HC Deb 13 November 1984 vol 67 cc525-6
8. Sir Anthony Meyer

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has for strengthening the military role of the Western European Union in the defence of Europe.

Mr. Heseltine

We expect the reactivated Western European Union to give a valuable political impetus to improved European security co-operation. However, NATO remains the cornerstone of our security, and, as the modified Brussels treaty makes clear, WEU will not duplicate the military functions of NATO.

Sir Anthony Meyer

In view of the renewed French interest in WEU, is it not now the ideal framework within which to secure a better balance within NATO and to strengthen the role of European industry to provide weapons for the Alliance?

Mr. Heseltine

The provision of weapons systems is generally recognised to be a desirable objective for coordination, but it is more properly sought through the Independent European Programme Group, to which the Government are giving a great deal of attention. We certainly think that the recent discussions in Rome at the Western European Union were helpful and showed that there was a willingness and anxiety on the part of the Ministers participating to continue the momentum which that meeting began.

Mr. Hardy

Does the Minister agree that there is justification for a little hesitation about this matter, as most of the Europeans with an overwhelming interest in the reactivation of WEU are primarily concerned with the central area of NATO? For them there may be far less interest or significance in the southern and, more important for Britain, northern areas of NATO. Does the Secretary of State recognise the risk of a genuine strategic disadvantage for Britain?

Mr. Heseltine

There is a great deal in what the hon. Gentleman says. That is why I made it clear in my initial answer that NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence-security policies.

Mr. Hill

I am sure that my right hon. Friend, like me, welcomed the reactivation of WEU and the French initiative. Does he agree that it is absolutely essential that we do not lose sight of complete co-operation with the United States' Government and the Pentagon in this matter? Does he think that the United States' Government have welcomed the reactivation of WEU?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend will recognise that his questions could easily trespass on the territory of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. However, I believe that the initiatives are broadly welcomed by the United States' Government. The essence of what we are seeking to do regarding industrial co-operation is to ensure that European industry is equipped with the same degree of resource and rationalisation to enable it to compete more effectively with and to keep abreast of advancing United States' technology.

Mr. Johnston

Regarding technical co-operation, does the Secretary of State think that the new French enthusiasm for WEU shows that France may be considering resuming her membership of NATO, and would he welcome that?

Mr. Heseltine

The House will realise that if I hesitate to speak on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, I shall hesitate even more profoundly to speak for France. France must decide what her motives are, and we must respond to initiatives. It seemed to us that there was an opportunity for profitable co-operation.

Mr. Stokes

Will my right hon. Friend consider following the example of his colleagues, the other European Defence Ministers, and contemplate addressing the WEU Assembly, so that we can hear directly from him and be proud to have a British Minister present?

Mr. Heseltine

I am most grateful for that kind thought, but it would seem appropriate for me to respond to invitations rather than to initiate them.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Is the Secretary of State aware that many hon. Members are worried that the reactivation of WEU could lead eventually to the creation of another military bloc? No one wants that. Does he agree that if it is necessary, as it is, to have a greater European voice in the defence of the West, it should come through NATO and not through the creation of another body?

Mr. Heseltine

The Government do not want to see the creation of another European bloc. That is why my initial answer was clearly designed to stress that NATO remains the cornerstone of our security. There is no profit for any of us, including WEU members, in fragmenting the defence efforts of Europe and our partnership with the North American people.