HC Deb 28 November 1995 vol 267 cc1038-9
2. Mr. Garnier

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he last discussed the Western European Union with Defence Ministers from the other members of that organisation; and if he will make a statement. [811]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Portillo)

Western European Union Foreign and Defence Ministers met in Madrid on 14 November. We made clear our view that European nations acting within the WEU needed to develop their capability of mounting effective, small-scale military operations.

Mr. Garnier

I accept that European security is British security, but will my right hon. Friend confirm his support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and, in particular, for the transatlantic limb of that alliance? Will he also assure me that he will not allow the WEU to be folded into the European Union?

Mr. Portillo

NATO must remain the cornerstone of European defence. I cannot conceive of true security in Europe other than on the basis of a transatlantic alliance. For north Americans to have confidence in NATO, it is necessary for Europeans to show that they can do more and do their bit. The WEU and not the European Union is the proper organisation to develop that European defence capability.

Mr. Jim Marshall

First, will the Secretary of State accept that, throughout the House, there is general agreement anyway that foreign and security policies should remain a separate pillar under the Maastricht arrangements? Secondly, will he give some idea of how he intends to improve or increase the WEU's operational capability? Words are fine—we have had plenty of words—but what sort of action will ensue?

Mr. Portillo

I am not sure that it is a shared view in all parts of the Chamber that security and foreign policies should remain part of the European Union's pillared structure. It certainly is the belief among Government Members that it should not be brought within the treaty of Rome, but I notice that European socialists, certainly in the European Parliament, have advocated the spread of qualified majority voting to sectors including foreign, defence and security policy. I do not know, therefore, whether Labour Members are disowning the socialist European Members. I hope that, during our presidency, the situation centre of the WEU, the planning cell and the intelligence section will be brought into life so that they will be fully operational towards the end of our presidency.