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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can give my noble friend the absolute assurance that Her Majesty's Government will continue to be in the forefront of the arguments that the Commission should be more effective, more efficient, more accountable and more transparent in its business. We believe that it must operate by the highest standards of honesty, integrity and accountability. That will be our stance not only during the IGC, but also before it as well.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, can the noble Baroness assure the House that her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will take care in developing the policies in the conference to make sure that communication is not only with the Westminster Parliament but also through the proper channels for the devolved Parliaments? Noble Lords who this morning saw the opening of the Scots Parliament on television will realise that there are high expectations in Scotland as regards its political future within the Union. There are so many Scottish interests in Europe that are being handled through Westminster that it is vital that roads of communication are constantly open. Can the noble Baroness assure the House that that will be done?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that not only will my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary be extremely vigilant, but also his right honourable friends the Secretaries of State in all the departments concerned, in making sure that matters appropriate for discussion--possibly also in relation to the Welsh Assembly--go to the appropriate quarters.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, NATO heads of government and state agreed an updated strategic concept which takes full account of the environment in which the alliance operates and the challenges and opportunities it faces at their summit meeting in Washington on 23rd to 25th April. There are no plans for a further review at this stage.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my noble and learned friend is quite right that it was agreed in Washington that proposals for options on confidence-building, on verification, on non- proliferation and arms control should be taken forward and put to NATO Ministers for agreement in December. Allies are discussing what those proposals might be, but those discussions are at an early stage. I ask my noble and learned friend to recall the considerable progress Her Majesty's Government have made over nuclear issues--the withdrawal of the free-fall bomb, cuts in operationally available nuclear warheads among other things. It is clear that there is no prospect at the moment of consensus among NATO allies on a move to a policy of no first use.
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, can the noble Baroness assure the House that never again will NATO's strategic judgments be corrupted and confused by sentimental estimates of humanitarian needs in advance of Security Council authority?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not believe that NATO's use of any weapons whatever has been corrupted by sentimentality. I believe that NATO has acted entirely properly. I know that the noble Earl disagrees with that; and, indeed, we have had an honest disagreement in that respect. However, I must say to the noble Earl that I do not believe that I have to give the assurance that he seeks, because I do not believe that the words "never again" were quite appropriate in the question that he put to me.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Kosovo operation has, however, provided very considerable lessons for the future of NATO and for the balance between European and American contributions to NATO? Can she tell us how NATO intends to reflect on the lessons of the Kosovo operation?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, when one thinks of what has happened in all these enormous encounters--for example, in Iraq and in Kosovo--it is only human to draw lessons from such events. However, perhaps I may tell the noble Lord that one of the lessons that we should all draw from this is the really quite remarkable achievement of the 19 countries of NATO staying united throughout what was, after all, a very difficult operation. Indeed, not only did they stay united but they also remained engaged in a discussion with Russia about the way forward. We have a great deal to learn over what happened during
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, does the Minister agree that her noble and learned friend has raised a most important issue by drawing our attention to the new NATO strategic concept? Is she aware--I am sure that she will be--that the 1991 NATO strategic concept contained as its central message the words,
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, in these forthcoming discussions, can my noble friend the Minister say whether it will be borne in mind that NATO was created to perform a defensive role, rather than an attacking role, and that that is still the primary purpose of the organisation?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that all appropriate matters will be borne in mind. I should point out to my noble friend that I believe there is a little confusion here. The strategic concept was set and agreed in April of this year. The NATO countries have undertaken to look at issues around disarmament and non-proliferation and have agreed to take those discussions forward in December of this year. When we talk about nuclear issues, we must not lose sight of the fact that there are three important matters which lie ahead of us; namely, the ratification of Start II, the negotiation on Start III, the entry into force of the comprehensive test ban treaty and the negotiation on a fissile material cut-off treaty. Those three issues are very important and they are the ones upon which we will be concentrating.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord will know that there are a number of outstanding questions which now need to be taken forward in the light of the St. Malo discussions that the Prime Minister had with the President of France. This raises the issues around the relative positions of the WEU, around NATO and around the discussions which the noble Lord knows are ongoing about the future of the EU countries in European defence. The noble Lord knows that these are all issues which are currently under discussion. The Government will be keeping not only the Opposition parties but also the public in general well in the picture as the matter develops.
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