HC Deb 28 October 1992 vol 212 cc995-6
2. Mr. Wilkinson

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on progress he has made in enhancing the role of Western European Union.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

The WEU is likely shortly to be enlarged to include Greece as a full member; Turkey, Norway and Iceland as associates with rights of full participation; and Ireland as an observer. The WEU is rapidly developing a military operational role, complementing that of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and drawing on a wide range of national and NATO forces.

Mr. Wilkinson

I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's remarks about enlargement, which can only strengthen the European dimension of western alliance security. It is regrettable, however, that the Government appear to be so preoccupied with putting Britain at the heart of Europe that they acquiesced in the WEU council's move from London to Brussels, when county hall provided an ideal site for not only the council but the assembly. Locating the council in London ensured that the Government had a direct input into European security matters.

Mr. Hogg

I understand my hon. Friend's point, but the core of our defence relations and arrangements is NATO, and it is sensible that the WEU should be sited close to that organisation.

Mr. Hardy

Does not the Minister agree that if the council's move from Grosvenor place to Brussels and all the other changes that we are hearing about are not accompanied by consistency and sensible awareness throughout Europe, that transfer and those changes may prove highly disadvantageous?

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Member is right to say that there should he continuity and consistency. I welcome that part of the WEU declaration made at Maastricht and article J of the Maastricht treaty, which makes it plain that the WEU and its functions must be compatible with NATO and NATO obligations.

Mr. Jessel

As defence is an end in itself, in keeping our people free and safe—and that is surely the first duty of any Government—and as my right hon. and learned Friend said that NATO must be the main bastion of our defences, how will they be strengthened by making the WEU in any way answerable to the European Community or obliged to consult it?

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend knows well the provisions of article J.4 in particular, and will have read carefully the WEU declaration made at Maastricht. He will appreciate that NATO is the core of our defence arrangements and that anything done within the WEU must be compatible with existing NATO arrangements.

Mr. George Robertson

Is the Minister aware that one of the demands in the list of Danish proposals presented today is for an opt-out on the WEU and defence sections of the Maastricht treaty? Will he confirm that a definitive answer could not possibly be given before the Edinburgh summit, as the right hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) said on BBC television's "One O'clock News"?

Mr. Hogg

As I have not been involved in the negotiations, I cannot give an answer to that effect.