HL Deb 23 April 2001 vol 625 cc3-5

2.41 p.m.

Lord Burnham

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What part members of British Armed Forces will play in the separate planning staff proposed for the European Union reaction force, independent of NATO.

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

My Lords, as I made clear in answering questions on 28th February, there will be no separate operational planning staff. There will be a military staff of about 135, of whom some 13 are expected to be British. They will advise on strategic options for a political decision. If a political decision to intervene is taken, operational planning will either be through SHAPE, which has a core staff of 950, or, for less demanding operations, national facilities such as our PJHQ, which, for example, has a staff of approximately 450.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Can she tell the House what automatic right of entry NATO planning chiefs will have into the councils of the European Union rapid reaction force?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, in view of his responsibilities for the European pillar of NATO and his potential role for EU-led operations, DSACEUR will when necessary—and in particular where the capabilities and expertise of the alliance are concerned—be invited to the meetings of the EU military committee. He would normally attend, as would the chairman of the NATO military committee, but there is no automatic right to do so. There may be occasions—for example, the election of a new EU military chairman—when they would not attend. The EU must, like NATO, have a right to its own decisions. It will be usual for DSACEUR to attend the meetings, but there is no automatic right. I hope that makes the matter clear.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the number two in the new military staff is a British major general and that we are heavily engaged in this alternative? Will she confirm also that the idea of the independence of NATO is a non sequitur, given that Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and others are members of NATO, that NATO is a collective alliance and the EU reaction force is part of NATO, either intrinsically or as a European part?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I can confirm much of what the noble Lord says. There has been some confusion on this point. There has been confusion between the planning stages—between what might be described as the strategic decision points before a political decision to intervene—and the stages thereafter where an operational capability would be either through SHAPE or, for lesser operations, a matter for the individual countries concerned; for example, for our own PJHQ. I agree largely with what the noble Lord says but I should not want there to be any misunderstanding as to the detail.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the planning staff of the European organisation, whether strategic or tactical, will be composed exclusively of military personnel?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we envisage that the strategic planning staff will be largely military personnel. It is certainly true that the United Kingdom's contribution will be some 13 to an overall figure of 135. When we look to the operational capability, again it is likely to be largely military if, for example, it is being done through SHAPE, which presently has 950 personnel. I cannot guarantee that there will be no civilian input, and the noble Lord would not expect me to do so. There will be civilian input in the source of advice that will come, for example, from MoD headquarters.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, would the Government like to comment on the fact that the French Government apparently have an entirely different view of all this? According to the statements of French political leaders, it is essential that the new set-up should have a planning capacity, including an intelligence output, that is totally separate from and independent of NATO. Do the Government have a view on that?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the noble Lord is labouring under something of a misapprehension. That is not surprising if he took at face value everything that was written in the Daily Telegraph in March. I am happy to say that the French chief of defence staff, commenting on the remarks attributed to him in that article—which caused many people to draw the conclusions that the noble Lord has drawn—said on the "Today" programme on 29th March: We do not intend to set up a European planning staff in Brussels". Remarks by President Chirac, M. Vedrin and M. Richard have confirmed that all believe that NATO is the cornerstone for European defence.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, further to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, how will the part played by our forces in planning be effective without NATO pooled intelligence?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, as we have discussed previously in this House, intelligence matters are not likely to operate any differently from the way in which they operate in NATO at present. The way in which intelligence is used, or indeed shared, will be a matter for the countries from which the intelligence emanates—a matter for the capitals of those countries. So I do not believe that we are entering any different or unknown territory in the European dimension of which we are now talking.