3 Feb 2009 : Column 547

House of Lords

Tuesday, 3 February 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Armed Forces: European Rapid Reaction Force

Question

2.37 pm

Asked By Baroness Knight of Collingtree

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will join me in offering condolences to the friends and family of Corporal Daniel Nield, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan last Friday.

Turning to the Question, the Answer is none, because there is no European rapid reaction force.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, does the Minister recall that, as recorded in col. 1353 of Hansard of 27 October last, she assured me that the rapid reaction force did not exist? Is she aware that two days later, in the Royal Gallery, there was a large reception for our Armed Forces, during the course of which five soldiers present told me that they were currently assigned to and working with the rapid reaction force? Will the Minister make it clear that this rapid reaction force is not the same rapid reaction force as the one that is said to be part of the European army?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I can be consistent and give an assurance that there is no European rapid reaction force. Of course we have troops on standby, and at that significant reception in the Royal Gallery we were all able to talk to our soldiers, who have embarked on a variety of missions, some with NATO and some, indeed, with the EU on occasion.

The simple fact of the matter is that we have only one set of forces. We in Britain decide how to deploy them. There is no permanent standing army waiting for Europe to instruct it, and there is no European rapid reaction force.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, today Reuters reports in the newspaper that a battalion of French and German soldiers is to be deployed in Strasbourg. Indeed, it is the first time that German troops have been deployed in Strasbourg. Who deploys this force? Do the German Government or the French Government deploy it, or is it a European force?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the same procedure applies as I have just outlined for this country; namely, that we have control over our own forces and control over their deployment, be that on NATO

3 Feb 2009 : Column 548

operations or, indeed, EU operations. The same applies to other countries. Each country decides how and when its own forces are deployed.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the French are very keen on forming a rapid reaction force and have been for some while. Can the Government give an assurance that they will never agree to such a force?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is under a misapprehension. President Sarkozy has made it extremely clear that there is no suggestion of having a European army. Indeed, he has said of his own situation that,

Lord Addington: My Lords, I associate these Benches with the condolences given earlier. Will the noble Baroness enlighten the House as regards the situations in which we would consider taking action with our European allies; for example, in relation to peacekeeping?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, we have spoken in this House on previous occasions on the use that we are now making of our forces in conjunction with our European allies; for example, in the work that is going on to deter piracy off the Horn of Africa. NATO was doing that work until December and a European force is now doing it for a year. That is a good example not only of European co-operation but of co-operation between NATO and the EU.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, the United States has in effect withdrawn its security guarantee. Under President Obama the United States will have different priorities in the world; in the future Europe will not be its major priority. We are facing an assertive Russia, a rising China and a shift of economic power to the east. In the face of these circumstances, is not the right reaction from Europe to deepen its institutions of defence and foreign affairs and, if there is no European reaction force, should there not be one soon?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, President Obama’s priorities may have a different emphasis but I suspect that the basic thrust of his policy will remain the same given the challenges that we all face, some of which he has outlined. Challenges such as terrorism are ones that Europe and the United States share. It is right that we should work together within Europe. We are a defensive alliance and NATO will remain the centre point of that. In order to make that alliance work I do not think that we need to deepen or reinvent new structures. The example I gave a moment ago of piracy shows that NATO and the EU can work together very closely and very successfully without over-elaborate structures, which I think do not always serve Europe well.

Lord Trimble: My Lords, if the Government are as lukewarm towards a rapid reaction force as the Minister suggests, I wonder what they were saying at the presidency meeting in December which agreed among other things that there should be the goal for 2010 of deploying, or being capable of deploying,



3 Feb 2009 : Column 549

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the EU’s battle groups are domestic groups which on occasion come together to deal with a specific policy. We have a battle group which we could use if we so chose, but the choice would be ours; it would not be made under instruction from the EU or anyone else.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, considering the problems that have arisen in trying to get any concerted action in many African countries that are suffering a collapse of civil administration, would not a European Union coherent response be the right way forward? Without it, is it not possible that we will ignore many problem areas in Africa?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, there have been attempts by European countries to try to ease the situation—for example, in Chad—but I do not think that we should have any illusions that we can solve all the problems of the world by ourselves.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister recall that the launch of the European security and defence policy was an initiative of the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and that we appear rather to have back-pedalled on that in the past three or four years?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I do not think that there has been any back-pedalling; what I think there has been is a great deal of misrepresentation about what co-operation with Europe is all about. I repeat what I said earlier: there is no European army, there is no permanent standing army, and we in this country will make decisions about how, where and when our Armed Forces are deployed.

Schools: Rights Respecting Schools

Question

2.45 pm

Asked By Baroness Massey of Darwen

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, the Government are providing funding to UNICEF UK to pilot its Rights Respecting Schools initiative. Funding of just over £500,000 split over three financial years from 2007-08 to 2009-10 is being provided. The programme aims to help to provide children with a practical understanding of the personal meaning of their rights and those of others, by relating the principles of the UNCRC closely to everyday behaviour in the classroom and school.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very encouraging reply. Will she take note of the recent Good Childhood Inquiry, which emphasises emotional development, and of other reports that do the same thing? Does she agree that the social and emotional aspects of learning in schools should be integrated, expanded and encouraged?



3 Feb 2009 : Column 550

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: Of course, my Lords. The Government are taking careful note of the report to which my noble friend referred. I agree entirely that the social and emotional aspects of learning are key to a successful curriculum. In fact, as my noble friend is aware, the Government introduced the SEAL programme to primary schools in 2005 and to secondary schools in 2007. SEAL is exactly about developing the concept that she referred to and we know that it has a positive effect on, for example, attendance and behaviour. This is a crucial aspect and many of the schools in the Rights Respecting Schools initiative are working with it.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, the well-being and participation of a child at school are extremely important; discipline, respect and structure are crucial tools for children to be able to grow into responsible adults. Does the Minister accept that in the past 11 years the Government have completely failed to address the increasing numbers of truants, cases of bullying and loss of discipline, which are leaving our children feeling helpless and powerless?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: No, my Lords, I certainly do not accept that analysis. In fact, the Children’s Society report published this week shows that children today are better educated, better off and much healthier than ever before. However, we are not complacent. We have set out our 10-year Children’s Plan, which has some very ambitious aspirations for children. We will make this the best place in the world for children to grow up in.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, despite the considerable progress that has been made, has the Minister looked at how children with special difficulties in health can enjoy their right to education? I give the example of children who have been sexually abused and who find it extremely difficult to exercise their rights or, indeed, to learn, yet it remains difficult to get proper therapeutic provision for those children to ensure that they can enjoy their rights and follow on their education.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, as the noble Baroness is aware, the Government requested a full review of child and adolescent mental health services. That review was published recently. We have accepted its recommendations and we have set up a national steering group to monitor how we are progressing access to the kind of specialist services that she referred to. The point of the Rights Respecting Schools award is that it is about encouraging children to understand the needs of others, to respect others and to understand their responsibilities. Yes, improvements in behaviour have been displayed and that must help children who have the difficulties that she described.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, will the Minister say what feedback has been received from the schools adopting this UNICEF initiative and, following on from the noble Baroness’s question, what impact the initiative has had on levels of bullying in schools?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, we have asked Sussex University to evaluate the impact of Rights Respecting Schools, because this is a very important intervention. Other interventions, programmes

3 Feb 2009 : Column 551

and national strategies are in place and it is important to understand what makes the difference. We know that Sussex University is seeing early encouraging signs, such as improvements in the playground, where children have to deal with difficult situations where conflicts and bullying arise. There are very encouraging signs with the development of this programme.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, is the Minister aware that this month’s National Governors’ Association magazine contains an article in which the chairman of governors at Coombeshead College in Devon says that having student representatives on the governing body has been hugely beneficial? He says that their input on all issues including bullying has brought a unique and wholly positive experience to deliberations. The UNICEF initiative is excellent. Will the Minister encourage the Government to support this initiative in at least all secondary schools?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, we have, as the noble Baroness knows, placed a duty on schools to listen to the voice of children and we will do all that we can to promote that.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, given the importance of social and emotional education, does the Minister accept that, for most children, the most important place where that education takes place is in the family? Are the Government taking steps to support those parents who are not experienced in this field to educate their children socially and emotionally?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, the noble Lord is completely right; it is parents who bring up children, not the Government. We must do our best through the services that we provide. We have a very active programme of supporting parents through helplines and targeted parent intervention programmes. We take that very seriously.

Foreign Policy

Question

2.52 pm

Tabled By Lord Renton of Mount Harry

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry, and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the foreign policy of the United Kingdom is driven by long-term objectives including countering terrorism and proliferation, preventing conflict, combating climate change and strengthening international organisations. The United States, under presidents of both political parties from Franklin Roosevelt onwards, has long been Britain’s

3 Feb 2009 : Column 552

most important bilateral partner in pursuing its goals. We look forward to working closely with President Obama to strengthen this special relationship, as he and the Prime Minister agreed on 23 January.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he agree that our relationship with the United States, which should be of crucial importance to both countries, must be based on equality of value of the views and advice on foreign policy—something on which we have much to offer—and that we must not again, as we have over much of the past 10 years, waste that relationship by acting as a lapdog to the United States?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I refute that analysis of the past decade. Of course the United States and the United Kingdom are close partners, and all intelligent people in the United Kingdom would want that partnership to continue, but it would be quite wrong to suggest that the United Kingdom has not pursued its own policy goals. We made clear to the United States—on, for instance, the issues of Guantanamo Bay, which we wanted closed, extraordinary rendition, and Diego Garcia—our disagreement with the policy of the previous President of the United States.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, is it not encouraging and a refreshing change that, in her confirmation statement before the US Senate on 13 January, Hillary Clinton included not only the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, weapons of mass destruction and terrorism but also, significantly, climate change, the world-wide fight against poverty and human rights, particularly women’s rights? Is this not a significant change and with the spirit of international co-operation that the new Administration have promised? Does it not show that the foreign policy of the new Administration and of this Government now converge?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for putting a more realistic perspective on future developments. We particularly welcome the movement on climate change. In the past the United States has quite clearly detached itself from a challenge which we all recognise faces the whole world. We greatly welcome the indications from Hillary Clinton that the United States will play a more positive role in that dimension as well as in the other areas that my noble friend mentioned.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, will the Government accept that those of us who have criticised them for following far too closely the Bush Administration foreign policy on a range of issues very much hope that British foreign policy will change now with a new and much more enlightened Administration? Do they also recognise that our illusion of a unique special relationship with the United States is not shared in Washington? The United States clearly has special relationships with Israel, Canada, Mexico, Japan and a great many other countries. From the other end of the telescope, the relationship looks a little different.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page