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Inter-parliamentary Scrutiny: EUC Report

Volume 726: debated on Thursday 31 March 2011

Motion to Endorse

Moved by

That this House endorses the proposal of the European Union Committee for Future inter-parliamentary scrutiny of EU foreign, defence and security policy, and requests the Lord Speaker or her representative to present it to the EU Speakers’ Conference in April 2011. (7th Report, HL Paper 85)

My Lords, this Motion endorses the seventh report of your Lordships’ European Union Committee, which I chair. The proposal sets out the arrangements which we would like to put in place for the inter-parliamentary scrutiny of the common foreign, security and defence policy of the European Union, following the winding up of the Western European Union, and therefore its Assembly.

The proposal is in the same terms as one approved by the other place, on the basis of a report from its Foreign Affairs Select Committee, on 10 March. I am grateful to that committee and its chairman, and to the House of Commons European Scrutiny and Defence Committees for their informal co-operation, which has allowed the committees of both Houses to come to a common position on the matter.

It might be of assistance to the House if I briefly set out the context for the Motion before the House today. As many noble Lords will know, the member states of the Western European Union decided this time last year that the organisation should be dissolved with effect from the middle of 2011. I need not tell this House that the Western European Union and its Assembly has played a valuable and unique role giving international parliamentary oversight of European security and defence matters. About 30 years ago, in the 1970s, I myself served in the Assembly and was a chairman of its defence committee, so I know its work in that period very well.

More recently, as the first head of the Western European Union Institute for Security Studies, which was co-located in the Assembly building, I have seen how many noble Lords have contributed actively to the work of the Assembly over the years, and I pay full tribute to the important work which they have done.

The question now before us is: what should be done to replace it? The inter-governmental nature of decision-making in the common foreign and security policy and the common security and defence policy of the European Union means that parliamentary scrutiny of those policies should not be left to the European Parliament. The significance of the CFSP and the CSDP activities is that those are decisions made by the European Council, which is of course made up of Foreign Ministers from the member states, who are held to account by their national Parliaments. It is therefore important that national Parliaments should be aware of and share in considering those matters at a European level.

As we state in our report, the European Union Committee is of the view that it is vital that some forum for inter-parliamentary debate on these matters is maintained in the post-WEU period, with national Parliaments taking the lead. The issue of how the forum should be structured is the principal subject for discussion at next week's conference of European Union Speakers’ in Brussels. As is indicated in the Motion, we ask for the House’s endorsement of the committee’s approach today, so that when, next Monday, I will be representing the Lord Speaker, I will have a mandate to agree to new arrangements.

The proposals are set out in full in our report, but I shall refer only to the principal points. We propose that the successor body should be a European Union inter-parliamentary conference on foreign affairs, defence and security, with the acronym of COFADS. It should,

“secure continued inter-parliamentary scrutiny of this area of EU activity”,


“would not be an additional or autonomous institution”.

In fact, it would replace the current biennial meetings of the chairs of the foreign affairs and defence committees of national Parliaments. Therefore, it,

“would minimise costs, while adding value to the work that each national parliament does on its own in this field”.

Under our proposal, all the European Union national Parliaments and the European Parliament, but only those Parliaments, would have full membership of the COFADS body. Parliaments of official European Union candidate members would be automatically invited as observers—that is, Croatia, Macedonia, Iceland and, importantly, Turkey. We make it clear in our proposal that it would be possible for other countries to be invited on the decision of the presidency. In speaking to the matter next week, I shall of course refer particularly to the case of the other European members of NATO, especially Norway, which has made strong representations to us on this subject. Delegations from each country would consist of a maximum of six delegates per Parliament, including the European Parliament. That would be three per Chamber in the case of a bicameral Parliament such as our own.

The proposal is that the new body, COFADS, would meet once in every presidency; that is, twice a year. We propose that the meetings should as a general rule be held in Brussels or in the presidency country; but we feel that there would be some advantage in it not necessarily meeting in the European Parliament, to make quite clear that it is a distinct body of national Parliaments rather than something else. Organisational responsibility would be borne by the Parliaments of the troika countries—the country holding the presidency, the country about to hold the presidency and the country that had just held the presidency. They would be responsible for providing the secretariat function with support from the secretariat that already exists in Brussels and services COSAC, the conference of the national European committees of the Parliaments of the European Union.

This is the position of the European Union Committee and it has already been endorsed by the other place; and, as I said, next week I will go to Brussels for the Speakers’ conference, and if the House agrees to the Motion on the Order Paper, it will be the position of both Houses of the UK Parliament. The Speakers’ conference makes its decisions on the basis of consensus. Finding a consensus in advance of the conference has so far not been totally straightforward. However, I am pleased that a significant majority of other European Union national Parliaments broadly support the position outlined in your Lordships’ committee’s report.

On 24 February, the Belgian Parliament, as host of the forthcoming Speakers’ conference, circulated a draft proposal for the future of the CFSP and the CSDP scrutiny—noble Lords may have seen it in the very useful debate pack which the Library prepared for today’s debate. The proposal was a significant way away from the position that I have outlined today. It envisaged, in particular, a significantly greater role for the European Parliament than we would be prepared to accept, notably with the European Parliament holding a permanent co-presidency of the conference and providing up to a third of the delegates but not providing the secretariat.

In response to the proposal, I wrote jointly with Richard Ottaway, the chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, to the Speakers of the two Belgian Houses. We set out in our letter the positions of the two committees, and I am very pleased to say that many other national Parliaments have made similar representations. The Belgian presidency reflected on those responses and issued a revised proposal last Friday, which is also in the Library’s debate pack. It has obviously taken serious account of the representations made by the national parliaments and the revised proposal is heading in the right direction. We should be grateful for that. Thanks to its efforts, an agreement on a proposal next week, which will only be possible on the basis of consensus, now looks a more likely prospect.

However, there remain in the Belgian proposal some areas of concern. Most seriously, the Belgians suggest that the national parliamentary delegations should be limited to four members. In order to allow proper party political balance and Select Committee representation, we remain firmly of the view that delegations should be allowed up to six members per Parliament. Secondly, in our view, the European Parliament is still given too great a proportion of the delegates. In the revised proposal, the proportion has been reduced from a third of the total membership to a quarter of the total size of the national parliamentary delegations. Although there are other matters in the Belgian revised compromise proposal—such as the location of meetings—which also diverge somewhat from the intended UK position, it is these two issues on which we have the strongest views and on which we have been supported most strongly by most other national Parliaments. If the House agrees to our report today, I will argue strongly for the position in the report, and I will feel unable to agree to a proposal that does not come significantly closer to the UK Parliament's position than the revised Belgian proposal on these two points of substance.

As is clear from the report before the House, the European Union Committee's clear view is that the continuation of an inter-parliamentary forum is necessary to ensure that the demise of the WEU does not leave a serious gap in scrutiny. Should we have needed reminding, recent events in north Africa and the Middle East have demonstrated the fundamental importance of discussing and perhaps sometimes reaching agreement on common foreign, security and defence policies. The WEU Assembly will meet for the last time in June. It is therefore wholly desirable that the European Union Speakers’ Conference next week can reach a decision so that the new forum can become operational later this year. I am optimistic that, with further compromise, such a decision can be reached, and I will do everything I can to secure it.

The committee's position is clearly set out in the report. I believe that it is a sensible and appropriate response to the winding up of the WEU Assembly and, if agreed to, will make a good framework for inter-parliamentary scrutiny for years to come. I therefore commend it to the House. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am very happy with this proposal and delighted to hear of the progress which the noble Lord, Lord Roper, has made in negotiating it. I congratulate him first on having seen off Mr Lidington’s completely inappropriate and ill thought through proposal that countries other than members of the European Union, or even candidate members, should be members of this body. Part of this body’s function is to hold the Council of Ministers, the European Council and the high representative to account, so the idea of a body that is composed of states that are not even members of the European Union holding the European Council to account or sending instructions to the high representative is utterly absurd. It would be rather like us trying to intervene in the activities of the African Union or sending instructions to its director-general, if that is what he is called. I am therefore very glad indeed that the noble Lord’s judgment and that of his colleagues has prevailed over the Government’s initial proposal.

As the noble Lord said, one or two matters have been left open, but they are obviously secondary or tertiary matters and I hope that he will feel able to display whatever flexibility is required. Those on all sides of the House who know him—I have known him for many years: indeed, long before I got into this place—will have the highest respect for his judgment, and it is important that he feels that he can go back to the meeting with a degree of negotiating flexibility. Some of the outstanding issues, such as whether meetings can be held in the premises of the European Parliament, seem a little theological and indeed rather petty, so giving way on such a matter in order to get an agreement sooner and to establish quite clearly what the regime will be would be very much in the interests of this House and indeed of the country and the future functioning of this committee.

I conclude with one thought. Perhaps noble Lords will think I am slightly self-interested in saying this, and perhaps I am, but I do not necessarily apologise for that. The proposed arrangement is very good, but the noble Lord will appreciate that it leaves entirely in the hands of three Members of this House and three Members of the House of the Commons the important role of co-ordinating with parliaments of other member states on the vital issue of the future of the common and foreign security policy and possibly defence policy of the European Union. Is there some scope for having from time to time—certainly not as frequently as the meetings of the proposed new committee but at most once a year or maybe less—a slightly wider conference enabling those of us in both Houses who take a close interest in these matters to meet colleagues in the other European Union member states to discuss those matters and to see what the views are and how they are evolving, and where consensus might be possible and where it might not be possible? In other words, is there some scope for getting a flavour of the debate directly, as one could in the old days when there was the WEU Assembly? In much older days, long before I became involved in public life and before direct elections to the European Parliament, Members of both Houses attended meetings at which they could discuss matters of common interest with other members of national parliaments and the European Community.

Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Roper, knows, I do not suggest for one moment going back on the decision to have direct elections to the European Parliament—far from it. That is an obvious and a great improvement. But I should be grateful if he could give some thought, and possibly discuss it with his British and other EU colleagues, as to whether there might be some opportunity from time to time to widen the circle a little bit in order that these important matters, which are sometimes extremely complex, are not left exclusively in the arcane hands of a small number of experts—great as the expertise will certainly be, at least from the, I think, six representatives which the British side will send to the committee.

My Lords, I too welcome very much the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, has tabled this Motion. I also welcome the fact that he has explained the background to it as well as the background to the Select Committee report and the recommendations. We on these Benches, and I as a member of the EU Select Committee, very much endorse Appendix 1 and the details of the proposal. We thank the noble Lord for having had oversight of this matter. He followed it through in painstaking detail. Without wishing to embarrass him by heaping too much praise on him, which is deserved none the less, I can think of no one more suitable or with a longer pedigree of knowledge on this subject and this particular theme than the noble Lord, Lord Roper. He mentioned his work in the Assembly in the early 1970s. I remember vividly having a long meeting with him in Paris to discuss these matters in the early days of the development of the WEU and the rest of the apparatus.

It is a very good way of viewing the gradual development of this new architecture, bringing in the European Union, as a result of the two recent treaties, into the oversight of defence and security policy for European Union member states. Originally, there was resistance from certain senior members of NATO and various member states about the idea of the EU being involved in some aspects of the other subordinate bodies that the EU proposed to be established to deal with these subjects in detail, including the defence agency. I think now that there is a much more contented atmosphere between the two. There is a feeling now of reciprocal aid and support in psychological terms between NATO and the EU on these subjects, which I hope will continue without me being too complacent about the difficulties therein, because old habits can die hard.

This is a moment too to pay tribute to the WEU and what was achieved over the years with it and the great experts among parliamentarians of all countries who developed a profound knowledge. I recall, over many years, quite a few laudatory comments from the RUSI, the Royal College of Defence Studies personnel and so on about the quality of the investigations and reports of WEU committees and the work that they did. It was inevitable that it would end. That is quite right and people accept that now. We move on to the new ESDA structure and we wish Robert Walter, the new chairman, and his colleagues well with those functions.

Now that NATO is in areas other than just western Europe, there will be more and more areas where the EU will wish to follow what is going on as a united body. Equally, it is right that it should remain primarily in the intergovernmental cockpit because that is the nature of the subject. Gradually, the European Parliament will also extend its activity and architecture in the whole area of defence and security. That is a decision which will, I am sure, in friendly consultation with national parliaments, reflect the worthy sentiments of the Lisbon treaty. It specifically built into the development of the European Union—and the integration that we are now seeing being accelerated, I am glad to say, in various fields—the idea of a much bigger involvement of the national parliaments in all sorts of European policy forming areas. The involvement was not just in this particular area. The way in which the European Parliament responds to that now will be much more encouraging than we might have feared in the past. For all those reasons and for the reasons explained by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, in his initial remarks, we very much hope that this Motion will be supported today.

My Lords, I am glad to be able to give broad support to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, in opening the debate. There are some people who look back with great nostalgia on the work of the WEU over the years, and there is no doubt that it has done some extremely useful work. But over the last few years I have heard the WEU described in a rather rude way as being similar to an old dog who is much loved but for whom sentimental affection prevents it being gently put to sleep. It has been right to put it to sleep over the course of the last year or so.

Little objection has been made to the view that there really must be some form of parliamentary oversight over both the CFSP and the CSDP. The question is what form that should take. The Select Committee report—the House may recall that I happen to be a member of that committee—is absolutely on the right lines. The first point is that national parliaments must take the leading role in this. I notice that the latest Belgian proposal suggests that there should be not six but four Members from each parliament. Personally, I do not mind that very much. Bearing in mind that someone spoke earlier of the quality of the likely representations from the UK Parliament, I am sure that we shall be extremely well represented whether it is four or six, but my preference would be for four representatives. I imagine that if there were only four representatives, the two from your Lordships’ House would be the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and the chairman of Sub-Committee C, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. They would represent us extremely well and bring a great deal of expertise to the conference.

One of the contentious issues, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Roper, was what the role of the European Parliament should be. Of course it should have a presence, I am entirely in favour of that, but most emphatically not of the first proposal made by the Belgian Parliament. It suggested that one-third of the membership—54 members—should come from the European Parliament. It modified that figure in the second proposal to bring it down to 27. My suggestion to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, is that when he goes to the meeting in Brussels next week he would do well to insist on 12 representatives from the European Parliament. I think that that would be ample. It would mean that the European Parliament had 10 per cent of the membership and that the total membership of the conference, with 108 representatives from the various member parliaments, would be 120. Thus, if the conference meets for one and a half days twice a year, at 120 members, those representatives would have an adequate opportunity to make a contribution. I should have thought that that number was entirely adequate with no need for any more.

My own view, which I know some people do not agree with, is that a small representation as observers—I insist on that—from candidate states to the EU should be included, and from European states that are members of NATO, which is in the amended Belgian proposal. I would have thought that that was reasonable. If the proposal is pressed on the noble Lord, Lord Roper, I hope that it will be written into the rules that they can speak but that they do not have a vote and cannot put down amendments to motions. They should be there entirely as observers with the opportunity, if they wish, to speak.

There is no need to set up a new institution with a galaxy of officials if it is only to meet twice a year. The suggestion that it be organised through COSAC is reasonable. I am bound to say that I have never been a huge enthusiast for COSAC. Over the years, I have attended various meetings. I remember going to some of them as chairman of Sub-Committee C, the foreign affairs and defence committee, years ago. My experience is that that body is not as well directed and effective as it should be. I hope that its new responsibility for organising COFAD meetings twice a year will give it a new objectivity and we are right to give it a try.

I am not very happy with the latest Belgian proposal that the COSAC secretariat organise meetings in conjunction with the troika and the European Parliament. I do not really see why the European Parliament needs to be involved in the organisation of the meetings. It should not be left like that, with just the COSAC secretariat in Brussels and the troika. The troika does not give a feeling of continuity; it is a transient thing, as we all know—although it takes 18 months to get through it. If these meetings are to discuss defence and security matters, it is very important that military/defence expertise is somehow attached to the organisation. Unless it is, we could have trouble ahead and the work of the conference in future would not be sufficiently oriented to defence and security matters. Perhaps it would be possible temporarily to attach specialist defence consultants to the secretariat to add that expertise. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, will be able to insist on that when he is in Brussels next week. I am perfectly confident that he will look after the United Kingdom’s interests in those meetings and the interests of this House. I certainly wish him well. However, I must stress to him the need firmly to set the new body up so that it is tied into various conditions and rules which prevent the sort of mission creep which has befallen some international bodies in the past.

I am concerned that some of these international bodies do too much travelling, and to places which are unnecessarily distant. Perhaps I may give your Lordships an example which irritates me to death. I have to leave home at six o’clock tomorrow morning to fly to the Azores for a meeting of the standing committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. It is meeting on Saturday and we come home on Sunday. That seems an enormous waste of time and money, when the meeting could perfectly well have taken place in Brussels or even in Lisbon. To have to go through Lisbon to go to the Azores to be there for 48 hours seems to me an absurdity and a waste of money. It is the sort of thing that we have to try to correct. Certainly, that will be one of the things that I say to the standing committee at our meeting on Saturday.

When the noble Lord, Lord Roper, goes to this meeting, the decision will be by consensus. I see him nodding. Therefore, he will be able to insist on virtually everything that is set out in the proposal. I say to him and the House that there are great parallels in the setting up of this organisation with the setting up in the early 1990s of what was then the CSCE Parliamentary Assembly, now known as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. I was leader of the British delegation at those meetings, which set it up following the treaty of Paris. It was clear that some of the nations concerned saw this as an opportunity for having frequent travel tickets to go hither and thither all over the world.

We were representing the parliaments of the United Kingdom and the United States of the time, and they decided to constrain the assembly so that it did not meet too often, it did not travel too far and costs were considered an important matter. The leader of the United States delegation, Dante Fascell, and I had dinner the night before the crucial meeting. We agreed that we would absolutely insist, bearing in mind that there was a consensus minus one in these arrangements, that the assembly met only once a year at the beginning of July, which is the one time that the Americans said that they would come and neither the committee nor the assembly could meet outside that one week in the year. The assembly managed to get round some of that by doing useful work, I think, in election monitoring, but I hope that the noble Lord will come back and tell us that he has tied down this new organisation. In particular, there must be no committees, no travelling hither and thither, and only two meetings a year, one and a half days only for each. I hope that he will insist on Brussels meetings.

One point that has not been made so far was made to me last night by the noble Lord, Lord Roper. If the meetings are in Brussels, it is much more likely that one can get access to the high representative—the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton—which is exactly what we want. We must make this new organisation cost-effective. I wish the noble Lord well and I am sure that he will come back with a satisfactory solution.

My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition, I welcome this Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Roper. We support the recommendations for the establishment of an EU Inter-parliamentary Conference on Foreign Affairs and Defence and Security. We have had interesting contributions from my noble friend Lord Davies of Stamford and the noble Lords, Lord Dykes and Lord Jopling.

I could hardly do otherwise than support the committee recommendation, given that I was on the committee when the recommendation was formulated, but it seems to be a wise set of recommendations. As an historian I share in the nostalgia of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for the Western European Union, but the WEU was rather a long time dying, if I may put it like that. I first remember this coming up when the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, was Secretary of State for Defence in 1998. We had a discussion between the Ministry of Defence and No. 10 and the Foreign Office when I was an adviser in No. 10 about folding the WEU into the existing NATO and EU structures. It has been a long time since Britain first put forward that proposal.

The recommendations that we now have are right. We need a body made up of national parliamentarians to maintain some form of parliamentary accountability in the area of EU defence and foreign policy. The EU is a complex hybrid of supranationalism and intergovernmentalism. It has become an even more complex one with the passage of the Lisbon treaty and the setting up of the double-hatted high representative who has both a responsibility in the Commission and is accountable to the Foreign Ministers’ Council. It is very important that, because the intergovernmental nature of these things remains crucial, there is a body made up of national parliaments which can question the high representative. It also seems to me that there is a very strong political case for this type of body. I am sure that the European role in these questions is going to grow greatly in the years ahead in response to the pressures of globalisation and the insistence of the US, as we see in the events in north Africa, that we live up to our responsibilities as Europeans. It is inevitable that Europe’s role will grow, but it is also inevitable that these matters, at least in the first instance, will be handled intergovernmentally, I suspect for quite a period. Therefore, it is very important that such a mechanism as proposed exists.

We support the committee’s recommendations on structure. They seem to provide for an efficient and cost-effective body. We welcome the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, to achieve consensus on these matters. I would say that the essence of the position should be that, first, this should be an EU-led body. That does not preclude having observers, but the primary focus should be the European Union, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, on that point. Secondly, the primacy within the body of national parliamentarians should be absolutely clear-cut. Thirdly—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jopling—the meetings should be in Brussels, because that is where we are most likely to get engagement with the key people. There should not be some fancy gallivanting off to the Azores, or elsewhere. Fourthly, because the meetings should be in Brussels, I think one has to be careful about how many Members of the European Parliament one tolerates within this new institution. I spent a lot of time rather enjoyably in the convention that was set up to discuss the EU constitutional treaty. It was a great innovation in that convention that there were representatives of national parliaments there, but they got rather quickly overwhelmed by the Brussels bubble. You have to watch that something that meets in Brussels does not become dominated by those who are based in Brussels.

Those are the principles on which I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, will represent us in the meetings next week. We support this recommendation. This new body should be more than mere tokenism; we want it to be effective and serious. We hope that he will be able to come up with a consensus that meets our concerns.

My Lords, I join in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, on both bringing forward this Motion and for presiding over this excellent report and, indeed, if I may say so more widely, for the way that he administers his very influential and effective duties in the EU Committee structure, which are of enormous benefit not only to this House but to general debate on the pattern and development of all European Union affairs.

I also find myself ready to endorse almost everything that the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said. He rightly emphasised the intergovernmental nature and how crucial it was that it should be preserved in this vital area. The only point where things slightly jarred was when he mentioned his work on the constitutional treaty. A shadow passed through my memory as I recalled that unhappy episode that, alas, did not lead to fruitful results. For the rest, the noble Lord has rightly endorsed some sensible proposals.

The Government attach significant importance to the issue of parliamentary scrutiny of the EU’s common security and defence policy and want to ensure that the cross-European parliamentary debate on European defence issues, performed currently—and for the next few months—by the WEU Assembly, continues. Inter-parliamentary discussion serves to enhance and enlighten the national scrutiny work of Parliaments and complements the breadth of knowledge that already exists in this House. This can only be a good thing; I am unambiguous about that.

Let me be clear to your Lordships about the Government’s role in this process. In March last year, Governments decided to close up the Western European Union, the bulk of its functions having already transferred to the European Union. I share my noble friend Lord Jopling’s tinge of nostalgia, since it seems to me that the WEU was part of our lives in at least the last three or four decades of the previous century. Many of us regard it as a familiar part of the European Union landscape, but times pass and the decision to close it up has been taken.

In doing so, we recognised the value of the continuing inter-parliamentary debate on European defence and security so, to ensure that a future forum could be established to facilitate that, we have worked to help discussion with interested parliamentarians on how this might be taken forward. During those discussions, we set out the Government's preferences for such a body, but it is obviously for national European parliamentarians to decide the form that future scrutiny arrangements should take. It is certainly not for the Government to dictate the terms; that would be quite wrong.

The Government's priorities in this process are clear. First, we believe in the primacy of national parliamentary scrutiny of the EU’s common foreign security policy. That reflects the policy’s intergovernmental nature, which we have all emphasised, and within it, the common security and defence policy. These are intergovernmental matters and, given the role played by national parliaments, there is no need for any new arrangements to involve expanding the European Parliament’s competence to scrutinise CFSP. While the European Parliament has a role, as is recognised in the report, we believe that an inter-parliamentary body better reflects the intergovernmental nature of CFSP.

Secondly, we believe that any new arrangements should be better suited to supporting and informing the national security process. They should capitalise on the expertise of relevant parliamentarians in this policy area and allow for a free and open exchange of information among European states.

Thirdly, new arrangements need to demonstrate value for money to the taxpayer, as many of your Lordships have emphasised. Given the current financial pressures facing Europe and all its member states, we support the proposal in the EU Committee report that any future mechanism for inter-parliamentary dialogue on CSDP should operate with the minimum possible cost and bureaucracy. The UK’s current annual subscription to the WEU is €2.3 million. While the WEU Assembly played a useful role in engaging views from across Europe, we and other WEU council members believe that this inter-parliamentary debating function can be delivered much more efficiently outside the WEU structures. The new body, as envisaged in the EU Committee report, will operate at a fraction of the current cost and, more appropriately, will be paid for by national parliaments, not Governments.

The Government believe that the new arrangements should include third states outside the 27 members of the European Union, as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and others have referred to. One of the major strengths of the CSDP is its ability to draw support from outside the EU. The report acknowledges that. We welcome that it extends a standing invitation to EU candidate countries, of which there are five at the moment—including, as the noble Lord, Lord Roper, says, the important candidate country of Turkey—but we remain convinced that non-EU European NATO members such as Norway should also receive a standing invitation. European defence policy and NATO share common political and security interests. Norway in particular has provided valuable contributions to EU operations and is currently an associate member of the WEU. We can see no reason why its inclusion in future arrangements should be anything other than permanent, and we hope that the decision that the noble Lord mentioned will go forward. We ask: why slam down the door so dismissively on good friends and a valuable contributor to European defence?

In this policy area we see a real value in inter-parliamentary collective debate that informs the national security process of EU member states. The European Union Committee report is an important and valuable step towards developing practical, low-cost and inclusive arrangements that will benefit parliamentarians across Europe, and I urge your Lordships’ House to back it fully.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and have made helpful contributions to our consideration of this topic. As the Minister said in his closing remarks, Norway has already played a very active part in a number of the missions of the CSDP so, whether this should be automatic or whether it should be the norm, by convention it would always be invited. We have kept the model as it is in the report because that is the practice in COSAC; that body has a framework in the protocol to the treaty. To make that a right could lead to problems. However, we believe that Norway should be invited on every occasion, and I will certainly make that point clear when we have the discussions next week.

It was quite interesting that the noble Lords, Lord Davies and Lord Jopling, had different ideas as to whether the body should be larger or smaller. At the moment, given the pressures on budgets, it is going to be a case of keeping the size down. If we eventually move into a situation where more resources are available for inter-parliamentary co-operation, the possibility of having larger meetings from time to time of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, referred to should be considered.

The figure of six is probably right but I would be perfectly happy with four; I do not feel strongly about that. My suggestion was that in addition to that there could be a rather more informal occasion where a rather larger number of people could take part for the sake of informing a wider range of people in all national parliaments, including our own, about the current agenda of these important discussions.

I noticed that. However, I think that the issue at the moment is the impact of the present period of austerity on the budgets of national parliaments, as we discussed at the Speakers’ conference last year. The impact is such that one has some difficulty in making proposals for too much of that at the moment. Nevertheless, the idea should be retained and brought forward when there are more possibilities.

I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Dykes. I also very much appreciate the helpful advice—based on his great experience of inter-parliamentary co-operation in very many of these bodies—of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. As for the issue of four rather than six, we say “a maximum of six”. Some of the unicameral parliaments—Malta, for example—never send more than two or three members to COSAC even though they are entitled to send six. One will not have six from everywhere. We have had informal discussions with our colleagues from the House of Commons, where there is a wish to send someone from the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Defence Committee and the European Scrutiny Committee. It would not necessarily be the case, as the noble Lord said, that this House would need to have three. However, if we were to restrict the number to four, there would be a feeling not only in the House of Commons but in some of the other parliaments that it was too restrained. We will obviously have to consider this matter with care next week.

I hope that we will be able to achieve the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for 12 members from the European Parliament. It is certainly a matter to be considered. As for his point on the secretariat, the COSAC secretariat has always had someone from the European Parliament as one of the members. It would only happen in that way and as part of the general secretariat, rather than as the European Parliament coming in and providing it, as was at one time suggested.

As the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, will see, we have in the report a “no committees” point, at point 15 on page 9. At point 18, on page 10, we take up the point that he made about the need for technical and military advice from time to time. We will certainly examine how that can be done.

I was grateful for the support from the two Front Benches. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, was—alas—only too briefly a member of the committee. Interestingly enough, however, in that short time, he was with us when we agreed this report.

Part of the problem with the European Parliament is that although we talk about the Lisbon treaty, there are in fact two treaties. Most of the stuff concerning the CFSP, the CSDP and the treaty which is purely inter-governmental is in the Treaty on European Union. That is of course what this is dealing with. On the other hand, if you turn to Part 5 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, you will see a great wodge of other external activities of the European Union for which the European Parliament has responsibility and on which its external affairs committee legitimately takes the lead. That is appropriate as those activities are dealt with on a Community basis. However, the European Parliament would like to try to blur the distinctions, as it were, between the two treaties. The point we will be making next week is that that distinction must be maintained as it is made clear in one of the declarations that the relevant treaty will give the European Parliament no more power in the field of common foreign and security policy.

I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord Howell, that it is highly desirable to have the meeting in Brussels. We have left a certain amount of discretion in this regard as a presidency should have some power but we trust that Brussels will be seen as the norm for all the reasons that were given. I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his remarks. I have nothing further to say in that regard except that we were extremely grateful for the help we received from his right honourable friend the Minister for Europe, Mr Lidington, in the informal conversations which went on between committees of this House and of the other place in preparing the two parallel reports on this subject. We are very conscious of the point he made about the need to obtain value for money. That very much goes back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling.

As I say, I am very grateful for the comments that have been made and I shall certainly take them with me when I go to Brussels next week.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.40 pm.