Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Prime Minister made it clear that NATO would remain the foundation of collective security in Europe. The Prime Minister launched the debate about the sort of foreign policy that the EU should have at Poertschach. As Kosovo has shown, Europe needs to strengthen its political voice. As part of that Europe requires credible military forces and the political will to use them.

We are prepared to think afresh and we have an open mind. But it is important to remind the noble Lord of the crucial role here of NATO. The Prime Minister has stressed that the control of armed forces remains a matter for national governments and that there is no place for a European standing army. I hope therefore that that has cleared some of the points that the noble Lord raises and cleared his mind a little more on the issues.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it was the OSCE which together with NATO brokered a peace deal with President Milosevic in NATO, and that the WEU was nowhere to be seen while that peace process was under way? That in itself reflects badly on the WEU. Does my noble friend therefore agree that, whatever the future may hold for the WEU, the status quo cannot continue?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, that is the purport of what the Prime Minister indicated. I believe that all noble Lords would acknowledge the important role of the OSCE in the deal thus far negotiated with Mr. Milosevic. Kosovo highlighted some of the current strengths in the arrangements that we have because the EU was able to stand united behind the international communities' pressure on Belgrade; and the EU was able to exercise its economic muscle through further sanctions. However, I agree with my noble friend that it also put the spotlight on some of the weaknesses in current arrangements, in particular the problem of acting quickly and decisively enough to address an international crisis.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, in the context of Anglo-French relations, can the Minister tell us what is the attitude of France to the WEU?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, France is a member of the WEU. I am sure that the French will wish to engage in any discussions that the Prime Minister's initiative will take forward. We are at an early stage in that initiative, so I am not able to give the noble Lord any particular insight. However, if he would like, and if it would be helpful, I can send him a chart showing the current arrangements of the WEU and the various countries which are involved in their different ways.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, as the Minister has twice mentioned Kosovo as an example of the need to

10 Nov 1998 : Column 629

strengthen Europe's political voice, can she say what action has been taken since President Milosevic refused to allow the prosecutor of the ICTY, Miss Louise Arbour, to visit Kosovo? What action does she believe can be taken to deal with that gross breach of Security Council Resolution 1199?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I had hoped that we were discussing the WEU and EU and I do not have detailed information on the current position in Kosovo in relation to Miss Arbour. The noble Lord asked an important question. I recognise that it is an issue in which he has taken a great deal of interest, as have your Lordships in general. I will write to the noble Lord and place a copy in the Library.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, in the light of the Minister's reassuring and constructive reply from the Dispatch Box, will she agree with two propositions? The first is that it is important that European countries should have the requisite military power to stand behind whatever political decisions they take. Secondly, in that context is it not true that NATO is the correct vehicle for delivering that power? Would it not be wrong to do anything which either duplicated or usurped the power of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, yes. Not all European countries are members of the WEU and some are neutral. But of course I can agree with the noble Lord that it is enormously important that nothing in the Prime Minister's initiative is read as undermining or duplicating NATO's role, a point which was stated unequivocally by my right honourable friend in his speech at Poertschach.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, speaking as a Member of this House who spent 11 years in the WEU, I ask the Minister: does she believe that it might be well and good if Members understood that the WEU exists solely for European defence?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, yes. The role of the WEU is probably not as clearly understood as it might be. Of course, as the Question indicates, that role is now under scrutiny. Indeed, the subject of European defence policies was discussed by your Lordships in great detail when we debated the aspects of CFSP in the Amsterdam Treaty. I believe that the noble Baroness is right and that the relationship between the WEU and Europe on the one hand and the WEU and NATO on the other is one on which a little more clarity from time to time would be helpful.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the information she volunteered in answer to the question put to her by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, is of great interest? Will she ensure a wide circulation of the document which may help considerably in clarifying the position?

10 Nov 1998 : Column 630

In the meantime, will the Minister assure the House that any endeavour to convert the unanimity rule applying to such changes will not be side-stepped into moves by the Commission to turn the required vote into one of qualified majority?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as your Lordships were able to see when we discussed the Amsterdam Treaty, the common strategies developed under CFSP are subject to a unanimity vote. However, the common positions which flow from those strategies are subject to qualified majority voting unless they are not covered by a common strategy. I hope that point is clear. Your Lordships--I would not necessarily include my noble friend--were to some extent reassured by the provisions on unanimity and CFSP in the Amsterdam Treaty.

As regards the second point which my noble friend made, it is difficult to describe in words across the Floor of the House the structures of the WEU. A helpful chart which shows the WEU's membership, associate membership, associate partners, observers and so forth should be of some help to your Lordships in coming to grips with these issues.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, further to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, and despite the Amsterdam Treaty, can the Minister confirm whether or not the proposals set out by the Government at Poertschach on the establishment of a closer EU defence formation included the extension of qualified majority voting? If not, can she tell the House whether the Government would support such an extension?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not believe that the discussions have been anything like as detailed as the noble Baroness's question implies. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear that we are approaching the debate with a fresh mind. He also made clear that NATO must remain at the foundation of our collective security policy in Europe. The Prime Minister also set out some thoughts on the development of the European security and defence identity, which he said must continue to be fulfilled primarily by NATO. As regards the specific question of the extension of qualified majority voting, I do not believe the Prime Minister's speech covered that in detail. However, if I am wrong in so saying I shall write to the noble Baroness and let her have the full text of what the Prime Minister said.

Northern Ireland Bill

3.8 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Status of Northern Ireland]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 11, after ("if") insert (", after the entry into force of the agreement between the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in the Annex to the Belfast Agreement,").

10 Nov 1998 : Column 631

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is one of a minority of amendments being proposed by Members of your Lordships' House other than Government Ministers. The Bill has been subjected to an avalanche of government amendments. During an earlier stage of our deliberations I complimented the Minister on his flexibility in moving so many amendments. However, his flexibility has reached the stage where the Bill is so bent that it can hardly stand up! According to my calculations yesterday, the Government have so far tabled 449 amendments, including 25 new clauses and one new schedule. Two more amendments were added to the Marshalled List overnight, bringing the total to more than 450. It is rather difficult to calculate the number because some of the amendments which were tabled were subsequently withdrawn. The latest example is that on Friday the Government withdrew some of the amendments which they had tabled on Thursday. That process is extremely inconvenient for the House. It may show the virtues of having a second Chamber in which to alter legislation to that extent but it is not a good way to legislate. It makes it exceptionally difficult for Members of your Lordships' House to follow what is being proposed in the Bill, let alone people outside who have an interest in it.

Having registered my protest in that respect, we must start to discuss the 176 or so government amendments which we have before us over the next two days, as well as the modest number of propositions which I hope to put before your Lordships in the course of our debates.

Amendment No. 1 attempts to bring into unison the constitutional changes which are to take place in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. It is extremely important to this whole process, following from the Belfast agreement, that the two countries and the two governments should proceed hand-in-hand together.

Great symbolism has been attached to that throughout the process and that was particularly so when we returned during the Recess for the emergency Bill, when both governments and both parliaments moved on the same day following the dreadful bombing at Omagh. There is great symbolism throughout many of the clauses and parts of the Belfast agreement but there is no greater symbolism within it than the changes to the two constitutions. I believe that they should move together and that is the intention of this amendment and Amendment No. 3, which is grouped with it.

I have been accused earlier in our debates of being pessimistic about the possibilities of the agreement. I am not. I am optimistic, as I have frequently done my best to emphasise. But that is not a reason for ignoring what may happen if the agreement does not operate as smoothly as we all hope.

If the agreement does operate smoothly, as we all hope, then it will be an historic milestone when the two constitutions are changed simultaneously. Under the validation and implementation provisions of the Belfast agreement, it is important that the two constitutional changes come in together. If by any sad chance the process flounders at some point, clearly we should not

10 Nov 1998 : Column 632

wish to alter the United Kingdom constitution in the absence of an alteration to the Republic of Ireland constitution. Therefore, it is important also in that respect.

Whatever may be the future of the agreement--and we all hope that it will succeed and the present difficulties will be overcome, as so many difficulties have been overcome in the course of the process--it is important that the two constitutional changes which form the basis of the agreement should proceed together. That is the purpose of the amendment. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I strongly support this amendment and Amendment No. 3. I respectfully remind your Lordships that the two Governments assented to and signed the Good Friday agreement at the completion of some rather hasty drafting. Moreover, many members of the general public in Northern Ireland who endorsed the agreement in the referendum now regret their hasty action in voting for a referendum booklet which even the draftsmen themselves did not fully understand. By that, I do not mean the Minister and his team but I mean those who participated in the negotiations. Hence, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, said, we have what one might call the mutilation of the Bill by the Government themselves. Many people received a clear impression that all the various structures and devices embodied in the Good Friday agreement would advance broadly in line and in step.

It is not only the citizens of Northern Ireland who are somewhat baffled and confused. There is now clear evidence that the good citizens of Great Britain are enraged by what they perceive to be an immediate and permanent amnesty. It is no good saying that the prisoners are released on licence. That is not generally understood. In fact, it is a non-event anyway. But the amnesty is perceived to be the case and the most recent example which has caused outrage on this island was the release of the Hyde Park murderers. After seven months, there have been no matching or reciprocal steps on the part of the terrorists, from whichever quarter they come, who planned those murders.

I have read rather amusing accounts of the IRA army council members visiting--that is the term they use--some 66 individual dissident Republicans. Those reports assert that the visitors threatened their hosts with very grave consequences of disobedience. But if the kindly visitors were really serious, why do they not provide the authorities, north and south, with the names and addresses of those to whom they presumably presented their visiting cards? They could disclose also the precise location of the deadly hardware which is in the co-ownership of the terrorists generally.

That may be straying rather wide of the appropriate constitutional point which the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has just made. It would be extremely reassuring if there were to be constitutional reciprocity as suggested in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cope.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page