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Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, as the patients include people recovering from strokes and severe head injuries, does the noble Baroness agree that this therapy is much needed to help them resume life in the community?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. The National Service Framework for Older People draws attention to the need for better and more extensive therapy services for stroke victims. Just as it is important to intervene promptly with children, it is extremely important to intervene promptly and build up the confidence of the stroke victim who has lost his capacity for speech.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I also declare an interest as a past president of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. When I was there, I learned that the need for speech therapy for children and for adults arose from many different causes. As a consequence, responsibility was divided between Health, Education and Social Services—with inevitable confusion, some overlap and many misunderstandings, all of which contributed to the delay mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. So far as I can see, the joint working to which the Minister referred has not been outstandingly successful. The efforts so far at co-operation, co-ordination and unification also have not been dazzling. Will the Government therefore come up with different initiatives from the ones that we have had so far?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we shall certainly be looking at good practice where it exists to see how we can universalise it and encourage other local areas to adopt it. The noble Lord is quite right. The need for joint working was a theme running throughout the report from the Audit Commission last November on special needs. Clearly we want to take more effective action.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who has suffered two strokes. In undertaking the invaluable work that my noble friend

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has indicated, will she look at the practice of the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead where there is absolutely no waiting time at all? Does she agree that although the issue which has been raised is extremely patchy, the best is not necessarily the enemy of the good?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am delighted to hear of the noble Lord's positive experience. In overcoming his own difficulties he is an example to many of us. I think that he is an inspiration to all of us. I certainly take the point about the Royal Free and how much we can learn from best practice. The NHS is a learning organisation and we want to learn across the whole organisation.

Baroness Billingham: My Lords, if I may, I should like to press the Minister further and refer back to the points on children made by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. He is perfectly right that three year-olds have a very short time in which to have this remedial work, which will affect not only their educational but possibly their behavioural performance when they get into school. It is such a crucial issue. The Minister talked about what is happening in the future. What hope for the next two years can she offer parents whose children are currently being diagnosed with problems in order to redress the problems that are here and now?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, in the past three years the number of people in training has increased from 457 to 553. Next year we are expecting even bigger increases, to almost 600. People want to become speech therapists. It is our responsibility to enable them to do so and to ensure that we cut down the delays.

European Defence

3.25 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How the new proposals for a core European defence entity, as announced by France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, relate to the St Malo accord between the United Kingdom and France.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, at their recent summit, the heads of state and government of France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg agreed proposals for a European security and defence union, whose members would commit to go,

    "faster and further in strengthening their defence co-operation",

including making a commitment to bring,

    "mutual help and assistance in the face of risks of all natures".

The St Malo accord did not envisage such commitments, and Her Majesty's Government do not, and will not, support any proposals which might lead to common defence within the EU framework.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his clear and in some ways reassuring

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reply. However, in a way it does not completely answer the doubts and the questions. Does not the new agreement which has been announced involve setting up a completely independent European Union military headquarters which is to be located at Tervuren in the suburbs of Brussels? Did not the letter of intent for the St Malo agreement specifically rule out that kind of thing? Has not the new agreement been roundly condemned by the United States and by the Prime Minister here, whereas the United States grudgingly accepted the St Malo agreement because it was going to be within the embrace of NATO? It is difficult to see. Can the Minister explain how the approaches in these two completely different philosophies of the defence of Europe can be reconciled? How can they coexist? Is it not time that we review the St Malo agreement to see whether it fits in with the preconceptions of France and Germany as they face their new defence ambitions?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the noble Lord is right when he says that the Brussels summit on 29th April went too far. It went too far in two particular ways. One was the attempt to duplicate NATO's work, and the other was the European security and defence union idea for those countries which commit themselves, as I said, to bringing,

    "mutual help and assistance in the face of risks of all natures".

However, we do not think for one moment that that takes away from the strengths of the European security and defence policy as first thought out and discussed at St Malo. That was and remains an appropriate policy for this country and for the European Union.

It is for that reason that we regret that the meeting was held between those four countries—our four partners—on 29th April. I should add that that meeting did make sensible comments about NATO as the basis of the European collective defence and the only organisation capable of delivering it. It also discussed—perhaps not exactly in the terms that we would like—and commented on improving the European military capability which, after all, is really the crucial question.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, further to the Minister's reply, what efforts are the Government making to create new European military capabilities to meet the challenges set by the Prague summit and the requirements in the Helsinki headline goals?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we are making progress on improving military capabilities. It is being taken forward within the European Capabilities Action Plan—ECAP—which is addressing capability shortfalls against the targets set in the Helsinki headline goal. Defence Ministers from member states will soon be considering proposals to meet those shortfalls. The United Kingdom will be looking for member states to make firm

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commitments to improve capabilities, including the implementation of short-term solutions to fill gaps until a longer-term programme is delivered.

Lord Carrington: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether the four countries concerned discussed these proposals in NATO and, if so, what was the reaction?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not believe that the four countries discussed their proposals with NATO so I am afraid that I am not able to tell the noble Lord what NATO's reaction might have been, although I think he and I can guess.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government be able to give an assurance to the colleagues that they are talking to about further defence that there will be no reduction in Her Majesty's Government's contribution to defence?

Lord Bach: My Lords, as the noble and gallant Lord knows, last year's Comprehensive Spending Review contained the largest increase in defence spending for many years. I cannot guarantee that defence spending will remain as it is or be increased in the next review. I should be foolish to do so. However, I believe that all that has happened during the course of the past couple of years, and in particular in the past three months, indicates that the last thing that should be reduced is defence spending. If I may say so, that also goes for our European colleagues.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, although I strongly support the key point made by my noble friend Lord Howell, the success of any defence co-operation is also critically dependent on the compatibility of equipment and the compatibility of systems. Did the Minister notice the very interesting article in The Times written by General Wesley Clark? He commented on some of the lessons learnt in Iraq and on the great success of, and the tremendous respect he has for, British troops and the quality of our personnel, but he also expressed great concern about our ability to remain compatible with the Americans given the scale of our equipment and its level of sophistication. If there is to be close co-operation in these areas—irrespective of whether the United Kingdom, the United States or any other defence alliance is involved—as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said, there will need to be a sustained level of defence expenditure.

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