Europe's foreign policy: an empty cockpit without the franco-German duo

This article appeared in the Wall St Journal Europe

26 March 2010

Who's in Charge Here, Anyway?

The Rhine has become wider than the Atlantic, as Berlin and Paris stop speaking European

The European Union summit this week should beware of Greeks bearing their crisis and asking what they should do with it. The answer may come from the French socialist, Dominique Strauss Kahn, at the IMF. It may come from two European conservatives, José Manuel Barroso and Herman von Rompuy. They both have the grand title of EU president, though who gives orders to whom is not clear.

In the end the Greeks will find their solution in the twin rules of the Oracle of Delphi: "Know thyself" and "Nothing to excess." It will be painful, just as Britain's emergence from an excess of statism and public spending was painful after the IMF took charge in 1976. But it is doable and must be done.

The real question in Brussels is: "Quo Vadis Europe?" Where is Europe going, and is there a pilot in the cockpit of the EU?

In the past there were two pilots in charge. They were the president of France and the chancellor of Germany. Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle; Willy Brandt and Georges Pompidou; Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing; and Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand managed to subordinate the natural national egos of their great nations to forge and advance some shared sense of commonality as they constructed a post-national Europe. Even Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac maintained this Franco-German togetherness when they lined up against President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair over Iraq.

Now we are seeing a slow re-nationalization of Europe. The Rhine has become wider than the Atlantic as France and Germany have stopped speaking European and are insisting on national priorities über alles.

The unedifying row over the new foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is a symptom of this lack of belief in the post-Lisbon Treaty European Union. It would little matter if she combined the diplomatic qualities of Metternich, Talleyrand and Henry Kissinger. There is no European message on foreign policy, so shooting the messenger will have to do.

EU nations cannot even agree a common position on a peripheral issue like Kosovo or prevent Greece from stopping Macedonia's EU and NATO accession because of its name. On Turkey, on Russia, on immigration, on energy, on human rights in China or Cuba, the leading European nations are at odds and delivering contradictory messages.

There is no agreement on how to grow the European economy. Now Germany is being slated because it exports lots of goods. It is a funny Europe where having a trade surplus is now a policy error. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has unleashed his attack dog, the New York lawyer-turned-finance minister Christine Lagarde, to hector and lecture Berlin on its economic model. German Chancellor Angela Merkel responds by saying that euro-zone countries that breach the stability and growth pact should be expelled. Given that France has been one of the worst culprits, notably when Mr. Sarkozy was finance minister, it is clear who she has in her sights.

Compare this to de Gaulle trying out his lycée German as he invited Adenauer to his home at Colombey les deux Églises in the 1960s, or Mitterrand and Kohl roughly pushing Margaret Thatcher to one side to surge ahead with the single market. They made it a success by enlarging Europe to 15 from nine, and laying the foundations for the euro and the reunification of Europe from Galway to Galicia.

Today the clamor is for less Europe. The German constitutional court seeks to limit German engagement in the EU. The European Parliament is home to extremist parties including outright anti-Semites from Britain and eastern Europe. Some 85% of the EU's budget in 1988 came from customs duties and VAT. In 2010 more than three-quarters of the EU's budget comes from direct transfers from member states. No one notices income that flows automatically from VAT or sugar duties. Everyone notices income transferred from national budgets that might otherwise be spent on pensions, or schools, or defense, or whatever—but that instead is allocated to the bureaucrats of Brussels.

So European institutions that were once the servants of Europeans are now seen as dysfunctional and greedy for money that could be better spent at home. How many top Europeans do the U.S., China and other new world players like Turkey, India and Brazil have to accept at G-20 and other global parleys? Why should European citizens vote for a European Parliament that houses so many racists and weird fringe politicians?

When will France and Germany again decide to be co-pilots guiding Europe's future? Britain is becoming increasingly detached and David Cameron has made clear that if he wins power he would prefer to see no Europe, speak no Europe and hear no Europe. That satisfies his internal party problems. And such unsplendid isolation is nothing new in British history.

The real answer to the European question has to come from Berlin and Paris. But no one wants to provide it.

An intelligente debate on immigration is needed

This comment was published on the Guardian website
24 March 2010
A non-toxic immigration debate
With an election looming, immigration will be an issue – but one that must be reported sensitively, not sensationally

Listening to the long rant of Newham citizens against "immigrants" on the Today programme this morning took me back to my early days as a BBC trainee reporter in Birmingham in the early 1970s. Vox pops, as they were called, were the easiest of wallpaper radio journalism. Out into the street with a Uher and microphone and a wave of Powellite, hate against immigrants could be recorded. Listening this morning, nothing had changed.

Then, as now, there was a silky smooth voice of an establishment grandee saying that immigration was out of control. His words are repeated today by Nick Griffin and the BNP. In the 1970s, it was John Tyndall and the National Front. Mainstream politicians did not know which way to turn. Labour brought in tougher immigration controls and Margaret Thatcher promised that the country would not be "swamped".

Today did not send its reporter into Newham health services to ask patients if they objected to being treated by doctors and nurses who may not be "white English", to use the preferred phrase of the racists, Today gave a platform to. The programme also allowed a former ambassador, Sir Andrew Green, to repeat the old canard that immigration is a "political taboo" which no mainstream party will address.

The three great lies about immigration are as follows:

• Politicians are not talking about it. I can think of no other issue that flares up so often on the doorstep. It is raised regularly at local Labour party meetings. The government has changed the law again and again. Phil Woolas and other ministers get into trouble as they talk of little else.

• It is out of control. In fact, last year there were 24,000 claims for asylum but 65,000 asylum seekers were sent or went home. The great wave of East European workers sucked in by the booming low-wage labour-intensive economy of the early century has subsided. Over decades Britain has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Irish. Now it is a different type of Catholic European – Poles and Slovaks.

• There is something easy to be done. What? Leave the EU and stop European citizens living and working here? And what if Spain, looking at 800,000 British citizens living and working there, decides to apply the same policy? Declare Britain will pull out of international treaties on refugee rights? Tell 200,000 Americans and 300,000 Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders and white South Africans they have to go home? Tell British citizens who want to marry someone from far away that they cannot?

• In the 1970s, with my BBC microphone, I picked up exactly the same hate racism that the Today's reporter recorded with ease in Newham. One answer to immigration was the mass unemployment of the 1980s, which meant no one came to work here and, instead, we exported our "Auf Wiedersehen Pet" workers to richer economies.

• Some measures should be taken. I pointed out in the Commons last week that Iraqi asylum seekers can now go home. Iraq has had a successful general election. Kurdish Iraq is safe. Businesses, shops, restaurants are back along the Euphrates in Baghdad. The nation has the world's largest oil reserves. Violence occurs, just as bombs blew up and killed people in British cities during the long IRA terror campaign. But Iraqis who fled from Saddam's regime of terror or during the Shia-Sunni civil war driven by al-Qaida after 2003 can now return. The same is true of Kosovans. Kosovo is booming. There is too much corruption, as elsewhere in the Balkans, including Greece, but there is no reason to claim refugee status.

• On health grounds, we should slow down the rate of cousin marriage. The evidence of congenital defects arising from cousins marrying is now overwhelming. My friends in Britain's Kashmiri community know this, but the culture of cousin marriage remains strong – just ask Europe's royal families. There may be a case for limiting cousin marriages without full-scale medical checks and it should be discussed. It would be helpful if outfits such as the Muslim Council of Britain could take a lead on this, instead of supporting reactionary, patriarchal cultural practices, which feeds into anti-Muslim prejudice.

• In the 1970s, under the impulse of no-nonsense veteran journalists from its regions, the BBC drew up guidelines on race reporting that put some limits on the excitement of the metropolitan BBC Oxbridge elites who thought they had an exciting story about mass immigration changing the face of Britain and destroying communities. Now, Nick Griffin swells as he listens to former ambassadors, foolish MPs and London elite commentators all trying to pretend that they are telling a hidden truth on the presence of non-white, non-Christian, non-received English-speaking incomers living in our country.

• There needs to be no silence on immigration – simply a conversation about the issue that recognises there are problems and works out ways of overcoming them. That requires sensitivity and balance and not allowing the kind of three-page platform interview provided to Nick Griffin in the current Total Politics; and it means talking to MPs who deal daily with the issue.

• Nicolas Sarkozy thought he had solved the "immigrant question" in France with tough language about hosing the scum off the streets of Paris and launching a debate about national identity in France, which quickly turned into a feast of anti-Muslim prejudice. All he did was boost Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National vote last weekend. Similarly, the BNP thrives on the kind of BBC reporting we heard this morning.

• There is no simple answer. Punch-up panel debates on Newsnight between a representative of Immigration Watch and someone from the immigrant community, or between MPs with opposing views, do not help. Nor does the vox-pop racism on offer this morning. In the 1970s, serious BBC journalists working with the NUJ and others worked out rough-and-ready, deontological guidelines on reporting these issues. It is time the BBC sat down again and took a lead in raising the debate above the very low level where Nick Griffin, Migration Watch and MPs who think that claiming immigration is out of control will lessen the BNP vote want to keep it.

Tories' alliance in Europe: Waffen-SS march in Latvia

This comment was published by the Guardian

18 March 2010

Tories must answer for extremist links
The ahistorical David Cameron has no idea how much his association with Waffen-SS admirers has tarnished UK politics
Ian Traynor's balanced report from Riga about the Waffen-SS commemoration in Latvia is a reminder that Britain's Conservative party has not been adequately called to account for its links with extremists in eastern Europe.
There are unconfirmed reports that before deciding to open a joint shop with east European nationalist populist politicians, David Cameron ordered a full assessment from a Conservative expert with long experience in European politics. His dossier made clear that the Tories would be well advised to stay clear of alliances with either the Latvian For Fatherland and Freedom party or Poland's Law and Justice party (PiS), which had incorporated openly anti-Jewish politicians into its ranks even if top PiS leaders have publicly condemned antisemitism.

This week we can see the ugly face of the Conservative's foolish alliance. Even if no Tory MP was present to march in memory of the Waffen-SS alongside their Latvian allies, the grotesque nature of the ceremony mocks not just Jews but all who sacrificed themselves to defeat Nazism. As Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, noted the event was deeply offensive. "These people were thinking they were fighting for Latvia but the real beneficiary of their service and their bravery was Nazi Germany."
Stalinism was cruel and Russia's occupation of Latvia in 1939 and the brutality of the Red Army as it raped its way across the Baltic states in 1944 and 1945 have scarred Latvian national memory. Five per cent of the Latvian population was deported to rot and die in Siberia under Stalin. Many Latvians fled to west Europe or North America rather than live under Soviet imperialism. But 90% of Latvia's Jews were killed by the Nazis with the active collaboration of Latvian recruits to the Waffen-SS local divisions. Many were youngsters conscripted with no choice. Others were volunteers. But all SS and other German soldiers who carried out the extermination of Jews were conscripts. Obligatory enrolment in the SS and other Nazi units has never been and cannot be an excuse for whitewashing the murder of Jews.

There is a deeper rightwing revisionism at play. Stalin's crimes are being elevated to a par with the exterminations of Jews by those who want to banalise or relativise the Holocaust and reduce its historical centrality to just another example of wartime mass murders. Stalin's famines of the 1930s or his deportations in the 1940s are held up as the right creates its own moral equivalence between Nazism and Communism. The latter was foul, evil and those who were Stalin and Trotksy's mouthpieces in European democracies have done lasting damage to the democratic left.
But Hitlerism's Holocaust converted an entire nation's engineers, chemists, railway systems, diplomats as well as the military and the police into an industrially organised network absorbing massive resources as it combed Europe to transport Jews from every remote corner of the continent to be put to death in Nazi extermination camps on Polish soil.
If history starts to absolve Nazism and the Holocaust as being on a par with the crimes of Stalinism and its cruelties, including in Latvia, then European democracy will take a major step backwards.
It is the ahistorical nature of David Cameron and William Hague that they have no understanding of the damage they have done to the good name of British politics by entering into an alliance with east European apologists for crimes committed in the second world war, provided those crimes were committed in the name of anti-Sovietism.
Russia today is a bully and an ugly nationalist power in the region with no interest in becoming more not less European. But Russian paranoia can only increase if European democracies get into bed with parties that justify the Jew-killing of the second world war because communism was as great if not a greater enemy than Nazism.
When this row broke out last summer Tory apologists such as Iain Dale, Stephen Pollard, and Dean Godson went into overdrive along with politicians such as William Hague and Daniel Hannan in denouncing reporters like the Observer's Toby Helm, the Guardian's Ian Traynor and the New Statesman's James Macintyre for revealing the sordid background of politicians David Cameron had chosen as his allies in place of mainstream centre-right European parties. They were accused of McCarthyism, smears and distorting the truth. With every passing moment it is the journalists who were right and the Conservative propagandists who were wrong.
This does not make the Conservatives weak on the common cause of combating antisemitism but it does call into question their judgement in choosing admirers of the Waffen-SS to be their new friends in Europe.
Once the election is over the Conservatives should rethink this alliance. When Latvian rightwingers commemorate the memory of the Waffen-SS in March 2011 it would be good for British politics if they marched alone and were no longer part of an alliance with a British political party.

Intervention in the House: UK Defence in the World

The speech by Denis MacShane below was made in the House of Commons in a debate on "Defence in the World"

15th March 2010

The debate is about defence in the world, and my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary focused a bit narrowly, if I may say so, on Afghanistan. I do not entirely blame him, because the attempts to challenge the Chilcot inquiry evidence given by the Prime Minister, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer when the Iraq conflict was launched, were fairly unworthy. I was genuinely surprised and concerned by the proncunciamentos from certain former senior officers, including chiefs of staff who are now Members of the other place. They have a right to speak—[Interruption.] Some say that they have a duty to speak, but if our soldiers decide to become party political animals when they retire, the relationship between the military and the Crown might alter, which should give us some cause for reflection. That is all that I would say.

I asked the House of Commons Library about the finances, and I have listened to the conflicting points of view that have been expressed today. I was told that the defence budget went up by 31 per cent. between 1997 and 2003—by 17 per cent. in real terms, which is about £7 billion extra on top of the steadily inflation-plus growing defence budget. I have never been able to understand why the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the time is blamed for the distribution of that money, having given our military many extra pounds and pennies.

We have 140 officers at the rank of general costing £6 million-plus leading our armed services across the Army, Air Force and Navy. We have a very good Ministry of Defence senior executive capability, who are also handsomely paid. It is surely their job, having been given the extra money, to decide how it should be spent. If Iraq and Afghanistan came de novo blindside, and had never happened before in recent military experience, it would be difficult to adapt, but we fought a war in Iraq in 1990. Our soldiers, who were stationed in the region, were knocking on Saddam Hussein’s door for several months before the invasion, and we have been in Afghanistan for nine years. On the whole, when we make a comparison with the beginnings of other conflicts, whether of the first or second world war, or other major military campaigns throughout our history, we can see that we begin poorly and finish well. Our armed forces adapt very, very quickly and invent new techniques.

I am not a military expert and I always defer to Opposition Members who have been serving officers, but I am at a loss to explain why all these generals, admirals and vice-marshals have been incapable between 2001 and today, or between 2003 and today, of restrategising and reprioritising. We have many more admirals than we have ships on deployment overseas. We have a large number of major-generals. I sat next to a major-general from the Irish Guards in a second-class compartment on the train from Doncaster last week. I do not mind how MPs travel or whom they meet on the train, but it is a rum show when a major-general from the Irish Guards has to travel on an off-peak cheap-day standard class return ticket to make modest economies for the military.

I do not want to focus on Afghanistan. Instead, I shall widen out to other geo-strategic concerns. The hon. Member for Woodspring spoke about our enemies and adversaries, but he did not define them. I tried to tempt him to say whether China might be one in future. I agree entirely with his analysis. We want a liberal, friendly China, but undoubtedly the extraordinary rate of increase in its military prowess is very powerful.
The hon. Gentleman spoke warmly of President Sarkozy. We have seen some interesting remarks from the shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition about Mr. Sarkozy and his height. The shadow Defence Secretary would never be accused of heightism, but he cannot seriously engage with France and appeal to France to be our ally while spending all his time attacking every article of French defence policy.

The French presidency, which takes over the European Union when the Spanish presidency finishes this July, wants to see the establishment of a new intervention force under PSC. I can see the eyes of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen glazing over at that bit of jargon. Now that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has left, let me tell them that PSC stands for permanent structure co-operation under the Lisbon treaty and is a very significant development in our common approach to European defence activity. The French presidency also wants greater contributions to the financing of European security and defence operations. Those are two examples of what France stands for—in other words, more common European authority and more money for Europe.

Dr. Fox: I am interested in the point about the funding of PSC. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting a funding mechanism that sets down specific contributions according to GDP for each member of the European Union for PSC? If he envisages that or a different mechanism, what impact will that have on the rather pathetic levels of funding that some of those countries are making for their existing NATO obligations, without adding new ones?

Mr. MacShane: I am making no comments; I am talking about what the French are proposing. If the Opposition are serious about their new desire for a bilateral relationship with France on security and defence matters, they will have to take that on board. I have read reports in which the shadow Defence Secretary was quoted to the effect that, in forging a bilateral relationship with France, we will sink the European Defence Agency. If he wants to correct me, I am happy to take the correction.

The French are fully committed to the European Defence Agency, as I believe we should be. It is preposterous that so many countries in Europe have their own procurement, research, development and implementation policies, so each country in Europe is making its different military vehicle, helicopter, rifle and even, at times, bullet. That seems to me to be an absurdity. We in Europe are rich in men, if we take on board Turkey, but we are very weak and poor in kit.

Dr. Fox: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. As he knows, I am no fan of the EDA. Leaving aside the European element of the European Defence Agency, why should countries such as the United Kingdom, which has a large private sector research budget, want to share intellectual property with countries that do not invest in such defence capability?

Mr. MacShane: It is roughly for the same reason why, on the day that the Falklands war broke out 28 years ago, the very first call received by Margaret Thatcher, the then Prime Minister, was from François Mitterrand, offering her all the details, capabilities and research technology behind the Exocet and the Super Etendard. He understood instantly what was at stake. The rumour goes—I am sure it is only a rumour—that within a day, British arms salesmen were going round their clients saying, “You see what happens if you buy from the French? They betray their secrets to someone else.”
Dr. Fox: I am very interested, because a crucial issue is coming up. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that we would not have had those problems had we had a common procurement policy in Europe. If he is suggesting that the EDA should become a common procurer, that is a very different argument from the one currently put forward by EDA proponents.

Mr. MacShane: I am making one simple point: on the issue of our soldiers and those of our allies in Europe who are prepared to fight, patrol and take containment measures alongside us, the notion that we can have 27 separate procurement policies—46, if we enlarge the number to include the Council of Europe—is just not sustainable.

Whenever I, as a NATO Parliamentary Assembly member, go to Washington, I find that the comments and suspicions that undoubtedly existed eight, nine or 10 years ago about European defence capabilities—hugely fuelled, let it be said, by the speeches, pamphlets and comments that the hon. Member for Woodspring has energetically produced over the years—have all evaporated. Now, 4-star generals, senior members of the State Department and the Department of Defence tell me that the United States wants a more coherent European approach.

Today, in Latvia, there are processions commemorating the Waffen SS division from Latvia which fought in world war two alongside the Nazis. One of the Opposition’s new party allies will be taking part in those celebrations. The Conservatives cannot insult Mr. Sarkozy, Mrs. Merkel and the other leaders of Europe’s centre-right parties by pulling their party out of a formal political alliance or family grouping with them and expect to be taken seriously. Therefore, when I hear the Opposition say that they have suddenly fallen in love with France, that all the jokes about France are inoperative and that all the xenophobia and contempt for France that we have heard from them in recent years is inoperable, I think that most French policy makers would take it with a big pincée de sel—pinch of salt.

Let us move on to the wider strategic questions. Who are our adversaries and enemies? I agree about cyber terrorism, terrorism generally and failed states, but I am not sure that it is the job of military forces to make successful such states. I am also very concerned that, under this Government and without any clear thinking from the Opposition parties, we do not have an holistic approach to bring together all our foreign policy players—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, the different Departments that spend money overseas and, of course, the Ministry of Defence.

Our soldiers very bravely stopped the most awful butchery in Sierra Leone some 11 years ago, and today that country is the biggest per capita recipient of DFID aid. I am sure that the DFID people down there work very well, but why, after 11 years, is Sierra Leone the poorest country in Africa, despite the huge DFID and modest military presence? We have to ask much harder questions about our overseas aid. I say that to my hon. Friends, too, who to some extent just bow before the contemporary political god of foreign aid and do not ask searching and hard enough questions about whether it delivers what we desire—not simply the alleviation of poverty, which in many sub-Saharan countries has not happened, but better governance and more stability.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree, though, that the Ministry of Defence, in promoting the comprehensive approach, along with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID, has moved considerably, particularly on Afghanistan? When I recently visited Afghanistan with the Defence Committee, we were told that our provincial reconstruction team in Helmand set the example of the best performance of such teams across the whole of the country. Does he agree that we are in fact making progress in this area and showing a way forward?

Mr. MacShane: I am always happy to say that British is best, but I do not want to focus too much on Afghanistan. I am worried that more of our soldiers have died there than died in the Falklands, and considerably more than the number who fell in Iraq. That is often described as President Bush’s war, but the successful election that has just been held there suggests that we may now be moving towards a more stable Iraq. Yes, there will be violence and explosions; for heaven’s sake, the British isles have known plenty of those in the past 30 or 40 years. However, I always now say to Iraqi asylum seekers who come to see me: “You can go home. You can return with the English you’ve learned; you no longer need to demand the right to settle and stay permanently in our country.”

We need to look at other parts of the world. The glaciers and ice around the north pole are melting at a ferocious rate, and very soon we will have warm water there. That is warm water not in the sense that you and I would go swimming in it, Madam Deputy Speaker, but in the sense that it is fully accessible to merchant and other naval vessels from China, Japan and Korea going to Europe and right through to Canada and the United States. Alongside that new waterway, we have some powers whose commitment to settling differences by peaceful negotiation and resolution under international law or methods that are democratic is, to put it mildly, open to question. Therefore, among our priorities over the next period, let us not underestimate the importance of the Royal Navy. We will need to have a northern dimension to our foreign and security policy before long, and we should be thinking hard about it now.

I do not want to keep teasing the shadow Defence Secretary about my favourite country, France, but he spoke so warmly of Tory-French relationships that I wonder if he would care to comment—although we cannot make this a duet—on the fact that the French Government have just sold four Mistral helicopter and troop-carrying warships to Russia. The admiral in charge of the Russian fleet in the Black sea has said, “If we’d had these warships during the Georgian conflict, what took us some 40 hours we could have done in 25 minutes.” In exchange, Russia is selling arms galore to Venezuela and Nicaragua, and has offered military aid to Guatemala. I do not know whether this is a new form of the old trade triangle, whereby the French sell their hi-tech kit to the Russians, causing great concern in the Baltic regions and around the Black sea littoral states, and in exchange the Russians sell their kit to southern American countries, causing further problems of stability there. If we are to engage with our French friends on that matter, we need to be more fully engaged in Europe.

We also need to explain to our nation as a whole—I do not think that we have done so—what is at stake in our military presence in far-flung corners of the world. The support when the coffins come back is clearly enormous, but are we articulating sufficiently, with clarity and authority, the fact that 21st-century Britain must maintain a defence profile and must be involved in security and defence issues around the world? I say to many of my hon. Friends and, above all, to the utterly irresponsible Liberal Democrat party, that we cannot afford to give up our nuclear deterrent. I have just come from the funeral of Michael Foot in Hampstead. Michael was passionate about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I am a huge admirer of his, but on that he was wrong. It would be the utmost folly for my party to think that the British people are ready to sign up to any significant reduction in our deterrent capability.

We must also consider whether we as parliamentarians are sufficiently engaged in defence debates. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that any chatter from the Foreign Office that the very modest funding for the Western European Union might be reduced or removed will be wrong. It is important, as Members of all parties take part in it and learn about defence issues. I should also like to see a stronger NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegation after the election. I say to the Clerks, a very distinguished representative of whom is sat at the Table, that some of the proposals to make working at the assembly more difficult, onerous and unpleasant are not to be encouraged.

In passing, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), who is standing down at the next election. He was a distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence and a distinguished leader of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegation, and we will sorely miss him.

Mr. Arbuthnot: May I place on record, I think on behalf of the Defence Committee and probably also on behalf of the whole House, the fact that the contribution of the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) to the defence of this country has been utterly outstanding and beyond compare?

Mr. MacShane: I obviously believe firmly that, if we are returned to power with a handsome majority, the defence of our nation will be secure in the hands of my party, as it was under Ernest Bevin and Denis Healey and has been since 1997 under successive Defence Secretaries and Foreign Secretaries. In case for any reason that majority is not quite as handsome as I might wish, I say to the Conservatives that they have not served the cause of the defence of our realm by their chipmunk moaning and groaning about every aspect of defence policy. There has been some playing of politics. I am as partisan as the next man, and it is a difficult matter—Lord Salisbury famously said, “If you listen to the doctors you are never healthy; if you listen to the theologians you are never saved, and if you listen to the generals you are never safe.” I believe that this Government and our armed services have helped preserve the safety of our nation in recent years. Whatever happens, if I am returned to this place I will continue to give them my full support.