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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, following the example set by the Conservative Party of having the first woman Prime Minister and, indeed, the first woman Leader of this House, does not the Minister agree that women do not need to be patronised by special legislative measures but can manage very well on merit?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness is a member of a party which should be congratulated. Not only did her party produce the first woman Prime Minister but also, as I understand it, the first woman Leader of your Lordships' House. However, the Conservative Party's record generally in promoting women in political and public life is not good. Perhaps that is not surprising when it has spokespeople such as Roy Barnes, the deputy chairman of the Reigate Conservative Association--this is a good one--who said:

With that kind of encouragement, I do not hold out great hope for the party opposite.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, as women far outnumber men on the electoral roll and as members of the population, is there not a serious need for a co-ordinated campaign of educating women?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I would be in trouble if I hazarded the suggestion that that may be the case--not only in your Lordships' House but in my own.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, for encouraging the Government to inform us that work has started on this issue in the Home Office. Women in this country are well educated in the ways of government and opposition. Can my noble friend tell the House what the Government have done so far as concerns encouraging women into public office and the decision-making process during their term in office?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we have done a great deal, particularly in regard to public appointments. I am extremely pleased that that is the case. We set ourselves a goal of ensuring equal representation of men and women in public appointments, and at present the proportion of women is around one-third. Clearly, we need to do more, and steady progress is being made. We need to give the process active encouragement. We can do that through the education system, as we are doing. I am sure also that the Electoral Commission will wish to encourage more women to come forward into political life, and so on. The Government have a good track record. We have more women in the Cabinet than ever before. There are more women in ministerial positions than ever before, and more female MPs. That is a good base on which to work. On this matter the Government's record is second to none.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, in view of recent A-level results, does the Minister agree that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, should be persuaded to educate young men? Secondly, does he agree that virtually every country that has proportional representation has a higher proportion of women in its legislature than either the United States or the United Kingdom?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I know that this is a vexed question. I look forward to receiving the noble Baroness's urgent researches on the matter. I shall study them with great care and consideration. As for educating men--yes, I am sure that we all need educating.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, if we take the wording on the Order Paper seriously, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is asking for increased representation of women in Parliament. Do not male MPs say that they represent women?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that MPs, male or female, and regardless of the party from which they are drawn, would claim to represent all of their constituents.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, does the Minister agree that although it is regrettable that some

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women are not selected simply because they are women, it is equally regrettable that some women are selected simply because they are women?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I hesitate before venturing on to the territory of other political parties. Perhaps I may quote the words of Sheila Gunn, former press secretary to John Major. In reference to selection on the basis of Conservative Party approved lists, she said:

    "Sometimes some of the older members have difficulty understanding how a woman can juggle family and career responsibilities and how it's actually quite commonplace these days".

That is an interesting observation--not least since the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was just 34 when she became an MP and had twins at the age of six--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I think this is one of those "Sorry, I'll read that again" answers! Her twins were aged six when she was elected to Parliament.

European Security and Defence Initiative

2.53 p.m.

Lord Chalfont asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the discussions they have had with the United States Administration on the subject of the European Security and Defence Initiative.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Yes, my Lords. The United States and the United Kingdom agree that NATO is the essential foundation of transatlantic security. The United States administration supports European efforts to improve military capability and to take a greater share of the security burden. The United Kingdom is committed to taking the European Security and Defence Policy forward on the basis agreed at the Nice European Council. The US supports these efforts and welcomes the progress made towards our shared goals.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Will she confirm that the United States administration was assured that the European security and defence identity would have no separate planning, intelligence or policy analysis or activity of its own? If that is so, what is the function of the policy, planning and intelligence divisions at the European Union military staff headquarters?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that there will be no duplicate command structure. However, he raises an interesting question, and one that has caused confusion in the minds of some commentators. The strategic planning capability is the facility to examine military strategic

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options to support political decisions by providing high-level advice to EU military committees--the Chiefs of Staff and their representatives--and to the political authorities. As previously discussed, that is an advisory function based in Brussels involving about 135 people. That is entirely different from operational planning--the detailed military planning which takes place once a decision to intervene has been made. The role of the operational planners will be carried out either through an existing NATO command structure or, where a smaller or less intensive operation is envisaged, in existing national structures such as our own PJHQ. I hope that that has cleared up what I believe has been significant confusion in some people's minds--though not, of course, in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, does the President of France agree with the Prime Minister's interpretation of the role and function of the ESDI?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that there is a wide degree of agreement between the British Prime Minister and the President of France. Perhaps I may quote a remark on the NATO alliance made by the President of France on 9th February at Cahors. He said:

    "European defence is being done and can only be done in complete harmony with NATO. It is a question of two tracks which are complementary and not in competition".

That is an unequivocal statement.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, it is important to get this right. It matters enormously in terms of practical politics and international relations. I have no doubt that we are convinced that we should be backing and reinforcing NATO, rather than setting up an organisation that could be different from NATO, autonomous, and indeed a potential rival. But that is clearly not the same understanding as exists in Paris and in other continental capitals.

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Shore of Stepney: If we want to make the matter absolutely plain, surely it was very unwise to agree at Nice to the presidency conclusions which include such words as:

    "The military capabilities are to be established so that the Union is in a position to intervene with or without recourse to NATO assets".

I could give many more such quotations, but I shall not. That is indeed military autonomy.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I must take issue with the noble Lord on his last point about access to NATO assets. We have been clear throughout on this matter. We are talking specifically about Petersberg tasks--about humanitarian tasks and peacekeeping tasks. In answering Questions previously in this House I have made it clear that there may be occasions when, for humanitarian tasks, we

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shall not need recourse either to NATO planning or to NATO assets. One such example was the rescue operations that were mounted recently in Mozambique. That has been clear throughout. The essential point that I must impress upon my noble friend, on which we are all agreed, is that it is essential to improve European military capability. I believe that the understandings on that with our French allies are very clear. Indeed, Mr Alain Richard said:

    "The European defence we aspire to is not and will not be an alternative to the Atlantic Alliance".

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