DEFENCE – EUROPEAN ARMY – 22 November 2000
Dr Julian Lewis: Does the Secretary of State [Geoff Hoon] accept that many Conservative Members have been fighting for 20 years and more to support NATO, irrespective of their views on the European Union? Does he also accept that it is not normal for a Government continually to push the Chief of the Defence Staff to endorse their political positions? As they have chosen to do so, will the Secretary of State comment on what the Chief of the Defence Staff said a few days ago in answer to a question from a Member of Parliament who asked why anything that could be done outside the NATO structure could not be done within its structure?
"I suppose it could have been done within the NATO framework and in some ways it would have been easier."
But, he went on:
"It was decided by the EU governments that this was the way it would be done."
What will be achieved outside the NATO structure that could not have been achieved within it?
[Mr Hoon: Let me deal first with the hon. Gentleman's point about the Chief of the Defence Staff. I should make it absolutely clear that nobody pushes the Chief of the Defence Staff forward – absolutely no one. I have far too much respect for a man whom the Conservative party appointed when in government ever to push him forward to deal with any issue. He chooses to comment when he chooses to comment. Certainly – perhaps this is the hon. Gentleman's difficulty – he has consistently supported the idea of more effective European co-operation. He recognises that that is good for the armed forces and their ability to participate in crisis missions.]