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Column 56The history of the NATO review, which has led to the two orders, has been set out by the Minister and is well known, but the dates are significant. In May 1991, Defence Ministers met in Sicily to examine the package of changes, and in December 1991, the Defence Planning Committee agreed the consensus package.
The chief casualty of the rationalisation is the elimination of Allied Command Channel, a major command led by a British admiral and based at Northwood. I am not wholly convinced by the Minister's argument that British weight in terms of personnel will remain in tact. In the new context, ACCHAN obviously had to go once its new responsibilities were divided.
What is significant is that, after reorganisation, the two remaining senior command posts are now held by Americans. Is that wholly consistent with the current spirit within the alliance ? I understand, however, the need to ensure the full commitment of the United States to the alliance. General Joulwan of the United States has only recently been appointed.
On the weight and the role of the United Kingdom within the alliance, the second key change is the extension of ACE to include the United Kingdom mainland for the first time. That makes sense when judged according to the time of the original settlement, but it is a significant change, as it reflects the different significant role that Britain played in the late 1940s. In turn, the number of MSCs within ACE has been reduced from four to three, with the replacement of UKAIR and AFNORTH by AFNORTHWEST.
The headquarters of AFNORTHWEST is at High Wycombe ; hence the need for the order. Will the Minister confirm that it is the Government's intention to ensure that, so far as possible, there will always be a United Kingdom commander of the United Kingdom's land or air forces within the United Kingdom ? I understand that there are to be roughly 250 posts at High Wycombe, but I note that the figure that the Minister now gives for the costs of the operation--I think it was £12 million--is slightly greater than the sum that was given to the Defence Committee.
I shall end with a number of questions for consideration by the Minister. One is the relevance of those changes to, and their consistency with, the broad thrust of current NATO thinking, especially as set out in the NATO Brussels communique in January--the new move towards a European defence identity and the way in which the new United States administration is more prepared--indeed, seems to be almost enthusiastic--for a greater European contribution.
The changes that led to the orders stem from before May 1991. Indeed, one can probably go back more than three years. The Defence Ministers who met in Sicily in May 1991 reflected the view at that time of the post-cold-war changes and the institutional framework that was relevant to those changes. There has now been, as I have mentioned, a greater evolution, especially under the new administration in the US.
It would be interesting for the Government to reflect on the extent to which the current package of proposals reflects the new thrust of policy as it was enshrined in the Brussels communique in January, or whether what the House is now presented with is part of a time warp--that which appeared relevant and appropriate three years ago. I shall not detain the House by discussing the proposed structure for the Baltic, but it is obviously a compromise, based more on political than military needs. There is an
Column 57artificial division of responsibility between land and maritime forces--two different commands. That makes no sense, at least in managerial terms.
The inclusion of the NATO airborne early warning force in the two orders presumably also relates to the reorganisation of the NATO commands. For legal reasons, the extension of Allied Command Europe to cover mainland Britain may mean that its executive agency, the NAEWF, may require a new status in the UK. I wonder whether there is another reason--the history of the change--but that may effectively be caused by the need to remedy a legal omission.
It would be wrong to survey the unfortunate decision to proceed, not with a jointly funded airborne warning and communication system squadron, but with a national AWACS squadron with the early warning version of Nimrod, a project that was cancelled in 1986 and which was disastrous for the British taxpayer. As I understand the position, from the mid-1980s the NAEWF was regularly deployed to the UK to help provide early warning cover for UK airspace until the RAF Boeing E-5 squadron became operational in 1991. That is, the early warning system used RAF airfields, even though not covered by the Visiting Forces Act 1952 and the International Headquarters and Defence Organisations Act 1964, so that is in any event putting right a legal omission, bringing into legal form what was already the practice, for a period at least.
Finally, it is fair to say that the reorganisation of NATO headquarters, which is due to be implemented at the beginning of July, may already, to some extent, have become outdated because the merger of AFNORTHWEST and AFCENT might now be possible. I note that, in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates", which was published last month, the Government said :
"In the longer term, it may also be necessary to look again at NATO's higher military structure to ensure that it remains suited to the new forces and the new tasks."
Finally, I pose the question whether, not in the longer term but in the shorter term, as we adjust to the position in the cold war with the new views of the US administration, we might need to consider a structure which, in spite of those orders, may already be somewhat outdated.
The wonder of the alliance in 1949 was that it was formed at all. In spite of the threat, Europe and America were, with rare exceptions, if not adversaries, at loggerheads. There had been in Europe a strong tradition of neutralism. Countries such as the United Kingdom were used to being alone.
As a result of wise statesmanship and Ernest Bevin--who was probably one of the wisest of the statesmen--and as a result of a little bit of skullduggery on the part of the State Department and the US Congress, the Americans were committed to a presence in Europe and committed to NATO in such a way that probably very few congressmen and senators who signed up for the agreement were aware of what they were letting themselves in for.
In spite of the vicissitudes of the cold war--one suspects that the internal problems in NATO were in many ways greater than the external threat--the alliance held together. The deal was not an equal partnership between
Column 58the United States and Europe, because the US was immensely strong militarily and economically, and Europe was prostrate economically and had very few armed forces available to meet a potential threat from the Soviet union.
Nevertheless, in that initial bargain, we had one of the major NATO commands. We had Allied Command Channel, on a par virtually, although not entirely, with the other two major NATO commanders, both American. Therefore, organisationally, if there was not a balance between Europe and north America in terms of senior military personnel, at least Europe was able to say that we had a major commander, alongside an American admiral and an American general. That situation prevailed until quite recently.
Following the cold war changes, many critics in the House hoped that NATO would disappear. When the Warsaw pact collapsed, there were people who wished that NATO would collapse in empathy with the Warsaw pact. They thought that NATO was no longer relevant in the new peace environment that we were entering.
However, NATO showed that it had longevity ; that it was not simply a military alliance but a political alliance. It made fundamental changes to strategy and reduction in forces and in the command structure, which I generally support. The changes of creating a new command structure, a rapid reaction corps and the North Atlantic Co-operation Council and, more recently, in the summit in January, the establishment of the partnership for peace and the combined joint task forces, show that NATO has resilience.
What worries me slightly--I do not wish to appear too partisan at this stage in what is obviously if not a bipartisan approach, at least major agreement between both Front Benches--is that in some ways I very much regret the downgrading of the British contribution. Northwood is no longer to be regarded on a par with Mons and with Norfolk, Virginia.
Europe as well as Britain has been downgraded. It is wrong that the two senior military commanders of NATO--SACEUR and SACLANT--are American. I am a committed Atlanticist and desperately hope that the European Union will develop further. Although I want greater co-ordination in foreign policy and perhaps a common foreign policy, greater co-ordination in security and perhaps a common security policy, I shall need persuading that, at this stage in its history, Europe is capable of developing a common defence policy, especially if it is to the detriment of NATO.
When discussing future command arrangements, I hope that, as the Western European Union and the European Union grow closer, they will not see as part of their new macho status the requirement to supplant an alliance which has held us in safety over the decades and will play a considerable role in the future. In the new international environment, NATO will be as important in the future as it has been in the past.
The downgrading of the British dimension is a consequence of the downgrading of our armed forces. If, in the space of a decade, the number of Royal Navy frigates and destroyers will drop from between 50 and 60 to between 30 and 40, we shall cut less of a dash in NATO. Is that a reason why we no longer occupy a major position within NATO's command structure and Allied Command Channel ? That relates directly to what we are discussing.
Is the fact that we can no longer provide adequate forces the reason why the command structure was altered ? I am
Column 59worried that Northwood no longer has a British admiral who meets on a par with his American counterparts. If defence expenditure falls further, we shall lose, if not our primacy, our position in other NATO commands, which will diminish our influence in the transatlantic alliance and NATO.
NATO has made considerable changes to its command structures. The way in which the United Kingdom's headquarters are altered reflects the drop in defence expenditure and the need for greater efficiency. I fear that the goal of greater efficiency will not be achieved by reducing forces.
At some stage in the near future, as the balance of the threat moves from the northern and central regions to the old southern region, the southern flank, the southern guard and the southern arc of crisis, Naples will be infinitely more important in dealing with problems in the Maghreb, the Balkans, the middle east and the Gulf. At what stage will NATO consider re- establishing a command on a par with Norfolk and Mons, concentrating not on a command in NATO subordinate to SACEUR, at AFSOUTH Naples, but on a separate and equal command ?
I welcome the legal changes that must be made. The Select Committee on Defence considered them in 1992. It is ironic that the House should be considering them more than two years later. Clearly, the changes must be supported. I am grateful for the opportunity of raising this important issue, although it may have been slightly tangential to the subject in hand.
In answer to the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), the Commander UK Land Forces will always remain the UK commander. But the Commander-in-Chief of AFNORTHWEST could come from another nation at some subsequent time.
On the United States' MNCs, there is increasing European representation throughout the alliance's command structure. I do not have the relevant figures to hand, but I am willing to write to the hon. Member for Swansea, East and explain the numbers.
He also queried the cost of £12 million for High Wycombe. The cost of the military budget is expected to be some £7.6 million, and the UK share is fixed at just under 22 per cent., which is some £1.7 million. The cost to
Column 60the infrastructure budget is expected to be some £4.2 million, and the UK share is some £900,000. The difficulty may have been the fact that the total cost to NATO budgets of establishing the headquarters is £12 million. I am not sure whether the Select Committee received different figures, but those are the definitive ones.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the Baltic overlap. It is sensible to allow SACEUR the operational flexibility to select the MSC best suited to control joint operations on a case-by-case basis. That is the position that we are in. I shall not comment on some of the other points that he made.
The hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) made an important contribution. The White Paper made it clear that the UK's defence is based on NATO. It also clearly set out decisions reached at the NATO summit, which are shaping our defence and security policies. The summit reaffirmed our commitment to the transatlantic link, which is the bedrock of NATO, but it also supported the development of the European security and defence identity to strengthen the European pillar of the alliance.
May I refer back to the speech of the hon. Member for Swansea, East ? We are now catching up to 1991, and a lot of water has gone under many bridges since then. This, at least, is now the command structure, and we must let it bed down. In the meantime, the combined joint task force concept was introduced at the last NATO summit. That is designed to allow European countries to act under the auspices of WEU in circumstances where they perceive a need for action, but the north Americans, for whatever reason, choose not to be involved. The new headquarters at AFNORTHWEST is a good example. The European or British commander and strong European representation in the headquarters will mean that it will be capable of undertaking NATO and/or WEU operations.
The description of the multilateral dimension of our security in the White Paper is not a departure, but rather a reflection of the response of the allies to the changing strategic environment. I am therefore pleased that the House welcomes the motion.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Visiting Forces and International Headquarters (Application of Law) (Amendment) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 13 April, be approved.
That the draft International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designation and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 13 April, be approved.-- [Mr. Hanley.]
That the draft Merchant Shipping (Ro-Ro Passenger Ship Survivability) (No. 2) Regulations 1994, which were laid before this House on 28 March, be approved.
The regulations extend the requirement of higher survivability standards to all existing ro-ro passenger ships when operating to or from ports in the United Kingdom. Similar provisions are already in force for new ships-- those built after 29 April 1990, by virtue of the Merchant Shipping (Passenger Ship Construction and Survey) (Amendment) Regulations 1990.
The draft regulations are required to be made by affirmative procedure by the terms of section 21(1)(c) of the Merchant Shipping Act 1979, the enabling power, and by section 49 of that Act which sets out the parliamentary procedure for section 21 orders ; both sections were modified by section 11 of the Safety at Sea Act 1986. In summary, the requirements of the enabling legislation are that orders applying to foreign ships must be made by affirmative procedure unless the requirement is the subject of international agreement.
Conclusions of an extensive research programme, sponsored by the Department of Transport following the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster have confirmed that the standard of survivability introduced for new ships provides adequate protection against rapid capsize, after sustaining collision damage, while operating in moderate seas.
A steering committee set up to monitor the ro-ro ferry safety research programme, and made up of representatives from all sides of the shipping industry, recommended that the higher standard of damage stability imposed for new ships should be applied to all existing ro-ro ships. To that end, the committee recommended that agreement be sought in the International Maritime Organisation ; if that proved unsuccessful, European maritime administrations should be approached with a view to a regional solution. The committee suggested that if both approaches failed, the United Kingdom should consider unilateral action.
Accepting the committee's recommendations, the Department proposed that the higher standard to be applied to existing ships should be the standard introduced internationally for new ships. The recognised procedure for introducing international safety measures is to submit proposals to the IMO ; it is fully supported by the United Kingdom. Despite lengthy discussions in the IMO, however, the application of that higher standard to existing ro -ro ships was not accepted. Having exhausted all the avenues for international agreement, my Department--with officials from the European Commission and member states of the European Union, together with Norway and Sweden--opened discussions that have led to a regional agreement. The introduction of the regulations upholds the United Kingdom's obligation to comply with that agreement, and will ensure that ro-ro passenger ships travelling to and from United Kingdom ports comply with the standard of survivability that was previously restricted to new ships. The regulations also provide for the imposition of penalties for contravention.
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The Opposition welcome the new regulations, and the fact that they are to be applied retrospectively. None the less, they may well not apply to ships until 14, or even 17, years after their introduction. That is particularly important in the context of ferry safety. Let me ask the Minister a question : as Minister for shipping, does he intend to require ferry operators to state which ferries will operate on which crossings, so that people can choose whether to travel on ships that meet the safety standards ? We feel that that choice is important, and that travellers have a right to know and to make a considered decision.
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : I am sorry to take issue with my hon. Friend the Minister, but he confirmed an anxiety that I expressed when I met his officials some time ago. I told them then that they were trying to impose higher standards on British ships and the routes to and from our shores than were acceptable to the IMO. As far as we can see from the map of the area covered by the regulations, the line is drawn off Ushant, which means that ferries sailing from the United Kingdom to the bay of Biscay might not be covered at the bay of Biscay end ; moreover, if we look at the top right-hand corner of the map, we see that Norway is practically excepted.
We all recall the tragedy of the Herald of Free Enterprise, and I know that a price can never be placed on safety. I fear, however--especially as one who represents the Isle of Wight--that we are straining to approve regulations that may go a little too far. The compliance cost assessment submitted by the Department of Transport along with the regulations estimates the running costs for ships on domestic routes at some £2 million per annum. Paragraph 4, which deals with typical costs, actually mentions the Isle of Wight ; it estimates that the capital cost of modification of existing ships will be between £10,000 and £2 million, with additional running costs of approximately £100,000 a year. Those costs are not analysed in the context of routes, however, and the comparison made is with the Isle of Wight and/or Scottish islands.
As far as I am aware, Wightlink, with its Portsmouth-Fishbourne ferries, already complies with the regulations. The Southampton-Cowes route, operated by Red Funnel, has a brand new ferry, the Red Falcon : I assume that it also complies, given that it was launched only recently. The second ship to replace existing vessels on the route has now been launched, and will come into service in October ; we hope that it, too, will comply. That leaves the ships that serve the Lymington-Yarmouth route, which--once the new ship is introduced on the Southampton-Cowes route--will be the oldest ferries serving the Isle of Wight.
When people hear the term "roll on, roll off vessel"--or, as we used to say in the Transport Regiment, "roll on, roll off and roll about"--they have a vision of a ship rather like the Herald of Free Enterprise. The Isle of Wight vessels, however, are really just platforms quite close to sea level, not enclosed, with a small amount of passenger accommodation over the vehicle deck.
Compartmentalisation is quite alien to ferries serving the
Column 63Isle of Wight--although that does not apply to ferries serving the Scottish islands, which have enclosed ro-ro vessels in the conventional sense.
Will my hon. Friend give me a breakdown of the compliance cost assessment relating to the Isle of Wight, as his officials see it ? If he cannot do that now, will he undertake to write to me ? My constituents will be concerned to learn that the cost may add to that of travelling to and from the Isle of Wight, and we do not wish to impose an undue burden on our economy.
Anyone listening to the debate, however, should be reassured : it is our proud boast that, throughout the long history of ferry services to and from the Isle of Wight, there has never been a major accident causing considerable loss of life at sea. I am sure that that will continue, but my constituents would want me to cast an eagle eye on any proposal that would add to the expense of travel to and from the Isle of Wight. I must look to my hon. Friend for reassurance.
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : My hon. Friend the Minister would not expect a Southampton Member to miss a debate about cross-channel ferries. It does not matter whether I have just walked in or just rowed in ; that does not affect my enthusiasm for the regulations.
The cross-channel ferries are ahead of the game. In Southampton, we have had several new ferries, which are doing excellent trade. They are also going through the bay of Biscay : no one can hazard a guess at the difficulties that they encounter there, but the fact remains that they are coming through some of the worst storms.
There is a tendency to over-correct in terms of safety. We all remember the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. That happened because the crew were asleep--it had nothing to do with the quality of the ship or of its management. The problem has been straightened out, and nowadays there is a great deal of internal discipline. I have crossed the channel many times since and have observed that the crews are assiduous about safety--they all seem to be on the car decks, which is where the dangers can arise.
We need not take a large sledgehammer to this problem ; there is a great deal of good will in the ferry companies. I do not think that they would resist any measure that the Government might want to introduce, and I hope that the Minister will consult them extensively so that there is no unnecessary expenditure on safety which, in turn, could mean a loss of profit, and redundancy for some of the ships and their crews.
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Mr. Norris : My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) has summed it up : there is a price to be paid for safety ; it is important that it should be reasonable and that we should set the risks in perspective.
Of course I understand that no one wants to impose additional costs on the Isle of Wight to the detriment of those who live there and who generally transport goods there by sea. Still, my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) himself referred to the Herald disaster, and we are bound to seek the right trade-off between increasing the safety of vessels and reasonable expenditure on them. I think it unlikely that the conversion costs for Isle of Wight vessels will be at the top end of the scale.
As for the point made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley), we have to some extent traded the time scale for a standard that was higher than the IMO was prepared to accept, and have sought a regional agreement. I agree that it is regrettable that the time scale is so long, but it is still a reasonable one. All we are doing is declaring that the standards that we set for ferries as from 1990 shall be applicable to older vessels, too. Recently built vessels serving the Isle of Wight post-1990 will already be of safety-of-life-at-sea--SOLAS--1990 standards and will not require any upgrading ; they are already safe enough.
I will ensure that my officials discuss any difficulties to do with costs that may be faced by operators to the island, to see whether it is possible to mitigate them. I stress, however, that the regulations will have statutory force. There is no great opposition to them in the industry.
I have no great difficulty with the right to know. I hope that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North believes in the need to support British industry and enterprise, and in particular the British shipping industry. I am sure that she, like me, wants to ensure that information of this sort is obtainable from all vessels that ply to and from the United Kingdom, including those carrying the 50 per cent. of passengers not carried by British vessels. If we can arrange for this information to be available throughout Europe and from all the nation states whose vessels are likely to serve these islands, I will have no great difficulty urging the British shipping community to comply.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Merchant Shipping (Ro-Ro Passenger Ship Survivability) (No. 2) Regulations 1994, which were laid before this House on 28th March, be approved.
That the draft Immigration (European Economic Area) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 21st March, be approved. The purpose of this Order in Council is to incorporate into United Kingdom immigration law the provisions of all the various European Community directives dealing with freedom of movement and rights of residence for European Economic Area nationals.
The earliest of these directives, relating to the free movement of EC workers, were already in force when the United Kingdom joined the Community. These and later directives have been implemented since by way of the immigration rules, but, as a consolidating measure, they are now to be covered by the order, to provide a separate legislative instrument dealing with the rights of residence of European Economic Area nationals.
In spite of that legal change, the order will make little practical difference to the treatment of EEA nationals in the United Kingdom, because those directives not already covered by the immigration rules are being implemented administratively. The order is thus largely a technical measure.
The three most recent directives relating to students, retired people and others
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) rose
Mr. Wardle : I will give way, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I want to get through my speech so that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman and his hon. Friends will have a chance to speak.
Mr. Bennett : I appreciate that, but, on behalf of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, I should like to ask the Minister to explain the fact that it is rather unusual of the Government to press ahead with an order when there is a clear suggestion that there might be problems with its vires. Would it not have been better to take the instrument away and bring it back when it is right ?
Mr. Wardle : It is the Government's clear view that it does not need amending. I shall deal later with the hon. Gentleman's point. As I was saying, the three most recent directives relating to students, retired people and others who are financially self-sufficient have been implemented administratively since they came into force in June 1992--and the latest students directive, in December 1993. Likewise, the extension from 1 January 1994 of all the rights of residence directives to the European Economic Area--that is, to Austria, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden in addition to the 12 EC states--has been implemented administratively.
The order will discharge our commitment to implement formally the latest rights-of-residence directives. At the same time, it provides a distinct legal framework for EEA nationals who come to the United Kingdom, by covering also the six earlier directives which date back to the 1960s and 1970s and have already been implemented through the immigration rules.
By consolidating these directives, which have already been long in force, together with the latest three directives,
Column 66which have been implemented administratively, the order is a necessary technical measure and it will not introduce any significant change in the entitlement of EEA nationals to reside here with their families. These, of course, are the same rights of residence which enable British citizens to work and reside anywhere within the European Economic Area.
The concept of free movement within the European Community is long standing. When the United Kingdom joined what was then the European Economic Community in 1972, we acceded to the provisions that were already in place allowing the free movement of EC workers. Further measures were introduced subsequently allowing the free movement and residence of self- employed people and of providers and recipients of services. Three more directives came into force in 1992 and 1993 concerning the rights of residence of retired people, students and of any EC nationals not already covered by existing EC measures.
The main condition for anyone benefiting from the three latest directives is that he must be financially self-supporting. The cumulative effect is to provide all EC nationals with a right to reside in any member state, regardless of whether they are economically active, provided that they are working or can otherwise support themselves.
The European Economic Area Act 1993 enabled the United Kingdom to ratify the European Economic Area agreement which came into force on 1 January 1994. The agreement extends most of the provisions of the single market to five of the member states of the European Free Trade Association--to Austria, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. That is why, although we are speaking about Community entitlements arising from directives made under the treaty of Rome, the order refers to nationals of states that are parties to the European Economic Area agreement. The order is being made under the powers conferred by the European Communities Act 1972, as amended by the European Economic Area Act 1993.
The immigration rules already contain a general statement to the effect that they apply only to EC nationals--now extended to EEA nationals--and their families to the extent permitted by Community law, and that such persons are entitled to exercise their rights of residence as provided in Community law.
The order carries no implications for the maintenance of immigration controls at our frontiers with other member states, on which the Government's position is well known. However, on 1 January, to coincide with the entry into force of the European Economic Area agreement, the separate immigration channels for EC passengers arriving at our major ports and airports were extended to all EEA nationals. Arriving EEA nationals are thus treated in a similar way to British and other EC citizens and no longer require any "leave to enter" stamped in their passports.
The reality is that EEA nationals, including British citizens, are now free to work or reside anywhere within the European Economic Area. Showing a passport or identity card at the frontier as evidence of nationality cannot be said to interfere with the fundamental rights of free movement and residence.
The wording of the order is in part complex as it follows closely the wording of nine separate directives. It sets out the rights of residence of EEA nationals who fall into the following categories : workers ; self- employed people,