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Lord Hooson: My Lords, does not the noble Baroness agree--but perhaps she is too young to remember this--that the late President Kennedy often spoke of the two pillars of NATO: the North American pillar and the European pillar? Is it not correct that until now we have singularly failed in Europe to build that pillar? Is not this new initiative long overdue?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not think that we have singularly failed to develop that pillar. I think that that is taking the argument a little further than we on this side of the House are prepared to do. As I have already indicated, I believe that Kosovo showed that the European alliance, the EU, can act on occasions when our American colleagues

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choose not to do so. Although I am not, sadly, quite as young as the noble Lord would like to imply, it is quite clear that the American view on this matter does not come simply from the current administration. I quote from a Republican source, Mr Robert Zoellick, a key adviser to George W Bush, who said that,

    "Congress is far more likely to support a US presence in Europe if the EU is a full partner".

I believe that we have seen on the part of key players on both sides of the American divide that the Americans are in support of what we are trying to do. I refer to the initiative in which the Prime Minister has been a key player and a key initiator.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that integration might give much better value for the money spent all over Europe?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I did not hear what would give better value for money.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: Integration; in other words, when companies merge they normally intend to save money. In this case integration of defence in Europe should give better value. Does she agree?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, integration raises a whole range of other questions. We would wish to ensure that on this issue we move at a pace that is comfortable for all our allies. Everyone will know, for example, that for operational purposes our French colleagues are not as integrated into the NATO alliance as we are. It is important to bear in mind that all nations involved in NATO will want to ensure that the particular feelings and worries that they may have are properly taken into account. This is not a process over which we can wave a magic wand and that it will all come right overnight.

Over the coming months, under the Portuguese presidency, we shall have to look at the detailed arrangements, for example, for the participation of non-EU European allies, and we shall have to devise arrangements for EU and NATO relations. These are all difficult questions but they are ones to which we should now turn our minds.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, how will the Minister achieve convergence of EU defence expenditure?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am happy to say that that is not necessarily a question entirely for me to answer. Over the next few months, under the presidency of our Portuguese allies, we shall be considering how to focus on the capabilities in order to define the headline goal that I detailed to your Lordships a moment or two ago. It is important that we look at what we are trying to achieve.

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We are all aware that there are different levels of expenditure among our EU allies. I am sure that questions about levels of expenditure should be given a great deal of consideration. But it is very difficult to make the direct comparisons that we have seen recently in some of our newspapers. When one sees comparisons of relative expenditure across European countries, very often they do not compare like with like. One set of budgets will be dealing with a range of issues which are not comprehended in another set of budgets. Your Lordships should treat with very great caution the kinds of figures that we have seen in our newspapers.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that one of the primary purposes of defence in Europe these days is humanitarian? If that is the case, what consequences does it have for recruitment?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, much of what we have dealt with recently have been humanitarian exercises. The noble Earl will be aware that the Strategic Defence Review concentrated very considerably on peacekeeping exercises and on conflict prevention. Recruitment--which I think was the question raised by the noble Earl--is running very well at the moment, particularly in the Army. The last calendar year was the best year for recruitment in the Army for some 10 years or so. The young people joining our Armed Forces today are in no way put off by the humanitarian emphasis in what they will be asked to do. Rather, I think that there is considerable enthusiasm among young people in this country for the kind of tasks that they will be asked to undertake in Her Majesty's Armed Forces.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is puzzlement among some people as to exactly what the new European army will do? NATO is the defence organisation which has protected Europe and intervened in conflicts in Europe over a long period of time. Can my noble friend say what will be a European issue and a European conflict and what will be a European Union interest and a European Union conflict? Or will the European Union army be responsible for the whole of Europe, wherever it extends?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I regret to say that the puzzlement is not so much in the minds of young people or others looking at this matter but is a basic confusion in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. We are not creating a standing European army. I have repeated that on many occasions when speaking from this Dispatch Box on behalf of both the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office. I do so again. We are not creating a standing European army or a standing European rapid reaction force. We have made that clear. We have also made clear that we are not prepared to relinquish national control of our Armed Forces. I cannot think of a more

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unequivocal way of putting that. It is, to me, absolutely crystal clear. I hope that now it will be crystal clear to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.

Mixed-sex Wards

2.55 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why the target of eliminating mixed-sex wards in 70 per cent of health authorities by December 1999 was not achieved.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, as I said in the House last week, we are committed to ensuring that mixed-sex accommodation disappears and we are working towards that. To achieve this aim we have put in place the target that 95 per cent of health authorities will have eliminated such accommodation by the end of 2002. I regret and apologise to the House for implying last week that the target was 100 per cent. However, in practical terms, our intention is that almost all mixed-sex accommodation will disappear. There are five trusts where capital schemes will come to fruition after 2002. In those few cases the feasibility of building temporary segregated washing and toilet facilities is being actively explored.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that disturbing and disappointing Answer. Is it really beyond the collective wit of the Government and the health administrators to deal with the problem? It is not just about money; it is a question of political will. The same promise was made two years ago: to deal with the problem. Why have not the Government delivered on it? If the promise is not delivered, why should anyone believe the Government in relation to the NHS?

I quoted from a question asked by the then Leader of the Opposition to the Leader of the Government. That was in 1996. It is disturbing that we are still in this position.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, in 1995 her government introduced in the Patient's Charter the right of the patient to know before going into hospital whether he or she would be placed in mixed-sex accommodation. But her government did nothing further to monitor that or to set targets for the health service. We have done so. As I said, we are committed to ensuring that 95 per cent of health authorities meet the target by the end of 2002; and we are in discussions with those five trusts which have capital schemes that will come on stream after that date to see whether it is feasible to introduce temporary separate facilities.

I understand the concerns of your Lordships and many members of the public about the disturbing effects of mixed-sex accommodation in many of our

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hospitals. I understand the urgency with which your Lordships wish this problem to be tackled. I assure the House that the Government are determined to ensure that the target is achieved.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the last Parliament I promoted a Bill in this House to phase out mixed-sex wards? Indeed, the House was good enough to approve that Bill and to pass it to another place. Is my noble friend further aware that my noble friend Lady Jay, the previous Secretary of State, Frank Dobson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, are fully and utterly committed to the policy of getting rid of mixed-sex wards? They should be commended for that. I believe--I hope that my noble friend will be able to deny this--that they are being undermined by the authorities in the hospitals themselves. Frankly, that is completely and utterly unacceptable, not only to the public at large but to Members of this House and of another place who have said repeatedly that they want mixed-sex wards phased out. I hope that my noble friend will redouble his efforts to ensure that we reach his target date of 2002, which he announced last week.

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