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Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, can my noble friend give the House an assurance that at the

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forthcoming intergovernmental conference the momentum established by the Prime Minister in his terse observations on fraud and irregularity in European finances will be fully maintained and explained to the intergovernmental conference in order to ensure that the new Commission adopts different standards as regards the administration of public finances from those it has adopted in the past?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can give my noble friend the absolute assurance that Her Majesty's Government will continue to be in the forefront of the arguments that the Commission should be more effective, more efficient, more accountable and more transparent in its business. We believe that it must operate by the highest standards of honesty, integrity and accountability. That will be our stance not only during the IGC, but also before it as well.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, can the noble Baroness assure the House that her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will take care in developing the policies in the conference to make sure that communication is not only with the Westminster Parliament but also through the proper channels for the devolved Parliaments? Noble Lords who this morning saw the opening of the Scots Parliament on television will realise that there are high expectations in Scotland as regards its political future within the Union. There are so many Scottish interests in Europe that are being handled through Westminster that it is vital that roads of communication are constantly open. Can the noble Baroness assure the House that that will be done?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that not only will my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary be extremely vigilant, but also his right honourable friends the Secretaries of State in all the departments concerned, in making sure that matters appropriate for discussion--possibly also in relation to the Welsh Assembly--go to the appropriate quarters.

NATO: Strategic Concept

3.27 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What further action they will propose to other NATO countries by way of reviewing NATO's strategic concept.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, NATO heads of government and state agreed an updated strategic concept which takes full account of the environment in which the alliance operates and the challenges and opportunities it faces at their summit meeting in Washington on 23rd to 25th April. There are no plans for a further review at this stage.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I am somewhat disappointed with the Answer of my noble friend. However, does she agree that at the

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non-proliferation treaty review conference next year it will be essential for the nuclear powers to demonstrate their good faith if the whole process is not to risk collapsing? Could not that demonstration be provided by NATO, for example by a declaration of no first use? In what conceivable circumstances is NATO likely to encounter an aggressor in which it could not muster an overwhelming preponderance of conventional weapons? Is there not everything to gain and nothing to lose?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my noble and learned friend is quite right that it was agreed in Washington that proposals for options on confidence-building, on verification, on non- proliferation and arms control should be taken forward and put to NATO Ministers for agreement in December. Allies are discussing what those proposals might be, but those discussions are at an early stage. I ask my noble and learned friend to recall the considerable progress Her Majesty's Government have made over nuclear issues--the withdrawal of the free-fall bomb, cuts in operationally available nuclear warheads among other things. It is clear that there is no prospect at the moment of consensus among NATO allies on a move to a policy of no first use.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, can the noble Baroness assure the House that never again will NATO's strategic judgments be corrupted and confused by sentimental estimates of humanitarian needs in advance of Security Council authority?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not believe that NATO's use of any weapons whatever has been corrupted by sentimentality. I believe that NATO has acted entirely properly. I know that the noble Earl disagrees with that; and, indeed, we have had an honest disagreement in that respect. However, I must say to the noble Earl that I do not believe that I have to give the assurance that he seeks, because I do not believe that the words "never again" were quite appropriate in the question that he put to me.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Kosovo operation has, however, provided very considerable lessons for the future of NATO and for the balance between European and American contributions to NATO? Can she tell us how NATO intends to reflect on the lessons of the Kosovo operation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, when one thinks of what has happened in all these enormous encounters--for example, in Iraq and in Kosovo--it is only human to draw lessons from such events. However, perhaps I may tell the noble Lord that one of the lessons that we should all draw from this is the really quite remarkable achievement of the 19 countries of NATO staying united throughout what was, after all, a very difficult operation. Indeed, not only did they stay united but they also remained engaged in a discussion with Russia about the way forward. We have a great deal to learn over what happened during

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the engagement. I believe that we also have a great deal to learn about the re-building exercise, which will now be going forward.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, does the Minister agree that her noble and learned friend has raised a most important issue by drawing our attention to the new NATO strategic concept? Is she aware--I am sure that she will be--that the 1991 NATO strategic concept contained as its central message the words,

    "NATO is a purely defensive alliance"? Does she also agree with me that the disappearance of those words from the 1999 strategic concept is a cause for concern? On a close reading of the new NATO strategic concept, does she further agree that NATO now seems to have a licence to intervene almost anywhere in the world, not only where its security is involved but also where, to quote the new strategic concept, its "interests are involved"? Is this not a path that must be trodden with very great care?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, all matters concerned with defence must be a path trodden with very great care, as the noble Lord says. However, I do not agree with him that the omission of the words he reminded us of are a particular cause for concern. Like any other organisation, NATO has to be updated as the circumstances around it change. That was the point of looking at the strategic concept. I should remind the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that this was agreed by the then 16 nations in NATO--now 19, as a result of what happened in Washington--and that the new strategic concept still takes into account the five fundamental security tasks; namely, security, consultation, deterrence and defence, crisis management and partnership. I believe that those five criteria are correctly identified as the ones that should inform the way in which NATO undertakes future decision making.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, in these forthcoming discussions, can my noble friend the Minister say whether it will be borne in mind that NATO was created to perform a defensive role, rather than an attacking role, and that that is still the primary purpose of the organisation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that all appropriate matters will be borne in mind. I should point out to my noble friend that I believe there is a little confusion here. The strategic concept was set and agreed in April of this year. The NATO countries have undertaken to look at issues around disarmament and non-proliferation and have agreed to take those discussions forward in December of this year. When we talk about nuclear issues, we must not lose sight of the fact that there are three important matters which lie ahead of us; namely, the ratification of Start II, the negotiation on Start III, the entry into force of the comprehensive test ban treaty and the negotiation on a fissile material cut-off treaty. Those three issues are very important and they are the ones upon which we will be concentrating.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, can the Minister say why the Government agreed at Cologne to the merging

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of the functions of the Western European Union into those of the European Union, when that very move was described by the Prime Minister only two years ago as an "ill-judged transplant"? Can the noble Baroness explain why what the Prime Minister vetoed at Amsterdam was acceptable at Cologne?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord will know that there are a number of outstanding questions which now need to be taken forward in the light of the St. Malo discussions that the Prime Minister had with the President of France. This raises the issues around the relative positions of the WEU, around NATO and around the discussions which the noble Lord knows are ongoing about the future of the EU countries in European defence. The noble Lord knows that these are all issues which are currently under discussion. The Government will be keeping not only the Opposition parties but also the public in general well in the picture as the matter develops.

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