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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I must interrupt the noble Earl. He is well over his time.

The Earl of Carlisle: I shall conclude my remarks. It makes sense for the European nations to co-operate more closely, to obtain value for money, and to have the military capability and the political will to act rapidly when the US is unable or unwilling to do so. That can best be done through the European Union with a common foreign and security policy.

7.57 p.m.

Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, I join previous speakers in thanking my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede for initiating this important short debate on a matter which is current and meaningful.

When I added my name to the list of speakers, I was not sure how the trend of the debate would go. I was greatly reassured by my noble friend's opening remarks. His overview and his comprehensive statement do not leave much for the rest of us to say. However, I should like to make a couple of points.

I have taken part in the delegation to the WEU for about 12 years. I am reconciled to the fact that institutional change will occur. There is no point in continuing to talk about rapid reaction forces, satellite surveillance units, the training of police forces in Albania and so on; those matters will move within the EU purlieu. There is no question about that. Therefore, the area of capability will move into the EU's environs. Again, there is little point in complaining about that, although some who are active in the WEU do not like the idea.

The principal difficulty, which has already been touched on, is the question of what happens so far as the associate members, and indeed the observer nations, are concerned. A democratic deficit will occur. About five years ago, with colleagues from the WEU, I engaged in a conversation with EU defence parliamentarians. At that first meeting and two subsequent ones over the next two or three years, it was clear to me that when there occurred such a transfer as is now being proposed, the WEU parliamentary concept of some kind of democratic control would be swept aside in a huge amalgam-type committee within the EU structure. One important event in the past few years in the WEU has been that a limited democratic control has been shown by parliamentarians from national parliaments.

I hope that at the least later this evening when the Minister replies, she will give an assurance that parliamentary assembly control in some form will

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survive. It cannot be within the structure of the EU because it would not take account of the associate member and observer status.

8 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, one of the problems facing the WEU as regards the parliamentary assembly is that since it was established we have had to send the same delegation to the WEU as to the Council of Europe. The latter is more prestigious, perhaps more interesting, it has a wider remit and from time to time it exercises influence in a way which is not possible in the WEU. It is therefore always pleasing that there are members of the delegation who take the WEU seriously. During the two years in which he served, my noble friend Lord Ponsonby devoted considerable attention to it. The House should be aware that he did not do so to the neglect of his responsibilities in the Council of Europe.

I paid a private visit to the assembly on its 50th anniversary and heard the tributes paid to my noble friend for the splendid work he had done to promote youth music in Europe. He has done the House a great service this evening by pointing out the difficult situation in which Europe is placed in regard to the organisation of its security. My noble friend has perceived the value of the WEU and I do not believe he has ignored the weaknesses. There are weaknesses, particularly of complacency within the Council of Ministers. There was complacency as they patted each other on the back over the past 20 years, when there has been a clear understanding and knowledge that most European member states within the WEU have been scarcely capable of offering any defence for themselves or any useful or reasonable contribution in the exercise of the cause of international peace and stability.

There has also been the problem that the parliamentary assembly has often been equally complacent, happily accepting being slaughtered if it were ever placed in a different position from that of the Council of Ministers. I recall from a debate on the subject last year that the assembly was prevented from pursuing something. The Secretary General then said to me that the assembly was only entitled to information about military forces for those units which were directly under its control. Those have been few and far between.

The difficulty is that the past 10 years should have demonstrated to the WEU (as I think they have) as well as to the EU (I am less certain of that) that Europe has been far too weak. It has happily sheltered under the American umbrella and often been jingoistic at the same time. It watched the horrors of Yugoslavia develop and did little or nothing until the American involvement began. Even now, one has doubts about the promises and commitments of all the member states in the alliance to ensure that Kosovo can clear its mind and return to peace and a vestige of normality.

One hears of the continuing reduction in defence in some member states, despite the uncertainties in Europe and beyond. It is absurd. It is quite wrong for Europe to continue to prosper and yet be insufficiently capable either of contributing to its own security or to the cause of international peace and stability.

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I fear the uncertainties--although my noble friend Lord Kirkhill is less uncertain--as to the direction in which Europe is going. A reference was made to the NATO journal today. I shall read the following from it,

    "Future operations involving European Allies",

will possibly be led by the WEU or the EU. That alternative has been under debate in Europe for the past 10 or 15 years. The journal goes on to mention the need to have "focused interoperability" and the acquisition of "advanced capabilities". I wonder whether interoperability will be helped if responsibility is passed to the EU. That is particularly so, given the neutrality factor to which reference has been made.

Despite its weaknesses, the WEU has a great deal of knowledge and a considerable amount of experience. It has improved dramatically with the appointment of Colin Cameron as the clerk to the assembly, an appointment probably overdue and one which offers considerable advantages.

If we were to cede SCAT we would be doing ourselves a disservice. It would merely extend the period in which Britain has borne a necessary but inequitable share of European security and defence. Attention needs to be given to that, perhaps gently, in diplomatic language, but it ought to persist until fairer shares allow Europe to make a better contribution which the future will require.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I also welcome the debate. To anticipate the Minister's closing speech, capabilities matter but institutions matter too. Rules and obligations matter. If the Government are to succeed in raising European defence capabilities, they will have to strengthen the European framework for shared capabilities. As we all know, institutions and rules help to bring pressure on governments to come up to the capabilities needed.

The WEU has always been a mechanism for doing something else. It is 51 years since the WEU was originally formed in 1948 in order to get the Americans to commit themselves to Europe. It was a pathway to the Atlantic alliance. A few years later, the British Government, Anthony Eden, used the WEU as a mechanism for sorting out the re-armament of Germany. It served to bring Germany into the Atlantic alliance. A few years after that, under the Harold Wilson government, it served as a mechanism for keeping discussions between Britain and the six alive, when General de Gaulle shut us out of the European Community.

In the 1980s it served as a means by which the French could edge back towards the NATO integrated organisation by reviving European defence. Since 1990 it has served two useful roles: one, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, pointed out, is in helping to bring the applicant states of central and eastern Europe closer towards western institutions, both the EU and NATO; and, secondly, serving as a pathway for sorting out the defence dimension of the common foreign and security policy in the European Community.

21 Jul 1999 : Column 1056

I welcome the extent to which Her Majesty's Government are now pushing for an effective European pillar within the North Atlantic treaty. It has, after all, been Liberal Democrat policy for a long time. We all welcome sinners who repent and I look forward to the Conservative Party in turn, in about the 2006 general election manifesto, acceding to the same overall approach.

After all, NATO has now moved in that direction. In the Washington communique of last April we had a clear commitment to reinforcing the European pillar of the alliance. In the NATO strategic concept we had the clear statement that we want to reinforce the transatlantic link by ensuring a balance that allows the European allies to assume greater responsibility. The Americans and the Europeans are moving towards greater integration of European defence with European foreign policy. We are edging slowly towards a common foreign and defence policy. The appointment of Secretary-General Solana to the European Community's council secretariat is a significant step forward. We all recognise that it is necessarily a slow and delicate process, but I pay tribute to the British and French Governments for taking the lead and pushing in the right direction in the St. Malo declaration and subsequently.

I wish that the Government were a little more open about the institutional implications. I understand from the discussions that one hears quietly among officials at Brussels that the issue is intended to be on the agenda of the intergovernmental conference, to which we are committed. That is not surprising. The Maastrict and Amsterdam treaties both dealt with the Western European Union and edged it a little closer towards integration into the European Union.

We are slowly putting in place the foundations of a European foreign and defence policy. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, is right to ask about the continued usefulness of the WEU institutions. I have had professional dealings over the past few years with the WEU Institute for Security Studies in Paris. That is a valuable organisation and it is important that its work should continue. The assembly serves a helpful purpose in bringing national parliamentarians from European countries together to discuss defence and foreign policy. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked whether it should be a European assembly of national parliamentarians or should become a more effective transatlantic body, merged with the North Atlantic Assembly. Those issues need to be explored further.

In passing, I should say that one needs to beware the COSAC model of a chamber of national Parliaments alongside the European Parliament. I have been to COSAC meetings. The French want it to be a national alternative to the European Parliament. One eats extremely well, but I am not sure one comes back having learnt an enormous amount.

What should our future policy be towards the development of a defence role for the Western European Union? I hope that the Minister agrees that we want a progressive movement towards the absorption of the WEU into the EU as the defence dimension of a common foreign and security policy and as the European pillar of the Atlantic alliance.

21 Jul 1999 : Column 1057

8.12 p.m.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I should be most interested to know from where the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, gets his brief, because it was identical to one that was given to me, even down to the fascinating statistics about the Austrian Army's expenditure on opera and the quotation from the Washington Post. My brief was prepared by a Conservative Member of another place.

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