European Defence Co-operation

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:34 pm on 22nd November 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat 5:34 pm, 22nd November 2000

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 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?