Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am grateful for that clear exposition, which wholly tallies with my understanding of the situation. I am fairly convinced that legislation will be needed and in those circumstances I am grateful for his assurance that early legislation will be brought forward. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, that the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

Lord McNally: My Lords, I well realise that the Minister is waiting to make a Statement and I see the foreign policy buffs gathering. But it is worth making one or two short observations.

We are at the end of a 25-year road along which many colleagues have travelled. So I should like to pay tribute in the passage of this Bill to my colleagues, my noble friends Lord Goodhart and Lord Lester, for their contributions, and also to the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, who dealt with us at all times with great courtesy and often with great constructiveness.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, asked on a number of occasions whether these Benches spoke as shadows or surrogates. We are glad to take both descriptions in the final shape of the Bill. Much was made by the Conservatives of the so-called "deal" we made with the Government Front Bench over some key amendments. A lot of that indignation was

22 Nov 2000 : Column 851

synthetic. They proved, with the age of consent Bill and the Disqualifications Bill, that if they want to turn out their troops they can do so without our support.

However, the concessions we obtained from the Government were worth while. Those who claimed that we "blinked too early" must consider whether they really wanted the Freedom of Information Bill thrown into the maelstrom of the last eight days of this Session. Whatever else, the passage of the Bill tonight guarantees that the Freedom of Information Bill will be on the statute book this Session. The real analogy is not parliamentary ping-pong but parliamentary poker. It is sometimes smart to know when to cash in your chips and we did that at the right time.

This is not the Bill which the Liberal Democrats would have passed. It is not the Bill which David Clarke would have passed. At this stage it is worth paying tribute to David Clarke's White Paper, which will remain for all of us a benchmark yet to be attained. But it is a Bill worth having. I should have preferred to hear a few more cries of pain from the noble Lords, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster and Lord Butler of Brockwell, but you cannot have everything!

In conclusion, there are three hurdles which even an Act of Parliament must clear in order to be effective. The first two were referred to by my noble friend Lord Lester. First, the Bill will need an information commissioner who is robust in testing the powers which it gives her. Secondly, it will need the courts to be liberal and radical in their interpretation. Thirdly and most importantly--and this was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan--it will need Ministers who believe in freedom of information. One of the most telling points ever made about the previous administration was made by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, when he described his colleagues as being in office but not in power. That charge sometimes hangs over the present Government.

All ministerial office is transitory. One of the lasting marks which each and every one of the present Ministers can make during their period of office is to ensure that the Bill is followed in spirit as well as in letter in the Whitehall departments over which they preside. It is no use blaming the wiles of Sir Humphrey, or even of Sir Robert or Sir Robin, if Ministers do not try to make the Bill work. If they initiate the training programmes to instil a new culture into the bureaucracy, and if they believe in the citizens' right to know, the Bill will be seen as more significant than its critics now allow. It will redeem a 25-year promise and justify the Campaign for Freedom of Information, Charter '88, the UCL Constitution Unit and others who have worked so hard to put it on the statute book. It will strengthen our democracy, make the executive more accountable and increase the power of both Houses of Parliament and of the three aspects of the media to ensure that those who seek to rule us are our servants, not our masters.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, your Lordships will appreciate the need of my noble friend Lord Mackay to prepare for his business scheduled for today. It will come as no surprise to the Minister--

22 Nov 2000 : Column 852

indeed, to the whole House--that he is even now working feverishly to engender the same degree of consensus and co-operation which we enjoyed during the Bill's Third Reading, particularly on Amendment No. 10.

Accordingly, and although I am a poor substitute, on behalf of my noble friend I join in the plaudits of the noble Lord, Lord McNally. As usual, the House can congratulate itself that the Bill, whatever its gestation, is returned to another place in much better shape than when it arrived. I congratulate all noble Lords who have assisted in that process, not least my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lord Norton. I thank the Government Front Bench, the noble and learned Lord the Minister and his officials for ensuring that our debates on the Bill have been unfailingly courteous and informative.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I, too, join noble Lords in their remarks about the good natured and constructive way in which debates on the Bill have been conducted. We have made significant changes to the Bill and I am grateful for all the contributions from around the House.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.


Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, before we move to the Statement on European Defence Co-operation, I should like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification. Peers who speak at length do so at the expense of other noble Lords.

European Defence Co-operation

5.25 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on European defence co-operation being made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence in another place. The Statement is as follows:

    "With permission, I would like to make a Statement to the House about recent developments in European defence co-operation. There are those who in recent days have, frankly, become a little over-excited. I would like to try to set out the facts and separate them from the Euro-sceptic fiction.

    "Our aim is the improvement of European military capabilities to deal with the security challenges now facing us. These enhanced capabilities will be available to the countries concerned, to the European Union and to NATO. This is a key step towards achieving our goal of strengthening the European pillar of NATO and encouraging our European partners to do more.

22 Nov 2000 : Column 853

    "This is an aim that everyone in this House should share. It is about making it easier for British Armed Forces to deploy in a multi-national context--something which is a routine requirement of modern operations. I spent this morning with the Royal Regiment of Wales and the Royal Green Jackets, currently serving in Paderborn in Germany. They emphasised the number of recent occasions when they had been deployed alongside European forces, from Holland, from France and from Italy.

    "I would like to set out just what we have been discussing this week at the Capabilities Commitments Conference in Brussels. Last year, at the Helsinki Summit, it was agreed that European Union nations should by 2003 be able to deploy rapidly up to 60,000 ground troops to meet the full range of crisis management tasks. These troops could either contribute to NATO-led operations or, where NATO as a whole was not engaged, to European-led crisis management missions.

    "Over the past two days, European partners, both in the European Union and those outside it, have been identifying the type and level of forces that they might be able to make available to Petersberg operations. This is not a standing European army. It is a pool of potentially available national forces. It envisages full transparency and consultation with NATO as a potential crisis develops. It would then be for contributing countries to decide whether, when and how to deploy their armed forces. No country would have to take part. The British Prime Minister, answerable to this House, will always have the final say over the use and deployment of British Armed Forces.

    "NATO is, and will remain, the cornerstone of European defence. It alone remains responsible for the collective territorial defence of its member states. The European Union has stated repeatedly that its aim is to have the ability to conduct military crisis management operations only where NATO as a whole is not engaged. Nothing that has been done in the European Union this week changes any of that. For the foreseeable future, major operations of this kind would draw on NATO assets and use NATO operational planning and command structures. It would, in short, be NATO-supported. So, it is time we lowered the temperature and raised the tone of the debate.

    "One way of doing this is to place the current developments in context. In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty established the present framework of the European Union. It was this treaty which established the so-called 'second pillar' of a common foreign and security policy. It said that member states,

    'shall define and implement a common foreign and security policy'

and went on to specify that this,

    'shall include all questions related to the security of the Union, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence'.

22 Nov 2000 : Column 854

That policy was signed up to by the previous Conservative Government--by both the right honourable Member for Huntingdon as well as the current Leader of the Opposition. Through the Western European Union, the previous Government explicitly promoted the development of a European capability for use when NATO as a whole was not engaged. They seem to have forgotten that.

    "I assume that this policy is still supported by the right honourable Member for Huntingdon. Those who look for consistency in their politicians might assume that the Leader of the Opposition would still support a policy to which he signed up as an ambitious Minister in government. At least it can be said that in terms of consistency the Shadow Defence Spokesman has consistently opposed Maastricht and the European Union. His Euro-sceptic opposition now leads the Conservative Party, with its leader jumping on the anti-European bandwagon.

    "The Leader of the Opposition should not try to hide behind NATO. It was NATO at Berlin in 1996 that offered to make its assets available for European operations; and it was NATO at the Washington Summit last year that offered its support for the European Defence Initiative. The policy we are discussing today has not suddenly appeared. What we are doing is a long way short of the aspirations to which the previous Government agreed.

    "I apologise for this short history lesson. It is important to be clear that the aim I declared at the beginning--the improvement of European capabilities--is not only one that all parties have shared but one that has already been pursued over several years. Yet, if it is necessary for Europeans to do more, why do they not simply take action within NATO? The answer is that we do take action within NATO. The fundamental structures of co-operation are there in planning, training and command and control arrangements. What we are doing through the European Union will complement this action.

    "There are three main reasons for saying so. First, there is a clear imbalance in capabilities between the Europeans and the United States which has grown over the past decade. Kosovo was a wake-up call. Both the US and NATO strongly support increased efforts by Europe to respond to this challenge. Not a single senior figure in the US Administration is opposed to these proposals. Madeleine Albright described Monday's conference in Brussels as

    'a strongly positive development [that] we wholly support'.

At the recent NATO conference in Birmingham Bill Cohen, the US Defense Secretary, said:

    'Let me be clear on the American position. We agree with this goal, not grudgingly, not with resignation, but with wholehearted conviction'.

    "The effort that is now being put into developing better European capabilities, which is being led by Britain, is beginning to have an effect. For years

22 Nov 2000 : Column 855

    defence budgets around Europe have been falling. Next year, according to figures given to NATO by its member nations, defence spending will rise in real terms in 11 of the 16 European states of NATO. The restructuring of armed forces to make them better equipped to face today's challenges is taking place in a number of EU countries.

    "Secondly, the European Union is already actively involved in crises through economic sanctions, diplomatic measures and humanitarian aid, but it has lacked clout. In security matters, especially in a real crisis, political weight reflects military weight. The EU has lacked a practical method for mobilising a military response.

    "The third reason is that additional political will and momentum for Europe to improve its capabilities is best generated through NATO and the EU. The multi-dimensional nature of security issues demands a co-ordinated political response. For that, frankly, we would be failing if we did not make full use of the mechanisms offered by the European Union. The Capability Commitments Conference earlier this week is neither something to fear nor something to scaremonger about. On the contrary, we as a nation should be delighted to see our European partners making a serious commitment to improve their capability to be able to respond to crisis management situations. It strengthens the military capability and resolve in the EU and also the capability within the NATO Alliance.

    "This is a statement of requirement--a goal, a level of ambition. It is a means of galvanising action. That is why it is called the Headline Goal. It is not a European army: it is not even a standing rapid reaction force. Nor is it confined to the European Union. On Tuesday, we heard from non-EU NATO nations and from the 15 EU aspirants. They too support this goal and have offered forces towards it. Yet, as we have seen, the Opposition would pull Britain out of this process and isolate us not only among the 15 EU members but also non-EU states.

    "Since Helsinki, military experts in both EU countries and NATO have developed a detailed statement of requirement for the pool of forces and capabilities needed to cover the Petersberg tasks: peacekeeping, peace support and peace enforcement. On Monday, countries nominated elements of their national forces which they believed could contribute to this requirement. The process of identifying these forces is, in principle, no different from the process of declaring forces to NATO or to the United Nations. We need the ability to assemble the right sort of force quickly for a range of possible operations.

    "The key difference about the current initiative is that capabilities are being identified against a specific goal. The countries involved are demonstrating their determination to follow through in the areas of shortfall and deficiency which this process will highlight. Therefore, this is a

22 Nov 2000 : Column 856

    step in a process, not the end of the road. We are perfectly well aware that there are many detailed issues to be followed up in both the EU and NATO.

    "Like others, the UK has identified a pool of forces and capabilities as its contribution towards achievement of the headline goal. These forces provide for a balance across the full range of Petersberg tasks, including the most demanding. In the maximum scale operation envisaged at Helsinki--a corps level deployment of up to 60,000 ground troops--the UK land component could be about 12,000 strong. Maritime and air deployments of up to 18 warships and 72 combat aircraft could be made in addition. I set all this out in more detail in my response to the Question from my honourable friend the Member for Loughborough on Monday.

    "Let me be clear about what this initiative is and what it is not. It is a planning process to ensure a more effective defence effort by European forces. It is a mechanism to improve European contributions to NATO and to ensure that European nations can in future play a more effective part in alliance operations. It will encourage more efficient and targeted defence spending by our European friends, and it will ensure that when NATO is not engaged the European Union can act effectively in a wide range of peace support operations, if and when its member nations want it to.

    "It is not a European army or even a standing reaction force. It is not an agreement to give up or reduce Britain's sovereign control over British forces, and it is not a commitment to undertake operations in which we would not previously have wished to take part. It is not, therefore, a new burden for our Armed Forces. Those who have said this either do not understand what is happening or deliberately seek to mislead for reasons of political opportunism. The success of our Armed Forces in co-operating with our partners and allies deserves better. The Opposition should be ashamed of themselves for trying to use our Armed Forces to further their own anti-European obsessions".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.29 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I hope that the Minister will forgive me if I do not pursue the reference to over-excitement--I note that the earlier draft referred to "hysteria"--and the partisan jibes. I am sure your Lordships agree that those matters are more suitable for another place, and in any event they are not appropriate in view of the very serious nature of the issue that we are discussing. So I shall ignore them.

We on this side of the House are totally in favour of a stronger European contribution to NATO, a stronger European branch of NATO. If this project is about that, and that really is the aim of the entire undertaking, we would have no problems with it. We have always supported that. That is what NATO put forward at Berlin in 1996. The Secretary of State for

22 Nov 2000 : Column 857

Defence is right to allude to it. The previous government supported it. We still support it from this side.

But the question is: is this still the same project? Does not this new proposal have its own unified command; its own planning committees under the European Union; its own military staff, already set up incidentally--I do not know under what powers, but perhaps the noble Baroness will tell us; and its own headquarters? Eventually, the clear intention is that it should have also its own intelligence, logistics and heavy-lift. That will happen only when the money is found, because we are talking about enormous sums. If it is not found there would be a danger of vast duplication.

We want to see NATO strengthened by a greater European contribution. But anyone who has been in the Army, even in a junior position, will know that it is essential for soldiers to have a single command and control structure and single and clear planning procedures. There is a risk here that we shall have double command and control and a double set of planning procedures. For instance, the Deputy SACEUR will not be the co-ordinating officer for the new force and for NATO; he will have merely a liaison role. Can the noble Baroness explain why that should be so? That does not imply the kind of unity and clarity of command which soldiers need.

I turn to the question of defence spending. Where is the money coming from? In his Commons Statement the Secretary of State mentioned more spending next year. But it will need to be a very large increase. What will be cut to make room for it? Will other defence arrangements be cut? We need to be clear on that issue and not just push it aside. Everyone, including the Pentagon and the Americans concerned, has made it clear that they want to see more spending to make a reality of this, if it is not just to be a paper exercise.

Then we have the non-EU NATO states which are extremely worried. The statement pushes that aside. But Turkey has expressed profound concern that it is being cut out of the planning procedures. Norway has also expressed some worries. Can the noble Baroness reassure us that those countries' worries are misplaced and that it will be the same as before for them? Is she aware--this is perhaps the most important of all the points--that, despite the strong statements, which I recognise from Madeleine Albright and others, there are many worries in the United States. She must have heard them. She is very close to these matters. Did she notice the recent quotation from the US Ambassador to NATO? He said:

    "done poorly, this process can divide the transatlantic alliance, lead to decreased US engagement in European security matters and diminish European capacity to manage crises".

Those are not the words of someone who is not worried or who is totally and unconditionally supportive. There are worries.

Finally, I would say to the noble Baroness that the Secretary of State's Statement offers us some history lessons. There is much history in the role and position

22 Nov 2000 : Column 858

of the noble Baroness's party in defence matters. I do not want to go over that now. But a couple of years ago the Prime Minister said that nothing must undermine NATO. Our view is that there is a real risk that this could undermine NATO. It is regrettable that our superb Armed Forces, which the world admires, are now caught up in what looks dangerously like a political game. We need much more reassurance from the noble Baroness and from the Government before we can say that this is just more of the same and no one should worry.

5.34 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this was an unusually partisan Statement. On most occasions from these Benches we would deplore that. But on this occasion we agree that that is justified.

The reaction of the Conservatives and of the press has been--I am sorry the Minister did not repeat the word--hysterical. This is a British initiative which has been well-signalled over the past 18 months and builds on the policy of the previous government. It has been carried through by a Secretary-General of the Council who was previously the Secretary-General of NATO. The idea that this is some dreadful French plot being sprung on the British--which is how the Daily Telegraph likes to describe it--is clearly absurd.

Perhaps I may remind noble Lords that in June 1962 President Kennedy of the United States of America first called for a European pillar of NATO. In 1964, as a young Liberal, I took part in a study group in the United States on how to improve the European pillar of NATO--a short while ago. The Americans have made it entirely clear since then that they expect the Europeans to stand more on their own two feet. If we now face a Bush administration, Condoleeza Rice, one of his key advisers, has also made it clear that the Americans will reduce the number of their troops in Europe and will expect the Europeans to stand more on their own two feet.

My understanding is that British troops have been engaged in some 22 to 24 operations since 1990. In 17 of those we have operated outside of NATO command with forces from a range of other countries. Part of the origin of this initiative, as I understand the matter, is the co-operation from which British and French troops have benefited in Bosnia, which was a learning process for both sides. It was out of that that the previous Conservative government developed the Franco-British defence initiative, at a time when Michael Portillo was the Secretary of State for Defence. Indeed, a Franco-British air wing had been agreed during the term of office of the previous government. German forces were already training in Britain. That had been agreed many years previously. There was the joint Tornado training team in England and Italy. German tank crews were training in Pembrokeshire and elsewhere. There is the Dutch-British marine amphibious force. So much of this is not new.

As we understand it on these Benches, the aim of the defence initiative is to improve European capabilities; to challenge other European governments to follow

22 Nov 2000 : Column 859

the British model; and to improve our ability to work together in the field. Under most circumstances, we expect that British troops will be working with troops of other nations in the field.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister a few questions. First, how satisfied is she with the pledges which were given in this pledging conference and what are the most worrying remaining gaps? Secondly, does this imply that changes will need to be made to the treaties at Nice in order to incorporate the interim arrangements, to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, referred, and to bring them more within the constitutional arrangements? Lastly, is parallel progress underway in civilian crisis management and in the provision of seconded police forces for the follow up to necessary Petersberg task engagements?

5.38 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their responses to the Statement and for the constructive way in which they have approached it.

Perhaps I may say to both noble Lords that I repeated the Statement as it was given by my right honourable friend in another place, as is my duty in your Lordships' House. The word "hysterical" was not used in another place.

I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, is in favour of a stronger European defence. That is entirely consistent with the position that has been taken by his party under the Maastricht Treaty and indeed elsewhere. The noble Lord said that he had a number of misgivings. To a certain extent, I can understand those misgivings. I believe that they were based on a number of fundamental misconceptions. We are talking here about Petersberg tasks. Those Petersberg tasks might range from humanitarian relief, which is fairly straightforward, through peace-keeping, to--as the Statement made clear--peace enforcement. Peace enforcement is likely to include a commitment to a greater number of troops.None the less, these are Petersberg tasks.

The noble Lord was worried about the costs that might be involved. The additional costs to the Ministry of Defence are expected to be over £200,000. That figure is based on the cost of additional persons for the EU military structures. But it is offset--this is an important point--against the wind-down of the WEU. Both those factors have to be taken into account. In addition, the FCO will require an establishment of six posts within the EU structures. The cost of that will be somewhere between £300,000 and £500,000. Therefore, the additional cost to the UK taxpayer should be somewhere between £500,000 and £1 million. It is important that all noble Lords understand that there will be an off-set.

The noble Lord was understandably concerned about the way in which planning procedures will be undertaken. I may be able to help him a little on that point but I cannot go into great detail. For many of the operations, the preferred option will be the Deputy

22 Nov 2000 : Column 860

Supreme Allied Commander Europe--D-SACEUR--and the facilities of SHAPE--Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe--will also be deployed. Planning would be done initially by SHAPE and recommendations would be made from SHAPE to the European governments. It might make recommendations about the operational commanders and how a group of forces might go into an operational position. The commander would be responsible to the European governments.

I do not think that there is anything very exceptional in that. What is proposed is not particularly startling. I do not think that many of your Lordships will find it particularly different from the accepted means of multi-national co-operation on a number of these issues. I hope that that puts some of the noble Lord's worries into context. Of course, it would not always be SHAPE. For example, for small operations--such as humanitarian operations--different planning mechanisms might be used. I am sure that your Lordships would find that entirely proper and consistent for operations that did not involve a heavy military deployment. I hope that I have dealt satisfactorily with the questions about costs and about the way in which the commander structures will work.

The noble Lord understandably raised concerns about those who are members of NATO but stand outside Europe. He referred in particular to Turkey. I can say that Turkey attended the meeting in Brussels yesterday morning. The noble Lord is quite right. Turkey has in the past expressed some concerns about these discussions. But I am happy to say that yesterday Turkey was able to commit some troops to the Headline Goal. I am not able at the moment to put this into the public arena any more than I am able--I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire--to put into the public arena the details of what has been put forward by other European Union countries. That is because not all countries are as open about these matters as the United Kingdom; and in any event they would want to put them into the public arena first in their own countries. I hope that as soon as such information becomes publicly available in their own countries we will be able to give maximum information on what has been put forward by other countries. I am sure that your Lordships would wish to have that information. I shall do my best to ensure that it is made available to the House as soon as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, was worried about what had been said by the US ambassador to NATO. Anything done poorly can cause trouble between nations. But it was interesting to hear the US ambassador to the EU saying yesterday:

    "We strongly support the European defence force--the rapid reaction force. We think it will help and strengthen NATO".

The noble Lord has been kind enough to acknowledge what Madeleine Albright has said. He will know, because he is very experienced in these matters, that that reinforces what Strobe Talbot and Bill Cohen have said. We have had a considerable degree of support from our allies in the United States who, for a considerable time, as the noble Lord pointed out, have been stressing to the European nations that we had to

22 Nov 2000 : Column 861

do more to strengthen our position. I am happy to say that a number of European countries are not only putting more resources into their defence effort but are also reviewing that effort to ensure, as we have done with the SDR, that it is in line with modern defence needs and does not ratchet back into the old Cold War stance.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for his support on the Statement. The Liberal Democrats have been very understanding of the position.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page