HL Deb 29 October 1984 vol 456 cc404-26

6.53 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are confident that the proposed "re-activation" of the Western European Union can be satisfactorily accomplished without effectively impinging on the activities of the "Eurogroup" in Brussels and the Independent European Programme Group in Rome.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I put down this Question after reading a well-drafted paper called Reactivation of the Western European Union, apparently prepared by a working group instructed by the Western European Union Council and the political directors of the various foreign ministries. The paper sets forth clearly—and, subject to certain ambiguities, to my mind convincingly—the case for now initiating a vigorous reorganisation of European defence within the general framework of the North Atlantic Treaty on the basis of an organisation which is now unfortunately in many respects defunct.

At the time I tabled the Question I did not appreciate that a debate here today would follow immediately upon a meeting in Rome of the seven foreign and defence Ministers concerned and actually coincide with a meeting of the WEU Assembly in that same place. But no matter, for at least the Government will now, I hope, be able to tell us what actually happened at the meeting of Ministers over and above what we have read in the press both yesterday and today, which merely says that the Ministers will meet periodically for the purpose of exchanging views on what suitable co-operation might be possible in the future. I believe that that is all that was effectively said.

After all, the fundamental reason for doing something of this sort is now increasingly accepted by great experts on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, I need only mention as leaders of this school of thought Henry Kissinger and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, to say nothing of the SACEUR, General Rogers. For whether or not we believe in the sheer impossibility of ever having first recourse, in any circumstances whatever, to nuclear weapons, there is obviously everything to be said for strengthening the so-called conventional, or non-nuclear, defence of Western Europe, if only for the purpose of "raising the nuclear threshold", as the phrase goes, and thus decreasing the possibility not only of nuclear but also of any armed conflict between the two great opposing blocs.

I wonder whether this object can best be achieved by means of the so-called ET, or "emerging technology", whereby, as I understand it, all moving objects could apparently be accounted for on the other side of the line by non-nuclear means—a project which would certainly be very expensive and take many years to complete. Alternatively, I wonder whether it is necessary to adopt the formulae of the "air-battle", or long distance penetration of the enemy lines, favoured it seems by the Americans but rejected by the Germans and, as I should hope, also by Her Majesty's Government, for it contemplates the immediate use of chemical and nuclear weapons behind the enemy lines which less extreme proposals for forward action do not. What is certain is that there are things which could be done and should be done in the near future to establish at least the foundation of any credible non-nuclear defensive scheme.

I need hardly elaborate on what those are because for many years now they have been rehearsed in the media, but they would include of course the production in common of the latest "smart" bombs, as they are called, and electronic devices; anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons of various kinds; adequate protection of airfields and communication centres; dispersal of dumps; the creation of small forward-based so-called "Jaeger" groups with "prepositioned arms"; greater facilities for reinforcements; the interoperability of munitions and spare parts; and, generally speaking, all means capable—given a minimum of goodwill and co-operation—of establishing a credible conventional defensive system.

The purpose of course would be to hold up the adversary for more than the few days to which, it would appear, in default of adequate supplies and reinforcements, it would as things are and failing a suicidal recourse to nuclear weapons, be more or less restricted. I need hardly say that some of these things are a NATO responsibility; but others could and should be more suitably left to the European members of the alliance. That is a thesis which is generally held by great experts on both sides of the Atlantic.

That all this would cost rather more than the "Europeans" now spend on defence is certain; that it would not mean an increase of more than say, 2 per cent. is probable; and if we should choose to abandon the attempt to build a useless and so-called independent nuclear strategic deterrent of our own of the magnitude of Trident—I repeat, of the magnitude of Trident—then, so far as we are concerned, the expense would be very much less. In any case if we need a workable deterrent—and of course we do—then that obviously is it.

Granted therefore that this is our objective—and I hope that is the Government's objective—what is the best way of achieving it? Clearly co-operation with the Americans is essential. But there must be some method, some machinery, some structure for coordinating and regulating the individual efforts of the comparatively small—or at least smaller—members of the Alliance on this side of the Atlantic. This, frankly, hardly exists at the present time—or, rather, the existing system is a muddle. There is, for instance, the so-called Eurogroup in Brussels consisting of the European members of the Alliance, with the important exception of the French. This has done a certain amount of good work, but it has little ministerial direction.

In addition to this there is the Independent European Programme Group which was set up in Rome at the beginning of 1976—incidentally just after I had got the European Parliament to recommend, among other things, something of the kind—which happily includes the French, but again, failing any real ministerial impetus, it has up to now done little or nothing.

Alongside this is the consistent effort of an influential group in the European Parliament's Political Committee which urges European defence co-operation under the general aegis, I suppose, of the political wing of the European Economic Community. This, as such, is obviously logical. How can you have a common foreign policy—which we say we must have—without any regard for defence as well? Then of course we have the dormant Western European Union—dormant from the point of view of any real authority on the defence side, though possessing, as we know, an active and, in its way, quite influential parliamentary assembly which certainly puts forward all kinds of ideas for defence policy generally. All this is a great nonsense. As a system—if you can call it a system—it seems almost designed to frustrate any real attempt to get a European defence policy going at all.

I must confess that up until now, or recently—as the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, who happily is going to speak in this debate, will remember—I have been an advocate of the establishment of some new machine which will provide for periodic meetings of the EEC defence ministers, or the defence ministers of members of the EEC—or such of them as were prepared to come together—an important provision—to supervise all these activities and give definite instructions to a body of officials meeting preferably, but not necessarily, in Brussels, which would take the place of the Eurogroup and the IEPG and work in harmony with the relevant committee of the European Parliament.

This would be perfectly possible legally since the political wing of the EEC is not subject to the Treaty of Rome, and the Ministers in any such grouping could take decisions in any way that seemed good to them. If any members of the EEC Council—presumably those from Denmark and Ireland, which is, after all, neutral—did not wish to join in, that would be quite understandable. They would naturally not be bound by an decisions that might be taken. But there is no reason why those countries should have a veto on its functions or composition. And to hold up all real European co-operation in defence in order, as I understand it, to preserve the principle of consensus is surely the height of folly, and quite unnecessary too. If the Spaniards and the Portuguese, once they become members of the EEC, wanted to join they would presumably be very welcome. I have never understood why Her Majesty's Government have declined to consider this simple solution of the main difficulty on what appears, on the face of it, to be simply ideological grounds.

If however for any reason such a solution is unacceptable from the political point of view—and I cannot understand why it should be—then there is certainly a case for "reactivating", as they say, WEU on the lines proposed by the working group of the WEU Council to which I drew attention at the beginning of my remarks. One reason for doing this—the important reason, of course—is that the enlarged Brussels treaty, which binds the Seven, is far more operative than the North Atlantic Treaty in that it commits each signatory to go to the assistance of any other which is the victim of aggression with all the means at its disposal from the moment when the aggression takes place.

The only real political weakness in the paper to which I have referred, as I see it, is that while laying down very properly that an urgent topic [for consideration by WEU] is the growing threat to Europe in the various guises, i.e., military, political and psychological

which should unquestionably be discussed within the Seven",

it goes on to say that such discussions should be undertaken without duplicating work in studies carried on elsewhere

and that, more especially, there should be no encroachment on bodies such as the IEPG and the Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD)

which, as we have noted, failing any real ministerial impetus up to now, have contributed hardly anything so far to the achievement of the much-needed common European conventional defence policy.

However, if nevertheless the WEU is selected as the institution for achieving all this—I hope it will be in the circumstances—then obviously it must encroach on the activities, such as they are, of the bodies mentioned. If it does not, it will just be no good at all; merely a wheel going round all by itself not geared up to anything. The Ministers will meet, but nothing will happen.

Assuming then that a reactivated WEU system is really going to function properly, it must surely be obvious that the work should be done by the Seven ministers with a suitable body at their disposal, and that the IEPG, and indeed the Eurogroup, even if they continued to exist, would have only a minor—even a purely advisory—role to play. Apart from the political difficulties in the way of such a solution—recognised, it must be said by the working party—the main theoretical disadvantage to any reactivation, as it is called, of WEU is that it would presumably sever, or cause to be severed, all connection between the political side of the European Economic Community and defence, and hence tend to concentrate efforts to create some kind of European political union in a body bearing no relation to the Brussels machinery and indeed, as I understand it, probably situated in Paris.

For this reason alone I imagine that it is unlikely to appeal to at least some members of the EEC, although I believe that the Germans, foiled in a sensible attempt to go ahead with defence under the aegis of the EEC without the consent of the Irish and the Danes, are now more or less favouring some kind of WEU solution. Naturally if the French were to agree to the whole outfit, including the London office, being transported to Brussels some kind of fusion of the two organisations might be possible. But however desirable, this seems pretty unlikely at the present time.

In such, as I think, distressing circumstances, I was slightly heartened to read an article by Mr Jan van Howelging, State Secretary at the Netherlands Ministry of Defence, entitled The Independent European Programme Group, The Way Ahead appearing in the current number of the NA TO Review. While freely admitting that the group, founded as long ago, as I recall, as January 1976, has done hardly anything of a practical nature so far, the author talks of a "new and favourable mood", manifested in a resolution of last April, to widen the search for long term collaborative opportunties inter alia, of a more effective and common use of IEPG equipment replacement schedules"—

whatever that may mean— and for a more balanced two-way street in arms trade between Europe and the United States"—

a very good thing.

It was also agreed, together with greater co-operation on research, to pursue together with the European Defence Industrial Group—EDIG, of which I had not heard before—the rationalisation of defence production which it describes as: an important step forward".

All this is pretty vague, though no doubt excellent in principle. Why the IEPG only got around to it after some eight years of existence is surely a reflection on its utility up till now. Of more significance perhaps is a statement in the same article that Mr Heseltine is orgainsing next month a "full Ministerial IEPG meeting" described as: the first ever designed to monitor personally progress in this area".

All this kind of meeting, admittedly restricted to those desirous of taking real action, is what I have been persistently urging for upwards of 17 years. I need hardly say that I am both impressed and delighted.

I should, however, like to ask the Government whether this new effort to strengthen European defence will be with the full co-operation of the Danes and Norwegians, to say nothing of the Greeks? Mr. Heseltine can surely call spirits from the vasty deep. But will they come when he doth call to them?

Also, will the decisions—if any—of this new high level meeting be taken by unanimity, or will any members who so desire be able to embark on certain projects by agreement among themselves—those not so minded not being bound by any such decision on the part of their colleagues? And what about having an American observer at this ministerial meeting, should a development of the two-way street be on the agenda? Would not such a presence be extremely helpful?

Finally, if this kind of procedure is contemplated, what a pity that the IEPG is not to be transferred holus bolus to Brussels, where it might be able to get the whole new contemplated system going in full co-operation with the European Economic Community. Indeed, if only from an industrial point of view is not such co-operation essential in the long run? I look forward with great interest to the answers which the Government—fired it would now seem with welcome enthusiasm for European co-operation on defence matters—will vouchsafe on all these, I hope, quite proper and pertinent questions.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, I am sure the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, for raising this matter tonight. As he said, by chance perhaps rather than by design, it could not have been more topical, coming as it does immediately after the ministerial meeting last week and the special meeting of the Assembly in Rome today. I do not agree with a number of the points that he has made, and I shall return to them in a moment. First, I should like to make it quite clear that while the Assembly might not have the influence and might not attract the publicity that we should like it to attract, it is by no means defunct. Only last June it had an excellent session addressed by none other than the noble Baroness the Minister who is to reply to this debate this evening.

One needs briefly to look at history—I shall not take too long—to understand why we have WEU and why we are in the somewhat embarrassing situation of trying to find a useful role for it. The noble Lord must appreciate, perhaps more than most of us, since he has probably had a hand in it, that it is the easiest thing in the world to create a new organisation, but about the most difficult thing to do is to close down one that has ceased to have a useful function. It could well have been argued that when we joined the Common Market much of the raison d'étre of the Western European Union ceased since it had had a valuable link in the gap in between, when we were the only member country outside the Common Market having contact at parliamentary and council level with the Common Market Ministers and Parliamentarians.

The other vital point was that it was the predecessor of NATO. The original Brussels treaty, as the noble Lord has said, has a definite commitment for full assistance from one member to another in the event of aggression. Whereas personally I believe that the NATO members would respond in the same way in a crisis, the words of the North Atlantic Treaty are, to put it mildly, a little equivocal. It is only a commitment to consider what they might do to help and is not in any way near as far-reaching as the Brussels treaty. One of the difficulties that has always been raised is that if one sought to amend the Brussels treaty, it might be difficult to get governments today to commit themselves as forthrightly as they were willing to do in the years immediately after the war. One of the great difficulties with WEU is that most of the things that ought to have been done require an amendment of the treaty.

Secondly, the modified Brussels treaty was designed to deal with the crisis that arose after the failure of the European Defence Community so as to permit, under safeguards, the rearmament of Germany and Italy, and their reinstatement, which we all now see as a sensible and proper thing to happen in the centre of the western European community. One of the main functions of the Western European Union was to monitor the German rearmament so that it did not give rise to any of the fears that were expressed at the time. I do not think that there was any danger of Germany doing that, but now without needing to amend the treaty because it was in the protocol, all the restrictions on the size of German submarines and so on have, very properly, been abandoned. So in a sense, although it is part of the treaty, the armaments control agency of the Western European Union is virtually without a job. The standing armaments committee, though it is headed by an extremely able and active man, does not really have a job to do, and in my view the manpower of neither the council nor the Assembly would provide the think-tank which Ministers are suggesting might, or should, be available to European Ministers at the present time.

I do not think there is any doubt that there is a very real problem in Europe. It is that in terms of both foreign affairs and defence we need to provide a European consensus, a European voice within the Alliance which will match the Americans. Our American friends say that they only wished to goodness that they knew what Europe, as Europe, wanted them to do. One of the difficulties is that if the Americans take the lead, we are upset, and if they do not, we criticise them for not doing so. This is one of the great dilemmas.

With great respect to the noble Lord, I do not think he was quite clear about the two functions. One is to provide a consensus of policy and another need is to find some sensible way of procuring and developing equipment and armaments in Europe. They are not necessarily the same job, nor the same problem.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, how do you divide the two?

Lord Mulley

My Lords, quite simply. In fact, as the noble Lord should know—and I was just going to make the point—it is the Foreign Offices that think they deal with the policies, and the Ministers of Defence have to deal with the equipment. One of the weaknesses, I think, of all these arrangements is that it is the Foreign Ministers in the WEU and in NATO, and in any other body you like to think of, that are responsible and attend the meetings—as, indeed, did (and I was very glad to see that he was there) our own Foreign Secretary in Rome last week, compiling and agreeing the document that has just been made. It is the ambassadors in London of the other member countries which, together with the senior officials of our Foreign Office, provide the council.

Ministers of Defence, unless they are invited to speak to the Assembly, are not formally involved in the WEU at all. But the other great problem is that in devising the mechanism to control German rearmament it was thought (as an afterthought)—they did not want to redraft the treaty; I think it was Monsieur Spaak who thought of it—that it would be a good idea to have a Parliamentary Assembly. They thought that this would only be a casual thing to have, and that it could be one day after the meeting of the Council of Europe at Strasbourg. Indeed, the Assembly first met in Strasbourg. They said "Well, let us have the same membership as we have already to the Council of Europe"—and that has been a crucial difficulty in the running of the Assembly, because a great number of the representatives from all the member countries are much more interested and more deeply involved (as, indeed, are members of our delegation from both Houses and from all the parties) in Council of Europe affairs. It is not easy to find people who are particularly interested in defence but who nevertheless want to do something in the Council of Europe.

I had the privilege of being recently the President for three years, and I had a previous period as a member of the delegation at the Assembly in the late 1950s and 1960s, when I am bound to say, I think we had some influence on policy. I think that in the case of some of the reports that came out then—and this was before the Dulles "massive retaliation" doctrine had been abandoned, although it was quite clear that it was a nonsense when the Soviet Union had nuclear capability—we had some influence, and in those days we got some publicity in the press for our debates. Now, even good reports which emanate from the Assembly get no mention either in our press or in the press of the other member states. What I think motivates the French Government, which has taken the lead in wanting to re-activate the WEU, is that, I think they see it more in Assembly terms and think the Assembly can provide a counter to the very serious developments, not only in our countries but right through Europe—except, ironically, France—against defence.

It is a little odd that the French socialist government has built more nuclear submarines and collected more nuclear weapons than its predecessors, whereas, of course, in socialist parties (and in much wider circles than the socialist parties) there has been an aversion against any nuclear activities right across the rest of Western Europe. The French are concerned, and I think that Herr Genscher is worried because his attempts with Senor Colombo, the Genscher-Colombo plan, have not come to anything in giving support to see whether the WEU can be utilised for that purpose.

I have reservations about how much can be done for the obvious reason, first of all, that there is no full participation of all the European members of the alliance; and, secondly, because I think it is fair to say that within the EEC the political consultations have been pretty successful. I think they have gone a long way to getting a type of European consensus on the broader political issues. I know the European Parliament want to run everything and anything, and that they want to go far beyond what is thought to be reasonable. But the Treaty of Rome does not permit any defence activity by the Community. The Community is totally ill-equipped to take any decisions about common defence production. It would be very costly to set up the apparatus; and what is forgotten is that the real problem about getting unanimity as to whether it is a gun or an aircraft, a tank or whatever, is that you cannot get the Chiefs of Staff to agree on the characteristics required, although great efforts have been made to do that.

Furthermore, even if you can do that there are problems of finance and of the actual timetable. Some countries have even more rigid timetables than we have. The Germans, for example, want to do their replacement of tanks in two tranches; and nothing would persuade them, although all the evidence is there, that our gun is better than theirs. They must have their German tank gun; and in order to help, the Americans have adopted that. You really will not get an agreement through the EEC, and the EEC record—one has to be blunt—is not impressive. It is a community of basically industrial nations, and they spend at least 70 per cent. of their money on agriculture and 90 per cent. of their time. Practically every geographical expression has been used—a mountain of butter, a lake of wine. I hate to think, if they were in arms production, whether it would be a pyramid of machine guns, or whatever, that they might produce. And I cannot think that they would dispose of them at less than cost price to the Warsaw Pact. That would not be a sensible thing to do; but that is the pattern by which they seem to get rid of their current surpluses.

I do not see how anyone with the experience of the noble Lord can advocate putting the EEC into the business of running common defence procurement without the military staffs. I think it would be a great mistake if anything was done to weaken the NATO Alliance. In some ways, may be, the WEU could be strengthened. I think it could be an immense strength, if as has been proposed, but turned down by Ministers, there could be separate delegations to that assembly, as distinct from the Council of Europe, Also, I persuaded the assembly as long ago as 1960 to ask Ministers to invite the Scandinavian members of NATO to join the WEU. That was when they and we were outside the Community, but that was also rejected.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, the noble Lord has not mentioned how the North Atlantic Assembly fits in. Would he like to bring that into the matter?

Lord Mulley

My Lords, with great respect to my noble friend, I do not think the North Atlantic Assembly, which is an unofficial body, could be brought into the WEU. I think it is arguable that it would perhaps be more sense to have an advisory North Atlantic Assembly, and that that would take the place of the WEU; but that would not provide the essential parliamentary basis to achieve a European, as distinct from a total NATO, consensus. But I am not against its existence. I am not privileged to be a member of the North Atlantic Assembly, but I am sure it has a function, and no one is suggesting for a moment that it should not continue the work it does, although I do not think it gives the time to matters, in terms of detailed reports, that the Western European Union assembly members give. I was for only a short time a member of that assembly when it was known as the NATO Parliamentarians, which was some years ago.

To get back to the main point, I cannot see how the WEU can deal with the real problem of arms and equipment. I think it is a mistake to think that you can provide sophisticated equipment on a basis of splitting up the job between four or five different countries. I think that is a very inefficient and expensive way of doing it.

I should like to commend to those concerned that they should look again at the unfortunate European Defence Community Treaty, because it had a lot of very good things in it. One of them was that no country should be called upon to expend more than 10 per cent. of their defence budget in foreign exchange, plus or minus 10 per cent.; that there should be a system of checks and balances so that, for example, as we spend a lot of money on having forces in Germany, other people should buy defence equipment from us so that we could get back at least 90 per cent. of our expenditure. It would be much better if one could only persuade one's friends and neighbours, and also our American friends, to understand—I do not think they do—that not only do we want work (although that is important) but we also want to retain the design and technical capabilities in Europe.

What in fact would be very sensible is this. If there are three or four different roles for helicopters, instead of four countries trying to make one helicopter we could divide the work up—and that is what I was seeking to do. When I was Secretary of State for Defence I initiated meetings. There was a lot of criticism, and other countries were very jealous. The French and German Ministers and myself met twice a year from 1978 in order to try to push forward this collaboration. I hope those meetings still continue. But one cannot escape the fact that this has been the real problem in the Eurogroup. The Defence Ministers meet the day before their Defence Council meeting in NATO, and they do this with a view to trying to get some kind of consensus, but because the French are not there we really cannot get very far.

There is no way, in my view, of getting a European defence policy, either for production or in any other way, without France. Since De Gaulle, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, will remember, threw NATO out of Paris, SHAPE from Fontainebleu, there have been problems because of this. They remain in the alliance, but they are totally outside military integration. My impression is that they want now to use the WEU as a means of getting much closer in terms of military integration without having to put up the NATO flag outside their defence establishments. One welcomes this, and I do not think one should discourage it. God forbid!, but if the need should arise I think that France would play its part in the alliance as well as anybody else. But for reasons of French history through a period when the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was our representative in Paris—and he will recall them well—they cannot say at this moment, "Let us forget the past; we will go back and take our full place in NATO and military integration". It was always difficult, sitting in the Defence Ministers' meeting without the French. Often we never quite knew whether the Greeks were coming; and I suspect that it may be that now the Turks do not come. But certainly the French never came; whereas, of course, in the council and among the permanent representatives there is a French presence, which is very important.

While one hopes that something will come from this initiative in WEU, I do not think it will solve the problem, which is a very real and serious one, of finding a way to reach a European consensus in terms of policy and a much more sensible way in Europe of playing our part in providing equipment for the alliance. Above all, I hope that no one will come forward with new-fangled ideas or new-fangled bodies which will in any way weaken the structure of NATO, on which we all must depend.

7.34 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, the land of Europe is planted thick from the coast to the river with organisations. First, after the war there was Benelux, which shortly gave rise indirectly to Uniscan—now dead, though Benelux is still alive; after which there came the Brussels treaty when we joined with the Benelux countries as a first move to common defence. This was swiftly followed by NATO, followed by the European Defence Community (still-born), followed by the Western European Union, the purpose of which, as noble Lords have reminded us, was to help Germany safely to re-join the civilised world. And before that, of course, there was the Council of Europe and, a little after that, the European Free Trade Association and the European Community itself. Within NATO, how many European organisations are there already? My noble ally Lord Gladwyn has enumerated them and I shall not do so again.

Paradoxically, it seems to me that when we get such a great number of organisations—some living, some dying, some dead, but the memory is still there—it becomes no longer important to avoid creating any more. When you get beyond 15 or so, which is about where we are, why not make it 16? Air fares are cheap, at least for people on ministerial and bureaucratic salaries. Telephones get cheaper and more efficient every year; the scrambler does not work, but maybe that will be rectified in due course. Certainly, in adding a new purpose to the venerable and virtually moribund West European Union, we must raise many questions. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has pointed out the obvious danger that it should get in the way of those three or four preceding attempts to create the European leg of NATO, functioning with greater or less efficiency.

Obviously the WEU has a head start in our thoughts over any alternative, because the French want it. France has saddled iself with a very negative historic destiny by getting out of the all-important NATO 20 years ago, and they are members of the West European Union. It is important that there should be a functioning West European defence orgnisation containing France as a full member. Indeed, a west European defence organisation without France would be virtually pointless, not only for geographical reasons, but also for intellectual reasons. The French input to allied foreign policy and allied defence policy is so well thought out that it is long overdue that we should begin to benefit from it to the full. That is all in favour of West European Union.

Another thing is against it, though, besides what the noble Lords, Lord Gladwyn and Lord Mulley, have been saying. It does not contain the flanks. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, touched on this point, and I want to reinforce it. To believe that if the Russians wish to attack Western Europe they will do so across the north German plain is to believe them guileless. I often wonder why anybody thinks that is on the cards. To many of us it seems obvious that they would do so by some other route, and that the most likely two other routes are the two flanks of NATO, what else? And of the two, the northern flank is much the more likely because it is so much more vulnerable to the Soviet Union since the enormous naval expansion of that country over the last 20 years.

If we create a West Europe leg of NATO which really gets on with it and makes a European voice heard, which makes common European armaments policies possible, and which establishes a two-way traffic with the United States in arms procurement—if we do all that and we do not have Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Greece and Turkey in it, as we want to, I suspect that we run quite a danger. It is tempting to welcome the French initiative with both hands and say: "At long last, close ally and brother, welcome home; we embrace you, and we will do it your way."

That is easy, pleasant and efficacious so far as it goes. But there is a danger of applying the iodine where it does not hurt. It has to be put where it does hurt, and that is in dealing with the difficult countries in NATO—Denmark, intrinsically, because of the immense strength of pacifism in that country; Greece, incidentally under the present Government, and intrinsically as long as the quarrel with Turkey lasts; and Turkey, intrinsically, because of the quarrel with Greece, and also because it is not a European country. These are the countries that are vulnerable to Soviet attack and these are the places where co-ordination is needed because it is difficult.

I am not going to end up by saying: "Don't let us do WEU". All the arrows seem to be beginning to point in that direction. I say that if we do WEU, let us be very careful indeed not to lose the flank countries, and especially Norway, which is not even a politically difficult country; it is a politically easy and close country, but it is extremely exposed and, of course, it is the doorkeeper to our own waters, and to our own national security.

I read yesterday in the press that our Government were thinking of developing WEU, no doubt in the ways we all think of, like an assembly, a council of ministers and so on, but also developing it as a think-tank. That is a very good idea. If there is to be a WEU think-tank, would it be possible to open it to the best minds on the relevant matters from the flank countries and from Iberia, even while not necessarily opening the parliamentary assembly to members of those countries? I hope that that, or something like it, may prove possible; and if the Government go forward in WEU with France, although they will carry all our good wishes with them, I urge them to keep their eyes open towards the flanks.

7.42 p.m.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, certainly has second sight in having tabled his Unstarred Question at a time when something quite important, was unexpectedly thrown into the general discussion. I should have thought that the Government would be very grateful to him for having this little discussion on it so soon after the WEU announcement. The Secretary of State made his statement on it only on 26th October, which is only a few days ago, and here tonight there are comments being put on the record by people who certainly ought to be listened to—the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, who was one of our eminent ambassadors in a country which is vital in matters that can flow from this WEU announcement and an ex-Secretary of State for Defence who is in a better position than any of us to have some sort of views as to how well based that announcement may be. So this discussion is timely and I have no doubt that the Government will appreciate the sharing of ideas at this very early stage.

I did not agree altogether with what I thought the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, seemed to indicate at one stage, when he wondered whether or not the Western European Union could be reactivated, because it had been allowed to fade away from its original meaning. Perhaps he did not mean that, but if he had that at the back of his mind I do not agree with him, because it is common form to reactivate something which though it did not work at the time it was first put on may, because circumstances have altered be a very good thing in those altered circumstances.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, I am not necessarily against a reactivation of the WEU. I am in favour of a reactivation of the WEU which makes it work. I am not in favour of a reactivation which implies that it will not work.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, that is very sound. But I thought from the way he made the statement to begin with that the noble Lord had doubts about whether or not it could be made to work as effectively as something new would. I feel there is some advantage in reactivating something that has a historical base rather than adding, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said, to the many other organisations which over the years have been put into operation.

The importance of WEU in one way is that one of the old problems was that Germany was a bit suspicious of the Western European Union because it was connected with disarming Germany and with not allowing it to get back into the defence swim. The fact that Germany is prepared, as one gathers from the Secretary of State's statement, to come back is a sign that the antipathy which it may then have had for very practical reasons is now being resolved. It gives some strength to WEU as a consequence.

On the other side, everybody understands that the weakness of NATO is the absence of France and, as the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, seemed to indicate, France is perhaps now looking for an opportunity to get back in without, for historical reasons, having to appear to go back on something which in France was considered to be fundamental years ago. If the Western Union is the way of getting France back in, that could only be good, so this new beginning seems to be under rather good auspices. It has brought Germany back, forgetting its antipathy of years ago, and it has France moving in in a way that, to some extent, can overcome the weakness of France not being in NATO.

I gave an indication that I would like to come in on this short debate only when I read the Unstarred Question that had been put down. Here, again, I was obviously wrong from the speeches I have heard, but it struck me from the wording of the Unstarred Question that there was some doubt as to whether one could reactivate the Western European Union as announced, without weakening the Euro group and the independent European programme group. It seemed to me that the Question was suggesting that one could not have an effective revival of the Western European Union without undermining the good that might be being done by the Euro group.

I do not see it in that way. I do not think anybody would suggest that what is now on the move is what we would call a giant step forward. But it has all the indications of being a sensible attempt to try to find a way of overcoming the weaknesses that were explained so eloquently by the noble Lords, Lord Mulley and Lord Gladwyn. It is only a small step, but it is one that could well lead to bigger things. I do not see that there is any possibility of it undermining the effectiveness of the Euro group.

The problem with NATO is that France is not there. France is not in the Euro group either. So you have those European countries which are part of the EEC without France—one of the most important segments which ought to be there. The independent European Programme Group play an interesting and effective part, but because of the French situation they have to confine themselves purely to technical matters. The political side of things, which is a very important ingredient in all of this, does not come into that. So there is a situation where the French are not members of NATO, are not members of the Euro group but are members of, and make a contribution to, the Independent European Programme Group.

So if you can find some way of, to some extent, merging the effectiveness of NATO, the Euro group and the Independent European Programme Group, you will be getting all the ingredients, with all the main participants there, including France. The Western European Union will be in a position to take on their agenda political as well as technical matters and, through those discussions, France, while not a member of NATO, will be able to make a contribution on the policy and political matters which its exclusion from NATO and the Euro group does not allow it to do.

This little step forward of reactivating the Western European Union has the approval of America. The United States were beginning to doubt whether there was a coherent European policy over Western European defence. If this little step forward provides the message that there can be an effective European contribution including France, on the technical side through the Independent European Programme Group together with WEU, we shall then have reached the point where that contribution will be recognised.

I believe that we should reactive the Western European Union. It will have the advantage of proving that the Germans have forgotten their previous antipathies and that the French are prepared to play a part which they have not played for some time. This can only give confidence to the United States of America. From that point of view we ought to welcome it, though we should not expect a magic wand to solve our problems.

The contributions made by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, dealt with outstanding and important issues that have nothing to do with this little step forward which is being made in order to try to provide a machine which will work. I believe that in this way we could co-ordinate NATO, the Euro group and the Independent European Programme Group. This would give confidence to the United States that Western Europe is speaking with one voice. I do not rule out the possibility that Greece, Spain and Portugal may not want to be included, but this co-ordination can be proved to be useful and to work. Therefore I hope that my noble friend will find useful the contributions of my eminent colleagues, with their real experience, only three to four days after the decision was taken in Rome to reactivate the Western European Union. We all hope that further steps will be taken and we wish them the best of good fortune in the aims which they have in mind.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has performed a most useful service to the House in raising this matter. His first-hand and direct knowledge and experience of this subject makes it all the more valuable. I join my noble friend Lord Mulley, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, in welcoming the introduction of this subject. Not only is it highly topical for the two reasons which have already been mentioned; namely, the meeting of the Permanent Council at the end of last week of the Western European Union, at which I was pleased to see the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, and the Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Heseltine, were present and also the meeting of the Assembly of the Western European Union which is taking place today. Both of these sessions mark the 30th anniversary of the Western European Union. It is also highly topical because it follows swiftly upon the State visit last week of President Mitterrand. It was he who took the initiative in putting forward proposals for reactivating the Western European Union. Therefore this debate is most timely.

It is right to seek assurances that the reactivation of the Western European Union will not cause needless duplication of effort nor, still worse, conflict with the work being done by the Independent European Programme Group, of which, as has already been pointed out, France is a member, nor by the Eurogroup of NATO defence Ministers, of which France is not a member. Before coming to that point, let me say at once that the proposal to breathe new life into the Western European Union is welcome and worth pursuing. As it is the only European organisation empowered by treaty to discuss defence and security matters, as the working group which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, set up to consider the proposal noted when it issued its paper in Paris on 13th June of this year, it is in some ways surprising that it was allowed to become moribund in the first place.

I should like to add to one or two of the matters which have been referred to by noble Lords tonight, reasons why it seems worthwhile to pursue the plan to bring the Union to life. First, the simple fact of the source of the initiative is one reason in itself. If this is a way to bring France back more closely into the European fold of co-operation on defence and security, that is indeed a good reason to start with. I very much share the view that was put forward by my noble friend Lord Mulley, with all his experience as a former Secretary of State for Defence. That has been added to by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls.

The position of France should be made quite clear to those outside the House. Even though France has remained a member of NATO, she has not been fully involved ever since 1966 when President De Gaulle withdraw her from the organisation's integrated military structure. Therefore she is not on the Military Committee with the Allied Chiefs of Staff. It is true that there is a liaison mission from France, so there are facilities for the exchange of information and other joint activities. It is also the case that, as has been pointed out, France is a member of the Independent European Programme Group. But that is not quite the same as playing a full part in NATO itself. If therefore France is keen to become more closely involved in joint defence and security ventures through WEU, that might well be beneficial to all those concerned.

Again, as the working group pointed out, it is important that public opinion should be involved in the debate about defence and security. That could be promoted through the organs of the Western European Union. I very much take the point made by my noble friend Lord Mulley about the dearth of coverage. If however the coverage provided in June when those meetings took place and the coverage provided over the past couple of days of the meeting last week of the Permanent Council are indications of a renewal of interest by the media in these matters, that might well be forthcoming.

Another particularly valuable benefit could arise out of the scope for improving arms co-operation, especially, as the working group's paper suggests, over the use of new technologies to strengthen conventional defence. Indeed, these matters could lead to greater co-ordination of military research and procurement programmes between the main European NATO countries, so avoiding wasteful duplication in Europe and encouraging the United States to buy more weapons from European NATO countries, thus helping to satisfy European desires, which are clearly there, for much more of, as it has been put, a two-way street in terms of arms purchases as between Europe and the United States. In that way we could restore the balance which is at present considered to be heavily in favour of the United States. If those aims were facilitated, partly by re-activating the Western European Union, it could be highly beneficial.

It is essential to emphasise that this should be done without duplicating the efforts of bodies like the Independent European Programme Group or the Conference of National Armaments Directors, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, or the Eurogroup of NATO. Therefore the role of the Western European Union needs to be complementary to that of those other organs. I believe that it could act in that way, and in a way which strengthened the Alliance and which was acceptable to our United States allies.

Certainly, integrated arms production and common procurement policies in Europe are desirable aims, though it is recognised that WEU's role would be limited, especially if unnecessary duplication of the rules of the other bodies I have mentioned is to be avoided. I very much take the point made by my noble friend Lord Mulley about the great difficulties involved in getting co-operation on matters of equipment and procurement generally. But perhaps if this step can be made, and there is a step in that direction, it could be helpful.

I should like to ask the Minister whether she is able to indicate the attitude of the United States towards these reactivation proposals. It was reported in, for example, the Daily Telegraph on 13th June, in quoting the French Foreign Minister, M. Cheysson, that the Americans had "no anxieties about the move" to reactivate WEU. I wonder whether the Minister can say whether that is her understanding, too.

It would also be beneficial to renew the organisation if this led to closer and more effective European co-operation on arms control and disarmament, as has been suggested. I wonder whether the noble Baroness, Lady Young, can confirm also that those NATO members who are not in WEU are being kept fully informed about progress on these matters, in accordance with the agreement of WEU Foreign Ministers in Paris on 12th June of this year, and whether any anxieties have emerged. Perhaps the Minister might also be able to say something about the possibility that Portugal and Spain may join the organisation. I understand the position is that Portugal has applied and that Spain has expressed interest.

Can the Minister say whether any steps at present contemplated to be taken within the WEU as a result of its reactivation are likely to require any variation of the terms of the Brussels Treaty; or are they likely to fall within the present competence of the organisation? I take it that no variation will be needed, but as the matter has been raised elsewhere, it would be useful to have the Government's definitive view on this matter.

As to the actual Question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, I hope and expect appropriate assurances can be given that no real problems, at least of principle, need arise if the reactivation takes place effectively. We know that the first step has been taken over the past few days towards that. I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness the Minister has to say. As we know, she already has direct experience of these matters and direct involvement in them. For example, she addressed the WEU Assembly in Paris on 19th June. Perhaps I may conclude by welcoming back the Minister after her recent extensive travels over the past few weeks on behalf of the United Kingdom. We trust that her visits abroad were not only fruitful, but also enjoyable.

8.3 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, the Question put down by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, is a particularly apposite one and we are all grateful to him for asking it. Indeed, we are grateful for all the contributions which have been made in this short debate this evening. The debate comes only two days after the meeting in Rome attended by my right honourable and learned friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. That meeting marked the thirtieth anniversary of the modified Brussels treaty on which Western European Union is based. The declaration issued at that meeting by all participants—a copy of which I have placed in the Library of the House—expressed the determination of the seven member countries to use WEU more in future to improve defence co-operation in Europe.

This is an important aim, and Western European Union has a real contribution to make to its achievement. Her Majesty's Government have given active and positive support to the process of reactivation of Western European Union—which took a long step forward in Rome—precisely because we believe that WEU has a vital and worthwhile role to play. Such a reactivation does not change two essential realities: our national defence can be assured only through NATO, and European co-operation in defence equipment is best pursued through Eurogroup and the IEPG.

The Ministers in Rome also agreed the second document, which describes how the institutions of WEU will be reformed in order to make the best use of this forum. This, too, I am placing in the Library of the House. It describes how in future the council of WEU will meet twice a year, with the participation of both Foreign and Defence Ministers. Another important feature is that suggestions are made for improving co-operation between the council and the WEU Assembly. Furthermore, the WEU secretariat has been instructed to submit proposals by the next ministerial meeting for its own reform as well as that of its two main subsidiary organs—the Standing Armaments Committee and the Armaments Control Agency. Such reform is the more necessary since Ministers have decided to abolish the obsolete controls on conventional weapons stocks administered by the Armaments Control Agency. Her Majesty's Government welcome this decision. None of these measures will require any amendment to the modified Brussels treaty of 1954 on which Western European Union is based. I hope that answers the point of the noble Lord, Lord Boston.

Our objective in supporting the rebirth of WEU is to strengthen and explain the European pillar of the alliance and to improve European defence co-operation. The need for this has become clearer over the past year. It was brought into focus by the Nunn Amendment in the United States which proposed that 30,000 American troops should be withdrawn from Europe each year between 1987 and 1989 unless in the preceding year the European allies increased defence spending by 3 per cent. or significantly improved their conventional defence capability. Happily, the amendment was defeated; but the problems which underlie it are not going to go away. We can expect further pressure from both Congress and the Administration for the European allies to increase their contribution to NATO.

In responding we must start by giving full weight to what we already do—and much of this is not well understood in the United States. Your Lordships will be familiar with the figures. The European allies maintain 3 million men and women on active duty as against 2 million by the United States. With reserves, the figures are 6 million and 3 million respectively. Of the Alliance's ready forces in Europe, the European allies contribute 90 per cent. of the ground forces, 80 per cent. of the combat aircraft, 80 per cent. of tanks, and 70 per cent. of fighting ships in European waters and in the eastern Atlantic. We must never tire of repeating these facts. But we must also react to legitimate concerns by getting better value for our defence spending and making genuine improvements in our forces and equipment.

The figures I have given testify to the impressive European contribution to conventional defence in the alliance. We support its efforts to improve the combat capability of the alliance's conventional forces. But the objective must be to enhance the credibility and effectiveness of the strategy of flexible response—not to create a substitute for nuclear weapons.

If we wish to preserve the vital American strategic commitment to Europe on which our security rests, and if we wish to ensure that our views continue to be given full weight by future American Administrations, we (the European allies) must find the answers to some difficult questions. How should we respond to the renewed and insistent public questioning of defence policies? How should we respond to the need to develop new technologies, to improve our conventional defence, at a time of rising costs? Are we able to take on a larger share of the responsibility for our common defence in Europe? What role should we play in defending Western security interests in the wider world? It is evident that these problems are common to us and our European allies and should be discussed in depth with them.

This is where Western European Union comes in; and I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, had to say about the history of this and the reporting of the WEU. The common planning of our defence by us—the Europeans—together with our North American allies takes place, and must continue to do so, in NATO itself. There is no question of duplicating or undermining NATO's role. Indeed there are organs closely associated with NATO—the Euro group, the Independent European Programme Group—which already allow the Europeans to discuss their special problems together and undertake joint initiatives. But that does not remove the need for a deeper debate on politico-military issues. It cannot take place to the extent we would wish in European political co-operation (which includes Ireland, as a neutral country), or m the Euro group, from which one of the key allies, France, is absent. Western European Union however gathers together the seven Allies at the heart of Europe—France, Germany, the Benelux countries, Italy and the United Kingdom—in a forum well designed for this debate. The more successful the use of this forum, the better able WEU members will be to contribute to NATO and the Ten. In other words, WEU has a function to act as a ginger group.

Of course, WEU's functions must be carefully defined; a point made, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Boston. In embarking on the process of reactivation of WEU, Her Majesty's Government have taken great care from the outset to ensure that neither we nor our allies should fall into the traps at which Lord Gladwyn's question hints. We have insisted all along that though better use should be made of the WEU institutions, this should be without any encroachment on the functions of NATO. We have been particularly strict about not undermining the activities of the Independent European Programme Group or of the Euro group. We have succeeded in maintaining all these principles and our WEU allies are in agreement, as the Rome Declaration and its accompanying document show. Let me say a word about each of the three bodies in question.

First, NATO. NATO remains the foundation of our security, the treaty organisation responsible for defence, with appropriate military staff and forces. WEU can play none of these roles and does not wish to. Indeed, it is expressly stated in the Brussels Treaty that WEU will not have such functions, and that it should work in close co-operation with NATO. What it can do—promote deeper consultation among Ministers on politico-security issues—is complementary to NATO, and open to NATO. We have insisted that there should be the maximum transparency about what goes on in WEU. It is for the presidency to keep our other Allies fully informed. The Germans, who are now in the chair, were explicitly mandated at Paris to carry out this task. The point has been reinforced at Rome. The declaration issued on 27th October stresses the necessity of the closest possible concertation with our allies who are not members of WEU.

Secondly, the Eurogroup. The Eurogroup, of which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence is chairman this year, is an informal grouping within NATO which brings together the Defence Ministers of the United Kingdom and the continental European members of the Alliance, apart from France. It is the ideal forum for ensuring that European contribution to the common defence is as strong and effective as possible. Its sub-groups, dealing with such practical matters as logistics, communications and training, do much valuable work. Its briefings, publications and tours by Eurogroup experts have also played an important part in explaining, particularly to North American audiences, the full extent of the European defence effort within NATO. The Nunn Amendment and the congressional pressure which I mentioned earlier underline the crucial importance of this work.

Thirdly, the Independent European Programme Group. This body specialises in equipment matters and has largely taken over the work of the Eurogroup in this field. It has the advantage of including France among its members. It promotes collaboration within Europe and seeks to foster a more balanced co-operation with the United States in the two-way street across the Atlantic.

Incidentally, I should explain that it is a political body. It meets regularly at Minister of State level. Some significant new initiatives have been taken this year in the IEPG. A meeting of Ministers of State at The Hague at the beginning of April called for the search for long-term collaboration opportunities to be intensified. At the meeting of Eurogroup Ministers on 12th May my right honourable Friend the Secretary of State for Defence called for statements of intent to be translated into real, time-bound programmes. At his initiative, the IEPG will meet at full ministerial level in The Hague next month. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn asked some questions about this matter. In particular, he asked about the co-operation of other members. All members are already supporting the activities of the Independent European Programme Group. We would hope that decisions would be taken unanimously at the meeting in view of the degree of support given, and see no reason why this should not be the case. The noble Lord also asked about the possibility of an American observer.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, this is an important point. Apparently the decisions are to be taken in principle by unanimity. It is possible that they may not be taken by unanimity but taken by some members deciding to do something and others not vetoing but abstaining.

Baroness Young

My Lords, my understanding of the position is as I have described it. Of course, we hope that the decisions can be taken unanimously. It may be that the position will arise as hinted by the noble Lord, but that is a hypothetical situation and we do not quite know. I accept that it is an important point but, as I said, we hope that the decisions will be taken unanimously.

The noble Lord also asked about the possibility of an American observer. The revitalisation of IEPG is a result of United States pressure for Europe to come closer together, so what we want is a co-ordinated European response to the United States on such issues as emerging technology and the two-way street. The WEU, without impinging on the IEPG's practical work, can give a political impulse to this work of armaments collaboration which is vital to the effective functioning of our Alliance.

Your Lordships will see that the Eurogroup and IEPG have a full and growing agenda. But there is still room for a forum in which the European allies, including France, can meet together to exchange views on major politico-security issues. Indeed, I fully endorse what noble Lords have said about the importance of France. European political co-operation already plays a limited role here particularly in relation to a number of disarmament questions. We would have wished to see security and defence issues formally included in the scope of political co-operation, as suggested by Herr Genscher and Signor Colombo; and we hope that this will in due course prove possible. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, has pointed out, there are political and procedural stumbling-blocks of a kind which need not arise in the same way in other fora.

So what should WEU itself do, and what is it doing? The WEU has three particularly valuable features for the United Kingdom. First, it is bound to the North Atlantic Alliance Treaty. Second, as the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, pointed out, it provides the legal basis for our commitment of substantial land and air forces to the mainland of Europe—a vital element both in our common defence and in our relations with the Federal Republic of Germany, to which I attach so' much importance. Third, the WEU Assembly is the only European parliamentary forum empowered by treaty to discuss security and defence questions. It has——

Lord Mulley

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned some of the other items which can be done without a change in the Treaty. I believe that it is perhaps possible to make another very important change; namely, to have a separate representation to the Assembly from each member country and not necessarily, as we do now, have the same members of the Council of Europe. As the noble Baroness knows, one has to be appointed to membership of the Council of Europe and then one is allowed to go to the WEU Assembly, and not the other way round.

Baroness Young

; My Lods, I understand the point that the noble Lord is making. Perhaps he will allow me to write to him on whether or not this is something where each individual country can determine what it should do. I shall contact the noble Lord on that point.

The purpose of the current re-launching of WEU is to exploit this potential to the full. The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, asked about the attitude of the Americans to reactivation. I can confirm that our American allies are content with what is being done. They naturally welcome a stronger European contribution to the common defence, and I believe that they see a better use of WEU as one means of helping to bring that about.

The noble Lord also asked about the attitude of our other allies. Again, I can confirm that, naturally, they are interested in what is going on. We have decided with our WEU allies to keep them as fully informed as possible at every step. This will be done by the Presidency, through NATO channels.

Your Lordships will have seen that Ministers agreed in Rome to harmonise their views on defence issues and also arms control and disarmament. Subjects that they will discuss include the impact of developments in East-West relations on the security of Europe, and Europe's contribution to the strengthening of the Atlantic Alliance, as well as co-operation in the field of armaments. They will also consider the implications for Europe of crisis in other regions of the world—what in NATO terms are called "Out of Area Issues". Your Lordships will agree that an in-depth exchange of views on these issues is of value. I am glad to say that in Rome the Foreign and Defence Ministers of WEU made a good start to their consultations on these themes. My right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence took the lead in a most productive discussion of the European contribution to our common defence. The declaration issued after the meeting shows how much consensus there was among all participants on the fundamentals of European security and the guidelines for a better European contribution. I believe that the WEU Assembly, meeting today in Rome, in which some of your Lordships are taking part, will come to very similar conclusions. The decisions on WEU procedures also taken and announced at Rome should provide the right framework for further discussions among the seven member states in future.

This is one very useful step forward. Others have been made and no doubt will be made in other contexts and other organisations. In this whole process our objective must be a stronger and more cohesive European contribution to the common defence in the alliance, and the strengthening of our links with North America and the United States commitment to our defence. The institutions that I have mentioned, including WEU, can all make their particular contribution to this end. Your Lordships have understandably expressed anxieties about the attitude of our other allies to this reactivation of WEU, but, as I have already indicated, most European allies not members of WEU have expressed interest, and the Rome Declaration, as I have already pointed out, provides for close consultation with them. One NATO ally, Portugal, has indicated a wish to join WEU, and others may be thinking along these lines. This is an interesting measure provoked by this meeting, and it is something that the council will carefully consider.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked about Norway and the threat to the flanks of the alliance. The alliance is well aware of this threat, and containing it is a matter for the alliance. Norway, along with other European members of NATO who are not also WEU members, has been kept informed of the reactivation of WEU. If Norway were to express a wish to accede to the Brussels Treaty, the WEU Council would undoubtedly consider that carefully, as it is going to do in the case of Portugal.

In conclusion I would add only this. President Eisenhower said shortly after the conclusion of the Modified Brussels Treaty 30 years ago: The success of the Alliance will be determined in large measure by the degree of practical co-operation realised among the European nations themselves. The Western European Union and the related arrangements agreed upon in Paris are designed to ensure this co-operation and thereby to provide a durable base for consolidating the Atlantic relationship as a whole". It is our job to prove him right. There is much work to do but these moves have come at the right time, and I believe that we are on the right track. It is now up to WEU governments and the Assembly to make the most of this opportunity.