HL Deb 22 November 2000 vol 619 cc852-67

5.25 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on European defence co-operation being made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence in another place. The Statement is as follows: "With permission, I would like to make a Statement to the House about recent developments in European defence co-operation. There are those who in recent days have, frankly, become a little over-excited. I would like to try to set out the facts and separate them from the Euro-sceptic fiction.

"Our aim is the improvement of European military capabilities to deal with the security challenges now facing us. These enhanced capabilities will be available to the countries concerned, to the European Union and to NATO. This is a key step towards achieving our goal of strengthening the European pillar of NATO and encouraging our European partners to do more.

"This is an aim that everyone in this House should share. It is about making it easier for British Armed Forces to deploy in a multi-national context—something which is a routine requirement of modern operations. I spent this morning with the Royal Regiment of Wales and the Royal Green Jackets, currently serving in Paderborn in Germany. They emphasised the number of recent occasions when they had been deployed alongside European forces, from Holland, from France and from Italy.

"I would like to set out just what we have been discussing this week at the Capabilities Commitments Conference in Brussels. Last year, at the Helsinki Summit, it was agreed that European Union nations should by 2003 be able to deploy rapidly up to 60,000 ground troops to meet the full range of crisis management tasks. These troops could either contribute to NATO-led operations or, where NATO as a whole was not engaged, to European-led crisis management missions.

"Over the past two days, European partners, both in the European Union and those outside it, have been identifying the type and level of forces that they might be able to make available to Petersberg operations. This is not a standing European army. It is a pool of potentially available national forces. It envisages full transparency and consultation with NATO as a potential crisis develops. It would then be for contributing countries to decide whether, when and how to deploy their armed forces. No country would have to take part. The British Prime Minister, answerable to this House, will always have the final say over the use and deployment of British Armed Forces.

"NATO is, and will remain, the cornerstone of European defence. It alone remains responsible for the collective territorial defence of its member states. The European Union has stated repeatedly that its aim is to have the ability to conduct military crisis management operations only where NATO as a whole is not engaged. Nothing that has been done in the European Union this week changes any of that. For the foreseeable future, major operations of this kind would draw on NATO assets and use NATO operational planning and command structures. It would, in short, be NATO-supported. So, it is time we lowered the temperature and raised the tone of the debate.

"One way of doing this is to place the current developments in context. In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty established the present framework of the European Union. It was this treaty which established the so-called 'second pillar' of a common foreign and security policy. It said that member states, 'shall define and implement a common foreign and security policy' and went on to specify that this, 'shall include all questions related to the security of the Union, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence'. That policy was signed up to by the previous Conservative Government—by both the right honourable Member for Huntingdon as well as the current Leader of the Opposition. Through the Western European Union, the previous Government explicitly promoted the development of a European capability for use when NATO as a whole was not engaged. They seem to have forgotten that.

"I assume that this policy is still supported by the right honourable Member for Huntingdon. Those who look for consistency in their politicians might assume that the Leader of the Opposition would still support a policy to which he signed up as an ambitious Minister in government. At least it can be said that in terms of consistency the Shadow Defence Spokesman has consistently opposed Maastricht and the European Union. His Euro-sceptic opposition now leads the Conservative Party, with its leader jumping on the anti-European bandwagon.

"The Leader of the Opposition should not try to hide behind NATO. It was NATO at Berlin in 1996 that offered to make its assets available for European operations; and it was NATO at the Washington Summit last year that offered its support for the European Defence Initiative. The policy we are discussing today has not suddenly appeared. What we are doing is a long way short of the aspirations to which the previous Government agreed.

"I apologise for this short history lesson. It is important to be clear that the aim I declared at the beginning—the improvement of European capabilities—is not only one that all parties have shared but one that has already been pursued over several years. Yet, if it is necessary for Europeans to do more, why do they not simply take action within NATO? The answer is that we do take action within NATO. The fundamental structures of co-operation are there in planning, training and command and control arrangements. What we are doing through the European Union will complement this action.

"There are three main reasons for saying so. First, there is a clear imbalance in capabilities between the Europeans and the United States which has grown over the past decade. Kosovo was a wake-up call. Both the US and NATO strongly support increased efforts by Europe to respond to this challenge. Not a single senior figure in the US Administration is opposed to these proposals. Madeleine Albright described Monday's conference in Brussels as 'a strongly positive development [that] we wholly support'. At the recent NATO conference in Birmingham Bill Cohen, the US Defense Secretary, said: 'Let me be clear on the American position. We agree with this goal, not grudgingly, not with resignation, but with wholehearted conviction'. "The effort that is now being put into developing better European capabilities, which is being led by Britain, is beginning to have an effect. For years defence budgets around Europe have been falling. Next year, according to figures given to NATO by its member nations, defence spending will rise in real terms in 11 of the 16 European states of NATO. The restructuring of armed forces to make them better equipped to face today's challenges is taking place in a number of EU countries.

"Secondly, the European Union is already actively involved in crises through economic sanctions, diplomatic measures and humanitarian aid, but it has lacked clout. In security matters, especially in a real crisis, political weight reflects military weight. The EU has lacked a practical method for mobilising a military response.

"The third reason is that additional political will and momentum for Europe to improve its capabilities is best generated through NATO and the EU. The multi-dimensional nature of security issues demands a co-ordinated political response. For that, frankly, we would be failing if we did not make full use of the mechanisms offered by the European Union. The Capability Commitments Conference earlier this week is neither something to fear nor something to scaremonger about. On the contrary, we as a nation should be delighted to see our European partners making a serious commitment to improve their capability to be able to respond to crisis management situations. It strengthens the military capability and resolve in the EU and also the capability within the NATO Alliance.

"This is a statement of requirement—a goal, a level of ambition. It is a means of galvanising action. That is why it is called the Headline Goal. It is not a European army: it is not even a standing rapid reaction force. Nor is it confined to the European Union. On Tuesday, we heard from non-EU NATO nations and from the 15 EU aspirants. They too support this goal and have offered forces towards it. Yet, as we have seen, the Opposition would pull Britain out of this process and isolate us not only among the 15 EU members but also non-EU states.

"Since Helsinki, military experts in both EU countries and NATO have developed a detailed statement of requirement for the pool of forces and capabilities needed to cover the Petersberg tasks: peacekeeping, peace support and peace enforcement. On Monday, countries nominated elements of their national forces which they believed could contribute to this requirement. The process of identifying these forces is, in principle, no different from the process of declaring forces to NATO or to the United Nations. We need the ability to assemble the right sort of force quickly for a range of possible operations.

"The key difference about the current initiative is that capabilities are being identified against a specific goal. The countries involved are demonstrating their determination to follow through in the areas of shortfall and deficiency which this process will highlight. Therefore, this is a step in a process, not the end of the road. We are perfectly well aware that there are many detailed issues to be followed up in both the EU and NATO.

"Like others, the UK has identified a pool of forces and capabilities as its contribution to wards achievement of the headline goal. These forces provide for a balance across the full range of Petersberg tasks, including the most demanding. In the maximum scale operation envisaged at Helsinki—a corps level deployment of up to 60,000 ground troops—the UK land component could be about 12,000 strong. Maritime and air deployments of up to 18 warships and 72 combat aircraft could be made in addition. I set all this out in more detail in my response to the Question from my honourable friend the Member for Loughborough on Monday.

"Let me be clear about what this initiative is and what it is not. It is a planning process to ensure a more effective defence effort by European forces. It is a mechanism to improve European contributions to NATO and to ensure that European nations can in future play a more effective part in alliance operations. It will encourage more efficient and targeted defence spending by our European friends, and it will ensure that when NATO is not engaged the European Union can act effectively in a wide range of peace support operations, if and when its member nations want it to.

"It is not a European army or even a standing reaction force. It is not an agreement to give up or reduce Britain's sovereign control over British forces, and it is not a commitment to undertake operations in which we would not previously have wished to take part. It is not, therefore, a new burden for our Armed Forces. Those who have said this either do not understand what is happening or deliberately seek to mislead for reasons of political opportunism. The success of our Armed Forces in co-operating with our partners and allies deserves better. The Opposition should be ashamed of themselves for trying to use our Armed Forces to further their own anti-European obsessions".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.29 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I do not pursue the reference to over-excitement—I note that the earlier draft referred to "hysteria"—and the partisan jibes. I am sure your Lordships agree that those matters are more suitable for another place, and in any event they are not appropriate in view of the very serious nature of the issue that we are discussing. So I shall ignore them.

We on this side of the House are totally in favour of a stronger European contribution to NATO, a stronger European branch of NATO. If this project is about that, and that really is the aim of the entire undertaking, we would have no problems with it. We have always supported that. That is what NATO put forward at Berlin in 1996. The Secretary of State for Defence is right to allude to it. The previous government supported it. We still support it from this side.

But the question is: is this still the same project? Does not this new proposal have its own unified command; its own planning committees under the European Union; its own military staff, already set up incidentally—I do not know under what powers, but perhaps the noble Baroness will tell us; and its own headquarters? Eventually, the clear intention is that it should have also its own intelligence, logistics and heavy-lift. That will happen only when the money is found, because we are talking about enormous sums. If it is not found there would be a danger of vast duplication.

We want to see NATO strengthened by a greater European contribution. But anyone who has been in the Army, even in a junior position, will know that it is essential for soldiers to have a single command and control structure and single and clear planning procedures. There is a risk here that we shall have double command and control and a double set of planning procedures. For instance, the Deputy SACEUR will not be the co-ordinating officer for the new force and for NATO; he will have merely a liaison role. Can the noble Baroness explain why that should be so? That does not imply the kind of unity and clarity of command which soldiers need.

I turn to the question of defence spending. Where is the money coming from? In his Commons Statement the Secretary of State mentioned more spending next year. But it will need to be a very large increase. What will be cut to make room for it? Will other defence arrangements be cut? We need to be clear on that issue and not just push it aside. Everyone, including the Pentagon and the Americans concerned, has made it clear that they want to see more spending to make a reality of this, if it is not just to be a paper exercise.

Then we have the non-EU NATO states which are extremely worried. The statement pushes that aside. But Turkey has expressed profound concern that it is being cut out of the planning procedures. Norway has also expressed some worries. Can the noble Baroness reassure us that those countries' worries are misplaced and that it will be the same as before for them? Is she aware—this is perhaps the most important of all the points—that, despite the strong statements, which I recognise from Madeleine Albright and others, there are many worries in the United States. She must have heard them. She is very close to these matters. Did she notice the recent quotation from the US Ambassador to NATO? He said: done poorly, this process can divide the transatlantic alliance, lead to decreased US engagement in European security matters and diminish European capacity to manage crises". Those are not the words of someone who is not worried or who is totally and unconditionally supportive. There are worries.

Finally, I would say to the noble Baroness that the Secretary of State's Statement offers us some history lessons. There is much history in the role and position of the noble Baroness's party in defence matters. I do not want to go over that now. But a couple of years ago the Prime Minister said that nothing must undermine NATO. Our view is that there is a real risk that this could undermine NATO. It is regrettable that our superb Armed Forces, which the world admires, are now caught up in what looks dangerously like a political game. We need much more reassurance from the noble Baroness and from the Government before we can say that this is just more of the same and no one should worry.

5.34 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, this was an unusually partisan Statement. On most occasions from these Benches we would deplore that. But on this occasion we agree that that is justified.

The reaction of the Conservatives and of the press has been—I am sorry the Minister did not repeat the word—hysterical. This is a British initiative which has been well-signalled over the past 18 months and builds on the policy of the previous government. It has been carried through by a Secretary-General of the Council who was previously the Secretary-General of NATO. The idea that this is some dreadful French plot being sprung on the British—which is how the Daily Telegraph likes to describe it—is clearly absurd.

Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that in June 1962 President Kennedy of the United States of America first called for a European pillar of NATO. In 1964, as a young Liberal, I took part in a study group in the United States on how to improve the European pillar of NATO—a short while ago. The Americans have made it entirely clear since then that they expect the Europeans to stand more on their own two feet. If we now face a Bush administration, Condoleeza Rice, one of his key advisers, has also made it clear that the Americans will reduce the number of their troops in Europe and will expect the Europeans to stand more on their own two feet.

My understanding is that British troops have been engaged in some 22 to 24 operations since 1990. In 17 of those we have operated outside of NATO command with forces from a range of other countries. Part of the origin of this initiative, as I understand the matter, is the co-operation from which British and French troops have benefited in Bosnia, which was a learning process for both sides. It was out of that that the previous Conservative government developed the Franco-British defence initiative, at a time when Michael Portillo was the Secretary of State for Defence. Indeed, a Franco-British air wing had been agreed during the term of office of the previous government. German forces were already training in Britain. That had been agreed many years previously. There was the joint Tornado training team in England and Italy. German tank crews were training in Pembrokeshire and elsewhere. There is the Dutch-British marine amphibious force. So much of this is not new.

As we understand it on these Benches, the aim of the defence initiative is to improve European capabilities; to challenge other European governments to follow the British model; and to improve our ability to work together in the field. Under most circumstances, we expect that British troops will be working with troops of other nations in the field.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister a few questions. First, how satisfied is she with the pledges which were given in this pledging conference and what are the most worrying remaining gaps? Secondly, does this imply that changes will need to be made to the treaties at Nice in order to incorporate the interim arrangements, to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, referred, and to bring them more within the constitutional arrangements? Lastly, is parallel progress underway in civilian crisis management and in the provision of seconded police forces for the follow up to necessary Petersberg task engagements?

5.38 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their responses to the Statement and for the constructive way in which they have approached it.

Perhaps I may say to both noble Lords that I repeated the Statement as it was given by my right honourable friend in another place, as is my duty in your Lordships' House. The word "hysterical" was not used in another place.

I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, is in favour of a stronger European defence. That is entirely consistent with the position that has been taken by his party under the Maastricht Treaty and indeed elsewhere. The noble Lord said that he had a number of misgivings. To a certain extent, I can understand those misgivings. I believe that they were based on a number of fundamental misconceptions. We are talking here about Petersberg tasks. Those Petersberg tasks might range from humanitarian relief, which is fairly straightforward, through peace-keeping, to—as the Statement made clear—peace enforcement. Peace enforcement is likely to include a commitment to a greater number of troops.None the less, these are Petersberg tasks.

The noble Lord was worried about the costs that might be involved. The additional costs to the Ministry of Defence are expected to be over £200,000. That figure is based on the cost of additional persons for the EU military structures. But it is offset—this is an important point—against the wind-down of the WEU. Both those factors have to be taken into account. In addition, the FCO will require an establishment of six posts within the EU structures. The cost of that will be somewhere between £300,000 and £500,000. Therefore, the additional cost to the UK taxpayer should be somewhere between £500,000 and £1 million. It is important that all noble Lords understand that there will be an off-set.

The noble Lord was understandably concerned about the way in which planning procedures will be undertaken. I may be able to help him a little on that point but I cannot go into great detail. For many of the operations, the preferred option will be the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe—DSACEUR—and the facilities of SHAPE—Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe—will also be deployed. Planning would be done initially by SHAPE and recommendations would be made from SHAPE to the European governments. It might make recommendations about the operational commanders and how a group of forces might go into an operational position. The commander would be responsible to the European governments.

I do not think that there is anything very exceptional in that. What is proposed is not particularly startling. I do not think that many of your Lordships will find it particularly different from the accepted means of multi-national co-operation on a number of these issues. I hope that that puts some of the noble Lord's worries into context. Of course, it would not always be SHAPE. For example, for small operations—such as humanitarian operations—different planning mechanisms might be used. I am sure that your Lordships would find that entirely proper and consistent for operations that did not involve a heavy military deployment. I hope that I have dealt satisfactorily with the questions about costs and about the way in which the commander structures will work.

The noble Lord understandably raised concerns about those who are members of NATO but stand outside Europe. He referred in particular to Turkey. I can say that Turkey attended the meeting in Brussels yesterday morning. The noble Lord is quite right. Turkey has in the past expressed some concerns about these discussions. But I am happy to say that yesterday Turkey was able to commit some troops to the Headline Goal. I am not able at the moment to put this into the public arena any more than I am able—I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire—to put into the public arena the details of what has been put forward by other European Union countries. That is because not all countries are as open about these matters as the United Kingdom; and in any event they would want to put them into the public arena first in their own countries. I hope that as soon as such information becomes publicly available in their own countries we will be able to give maximum information on what has been put forward by other countries. I am sure that your Lordships would wish to have that information. I shall do my best to ensure that it is made available to the House as soon as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, was worried about what had been said by the US ambassador to NATO. Anything done poorly can cause trouble between nations. But it was interesting to hear the US ambassador to the EU saying yesterday: We strongly support the European defence force—the rapid reaction force. We think it will help and strengthen NATO". The noble Lord has been kind enough to acknowledge what Madeleine Albright has said. He will know, because he is very experienced in these matters, that that reinforces what Strobe Talbot and Bill Cohen have said. We have had a considerable degree of support from our allies in the United States who, for a considerable time, as the noble Lord pointed out, have been stressing to the European nations that we had to do more to strengthen our position. I am happy to say that a number of European countries are not only putting more resources into their defence effort but are also reviewing that effort to ensure, as we have done with the SDR, that it is in line with modern defence needs and does not ratchet back into the old Cold War stance.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for his support on the Statement. The Liberal Democrats have been very understanding of the position.

Noble Lords


Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Liberal Democrats have quite rightly studied the position properly and, if I may say so, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, had also understood the position very much better than some others in his party.

We have learnt considerable lessons from Kosovo. As the Statement said, Kosovo was a wake-up call. When we look at the number of sorties undertaken by NATO in Kosovo and see the sharp contrast between the number undertaken by the United States and the number undertaken by Europe, any responsible country would have to look at what it was able to do.

I hope that I have dealt with the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about our contribution. We believe that it is a proportionate contribution. It is in the range of about 20 per cent of the proportions put forward. But we are a strong defence nation in Europe and we believe that that is entirely consistent with our standing in Europe. We have been very pleased to see the way in which other nations have come forward. The noble Lord was quite right on civilian crisis management. These are important issues. We have been able to get rather further ahead on them than on some of the defence issues. Our discussions are continuing. As the Statement makes clear, this is not an end of the road; it is an important step on the way.

5.48 p.m.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, soldiers are supposed to advance to the sound of the guns; and so here I go over the parapet. Is the Minister aware that there are a number of us former military men who have had considerable experience over 50 years or more—one might say that one has almost lived history—of our Armed Forces serving under foreign commanders and non-national banners, inside NATO and elsewhere? Is she further aware that we do not subscribe to or share that—I hesitate to use the word, certainly not in your Lordships' House but in other places—hysterical reaction against closer European defence co-operation within NATO and indeed think it is entirely sensible for European countries, using their own national contingents, to get their act closer together to deal with specific eventualities of a limited nature and also to put them under some pressure to put their defence money where their mouth is?

This is a serious initiative which should be looked at in a positive way. I am distressed to see that it seems to have been swept up in a much wider political argument.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his words. I am aware of his very great experience in these matters. As he said, on very many occasions British armed forces have served under foreign commanders. I thank him for what he said about this being an entirely sensible way forward. He said that this will put pressure on our European partners. The noble and gallant Lord has often put pressure on me and on other Ministers concerning the resources available to the Armed Forces. I agree with him. I hope that this move will put pressure on others, those who so far have not been able to come forward with increases in their defence budgets, to think again on that front.

I thank the noble and gallant Lord for saying that this is a positive initiative. He has also said that he agrees with what has been said by the current Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie. He commented that he had never heard anyone in authority within the chain of command in this country, whether Ministers or servicemen, talk of a European army, navy or air force. This move is not so very extraordinary. Once again I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his words of welcome, given that he has been so robust in his criticisms on other occasions.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House whether the neutral countries of the European Union have taken part in any of the conversations on this matter? I refer in particular to the Republic of Ireland and Sweden. Do those countries intend to take part in this initiative? If so, under what circumstances?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I believe that the neutral countries have taken part in the discussions. The noble Viscount will know that, on occasion, the neutral countries do subscribe troops to NATO actions. Indeed, they did so recently in the Balkans, although on that occasion Ireland did not.

I cannot tell the noble Viscount that their representatives have been present on every occasion that this matter has been discussed. We would not necessarily expect them to be. However, if there is any more detail that I can reasonably send to the noble Viscount on what measures have been discussed with the neutral countries, I shall write to him and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, on a couple of occasions my noble friend referred to peacekeeping and peacemaking activities. Can she tell the House, first, whether it is intended that this force shall have serious war-making capabilities and whether it is intended that those should be used? Secondly, can she confirm that it is not the present or future intention of Her Majesty's Government that either the deployment of British forces or the non-deployment of British forces shall at any time be subject to the decision of any organ of the European Union without the consent of the British Parliament and the British Government?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I can give an unequivocal assurance to my noble friend: there will be no deployment or non-deployment of British forces without the express agreement of the British Prime Minister, who will be accountable to another place. I hope that that was made clear in the Statement. But I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me the opportunity to re-emphasise the point to the House.

As regards the other issues raised by my noble friend Lord Gilbert, perhaps I may explain in detail the Petersberg tasks. I know that they will be familiar to him but perhaps they will serve to bring home the point. Those tasks are of a humanitarian and rescue nature; namely, peacekeeping and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking. Peacemaking is an important task because it includes the separation of warring parties, conflict prevention, the evacuation of nationals and the provision of humanitarian aid. The important point to note here is that the Petersberg tasks imply a degree of conflict which can move beyond those of pure peacekeeping because they involve the separation of warring parties as well as peacemaking. Given the noble Lord's enormous experience in the Ministry of Defence, he will know far better than I that the tasks imply a greater degree of engagement in conflict than mere peacekeeping.

Lord Roper

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Statement which she has repeated indicates that the Government have now accepted the position put forward from these Benches over a long period; namely, that there is no contradiction between being a good Atlanticist and being a good European? Does she also accept that the proposals which have been put forward for planning had already been accepted by NATO last year at its Washington summit? At that point, the representatives went as far as to form a "Berlin plus" agreement, a series of decisions which, Assured EU access to NATO planning capabilities able to contribute to military planning for EU-led operations", as well as giving us, The presumption of availability to the EU of pre-identified NATO capabilities". Does not this indicate that the 19 member states of NATO have already collectively endorsed this as a way of strengthening the capacities for security in Europe?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, that I believe that this reflects the position of sensible parliamentarians across all three parties. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, has demonstrated to the House today that there are extremely sensible members in all the main political parties.

The noble Lord, Lord Roper, is right to say that these proposals are based on the planning put forward in Washington. I am happy to confirm that NATO has not, as some have suggested, been wringing its hands with despair over these developments. It has been pleased to see the development of what might be described, loosely, as a European pillar of NATO. As I have said already, we are happy to take this forward. We have not yet reached an end position but we have reached an important signpost in our progress on this matter.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement, although I must say that on occasion it sounded rather more like a party political broadcast than a ministerial Statement. However, the one point which most frightened me, but which I believe was meant to be reassuring, was that this is only one step along the road rather than the end of the road. That is what is worrying some of us a great deal. What is at the end of this road? If the establishment of this force is not the end of the road, to where does it lead? Is it leading to a political end or is it leading to a greater integration of the Armed Forces? I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could answer those questions when she comes to reply.

I think it is clear from the Statement that whichever side of the argument one is on there are clear and serious implications for the morale and effectiveness of our Armed Forces. It is no good to say that this does not affect the deployment of our Armed Forces. If such a force is ever deployed, it will increase the overstretch from which our Armed Forces already suffer. There are implications for our relationship with NATO. However that may work out and whomever one speaks to in the United States or in the Royal Regiment of Wales, it does not really tell us exactly what will be the impact on NATO.

At the very least, this has implications as regards our relationship with the United States, especially in the world of intelligence. I know that we cannot delve too deeply into the matter in your Lordships' House, but the noble Baroness will know that the implications of setting up a separate intelligence organisation within the European Union will be considerable. Furthermore, relationships with Russia are involved. President Putin has already begun to paddle in these waters, as we have seen from recent reports.

However, what is most important is this. Has anyone thought through the consequences of the expeditionary force concept, which this force will reflect? If it is to do anything at all, it will either form or be the basis of an expeditionary force activity taking place somewhere. Has anyone yet worked out how that force is to be protected, especially against missiles if its members start dabbling in areas in which there has been a proliferation of ballistic missiles? Can the noble Baroness tell us whether all these implications have been thoroughly studied? When we come to debate these matters, I hope that we shall be given rather more information about this.

In that context, I wonder whether any other noble Lords share my view? I have received a signal from the Government Front Bench to sit down. I am not going to sit down because this matter is too important. My final point is this: I am surprised that this was not made the subject of a full debate in Parliament before any action was taken. This represents a fundamental change in the deployment of our Armed Forces, with constitutional implications. I hope that the noble Baroness will use her influence with the usual channels to ensure that we can have a full debate on this in your Lordships' House at the earliest possible opportunity.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as to the noble Lord's final point, to my certain knowledge the House has discussed this issue following Statements in relation to NATO summits and EU summits, and I have, both as a Foreign Office Minister and Defence Minister, answered a number of questions raised in a number of debates. As this Statement makes clear, this has not come as a bolt from the blue. The Government have signalled it for a very long time—certainly from the St Malo discussions at the end of 1998, which began with the Prime Minister's visit to France on that occasion. I take issue with the noble Lord's implication that this matter has been sprung on Parliament when the groundwork has been very carefully laid.

The noble Lord asked where this is all leading. He said, "The noble Baroness said that this was a step on the way, so where is this path taking us?" It is leading to better equipped European armed forces. It is leading to forces which will be able to engage where NATO decides not to. That is where it is leading. It is very clear. It is doing so because of the lessons we learnt in Kosovo and because the United States, on a number of occasions, has made clear to its European allies that it believes we should be putting more effort into our defence capability. We believe that is right, as do the other nations in Europe. That is where it is leading.

This is a step forward because we are now agreeing to it. Implementation is, of course, a quite different issue. Having now made these agreements, we have to see how they are implemented. That is the sense in which I say this is a very important step.

Our colleagues in NATO believe that this is a sensible move. On 20th November, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, stated: This is simply a sensible project designed to build relevant European capabilities, all of which will be available to NATO. It is designed specifically to complement NATO and not to duplicate it or undermine it, and certainly not to replace it". I heard a commentator on the radio this morning say, "Well, Lord Robertson would say that, wouldn't he? He used to be a Labour Minister". That is to do less than justice to the integrity of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, as the Secretary-General of NATO. Quite rightly, he puts NATO first. Noble Lords on the Benches opposite may find that amusing, but we on these Benches take those points very seriously. I shall certainly defend the integrity of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, in what he said.

As I said to my noble friend Lord Gilbert, it is important to remember that the tasks to be undertaken are Petersberg tasks. The noble Lord is right to say that if we are to engage in these tasks—whether as a single country or in co-operation with others—our troops must be properly equipped. That is why we have taken such pains to learn the lessons from Kosovo. We are being painstaking over what we should be doing about communication systems and painstaking over what we should be doing about our missile systems. We have taken steps to ensure that we have better equipment for our Armed Forces in the short term as well as in the long term.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that the safety of our troops is at the forefront of our minds. These issues would be the same for any expeditionary force in which the United Kingdom's Armed Forces were engaged.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords—

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, the Minister—

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords—

The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I believe it is the turn of the Conservatives.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords—

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I suggest that we first hear the noble Lord. Lord Pearson.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, no less than three times the Minister has said that this will not be a European army. Will she perhaps comment on the remarks of no less a person than the President of the European Commission, Mr Prodi, who said recently, You need not call it an EU army if you do not want to. You can call it a Margaret, or you can call it a Mary-Anne. You can call it what you like, but it will be an EU army". Does the Minister agree that there is also another view on this European initiative; that it is in truth inspired by France's jealousy of the United States—by France's unfortunate need to bite the hand that freed her in no less than two world wars? Is not that the real reason why the new force has to be capable of autonomous action from NATO, and why it will inevitably undermine NATO in due course?

Finally, what will happen if our troops are fully committed to an EU operation, lasting perhaps more than a year, and something happens in another sphere of our interest which requires those troops? Will we be able to withdraw them from the EU operation and send them to the other area, or will they remain under the command of the EU commander and subject to a qualified majority vote for the prosecution of that operation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord has quoted something that he said that Mr Prodi said. There have been an awful lot of quotes put forward from an awful lot of European colleagues in the past few days. As the noble Lord will know if he is quoted in the press as often as some of us, these quotes are not always reliable. I prefer to look at the communiqué that was issued at the end of the Brussels meeting. After all, it is the authoritative voice of what was said. The communiqué states: This is a process without unnecessary duplication and it does not involve the establishment of a European army". It is unequivocal; it is in the communiqué—and it is there for everyone to read.

The noble Lord made tendentious comments about what he described as France's jealousy of the United States. I shall not get involved in speculation about why any country has decided to do what it has done. I know that France—like Germany, the United Kingdom and our other major colleagues in Europe—believes that the United States is right when it says that Europe must pull its weight better over defence. We agree. We agree with the United States and we agree with our European colleagues. We agree because it is the sensible, right and proper thing to do.

The noble Lord asked what would happen if we have committed our troops and we find that we need to commit them elsewhere. What would happen anyway if we had committed our troops and another conflict arose? We would take sensible decisions in the light of the prevailing circumstances. The United Kingdom Government will take those decisions. The noble Lord may shake his head, but that is the position. The decision will be taken by a British Prime Minister answerable to a British Parliament. It would not be done by qualified majority voting. It would be a decision for the Government of this country—and it would be a sensible one.

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, my noble friend will accept—

Lord Burlison

My Lords, the Companion is quite clear. We have reached 20 minutes and we must end the debate.

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