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Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Liberal Democrats have quite rightly studied the position properly and, if I may say so, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, had also understood the position very much better than some others in his party.

We have learnt considerable lessons from Kosovo. As the Statement said, Kosovo was a wake-up call. When we look at the number of sorties undertaken by NATO in Kosovo and see the sharp contrast between the number undertaken by the United States and the number undertaken by Europe, any responsible country would have to look at what it was able to do.

I hope that I have dealt with the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about our contribution. We believe that it is a proportionate contribution. It is in the range of about 20 per cent of the proportions put forward. But we are a strong defence nation in Europe and we believe that that is entirely consistent with our standing in Europe. We have been very pleased to see the way in which other nations have come forward. The noble Lord was quite right on civilian crisis management. These are important issues. We have been able to get rather further ahead on them than on some of the defence issues. Our discussions are continuing. As the Statement makes clear, this is not an end of the road; it is an important step on the way.

5.48 p.m.

Lord Bramall: My Lords, soldiers are supposed to advance to the sound of the guns; and so here I go over the parapet. Is the Minister aware that there are a number of us former military men who have had considerable experience over 50 years or more--one might say that one has almost lived history--of our Armed Forces serving under foreign commanders and non-national banners, inside NATO and elsewhere? Is she further aware that we do not subscribe to or share that--I hesitate to use the word, certainly not in your Lordships' House but in other places--hysterical reaction against closer European defence co-operation within NATO and indeed think it is entirely sensible for European countries, using their own national contingents, to get their act closer together to deal with specific eventualities of a limited nature and also to put them under some pressure to put their defence money where their mouth is?

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This is a serious initiative which should be looked at in a positive way. I am distressed to see that it seems to have been swept up in a much wider political argument.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his words. I am aware of his very great experience in these matters. As he said, on very many occasions British armed forces have served under foreign commanders. I thank him for what he said about this being an entirely sensible way forward. He said that this will put pressure on our European partners. The noble and gallant Lord has often put pressure on me and on other Ministers concerning the resources available to the Armed Forces. I agree with him. I hope that this move will put pressure on others, those who so far have not been able to come forward with increases in their defence budgets, to think again on that front.

I thank the noble and gallant Lord for saying that this is a positive initiative. He has also said that he agrees with what has been said by the current Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Charles Guthrie. He commented that he had never heard anyone in authority within the chain of command in this country, whether Ministers or servicemen, talk of a European army, navy or air force. This move is not so very extraordinary. Once again I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his words of welcome, given that he has been so robust in his criticisms on other occasions.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House whether the neutral countries of the European Union have taken part in any of the conversations on this matter? I refer in particular to the Republic of Ireland and Sweden. Do those countries intend to take part in this initiative? If so, under what circumstances?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that the neutral countries have taken part in the discussions. The noble Viscount will know that, on occasion, the neutral countries do subscribe troops to NATO actions. Indeed, they did so recently in the Balkans, although on that occasion Ireland did not.

I cannot tell the noble Viscount that their representatives have been present on every occasion that this matter has been discussed. We would not necessarily expect them to be. However, if there is any more detail that I can reasonably send to the noble Viscount on what measures have been discussed with the neutral countries, I shall write to him and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, on a couple of occasions my noble friend referred to peacekeeping and peacemaking activities. Can she tell the House, first, whether it is intended that this force shall have serious war-making capabilities and whether it is intended that those should be used? Secondly, can she confirm that it is not the present or future intention of Her Majesty's Government that either the deployment of British forces or the non-deployment of British forces

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shall at any time be subject to the decision of any organ of the European Union without the consent of the British Parliament and the British Government?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can give an unequivocal assurance to my noble friend: there will be no deployment or non-deployment of British forces without the express agreement of the British Prime Minister, who will be accountable to another place. I hope that that was made clear in the Statement. But I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me the opportunity to re-emphasise the point to the House.

As regards the other issues raised by my noble friend Lord Gilbert, perhaps I may explain in detail the Petersberg tasks. I know that they will be familiar to him but perhaps they will serve to bring home the point. Those tasks are of a humanitarian and rescue nature; namely, peacekeeping and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking. Peacemaking is an important task because it includes the separation of warring parties, conflict prevention, the evacuation of nationals and the provision of humanitarian aid. The important point to note here is that the Petersberg tasks imply a degree of conflict which can move beyond those of pure peacekeeping because they involve the separation of warring parties as well as peacemaking. Given the noble Lord's enormous experience in the Ministry of Defence, he will know far better than I that the tasks imply a greater degree of engagement in conflict than mere peacekeeping.

Lord Roper: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Statement which she has repeated indicates that the Government have now accepted the position put forward from these Benches over a long period; namely, that there is no contradiction between being a good Atlanticist and being a good European? Does she also accept that the proposals which have been put forward for planning had already been accepted by NATO last year at its Washington summit? At that point, the representatives went as far as to form a "Berlin plus" agreement, a series of decisions which,

    "Assured EU access to NATO planning capabilities able to contribute to military planning for EU-led operations",

as well as giving us,

    "The presumption of availability to the EU of pre-identified NATO capabilities".

Does not this indicate that the 19 member states of NATO have already collectively endorsed this as a way of strengthening the capacities for security in Europe?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, that I believe that this reflects the position of sensible parliamentarians across all three parties. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, has demonstrated to the House today that there are extremely sensible members in all the main political parties.

The noble Lord, Lord Roper, is right to say that these proposals are based on the planning put forward in Washington. I am happy to confirm that NATO has

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not, as some have suggested, been wringing its hands with despair over these developments. It has been pleased to see the development of what might be described, loosely, as a European pillar of NATO. As I have said already, we are happy to take this forward. We have not yet reached an end position but we have reached an important signpost in our progress on this matter.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement, although I must say that on occasion it sounded rather more like a party political broadcast than a ministerial Statement. However, the one point which most frightened me, but which I believe was meant to be reassuring, was that this is only one step along the road rather than the end of the road. That is what is worrying some of us a great deal. What is at the end of this road? If the establishment of this force is not the end of the road, to where does it lead? Is it leading to a political end or is it leading to a greater integration of the Armed Forces? I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could answer those questions when she comes to reply.

I think it is clear from the Statement that whichever side of the argument one is on there are clear and serious implications for the morale and effectiveness of our Armed Forces. It is no good to say that this does not affect the deployment of our Armed Forces. If such a force is ever deployed, it will increase the overstretch from which our Armed Forces already suffer. There are implications for our relationship with NATO. However that may work out and whomever one speaks to in the United States or in the Royal Regiment of Wales, it does not really tell us exactly what will be the impact on NATO.

At the very least, this has implications as regards our relationship with the United States, especially in the world of intelligence. I know that we cannot delve too deeply into the matter in your Lordships' House, but the noble Baroness will know that the implications of setting up a separate intelligence organisation within the European Union will be considerable. Furthermore, relationships with Russia are involved. President Putin has already begun to paddle in these waters, as we have seen from recent reports.

However, what is most important is this. Has anyone thought through the consequences of the expeditionary force concept, which this force will reflect? If it is to do anything at all, it will either form or be the basis of an expeditionary force activity taking place somewhere. Has anyone yet worked out how that force is to be protected, especially against missiles if its members start dabbling in areas in which there has been a proliferation of ballistic missiles? Can the noble Baroness tell us whether all these implications have been thoroughly studied? When we come to debate these matters, I hope that we shall be given rather more information about this.

In that context, I wonder whether any other noble Lords share my view? I have received a signal from the Government Front Bench to sit down. I am not going to sit down because this matter is too important. My final point is this: I am surprised that this was not made

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the subject of a full debate in Parliament before any action was taken. This represents a fundamental change in the deployment of our Armed Forces, with constitutional implications. I hope that the noble Baroness will use her influence with the usual channels to ensure that we can have a full debate on this in your Lordships' House at the earliest possible opportunity.

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