HL Deb 19 February 2003 vol 644 cc1135-7

3.2 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is now their policy on relations between the European Union and NATO.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the Government welcome the strategic partnership in crisis management agreed by the EU and NATO. In particular, we welcome the comprehensive agreement that NATO and the EU reached in December 2002 to implement a European Security and Defence Policy based on NATO support. The EU and NATO are now finalising the detailed arrangements to give effect to that agreement.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. However, it is regrettable that your Lordships did not have the opportunity of a proper Statement yesterday on the dramatic events over the weekend, both in NATO and the European Union.

Clearly, it is pointless and unconstructive to demonise France and Germany. However, does the noble Baroness agree that it is refreshing to hear from the smaller countries of central Europe, and indeed, some larger countries, a different European voice which, as the Prime Minister rightly said, has just as much right to speak for the future of Europe as our large neighbouring countries? Will she encourage the Prime Minister to continue giving constructive support for this "other Europe", as he has done so far?

Will she also bear in mind that it is those countries that in many cases have just won back their independence after years of slavery which will not only resist anti-Americanism but will resist attempts to centralise power too much in the European Union and will rightly want to see their own independence properly protected? They will also resist the tendency of those in Berlin, Paris and sometimes London, to press for a super power status for Europe, which they do not like.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, not surprisingly, I have one point of agreement and one of disagreement with the noble Lord. We did, indeed, have an interesting argument yesterday, put forward cogently by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, about the role of this House as an appropriate place to hold the executive to account when another place is in recess. That is an interesting point. However, I do not think that it can be elevated into the constitutional dilemma which seemed to grip some of your Lordships. I am hound to say that on this side of the House I believe that we have made rather a good job of being held to account on the issues concerned.

As regards the accession countries, I agree with the noble Lord. It is, indeed, refreshing to hear what they have to say. They have a real sense of history of conflict which in many ways is more recent than ours and possibly more recent than our friends in France. They have as much right to speak on these issues as Britain or France.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, in the cur rent circumstances, what has happened to the European Union rapid reaction force?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the planning for the European Union rapid reaction force is taking place within the context of the Berlin Plus agreement. As the noble Lord will know, there is assured EU access to NATO for operational planning and the prospect of EU access to NATO military capabilities and common assets including, among other things, NATO's European command operations and the facilities of DSACEUR. The next step is to set out the detailed arrangements about how it will work. As I indicated in my Answer, those arrangements are well under way and we hope that they will be finalised by the end of this month.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, does the Minister recall that it has been the policy of successive American administrations since those of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy that after the recovery of Western Europe there should be an Atlantic community based on two pillars—European and North American—and that Britain should be firmly embedded in the European pillar? That is what I understand the December 2002 agreement to have restated. Is that still the policy of Her Majesty's Government?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, do not let us misunderstand each other on that important point. The fact is that there are some operations which are right to be undertaken under the auspices of the ESDP and some under the auspices of NATO. The two organisations or the two ways in which we can deal with this issue are not rival but complementary. They simply offer a different approach to crisis management depending on which countries are to be engaged. As your Lordships know, ESDP deals with crisis management and will be used only when NATO as a whole is not engaged.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, without wanting to hold my noble friend to account—like all noble Lords I believe that she is absolutely lovely—does she agree that we have two Houses of Parliament; that this House is one of them; that we are currently sitting; that we have the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain sitting on the Woolsack and the Clerk of the Parliaments sitting at the Table now?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I have never shown any reluctance to be held to account in your Lordships' House and I do not do so today. Yesterday the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, raised the question of what should happen about holding the executive to account when another place is in recess. My point is that this is an interesting constitutional dilemma but it cannot be elevated into a general assault on the Government's willingness to keep Parliament informed and to hold ourselves to account. On those points I believe there is no doubt whatever that the Government have done a first-class job.

Lord Clark of Windermere

My Lords, now that the defence planning committee of NATO has reached an accommodation with Turkey for its application under Article 4 for defence planning, does the Minister agree that it is time for us to put that very damaging and regrettable incident behind us? Can she confirm to the House that all 19 members of NATO have confirmed that Article 5, which is the right to aid from all the other 18 states in the face of attack, is sacrosanct?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I believe that that matter is now firmly behind us. The NATO decision taken on 16th February states that the DPC, notes that all Allies have reaffirmed their determination to fulfil all of their obligations deriving from the spirit and the letter of the North Atlantic Treaty towards Turkey".