HC Deb 29 January 1985 vol 72 cc142-3
10. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he is satisfied with the developments within the Western European Union of the joint defence consultative process originally proposed last summer.

Mr. Heseltine

Yes. The Rome meeting of Western European Union Foreign and Defence Ministers last October was an excellent start. I am looking forward to the next meeting with my WEU colleagues later this year.

Mr. Dykes

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Does he think that, apart from the framework of the discussions, this process is capable of producing beneficial side effects and results—as, for instance, British weapons sales to the French in greater measure? Is my right hon. Friend optimistic that we may be able to sell the ALARM missile system to the French?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend will be aware that one of the matters about which the Ministers gathered in the WEU felt strongly was that we should not indulge in overlapping with other or existing organisations. Arms collaboration with our allies—the French would feature prominently in that collaboration—is very much seen as the preserve of the independent European programme group, where we have recently taken decisions and hope to move forward on a very significant range of collaborative projects.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Can my right hon. Friend say to what extent he wants the WEU to evolve into a uniquely European voice upon defence and arms limitation matters?

Mr. Heseltine

I believe that the Ministers from all the countries who attended that meeting realised that there were a range of reasons that brought us together. It was very much a formative experience for Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers to meet one another. There is shortly to be another meeting. I have no doubt that in both that forum and a range of other appropriate fora, arms control will be a very live issue in 1985.

Mr. O'Neill

Does the Secretary of State agree that the French are very much cooling off with regard to the suggested new liaison and that it is very unlikely that the optimism he has displayed will prove to be of any import? The important element is the French, and the French are no longer willing and happy to participate in this exercise.

Mr. Heseltine

The Labour party has been so unsuccessful in speaking on behalf of the British people that I am not surprised that it should now speak on behalf of the French. I doubt whether its views will be any more attractive in France than they are in Britain.