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House of Lords

Wednesday, 22nd March 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

European Defence: Policy Scrutiny

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What they envisage as the roles of the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Western European Union in the scrutiny and accountability of the emerging European Security and Defence Initiative.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we are committed to the continuing scrutiny of defence policy in Europe by national parliaments. Under the provisions of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the European Parliament is kept regularly informed of the development of the Union's foreign and security policy.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful Answer. Does she agree that if the objective is to have closer integration in our approach to foreign and security matters in the European Union, it is most important that parliamentarians within the member countries should be able to come together, as they do in the Western European Union, deliberate on a common analysis and decide how they can be more effective in their job of holding governments accountable in their own parliaments?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is useful if Ministers can come together. The work done in that regard has been most useful and we commend it. However, we must now consider how to move forward. Nothing in our new plans indicates that the opportunity to discuss and agree the issues will be diminished.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the difficulties about the European Security and Defence Initiative is the way in which it has been represented in some parts of the United States' press and Congress? Headlines such as "A threat to NATO's future", which recently appeared in a publication of the American Enterprise Institute and was seen by certain American Senators, are, I regret to say, fed by statements made by some Members of the other place, in particular the shadow Defence Secretary. Does the Minister agree that the wider the debate and discussion within the European

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Parliament, and between it and the US Congress, the sooner we are likely to see that the ESDI is intended to strengthen NATO and not to divide and weaken it?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I wholeheartedly join the noble Baroness in stating that it is of great importance that the truth about the issue should be made plain. I also join her in finding reprehensible those who seek to distort the policy into something which it is not. The Government are convinced that security and defence should remain under the scrutiny of national parliaments. We are planning for that in the future.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am happy to hear the Minister's comments. The whole project is meant to be intergovernmental and to include those members of NATO who are not members of the EU, thereby strengthening the European end of NATO as a resource to help us all. In the light of that, should not proper scrutiny rest with the Houses of this Parliament, as the noble Baroness emphasised? Is it not difficult to see where the European Parliament comes into the matter at all? This is a NATO development and a resource to help strengthen the NATO resources available to the United States and to the European powers.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is clear that the European Parliament will not have a significant role in this regard. It has no role in decision-taking on common foreign and security policy issues and the Government will aim to ensure that it has no role in defence decisions either. We believe that there will be a strengthening of NATO. We know that our US partners are very happy with the development. The words of Strobe Talbott have been quoted in this House on a number of occasions.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, does the Minister agree that matters might be clarified if the Government stopped denying that this is a European army? Does she further agree that if the force ever had to go into action--and a large force is being allocated for the purpose--it would require a commander-in-chief who would need a staff, intelligence, logistics, air support and, in certain circumstances, naval support? If that is not a European army, can the noble Baroness tell us what it is?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, let us be absolutely plain. This is not a European army. When the allies joined together for joint action in other forums in the world war no one suggested that that was a joint army. Each of us contributed resources and co-ordinated with the other in order to ensure that the allies won.

I shall say again, in case the noble Lord does not understand, that this is not a European army and it will not be so. The Government are determined that we should retain control of our Armed Forces. I can

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assure the noble Lord that other countries feel just as passionately about their officers as we rightly feel about ours.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, as we are in a mood to be absolutely plain, does my noble friend agree that there is a real distinction? One is strengthening the European part of NATO, with which we all agree; the other is the separate aim of creating an autonomous European Union military capacity. If we do not start to recognise that, frankly, we shall not understand what is at issue.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I believe that I have said all I can say, that I have said it very plainly and that I cannot say it any more plainly. However, it is absolutely clear that we must find a modus operandi for working together in order to increase our capacity to respond efficiently to the challenges which Europe faces. We need to do that in order to ensure that we deploy our servicemen in theatre in the most effective way to protect ourselves and our European partners. For many years we have joined with our European friends in their hour of need. We shall continue to do that; and we shall do it more efficiently if we do it together.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if any expenditure whatever is made on common foreign and security policy that comes through the mechanism of the European Union budget, then the European Parliament in general and its budgetary control committee in particular have a specific responsibility for scrutiny of such expenditure?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Parliament may carry out scrutiny and it may also be in receipt of information. However, the most important point is that it does not have decision-making capacity. That capacity remains with national parliaments where, rightly, it should rest.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, we heard very clearly what the Minister said about our Armed Forces, and we agree. However, is she aware that there is more to this question than armed forces and that last year the French President described the United States as a hyper-power and criticised what he called America's "increasingly unilateral" farm policy? What specific assurances can she give that our EU partners, particularly our French partners in the St. Malo Declaration, respect our commitment to NATO and the preservation of its prerogatives and that they will do nothing to undermine it?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have no reason to believe that our French partners will seek to undermine NATO. They have not done so to date and there is nothing currently before us to cause us to believe that they will do so in the future.

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Oil Prices

2.44 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they plan to take action in relation to the rising price of oil.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, as your Lordships know, the oil market has been very volatile of late, with prices rising from 10 dollars per barrel of oil in February 1999 to over 25 dollars per barrel currently. The Government monitor the market closely because significant changes in oil prices could, if prolonged, impact adversely on the UK economy. However, whether oil prices are low or high, the Government remain committed to the operation of free, open markets, where price is determined by fundamentals and not by regulation or intervention.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. However, the substantial increase in oil prices to which he referred has already had a serious impact on the international economy. It was one of the major factors which led the USA to raise its interest rates the other day, with more rises to come and possibly with similar action elsewhere. Bearing in mind the enormously adverse impact that the oil price increases had in the 1970s, have the developed countries since then produced strategies (both short and long-term) to deal with the possible recurrence of that situation? In particular, does the noble Lord recall that the International Energy Agency, of which the UK is a founder member, has as a specific remit:

    "To maintain and improve systems for coping with oil supply disruptions"?

I should like to ask what it has recommended in the present situation.

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