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International Headquarters and Defence Organisations (Designation and Privileges) Order 2017

Volume 785: debated on Tuesday 7 November 2017

Motion to Approve

Moved by

My Lords, the statutory instrument tabled for the House’s approval relates to NATO headquarters and units located in the UK. The matters it covers are administrative and legal in nature and best understood in the context of the UK’s support for NATO and the collective defence that benefits us.

NATO has been the cornerstone of UK defence since its foundation in 1949. Lord Ismay, the first NATO Secretary-General, famously said that the purpose of NATO was,

“to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”.

Well, America remains committed to NATO, and we are no longer trying to keep the Germans down.

When NATO was founded, it was understood that defence and security had a price. It still does. The UK remains committed to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence. We encourage those NATO countries that are below the 2% target to increase their defence budgets and aim to meet it.

On 21 March this year, when this House debated the Armed Forces, I said:

“We are doing more to lead and reform NATO; we are intensifying our collaboration with allies and partners in pursuit of our shared objectives”.—[Official Report, 21/3/17; col. 229.]

When that debate was taking place, 5th Battalion The Rifles had started moving to Estonia as part of the NATO enhanced forward presence. The Rifles have just handed over to the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh. The UK framework battalion demonstrates one of the many ways in which this country contributes to NATO. The UK soldiers in Estonia benefit from fitting into a long-established NATO legal framework.

These legal frameworks underpin—or perhaps, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, could say, are the “hidden wiring” of—NATO. We have the NATO status of forces agreement that was signed in 1951. Related to that is the Partnership for Peace status of forces agreement, signed in 1995. That agreement allows non-NATO countries to participate in selected NATO activities, providing a legal basis for military personnel from one country to be in the territory of another country. Finally, there is the European Union status of forces agreement, which is complementary to the NATO one.

The 1951 NATO status of forces agreement was augmented by the Paris Protocol on the Status of International Military Headquarters, signed in 1952. This gives a legal identity to NATO headquarters and units that are based in NATO countries, which brings us to the purpose of this statutory instrument.

The UK follows a dualist approach to international law. Therefore, when we make international commitments to our NATO partners, we may need mechanisms in our domestic law to honour those commitments. The mechanism is the International Headquarters and Defence Organisations Act 1964. The purpose of the Act is severalfold: first, to recognise that headquarters have certain legal capacities and immunities, such as the inviolability of their archives; secondly, to recognise the status of military and civilian personnel working in those headquarters and the jurisdiction arrangements that apply to them; and finally, to set out coroners’ arrangements.

Your Lordships will see that the statutory instrument amends the application of the Act and that quite a large number of NATO headquarters are based in the UK. We welcome this and the contribution that these headquarters make to our security and that of our NATO allies. Over the years, the function, and therefore title, of some of them has changed a little, and we are taking this opportunity to ensure the list of headquarters is up to date. The names of two headquarters change. The Maritime Component Command Headquarters Northwood—CC-MAR HQ NORTHWOOD—becomes the Allied Maritime Command, or MARCOM. The Intelligence Fusion Centre—IFC—becomes the NATO Intelligence Fusion Centre, or NIFC.

Additionally, two new headquarters are listed. The NATO Centralised Targeting Capacity is located at RAF Molesworth and has intelligence collation and analysis functions. Also we have the 1st NATO Signal Battalion, part of the NATO Communications and Information Systems Group. One part of the battalion is based in Blandford, mostly British Royal Signals soldiers who have moved back from Germany. They are used by NATO to manage communications and information systems.

I was grateful for the comments from the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Touhig, earlier in the year on this instrument. In the light of these, the MoD amended the memorandum to reflect that the SI was essentially NATO business that did not directly connect with the EU. I will be happy to try to answer questions that your Lordships might have, and in the meantime, I beg to move.

My Lords, I am sure the House is grateful to the noble Earl for his very lucid setting out of the statutory provisions that are engaged here. Without the help of the House of Lords Library, I still managed to chart a rather uncertain course through the legislation. I wonder whether it is not now time for a review, or perhaps a revisal, so as to bring together, in one statute, the various provisions to which the noble Earl referred.

I make no challenge to anything that the noble Earl has said in support of this, although there is one article in the order which he may be in a position to answer some questions about. In Article 5, the immunities which are otherwise conferred are subject to the exception of,

“the seizure of any article connected with an offence; or … the seizure of any article under the laws relating to customs or excise”.

I can understand the purpose behind these exceptions, but I am interested to know—it may not be possible to answer this off the top of the head—just how often these exceptions have been called upon.

The issue of NATO is one which we debate as part of wider consideration of defence. I wonder whether it is not now necessary to have a full-scale debate on NATO, not least because of the potential consequences which there may be for that organisation as a result of the decision to leave the European Union. The United Kingdom, of course, is not leaving NATO, but it seems to me inevitable that there may be some consequences—political, perhaps, if anything—from that decision.

As the noble Earl will understand, some have taken the opportunity of the result of the referendum in this country to reopen the argument in favour of a European army. I will say in parenthesis that I have been told by some who voted to leave that they did so because of the possibility of a European army—but of course by the very act of leaving, we have robbed ourselves of the veto which we could undoubtedly have imposed in relation to that. I take the very strong view, fervent remainer though I may be, that the creation of a European army would be wholly inappropriate and have damaging consequences for the defence of the whole of the north Atlantic area, in particular for those countries in Europe that apparently have such enthusiasm for it.

I did a little research on this. As long ago as 2008, Madeleine Albright, who was then the Secretary of State in the United States, during a discussion about the extent to which there could be a more independent security and defence policy for the European Union, drew attention to what came to be called the three Ds: delinking, discrimination and duplication. Her argument was very strongly in favour of the fact that what was then being proposed could well have the consequence of reducing the essential commitment to NATO, from which we all derive strength and support, by the United States.

At the Warsaw summit, NATO resolved that there should be much closer co-operation with the European Union, but of course co-operation is rather different from the notion of establishing separate structures, separate command and control and, perhaps most significantly in this context, a separate area of expenditure by European Union countries on defence, thereby taking away expenditure necessary to achieve the 2% target, which was of course established at the summit held at Celtic Manor. I have little doubt whatever about the importance of continuing the argument against a European army.

I finish by saying that the enhanced forward deployment to which the noble Earl referred is an important illustration of the fact that Baltic countries in particular can look to NATO for the kind of support which they feel it necessary to ask for in the light of what one might describe as the more expansionist attitudes of Mr Putin and Russia. It is no secret that Mr Putin would wish to destabilise NATO. That seems to be the strongest possible argument for its continuance.

My Lords, I feel I must apologise to the House because, amazingly enough, I did not come equipped today to discuss Brexit, European armies, NATO in general, the 2% target, Russia, Putin or anybody else. But since we are making general points, I would point out that the Labour Party does support NATO—indeed, we are proud to have actually created it.

I have taken rather the opposite point of view. Given the constitutional niceties of this House, even to suggest that one is going to oppose an affirmative resolution produces a constitutional crisis that rocks the whole building. Whenever I stand up at the Dispatch Box, it is because I have drawn the short straw because I have the SI to do. I spend some time working out what to do to make it interesting. Sometimes you expose the Government’s poor performance, as we did last night, or point out that the order is not going to work, take a swipe at the primary legislation, ask some clarifying questions or ask that clever question that rocks the Minister back on his heels and sends him scrambling for the Box. On this occasion, however, despite the considerable efforts of my researcher and myself, I have to report that we have no questions and the Opposition are content that the order should be approved.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, in particular for not asking me any questions. He need make no apology at all for that. I am pleased that he is content with the order, which, as I said in my opening remarks, is essentially legal and administrative in nature.

I was grateful for the comments and questions from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem. He expressed his view that collating the legal arrangements that are in place could be to everyone’s benefit. I well understand why he should make that point, but the advice I have had is that consolidation would be quite difficult because there are complex interactions between our international and our domestic law. For that reason, I suspect it would be unlikely to attract parliamentary time. Still, I am sure his point has been registered in the right quarter.

The noble Lord asked how often the exemption mentioned in paragraph 5 had been relied upon. The advice I have had is that criminal problems with NATO personnel are extremely rare, and therefore the seizure of articles would be similarly rare. It is always beneficial for this House to return to the subject of NATO, which, as we always say, remains the bedrock of our defence in this country. I am sure that if we did set aside time to debate NATO and matters relating to it, though the noble Lord will understand that that is not in my gift, it would attract considerable support from around the House. As he intimated, it is particularly relevant at the moment in the light of our impending departure from the EU.

The proposal, if that is what it is, for a European army is not one that I or my colleagues sense has generated a great deal of support among European nations generally, particularly not in Germany. However, the subject keeps bubbling up. Our position, in talking to our European colleagues about this country’s future relationship with the common security and defence policy, is to make clear that anything that makes it more difficult for us as a country to continue engaging with the EU after we come out would be retrograde. Our red line here is that there should be no infringement of the Albright principle of duplication; if the EU were in some way to duplicate what we already have in NATO, that would be both unnecessary and damaging. We think that message has hit home, but of course after we leave we will have no direct influence on what the remaining member states decide to do in this area.

I hope I have covered most of the noble Lord’s points, although one could elaborate at length on many of them. If there is any doubt on the subject, the relationship that the UK continues to have with the United States remains broad, deep and very advanced at every level. The collaboration we have with the US extends across the full spectrum of defence, including intelligence, nuclear co-operation, scientific research and flagship capability programmes. That has continued under President Trump’s Administration. From our many conversations with our American colleagues, we know our shared priorities include the fight against Daesh and the importance of NATO as the bedrock of our collective defence. President Trump, Vice-President Pence and Secretary Mattis have all confirmed the US commitment to NATO.

If I have omitted to come back on any of the noble Lord’s points, I will of course write to him.

Motion agreed.