HL Deb 24 February 1998 vol 586 cc539-40

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will seek to ensure that the Council of Ministers of the Western European Union adopts an open approach to the Parliamentary Assembly; and that the Council provides information relevant to the interests and responsibilities of the assembly where that information is available to national parliaments.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Western European Union has an important role to play in fostering parliamentary and public discussion of European security issues.

The WEU Permanent Council sends a detailed formal report on its activities to each plenary session of the assembly. The Council also maintains a regular dialogue with the Parliamentary Assembly, comprising extensive opportunities for written and oral exchange of information and views. Her Majesty's Government strongly support that dialogue and the efforts to ensure it is open, effective and relevant.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it was regrettable that last year the Council of Ministers refused to provide information to the Parliamentary Assembly? That was information which would certainly have been available in other parliaments, as it is in our own. Does my noble friend share the suspicion that the action of the Council of Ministers at that time was a cover-up for those member states which, while proclaiming eagerness for the development of the European defence pillar, maintain inadequate defence provisions themselves and certainly have an unfair record of security burden sharing?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, the extensive arrangements for dialogue already in place, which I described to your Lordships' House, have not always worked as well as they should. It is important to make them work better. To be credible, an intergovernmental defence organisation must be able to protect information which member states consider affects their security. I am afraid that that inevitably places some restriction on how fully the WEU Council can share its deliberations with the WEU Assembly, particularly on issues where member states disagree.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, even if the Amsterdam treaty gives explicit recognition that NATO is the foundation of our common defence, it also gives explicit recognition of the possibility of an EU and WEU merger and the first steps towards a common defence role for the European Union? Given that Article J7 of the Treaty of Amsterdam states that the, Union shall accordingly foster closer relations with the WEU with a view to the possibility of the integration of the WEU into the Union", what guarantees can the Government give that, despite the possibility of a merger enshrined in treaty form for the first time, they will not acquiesce to such a merger in the future?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, to turn the EU into a defence organisation would undermine NATO. The Amsterdam treaty makes clear, as Maastricht did not, that there can be no EU-WEU integration unless and until all member states agree and their national parliaments approve.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, is it not correct that the late President Kennedy used to regard NATO as being based on two pillars—the North American pillar and the European pillar? Has not Europe been way behind in setting up an effective European pillar to NATO?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, we should understand the nature of the WEU. It is not there to perform collective defence tasks in the way that NATO is. It is there much more to deal with crisis management in Europe.

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