?

Mr. Robertson

We are always looking to see where the reserve forces can help the regular forces. That is why, alongside the increase in the regular strength of the Army, we reshaped and restructured the Territorial Army so that in circumstances such as those that we now face, it will be more relevant and useful.

I wish that those who speak out about the Territorial Army would recognise that the reforms that we put in place have now been accepted by the Territorial, Auxiliary and Volunteer Reserve Association and the TA and are being implemented with enthusiasm. We are already hearing strong messages from the TA that it has got precisely what it asked for. The training time has been increased, better equipment is now available, and the TA is being directed towards more relevant functions. All that is designed specifically to make it more usable, more integrated and more deployable, so that, when their country needs them, the TA's forces will be available.

There is little or nothing left of the grumbling now. People are getting on with the job that they have been set and making it work. They are content that the right decision was taken at the right time, and that the Territorial Army has a considerable future role to play within the forces. I hope that people with genuine concerns will recognise that our purpose was to prepare for the sort of conditions that exist now, rather than having large numbers of people in the Territorial Army trained up for functions completely irrelevant to the present moment.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

The right hon. Gentleman suggested that his increase in the regular Army would meet the needs of the commitments already under way. However, the additional troops are not expected to be fully in place until 2004. In the meantime, what percentage of Land Command is committed to operations?

Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that, if I may say as much to him, he is giving a slight impression of complacency? He has great ambitions for Britain to play a role in the world, yet he seems not to will the means by which those ambitions can be fulfilled. As I said to him last night, it is likely that our troops will be heavily committed for a long time in Kosovo.

Mr. Robertson

I certainly do not feel complacent. Yes, I feel fatigue that is tinged with elements of relief and pride, but not complacent when so many of our troops are engaged in what, over the next few days, will be dangerous activity by any standards.

When I say that we produced a strategic defence review and that I intend to have it implemented, I am talking not from complacency but from a driving ambition that we shall match our ambitions as a nation with our capabilities. I shall not be partisan because I know that most people have forgotten that there was a Government before the Labour Government. However, we inherited—[Interruption.] The Opposition are trying to forget that more than the country is. We are not even allowed to mention the Conservative Government any more.

We inherited a very serious manning situation. That was especially so in the Army but it applied in the other two arms as well. It is a problem that we are addressing. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces who, because of a family bereavement, unfortunately cannot be in the Chamber, has done sterling work. I believe that the figures for Army recruitment are up by 17 per cent. on last year's. We are also addressing the problems of retention, which will make up the balance. There is no complacency about our determination to ensure that we have and retain the best armed forces. As for the specific question about the number of troops who are on operations, I shall give the House the latest figures in a moment.

The House might like to be informed of the situation in the outside world. I understand that the latest information from NATO is that Supreme Allied Commander Europe is unlikely to be in a position to verify the withdrawal of Serb forces by 3 pm, as was earlier anticipated. This will inevitably delay somewhat the passing of the Security Council resolution. We have always made it clear that the withdrawal of Serb troops, which we are confident will take place, must be proven and verifiable before we move into the next stages. When we receive information, I shall ensure that the House is kept informed. Defence and security policy is much more than large-scale multinational operations and sweeping diplomatic initiatives.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

A propos the right hon. Gentleman's comment about there being no signal that Serb forces have begun withdrawal, how long are we prepared to wait until we get this signal? Was there not a statement made at some time during the past few days that, if they did not comply with what they had agreed, bombing would be restarted? Am I correct in that?

Mr. Robertson

Yes. It has been made clear that, if there was any non-compliance with the agreement that has been arrived at, the air assaults will recommence. We mean that; we mean business. I did not say that there had been no withdrawals. I said that SACEUR was not yet in a position to verify withdrawals. There were certainly signs this morning that some troop formations, which could well have been preparations for movement, were taking place. It is only when we are certain that there have been withdrawals that we shall pause from the bombing campaign. We are still hopeful that that will be done, but our patience is not endless.

As I have said, defence and security policy is much more than large-scale multinational operations and huge diplomatic initiatives. It must embrace all activities that can contribute to stability and security, and hence to preventing crisis and conflict. The strategic defence review gave renewed impetus to defence diplomacy in activities of this kind.

In parallel with the grander initiatives, the armed forces make a contribution to humanitarian missions that all too often goes unrecognised. For example, in Sierra Leone, they have helped to deliver essential food and medical supplies, to clear wells contaminated by rebel forces and to re-open local schools that were damaged during the nightmare of fighting that took place in that country.

For the longer term, we are now helping to get Sierra Leone back on its feet by contributing training and advice for the creation of democratically accountable armed forces. Using the armed forces' skills for defence diplomacy and in operations of this kind is an investment in conflict prevention and crisis management that results in vital but often unquantifiable benefits.

The armed forces have also played an important role in the fight against the international drugs trade. Last week, HMS Marlborough seized 4 tonnes of cocaine in an operation in the Caribbean—its second seizure inside a week. That was an excellent example of co-operation between the United States and the United Kingdom in the fight against drugs activity in the Caribbean, which was highlighted in the strategic defence review.

The MOD takes seriously its commitment to the security of UK nationals overseas and can deploy effectively and at short notice when there is a possible threat to the lives of British citizens overseas. That commitment has been demonstrated most notably in response to conflicts in Africa over the past 12 months—in Sierra Leone, the Congo and Eritrea.

At the heart of the strategic defence review was the recognition that security depends upon our willingness and ability to deploy high-capability armed forces when diplomacy fails. Sadly, that has been underlined by recent events.

Our forces must be deployable at short notice and in difficult and inhospitable terrain. They must be sustainable, often with the minimum of host nation support, and in operations that will inevitably be prolonged. We are obliged to maintain concurrent commitments with separate lines of communication, as we see in Kosovo, Bosnia and the Gulf.

Operations are placing a premium on precision weapons and force protection. With 50 per cent. of the British Army now engaged in, preparing for, or recovering from, operations, we cannot afford the luxury of unusable forces. No one could have predicted precisely the nature of our commitment in Kosovo, but the strategic defence review provided a template that fits in most respects.

Indeed, the main problems that we face are in exactly those capability areas in which shortfalls were identified in the SDR but in which, barely a year after the publication of the report, implementation has not yet been completed. The strategic air and sea transport, additional soldiers to man the second line of logistic communications, and the extra deployable brigade for the Army, all of which are in the pipeline, would all have been welcome enhancements to our Kosovo commitment.

As I said, the high level of commitments leads to increased pressure on individuals, especially in some of the critical specialisations. Until the necessary restructuring identified by the strategic defence review is complete and full manning, particularly in the Army, is achieved, many of our people will be redeploying on operational commitments more often than is desirable for operational effectiveness or the health of family life for our armed forces.

Those who are affected are not only from the "teeth" arms, such as armoured infantry battalions and air crew, but from elements of the very important supporting arms, such as communications personnel. We are vigorously pushing ahead to achieve the restructuring and full manning to relieve pressure on our people and their families.

In opening the debate, I have inevitably concentrated to a large extent on Kosovo. It is right that we should focus on the greatest challenge to security and stability in Europe since the end of the cold war. However, it would be a mistake to treat the circumstances of Kosovo as unique. Milosevic, ethnic hatred and ethnic cleansing, the humanitarian crises in south-eastern Europe and more widely, the risks of overspill and destabilisation—all these carry powerful lessons for every one of us.

I spoke at the outset about keeping defence in the public eye. We must not cease to strive to ensure that defence in Britain is stronger and better integrated into society, so that the contribution made by our service men and women as a force for good in peacetime, crisis and conflict in the world will go on. We must be prepared to contribute as well.

Long after NATO has achieved its objectives in Kosovo, long after the headline writers have moved on to the next subject and the next crisis, a job of work will still be being done in that area, as it is in Kosovo today, by men and women who, supported by the civilians who back them up and by the families who are an integral part of that great team, have committed themselves to international law and order. Without them, it would be a much more dangerous world for future generations.

1.55 pm
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)

Kosovo has dominated defence and foreign policy issues for some three months now, almost to the exclusion of everything else. I shall use today's debate to talk about one or two other issues that may not have had the attention that they deserve during the last three months.

The Secretary of State spent a lot of time talking about Kosovo, and not much on other issues, perhaps because, as appeared, he did not have anything new or interesting to say about them. However, there have been some interesting developments, and I want to spend some time on the European security and defence identity.

Before I do so, I shall say a word about the timing of the debate. We have one debate a year on defence policy, which is important. Defence is not high on the political agenda at the moment, but it is fundamental to our security. It is the only one of three debates in which the Secretary of State has spoken, yet the Government have scheduled it on European elections day, when they must know that hardly any hon. Members will be here. I am sure that it is not the day that the Secretary of State himself would have chosen, but will he have a word with the business managers to see whether future debates can be held on a day when many more hon. Members are present? A Thursday would usually be a good choice, but not when the European elections are being held.

I want to consider one or two issues briefly before coming to the European defence identity. Defence industries are undergoing a major restructuring. I am delighted to see the British Aerospace-Marconi merger, which I hope will successfully jump all the regulatory hurdles.

The policy pushed by the Government and initiated by other European Heads of Government to try to create a European defence and aerospace conglomerate was misconceived. If we do not maintain a transatlantic link, we shall not be anywhere. The fortress Europe against the fortress America model, which that would have created, would have led us down a blind alley. The Americans spend three times as much on defence research as Britain, France and Germany combined. If we had cut ourselves off from the United States in terms of markets and technology, we would have gone down a blind alley for which we would have paid for a long time.

The commercial realities that British Aerospace and GEC have introduced give us some hope that one of the three or four global defence companies, which I imagine will develop during the next few years, will have a significant British component and British base, both in employment and technology. I hope that those commercial considerations will continue to prevail, that transatlantic links will be developed between European and north American defence corporations and that we shall not try to corral people into United States and European manufacturing fortresses.

The Secretary of State touched on the strategic defence review, rather optimistically because Kosovo has revealed some weaknesses in that in terms of a mismatch between resources and commitment. Overstretch is getting worse. We shall want to take a detailed look at that when the war is over, as that will probably be the right time to do so. We do not know what the long-term troop commitment to Kosovo will be, or whether it will extend into other parts of the Balkans, as I suspect that it will. I suspect that we shall have a long-term commitment in Bosnia and Kosovo, and perhaps elsewhere as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) will deal with that in more detail when he replies.

What is happening with regard to the Bloody Sunday inquiry is appalling. I wrote to the Secretary of State about that some time ago. I know that the Ministry of Defence is trying to help those involved, but, if the inquiry has handed over the names of serving paratroop officers to lawyers for the victims, that is an extraordinarily cavalier way to deal with people's lives and safety and the security of their families. I know that the matter is back in court for judicial review of the inquiry's ruling, and I do not intend to talk about the ruling for that reason, but I urge the Secretary of State to do everything that he can to make sure that that simply does not happen. If anything happened to those families or those soldiers, it would be an inexcusable lapse of duty—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. I think the hon. Gentleman has made his point and it would be advisable if he did not pursue it any further.

Mr. Maples

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

My hon. Friend has mentioned the part that is being played by the Ministry of Defence in supporting the soldiers concerned in their legal costs, and that is to be welcomed warmly. Is he aware that I wrote to the Prime Minister, who has ultimate responsibility for those matters, on 11 May and 8 June, and that I have not had the courtesy of a substantive reply from him? Is that not disgraceful?

Mr. Maples

Yes, it is, but I must say that I received a reply from the Secretary of State and we have talked about this matter, which my hon. Friend has pursued assiduously; he represents Aldershot, where the Parachute Regiment is based, and I hope that he will continue to press his case. The solution to the problem is in the Government's hands and they could' alter the terms of reference of the inquiry to provide anonymity.

Mr. George Robertson

There is a judicial review; the matter is in the courts today and it would be highly improper for any of us to discuss it in Parliament. However, the hon. Gentleman chose to raise the issue of the allegations that are being made about the disclosure of some of the soldiers' names. That is, first and foremost, a matter for the independent inquiry and its spokesmen have said that it is investigating the circumstances in which the documents were released and the status of those papers in terms of their earlier public availability. We are of course concerned about the safety of any individuals and we are urgently considering what needs to be done.

Mr. Maples

Some matters are absolutely for the inquiry; I completely agree and I have not touched on those.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I repeat what I said earlier: nothing more ought to be said on that particular subject and we ought to move on.

Mr. Maples

A public consultation is taking place on the Government's proposals for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, and we will respond in some detail to that, but we are concerned about total privatisation. Certainly partial privatisation—[Interruption.] No, the reason is that some agencies of government are not performing quasi-commercial activities and the Government need them as an independent source of advice and evaluation. They need such advice on computers and telecommunications—they have an agency, which they have not privatised—and I think that they need it on defence.

If the Government were to rely on commercial organisations—which are motivated by commercial considerations and could be in partnership with a competitor to a bid that they were evaluating—it would be difficult for them to know that they were receiving independent, objective advice. Whatever the outcome and whatever the solution, we want them to make sure that they have available to them independent and objective evaluation of, and advice on, defence proposals and technologies. It is, of course, important that the manufacturers involved in Government deals also have confidence in that arrangement.

Before moving on to European defence, let me say a word about Bishopton. We have the basis of a problem in other areas because, in pursuit of reduced costs, the Government are inviting people from around the world to bid for contracts. Foreign suppliers bid on a marginal cost basis, but the Governments for whom they work do not usually put their own contracts out to tender. In the case of Bishopton, foreign companies were able to bid on the basis of marginal cost and their costs were financed by contracts with their own Governments, which were not put out to tender. Royal Ordnance, however, has to bid for such contracts on a full-cost basis. That may save the Government some money, but an absolutely inevitable consequence is that organisations such as Royal Ordnance will disappear and we will be reliant on foreign suppliers. We have been in trouble with that in the past.

The Secretary of State said that he was not prepared to spend £20 million—arguably, the figure is considerably less than that—but we have to be 100 per cent. certain that we are prepared to rely on foreign supplies for ammunition. It is one thing to buy aeroplanes or tanks from foreign countries—once we have them, we have them—but buying renewable supplies such as the ammunition needed to make aeroplanes or tanks of any military use at all is a different matter altogether.

I turn to the development of the European security and defence identity and its relationship with NATO. We have seen a 180 degree U-turn in Government policy. This was not Government policy during the election, and it was not Government policy during the strategic defence review, whose report made no reference to the European Union's having any role here. In fact, it said: Development of the European Security and Defence Identity within NATO will enable the Western European Union to carry out these roles".

At the Amsterdam summit two years ago, the Prime Minister spoke of the proposals to which he signed up in Cologne last week. He said that Europe's defence should remain a matter for NATO and not the EU, which had proved itself unable to run a successful foreign policy. What matters is what works; and what works for Britain and for Europe is NATO, he said. The Franco-German plan was like an ill-judged transplant operation". What was an ill-judged transplant operation in May 1997 has apparently become the solution to all our problems in May 1999. That is a 180-degree U-turn, of which we have had absolutely no explanation. It is no use the Secretary of State pretending that it is not a great big change. Whether it is right or wrong is a matter for debate, but to say that there has been no change is to fly in the face of the evidence.

It all changed in the run-up to the Portschacht summit in Austria at the end of last year. While the debate on the strategic defence review was proceeding in the House, the Prime Minister was briefing the political editor of The Times that he was prepared to drop Britain's long-standing objections to the EU' s having a defence capability. That was confirmed at the Portschacht summit, when the Prime Minister spoke of developing mechanisms that were "complementary to NATO"—not part of NATO, but complementary to it.

As I have said, this represents a fundamental shift. On 19 October—on the same day, and probably at the very same hour, that the Prime Minister was briefing Phil Webster—the Secretary of State told the House: The Government's view on the common foreign and security policy and how it relates to European defence was determined definitively at the Amsterdam summit … The challenge for the European Union is … to apply the common foreign and security policy to events".—[Official Report, 19 October 1998; Vol. 317, c. 974.] That reiteration of the Amsterdam position took place exactly when the Prime Minister was doing his 180-degree U-turn.

Winding up the debate on the following day, the Under-Secretary said exactly the same. He had not been brought up to speed at that point. He said: We are also playing a central role in developing an effective European security and defence identity in NATO."—[Official Report, 20 October 1998; Vol. 317, c. 1176.] The Prime Minister is clearly talking about the possibility of doing something outside NATO.

Others realised the significance of the Prime Minister's point. In "Bulletin Quotidien Europe" of 26 to 27 October, a couple of days later, the Prime Minister was seen as going much further than he had in his Times interview. This was considered to be the sign of a true reversal of British policy, which was traditionally hostile to the European Union's responsibility for security and defence matters. It may not have been seen as a reversal of policy by Defence Ministers, but that is how it was seen by our allies and partners in Europe.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) was so concerned about the change of attitude that he secured an Adjournment debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] I have no idea where he is, but I am sure that he will he here on Thursday to make his points in the Kosovo debate.

My hon. Friend performed a useful service to the House, because, in replying to his Adjournment debate, the Under-Secretary rather let the cat out of the bag by saying that his aim was to enable the European Union to have a more united and influential voice".—[Official Report, 11 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 301.] It had taken a couple of weeks to bring the Under-Secretary up to speed, but he was up to speed by then.

Mr. Robathan

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the common European security and defence identity. However, I feel that I must apologise in advance for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) on Thursday. I happen to know that he will be visiting the Duma on that day.

Mr. Maples

I am told that my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate is out campaigning in the European elections today. No doubt, that is what all the other 200 or 300 hon. Members who would be present if this were not the day of the European elections are doing.

Let us be clear about what we are discussing. We are discussing a European security and defence identity—not an identity within NATO, as set out in the 1996 Berlin NATO summit, by the Prime Minister in Amsterdam or by the Secretary of State for Defence during the debate on the strategic defence review, but a European Union military capability. That is fundamentally different.

The Prime Minister took his position a little further in an article in the New York Times on 12 November, where he said: To speak with authority, the European Union also needs to be able to act militarily on its own … Britain backs that". The next day, at the North Atlantic Assembly in Edinburgh, he did the same by saying: We must change this, by ensuring that the EU can speak with a single, authoritative voice on the key international issues of the day, and can intervene effectively where necessary.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the key point about a common foreign and security policy is not simply whether European NATO states and EU states that are not in NATO agree to work in harmony on defence issues, but whether a majority of those states can impose a defence or foreign policy commitment on a minority of those states that might disagree?

Mr. Maples

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Clearly, at present, that is a separate pillar of the European Union, and it will require unanimity to do anything, but we have been down that road a few times before on other subjects. We find that what starts out requiring unanimity soon does not. I will come to our reasons for thinking that European defence is much better dealt with in NATO than within the European Union and why it will be dangerous to have two overlapping alliances.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

I am most interested in the hon. Gentleman's analysis. As he knows, I take a much more sympathetic view towards the idea of a European security and defence identity. If his fears are well founded, why is it that, in the United States, there has been support for the initiative that the Government have been taking, with the support of others, including ourselves?

Mr. Maples

I will come to the United States position, but it is not supporting that idea. It supports the development of the European security and defence identity within NATO. It makes that clear again and again. What was agreed at Cologne breaches the principles that Madeleine Albright set out in her Financial Times article about decoupling, discrimination and duplication. When one talks to American diplomats and the American State Department privately, they say that they are very concerned about the matter. I will come to why that is so.

Therefore, there has been a fundamental shift in defence policy. There has been no change of circumstances. There has been no international event to provoke the necessity for rethinking our defence alliance arrangements. There has been no explanation of why the shift has happened. The House of Commons has not had an explanation of why the Government have thought it appropriate to make a 180 degree change on defence policy.

It is a big change. We have had no explanation. The Secretary of State made no attempt to explain it today, and the Prime Minister made no attempt to explain it on Tuesday, because it is being done not for its own sake but for the sake of good relations with Europe. If we can throw a few British interests into the pot to have a better weekend in Austria, Cologne or wherever it is, let us do it. It has been done not to improve our security, but because the UK is not in the euro.

We are running up from 1 January 1999. Everyone else will be in the euro. The Prime Minister wants to be at the centre of Europe, at the core of decision making. He is getting left behind because we are not in the euro. He needs to find something else that will get him into it. That is an appalling way to govern the country, where the UK's national interest is not put first; the Prime Minister's ego is. It is, apparently, not enough for him to enjoy the sycophantic adulation from his Back Benchers; he needs it abroad as well.

I cannot think why the Prime Minister bothers to go to these meetings because he just signs up to anything that the French or Germans put in front of him. We saw that then. We saw it at St. Malo and in Cologne. We saw it when the presidency document on the matter was signed by the Government without debate or criticism. That is not the right way to look after our interests.

Our position on the issue is what it has always been and what the Government's was until 19 October last year: the development of a European security and defence identity within NATO is an excellent idea. Michael Portillo was at the forefront of the initiative at the Berlin NATO summit in 1996. We are all for more European military co-operation.

The relationship between British and French forces at operational level is fantastic. It should be developed. We are the two countries most serious about defence in Europe. We are all for greater interoperability, which we need if we are to act together in joint task forces in Kosovo and such places. We need to do things together. We need to set up mechanisms by which Europeans can act without the United States if the United States does not want to be involved—we all agree about that—but that is in place. That was set up at Berlin. The arrangements were set up to allow that to be done, using the Western European Union and NATO planning and command structures that are already in place.

The United States made it clear that, in those circumstances, it would make available its heavy lift, intelligence and communication assets, which we do not have. We cannot undertake such operations without those assets. We do not have them, but the United States has said that it would make them available.

We do not support the responsibility being transferred to the European Union. It will undermine NATO. We will have two parallel overlapping alliances with slightly different agendas in Europe. If it undermines NATO, it will undermine the United States's commitment to NATO and to the security of Europe. That is fundamental.

The European Union is not able to have common policies in those areas not because the institutional framework is not in place, but because we are different sovereign states with different interests, agendas and histories. We find it difficult to agree on those things. If we had the same objectives, we would have no difficulty in acting together, as we have, for example, over Kosovo. It is not the machinery that is at fault.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I am straining to understand the mischief that the hon. Gentleman is describing. If he looks at the Official Report later, he will find that he said, among a long litany of things, that there could be circumstances where there could be some conflict in Europe with which the United States does not wish to be involved; I think that he said that. Therefore, it seems plainly obvious that we need to have the mechanisms and institutions with which Europe can respond collectively. Inexorably, logic tells us that the vehicle for that must be the European Union.

Mr. Maples

I thought that I said that we supported what was initiated at the Berlin NATO summit in 1996, which made arrangements under which the European members of NATO could act without the United States, using NATO planning, command and control procedures and American assets. There may be circumstances in which the Europeans want to act without the United States. At the moment, it is difficult to envisage that happening because we seem incapable of doing anything without the United States taking the lead. Kosovo is an interesting example of something that the Americans probably would expect us in Europe to be able to sort out by ourselves, but which we clearly could not either at an operational level or in terms of leadership. If we get to the point where we can, let us be able to do it—I have no problem with that—but the arrangements are in place by which one can undertake the task through NATO.

I come to the American opposition to the moves. It is significant and it was signalled way back in June last year, when William Cohen, the United States Secretary of Defence, said that its commitment to a greater role for Europe was evidenced by its support for WEU as a vehicle for strengthening the European pillar of NATO and for the European security and defence identity within NATO. He made it clear then that the United States saw the development as something that would happen within NATO, but the Prime Minister took the policy further by signing an agreement with the French in December in St. Malo. That is where it is out in the open.

Paragraph 3 of that agreement says that

the European Union will also need to have recourse to suitable military means (European capabilities pre-designated within NATO's European pillar)"— the things that were envisaged at Berlin— or national or multinational European means outside the NATO framework. Clearly, that was seen by President Chirac as a major shift in policy. It was no wonder that he was pleased because the French have been pursuing that agenda for some time. He succeeded in changing the opinion that successive British Governments had held for many years and in opening a chink in the United States-United Kingdom relationship, something that has long been a French policy objective. It is not fully integrated into NATO. Unfortunately, we did not succeed in getting it fully integrated two or three years ago when we made serious efforts to do so.

The United States's response to that was again cautious. James Foley, the State Department spokesman, said: In general terms, we are encouraged by the document's references to strengthening the capability of Europe's armed forces so that they can react rapidly to new circumstances, to contributing to NATO's vitality, and to preserving the alliance's prerogatives. We want a European partner that is capable of acting"— nothing about anything independent happening outside NATO and within the European Union.

Madeleine Albright wrote a definitive article a few days after that in the Financial Times. The American position was made politely, in the friendly way that we would expect from our closest ally, but absolutely clearly. She said: We will examine all proposals on European defence and security with a simple question in mind: does it improve our effectiveness in working together? … the emphasis should be placed on enhancing the practical capabilities Europe brings to our alliance. This means avoiding what I would call the Three Ds. First, we want to avoid decoupling: NATO is the expression of the indispensable transatlantic link. It should remain an organisation of sovereign allies, where European decision-making is not unhooked from broader alliance decision-making. What happened at Cologne does exactly that—it unhooks European decision making from alliance decision making. Mrs. Albright continued: Second, we want to avoid duplication: defence resources are too scarce for allies to conduct force planning, operate command structures, and make procurement decisions twice—once at NATO and once more at the EU. However, Cologne sets up a series of committees and staff structures. It talks of developing satellite, intelligence and heavy lift capability, all of which is duplication on already stretched budgets. She continued: third, we want to avoid any discrimination against NATO members who are not EU members. The Cologne document makes a passing reference to making some arrangements by which those members can be involved, but important members of NATO are not members of the EU—Turkey, Norway and the three new members, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. There will probably be more. Those states will not be involved.

The Western European Union provided a forum in which all of those states could be involved and have access to NATO assets. We are now developing something that excludes those states. At Cologne, all those principles were broken.

It is pretty clear where our European partners are going. In February, Emma Bonino wrote an article in the Financial Times saying: Now Europe has Emu, it should try for DMU—defence and military union. Mr. Prodi, the new President of the European Commission said in "On the Record" two weeks ago that Europe needed to develop its own army to enable it to act quickly to intervene in crises like Kosovo.

That is how they see it. What the Germans, French and Italians want is clear and we are going along with it. No doubt, we think that we can get off this roundabout, or this train, at some point and that we do not have to go the whole way. It is 100 per cent. clear to me where those countries want to go and it is not in our interests to go there with them. There should be some extremely good reason for doing what seems to me to be acting against our national interest and the views of the United States.

Mr. George Robertson

Given circumstances in the world today and the situation in Kosovo at this very moment, I find it remarkable that the hon. Gentleman should engage in a theological discussion that seems to play only to the Back Benches. Why, among all the documentation and bits of paper that he has produced has he not mentioned the Washington communiqué of the NATO summit? Perhaps he intends to read this passage out—it is certainly worth reading. The communiqué stated: We welcome"— that is, the 19 nations of NATO— the new impetus given to the strengthening of a common European policy in security and defence for the Amsterdam Treaty and the reflections launched since then in the WEU and—following the St. Malo declaration—in the EU, including the Vienna European Council Conclusions. The next paragraph states: On the basis of the above principles and building on the Berlin decisions, we therefore stand ready to define and adopt the necessary arrangements for ready access by the European Union to the collective assets and capabilities of the Alliance, for operations in which the Alliance as a whole is not engaged militarily as an Alliance. That communiqué was backed by the United States and members of NATO, who are not all members of the EU. They signed up to it. How come it is only the British Conservative party that stands isolated again?

Mr. Maples

It is not a question of being isolated. I will come to those documents, which make it clear that what NATO agreed to, and the United States is happy about, is the development of that capability within NATO. However, what was talked about at Cologne is outside NATO and is not what was agreed at Washington or what people were happy about. The change in policy raises the concerns of the United States.

After Cologne, the German Defence Minister said: There is a single market, a single currency and an intense economic co-operation and we need something comparable in foreign and security policy. President Chirac said that the creation of a European defence identity was the next major project of European unification after the introduction of the euro.

Ambassador Vershbow said—this is the noted American caution—that It is important … that the transatlantic link not be weakened … That means avoiding … duplication of assets or discrimination against non-EU allies … We will be assessing the results of today's EU Summit in Cologne with these considerations mind. Let us consider what happened in Washington. In the new strategic concept, which is the really important document, there is only one reference to this matter, in paragraph 30, which is headed, "The European Security and Defence Identity". It clearly talks about that being within NATO, stating: On the basis of decisions taken by the Alliance, in Berlin in 1996 and subsequently, the European Security and Defence Identity will continue to be developed within NATO. My concern is that it is being developed outside NATO. We are perfectly happy about development within NATO—I have no difficulty with that. The Secretary of State quoted the communique, which is a less important document than the new strategic concept, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree.

Mr. Robertson


Mr. Maples

It is. What is more, the communiqué seems to have been drafted by someone completely different, on the hoof at the summit, as I understand that it was because some countries—Turkey in particular—had considerable misgivings about the original draft of the document.

Mr. Robertson

They agreed it.

Mr. Maples

After some redrafting. The communiqué makes it perfectly clear that development should take place within the WEU. It reaffirms our commitment—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State should listen before he crows too hard about his reading of the agreement. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State must not keep interrupting from a sedentary position.

Mr. Maples

I have no problem about that being done inside the Alliance but it is being done outside it. As the United States keeps pointing out, the mechanisms were put in place at Berlin. It wants the ESDI to be firmly anchored within NATO but what is set up at Cologne is something different. It is a European Union structure to develop a military capability outside NATO. It is a parallel and overlapping alliance—a recipe for confusion. The United States is concerned that it will act as a caucus within NATO and that EU members of NATO will meet first to decide a collective position to take to NATO. It breaks all those three Ds—discrimination, duplication and decoupling—that Mrs. Albright set out and it undermines US commitment to NATO, and for what? What is the purpose? What is the change of circumstances that led to it? It would be useful if it helped to advance British interests, but I do not believe that it does. It is all for the sake of being, in some rather intangible sense, at the heart of Europe. There is no advantage for the country, even if it makes European summits nicer for the Prime Minister.

As the Secretary of State pointed out, we are doing this in the light of what is happening in Kosovo. Surely the lesson of our military intervention there is that we are in capable of doing such things without the United States and without American military capability and leadership. The United States would love us to be able to develop more European capability, but we cannot handle Kosovo by ourselves. Of the 1,100 military aircraft that I understand have been involved in operations, 80 per cent. have been from the United States. There was no question of any aggressive ground intervention without the involvement of American troops. That decision was always going to be made in Washington. Therefore, at best, the European Union is taking a pretentious stance. Frankly, it is going to be a fantasy unless we are all prepared to spend much more on defence.

Mr. Dalyell

I have been following the hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest. What does he see as the role of the United Nations in Kosovo? Should not it have been brought in at the earliest stage specifically before any military action was taken?

Mr. Maples

I do not want to be drawn into the debate about Kosovo because we will debate that next Thursday and we have been over that ground many times. We have spent much more time on Kosovo than on the European defence identity. Furthermore, if we had waited for the United Nations to act, we would not be anywhere near a solution that would have secured Kosovo for the Kosovar Albanians.

What the EU wants to do will work only if it is prepared to spend an awful lot more on defence.

Mr. Robertson

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene as I thought that the House would want to know that the Secretary-General of NATO, Javier Solana, has announced the suspension of air strikes.

Mr. Maples

I am delighted to hear that, as is everyone else in the House, I am sure. Presumably, the next step is that the Security Council will pass a resolution and KFOR will move into Kosovo. I think that the Secretary of State was pointing out to me from his seat that a substantial British contingent is involved and we all wish them well. In some ways, the most difficult part of the Kosovo operation is about to begin. It involves danger to far more military personnel than has the air operation. They will encounter difficulties.

I was talking about defence spending. The development of a parallel military capability makes some sense if we are prepared to spend a lot of money on it. We shall have to duplicate some of what happens already in NATO in command and control structures, and intelligence satellite facilities. It will cost a lot of money. Yet, we are all cutting defence spending. The Government are cutting defence spending by roughly £1 billion over the three years of the defence review. The United Kingdom and France are the only European Union members, other than Greece and Portugal, that spend more than 2 per cent. of their GDP on defence. Germany spends only 1.5 per cent. Yet for all the ways that we might improve Europe's defence capabilities by spending more, we shall spend scarce assets on duplicating what NATO and the United States already possess and what is already available to European members of NATO under the Berlin arrangements. Therefore, it makes sense only if we spend more than it costs to cover the duplication.

Can the Secretary of State name a single European member of NATO who is planning to spend more on defence? The answer is that nobody is. We will not spend more on defence. They may be wrong, but all the political pressures are in the other direction. Everybody wants money released from defence spending because of the end of the cold war.

If we set up these parallel arrangements without spending much more money, we risk the worst of all worlds: a continuing militarily weak Europe and undermining the United States' commitment to NATO. It could be argued that we could do without the United States' commitment to NATO if we were prepared to build up a serious military force in Europe, but it cannot be argued that we can do without that commitment, unless we are prepared to build up that force. We have reached a dangerous halfway stage in this: we are undermining the American commitment to NATO and we are not building up the necessary military forces ourselves. That is a high price to pay.

At the very least, we deserve an explanation for this change of policy, which we have not had. There has been substantial bipartisan consensus on these matters since the end of the cold war and since the Labour party dropped its anti-American, CND defence policy a few years ago. Yet the Government have sacrificed that. Not only that, but they have sacrificed Britain's true interests and the transatlantic link, which is vital to our security, and they have risked undermining NATO, which has been the foundation of that security for 50 years. For what? Some transitory and illusory, weekend goodwill within the European Union.

2.33 pm
Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

First, I apologise that I cannot stay for the winding-up speeches because I will have to return to Birmingham to vote in the European elections. That brings me to a point made by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples). He said that today was an inappropriate day to choose for a debate on defence in the world, but I think that today is most appropriate because it is important to recognise that what has been happening in Europe is significant to post-world war 2 peace.

Today is the day after last night's announcement on Kosovo and the Secretary of State has just given us the latest announcement, both of which are significant. Today, we should recognise what the part that we have played in Europe has done for peace within the framework of defence.

One of my most moving experiences since I became a Member of Parliament came a few weeks ago, when I was privileged to be with the Prime Minister in Aachen when he received the Charlemagne prize. French Prime Minister Jospin gave the recommendation speech and a British Prime Minister received a significant European prize in recognition of his work on European unity and maintaining peace. It was an extremely proud moment for someone like me, who has a somewhat international background. I like to think of myself in some way as a representation of how far Europe has moved, not least because I was born near Munich and have ended up inheriting Neville Chamberlain's seat by purely democratic means. Much has been achieved by democratic, peaceful means, and through Britain's role in Europe complementing NATO, not being apart from it.

Dr. Julian Lewis

Is not the lesson to be learned from the hon. Lady's inheriting Neville Chamberlain's seat not that Europe moved in a particular direction, but that Germany became a democracy? Germany became a democracy because British democracy defeated German militarism. To put that down to Europe rather than to a victory in a war and the maintenance of an alliance in peace is misleading and unworthy of the debate.

Ms Stuart

I regret having given way. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it was the British people of Edgbaston who elected me. It had nothing to do with the German Government.

The defence debate is not about hardware. Sometimes, there is a danger that it is about boys talking about toys. We have defence to protect people. It is no good pulling faces and saying that this is some unworthy debate. Defence is about people. We have defence to protect people.

Kosovo reminded my generation, the post-war generation, that war is essentially bloody. It came as a shock to realise that, in the heart of Europe, we could still have the kind of ethnic cleansing that we thought belonged to a different age and certainly to different parts of the world. Yet it was happening right under our noses. The most distressing aspect was how we responded to it. It took quite some time before the forces pulled together. It is thanks in no small way to British leadership that we have reached the point that we have today.

Let me return quickly to my experience in Aachen. The Prime Minister gave a speech about military action in Kosovo. Some of my German and French colleagues said that no French Prime Minister or German Chancellor would have dared to make that speech. That kind of leadership and determination to keep Europe united in one force is easily underestimated here in London, where we do not realise what the Prime Minister and the British forces have achieved.

I wish to draw the attention of the House to the mainland European experience of being a refugee—something that we tend to forget in this country. Britain has not been invaded for a thousand years. We read about, and see pictures of, Kosovo and people—a whole generation—being displaced in former Yugoslavia. In a country such as Germany, virtually every family will have first-hand experience of, or—as I did—will have grown up with, stories about what it is like to be told that one has three hours to leave with only one suitcase. My generation may have been brought up, as the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon rather glibly said, in the post-war CND era. Yes, we oppose war, but we also realise that there is a place for it, and an appropriate place for it when it comes to protecting people. We are in the heart of Europe and we must play our part there constructively.

It is difficult to understand why Europe has easily accepted economic and industrial leadership—Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world—when there is reluctance to accept similar leadership for defence. In some ways, we continue to behave like dependants on the United States, when it is a partner. The hon. Gentleman rightly said that Kosovo has shown that we need the States. My conclusion from that is not that we should not go on developing European defence strategies, but that there is even more reason to develop them because we should be able to deal with any future Kosovos.

The Prime Minister's initiative in Portschach signalled the Government's determination to move in that direction. The Franco-British declaration in St. Malo took the initiative further. To say that Britain goes into these negotiations simply signing what the French and Germans dictate to them is either an extraordinary failure to understand what is going on or deliberate mischief making.

Mr. David Heath


Ms Stuart


Britain's leadership and political determination are unrivalled in the European context and are supported by the professionalism of British troops. Some 8,000 British troops stand ready to be part of the peace agreement—the largest contingent of any nation. British forces have led the way in Bosnia in ensuring that war criminals are brought to justice.

Our peacekeeping commitment is easily forgotten in talking about defence. However, defence is not just about the narrow window of warfare but about what happens afterwards, which can be more important than the immediate engagement. Britain has been leading that work. Later this year, Britain will become the first permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to sign an agreement with the United Nations to make more of our forces available for UN peace support operations.

The United Kingdom's approach has primarily involved finding practical ways to improve political and military capabilities. Our military capabilities would be inconsequential without the political framework to support them. There have been institutional changes to help us achieve that. The Secretary of State mentioned the need to take political control of military decisions. I am sure that other hon. Members will mention military hardware, but we should always remember that hardware is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Merely possessing weapons or talking about the percentage of gross domestic product spent on defence tells us little about defence, which is about protecting people and maintaining peace.

On the international co-operation required to deal with refugees, Britain has again taken the lead. The aim is to return people to their homes. It is no good throwing refugees out and dispersing them all over Europe. The aim should be what Britain has done in Kosovo by supporting the United Nations and enabling all the displaced people to return to their homes. It is also about facilitating restructuring. The post-war period and the early development of the European Community teaches us that economic reconstruction provides long-term peace.

We need to develop our European structures not in duplication of, or competition with, those of NATO but as a complement to them. Within that, participating Governments will and must retain their sovereign authority to commit or withhold their troops. To talk about a European defence strategy is not to cede sovereignty but to recognise common interests.

I commend what the Labour Government are doing on preventing conflict and arms control. We have elevated defence diplomacy and conflict prevention to one of the seven core missions of our armed forces, which underpin all our defence planning. The prevention of conflict is as vital a part of defence policy as the strategy for responding to it.

It is easy to forget the impetus that we have given to international arms control. Not only have we banned the import, export, manufacture and transfer of anti-personnel land mines in line with our manifesto commitment, we have extended the ban to cover their operational use. No British soldier on operations will ever again lay an anti-personnel land mine. That has gone hand in hand with strengthening our forces, not least by enabling them to respond quickly to any conflict as it develops.

The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), who is not in his place, accused the Secretary of State of wishing to lead Europe but not willing the means. Again, he fails to understand what has been happening in the past two years. I fundamentally disagree with his assumption. The fact is that Britain and the Prime Minister have given leadership to Europe. The professionalism of British troops, the Prime Minister's leadership during the Kosovan conflict and the way in which he carried his European partners cannot be over stressed. It is no good saying that that did not happen, because it did. France and Germany followed the lead given by the Prime Minister. No other European leader could have given that lead so successfully. I am not complacent, but we can be proud of that leadership.

I conclude with a reminder. If I have one sadness, it is that we have ended the millennium with the ethnic cleansing and conflict in Kosovo. I hope that my children will have the privilege that I have had, of which my mother, a victim of ethnic cleansing after world war 2, forcefully reminded me when I once made a derogatory remark about armed forces. She told me that I had had the privilege of never having had to wait on whether the Russian or American armed forces arrived first. My life had never depended on waiting for the armed forces, and I hope that those of my children will not do so. In the meantime, we have the responsibility of maintaining our armed forces within a European defence framework that complements, and works with, NATO, not one that thinks that Britain can, on its own without such co-operation, attain what we have achieved so far.

2.47 pm
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

I shall confine my remarks to the missile defence of Europe. My qualification for doing so is as the rapporteur on transatlantic co-operation on ballistic missile defence for the Western European Union Assembly, which unanimously adopted my second report on the subject during its December 1997 part-session. Both my reports warned that Europe was defenceless against ballistic missile attacks. That remains true.

Since then, we have had the outcome of the Government's strategic defence review. To echo the Secretary of State, it concluded that the risk to Britain from ballistic missiles of nations of concern was many years off, that we should continue to monitor the position and that we should remain in close touch with our allies. I find that complacent and alarming. As I shall explain, it contradicts the policy now adopted by the American Congress through its Missile Defence Act, which President Clinton is expected to sign into law soon.

We in western Europe have every reason to be sensitive to the need for missile defence. There has been a missile threat to Europe ever since the first cruise missile, the V1, and the first ballistic missile, the V2, were developed more than 50 years ago. In all, more than 4,300 V2s were fired and they had a disproportionate political, economic and psychological effect because of the helplessness of our air defences.

Today, such missile technology is more easily obtained than ever and has been used many times in recent years. We in Britain will never forget that two of our ships were sunk by Exocets during the Falklands war. In 1986, Italy was shaken by a Libyan missile that struck the island of Lampedusa. Beyond Europe, during one phase of the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq rained missiles on Teheran and other cities. During the Gulf war, Saddam Hussein used his strongest card to attack Israeli towns and an American base in Saudi Arabia with Scud missiles.

In March 1997, China fired four ballistic missiles into the sea near Taiwan during its presidential elections. That did not intimidate the voters, but it caused Lloyd's of London to refuse to insure any ship going to Taiwan, which damaged its economy and that of Japan. Last year, a North Korean Taepo-Dong 1 missile overflew Japan. Today, India and Pakistan are proliferating their missile capabilities, with warheads to match.

Those are recent events which we should not ignore. Missiles have been used to destroy, to threaten and to intimidate. They can affect whole economies and impact on foreign policies. Today, a growing number of third world Governments are buying or developing missiles. Such missiles are easier to man and cheaper to acquire than squadrons of fighter aircraft.

According to Lancaster university, 35 non-NATO countries have ballistic missiles, 18 of which are capable of installing nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological warheads on them. Lancaster university also estimates that 67 non-NATO countries possess cruise missiles. So any future western rapid reaction force in an out-of-area operation now needs far greater protection than was provided during Desert Storm.

Two years ago, as the new Labour Government embarked upon their defence review, it had long been appreciated that the greatest potential menace were the five rogue regimes, some of which have helped each other's missile programmes—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and North Korea. Fired from Libya, North Korean No-Dong missiles with a range of 700 miles would threaten southern Europe, while its Taepo-Dong two-stage rockets, which it is developing, would threaten all the capitals of Europe. Despite all this, the Government's strategic defence review concluded that the risks to Britain from ballistic missiles were many years off.

Since that conclusion was reached, the American Congress has responded to three reports. The Rumsfield commission report last year said that the USA and Europe could be facing a substantial threat by 2010, an assessment which some believe has already been overtaken by recent missile developments in the third world. This year's national intelligence estimate of the CIA concludes that any country, regardless of its missile development experience, could field an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015. Two weeks ago, the bipartisan committee chaired by Congressman Cox reported that China had spent the past 40 years stealing from the United States nuclear technology which it has spread to unstable regimes around the world, including those close enough to attack Britain and Europe with ballistic missiles.

It was in anticipation of the Cox report that the Clinton Administration withdrew its opposition to a Bill to build a missile defence shield against nuclear attack. It received an overwhelming 67:3 majority in the Senate, and a 3:1 vote in the House of Representatives. So, if the United States now plans to defend itself in this way, why not Europe, and why not the United Kingdom?

When the WEU Assembly debated my report on 3 December 1997, we expressed concern at the rate at which the threat to Europe appears to be accelerating and the length of time that it would take to develop an effective ballistic missile defence shield. We noted that there had been no progress whatever in developing European early warning and anti-missile defence systems. We passed unanimously recommendation 621, which urged our Council of Ministers to pursue with far greater urgency the development of a common anti-ballistic missile defence system, and European Governments to provide the budget necessary; to carry out a specifically European study of the architecture of anti-missile defence systems foreseeable in the short, medium and long term for the coverage of the continent; and to examine the possibility of co-operation with Russia over anti-missile defence.

In its reply, the Council noted that European nations were participating actively in NATO studies on extended air defence and to develop plans for theatre ballistic missile defence. That was presumably a reference to the new NATO air command and central systems which, in principle, will give Europe an initial capability to defend itself against ballistic missile attack. However, in practice, according to Jane's Defence Weekly of 28 April this year, there are no cohesive efforts under way to develop anti-missile defence for Europe.

In Europe today—unlike in the American Congress—there is no sense of urgency to respond to an accelerating threat, and about the time that it would take to respond to that threat. That complacency is now contrary to the new approach adopted by the United States. In the light of that, I urge the Government to review their review on missile defence. I hope that the Minister of State will respond to those concerns in his reply, and assure the House that the ballistic missile defence of Europe will be in place before new threats emerge.

2.56 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)

The Select Committee on Defence, of which I am a member, recently published its report on the future of NATO. There is an important case for reform of NATO. It has been somewhat overshadowed by the situation in Kosovo, but we must come back to it, especially in relation to nuclear weapons, and this debate is a good opportunity to do so.

I successfully pressed for a number of amendments to the report, which I shall run through briefly for the House. One of them called for an improvement in NATO's links with humanitarian aid agencies and for them to work together in peace support operations. Following events in Kosovo, that is now very relevant. My amendments also called for NATO member states properly to respect human rights in their own countries, and to maintain stable democracies and civilian control over their militaries.

The amended report urged restraint on NATO's out-of-area operations where there was no direct threat to NATO's interests; called on NATO to respect United Nations philosophy and ensure that any operation that it undertook was legitimate under international law; called for a strengthening of the role of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe to allow it to play a fuller part in crisis prevention and management as well as post-conflict reconciliation; contained a welcome for the French formally to re-enter NATO's integrated military system whenever they felt prepared to do so; and called for a strengthening of security co-operation between Russia and NATO, including the European countries of NATO, so that Russia was co-opted into collective security rather than adopting a narrow nationalism. The report made many recommendations in relation to Russia, such as that Russia should help its former military officers to set up small businesses. It expressed concern about anti-semitism in Russia.

I also successfully made amendments to the report concerning nuclear weapons—an issue on which I wish to concentrate most of my speech. The report called for early unconditional ratification by Russia of the START 2 nuclear disarmament treaty and rapid commencement of negotiations on a START 3 treaty between Russia, the United States and other NATO countries with nuclear weapons.

We pay tribute to Ukraine for abandoning its nuclear weapons and call for support for it in dealing with the problems of Chernobyl. We call for a new mission even-handedly to promote non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and counter-proliferation objectives. We call for restraint to avoid a new path of nuclearisation. We warn that that could happen if the United States decided to contravene the anti-ballistic missile treaty. That warning relates directly to what the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) has just said. We would be on a most dangerous path to nuclear proliferation if we went for a so-called ballistic defence approach, which would only increase the pace of a new nuclear arms race. We must, therefore, restrain ourselves—as, it is to be hoped, will the United States—from breaking the existing treaty.

I also ensured that the report gave a proper explanation of the rationale for a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. Ambassador Thomas Graham, the leader of the US delegation to the non-proliferation treaty talks four years ago, put that rationale to the Committee. He said that the world urgently needs to lower the political importance of nuclear weapons and that only the nuclear powers could do that. A first-use policy increases the perceived political importance of nuclear weapons and encourages nuclear proliferation.

Such a political approach is important in states other than those which already hold nuclear weapons, because they might develop nuclear weapons for the same reasons that we developed them. For example, India and Pakistan already give the same reasons as us for having adopted those weapons. That logic could apply to other countries.

In his evidence to the Committee, the Secretary of State referred to the new definition of deterrence when he said that uncertainty equals stability. That seems to be the new creed. However, it encourages proliferation in other states not only of nuclear weapons but of other weapons of mass destruction. Those states could claim that such weapons create uncertainty and, therefore, stability. That is not a good creed.

Ambassador Graham made a further point in relation to the argument about the political importance of nuclear weapons. He said that, at present, Russia puts a heavy emphasis on the first use of nuclear weapons, especially as its conventional forces have withered. We need to move the Russians away from that policy, but they will not even begin to move while we maintain the first-use approach. Ambassador Graham pointed out that nuclear weapons do not offer a proportional response to a non-nuclear attack—for example, one using biological or chemical weapons. Those are weapons of mass destruction, but such destruction would be significantly less than if nuclear weapons were used. The ambassador noted that, under international law, there is a doctrine of belligerent response and that international commitments are waived once there have been such attacks. His view was that a first-use policy is unnecessary and counter-productive.

At the Select Committee meeting on 17 February, I put that view to the Secretary of State, who responded with two arguments. First, he said that nuclear weapons are essentially political weapons that are to be used only in the case of last resort; to be used only in the case of national survival. Secondly, he said that a no-first-use policy could lead the other side to take actions in a conventional sense or in an asymmetric sense, (in a chemical or biological context), which would allow them to take risks knowing that there was to be no penalty for doing that. Those are crucial arguments.

I have already pointed out that such approaches apply to other countries as well and are a driver for proliferation. First use cannot be regarded as a last resort, nor is it a matter of national survival. As Ambassador Graham said, it is not a proportional response—even to chemical or biological weapons. However deadly those weapons may be, they do not threaten national survival. In any case, they are covered by the belligerent-response provision in the international arrangements. If we take the approach of getting in first, that is immensely dangerous; it is the attitude of a Dr. Strangelove.

There seems to be a fear of a massive first strike, but that would be phenomenally risky, whoever undertook it—whether or not there was a first-use policy. Theoretically, it could happen in either case. Getting in first is more likely if there are huge arsenals of nuclear weapons, mistrust and first-use policies on both sides. A no-first-use policy would make that less likely, because it would put pressure on other countries, such as Russia, to agree to the same policy.

In relation to the Secretary of State's point that countries could use asymmetrical weapons—chemical and biological weapons—without penalty, there is indeed a penalty. We have only to consider Iraq to see that there is an enormous penalty for that country's flirtation with chemical weapons. Iraq is suffering a phenomenally heavy penalty and that fact will not be lost on other countries. The belligerent-response doctrine also applies in that case. A no-first-use policy would help to ensure that everyone signed up to internationally agreed treaties on chemical and biological weapons, with proper inspection. As Ambassador Graham pointed out, first- use policies make that much harder to achieve. We need to lessen the political importance of nuclear weapons, but the UK Government and other NATO Governments appear to have no strategy for doing so.

In its response to the strategic defence review report, the Select Committee noted: We regret that there has been no restatement of nuclear policy since the speech of the then Secretary of State in 1993; the SDR does not provide a new statement of the government's nuclear deterrent posture in the present strategic situation within which the sub-strategic role of Trident could be clarified. We recommend the clarification of both the UK's strategic and sub-strategic nuclear policy. The Government's response to the Select Committee on 19 May was the same, word for word, as that given by NATO in its press communiqué "The Alliance's Strategic Concept", NAC-S(99)65; clearly, it must have been written by British civil servants at the Ministry of Defence. The communiqué stated: The fundamental purpose of the nuclear forces of the Allies is political: to preserve peace and prevent coercion and any kind of war. It continued: They demonstrate that aggression of any kind is not a rational option. That was said at the Washington summit—presumably thanks to those British civil servants. Well, tell that to the Serbs; nuclear weapons certainly did not put them off aggression. That shows how poorly thought-out is our whole current approach to nuclear weapons.

We received an assurance from the Secretary of State that he would consider the meaning of that sub-strategic role. It means lowering the threshold—that nuclear weapons might be used. However, the Secretary of State came up with an answer: The purpose of our nuclear forces is to deter aggression against the United Kingdom or its Allies. The Strategic Defence Review confirmed that, in addition to its strategic deterrent role, Trident would also perform the sub-strategic nuclear role, formerly assigned to RAF Tornado aircraft. A sub-strategic element is an essential component of a nuclear deterrent policy. In extreme circumstances of self defence, a capability for the more limited use of nuclear weapons would allow us to signal to an aggressor that he has miscalculated our resolve, without using the full destructive power that Trident offers.—[Official Report, 26 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 433.] What a strategy that is—one in which there can somehow be light use of nuclear weapons. That seems to be a contradiction. That strategy—the sub-strategic use of nuclear weapons—is to be used against another nuclear weapons state. Let us turn it around: if someone dropped light sub-strategic nuclear weapons for us for the same reason—to deter us from aggression—what would our response be? Would we accept it, or would a nuclear exchange be likely? That shows how ill-thought-out the policy is. Even if the circumstances are truly extreme, why not have a no-first-use policy? We cannot use nuclear weapons sub-strategically as the Government pretend. For example, can India and Pakistan use nuclear weapons sub-strategically?

Dr. Julian Lewis

I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's long and consistent commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament by this country, but let me give an example that shows that matters are not as simple as he thinks. Imagine two nuclear powers, one of which has the capability only to retaliate using large strategic nuclear weapons against cities, and the other the capability to initiate a much more precise and accurate attack against troop and military formations. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, unless the systems are balanced, there is a danger that one of those nuclear powers might think, wrongly, that it could attack troop concentrations with impunity, because the other side would not retaliate in the only way that it could, against cities, and thus risk losing cities in return? The situation is not as simple as he suggests.

Mr. Cohen

The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. The lesson of Kosovo is that a response is more likely if troops suffer, so nuclear exchange is more, not less, likely if we start to nuke troops. The hon. Gentleman's argument seems to be in favour of bombing a non-city area. Where is his constituency? It is not in London, is it?

Dr. Lewis

New Forest, East.

Mr. Cohen

Exactly. If the Russians bombed the New Forest as a sub-strategic warning, what does the hon. Gentleman think the Government's response should be? That shows the nonsense of his argument.

I refer the House to a parliamentary briefing from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which makes a series of points about disarmament negotiations: basically, such negotiations are all stuck. The briefing refers to the conference on disarmament in Geneva, the CD. It states: After almost four months of negotiation the CD has still failed to agree a work programme for its current session and, as a result, has failed to begin negotiation of a Fissile Material Treaty (FMT) i.e. a treaty that would ban the production and use of the two crucial nuclear explosives—plutonium and highly enriched uranium—that make up nuclear weapons. The Government say they are in favour of a fissile material treaty, but negotiations are being blocked in Geneva.

The briefing goes on to talk about five proposals: The South African proposal for an Ad-Hoc Committee to 'deliberate upon practical steps for systematic and progressive efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons as well as to identify if and when one or more such steps should be the subject of negotiations in the conference'. The Egyptian proposal to 'commence negotiations on a phased programme of nuclear disarmament with the objective of the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.' The Belgian proposal (supported by Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Norway) to establish an Ad-Hoc Working Group to 'study ways and means of establishing an exchange of information and views within the Conference on endeavours towards nuclear disarmament'. The Canadian proposal to establish an Ad-Hoc Committee for 'the substantive discussion of nuclear disarmament issues with a view to identifying if and when one or more such issues might be negotiated multilaterally'. The G-21 proposal (proposed on their behalf by Cuba) for an Ad-Hoc Committee on Nuclear Disarmament to 'start negotiations on a phased programme for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons within a specified framework of time, including a nuclear weapon convention'. None of those proposals meets with the favour of the Governments of the UK, the United States and France, who have suggested merely that: the President of the CD consults 'on ways and means of establishing an exchange of information and views … by holding informal, open-ended consultations … by consulting with delegations' and other such means. Presumably, all that can be done at any time. There is no practical programme of action, nor even a programme for a programme of action. That follows two years in which nothing was achieved except agreement that negotiations could begin in 1999 on a fissile material treaty.

CND states: The CD has negotiated all the major multilateral international arms control agreements to date and is the only UN body that has a mandate to negotiate and agree such agreements. If it cannot agree a means to begin the process of ridding the world of nucluar weapons then no one can. The CND report concludes: without a fully implemented Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, without an FMT, with the CD in deadlock and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty lacking any future direction, no hope of START II ever being ratified and no prospect of START III being agreed and NATO re-emphasising the importance of NATO retaining nuclear weapons as an essential part of their military structure, one has to conclude that there is no hope whatsoever currently of achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. Whatever window of opportunity existed upon the end of the Cold War has now firmly been slammed shut and the deadlocks and bars been put in place. The UK Government in their strategic defence review report, and NATO in its Washington press release on the deliberations on its strategic concept, shirk the issues of nuclear weapons reduction and seriously attempting to stop nuclear proliferation. That do-nothing approach does not mean that the status quo will last for ever. Instead, proliferation drives us down the road of shirking action—for example, when India, Pakistan and other countries develop nuclear weapons—and of increasing military intervention, albeit only when it suits us. That makes for a far more dangerous world. Defence in the world is not helped by the current nuclear weapons policy. The Government must return to the subject seriously and with a will.

3.17 pm
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I am sorry to be unable to apologise to the Secretary of State in person for not having been here for the beginning of his speech. I was detained representing Parliament on the political committee of the Western European Union in Paris, in which we discussed many of the matters that have been raised this afternoon. I would have apologised to the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) if I had missed his speech as well, but I was fortunate enough—if that is the right expression—to be present to hear it.

It is disappointing that today—European election day—has been chosen for the debate. To hold those elections today was not a sudden impulse—we have known for some years when they were coming—yet the debate was scheduled on 24 March, despite there being time and flexibility enough in our timetable to have it on another day. For it to be held on a day when so many Members are distracted with other matters is a great disappointment to the House and to Members unfortunate enough to be unable to attend. I am sure that there will be no repetition in future and that lessons have been learned.

The debate gives us an opportunity to discuss many matters, but hon. Members who have already referred to Kosovo will not blame me for expressing my thoughts on that subject as well. The Secretary of State brought us the good news which will be universally welcomed, that the Secretary-General of NATO has ordered that bombing should stop. I hope that it is the first of many steps to establish a lasting peace, but achieving that end will probably involve a campaign far more difficult than the 10-week air war carried out over the former Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, we should give a big vote of thanks to the men and women of our armed forces who have done so much, both in the air and on the ground, to bring about what has so far been achieved. We should not forget the enormous commitment of our service men and women to alleviating the plight of refugees in Macedonia, Albania and elsewhere in the region.

I also offer my compliments—I am sorry that Conservative Members do not feel able to do likewise—to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Defence. [Interruption.] I understand that Opposition Members congratulated them last night, but I think it is nice to thank them again today. They have played an important role in showing the determination and leadership that was sorely lacking in some aspects of the run-up to the campaign against Serbia. We can learn many lessons from this action, not least regarding the lack of military intelligence before and during the campaign.

It appears that few people had any informed knowledge about the reaction of, first, the Serbians and, secondly, Milosevic. No one seemed to grasp his difficult personality and the likely outcome of a bombing campaign against him. We slipped up badly in that area. I am sure that committees throughout NATO and the Parliaments of countries involved in the campaign will be quick to seize the opportunity to learn those lessons and take steps to clarify those matters for the future.

I believe the Prime Minister had to play a leadership role because, on this occasion, the White House showed, at best, slow leadership and, at worst, no leadership. Someone had to give the people of Kosovo and the surrounding area some confidence that there would be an effective response. It was clear to many of us that we had delayed intervention to the point where people would suffer needlessly. I am sure that the failure to provide proper leadership was instrumental in prolonging the air war—and many people suffered as a consequence. I hope that we have learned that strong, firm and determined leadership is necessary. We must give confidence to those men and women whose lives are put on the line by the actions of politicians.

As hon. Members have said, we have won the air war in Kosovo. However, I hope that we are prepared for the real job of winning the peace. We were not prepared for an air war of 10 weeks' duration; I do not believe that anyone in the Ministry of Defence or NATO genuinely believed that it would take that long. I hope that winning the peace will not involve short-term solutions. People should not believe that peace will be won quickly. We must learn some real lessons from the situation in Bosnia. Those who have visited Bosnia recently will be aware of the fragility of that nation. The fabric of Bosnian society would collapse quickly if the troops were withdrawn. The only thing holding that country together is the international community's commitment to keeping troops on the ground.

Mr. Dalyell

Having stayed with his national service regiment in Bosnia for three days last year, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the idea of leaving that country without full military capacity is unthinkable? It is one thing to commit troops, but a completely different matter to pull them out. I did not support the commitment of troops to Bosnia in the first place, but for the life of me I do not see how, morally, we can pull out in the foreseeable future—by which I mean in my lifetime.

Mr. Hancock

Sadly, I think the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: I cannot conceive of a situation in which it would be either easy or desirable to pull troops out of Bosnia. That outcome could be considered only if some firm democratic framework were established that would give that country's democratic processes some depth. There is no evidence that that is happening: the three communities in Bosnia are as divided today as they were when the fighting stopped. We have the ability to hold the peace in Bosnia and, unfortunately, we will have to repeat that exercise in Kosovo.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

I am slightly mystified by the hon. Gentleman's comments. How does he explain the fact that the Muslim and Christian communities in Bosnia lived together fairly peacefully for some 300 years until Mr. Milosevic turned up? Does the hon. Gentleman think Mr. Milosevic has had no impact on the situation in the past decade? Did he not start the trouble—and learn the error of his ways only recently?

Mr. Hancock

No one dissents from that point of view, but realistically, nobody else is in a position to finish what Milosevic has started. It will take more than a generation to rebuild and bring the communities together. We are mistaken to believe that the mischief perpetrated is the work of a one-man band. There is no evidence to suggest that Milosevic's removal will not be followed by the arrival of Milosevic mark 2. I would like to see the abundant evidence—some hon. Members seem to think it exists—that points to the conclusion that the removal of Milosevic will bring enlightenment to Serbia and peace to the entire region. I doubt it.

Real pain and suffering will continue to be experienced by the next generation to be born and raised in that region. Sadly, Milosevic's legacy will extend well into the next millennium. The 300 years of peace and harmony to which the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) referred have been torn apart by less than a decade of mischief and evil. We have paid a high price for the tolerance that we—among others—showed to the Milosevic regime over the past 10 years. As a community, we should have taken a firmer hand with Milosevic over Croatia and Slovenia.

We owe a debt of gratitude to those in the region who have stood by us. We must help to rebuild and stabilise the shaky fabric of democracy in Macedonia. If we fail to do so, we may have a real problem on our hands. I do not believe the KLA will be an easy force to reckon with. I share the view expressed by others in this House and elsewhere in Europe that, if there is a real attempt to disarm the KLA, that force will fight United Nations soldiers. That is a real possibility. I do not believe that it will be easy to disarm, with Tornados and Harriers, KLA troops holding Kalashnikovs. The troops on the ground will have to remove those weapons physically.

The KLA soldiers will not go home quietly—I have said that in the House before. I met three different KLA groups on three separate occasions and I am far from convinced that the KLA' s ambitions are aimed at a free and autonomous Kosovo. Many of the KLA soldiers to whom I spoke came not from Kosovo but from Albania and are fighting for a greater Albania—which includes the whole of Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and part of Montenegro. They will not settle for second best: they are armed and they are on a roll. It will be enormously difficult to contain the aspirations of the KLA.

It will also be difficult to handle the payback issue in Kosovo. We cannot ignore that fact. I do not envy those men and women in the British and United Nations forces whose task it will be to police Kosovo. That is a thankless job that will continue for 10 years or more. Just look at our experiences in Cyprus: 25 years later, United Nations garrisons are still keeping the communities apart.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the short-term solution in Bosnia has already become a long-term solution? The overstretch of British troops is such that the European Community needs to devote more resources to supporting operations in Bosnia and in Kosovo.

Mr. Hancock

I agree. This morning, I attended a meeting in Paris of the political committee of the Western European Union at which members from Italy and France suggested that it would take 2 per cent. of the gross domestic product of all the NATO countries to rebuild Kosovo and Serbia and to restore what we have knocked down in Montenegro. Does anyone believe that such expense would be an easy proposition to make to this House, let alone other Parliaments in Europe? It is reckoned that such a commitment will be necessary not only to keep the peace but to rebuild those areas so that people can go back to them. We shall realise the extent of the damage only when our troops have gone in.

We must consider past experience. Sadly, there are refugees who have spent over 40 years in camps in Palestine. Cyprus has been divided for 25 years, and there is still a huge UN commitment to the island. We need to learn lessons from that, and we must try to build communities and bring them together.

That brings me to the role of the WEU and the Council of Europe. If ever there were a missed opportunity for two organisations to take action, it was the situation in Kosovo over the past 12 months. If the Council of Europe and the WEU had been able to work together, perhaps with NATO's support, and had got to grips with some of the issues, we might not have the result that we have today. Certainly, there must be a role for those organisations in the future, and they need to find that role.

We must consider the small-scale experience of the Multinational Advisory Police Element, made up of the police forces of 21 countries, which is currently operating in Albania and is about to be expanded. That police force is making a determined effort, against all the odds, to bring some semblance of order to the Albanian police force. The task is difficult and, some might say, bizarre, considering the sad state of some of the Albanian police force and its practices in the past.

I have a constituent who has a distinguished war record and was highly decorated for his services in Yugoslavia. I refer to Sir Alfred Blake, former Lord Mayor of Portsmouth and a marine commander, who, for a sizeable chunk of the second world war, fought with Tito and his partisans. He explained to me the difficult and complex nature of the region's people—not only the Serbs, but others—the difficult terrain, the problems of trying to get people to work together and the fragile nature of the operation. Why did not, or could not, our military intelligence—I refer not only to the UK, but to NATO—give us better information about targets and the personalities that we had to deal with?

When we consider what is happening to our defence expenditure, we notice that significant changes and slippages are already occurring. Coming from Portsmouth as I do, I have asked a number of questions about the Royal Navy. It is interesting that there has already been a slow but determined effort to retard or cancel scheme after scheme. That is obviously a disappointment. When one considers those schemes individually, one might think that there are good reasons for cancelling them, but when one considers them collectively, one begins to wonder whether a trend is emerging. Developments that were made two years ago are beginning to slip away and some schemes have been dropped altogether. Some schemes for updating ships will be put on hold for such a long time that they will no longer be practical. I hope that the Select Committee on Defence will consider those issues in the near future.

We have an opportunity today to discuss wider defence issues, and there is a significant trend in defence expenditure that leads me to believe that all three arms of our armed forces are experiencing a drop-back in procurement. Despite the best efforts of Ministers and the assurances made in the House by the Secretary of State, the Minister for the Armed Forces and the Under-Secretary, we are not yet doing enough to retain and recruit the service men and women that we desperately need.pa We have a number of continuing commitments. The Secretary of State rightly referred in his speech to some of the on-going roles fulfilled by our service men and women. We should not forget that we still have a significant garrison in the Falklands which requires a considerable sum from our defence budget. I am glad, however, that we now have a more realistic approach to the islands' south American neighbours. I hope that we are learning that greater friendliness and co-operation will, in the long term, lead to a better future for the people in the Falkland Islands and, possibly, faster progress in reducing our defence commitment to the islands.

Gibraltar has, once again, proved that it is a vital part of our defence interests. It has played a role on two or three occasions in the past couple of years. We need to continue to make a strong stand against our colleagues in Spain to ensure that they do not put undue pressure on Gibraltar. We must continue to assure the people of Gibraltar that we support their view.

It is clear that we shall continue to use the bases in Cyprus for a long time to come. The two sovereign bases have served this nation well. They are home to several thousand service men and women and their families, and I cannot believe that there could be a rundown of those bases.

In Germany, we have a slightly different problem. The rundown of our forces there has caused problems in my area of Hampshire because men and their families have been returned and are experiencing pressures. I should like the Government to demonstrate greater commitment to making sure that those families' needs are better met than at present. The Secretary of State mentioned the Royal Navy's continuing role in combating drugs in south America and the Caribbean. He was right to congratulate the captain and crew of HMS Marlborough on their work.

Such roles give rise to a number of issues but, like Kosovo and Bosnia, they provoke questions about overstretch and the resulting problems for various elements of our armed forces. The "Partnership for Peace" is excellent, and we need to build on it. It brings together people who are currently outside the NATO family. There is a greater need for our people to work with them, but the simple fact of co-operating with countries such as the Ukraine means that service men will spend time there working with the people on exercises and planning. That, too, puts pressure on their units, and overstretch causes many problems.

The House is somewhat depleted, but I am sure that most hon. Members who are present will want to speak, so I shall try not to delay the House too long. However, I want to address the moral obligations that the Ministry of Defence has on four key issues that have existed for a long time. One has been around for nearly 50 years, and I hope that, when the Under-Secretary replies to the debate, he will at least offer some light at the end of what is a very long tunnel.

The first issue is the way in which we have responded to the problems of our nuclear test veterans. I read with interest recently that the Government will make payments to the Fijian Government so that they can compensate their service men who were involved in those tests. I represent a substantial number of ex-service men who went through those tests. Sadly, their number is being depleted because many have become ill and died. Their claim for justice has still not been answered, and our lack of consideration of that issue is a stain on this country's character.

The second issue, for which many hon. Members have fought long and hard, is the treatment of members of the armed forces and their civilian workers who worked with asbestos. Not a day goes by without an inquest into the death of somebody in Greater Portsmouth being reported in the local newspaper, under headlines such as "Civilian Worker in Her Majesty's Dockyard Dies of Asbestos-Related Illnesses"—illnesses which were contracted mostly when delagging warships in the 1950s and 1960s. Sadly, that issue still has not been addressed. If it was right to give national recognition to miners' claims for illnesses that caused them so much distress, surely it is right to do the same for those in the defence industry.

Thirdly, we must continue pressure on the Government to speed up the resolution of problems concerning the illnesses of Gulf war veterans. Fourthly, the MOD must end, once and for all, the barbaric practice of experimenting on animals, whether by shooting bullets into pigs or putting goats into decompression chambers and increasing the pressure until they die. Most people would think that the MOD could have long done without such practices. I hope that those four points, which are major issues to many people, will be addressed.

I take this opportunity, as I am sure other hon. Members will, to thank the reserve forces for their work. It is still not too late for the MOD to recognise the vital role that they have not only played but will yet have to play in Kosovo for a long time to come. I am sure that there are some—even among the three Ministers—in the MOD who feel a twinge of conscience and are willing to think again on the issue.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk)


Mr. Hancock

The hon. Gentleman, who is wearing some spectacular House of Commons socks, says that he does not think so. I would be a little more generous. Perhaps he needs to pull his socks up.

Mr. Simpson

Is the hon. Gentleman a candidate?

Mr. Hancock

No; my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) and I are the only two who have not signed up for the campaign trail.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar)

There is still time.

Mr. Hancock

Sadly, for me, that time has long passed.

We have armed forces of which the whole nation can be very proud. Their commitment is unquestionable. We should thank them, but more importantly, we should ensure that, in their endeavours, they have not just the full support of this House but leadership in government that convinces them that the Government are on their side. On all occasions when asked, on issues across the world, they have been on our side—the right side.

3.42 pm
Mr. John Healey (Wentworth)

I should first apologise to both Front-Bench teams, as election commitments in my constituency may mean that I will be unable to stay for the winding-up speeches.

I cannot avoid paying tribute to the unshakeable determination of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues in their campaign to force Milosevic to back down and to prevent the Serbian capacity committing atrocities in the region. We have grown used to the chilling phrase "ethnic cleansing", but my fear is that it is a euphemism and that, as Serbian troops pull out and ours go in, evidence will emerge to reinforce our sense of rightness in the campaign over recent months.

Nevertheless, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we face a formidable task truly to settle the situation in Kosovo. During business questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said that it may take five years to be certain that the military action has achieved its long-term aim. I fear that that may be true, although it is also surely true that the military technical agreement signed last night is a very welcome and important step towards that long-term aim. The signing of that agreement is a major military and political vindication of the action that the Government and NATO have taken in recent months.

I also pay tribute to the soldiers, aircrews and ground crews who have carried out the campaign—some from my constituency and many others from elsewhere in South Yorkshire—as well as to the armed forces and aid agencies that have dealt with so many traumatised refugees in and around the Balkans. Britain, one must remember, has been one of the largest and most active donors in the effort to improve the provision of humanitarian relief for the refugees. The Government's aim of directing the humanitarian effort, in order that the refugees are helped to stay in the region until they are able to return to their homes, is surely right. As a Government, we have committed more than £40 million to that effort, and more will clearly need to be done.

It is obviously right that, if possible, the refugees should remain in the region before returning home, although I welcomed the recent commitment of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to beef up the United Kingdom's commitment to take refugees who needed to leave the region. I extend a welcome, as many are in Rotherham, to the first refugees from Kosovo who are due to arrive there next week.

It is clearly right that Kosovo has dominated any discussion on, or attention to, military issues in recent months. To that extent, today's debate is a welcome opportunity to reintroduce some of the wider perspectives that the House must consider. In doing so, British forces could truly be said to be a force for good in the world at present. The British armed forces have a proud tradition of promoting peace and stability; Kosovo is just the latest example of it.

In Bosnia, our British forces led the way in trying to bring suspected war criminals to justice. In Iraq several years before, Britain, in concert with the United States, led efforts to contain Saddam Hussein. Royal Air Force pilots of course still protect Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq. The proud tradition extends beyond the previous decade. For more than 40 years during the cold war, British forces were committed to the defence of Europe, and stationed in Europe to undertake that responsibility.

British armed forces have a vital role to play in promoting peace and stability throughout the world, particularly Europe, as they do in peacekeeping and peace-support operations. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) pointed out, later this year, Britain is due to sign an agreement with the United Nations to make more of our forces, including all our rapid-reaction troops, available for UN peace-support operations. Should we sign that agreement, we are set to become the first permanent member of the UN Security Council to do so, thereby giving a lead to others.

NATO has obviously played the lead role in Kosovo, but we need to beef up the UN's capacity to play a leading role in future peacekeeping operations, to carry out the so-called Petersberg principles of humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping, peace-making and, of course, crisis management.

It is fair to say that the new Labour Government have put new emphasis on our armed forces' role in conflict-prevention. That was made tangible by designating one of our armed forces' seven key missions as defence diplomacy and conflict prevention—core missions and responsibilities that underpin defence planning now and in future.

The second way in which the Government have put added emphasis on the role of our armed forces in conflict prevention has been in aiming to realise the aspirations of the commitment of EU states to a common foreign and security policy, on which the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) dwelt so long. I remind him that the CFSP originated under the 1992 Maastricht treaty, which was signed by the Government of whom he was a member. That treaty pointed to the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which was given further impetus in 1997 by the Amsterdam treaty, and added impetus more recently in Cologne.

It seems to me that the aim on the European front should be to reinforce the capacity of European states to act together in pursuing foreign policy and security interests. The Secretary of State underlined that in his opening address when he said that he was determined that the European Union should play a full role on the international stage.

The elements that require further development are fairly clear. We need to develop more common policies, more effective decision-making procedures, shared access to military advice, planning and intelligence, and better political control of the strategic direction when we are involved in crisis-management operations. Above all, we need a stronger European defence capability for use within a NATO, a European Union or a UN framework.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon, whom I welcome back to his seat, said several times that he was concerned about the military resources likely to be required should a common European approach be developed further. It is a startling fact that the European members of NATO collectively now spend two thirds as much as America on defence, yet can only project a small fraction of America's military capability beyond their borders. European taxpayers are much more likely to get better value from their defence budgets if their Governments and armed forces can work more closely together.

It may be common sense to share resources and strengthen co-operation in that way, but it is certainly not straightforward. Recent experience in the Balkans has proved difficult, and has provided a learning experience for many European states concerning the difficulties of pooling efforts to prepare and deploy peace support operations beyond our borders. Thirty European states contribute to SFOR, and an unknown number will contribute to the KFOR operation in the coming months.

I am under no illusions about the fact that the military involvement of European states will be essential in the Balkans, and will continue to be essential for the foreseeable future. I am also under no illusions about the fact that developing a common foreign and security capacity will be complex and protracted, and will involve dealing with some of the difficulties that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon set out. Surely, however, that is the right way to go.

There is also the broader area of personnel matters associated with the future of our armed forces and their operation and deployment in the United Kingdom and overseas. Clearly, the extent of our overseas commitments is placing considerable strain on our armed forces, as I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister would concede.

In that context, the major recruitment drive that the Government have recently launched across all three services is welcome, as is the emphasis on quality rather than quantity, and the drive to recruit more women and black and other ethnic minority service personnel. As the Secretary of State pointed out, that will lead to an increase of 3,300 personnel in the Army. The extra personnel will be directed to tackling some of the present shortfall in front-line troops.

May I also direct my hon. Friend's attention to early-day motion 585, which has now been signed by 96 Members from both sides of the House, about the International Labour Organisation convention on child soldiers. The Government have been involved this month in the ILO discussions on a new convention that will prohibit the employment of children under 18 in most hazardous forms of labour—and clearly, armed conflict is one of the most hazardous forms of labour that one could imagine.

Although recruiting young soldiers for our armed forces is right, I urge the Minister and his colleagues in the Department to consider seriously the case for not deploying service personnel under 18 in battle zones, thereby supporting the new ILO convention.

I also urge my hon. Friend to give extra emphasis to the new learning forces initiative that has recently been introduced, which offers new opportunities for service personnel to gain accredited qualifications while serving. That will achieve two things. It will help to boost recruitment and retention in the armed forces, but equally, it will help to equip personnel who wish to leave the forces to return to civilian life.

Members of Parliament, especially those who represent areas such as mine with deep-seated high unemployment, will be familiar with the situation of constituents who, having served in our armed forces for five, eight, 10 or even 12 years, return to their home areas ill equipped to take the opportunities that may exist, and unskilled for the sort of civilian jobs available—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Healey), but will the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) contain himself?

Mr. Healey

I welcome a further initiative that the Department has introduced recently—the veterans advice unit. That will act as a single point of contact to which ex-service personnel can turn for advice or information on any matter that they wish.

That is an important step, and will provide a service for ex-service personnel across the board. In that context, may I gently urge my hon. Friend to think about the fact that we should show the same respect and recognition to those who served in the Suez canal zone in the 1950s as we do to those who have served in the Balkans in the 1990s?

3.57 pm
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

I shall begin by referring briefly to Kosovo, because, although this is a debate on a wider subject—defence in the world—much reference has been made to Kosovo, and we can use it as a useful starting point from which to draw some wider lessons. The significance of the Kosovo campaign has been that the House has had to consider how to react as a democracy in peacetime to the resurfacing of the sort of barbarism that it had been thought had been finally defeated earlier this century.

The alliances in favour of, and against, taking military action in Kosovo cut across the usual alignments of party politics. Those of us who supported taking military action at an early stage were disappointed that the Government unnecessarily stated, right at the beginning, that there would be no use of ground forces in an opposed environment.

That sent a signal to Milosevic that that was one major threat that he need not fear. It was a mistake by the Government to send that signal, and it was a mistake by my party to endorse it. I know why the signal was sent: it was because we live in an age in which we fight wars in the full glare of media coverage.

We know that, on previous occasions, the military burden has been gigantically greater on this country. Casualties have run into tens of thousands in a given battle, and millions for all participants over the period of a war. Yet that has been accepted because, during those extreme circumstances, draconian methods of censorship, and to a considerable extent self-censorship, apply. We have only to consider the preparations that were made in southern England before the Normandy landings. Areas in the south of the country were closed for access. They were hermetically secured and there was no way in which the normal rights of civilians in towns and villages in southern England were being preserved.

That was a strange paradox for a democracy. A democracy hates to adopt the methods of the dictators whom it is trying to defeat. Yet, if it is to defeat those dictators, it will have to adopt at least some of their methods. Sir Karl Popper summed up this problem in what he called "the paradox of tolerance", which holds that we must tolerate all but the intolerant—because, if we tolerate the intolerant, the conditions for tolerance disappear and the tolerant go with them. In other words, to a considerable extent, we have to fight fire with fire.

I was pleased that the Government gradually withdrew from the unwise commitment that had been given at the outset not to use ground forces, if necessary, to defeat Milosevic. Assuming that everything works out to plan, that the campaign has come to an end at this stage and democracy is restored in the area concerned—it may be many years after all that has happened when we have access to the documentation, the archives, the considerations, and the intelligence appreciations on which the conflict was eventually decided—I believe that we shall discover that two elements, in addition to the proper use of air power in context as part of a campaign, proved to be decisive. Those two elements, as I indicated briefly last night in response to the Secretary of State's statement, were the involvement of the Russians and the covert threat that, after all, ground forces would be deployed if Milosevic did not comply.

It is worth considering what the outcome would have been if there had been no way of obtaining Russian acquiescence in forcing the Serbs to back down. The outcome could have been very different. It is important that we do not draw from this episode the false conclusion that, whenever trouble arises, whenever dirty deeds, murders and ethnic cleansing, for example, face the democracies of Europe in future, we need only send a few score bombers to bomb the offender. I think that that will be proven in time not to have been sufficient by itself.

I have been surprised at the readiness with which commentators such as John Keegan, a distinguished military historian, have been prepared to say, "I was wrong. I said that bombing alone would not work and it has worked." Perhaps some people are better historians than they are contemporary analysts. Let us wait until the John Keegans of the future have access to the archives and the materials on which proper history can be written. I think it will be found that the diplomatic triumph of getting the Russians on side and the killer threat of ground forces being deployed—if necessary—against armed opposition, made Milosevic surrender in the end.

I shall move on from Kosovo. As has been said, the consideration of wider defence problems has been stymied to a considerable degree by the natural tendency to focus upon the crisis in the Balkans. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, on a masterly analysis of the risks that face us with the creation of a European common foreign and security policy and defence arrangements that will cut across the defence arrangements which have served us so well in NATO.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who is no longer in her place, took pride in the award of the Charlemagne prize to the Prime Minister at the hands of Lionel Jospin, the French premier, in Aachen in May. I took the liberty of leaving the Chamber for a few moments to retrieve the press cutting that I remembered of that occasion. There was something that I knew I wanted to lay before the House and I could not rely on remembering it accurately enough if I did not make a check. I am glad that I took the trouble to check. I now know what it was that so jarred when I listened to the hon. Lady. It was the inscription on the medal presented to the Prime Minister. It read, "Peace and Merger in Europe". Unfortunately, I fear that that is being lined up for this country.

Imagine what the effect would have been if the United Kingdom had been merged with a united Europe in many of the wars gone by. We would have been forced to abandon the geographical defence advantages that our country, being an island, has conferred upon us. The arrival of a defence set-up in Europe would mean that, if we disagreed with a majority of our fellow European partners on a defence policy to face down aggression or to respond to a threat, we would be overruled. That would have led in the past to a situation where our salvation and the subsequent salvation of occupied states in Europe could never have been achieved.

I was struck by the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) earlier in the debate about ballistic missile defence. I have been impressed by the fact that my hon. Friend is never afraid to be something of a lone voice or something of a prophet. Some would even say that he is a something a Cassandra. I remember previously listening to him stressing to the House time and again the dangers of the millennium bug. At one stage, he was a voice in the wilderness. However, everyone believes in the millennium bug now. My hon. Friend has moved on and has turned his attention to possible future problems arising from our lack of ballistic missile defence, and the danger that guided missiles could be used to wreak destruction with no protection for this country. Perhaps it could be speculated that the advent of the millennium bug will save this country from the use of ballistic missiles against it. Perhaps after the year 2000, they will not function properly. However, I should not like to gamble with our future security purely on that basis.

Mr. David Atkinson

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. Is he aware of the report in The Daily Telegraph recently which quoted an American defence official who warned that if Saddam Hussein wanted to send a missile to Europe, 1 January—the next new year—would be the day to do so?

Dr. Lewis

No, I was not aware of that report, but the example of Saddam Hussein is apposite. The point about ballistic missile defence is that it can be applied in three very different contexts.

The first context is that to which my hon. Friend alluded when he referred to the V1 and the V2. The V1, as he rightly pointed out, was the first cruise missile, and the V2 was the first ballistic missile. This country had no physical means of defence against the V2. Although it was possible to create counter-measures against the flying bomb—the V1—it was impossible to do anything against the V2, other than to use deception measures to convince the Germans that they were overshooting the targets when they were falling short, and thus to persuade them to shorten the range still further.

If one can develop a defence against conventionally armed missiles, one will proportionately reduce the weight of the attack. What that means in ordinary language is that, if one can knock down 70 or 80 per cent. of those incoming missiles, one will reduce the damage to one's country by 70 or 80 per cent. However, the situation gets more complicated in the era of weapons of mass destruction, whether nuclear or biological. Under those circumstances it is not good enough to knock down 70 or 80 per cent., because if 20 or 30 per cent. get through, the devastation will be equivalent to total annihilation.

There is therefore another circumstance in which ballistic missile defence is valuable, and a third circumstance in which it is of no value whatever. Ballistic missile defence in the mass destruction era is valuable if the aggressor has at his disposal only a small number of nuclear or biological weapons. Because he does not have anything like an overkill capability, it is worth being able to counter as many of the incoming missiles as possible, as there is a chance of knocking out of the equation all those that would otherwise get through, or at least making a significant difference to the level of damage that the country would suffer.

However, against a super-power equipped with hundreds or even thousands of weapons of mass destruction, it is living in a fool's paradise to believe that ballistic missile defence can save one's country from destruction. In a way, that is a good thing. I have always been a believer in nuclear deterrence. I have always supported our national policy of minimum nuclear deterrence.

That policy depends on the very fact that, once one has the ability to retaliate against an aggressor by replying with 50 or 100 nuclear warheads that will reliably reach their targets, it does not matter whether the aggressor has many thousands of nuclear warheads with which to threaten his victim. Precisely because a relatively small proportion of nuclear warheads getting through in retaliation is all that is required to inflict unacceptable damage on an aggressor, his overkill capability is worthless, meaningless and of no value except perhaps political—certainly, of no strategic significance.

The Secretary of State said that people should not forget the Government before this. Nor, in my view, should people forget the Opposition before this. Who would have dreamed 10 years ago that we would find ourselves with a Labour Government who had, rightly and apparently successfully, stood up to military aggression on a point of principle, as I said in the Kosovo debate the other week, because we were not prepared to see innocent people being murdered and brutalised? Who would have thought that a Government of the Labour persuasion would supervise a successful military campaign that inevitably involved inflicting considerable devastation on a civilian environment?

It is astonishing to see the way in which the workings of the democratic system in this country have paid off. Those of us who fought to persuade the unilateral nuclear disarmers on the then Labour Benches that they were mistaken may have had an intellectual input into the debate, but the people who really deserve the credit for the fact that we now have a Government who are prepared, under the right circumstances, to use military action properly are the electorate of Great Britain who, in 1983 and again in 1987, showed the Labour party that it would not get re-elected unless it dropped the policy of one-sided nuclear disarmament.

I welcome the fact that Labour dropped that policy. It pretended to drop it in 1989, using various formulae such as "We will give up one of ours if the Russians will give up one of theirs." That was rather like someone who lives in a bungalow and his neighbour who lives in a skyscraper each offering to give up one floor. However, between 1989 and July 1991, when the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) wrote an article in The Guardian—where else?—finally admitting that Labour would keep nuclear weapons as long as other countries had them, the Labour party slowly crept back to a responsible position on defence.

As someone who believes more strongly in the defence of this country than in the victory of any particular political party at a general election, I welcomed that, even though I know that it would make my job as a Conservative political organiser much harder in terms of fighting the Labour party in the future. I am glad that Labour did what it did, and 1 think that now most members of the Labour party are also glad that they did what they did.

One or two Labour Members are not so pleased. Among those I include the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen), who is not in his place at present. He has consistently supported the unilateral nuclear disarmament line. Because I disagree with him on that, it does not follow that I must disagree with him on every point in his analysis. He was right, for example, when he said that, in terms of deterrence, it is a mistake to say that uncertainty is equivalent to stability.

Over the past 20 years, I have heard that argument advanced by many people who believe in NATO and in nuclear deterrence. They say that the key to deterrence is uncertainty. Well, only up to a point: uncertainty whether one will use force is obviously better for purposes of deterrence than certainty that one will not use force. But the certainty of retaliation with force if necessary is the best deterrent of all.

That was why, to return to the point with which I began, it was a terrible mistake, even if we did not intend to use ground forces in Kosovo, to say that—because we replaced what limited value uncertainty as to whether we would might have had, in our bargaining position with Milosovic, with certainty on his part that we would not do so. As I predicted before, and as time will bear out, it will eventually be discovered that Milosovic gave in when he no longer held to the certainty that we would not use ground forces if he did not comply.

I have some examples from history. During the second world war, we used two different methods of mass destruction on German and Japanese cities. Terrible fire storms were caused by the 1,000-bomber raids and terrible destruction and annihilation were caused by the dropping of the atomic bombs on two Japanese cities. Strangely enough, more people were killed—at least initially—in the fire raid on Tokyo in 1945 than in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. So why did the individual bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bring about surrender whereas the fire storm on Tokyo did not?

The answer comes back to the word "uncertainty". When the bombers took off for a fire raid, be it on Tokyo, Nuremberg or Hamburg, no one could know in advance with certainty how that would work out. The outcome could have been, as it was in the case of Tokyo, Cologne and Hamburg, absolute devastation. On the other hand, the outcome could have been, as it was in the case of the infamous Nuremberg raid, that the bomber stream would be intercepted, that the fleet of aircraft would be massacred and that the city would hardly be touched at all. Precisely because the target country did not know in advance that it was certain to incur the devastation and destruction that did occur, it was prepared to take the risk of incurring it. But as soon as the Japanese saw that there was no uncertainty, that the dropping of single bombs meant the certain destruction of their homeland city by city, they had no alternative but to surrender. Therefore, the maintenance of deterrence depends on the certainty of one's opponent that he cannot possibly escape the military consequences of defiance and attack.

I am sorry to have dwelt in some detail on that point, but it is essential that a myth is not created by what seems to have been the successful result of the Kosovo campaign—that one can rely on unsupported conventional air power to bring about compliance. One day, we may get into a situation where other decisive factors—the possible use of ground forces and Russia's diplomatic support—may not be available. Then we would discover our mistake too late.

I was surprised at the references made by the hon. Member for Edgbaston to the maintenance of peace, and the achievement, of which she is rightly proud, of being returned to the House—as someone born in Munich—for a British constituency, but I found it difficult to follow the mental processes that led her to conclude that that was something to do with the European Union or any of its predecessor institutions. I am not aware of any military threat to our democratic systems between the end of the war and the creation of those institutions, which was done away with by the creation and the activities of those institutions.

The reason why the hon. Lady was successful—I congratulate her on being elected democratically to represent Neville Chamberlain's old seat—was because Britain, America and Russia won the war. Having done so, they imposed on Germany a system of democracy and helped to resettle western Europe with a system of free independent democratic states. As I have said before, and shall no doubt say again, the lesson of history is that wars seldom, if ever, break out between two democratic states. They break out between combinations of democracies and dictatorships, and dictatorships and dictatorships, but seldom, if ever, soley between democratic states.

As a result of the creation of a system of free independent democratic states in Europe, together with the military alliance of NATO with which they can be involved if they wish, or from which they can distance themselves or withdraw if they wish, the system that has secured the peace for half a century can be preserved. Only now that it has been put to the test, at the end of the century, can we see that it has been capable of dealing with a re-emergence of something that should never have been allowed to get this far.

Therefore, to put at risk the system that has preserved the peace, by messing around, monkeying around and fiddling around for the sake of some basket of trade-offs, as my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State said—because the Prime Minister wishes to remain at the heart of European affairs, and he knows that he dare not try to take Britain into the single currency at this point—is folly in the highest degree.

I understand that, today, we are not discussing in detail the question of the release of the identity of the soldiers being investigated in relation to Bloody Sunday and I shall be careful what I say. I refer to it only in one connection, although it is a connection that may prove fatal to them. Whatever the court decides, there is a risk that the damage has already irrevocably been done. If their names and addresses have been released quite independently of the court's decision, and if they go on to the internet, there will be no prospect of preventing them from being copied, recopied, published and advertised to those in terrorist organisations who would wish to do the soldiers harm whether they be guilty or innocent.

The internet is not always dangerous. It can sometimes have a use which is more poignant and constructive. I close my remarks by referring to a site which I found recently—the site of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. There, it is possible, by keying in the name of anyone killed in the first or the second world war, to find out the place and date of death and such other details as were available at the time. I was moved the other day to do that in connection with the father of a close friend of mine, Mr. Ray Brooks of Totton in my constituency. He expressed an interest in learning what details had been retained. Sure enough, up came the information, and the certificate in memory of Stoker 1st Class Bert Brooks of HMS Cape Howe, Royal Navy, which I have here, was duly printed off. The ship went down fighting on 21 June 1940, and he was aged only 33.

We owe peace in Europe and the triumph of democracy to the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of people such as Bert Brooks. It would be a terrible disgrace to their memory if we wilfully destroyed what has been built up so successfully, and what has been tried and tested so recently, by undertaking unwise experiments to modify and replace institutions that have proved their value beyond all question.

4.31 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I take the view that there should be some time sharing among us when colleagues have been waiting all day to speak, so I hope to be succinct and shall put my speech in the form of questions.

The first question arises out of the speech of the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). I listened extremely carefully to what he said about air power, and this question is perhaps less to him than to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. Is it true that air power was decisive? As I understand it, the attacks round Mount Pastic by the KLA guerrillas early last week threatened to split the Yugoslav forces by capturing the road linking Prizren and Pec. At that point, they had to come out from bunkers and from their positions to deal with what were, in effect, land forces.

The KLA fighters were land forces at the time and, in those circumstances, the Yugoslays took serious casualties—they had to deploy large units and therefore became relatively easy targets, for the American Warthogs in particular. If that is considered accurate by the Ministry of Defence, does it not suggest that land forces were indeed decisive in persuading the leadership in Belgrade to act as it did?

Secondly, I was asked—in rather strident terms at business questions and far more courteously by the Secretary of State for Defence—to apologise. There will perhaps be an apology from me, but it will not come until five years have elapsed. I think that Pandora's box has been opened and the horrors that have been unleashed by the bombing are almost unimaginable.

I say that partly out of experience of Bosnia. As one of those who never wanted us to go into Bosnia in the first place, I have to agree with the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock): how on earth and—this question has to be asked at an early stage—in what circumstances will we ever get out of Kosovo? I do not think that we will do so in my lifetime and I rather doubt whether we will do so in the lifetime of the youngest among us.

My third question is, how exactly do the Government think that the Russians fit into this picture? What is to be the Russian chain of command? Is it not true that the war ended earlier than it would have done because of remarkable Russian good will? That is ironic, because the Russians were sidelined by the United States and the United Kingdom for at least a fortnight at the beginning of the conflict. When we found that immediate bombing did not work, we realised that we needed the Russians.

I shall quote briefly my friend Paul Wilkinson, who is a professor at St. Andrews university. He says: A major lesson is that Russia, for all its domestic problems, is still a key player. It is foolish and dangerous to world peace to try to exclude Russia from the top table of international decision making. The same is true of China". I have a particular question about the Russians, which has been eloquently put in a letter from a man I do not know, Albert McFall, to The Independent. He says: If a Nato and Russian peace-keeping force does eventually enter Kosovo, there could be problems in the future. If as seems very likely the Serb government breaks agreements and resumes ethnic cleansing, Nato would presumably withdraw its peace-keeping troops. The air attacks would start again and Nato would then be bombing Serb and Russian troops who would remain. Would Nato also attack Russian lines of communication such as ships and transport aeroplanes? That question needs at least a comment.

The military advisers to Mr. Chernomyrdin, as I understand it, were insistent that there should be an autonomous Russian chain of command and it is reported that there was some conflict between him and his military staff officers. He had to say rather sharply that he alone had President Yeltsin's authority to negotiate, but those people are still there in Moscow and we should take notice of that. What is the Government's understanding in respect of the treatment of Russian troops who may be in Kosovo for a long time?

My fourth question refers to the Kosovars. They think that they are to go back to Kosovo and will get independence, although they also think that we may have gone back on that. Have we inherited another Balkan protectorate? The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South raised very powerfully the question of the KLA, which is now a tough little guerrilla army. Those partisans are unlikely to welcome the transition from beneficiaries of NATO close air support to disarmed wards of NATO peacekeepers now serving as the outriders of Serb sovereignty, if it be the case that Serb sovereignty is to remain.

I think that disarming the KLA is an horrendous prospect, partly because I am sufficiently old to remember my contemporaries going to Malaya when I was in the Rhine Army. One of the problems in Malaya was that we could not tell the difference between a civilian and a guerrilla. It would be the easiest thing in the world for the KLA fighters to melt away, pretend to be civilians and then—unless there is a rigorous chain of command, which I gather does not exist in such a form—simply reappear.

It is difficult to be sanguine, and how on earth will we make sure that the KLA surrenders arms? I am afraid that my question of Tuesday to the Prime Minister remains: is there any evidence that the KLA will be any more willing to give up its arms than the IRA? If NATO troops enter Kosovo, the peacekeepers may find themselves having to protect Serb civilians from the KLA. It is undoubtedly true that Agin Ceku—who, incidentally, is a Croat—and Hashem Thaqi, who is one of the political leaders, are among a whole group who are absolutely determined on revenge. It seems that we will be in Kosovo for a very long time.

On 8 June, in The Independent, Timothy Garton Ash wrote: So you thought it was all over? Don't fool yourself, please. There are several nightmares still ahead. Even if the Yugoslavian military finally accepts withdrawal terms, they—and especially the paramilitaries—can make a last round of bloody mayhem on the way out. On their heels will follow the KLA, a rag-tag army of furious young men, who have seen comrades killed, sisters raped, families deported.

  • I and the public know
  • What all schoolchildren learn.
  • Those to whom evil is done
  • Do evil in return.
Auden was right; and these Albanians will do evil in return. They are determined to do so. How will we prevent them? It will be a mightily difficult job.

Yesterday I asked about war crimes, which, I understand, are not mentioned in the peace proposals. I also understand that the Russian Parliament is unwilling to accept a draft resolution calling on all concerned to help in the investigation of atrocities.

Fifthly, the Prime Minister urges the Serb people to overthrow their ruler, and says that there will be no money while he remains. Some of us think it more likely that, if left to themselves, the Serb people will deal with President Milosevic. If we try to insist, even at this stage, that they chose a ruler on our terms, is it not more probable that President Milosevic's power and grip will be strengthened? As the policy towards President Milosevic and war crimes was left out of the formal document, I now ask what it is.

Sixthly, may we have some facts about the massacres? The Albanians have repeatedly said that all these people have been massacred. The fact is that, although they are in a terrible state, many seem to have emerged. In war, all sorts of things are exaggerated, and one does not know what to believe. Undoubtedly appalling atrocities have taken place, but it would be helpful to know the scale of those atrocities, and in particular to know about rape. Serbs have vehemently denied that rape has taken place on a large scale. No doubt it has happened from time to time, but they deny it, and I think that it is now up to us to produce evidence relating to what is, after all, an emotive subject—and rightly so.

Seventhly, may we have some information about the attitude to depleted uranium? A survey should be carried out as quickly as possible, especially in respect of those removing tanks that have been hit by armour-piercing shells. I may be in a slightly different position from Ministers in this regard, but in Iraq I saw the results of depleted uranium—used in the Gulf war by, I think, the Americans rather than us. There is every evidence that these appallingly emaciated infants are victims of that kind of shelling, and we really do need to conduct a survey as soon as possible.

When I asked about that last night, the Secretary of State for Defence replied: On the environmental impact, certain aspects of Yugoslav life will be affected by the bombing."—[Official Report, 9 June 1999; Vol. 332, c. 749.] That is certainly true, but the scale of the environmental catastrophe affects all of Europe: environmental catastrophe knows no boundaries.

My eighth question is this. What is the assessment of the number of soldiers who will return in the next few months to find that they have no jobs, because their factories have been knocked out? It is a classic problem: a returning army finds that there is unemployment, and inability to work. Therein lies huge mischief.

Ninthly, I want to ask about the clearing of cluster bombs and other armaments. Kosovo is littered with unexploded cluster bombs—dropped by us, I understand. They are not very different from land mines. The Ministry of Defence can take great credit from the land mines treaty, but, although the seriousness of that problem has been recognised, we have not been told who will clear up the cluster bombs.

General Sir Michael Rose has said: As the peacekeepers prepare for the formidable tasks ahead of them, they will be reflecting that, in the Balkans, nothing unravels so rapidly as a peace plan where the details have not been clearly defined and agreed by all sides. My final point is this. What will be done about conflict prevention? In particular, what will be done about the Carnegie report, which has been with the MOD for two years, and about the crisis management unit proposed by the Finns?

I promised to share the allotted time, and I will stick to that promise.

4.47 pm
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

The Chamber has shown itself to be fully representative today—representative, perhaps, of the apathy in the country in regard to the European elections, and the lack of attention that we politicians sadly display in regard to defence matters—even on the day after the signing of the historic agreement between the commanders of the Yugoslav armed forces and NATO on the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo.

Before I say anything else, I must pay tribute to the courage and dedication of our forces in the Balkans, and in particular to the crews of the Royal Air Force, both in the air and on the ground. Air power has shown itself to be the crucial determinant of events in this conflict—as, indeed, it did in Operation Desert Fox, in the Gulf war and in the earlier Falklands war. Although air power has had its detractors during this conflict, we must remember that it is highly unlikely that the Serb negotiators would ultimately have signed without its decisive and devastatingly accurate effects on their compatriots.

The European Union's common foreign and security policy will prove to be no effective substitute for the integrated command structure of NATO and the existence of assigned formations to NATO on the part of its member states. The policy, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) so eloquently criticised, is much more. It is—I quote from paragraph 5 of annexe 3 of the Cologne summit communiqué: a new step in the construction of the EU". It is much more the construction of a new political step than the creation of a more effective military defence for our country, western Europe and our alliance as a whole.

Indeed, there is a risk that the European Union's common security and defence identity, which will subsume the role of the WEU by the end of next year, will not, in practice, offer the assurance of complete mutual defence commitment that is enshrined in the Brussels treaty, notwithstanding assurances to the contrary in the communiqué. I believe this to be the case because of the participation in the common foreign and security policy of neutral states such as Eire, Sweden, Austria and Finland, which, in their various ways, have stood aside during the great challenges of the cold war and have not participated in a number of the operations in which our alliance has been engaged in the Gulf and elsewhere. Indeed, there is a risk that token obeisance to consideration of ways to ensure the possibility for WEU associate partners to be involved"— in the phraseology of paragraph 5 of the EU Cologne summit presidency communiqué—will replace the possibility, which should become a reality, of applicant countries such as the Baltic states becoming full members of the NATO alliance.

We should remember that, in London not so long ago—in fact, only a few weeks ago—Foreign Secretary Ilves of Estonia emphasised the crucial benefit to his country and to his two Baltic neighbours of full participation in the Washington treaty's mutual defence obligations for the Baltic states. The Baltic states are democratic. They have the rule of law. In every way, they are as much entitled to be full members of NATO as to be full members of the European Union. The EU's common foreign and security policy provisions are no substitute for the genuine security guarantees that NATO membership could offer to the Baltic states.

The risk is heightened by the demarche—the initiative—towards good relations with Russia, which I fully understand, in the Cologne summit communiqué. Friendly relations with Russia are, of course, fundamental to peace and security in our continent, but we must never allow Russia to dictate the membership of NATO, or to preclude the enlargement of NATO through the accession of democratic nations such as the Baltic states or, for that matter, Romania and Bulgaria, which, by virtue of the rule and law and democracy, are fully entitled to that membership.

I must criticise, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon—I quote from the annexe to the communiqué— the need to undertake sustained efforts to strengthen the industrial and technological base, which we want to be competitive and dynamic". The objective of the Cologne meeting was laudable in this respect. Everyone wants better value for money for the defence forces. Everyone wants to ensure that defence procurement is, in the jargon, smart and efficient and presents the best equipment for our armed forces at a price which we can afford, but the means that the European Union has chosen will militate directly against such competitiveness and dynamism. The European armaments agency of the leading EU nations will inevitably accord priority to procurement from EU member states and institutionalise European protectionism against the most cost-effective defence equipment in the world, which is usually American.

The common foreign and security policy summit declaration contains no mention of heightened transatlantic co-operation in weapons procurement. That flies in the face of the commercial benefits derived by British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce, GKN and many other leading British defence equipment companies from their participation in the north American market.

Paragraph 5 of annexe III of the Cologne summit communiqué speculated that

by the end of the year 2000 … the WEU as an organisation would have completed its purpose. The end of the Assembly of the WEU would be a great loss, as a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) on ballistic missile defence, clearly demonstrated. He has been a rapporteur of his committee on that subject and has contributed a great deal to the work of the WEU and the Council of Europe.

Defence budgets are introduced by national Governments and passed by national Parliaments, so it is fitting that the European parliamentary deliberative body on defence issues should be the Assembly of the WEU, whose delegations comprise Members of national Parliaments, not the European Parliament. The latter's Members have no place in their national Parliaments, little democratic endorsement from their electorate if today's turnout is replicated elsewhere in the European Union, and no direct effect on national defence budgets or defence policy debates.

The intended takeover of the WEU by the European Union is clear from the common foreign and security policy assumptions about the EU taking responsibility for the strategic studies centre and the satellite reconnaissance facility, both of which are WEU institutions.

There is a risk that the creation of a European common foreign and security policy supremo in the person of Mr. Solana, the former socialist Foreign Minister of Spain, will compare unfavourably with the traditional efficient partnership of a European Secretary-General and a United States Supreme Allied Commander Europe for NATO.

Would Britain's intervention in the Falkland Islands war have been facilitated had there been a Spanish EU common foreign and security policy supremo in post? I doubt it. The British victory owed almost everything to United States support, while European backing was singularly absent.

The greatest risk in the European Union's obtaining a defence role in its own right is that it will acquire an instrument for the potential physical coercion of recalcitrant member states—an armed capability against possible secessionist nations.

That may seem alarmist today but, since the European Union asserts the primacy of EU law over that of its member states, is developing its own corpus juris and offers no mechanism for withdrawal from the treaties—the unanimity that such a procedure would require is ruled out in practical terms by the British Prime Minister and others—the alarmism which I display on the issue today could prove to be the realism of tomorrow.

4.59 pm
Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)

Sadly, I must begin as a number of other hon. Members have done by apologising to your good self, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to both Front-Bench spokesmen, as I doubt whether I will be in my place for the replies. I should add my apologies to those who are waiting for me where I am going, as I will get there rather later than anticipated, but that is by the by. For reasons that I will discuss, I thought it important to be involved in this debate.

As an aside, I have also been asked to mention that hon. Members who have a right and proper concern about nuclear proliferation and defence in the world could do no better than attend tomorrow's debates on private Members' Bills. Hopefully—it is a great hope—the Nuclear Safeguards Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Colman), will be No. 4 on the Order Paper. I come to the Friday sittings. That Bill seeks to ratify a protocol that would make inspections of countries with nuclear capabilities easier to carry out than is the case now.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

The Bill is No. 5 on the Order Paper.

Mr. McNulty

The hon. Gentleman tells me that the Bill is No. 5, so support in spirit, if not in physical presence, will be welcome tomorrow when we shall also be discussing football hooliganism, on which I shall not dwell now.

It was a little churlish of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), who is not in his place now, to have a little dig about the Adjournment debate on a subject as important as defence being held on European election day, but it is easily done. Imagine my joy on leaving the Chamber, knowing that the last time there were European elections the recess happened to spill over into them, to look up what I thought was the equivalent date in 1989—8 June—and seeing that the Conservative Government had tabled a debate on the Army for that day. I thought that that was a nice little reproach to the hon. Gentleman, until I discovered that the European elections in 1989 were a week later, so my point is not well made. Equally, those who cherish the arts and our heritage may throw up the same remark about what the last Government did in 1989 because arts and our heritage were the subject of the Adjournment debate on 15 June. So, head counts, asking where everybody is, the various little digs that we make and the games that we play in this place are inappropriate, certainly from those on the Front Benches.

In both 1992 and 1997, I was perhaps not as aware as I should have been of how significant defence was and is to my constituency. I have the great pleasure—at times a dubious one; I shall come on to that towards the end of my comments—of having Raytheon, Racal and Marconi in my constituency, as well as RAF Stanmore Park, although sadly no more, RAF Bentley Priory, which has consolidated the work of RAF Stanmore Park and is significant in terms of the RAF, and a Territorial Army unit. Given that background, defence must be of significance and interest for me. That does not mean that I must speak up in favour of everything in connection with Raytheon, Racal or Marconi. Occasionally, this presents me with dilemmas, but I shall come on to that.

I am mindful of the fact that others wish to speak, so I shall dwell on three matters and keep my comments fairly brief: the United Nations; Kosovo, which cannot be ignored; and, given what I have just said about companies in my constituency, procurement—smart or otherwise.

Last year, the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) and I, together with others, shared a trip to New York essentially to visit the United Nations. It showed me my profound ignorance of the real internal machinations of the whole range of institutions that make up the United Nations and how they engage with each other. We were there a week or so before the first abortive sorties over Iraq. The planes were literally pulled back at the last moment.

My most lasting impression is of the discussions with both the Security Council personnel and its admin staff, and the peacekeeping staff. They were saying emphatically that, given the collapse of the cold war, the United Nations must reassess and refocus its activities. Those elements have been brought sharply into focus by Kosovo. Back in October or November last year, they were saying that political and military regional bodies had to do much, much more. That means NATO, the Western European Union or the European Union, and equivalents such as the Organisation of American States and the Organisation of African Unity.

Post cold war, as we move into the new millennium, we find that regional conflicts invariably start with—and are sometimes contained within—internal conflicts within a nation. That forces us to reconsider our view of international relations. Even in some democratic areas—certainly in some tyrannies—civil wars, ethnic conflicts or other internecine strife predominate. We have moved away from bloc against bloc or nation against nation. Regional conflicts and power struggles, perhaps carried out by proxy in an internal conflict, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, are challenges that the military and political architecture of regional and world military relations are not grasping. That is why the United Nations, and in particular the veto power of the five permanent Security Council members, was found wanting.

I want to consider some of the remarks of those who opposed the conflict in Kosovo, because many of them did not make sense. I preface my remarks on the Kosovo conflict and settlement by noting that it is essential that we learn real lessons from the conflict of the past 75 days. Ultimately, I would welcome an apology from my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), but he is right to say that we will not see the consequences of the fallout of the conflict for at least five years.

If we learn only the lessons of the past 75 days, we will have failed. We had to go through the Kosovo conflict because we did not learn the lessons of the previous 10 years in the Balkans in Bosnia. I am not making a party political point and knocking the previous Government, but we did not understand fully what the wrenching away of the autonomy of Kosovo meant. Going back further, we did not understand what the death of Tito meant to the holding together of Yugoslavia. We must consider the reverse domino effect of Slovenian independence, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Krajina, Vojvodina—throw it all in. If we do not understand the complexities and what really went on in that period, but concentrate only on the past 75 days, we will not learn the real lessons of south-eastern Europe and the Balkans. That would be cause for regret.

If we do not analyse properly the sometimes abject failures of Europe and America in dealing with what happened in the Balkans over the past 10 years, we will plant the seeds of further failures. I do not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow perhaps would, include what we have achieved in Kosovo as a failure, because it was very necessary. If we do not analyse the past 10 years properly, no amount of Balkans Marshall aid for Serbia post Milosevic will enable us to bring peace, stability and harmony not only to Kosovo but to the entire Balkan region.

The role played by this House over the past 75 days and before was often strange and perplexing. I freely admit that all Front Benchers acted with discretion and responsibility, but there is a fine line between enjoying the fruits of democracy and maintaining responsibility. I do not think that a significant party leader who, half way through a military action, calls the whole thing unpardonable folly is grown up or responsible. That was shaming, and it should be said loud and clear. That individual should not forget it.

I do not think that it is grown up, responsible or appropriate in the middle of a military action for someone from a military background who is now a Member of Parliament—I am deliberately not naming individuals because it would not be that helpful and many of them are not here; we will have plenty of time to name them later—to call for the head of the commander of the armed forces. "Guthrie must go" is not that useful or appropriate a thing to say half way through a war.

If I am honest, there has perhaps been more intolerance and unworthiness on the Government Benches in disagreements on Kosovo before and after the conflict. I absolutely exclude my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow from that.

Mr. Robathan

The hon. Gentleman is being uncharacteristically unreasonable, if I might put it that way as a compliment. In the absence of the person who said, "Guthrie must go"—I did not necessarily agree with my hon. Friend—the hon. Gentleman should note that those of us who have at any stage, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has, served in the armed forces, tend to be cautious before we say, "Let us get in there, boys." I do not state this expecting any praise, but it is part of being in the armed forces that one's life is possibly at risk and the lives of the soldiers under one are at risk. We know what happens when people are killed, and we care about that. The hon. Gentleman has been reasonable, but he should realise that most people of military background do not want to see war for that very reason.

Mr. McNulty

I am grateful for that intervention, and broadly I accept it, but it does not exonerate the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who said half way through a military action that the commander-in-chief should go. If people have legitimate doubts in a democracy, they can express them, but in their role as politicians rather than in the military, they must accept that with their democratic freedoms come real responsibilities.

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary, or perhaps the 10th—it may be even longer; I cannot remember—of the introduction of broadcasting of the Chamber on television. [Interruption.] Radio broadcasting was probably 10 or 15 years ago. It is a train-spotting thing that I read birthday columns and anniversary dates, but I do not remember.

The rights and responsibilities of politicians in a democracy are writ large. We have heard of the strength of the internet. The strength of mass broadcasting is phenomenal. We all know that a word out of place here goes straight down to Belgrade state television. People should make their comments within that context with some tolerance of other opinions and some caution. I contend that no one in the Chamber is a warmonger. No one wanted to run gung-ho to bomb Serbia or its people to hell and back. No one glories in military action.

I defer to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan); I have no military service. I had throughout my life no intention of going into the military in any capacity. That is not to deprecate people who do; we owe a hell of a lot to them. It has been glib in the past 75 days for people to say on their behalf what should and should not happen. I deprecate that, but equally I deprecate those who oppose military action, saying, "There is any number of gung-ho armchair generals here", or, "There are plenty of Biggles here. They do not need me." It was suggested that, if one were in favour of the military action, one could not care less about the lives of the individuals on the front line or their families back at home, and that we regarded it all as some elaborate computer game. I do not take that position. I merely say that those who opposed, and will continue to oppose, what we tried to do through international action in Kosovo should speak with responsibility in a democracy.

It is not right for people to say, as was said at the start of the action, that it was a profound political mistake to suppose that Milosevic was not supported by the mass of patriotic Serbian people, who form one of the great fighting nations of Europe. When we read those words now, 75 days on, half of them sound like a party political broadcast for Milosevic' s socialist nationalist party—or whatever it is called. Such words were spoken by grown-up, serious politicians. The words that I noted were spoken by someone who has served for decades in this Chamber. One has to believe that, for some Members on both sides of the House, partisan preferences prevailed rather than the good of our military, the interests of our country and the success of the action. That is reprehensible.

The words that I quoted were spoken by a Conservative Member, but all hon. Members will be aware that I could find equivalent words spoken by Labour Members, which I should condemn equally. However, when one condemns such words or seeks to engage with them, intolerance creeps in. During the first Adjournment debate on the conflict, I said to one of my right hon. Friends, "What you are saying is all very interesting, but it is not going to do anything for the people of Kosovo. If not this route, what is your alternative?" The best that he could say—and, being practically the Father of the House, he had one up on me—was that perhaps I did not get into the Chamber that often.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have listened to what the hon. Gentleman has to say. If he wants to personalise his contributions in the way that he has done, he ought to satisfy the House that he has notified all the right hon. and hon. Members to whom he refers before making those remarks.

Mr. McNulty

I fully accept that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I began my speech I said that I was deliberately not going to make such remarks and then I strayed. I shall not do so in future.

Last night, when one of my hon. Friends made some points in relation to the statement on Kosovo—the happy statement that we are at the beginning of a resolution, at least of the military aspects of the situation, although I accept that there is much to do on the peacekeeping and political side—another of my hon. Friends described him as "tired and emotional". As we all know, that is the Private Eye code for being less than sober. I do not think that that was appropriate.

My key point is that, in peacetime or during military action, when the House discusses—as is right and proper—defence or military issues, we should be aware that we have a cherished, democratic Chamber, and that brings responsibilities. During the debates on Kosovo, I think that those responsibilities have been abused, and systematically abused, by some hon. Members, although happily by only a few. None the less, that is to be deprecated.

Also to be deprecated is the scant regard for any intellectual depth or rigour in the analysis pursued by some hon. Members. From some Members on the Labour Benches, we hear what might be best described as Mickey Mouse Trot analysis, in which the reality was not how to stop such a brutal tyrant, end ethnic cleansing and stop this madness in Europe at the tail end of the 20th century. Instead, we heard of some elaborate plot—no doubt, an imperialist one—by NATO, in support of economic interests. Stripped bare, that had nothing to do with the military integrity of south-east Europe or Europe, or with British defence and military interests therein; it was all some woeful American ploy to colonise south-east Europe, along with the rest of Europe on an imperialist basis. In the middle of a military action, the House and the people of this country deserved far more than that sort of Mickey Mouse analysis.

We also deserved far more from those Conservative Members—none of whom are in the Chamber at present, I am happy to say—who, half way through the process, did not merely make passing comments about the way in which we should carry out the action, but gave real succour and support to those who opposed us and who might have been firing at our troops, if we were not at the stage that we reached last night. Those Members gave our opponents succour by totally undermining the way that we were going. If they were here, I would happily name them. I think that my analysis will stand.

We need to return to such issues to ensure that all Members of the House conduct themselves properly at all times, but especially at times of military action. Given that our proceedings are recorded and broadcast, it is not appropriate for hon. Members simply to dismiss those with opposing views. I was not elected to bomb other nations or to impose sanctions on them—I am not a warmonger, nor is any Minister. It is outrageous that any hon. Member on either side of the House should show such scant regard for their responsibilities in a democracy as to suggest that anyone who supports action such as that taken in Kosovo is some sort of Biggles or warmonger.

It is crass to believe that, had we followed the suggestions of those who criticised and carped from the sidelines but who offered no alternatives for action—they proposed that we should do nothing while atrocities were committed—we would have reached the stage that we reached last night, of having hope that there will be a lasting settlement. That is nonsense.

Some people now tell us that, had we spoken to the Russians 75 days ago, we would have got to where we are now. They are wrong. Others ask why Kofi Annan was not brought in some time over the past 75 days and why he and the United Nations were not allowed to sort things out. What were they doing during the 10 months prior to our reaching the unfortunate stage of having to take military action?

I hope that all those who, from their comfortable armchairs, attempted to undermine our military action of the past 75 days will look to their laurels and reflect on the sequence of events that has brought us to the unfolding of the peace process. That process will take a long time. Even if an international presence has to stay in the Balkans for a long time to police the area after the return of the refugees to Kosovo, that will be far preferable to our action of the past 75 days, because it may lead to lasting peace and stability.

Finally, I turn to the fairly complex matter of two significant programmes that are crucial to the future of military procurement over the next couple of years. The first is the ASTOR programme—the airborne stand-off radar programme. On behalf of my constituency, I happily recommend that we accept the Lockheed Martin bid, which fortunately includes Raytheon and Marconi, both of which are located in my constituency. Together with Back Benchers on both sides of the House who have similar constituency interests, I hope to persuade Ministers that that is the right way to go.

I have greater difficulty with the other programme, but Members of Parliament have to make decisions regardless of their constituency interests. The programme concerned is BVRAAM—the beyond visual range air-to-air missile programme—which is also essential in terms of smart procurement. My difficulty is that, on the one hand, there is an American-led bid that includes Raytheon, whose headquarters are in my constituency; and, on the other, there is a European bid centred on the Meteor programme, which is led by Alenia Marconi Systems and Matra British Aerospace.

Even though I have two profound and competing constituency interests, I am bound to say that, on balance, I recommend the European bid, not least because it carries an air-to-air capability that the Raytheon bid does not have. I have met and discussed the issue with representatives of Raytheon and Marconi and, despite my dual interests, I have concluded that the European and Marconi Meteor programme is preferable.

I shall conclude where I began—I apologise for speaking for longer than even I had anticipated—and stress that defence and military interests are crucial. I wish that hon. Members would take more interest in those issues: they should not constitute the undignified and untrendy wing of international or foreign affairs. The defence industry is a significant employer. When we embark upon military action—I hope that we will not do so again during my term in this place—[HON. MEMBERS: "Four years."] Please let me finish. I hope that that means there will be peace for 20, rather than three, years.

As and when there is military action, those of us in democracies must act in a grown-up and responsible fashion. I fear that, in debating this action over 75 days, some hon. Members have demonstrated a far from grown-up and responsible attitude. That is to their discredit, and I hope that they will reflect on their actions long and hard in the coming weeks and months.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

5.26 pm
Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)

Hon. Members are saying "Hear, hear" because they want me to be brief. I think the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) is being a little unfair to hon. Members. He assumed that anyone who disagreed with him or did not agree totally with the Government was somehow guilty of disloyalty, of letting down the troops or of being cackhanded. The hon. Gentleman suggested that those hon. Members did not know what they were talking about—or that, when they did, it is was not very palatable.

If the hon. Gentleman had been in the House during the Suez crisis, the Falklands conflict or the Gulf war, he would have heard plenty of criticism flying around the Chamber—just as there was during the second world war. That is how it should be. There is a limit beyond which people should not go, but they should not be muzzled just because this country is involved in a conflict that is hardly controversial. It would be terrible if hon. Members were muzzled in that way.

Mr. McNulty

The hon. Gentleman makes my point far more eloquently than I can. I suggested that many hon. Members went beyond that line. I do not deny that hon. Members should engage in democratic debate.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

The hon. Gentleman keeps using the word "many". Some hon. Members might regret what they said, but they have apologised and I do not think that their comments were particularly reprehensible. There is no doubt that their views were controversial, but our troops were not in action—we were not in the middle of a Passchendaele scenario. One must have a sense of proportion in such matters.

It is generally agreed that our debates were conducted in a good spirit—although one criticism is worth making. I thought it was wrong to give notice—it was not just the Government's responsibility—of our intention not to send in ground troops. It is a good idea to keep that kind of information in reserve and perhaps state our willingness to use a ground force in some circumstances—some observers went further than that. On the whole, I believe the Government played a notable role in defining NATO's policy, which generated considerable public support and backing from this side of the House.

In that connection, I shall follow up some of the comments made by the Opposition spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples). I do not wish to speak for longer than is necessary, but I think that we should stress this important point. When the defence industry in this country develops its ability to contribute more powerfully and effectively to our defence structure and to advance technology, it should not be leaned on by Government if it enters into a marriage with American companies.

I have visited the United States many times in recent years and toured many factories. I assure hon. Members that American industry trusts us and thinks that we have something to offer. It does not believe that, if American industry enters into an alliance with us for making equipment, we will leak import information to the opposing side or to its competitors. That is an important point.

I wish to develop some other issues raised by my colleagues. I have no doubt that the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) were particularly welcome. He drew upon his great experience gained in the Royal Air Force, and his remarks about the importance of air power were confirmed during the Balkans conflict.

I joined the NATO parliamentary assembly in 1981 and therefore frequently come into contact with military and civilian members of the North Atlantic Alliance. NATO's vitality, resilience, adaptability, the power within its grasp and the influence that it brought to bear from 1981 to the present convinced me that, politically and militarily, it is a force that deserves our full support. When we went through the worst period of the cold war, that force helped to preserve peace. In fact, I wonder whether many of us would be here today, speaking our minds, if NATO had not existed.

It is therefore little wonder that, when the awful situation in the Balkans came to the crunch, I could not contemplate NATO's failure. To have done so would have spelt the end of the most successful political and military alliance in our history. As the cold war ended, the Berlin wall came down and the Soviet Union ceased to exist, one questioned the extent to which people jumped on the bandwagon and said, "There is no need for NATO. We need something else."

I shall turn in a moment to the European security and defence identity. It is my fervent conviction that no steps should be taken to undermine the effectiveness of NATO. The new strategic concept that it announced at the Washington summit last month should lead us to believe that there is no security architecture alternative to that presented by NATO. The statement that was issued at the Washington summit recognised NATO as an organisation capable of playing a constructive and defining role in underpinning the stability and peace without which prosperity, democracy and respect for human rights cannot exist. That is NATO's raison d'etre.

I shall quote some of the comments made in that statement in Washington last month:

Fifty years ago, the North Atlantic Alliance was founded in troubled and uncertain times. The statement reminded us of what had been achieved and then continued: This new Alliance will be larger, more capable and more flexible, committed to collective defence and able to undertake new missions including contributing to effective conflict prevention and engaging actively in crisis management, including crisis response operations. The Alliance will work with other nations and organisations to advance security, prosperity and democracy throughout the Euro-Atlantic region. The presence today of three new allies—the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland—demonstrates that we have overcome the division of Europe. The statement later added that those three new members would not be the last. That point was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood.

We recognise that, if NATO extends its boundaries, it must learn to co-operate with those countries, notably Russia, which fear the advance of the new NATO strategic concept. I have found no difficulty with that because I know very well that we have no designs on Russia. On the contrary, as many hon. Members have pointed out in today's debate, we have taken extensive steps to work with the Russians and to ask them to come on board. In a minor way, we in the NATO parliamentary assembly have taken our own initiatives. We have had Russians accompanying us, and they have been invited to NATO headquarters to discuss exactly what their difficulties are and the extent to which NATO is trying to bridge the gap that existed between the old NATO and the old Soviet Union.

I have no doubt that the attempt is working because of the willingness to extend NATO's umbrella from the Atlantic across Europe and to fight, through the Founding Act—which was signed by NATO and Russia only in 1997—for the Russians to co-operate with the new NATO strategic concept. That leads me to believe that we now have an opportunity to lay to rest for our lifetime—and, one hopes, for ever—conflict in Europe. For too long, we have suffered instability and bloody wars. I accept the criticism of all who thought that we could have intervened sooner in Bosnia. But we all know democracies; we take time to learn the lessons and to act on them.

We must consider not only how far we can develop the new institutions that have been formed under the Founding Act, the European-Atlantic pact and so on, but whether we can strengthen those already in the alliance. I shall quote from the communiqué and the statement of intentions made in Washington recently concerning the European Union: The European Union has taken important decisions and given a further impetus to its efforts to strengthen its security and defence dimension. This process will have implications for the entire Alliance, and all European Allies should be involved in it, building on arrangements developed by NATO and the WEU. The development of a common foreign and security policy includes the progressive framing of a common defence policy. Such a policy, as called for in the Amsterdam Treaty, would be compatible with the common security and defence policy established within the framework of the Washington Treaty. All the way through that statement and others explaining in more detail the objectives of NATO's new strategic concept, there is an emphasis on a European security defence identity in NATO. My worry is that there are those who, for other reasons, think that the time has come for those in a European pillar to express themselves not necessarily within NATO.

European countries have rightly taken decisions that will require close co-operation between NATO and the WEU and, if appropriate, the European Union. It has been set out clearly in treaties that it is sensible for the EU to develop a sense of responsibility toward its foreign duties. That is why there is talk of a common foreign and security policy. The EU ought to debate those matters. I can understand such talk, but I hope that I will not be accused of having an attack of Europhobia if I suggest that it is one thing to have such a common policy, but another to create, in analysing one's needs and policies, some special European defence identity that is separate from America.

Labour Members, including the Prime Minister, would deny to one's face such an intention, but I know people on the continent—I mix with them through the NATO Parliamentary Assembly—who have not always been happy with what they call "American domination". They fail to realise that the only reason why we had peace during the cold war and why we can have stability and security and take on the responsibility of the Balkans is that the Americans are on side.

Such people do not talk about a European defence identity; they talk about a Euro-Atlantic security system. That is what it is and, unless we recognise that fact, I fear that, once again, we shall place an impossible burden on some European countries that do not want to take responsibilities—they rarely have in the past—or carry the clout that is necessary for the influence that we think important to stability in the Euro-Atlantic area; such stability inevitably leads to ever closer co-operation with the former Soviet Union.

I shall not go into too much detail because I am about to finish my speech. Ten of the members of the Western European Union are also in NATO and the European Union but, when we consider the countries that are in NATO but not the EU, we see a problem. They are the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Norway and Iceland. There are also other countries that are not in NATO or the EU, such as Estonia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

When all those people and all those countries are spread across all those different organisations, why muddle things? Why make things more difficult than they already are? We already have a club worth belonging to, which has worked well. Let us not assume that the European security and defence identity would somehow be better served and more effective if we rearranged the furniture. I do not see why it should be.

Of course one gets worried about that idea. Within five minutes of being appointed, Mr. Prodi was talking about a European army—someone quoted him earlier in the debate. We cannot have that, not when defence is a matter of life and death. It is unrealistic to suppose that we have reached such a degree of comfort with our allies in western Europe that deciding whether to go to war or spend money on defence is a matter that can be taken away from national parliaments.

I beg Government Members, especially defence Ministers, to ask themselves this question. It is one thing to have a row with the Americans about bananas; we could have rows with the Americans day after day about trade, and even argue among ourselves. However, if we are to have an argument about defence—

Mr. George Robertson

I always listen to the right hon. Gentleman with great care, because he has a lot of experience, and it is true that we share a close relationship with our allies across the water. We have not fallen out with the United States. The communiqué from the Washington summit made it clear that NATO and the Americans welcomed the initiative being taken forward.

The whole purpose of the Prime Minister's speech and what followed from it is to build European capabilities so that we can complement, not duplicate or compete with, the efforts being made by the United States and NATO. Only an hour ago, I spoke to Defence Secretary Cohen, and congratulated him on, and thanked him for, the United States' contribution to the air campaign. All four Defence Ministers have said that we are committed to building European capability so that we can act with the United States when that makes sense; but alternatively, so that we can take military action sensibly and effectively when the United States does not want to be involved.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

I understand what the right hon. Gentleman says; his intentions are pure, and would not undermine anything that I have said. That is his view—but there are other views, and they exist among his European allies. That is the point.

People talk about a federation. I am not a Europhobe; I am happy about co-operation with the European Union, but I want to draw a line here. It is difficult to assume that a Europe-wide institution can make decisions for us on matters of life and death. It cannot. Such decisions must be made by consensus, in which case I want a consensus within a wider organisation—one that involves the Americans.

I know what I hear from some senators and congressmen, decent internationalist blokes though they are, who suspect that there are people in Europe who resent what they call American dominance of the alliance, and feel that Europe would be freer, more independent and more responsive to European needs if it had its own defence identity—not within NATO, as is stated in the text of the summit. A European identity is what they hanker for. We cannot deny that when we know that Mr. Prodi is talking about a European defence system and a European army. However, if we adopt that approach we will seriously weaken our position.

I am darned if I can believe that an international organisation that merges into a federation involving a wide range of issues, such as economics and politics, can put defence into the same basket. It is not the function of an international organisation, on a vote, to send people to war, where they may possibly lose their lives. If there is consensus, certainly, but if it is to be done, it should be on the basis of the NATO Alliance, with all its strength and might.

It is difficult for me to assume that we are on the right lines when we do not talk sufficiently, and do something, about the lack of capability in Europe. Only two countries in western Europe—the United Kingdom and France—can act internationally. That is one of the issues that we should be discussing with our continental friends, so that we can get some action out of them rather than talk about institutions. That would be a way of making progress.

We have a duty to bring stability to Europe. The first and difficult problem on the agenda is to ensure that stability and prosperity are brought to the people of south-east Europe as a consequence of peace. It will be difficult, and I am indebted to an article in a publication entitled "The World Today", which drew my attention to the seriousness of the problem that we face. It reads: 'No language can describe adequately the condition of that large part of the Balkan peninsula, Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina and other provinces—political intrigues, constant rivalries, a total absence of public spirit, hatred of all races, animosities of rival religions and an absence of any controlling power.' The writer of the article adds: Those were the words of Benjamin Disraeli in 1878. They are all too apt today.

5.47 pm
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I am delighted to be able to take up the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), not least because I know of similar words from the 19th century. No one could ever accuse my right hon. Friend of being anti-European because he has made a career of not being so. The fact that he should draw attention to the concerns that many of us have about a drive towards a common European defence policy is extremely important. I trust that right hon. and hon. Members on the Treasury Bench will take heed of that.

On a day when British troops are going into what may turn out to be hostile territory in the former Republic of Yugoslavia, it is depressing that so little interest is shown in defence in the House. I know that the European elections are taking place. However, my presence and the presence of every other Member will make no difference to the turnout in my constituency and in all others, and in the regions. It is depressing beyond belief that there are only three Labour Members present, one a Back Bencher, only two Liberal Members and only eight Conservative Members. There are far too few of my hon. Friends in their places and it is a great pity that there is only one Labour Back Bencher present on an historic and worrying day.

I shall concentrate my remarks on Kosovo, not least because I will not be here next week. Many of the points that I wanted to make have already been made and I will not repeat them at too great length. I had many concerns about the campaign, which I made public. I was deeply sceptical that bombing alone would bring the Serbs to the negotiating table. However, it appears that it has done so, and we have an agreement. The Minister will know that not everything is over, but I congratulate NATO and the Government on what has been achieved so far. I hope that the process will continue and I hope also that all the refugees will go home as soon as possible. It is to be hoped that, eventually, we shall see democratic rule established in Serbia, quite apart from anything else.

It will not surprise anyone when I say that I have a few qualifications. I do not think that there is anybody present to gainsay me—no Member, anyway—when I say that, when I was in the Army, I was taught the principles of war. As I recall, the first principle was the selection and maintenance of the aim. The aim on day l was to prevent humanitarian disaster and ethnic cleansing, and we know that that did not happen. There is no doubt that the principles will have to be rewritten. We know that surprise went out of the window long beforehand. As I am sure that the Minister recognises, the staff colleges will need to re-examine those principles before they try to teach them to any young officer, as I was at the time.

The situation in Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania is not better than it was before the bombing campaign started. That does not mean that the bombing campaign was wrong, but we have to admit that the situation is no better than it was then.

We have a long-term commitment, as we have heard, and a huge financial commitment, which Britain, together with others, should be generous in meeting. We also have a huge commitment in terms of troops.

Is the Minister confident that the settlement will lead to some form of democratic administration being established in Kosovo? It has not been democratic up till now, as is self-evident. Rugova appears to represent the Kosovo Albanians, as far as it is possible to know, but it would be tragic if our actions had produced a worse situation in Kosovo than existed before.

The position of the Serbian minority in Kosovo was raised yesterday by the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), among others. It is extraordinarily important that we do not replace one form of ethnic cleansing with another. NATO and the United Nations have turned a remarkably blind eye to the situation of the Serbs in Krajina, who were expelled—ethnically cleansed—by the Croatians, yet we seem to be extremely pally with the Croatian regime of President Tudjman. That is as close to hypocrisy as one can get. One child, one woman or one man is just as good as another child, woman or man, and ethnic cleansing by one group is just as bad as ethnic cleansing by another.

That leads me to the question of who our enemy in Kosovo will be. Troops need to know who their enemy is. When they come across two bands of people shooting at each other, whom are they to defend? It will be extremely difficult. None of us wants to see British troops or others killed in any crossfire, just as we do not want to see people killing each other in Kosovo.

What is the future of the Balkans to be? I say to hon. Members in all parts of the House that the future of the Balkans must be in the hands of the peoples of the Balkans. It is not for us to determine exactly what should happen. Britain, NATO and the United Nations should beware of trying to be the policemen of the Balkans. Down that road may lie chaos.

I have many friends currently in the Balkans who are likely to go into Kosovo in the near future. I will not name them, as that would probably blight their careers for ever. I wish them and everyone else well as our armed forces go in. They will have a great deal to contend with, as we know. In particular, NATO is likely to take casualties from land mines. It is the worst of all things when someone is killed not in action but just walking down a street or through a wood.

On a more flippant note, the old adage warns that we should not go to war in the Balkans or march on Moscow. We have gone to war in the Balkans. I am going to Moscow next week, and I hope that the Minister can assure us that we will not be marching on Moscow next week.

One overriding lesson emerges from the Kosovo campaign. NATO has shown determination and unity, and NATO has achieved success. I shall not repeat what was said extremely well by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden. However, the Government speak of a common European security identity, which undermines the organisation that has achieved so much and is likely to sideline America in the North Atlantic Alliance. I find that extremely worrying.

I have served in Northern Ireland. I think that I am the only hon. Member present who has done so, although one or two officers and officials in the House have. I speak with feeling because I have seen the intimidation, fear and daily barbarity that can go on in some of the ghettos in Northern Ireland. I have been to funerals of friends and I have spoken at funerals of soldiers, and I have friends still serving there in the armed forces. The Government cannot bend over backwards any further to accommodate the terrorists in Northern Ireland. The Minister will know that we must keep troops there to combat the terrorism.

I particularly speak on this occasion of members of the special forces who have done such sterling work in Northern Ireland in the past. If soldiers fear that they will be identified for any action that they take, if they believe that their lives or those of their families may subsequently be threatened, they will not take the action that we require of them. That is blindingly obvious, but it needs to be stated.

Some in public life, including me and many hon. Members, receive advice and assistance on our personal security. But we understood that that might be a possibility when we went into public life. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) are tailed by heavies in Range Rovers. Lord Mason still has an escort, and I am sure that other former Ministers do too. We expect that, but public servants do not. They expect to be protected by the Government. We must protect public servants or we betray their trust. I am sure that the Minister and the Secretary of State will agree.

I caution the Minister to read the headline of the City edition of the Evening Standard today which says, "Paras go in". If we want the paras to go into Serbia, Kosovo or elsewhere, we must protect them, wherever they may be, and we must protect past paras from the prying eyes of murderous terrorists.

I served for 15 years in the armed forces and I was single throughout that time. Single men enjoy being active, on operations and abroad. I was away in various different countries for 12 months in one 15-month period. It was lucky that I was single because a wife would not have tolerated it. However, I had no chance of getting married because I could not meet anyone. Those whom I did meet probably did not fancy me. However, it is a single man's life—or a single woman's life—and young single people enjoy being on operations. But in peacetime, families, and single people who want a social life, become tired of being on operations, and they will vote with their feet and leave.

Retention policies are marvellous but, as the Minister knows, there will be no retention policy if people are fed up with being on operations. For each person on operations, another should be preparing for operations and another recovering from operations. If 40 or 50 per cent. of the armed forces are on operations, that will not be possible. That would be a great tragedy for Britain and its armed forces.

The armed forces—I used to say this to the previous Government, so the Minister need not parrot it back to me—are too small for the country's and the Government's ambitions. If we are not careful, the common European defence policy will mean that we will not have the Americans to help us either. We have insufficient troops, and, if we are to maintain those ambitions, we may need to pay more for defence.

In the past few weeks, several generals have told me and, I am sure, others, that, based on their experience in Bosnia, the only people who could be trusted when they signed an agreement were the Serbs. They saw that as a bit of a paradox because they did not necessarily have a great deal of time for the Serbs, who had murdered, pillaged and raped. However, they did say that, when the Serb generals put their name to a document, they stuck by it, whereas the Croatians and the Bosnians did not. I very much hope that that turns out to be the case in Kosovo.

5.59 pm
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk)

We in the Chamber are indeed an inclusive body of men and women, although a number of colleagues have said that this important debate on defence policy has been unfortunately timed. I know, for example, that the Chairman of the Defence Committee has written formally to the Leader of the House—and, I believe, to Madam Speaker—to protest about the debate being held on a day on which, for good reasons, a large number of colleagues want to be in their constituencies.

Many hon. Members who would have liked to have contributed were unable to attend, and I mention two of my colleagues—such stalwarts as my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). I should also like to mention the absence of another colleague, but for a different reason. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) was unfortunately struck down with a brain tumour at the weekend, but I am glad to say that he is recovering reasonably well. I feel his presence in the Chamber; sitting over my left shoulder, he would have undoubtedly made a number of contributions, both from a sedentary position and from the Floor of the Chamber. I am sure that all Members of the House wish him the best for the future.

We have nevertheless had a good debate and we have heard 11 Back-Bench speakers, a number of whom have had to leave to vote or to return to their constituencies—to stir up apathy, in the words of Viscount Whitelaw. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) spoke about Britain and her role in defence. I do not necessarily agree with some of her conclusions, but she spoke warmly. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), who has done a considerable amount of work on ballistic missile defence, raised an important point, which I and other colleagues raised in the defence equipment debate.

The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen), who is a member of the Defence Committee, talked, in his inimitable manner, of his reservations about nuclear weapons. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, talked with great feeling about the situation in Kosovo and referred to cuts in defence expenditure. I have to say to him that it would have been helpful during the debate on the strategic defence review if the Liberals had voted for our amendment pointing out the cuts in defence expenditure and in the Territorial Army instead of abstaining.

The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Healey) rightly spoke about the outstanding part played by our armed forces, not only in Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Bosnia, but in the United Kingdom, where they work so hard. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who has been tremendously consistent in his view that what we are doing in Kosovo is right, once again gave us a superb tour d'horizon on nuclear deterrence and history.

I was surprised that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) restrained himself and talked only about the effectiveness of the air campaign. I think that he asked only eight or nine questions of the Minister; somebody behind me jokingly said that he would ask about 79, but, in his own way, he has always been very consistent. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) used his speech largely to attack a number of hon. Members, many of whom were not in the House. I might disagree with those hon. Members, as might Ministers, but they nevertheless have the right to express their views.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), who completed long service with the Royal Air Force, spoke well on behalf of those who agree with his critique, saying that the European security and defence identity is no substitute for NATO. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith)—who, dare I say it, has considerable experience in defence matters going back decades—also spoke forcefully on why our main defence effort should be within NATO.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who was the last Back-Bench contributor, brought to the debate his own perspective, which was gained from serving in the armed forces. All Members recognise the fact that, without the men and women who make up our armed forces, this debate on our wider defence policy would be rather academic.

The debate is taking place 10 months after the strategic defence review, and 11 weeks into the bombing campaign against Serbia. As many hon. Members have pointed out, it has been influenced by unfolding events in Kosovo: the welcome news of the Serbian agreement to the military framework, given by the Secretary of State last night, and the news that he gave us this afternoon about the decision by the Secretary General of NATO that we could end the bombing campaign.

I compliment Ministers, and all the military and civil servants in the Ministry of Defence. I understand the strain that they were under, and appreciate all the work that they put in. During the Gulf war campaign, I served as a special adviser to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), and I know what the responsibility involves. I pay tribute to Ministers on their ability—on the whole—to present information to the House, and to accept with considerable good grace the comments and, at times, criticisms made not only by Opposition Members, but by some of their hon. Friends. The paying of that fulsome tribute, however, will not restrain me from commenting on aspects of the Government's defence policy that I believe need changing or modifying.

All hon. Members have rightly said that the British armed forces are real force multipliers. Their sheer quality, their professionalism and the fact that—dare I say—they have a demonstrable war-fighting capability enable them to deter and, when they must use that war-fighting capability, to defend our freedoms. However, they obviously need the resources that will allow them to maintain that high standard: equipment, and the support that they and their families need.

Ironically, last night's statement, like earlier statements, is being overtaken by global communications. The same happened during the Gulf war. I am struck by the frequency with which Ministers who come to the House in all honesty to present what they think is information are behind the intemet or, indeed, CNN. This is an opportune moment for us to assess British defence policy against the Government's own baseline, the strategic defence review. We need to assess it in terms of foreign and security policy, then in terms of commitments and resources, and finally in terms of equipment and people.

I must tell the Minister, in a gentle manner, that—along with many other hon. Members—I am still waiting for answers to questions that we put to Ministers during the defence equipment debate on 26 April.

Mr. Spellar

They have had nothing else to do since then.

Mr. Simpson

I am aware of that, but I have telephoned twice, and have twice been given promises—not by the Minister's office, but by another office. As I say, I am making my point in the gentlest possible way, but I must say that debates such as this are rather a waste of time if hon. Members who ask questions are given no answers.

The MOD will of course want to assess the role of the armed forces in the continuing conflict, but I think that many hon. Members expect both the Government as a whole and the MOD to make their own inquiries about the origins of the conflict—about where we made the right decisions, where we made the wrong ones, and how we should correct our mistakes.

Finally, let me ask the Minister when we can expect the publication of the defence White Paper which now replaces the statement on the Defence Estimates. Can we look forward to receiving copies before the summer recess?

I want to say a little about the baseline of the strategic defence review. I remind the House that both the Select Committee on Defence and the Conservative Opposition pointed out that the real element that was missing from the report—an element that is still missing—was a foreign-policy baseline. We have not had a proper Government foreign policy debate since May 1997, and I believe that one is needed now.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) outlined Conservative Members' deep reservations about the way in which the Government have, crab like, moved away from maintaining a European defence and security policy under the umbrella of NATO towards something that many people believe will end up competing with NATO. As many of my hon. Friends have pointed out, that will compete with resources. Many serving officers, some of whom are directly involved in Kosovo, are also deeply sceptical about the effectiveness of a European defence organisation that is outside NATO. The one thing that the Kosovo conflict has proved is that, however creaky NATO has been, it is effectively the most significant political military organisation to which we belong.

Another equally significant development during the Kosovo crisis has been the articulation by the Government that we are moving into an era of humanitarian intervention. In a speech in Chicago in April, the Prime Minister laid down what became called the Blair doctrine, outlining a policy of humanitarian interventionism, with a number of caveats. That is an important development, but we have not discussed it yet in the House.

If the Government are determined to go ahead with a policy of humanitarian interventionism, it will have an enormous impact on our foreign policy, on our relations with NATO, on the structure of our armed forces and on resources. Will there be a debate on that at some time in the Chamber? Will there be any geographical limits to humanitarian interventionism? What co-ordination have the Government had with the United States of America and our European allies? As a number of my hon. Friends have pointed out, 80 per cent. of the air power and many of the strategic assets in the Kosovo campaign were provided by the Americans.

What are the implications of the Blair doctrine for British defence policy, particularly in terms of the budget, equipment and personnel, given the resources constraint that is built into the strategic defence review? Finally, will there be a reassessment of the SDR and will that form part of the defence White Paper?

In an ideal world, we would have established our foreign and security policy before allocating the necessary resources. When the strategic defence review was published, it was obvious to all informed sources that there was a cut in the budget—about £1 billion. Treasury calls for efficiency savings are making it even more difficult for Ministers to deliver what in management terms we have to call a military output. Even before Kosovo, my hon. Friends and I argued that a cut in defence expenditure while maintaining and, in some areas, increasing commitments, undermined the credibility of the SDR.

Events in Kosovo and the consequence of the Government's declared foreign and security policy of humanitarian interventionism totally undermine the financial basis of the strategic defence review. That is not something that merely I put forward as a Conservative spokesman. Many hon. Members find that members of the armed forces and their families recognise that fact. They are not taken in by politicians coming out merely with trite political propaganda. They are intelligent, sensible people and understand that there is that contradiction.

Will the Government now admit that their claims that the SDR would establish our defence requirements in the period to 2015 have been undermined by the cuts and seriously been questioned by international events? What representations have the Minister and his colleagues made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister about the level of resources for the defence budget? Failure to address the major question of resources, which underpins the SDR, will result in a significant lack of confidence among members of the armed forces.

One of the major consequences of the Government's failure to match resources to commitments has been the serious problem of overstretch and retention, as touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby.

As of 22 April—the figures are probably higher now—89 per cent. of land command, which is the deployable Army, is either committed to, or warned for, operations. The Secretary of State himself said this afternoon that 50 per cent. of the British Army was preparing for, deployed in, or recovering from, operations.

The armed forces are there to be used and they expect that. They are not to be kept in a band box, shined up and never used. However, everyone recognises—the Government recognised it in the SDR—that there is a limit to how much longer we can continue that level of commitment without members of the armed forces voting with their feet, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby said.

I hope that the Government will deal with that problem directly—that will take some difficult decisions. I know that they are hoping that the Kosovo commitment will not continue on such a scale or for longer than six months, but, as General Sir Roger Wheeler, Chief of the General Staff, reminded us in a lecture at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies on 17 February 1997: We are now in our seventh year in Bosnia, despite the original deployment being ordered on the strict understanding that it was for six months only. Long overseas deployments and back-to-back deployments mean that more trained personnel are leaving the armed forces than recruits can be brought in. I am sure that the Minister will remind us that the Government have dealt with the problem of recruitment, but for every service man who is coming in through the front door, two or three are leaving through the back door.

The latest shortfall in numbers of trained personnel is 4 per cent. for the Navy, 6 per cent. for the Army, 2.5 per cent. for the Royal Air Force and 8 per cent. for the Royal Marines. For every soldier, sailor or airman who is not there, others have to stand in and work harder.

The Government have failed, despite all their remedial efforts and hype, to resolve the relationship between commitments and resources. If anything, matters are worse than they were a year ago. How are Ministers going to resolve that?

The most glaring example of the SDR failure is the cuts in the Territorial Army and its subsequent reorganisation. Under pressure from my hon. Friends and many Labour Members, the Government were forced to make concessions in their reorganisation in the autumn. The Secretary of State acknowledged last night that 10 per cent. of our forces in Bosnia now come from the TA. Any significant war fighting in the Balkans would directly involve a large-scale call up of the TA.

The Government were wrong to cut the TA to extent that they did. Many TA soldiers are now reluctant—because of the Government's cuts and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) said last night, because of worries about the security of their employment and pensions—if they are called up for service.

I have raised a series of issues in the debate and I have done so not merely to play some sort of intellectual ping pong. I hope that the Minister will recognise that many of those questions were put to me by serving members of the armed forces, civil servants and, not least, people in British defence industries.

I want British defence policy to be proactive. I believe, as do all my hon. Friends, that Britain has a part to play on the world stage. I fully support our membership of the United Nations and our leading role in NATO but, if we are to undertake that sort of role and if we expect our armed forces to go into harm's way almost continuously, we must either cut a commitment somewhere or put in more resources.

General James Wolfe, who died at Quebec, said that war was an "option of difficulties". Today, defence policy is an option of difficulties and I hope that the Minister will be able to offer us some thoughts for consideration.

6.19 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Spellar)

First I give the apologies of the Secretary of State for not being present for the winding-up speeches. He has a long-standing engagement, hosting Her Majesty at beating the retreat. I have just had a message from his office and I am pleased to inform the House that the United Nations Security Council resolution has been passed. The voting was 14 in favour with only one abstention. It will now go to the North Atlantic Council for it to authorise NATO's deployment. I am sure that that is welcome news to the House and the forces.

It is only natural that much of the debate has focused on events in the Balkans. Whether one is critical or supportive of Nato's actions, one cannot deny the importance of what is happening there and, indeed, evolving even as we have been speaking. It is not surprising that the subject has pre-occupied hon. Members this evening, but it is also important to look at the broader context, as a number of hon. Members did, and, as the Secretary of State said in his opening speech, not to forget that much else has occupied us over the past 12 months.

It has been a debate with a number of the usual suspects and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) said, with a number of absentees. We should have liked to see the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) after the Scottish electorate gave him their view of his intervention. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) apologised for the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), but I should have preferred to have seen him here himself tonight apologising for his disgraceful attack on the Chief of Defence Staff—but let us leave that aside.

We have seen events in Kosovo confirming the analysis that we conducted to inform the strategic defence review and the foreign and security policy framework in which it was set.

At the time of the SDR, as the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) said, our policies and plans were met with approval by our allies. It was recognised by a wide variety of independent commentators as radical, imaginative, well reasoned and forward looking. The SDR was given good reviews by academics, journalists and diplomats from Los Angeles to Moscow to Tokyo. Most importantly, it was welcomed by the men and women of our services. Britain was seen to be giving a lead in adapting to the realities of the new millennium and the post-cold war environment.

Our defence and security policy is founded on Britain's need, as a trading nation with a strongly international outlook and a considerable number of citizens living abroad, to be involved on the world stage. The Government's defence and security policy aims to provide and improve our abilities to take our place on the world stage.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East said, the British have never been ones to stand idly by. Our policies are designed to ensure that we are not forced to. In particular, they are designed within the context of the NATO alliance. That is why the United Kingdom made a significant contribution to ensuring that Nato's 50th anniversary summit in Washington set a challenging agenda to keep Nato relevant for the future and commemorated 50 years of keeping peace in Europe. I am sure that the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who spoke at some length about the history of NATO, will also recognise the key, initiating role of the post-war Labour Government in setting up NATO and the support of subsequent Labour Governments for that organisation.

Headlines at Washington were naturally dominated by Kosovo, where the display of Nato unity was of immense military and political value, but several other important decisions were also taken on the further adaptation of Nato.

The new strategic concept sets out clearly Nato's key tasks, giving proper emphasis to non-article 5 missions and clear guidance on the development of flexible, deployable and sustainable forces suitable for all Nato missions.

The UK was active in developing the defence capabilities initiative, which should allow the alliance to develop forces that are ready to undertake the range of operations we may face in the future. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) spoke of his concern about duplication and in that context mentioned heavy lift. We in the alliance will be absolutely delighted to have duplication of heavy lift. When we took over the strategic defence review, one of the key areas on which we focused—indeed, one of the key deficiencies that we inherited—was a shortfall in heavy lift. We are making major efforts to rectify that in terms both of sea and air lift. The initiative echoes the principles that underpinned our strategic defence review. We are pleased about the emphasis on making European forces, including multinational forces, more effective.

We are also closely involved in the Western European Union's audit of European defence capability and aim to ensure that both initiatives are complementary, mutually supporting and, most importantly, result in a sustained drive to improve defence capability. I think that that is what Conservative Members should have concentrated on in their orations on Europe.

Washington marked the culmination of much of the work to create a European security and defence identity within the alliance. As has rightly been said, that was initiated by Michael Portillo when he was Defence Secretary at Berlin in 1996. The United Kingdom has been instrumental in establishing a programme to continue that development. Decisions taken at the summit will ensure that the European pillar of the alliance is a vital element in our drive to give Europe a greater voice in foreign and security policy.

As well as formally welcoming the three new NATO European members at the highest level, the summit clearly reaffirmed our commitment to future enlargement. We agreed positive language naming all nine current aspirants and stating their right to seek membership, backed up by practical advice and assistance in shaping membership action plans. There was also a meeting with countries from south-east Europe at which a consultative forum on security was established.

That puts the European security and defence initiative in its proper context. I was slightly surprised that the contributions of the Opposition spokesmen were dominated by that subject. It is an important issue but I understood the difficulty of the Conservatives, for whom everything seems to come back to Europe. They are like those who believe that the Freemasons, the Bilderberg group, the Rockefellers, or, in the good old days, the communists and Trotskyists, were the root of every problem. European issues are important but the balance must be got right.

Even discussing defence, the Conservatives talked as if there were a polarisation between the European defence industry and our relationship with the United States. However, British companies and defence industrial policy very much aim to get the best of both. In many ways, the consolidation of the European defence industry is designed to enable British and European industry not only more effectively to compete, but more effectively to collaborate, with American industry. We said that both in opposition and in government. The consolidation of the American industry means that it is necessary for us to match it that so that we can bring something to the table in discussions. That is understood not only by us but by our American partners.

At a recent conference addressed by me and the American Under-Secretary, John Hamre, it was asked whether we were creating fortress Europe. We are not. Equally, Fortress America is not a sensible option. We have to get the balance right. Equally, we have to consider consolidation of the European defence industry and that is already moving along, not only commercially but with the letter of intent.

There is also the harmonisation of requirements. Having a range of slightly different requirements for roughly similar products across Europe means that we get less effective military capability for the money that we spend and a less effective European defence industry. That is why I am pleased to draw the House's attention to a statement made today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the British Army will get the medium-range TRIGAT to provide its medium-range anti-tank guided weapons systems, in collaboration with France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Contracts will also be let for the project definition phase of the next generation light anti-armour weapon.

Those are important developments and part of the development of the European defence industry, because mutual dependency is becoming an increasing feature of defence equipment procurement. We need to recognise that and consider it within the context of, for example, discussions about Bishopton and Royal Ordnance. In the United Kingdom, there has been a reduction in orders for ammunition from £300 million a year to about £70 million or £80 million a year. That is mirrored across Europe. To cope with that will require consolidation and specialisation but also assurance of supply, which requires mutual dependency. That cannot be done by companies alone; it will involve Governments. We need to do it within a co-operative framework and we must not be frightened about whether that is part of some overall Euro-plot. It is good business and sensible business, and good defence. So that debate will continue.

It is necessary to clarify for hon. Members what the European security and defence identity is about. It is not a question of competing with NATO. We have made that clear throughout negotiations with our allies and partners. St. Malo recognises that military capabilities for EU-led operations might be drawn from multinational or national sources outside the NATO framework. However, that merely reflects the fact that not all European capabilities that are currently answerable to the WEU are assigned to NATO.

We do not support the further development of military capabilities outside the NATO framework purely for use in EU operations. That is supported by the United States, which supports the impetus to create an ESDI. It has expressed concerns that were rightly identified by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon and also our concerns that any moves should not result in decoupling, or lead to duplication or discrimination against NATO members that are not members of the EU. That is consistent with our approach.

We believe that Kosovo has demonstrated, not undermined, the enduring strength and value of the transatlantic alliance. It has also emphasised the need for Europe to play a stronger part in that alliance. I am sure that that is a cross-party view. The progress that was made on the initiative at last week's Cologne European Council capped a busy and productive spring. Rapid progress has been possible because the focus of the debate has been on practical requirements, not institutions—practical requirements for defence decision making in the EU and for strengthening European military capability. We are sure that that outcome will be good for NATO and for transatlantic relations.

There is a strand of opinion in the United States that questions whether the United States bears too much of the burden and whether Europe bears its share. We aim to ensure that Europe plays a full and active role.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) stressed the need for Europe to be able to act. I have identified the ways in which we are developing that ability. She also rightly stressed the role of British leadership in Europe.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) talked about ballistic missile defence technology. We are certainly not complacent, but we recognise, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does, that the technology is changing extremely rapidly. It would be premature at this stage to acquire such a capability because it might prove ineffective. However, we are monitoring developments on the risk posed by ballistic missiles and cruise missile technology and the technology available to counter them. We are participating in a NATO study and will work closely with our allies to inform further decisions. We are also aware of the considerable cost of ballistic missile defence and of the need to prioritise expenditure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen)—

Mr. Cohen

Before my hon. Friend comes on to me, may I comment on his response on ballistic missile defence technology? The one point that my hon. Friend missed out was that there is a treaty in existence. His missing it out implies that we would be prepared to agree with the United States that the treaty can be abrogated. Will he refer to that treaty?

Mr. Spellar

My hon. Friend should not draw that conclusion from what I said. I was talking about our interest in keeping in touch with, and considering, technology. We should have to consider treaty arrangements in parallel with that.

My hon. Friend helpfully read out not only his own views on several subjects, but the replies of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That saved me a considerable amount of time. He also drew particularly helpful attention to the role of NATO, and especially of the UK, in retraining Russian officers to enable them to enter civilian life and find gainful employment. That has been of great assistance and has been much appreciated.

The hon. Member for New Forest, East started off with an interesting dissertation, which sounded for all the world like an Oxford seminar; I checked and found that he had attended that university and had been awarded a DPhil, so it was hardly surprising. I was most taken by his remark that he believed more strongly in defence than in a victory for one political party. From that, I draw the conclusion that he also believes in the need for a national defence policy. I shall deal with that later.

I was pleased that the hon. Gentleman had found the Commonwealth war graves internet site to be so useful. That site has been widely appreciated and heavily used. It has been of considerable help to many families. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) made a considerable number of extremely detailed points. He would not expect me to reply to all of them this evening, but I or another Minister will certainly reply to him in the near future.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) is not in his place, but told me that he would have to leave the Chamber before the end of the debate. Not surprisingly, he mentioned the importance of air operations and paid tribute—with which I am sure that we all agree—to the air crews who served over Kosovo.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) stressed the need for rebuilding in Kosovo. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) also pointed out that a considerable of amount of such work would need to be done. I am sure that both hon. Gentlemen will be encouraged by the discussions on south-eastern European stability. There is a need to recreate civil society and organisation as well as the important job of physical reorganisation and building.

I was slightly surprised by the concern of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South over procurement drop-back. I do not think that he really has read the answers to which he referred.

Mr. Hancock

I have.

Mr. Spellar

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not drawn the right conclusions. I should certainly be more than happy to discuss the matter with him if he has some particular concerns.

I was also slightly taken aback when he said that not enough was being done about recruitment. I fully accept that we need to make further improvements in retention, but the recruitment story is a very good one. In all the services, the advertising campaign has been extremely good—as have the activities of the recruiting teams, including the ethnic recruiting teams. Ministers and senior officers can keep sending out the message, but what really gets through to the young man or woman in the West Bromwich labour exchange—which I visited recently—is hearing what life is like in Her Majesty's forces from people from the many communities. Those people are our best salesmen and they are doing extremely well. We are proud of them and are pleased with the work that they undertake.

The hon. Gentleman said that the case of the nuclear test veterans had not been examined. The case has been extremely well examined. I regret that he does not accept the answers that we, and the best scientific advice, have come up with. The case has been considered by the National Radiological Protection Board, not once but twice. People are entitled to make criticisms, but if they do so from a scientific standpoint, they should do it in proper scientific papers. Those papers should be published in peer reviewed journals so that they can be subjected to the scientific method. That is what the NRPB has done and that is what anyone else who wants to undermine or attack its arguments should do.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned those who have been afflicted with asbestosis and the other cancer that I always have difficulty pronouncing. He appeared to be speaking about civilian employees as well as service personnel, but my understanding is that civilian employees have all along been able to bring industrial injury compensation cases, and that the difficulty has been with service personnel, who have only more recently been able to bring such cases. I should be grateful if he would clarify that point.

Mr. Hancock

I was talking about both categories—civilian employees and service personnel. Service personnel never had that right before and they continue to have problems. Civilian employees have a problem of proof, because it is extremely difficult for them to gain access to documentation relating to their work, which in some cases was carried out 40 years ago. If a former dockyard employee spent his entire working career working for Her Majesty at the Royal Dockyard in Portsmouth, it should be obvious that the contamination came from that source. Such matters should be agreed in compensation cases but, sadly, they are not.

Mr. Spellar

I am sorry if there are such cases. My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will consider such cases as part of his general review of the problem. I should have thought that it would have been easier for dockyard workers to demonstrate the source of contamination than, for example, some of the people with whom I used to deal as a union official: contract workers on the Clyde who moved from company to company and were never formally employed in the shipyards. They had to get attestations from people who had worked with them or from employers, but the companies involved no longer existed. If there are unreasonable difficulties, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman brought them to our attention and they will be examined.

Like other hon. Members, the hon. Gentleman spoke about the role of the Territorial Army. The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk referred to the 10 per cent. who are already serving in Bosnia, and we value their role. I have visited TA units and I know that, in some areas, there was disappointment about some of the decisions that had been made; however, other units that were receiving new equipment and could see their future role felt a sense of excitement and renewed interest. The picture is more balanced than has been said and we do the TA no service by ignoring that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Healey) spoke about the refugees and the work in the camps. A few weeks ago, I was down in Maidstone with the Royal Engineers. All of us—in fact, the world in general—have been hugely impressed by the speed and professionalism with which they erected new camps for refugees. We remember seeing on television the tide of refugees coming across the border. The speed with which that apparent chaos was resolved by getting the refugees into proper camps where they had proper feeding facilities is a tremendous tribute to our personnel, who have continued to work in other camps. That demonstrates the role played by our armed forces in that region.

My hon. Friend mentioned defence diplomacy, which we stress strongly. In the former Soviet Union and in eastern Europe, our military personnel have undertaken a great deal of work, in particular to enable the transformation and evolution of the military in those areas. I have already referred to the retraining work in Russia.

My hon. Friend also referred to the campaign by the International Labour Organisation in respect of 18-year-olds and under-18s in the armed forces. In correspondence with him and other hon. Members, Ministers have set out the reasons why our recruitment policies are as they are. It should be stressed that the real difficulty with the recruitment of young people relates to those who are snatched and forcibly conscripted, either into armed forces, especially those of third world countries, or into paramilitary organisations and roving bands. There is a world of difference between such people and those who have been recruited in proper circumstances, with the consent of their parents, with the option to leave at certain stages, and with a whole range of other protections. We should not confuse the issues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East raised one or two procurement issues. We were spared on this occasion questioning by my hon. F the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) who usually asks about that subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East informed me that he had to leave the Chamber, and I will write to him about the matters that he raised.

I draw hon. Members' attention to the question of resources and expenditure, particularly in terms of the Kosovo operation. That matter has been raised previously—although not in this debate. Expenditure to the end of May totalled £43 million compared with £37 million to the end of April. That is actual additional expenditure and does not include committed expenditure or the cost of expended ordnance. I thought it useful and important to give those figures to the House tonight.

Kosovo is but the latest and most dramatic example of the wide range of activities undertaken by Britain's defence in the world. First, the Government's commitment to make Britain a force for good in the world is no empty promise. We continue to have worldwide interests and worldwide influence, as well as a huge number of British nationals around the world. Furthermore, the dedication and professionalism of British forces is known and admired across the globe.

Mr. Hancock

How do the Government propose to support the President of Montenegro and his democratically elected Government, who will be subjected to enormous pressure from Milosevic and his regime now that he does not have Kosovo to boss around? Will NATO and the Ministry of Defence give support to the President and his regime?

Mr. Spellar

As I have told the hon. Gentleman, we are concerned about stability in south-east Europe and in the Balkans. As we pointed out to those who were critical of our operations in Kosovo, Milosevic's recent actions were simply the last in a long line of atrocities perpetrated by him and his regime. The countries of Europe—particularly the countries of the region—are anxious to put a stop to that instability and those atrocities. That view is shared by the international community. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the Serbian forces retreated into Serbia—and that was indicated clearly in the documentation.

Secondly, our forces' successes have displayed their capabilities and proved that their effectiveness is second to none. Hon. Members will not be surprised if I join all of those who have this evening paid tribute to our forces. We are not unusual in doing so. One has only to talk to a hurricane victim in central America, a Kosovar refugee or a service man from another country to understand why our armed services are held in such high regard across the world.

Thirdly, while we have rightly heard about the difficulties associated with our forces' levels of activity, we should not forget the up side—to which the hon. Member for Blaby drew attention. As he knows, our service personnel are never more satisfied than when they are actively engaged on operations: when they know that they are doing the job they are trained for and making a real difference to the world.

Mr. Robathan

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but I am listening carefully to his speech. British personnel also want to return to their families and have time off at some stage.

Mr. Spellar

We certainly understand that. That is why the Secretary of State has introduced several policies that will make the services more family friendly and help our armed forces personnel to move more easily into the outside world when they finish their service. The adult learning services have provided a great advantage. I visited RAF Cosford two or three weeks ago and I talked to several service men who are taking part in training using their training credits. They greatly appreciate that opportunity, which not only adds to their value to us but gives them portable skills to use in the outside world.

As hon. Members know, the new format of the defence debates, which differs from the previous single-service debates, was devised as a result of a bipartisan discussion about how we could more effectively debate defence roles in the Chamber. I think that it is working, and it will no doubt evolve.

The format raises a deeper issue, to which I alluded when I referred to the speech by the hon. Member for New Forest, East. In the previous Parliament, my colleagues and I argued repeatedly that we needed a more mature and consensual approach on defence matters. For reasons that I shall not go into tonight, the Conservatives did not take that up. We repeated that request from the Government Benches and attempted to accommodate other opinions in the strategic defence review process. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House who take an interest in defence have responded, and we shall continue our endeavours to change the way in which we deal with defence issues. That will be good for Parliament, it will be good for the country and, most importantly, it is the right thing to do for the men and women keeping watch tonight in the hills of the Balkans.

Question put and negatived.

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