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NATO: France

Volume 710: debated on Thursday 30 April 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what positions within the NATO military structure will be assumed by French officers when France rejoins the structure in the near future.

My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Lance Sergeant Tobie Fasfous from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan earlier this week. On the Question, following the historic step taken by France to rejoin the military structure of NATO, the alliance is working to agree the positions that France will assume in the NATO command structure.

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Baroness for that reply. Does the new co-operation between France and the other members of NATO extend to the operation of nuclear submarines and co-ordination in that matter? If so, can we be satisfied that there will be no more collisions such as the unfortunate one a few months ago?

My Lords, the co-operation does not extend to the nuclear side, where the situation remains as it was pre-President Sarkozy’s more recent decisions. On the collision, investigations are still going ahead. We are satisfied that there was no risk involved and we are looking at procedures to mitigate any risk that may occur in the future.

My Lords, I enjoin these Benches in the earlier tribute. Parallel to the very welcome rejoining of NATO by France on the military side, has the noble Baroness seen any commensurate increase in France’s willingness to co-operate in terms of defence equipment and procurement?

My Lords, we certainly welcome the increased commitment by France, although France has in fact been one of the top NATO contributors for some years, in terms of troops and the funding of operations. We are doing a great deal on equipment co-operation. The high-level working group is exploring further ways of co-operation between the United Kingdom and France. There are also other specific proposals, such as the United Kingdom/French helicopter initiative, which is aimed at bringing together helicopters, training facilities and maintenance facilities to increase the support that we can give in relation to helicopters on operations in Afghanistan.

My Lords, we on these Benches send our condolences, too, to the family and friends of Lance Sergeant Tobie Fasfous of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards. Can the Minister comment on reports that part of NATO supreme command headquarters may be relocated from the United States to France?

My Lords, I do not think that that is the objective of the discussions that are taking place. There has been speculation that a senior French officer will be located in the headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. There have not been suggestions that we should move everything from Norfolk, Virginia, to France.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness explain to those of us who do not have knowledge and experience how one achieves a risk-free collision of two nuclear submarines? It seems a bit odd.

My Lords, the management of risk is a challenging issue for many people in many areas. The noble Lord, with his experience as a pilot, will know that risk mitigation is very much a part of procedures in the airline industry, as it is in many areas of defence, both in operations and in the normal workings of the industry. We can have minor collisions or minor accidents. It is appropriate that we make assessments of all the potential dangers and mitigate any risks that may occur.