HC Deb 24 November 1992 vol 214 cc725-6
3. Mr. Jessel

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will give the reasons for the proposal under the Maastricht treaty that the Western European Union should discuss or consult upon defence and security matters with the European union.

Mr. Rifkind

In line with the views expressed at the NATO summit in Rome in November 1991, it was agreed at Maastricht that the Western European Union would be developed as the defence component of the European union, and as a means to strengthen the European pillar of NATO. The WEU's relationship with the European union will be limited to the elaboration and implementation of the decisions and actions of the union that have defence implications.

Mr. Jessel

As defence—to keep our people safe and free—is the first duty of any Government and is not merely some facet of foreign policy, will my right hon. and learned Friend explain how it will strengthen our defences and security to make the Western European Union discuss defence matters with the European union, most of whose members showed themselves to be vacillating, craven and supine when Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait?

Mr. Rifkind

I assure my hon. Friend that responsibility for defence policy will remain firmly with the north Atlantic alliance and the Western European Union. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was very successful in ensuring that the European union would not have defence responsibilities of the kind suggested by others. In the Maastricht treaty, the Western European Union has some responsibilities for security matters; because some of them might have defence implications, it will occasionally be appropriate for discussions to take place with the WEU.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Will the Secretary of State emphasise the need for absolute transparency between the WEU and NATO? What will be the relationship between the WEU and the Community if the Twelve fail to ratify the Maastricht treaty?

Mr. Rifkind

The decision to develop the WEU as the European pillar of the north Atlantic alliance was not simply a matter referred to at Maastricht but was commended at the NATO summit some months preceding Maastricht. NATO itself believes that, on purely European matters, it is useful that the WEU, which has existed for more than 40 years, should be the means of ensuring European co-operation in a form that strengthens rather than weakens the north Atlantic alliance.

Mr. Viggers

Although it is appropriate to investigate ways in which we can shape our defence effort through the European Community and the WEU, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the defence threat that NATO was created to resist has not completely gone away and that we must not in any way weaken our contribution to NATO, which has served us so well over the past 40 years?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. It is a sad but inescapable fact that although the cold war has ended, it has been followed, for the first time since 1945, by several hot wars in various parts of Europe. It is significant that the new democracies in eastern Europe—in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary—proclaim as loudly as anyone the importance of NATO as a beacon of stability and security in a shaken Europe.