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Lord Moynihan: I feel that I must comment upon the procedural exchanges which took place earlier this evening. I hope that the noble Lords, Lord Wallace of Saltaire and Lord Whitty, will accept my observations on those interventions. First, there is no one in this Chamber who condones filibustering, or have we witnessed any filibustering during the lengthy proceedings of this Committee? The unusual yet important nature of the amendments under consideration make them, by definition, wide ranging, detailed and deserving of serious consideration.
Every aspect of this legislation has far-reaching constitutional importance. Indeed, it is of such significance that it merits a nationwide referendum in Denmark, the result of which may negate all the work undertaken on this treaty in both Houses.
Secondly, agreement has been reached to couple together important issues for the convenience of this Committee, so no constructive contributions should be curtailed. To take an example, foreign affairs and defence this evening could have been separated, but this place and the usual channels decided that they would be joined. The Committee would expect them to be properly debated.
Thirdly, this Bill was ruthlessly guillotined in another place. This place has a duty and reputation to fill the void created there, and to seek amendments, and, where appropriate, revisions to this legislation, whenever possible and wherever necessary.
Fourthly, I heard no repetition in the eloquent and invaluable contribution to our proceedings of the noble Lord, Lord Shore. What I did hear from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was a criticism of one of the most respected noble Lords in this Chamber. I may disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Shore, but I respect his integrity, his oratory, his commitment, and his utter sincerity.
Lord Whitty: I fear that the noble Lord's recollection is faulty. There was nothing that I said that was criticism of my noble friend Lord Shore. I was pointing out, reacting to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that the Companion provides guidance on the length of speeches. I was respectfully requesting my noble friend to observe that. It is completely untrue that there was any criticism of the contents of my noble friend's speech or of his conduct. I was just pointing out the normal procedure of this place, which I think is the job of the Government Whip.
Lord Moynihan: On the contrary, it was made explicitly clear by the noble Lord, in echoing the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that the manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Shore, was speaking was too lengthy. That was precisely the point that was being made. I was surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, should make that point, because his party had already spoken from the Front Bench on this amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, spoke eloquently on it. Clearly, his Front Bench did not believe that that was long enough.
If one combines the contributions from that Front Bench, 24 minutes of contributions came from the Liberal Democrats Front Bench. I find it even more surprising that criticism should be made about the length of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Shore, when it was felt necessary that on this one amendment the Front Bench required 24 minutes.
There is a considerable degree of cross-party support for the manner in which these complex and, in some ways, unique Committee proceedings are to be managed. I hope that intemperate, and in my view ill judged, procedural interventions will not prejudice the future handling of this Bill.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I hesitate to break a confidence, but I recall a conversation with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, who asked me whether I was intending to speak in this debate and said that he hoped that I might contribute on the defence dimension upon which my noble friend Lady Williams had not touched. I am sorry that I acceded to the suggestion. I thought that that was something that contributed to the debate. I recognise that the politics of the Conservative Party are such that one has to do all sorts of funny things on the Front Bench. I merely wish to record that that was the conversation we had.
Lord Moynihan: I am more than happy to echo that as a completely accurate reflection of the conversation. I welcomed the noble Lord's contribution in the substantive debate on the amendments before the House tonight. I should be only too happy if he felt it necessary to make further contributions on the amendments, but that was not the point that I was making.
My point was on the interventions specifically criticising the length of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shore, which I believe was an unjustified criticism from the Government Benches and from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. He may find that amusing, but I can tell him that it is not a matter which the Official Opposition find amusing or are light-hearted and relaxed about. We intend to consider the Bill in detail. If the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is challenging me because he feels that it is light-hearted to draw to the attention of the Committee the importance of detailed consideration of the Bill he should have sat through every aspect of our proceedings. I can promise him that we on these Benches intend to look into the legislation, to question the Government and to take as much time as is necessary to ensure that there is full and detailed consideration. That is no laughing matter.
I wish to consider a number of key areas relating to defence policies. It is covered in this section of the treaty under Article J.7 and revises the original Treaty of Maastricht, Article J.4. It is addressed in new Clause 42 standing in my name. From these Benches, I offer the Government our unreserved support for resisting merging the European Union with the Western European Union. The Prime Minister is rightly proud of the article in the treaty which states that NATO, rather than the European Union, is the cornerstone of our defence. Likewise, the previous administration was proud of the explicit reference expressing a similar sentiment in the Maastricht text which stated that nothing undertaken by the EU should prejudice the importance of NATO.
However, behind that reasonable definition of the WEU's role, there lurk worrying integrationist moves towards the EU common defence and this is why I have tabled new Clause 42 which seeks to give Parliament--and Parliament is the important word here--an enhanced role in determining the appropriate relationship between the European Union and the Western European Union.
This is a revision of Article J.4, paragraph 1, in the Treaty of Maastricht, in which direct EU involvement in defence tasks was to be "eventual". Therefore, the framing of a common defence policy is now no longer to be "eventual", but "progressive".
This system of "requesting" provided for an informal relationship between the two bodies which retained distinct identities. Now, instead of the European Union requesting that the WEU undertakes actions on its behalf, the Union will now,
The phrase "possibility of integration" worries me greatly. What guarantees can the Minister give that, despite the possibility of a merger enshrined in treaty form for the first time, no such merger will take place? For if this treaty gives explicit recognition that NATO is the foundation of our common defence, it also gives an explicit recognition of the possibility of an EU and WEU merger and the first steps towards the common defence identity for the European Union.
can the Minister give an assurance that we are not slowly but surely moving into the orbit of an unrealistic, potentially damaging European common defence identity? For decisions on defence policy must be taken by consensus and must remain where they belong--with sovereign nation states. The European Union is not equipped to fulfil that role. At present it contains four neutral countries which do not share the obligation to mutual defence upon which both NATO and the WEU full membership are founded. It would be quite wrong for those countries to have an equal say in decisions affecting those who do.
Nor does the EU have any of the operational expertise or the working understanding with NATO which the WEU has gradually acquired over the past few years and which will be essential to the success of future European-led operations. Finally, it would be inappropriate for the Commission, the European Parliament or the European Court of Justice to have any role in defence decision-making.
I should like to take a step back for a moment and consider what role the EU should have in the field of security policy. Of course, member states of the European Union have many interests in common. There is a role for the common foreign and security policy in safeguarding and advancing those interests. That is a role in which this country can play a prominent part. From these Benches, we are keen to develop European defence co-operation, but questions of defence go right to the heart of national sovereignty. A decision to send members of our Armed Forces to risk their lives must remain a decision for our national government, accountable to our national Parliament. They are not matters for decision in the European Union. Member states must be free to act in the defence of their national interests. That is reflected in our commitment to NATO which has been covered so eloquently by my noble friend, and which has been the keystone of our security since 1949.
For half a century, the peace and security of Europe has been guaranteed by perhaps the most successful alliance in our history. Except in extremis, forces can be committed to NATO operations which involve the risk of conflict only with the approval and always by consensus of the North Atlantic Council. Indeed, NATO's position as the predominant institution of European security has been acknowledged, even by France and Spain which are in the process of joining its military structures. NATO is founded on the democratic and liberal values which are common to its members. Those are not exclusively European values. They unite the whole of the Western world.
But the importance of NATO is not only political but military. The European allies alone lack the air and sea capacity, missile defence, the advanced communication satellites and military computers provided by the United States. From these Benches, we believe firmly in the overriding importance of the Atlantic Alliance as the bedrock of our future security. Sustaining a strong US component to European security is an essential part of that.
It is true that in the new strategic environment, military forces are also increasingly likely to be needed for crisis management tasks which fall short of territorial defence. But in the case of smaller, peacekeeping, humanitarian or other crisis management operations, it will not always be reasonable to expect the United States or Canada to participate. The WEU provides the best framework for the further development of that co-operation. The fact that its 10 full members are also members of the Atlantic Alliance enables it to maintain close relations with NATO. The WEU provides also a network of countries with associate and observer status, drawing together 27 European countries in all. That enables it to bring together the widest possible range of contributions, including NATO allies which are not part of the EU, and central European countries.
The previous government believed that the WEU should be maintained as an autonomous organisation with its own treaty base and that its operational capabilities should be developed to enable it to operate effectively in peacekeeping, humanitarian and other limited crisis management tasks. European defence co-operation must therefore be organised in such a way that while bearing their full share of the burden within NATO, and without building new structures that duplicate those already available in the alliance, European countries are also able to act on their own when necessary.
It is essential, too, that any development of a common security policy should not in any way impair the effectiveness of NATO; nor should it seek to duplicate what NATO does so effectively. The common foreign and security pillar of the European Union should strengthen the European pillar of NATO. It should allow Europe to take on a more equitable share of the costs of its own defence and should provide a forum in which common interests should be discussed.
During this debate, I hope to receive a clear statement from the Minister--and I am sure I will--about the Government's vision of the role of the common foreign and security policy. How do they see its relationship with NATO? How can duplication of NATO's work be avoided? I hope also to receive reassurance that moves towards a common European Union defence identity will be staunchly resisted.
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