HL Deb 27 April 1999 vol 600 cc146-8

2.52 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they consulted the Government of the Republic of Finland and the three Baltic states before they agreed to adapt the 1996 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty between NATO and the Russian Federation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) was signed in 1990 by the states of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. The treaty's Flank provisions were revised in 1996. The previous government discussed the issues with the Baltic states and Finland beforehand. Treaty adaptation continues, and our aim remains that CFE should enhance the security of all, including those states not party to it. We have, therefore, continued to consult regularly with the Baltic states, Finland and other non-parties to the treaty.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Although I welcome the recent statement made in Washington that NATO remains open to all new members who wish to join after negotiations, does the Minister agree that the Baltic states are in no man's land at present? Therefore, will the Minister ensure that we continue to inform and consult the Baltic states long in advance of our agreeing to various matters with the Russian Federation? Further, will. Her Majesty's Government also insist on the most vigorous and thorough site inspections when the treaty comes into effect on the 31st of next month, especially in the Oblasts of Pskov, Leningrad and Kaliningrad, to ensure that the Russian Federation complies with the treaty? That will demonstrate its goodwill and enhance security in the Baltic region.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I can assure the noble Earl that there was informal discussion in the margins in Vienna between the Baltic states and officials representing Her Majesty's Government. There were also discussions between the Baltic states and Norway, Denmark and Poland, which also have a great interest in the matter. I can give the noble Earl the assurance that he seeks that such discussions will continue.

The noble Earl may also be interested to know that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has written to the Presidents of Latvia and Estonia regarding the agreement reached on 30th March, setting out some of the improvements in the arrangements to he made. He said: There will also be greater opportunities to verify that Russia complies with this"— that is to say, the improvements— as the Treaty provisions for military transparency have also been enhanced". It means that we will be able to send in arms controls inspectors to verify that the terms of the arrangements reached on 30th March are complied with.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, can the Minister say what assurances the Government have received from Russia to substantiate her statement yesterday that the Kosovo crisis does not negate any of the principles underpinning the NATO/Russian Founding Act 1997? I ask that question in the light of the recall last month of Russia's chief military representative at NATO.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, Russia has not renounced the NATO/Russia Founding Act, which created the framework for co-operation. Indeed, co-operation is still continuing on important practical issues, as I believe the conclusion of the framework agreement for the adaptation of the CFE treaty on 30th March shows. I hope that the noble Lord will also be pleased to know that co-operation is continuing on a number of other related issues, including those surrounding the millennium bug. Therefore, the discussions on these important issues are continuing.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her most reassuring reply to my Question. However, can she give the House any more detail of the new membership action plan for countries such as the three Baltic states—namely, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—which aspire to join the alliance?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the NATO summit decided that NATO would maintain an active relationship with those countries which have applied for membership. One way of doing so was to put into place the membership action plan to which the noble Earl refers. The measures include: first, the submission by aspiring members of individual annual national programmes; secondly, a feedback mechanism from NATO on progress on those individual programmes; thirdly, a clearing house to help to co-ordinate military assistance; and, fourthly, a defence planning approach which will include elaboration and review of planning targets. Therefore, those four areas are contained within the action plan mentioned by the noble Earl.

Viscount Craigavon

My Lords, I am genuinely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, for including Finland in his well-known concerns on the Baltic states. I also fully support the principle that the Finns and the other Nordic countries are fully entitled to be concerned about the stability and health of the Baltic nations. However, as far the Question on the Order Paper relates to border controls, especially as regards the Finnish/Russian border, will the Minister confirm that the Finns are entitled and correct to be perfectly happy with the existing system of consultations which they have with Her Majesty's Government?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, Her Majesty's Government are continuing to consult not only with the Baltic states but also with Finland. Indeed, we take the Finnish concerns most seriously and hold regular consultations with Finland. The noble Viscount may be interested to know that the most recent formal discussion of CFE with Finland took place between officials on 12th and 13th April this year and that informal discussions have taken place since. We believe that the CFE adaptation process will indeed benefit Finnish security. We shall, of course, remain in close touch with the Finns over the matter.